People and their circumstances

As you may have gathered if you have ever read anything that I have written, I am fascinated by people and their circumstances. I have, for example, never bought into the idea that the world is made up of the simple stereotypes so beloved by our popular press. These are the used to create as much discord as possible setting people against one another. So, not only do we have “shirkers” and “strivers” but then, “shirkers v strivers”.

Now I will not argue that some people may actually work harder than others, either at all times or in particular circumstances. Indeed, as someone who is past retirement age and embarking on my sixth and, probable, final career, I may have a predilection for work myself. Then again, I have, at least for the past 37 years, managed to make a living out of what I have enjoyed. However, there are many other things that I enjoyed and I never got the chance to pursue some of these. Still, it’s been an interesting journey, to say the least. Which, once again in my usual roundabout way, brings me to my subject matter.

Last week, the press reported the head of OFSTED as saying that (and I paraphrase) that the quality of education that anyone received was largely a matter of luck. Given that one’s education largely determines one’s livelihood and quality of living that is a pretty crucial matter.

Now I was lucky enough to go to a good school which, if it did nothing else, gave me a thirst for knowledge; not a bad result for an educational institute. It stemmed from a number of things to do with the relatives that brought me up, the times that I grew up and, crucially, the quality of the teachers and their modus operandi. They may or may not have been better at their jobs than today’s teachers, but they were valued for what they did. Yes, society was more deferential, something I have railed against for much of my life; however, those teachers were respected for what they did.

In today’s world, they are often denigrated by this government which then complains about the behaviour of pupils who, reading their pronouncements, treat teachers in exactly the same way. Have they so little understanding of human nature that they can see no link between these two sets of circumstances? Don’t answer that one as you don’t need to. This lot embark on their pet projects of Free Schools and Academies on the basis of little evidence and, in the process, start to dismantle a comprehensive education system that has value. Oh and, by the way, they do the same to any other non private institution such as the NHS and the BBC. Now I am not trying to pretend that these bodies don’t have their faults, but that as organisations and the service they are set up to provide, they represent something that I hold to as good about this country. As, interestingly enough, do countries other than our own.

I may be old fashioned and am certainly not a nationalist or a patriot, but I like being English and what is represents to me, best summed up by Billy Brag in his anthem, “Between the Wars.”

It’s about a sense of fairness, a care for the underdog, a self deprecation and quirky sense of humour and is represented in the reason that those organisations were created in the first place. Someone once said that you don’t miss something until it’s gone and then it’s too late. I fear that we are losing some of those qualities and what is happening today in education, the Health Service and other organisations as they are forced more and more into the hands of people whose sole aim is to make money at whatever cost. Death by a thousand cuts with, we are told, greater ones to come. I do wish this government had the imagination to see the damage that these will do to our social fabric, although I am, probably, hoping in vain. As a member of that lucky, post war, generation, it saddens me to see that little of the luck we had in being born into the society and the times that we were, is being passed on. More of this after Christmas.

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