Tuesday, 31 December 2013

In defence of tutoring

For some reason, every few months, the press bring up the private tuition industry. Some proclaim that it is divisive, some accept it, some just monitor its growth (often in the same article of course).

What's the big deal?

Private tutors have existed since the beginning of formal education. Having a mentor, a coach, a master to teach you a trade is nothing new. Indeed, as an apprentice, a pupil often gave up wages in order to learn: i.e., they paid the master with their time and energy while they were apprenticed for usually seven years.

Today, there are thousands of ex-teachers, enthusiastic postgraduates and undergraduates - indeed, some sixth formers too - who earn money from tutoring.

For myself, it's not a hobby or a way to top up my pension or other earnings, but a profession.

I see the position as one of great responsibility and privilege. I work with those who voluntarily want to purchase my services - sometimes it's for content, sometimes it's for content, direction, and confidence.

It is a privilege in the sense that working with a young person one-to-one is highly rewarding - it's not teaching in the sense of broadcasting the information and hoping that some of the pupils get the ideas (some of the time); it's a matter of working with the pupil and learning with him or her. To be adaptable and sensitive is critical.

Sometimes I spot a need for a change in lifestyle - diet or environment, or even a change in school: discussing such issues requires enormous tact and timing of course, but it has been wonderful to open a door to a young person and say to them that they don't have to struggle so much!

Behind every great business leader is a mentor, by the way. If you don't have a mentor in your life, someone to turn to and discuss ideas or who can point out what you need to be doing then you're walking blind. Mentors can come in the form of books - the great motivators and leaders of our world whose words can enthuse - but they can also be met in person, which is much better!

I've got several mentors I can ask or explain things to, including my personal trainer, Guy Baker in Nottingham, whose holistic approach to training reflects our own view of education; my wife and I have wealth and business mentors who we can discuss ideas with.

Now imagine being a young person and having an academic coach and mentor - what a difference that would have made to my life is incalculable! I would not have made so many errors in my youth and early education - my grades would have reflected my mental potential rather than being a little haphazard, and I would not have struggled for so long thinking that "only I can do it and I can do it alone" selfish philosophy. The wisdom of the years has taught me to delegate to others but also to listen to those who have created paths in academia and wealth.

I don't understand why some may oppose tuition - it's like saying, don't get extra golfing lessons, don't go for football coaching, don't have a business mentor...perhaps they've not experienced the benefits of one-to-one? Whatever their reasons, it's nothing to do with 'the rich will pay for the tutors and the poor won't and the poor will suffer lower grades.' It's all to do with attitude. If you're a teacher, you should be open to teaching from all quarters and you should be instilling an attitude of life long learning as a matter of course, and to encourage people to take that learning from all areas that are available. After all, we all buy hair cuts on the free market (at varying prices) so we are free to buy extra learning.

Is there a recovery when only 2% feel it? (UK survey by TUC)

In a survey by the TUC (Trades Union Congress) in the UK, only one in fifty people feel that there is an economic recovery occurring. Makes sense: the UK governments have pursued two fallacious policies to create growth and to foster recovery.

The first has been to increase debt levels to extraordinary peace time highs. The interest on this has to be paid for. The interest is currently £828 per SECOND; the debt, if shared equally amongst all of the population including the children and the retired would be over £17000 each.

By driving into debt the government has created a situation where it must keep its interest rate payments low. It does this by the second terrible policy: quantitative easing or printing money.

By printing money, interest rates are pushed down below market rates (i.e., set by the supply and demand for loanable funds). In order to keep interest rates squashed below the market rate, increasing quantities of money must be printed: this follows Wicksell's law (a Swedish economist working a century ago). Printing money in turn creates a horrendous amount of distortions in the economy - some sectors profit indeed, and these sectors tend to be very visible - construction and large capital intensive projects for instance. But other sectors experience a drain of resources as the new monies flooding the economy attract workers and entrepreneurs into the inflated areas. Ultimately, only a few people benefit from what I call the inflationary tidal wave that is unleashed by the QE. The rest suffer from falling real wages - this is experienced in the UK's 'north-south divide' in which money, printed in London for the London capital markets supports an artificially inflated market there, while the rest of the country suffers.

The Bank of England recently commented that house prices needed calming...really?! Then stop QE.

Ah, but if the BofE does that, the government faces rising interest payments on its debt.

And that means pain.

So it's not surprising most people don't believe the statistics peddled by government (whatever colour of party). The economy's struggling in most parts of the country because people are still coming to terms with the fact that they are not as rich as the 2000s made them feel (through loose money). The government has yet to realise that it too has a duty to cut - to cut properly - its debts.

Dr Alex Moseley

Monday, 30 December 2013

Economic recessions and colds - fight the causes not the symptoms

Suffering slightly from a Christmas cold, the analogy between an economic recession and a dip in the immune system was worth noting.

At the onset of a cold most people rush to cover up the symptoms and take the over the counter cold medications and continue on as normal. Then they like to blame the last person that they came into contact with for causing their cold. Then they moan and groan through the symptoms until they finally pick up.

Same with governments really. At the first sign of a recession they rush to print money, squeeze interest rates, pump into the economy more government spending… basically infuse the economy with a bunch of drugs. They then may blame other people - foreigners, large corporations, oil prices: basically markets. Then they moan and groan about how well their policies of drugs will help the economy improve and that all will soon be well.

But as with a cold, the reason for heading into a recession is not the symptoms but the causes. How do we catch a cold? Our immune system is compromised - we partake in too much alcohol, sugar, refined foods; we do not allow our bodily systems to recover from work or exercise; we do not get enough nutrients to sustain ourselves and to protect our immune system from functioning. And yes, we may talk ourselves into a cold or illness directly or indirectly through mental stress.

An economy heads into recession because it has been drugged up in a boom through artificial low interest rates and monetary expansion; the government borrows on its good credit rating and spends money on anything that moves (or sometimes doesn't move). At some point, the crazy highs created by the central banking system and fractional reserve monies falter and people realise that the drunken state of the economy is vaguely masking a very unhealthy body economic. The effects will come regardless of whether people recognise how ill the economy has become, but a change in expectations can create a swifter alteration in the economy, just as if we realise the onset of a cold we make take some preventative measures such as getting more sleep or avoiding the sugars. As with a cold, a lot of TLC is required - which in the economy's sphere is laissez-faire. Leave it alone, give up the causes that created the cold in the first place, and just let the body recover.

What helps the body recover is a dose of good nutrients (the chicken broth, the vitamin D and C, and sleep, and of course time.) What helps the economy recover is a dose of good nutrients in the form of encouraging private investment (letting interest rates rise to encourage saving), foreign investment, low taxes (to stop further drains on the system), a reduction in government spending (a parasite on the economy), and time to allow people and the markets that they engage in to sort themselves out.

Dr Alex Moseley

The attraction to things that don't work...

We are creatures of habit and as an educationalist I am keen to encourage good habit formation with my  pupils.

But the difference between good and bad habits is not always apparent. Good habits, we would assume, are conducive of higher productivity, great health, better friendships and relationships with family, a clearer sense of purpose, an organised life and house.

Bad habits negate such values - they lead to lower productivity and time wasting, poor health, random swings in relationships, a lack of purpose and direction, a disorganised household and life. Of course, we would all wish to avoid those but what is it about us that creates mayhem, purposelessness, poor health, and disorganisation?

It's because we don't pay attention to the little things in life. We become wedded to poor habits that take us away from succeeding. We are attracted to that which does not work.


Funnily enough though, successful people aren't attracted to that which doesn't work. If it doesn't work, they quit it; they move on; they keep on trying until they get something that does work. And they don't get emotionally attached to doing the wrong thing.

Unsuccessful people or 'lucky' people do not do this. When things are going well, they slowly but surely engage in habits that eventually wreck their success.

Imagine being a student who's just scored an A on a test. Well done! But what really got the A? If it was luck - the questions fell the pupil's way and that burst of revision paid off. But if that's not repeated, guess what - the student will receive a lower grade next time. Then he or she will feel despondent and moan that they're not good at exams or that they didn't really like the subject anyway (I hear 'it's boring' a lot - I change that to 'it's difficult' or 'I'm not engaged in class').

On the other hand, if the pupil reasoned, hey, that bit of revision got me a good grade, so if I work a bit harder on my next exams, I'll do better … and guess what? The average level of attainment will increase.

However, while revising, the student thinks, hey, I'm doing fine, I can take some time off to watch a dvd or surf some funny youtube videos or call my friends or play with my phone…then they quickly lose the edge they were sharpening for a higher performance.

It's the same as looking at our household budget and finances. Oh, it's only a little thing to add to the shopping trolley. Or, hey, I really need a new coat/shoes/car…Then the credit card bills come in and you're struggling and you pretend you don't know why … or even worse, you stick your head in the ground and pretend that you don't really owe so much on the cards or overdraft … or dream of winning the lottery. What good will that do?

Or with weight loss. If you think that that little bit of sugary food won't really do you much harm…you're wrong. The good habit of avoiding that which fattens you up or reduces your immune system is broken immediately - one exception becomes another and then another and then the rule, and before you know it you've put the weight back on.

There are no fairies in life that magically wave the wand and suddenly life's different and you're thinner, smarter, richer.

No, it all takes good habits. And no exceptions to the rule.

I'm suffering at the moment. Generally, I eat very healthy … but it's Christmas, I reasoned (or rather rationalised): that little bit of sugary food will be okay, and ah, another cup of coffee, after all, I love the taste, and let's stay up later and get less sleep…  I must be very sensitive, because my body has rewarded me with a cold!! So, back to the stricter diet (I follow a paleo based diet of no dairy, grains, legumes, or sugars sticking to meat/fish, lots of salad, nuts, fruit and organic as best as we can get.)

We're human - we err…but it is useful to know that we are attracted to that which brings us down and thus to be armed against such temptations! Behind the good habits is the key value that rarely gets mentioned in today's world: DISCIPLINE.

What is a disciple? Someone who follows a set of principles. So discipline is - following a set of principles.

What principles should we follow? … those that improve our minds, health, finances, friendships, and relationships...

Now the fun bit of life is working out what works!

I'll end on a not so subtle thought - no one accidentally put food in their mouth.

Think about it.

We can adapt that to no one accidentally picked up their phone to surf, opened their browser to waste time, put those extra doodads in the basket or bought worthless junk.


Friday, 27 December 2013

New Year's Confessions and goal setting

I loved this from Zig Ziglar: New Year's Resolutions are Last Year's Confessions - I didn't lose weight/get fitter/made more money/study harder, etc.!

Well, what can you do?

Last year is worth reviewing. Look at the year in review and sit down and write down what you could learn from it. What went wrong? What went right?

Look carefully at the things that went right - and follow them, not the things that went wrong.

I have an acquaintance, we'll call her Jenny, who last year went to the gym, took on a personal trainer, and lost weight and became stronger. She's back - having put on the weight she lost. What went wrong? She went back to default: munching things that are not good for her and not maintaing her gym routine.

Personally, I took the company into expansion and was bitten by the high overheads that entailed. The dream was good, the practice was wrong - the PLAN was wrong. It could not get me to where I wanted to and it has ended up costing me a lot of money. Ah, hindsight. So, that didn't work. Time to adjust.

Now, it's not use bemoaning last year's mistakes and saying oh woe is me. Jenny did not alter her default plan of eating foods not good for her constitution. I have (with my team) altered our plan - we made some tough decisions and looked brutally that the mistakes we made.

But now we turn to the New Year. What do we wish to achieve in the next twelve months? Are are plans SMART?
Time scaled.

Each of our goals we write down will be visualised: I draw or get photos relating to our goals.
They will then be checked for specificity, measurability, achievability, realism, and time.

Consider aiming for a good set of exam results.

What doesn't work is saying: I need to get a good set of results.

The comment is a dream. It is not specific. Nor measurable. We don't know if it's therefore achievable, realistic, and we don't know the time scale. A dream is unconnected to the world of action.

Let's turn this around:

Think about what college or university you want to get into.

Then look at what needs to be done to get there.

E.g., it may be AAB in your subjects. These are specific and measurable (as are the mocks and essays you do until you get there).

Are they achievable? Well, if you're on D grade average from last year, the higher grades may not be achievable without some fundamental change in learning patterns and perhaps getting a tutor to coach you up to the higher grades. Time scaled - absolutely - you have 5 months to attain the goals.

Work backwards from what you want and you can create a plan as to how to get there. We're doing that with our business. But there should also be a contingency plan, or as our teachers say - two exit plans: what happens if you don't get the grades? Either you do - and you get to where you want, or you don't - and you need plan B to kick in. What is your plan B? That needs thought.

So sit down with some coloured pens, a piece of paper (don't do this exercise on the computer) and sketch out what grades you need for the year (or do this with your son/daughter). Then come up with a plan on achieving those goals - and I always begin with: "If I were to do 5% more work each day, I'd achieve …" what? Higher grades and greater confidence!

Dr Alex Moseley

Subscribe to my Educational News:

India and Keynesianism

Sad to say that the apparently vibrant economy of India leans towards Keynesian analysis. Below is one commentator from the India times on what the government should be doing.

Now, when we study macroeconomics, we are immediately taught to enter G and T into our equations (Government spending and Taxation). Fair enough, but like the real G&T it quickly goes to people's heads - they think that G>T actually creates economic wealth (rather than debts - and India's is currently 49.92% of its GDP.) They think that by intervening in the economy, wealth is created rather than distributed.

We must not forget that India was a highly socialist economy with a rigid feudal past (caste system). That culture remains but its entrepreneurs will do well to support free market economics (proper free market economics not its state directed abominations) and to support free market institutions to educate the growing middle classes that wealth is not to be found in bowing to the state but in freeing people from the state.

Keynesianism is feudal in its philosophy and destructive in its effects. Time to reject it and let the people create the wealth that they are more than capable of doing by themselves.

A. Measure social sector outcomes 

1. Articulate "Promise 2019": When companies formulate strategy, they clearly articulate a nearterm 3-5-year vision with clearly defined deliverables, not vague, long-term plans. So should the new government. We need to see a "Promise 2019", with metrics to measure performance versus promise (eg MW of generation capacity added, km of national highways constructed, etc). The government should then publish regular and tr .. 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Free schools are not really free

Free schools are in the news again - their costs have risen higher than expected. Should anyone be surprised? Once a company, union, quango, or ministry has access to the government's credit card (i.e., the taxpayers) is it any wonder that costs grow? And if anyone, politician or otherwise, does not understand about incentive structures when spending other people's money, I suggest a quick short lesson in growing up. Don't be so naive!

In my practice I have many parents who want me to set up a school following our ethos at Classical Foundations of 100% focus on the pupil, encouraging them to reach their potential, finding out about their dreams and actually connecting their dreams to their learning. I am honoured that so many wish me to set up a school, and when the UK coalition government brought in free schools, which could be set up be parents and teachers keen to bypass local authority control and gain direct access to the department of education's funds - it was tempting. For a moment.

I'm well versed in political philosophy and economics and I know what would happen. A change of political wind and the whole system would be shut down; a few hiccoughs in some schools and the regulators would be down there in a shot.

The question for me is what is the ethical thing to do? To take other people's money (who have not been asked about the systems of education we use and may indeed not agree with them) and set up a local school paid for by the central government, or to rely on the market place in which parents choose to spend their money on our services voluntarily? The latter wins hands-down.

When you're tied to the government's funds - it may seem like a free lunch - but get this idea, one of the oldest and wisest ideas in our cultures: there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Free schools are paid by other people's taxes. That's not freedom. The teachers are not free. They are dependent on continued government funding. And given the debt levels the UK has, that funding can never be assumed to continue.

The school I wish to create is based on true principles of freedom - but that means the price has to be paid. Just as I sell my tutorial services in the market place and people pay me for doing a good job, I believe that the new school I'm planning, should also be fee paying - it should answer to the parents and pupils and to the laws of the land. Not regulators'  fashions or politicians' gripes and peculiar visions.

Does paying for education cause society to split between haves and have nots? Again, it's the question of the naive. Some people put more effort into learning, others don't. It's really not a matter of resources, it's a matter of will. If you wish to get fit, you take action. If you wish to get more educated, you take action. If you wish to be a welfare dependent, you don't take action.

The school I have in mind is all about teaching independence and action from the word go. More on that later!
Dr Alex Moseley

Sunday, 17 November 2013

How to produce zombies -

An article I produced earlier this year linked below. Today I had a young lad come in who said he wasn't sleeping well - he'd watched three movies one night (after midnight)...hmm.

Friday, 15 November 2013

How to help your child's concentration!

Firstly, how is your concentration? 

A vital part of how we live is through interacting with others and with applying our own skills and mental ability to problems. Behind every action to which we commit ourselves are virtues that are often mentioned by teachers and parents but often without any consideration as to how to learn and develop them. These are patience and perseverance, and behind them a core virtue called discipline. They come together in what we call concentration.

When we exercise, we push ourselves to the limits of our ability. One of the best ways of doing this (under proper guidance) is through strength training. When pushing or pulling weights, we are often taken to our body's limits, because then the muscles and the nerves know to repair the stretched tissues and make them stronger for next time. Gradually, we can improve our strength by pushing our body beyond its normal abilities and with appropriate rest and diet, it will get stronger.

It's the same with our virtues. The virtues, as the as ancient philosopher Aristotle taught, are the product of habit and training. The best place to begin such training is at an early age, but what is fascinating here is that children have an immense ability to concentrate - given their ages and, more importantly, given the freedom to do so. Observe them when no adults are around to disrupt them! Then watch what happens when an adult interferes. What normally happens is that the child is distracted from his or her natural inclination to concentrate by adult interference and a host of electronic stimuli that do not help the mind settle to learn.

Imagine that you're at work and that you're working on a project that involves a great deal of focus. It may be preparing a report or writing a key email or resolving an engineering issue. You settle down to get the work done and you begin to zone into the work. You know you're zoned in when time passes without you realising it and the minor distractions of life around you fade away. You're now concentrating.

Then a colleague bursts in and demands  that you come and speak to someone on the phone. Your attention is shattered but you get up and deal with the problem. You return and settle down again and after a few minutes you're back in the creative zone, then another colleague bursts in and demands that you sign for an important document. This time it takes longer to get back into focus as your mind is expecting an interruption. And her it comes--the gaggle of staff burst in and demand that you come to lunch with them all as it's so-and-so's birthday. Three interruptions is enough to kill the focus. It's gone, probably for the day.

Now think what a child goes through. They mostly are pushed from pillar to post on someone else's agenda. They just get down to playing when mum demands that they sit in the back of a car for an hour while she picks up things. Or they've just got back from school and begin to focus on their own project of building a model or playing with friends and them dad calls them in to go to their music lessons. Or it's school and the kid is just beginning to get a maths problem when the bell goes and they're dragged off to art, and when they're just getting into art they're called away to learn French.

The impositions begin to affect their ability to concentrate in more than short bursts, but more importantly there is always the expectation of a disruption.

Then the youngsters go home and the tv is blaring, the young sibling is running around, and the mindlessness of playing a computer game beckons. Now the distractions are unimportant, because the brain's activity had collapsed to just above sleep, and in this hypnotic state our young person can zone out rather than zone in. Drink a can of sugar with added water and the game's over when it comes to extorting any mental effort!

And don't think that multi-tasking is the way forward. Studies tend to show that multitasking people do a lot of tasks poorly. Much more effective is to remove the distractions when you want to learn. Turn the tv off - either watch it or shut it off; I've never seen any good work done with the idiot box on; turn down any music to background, "white noise" levels - that is, if your drumming along to a track, it's too loud; ask other people in the house to respect your work time. And then set yourself short bursts of concentrated mental effort to get things done. Start with ten minutes, then fifteen, then twenty...

The key is to build up mental habits just as a strength trainer helps build up your muscles gradually but surely. And like a sportsperson, stretch your concentration level beyond the allotted time. 

Focus for short bursts at a time. Then extend the time you concentrate. It'll work. But don't forget - no sugar!

It's the same with our children. They need to be able to concentrate on what they're doing. 

Now, we can't change the school environment - and you get the message that sometimes it's not the most conducive place to concentrate - but we can change the environment in which we do our homework or settle down as adults to do that important project.

We can also change their diet to help them concentrate better - 


Shut the TV off. Better still, throw it away. Or put it in a place that makes it uncomfortable to watch. For many families TV is the line of least resistance - you just go home and press a button and hey! thirty thousands channel of rubbish to fill your brain with!!  TV is sugar for the brain: no nutrition and plenty of mindless junk to change the brain into mush. 


If you're butting in on your kids' lives all the time with requests and demands and then you hear that they're not concentrating at school...cut distracting them!

Respect your child's play. Help them negotiate their timetable so they get the homework done first and then play - teach them how you're improving your productivity.

Allow the children to free wheel - they need to play and have fun and just chill: as long as what they're doing is not toxic (mindless tv, drinking fizzy drinks...) 

I watch my two boys who are being home educated. They're always busy in their own worlds. It's amazing watching them build up a huge bank of patience and focus - they concentrate on their chosen tasks for hours. Now imagine that translating into a profession or skill...

Get out of the way and let the children show you their true colours. Do they need entertaining? Usually a symptom of way too much tv. Or do they just go and get into the things that they like doing? Great value there (as long as it's not a toxic occupation like online gaming or mindless tv....)

Give the kids some space to grow healthily and naturally. Simply really. But so hard for many because they fill their house with distracting junk like a tv in every room, computer games in front of comfortable chairs...If you've not got into that mess yet, don't go there. If you have ... have a garage sale.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Time to abolish OFSTED

Does it maintain standards?
Only according to its ever expanding requirements - it has, after all, the taxpayers' credit card, so it's incentive is to add more requirements.

Does it teach anyone?
So get rid of it.

Article in a trade magazine:
Time to go...time to go...

A drop in exam results...shocking schmocking

August brought the first drop in exam passes since GSCEs were introduced fourteen years ago. It has caused a small storm on the heels Great Britain's historical achievements in the Olympics, which may explain some of the disappointment felt: how could the kids let us down after so many gold medals? Or, how dare the exam boards make the exams more difficult! They've changed the goal posts. Well, for those of us of a sceptical bent,it has been rather strange watching our nation's pupils grades increase annually, when the cultural distractions have multiplied and nutritional chemical consumption has increased and the human brain has not evolved to a higher plane. Instead of worrying about the 0.4% drop in A-C passes, we should be reconsidering the pedagogical worth of exams.

My pupils hear this regularly, but it's worth sharing. What do exams do? The general answer is they test a pupil's competency in a given area. This is partially true: exams also test a pupil's ability to pass exams. That's different. It has long been noted that some students are good at passing exams but cannot express what they have supposedly learned coherently, or they forget it straight after the exam! Then there are other pupils who are highly competent in their subject but go to pieces in exams - their result doesn't reflect their innate intelligence or love of the subject.

From a tutorial point of view, both kinds of students need to alter their methods: the competent exam taker needs to step outside the tunnel of school and exams and get a feel for learning things for their own sake. He or she needs to own the information personally rather than learn it impartially to be regurgitated in an exam and then forgotten. Such learning remains superficial - but it's amazing how far superficial people can get by just passing exams!When they finally graduate, they wonder, though, why they are not picked for jobs.

In our experience, we have met many exam machines who are thoroughly unemployable--their studious focus is too narrow to be of use in many areas of employment, which may explain why many exam machines cling on to university studies and aim for a PhD and then, if they're lucky, post-graduate research. Again, I've known many PhD folk who are unemployable. It's not that they are "over qualified" as some would immediately say, but that they are horrendously "under qualified" in understanding the broader picture, how to deal with people, or being "street smart." It's also why many apparent under achievers (in school) do well in business - they see the big picture, they're street smart, and they know how to deal with people and get the best out of them.

Personal tuition can help both.

The nervous exam taker needs to be pulled back to the foundations of their passion and then to be checked if what appears to be a confidence in a subject is indeed a competence.

Often, fears of exams come from having to sit exams at an immature age, when exams don't really mean anything but when there is a lot of pressure to do well for some reason or other from schools or parents to show some skill level. Later in life, the pupil exhibits a lot of nervousness, typically under timed conditions. Here the goal is take ensure that the pupil knows and understands the exam requirements and can proceed without any stress.

However, sometimes exam nerves simply reflect a lack of knowledge or preparation: the pupil "kind of knows" or "sort of understands" but really has no coherent depth in the subject. Again, a tutor can spot this lacuna and help to improve knowledge and study skills.

The exam machine needs to get more life experience and often to be allowed to make choices. Sometimes their sense of self worth is dependent on grades (and we have to ask - where did that come from: primary school, parents?) and the pupil may be in desperate need to have a paradigm shift. It will come - the question is when, and how disruptive it will be. The great philosopher John Stuart Mill had a nervous breakdown at the age of 19 following an extraordinary education which had him reading Greek and Latin in his infant years rather than climbing trees and throwing apples at girls.

Life should not be about hitting targets created by other people - we should create our own targets and aim for them instead!Exams are designed by external authorities and living by their standards creates a second-hand existence rather than an authentic individual experience.

Unless universities want their raw talent immediately (for instance, mathematics or physics departments), it is highly advisable for these students to take a year off or to pick up part time work or volunteering. To get out and to find what they find valuable. Rich grades can sometimes mean dire mental poverty!

Sports offers a great chance to get involved, but so too does rambling if the corps d'esprit doesn't tempt. Fresh air, gardening, working with children of different abilities...thoroughly human pursuits are a useful balance to the educational exam system.

Then there are those for whom exams are pointless. They find no joy in expressing their academic abilities. Nonetheless, we usually find that they can express their talents in extracurricular activities more easily--sometimes in not great endeavours of course, for if they are turned off learning from cultural or educational pressures from an early age, they may turn to destructive and self-destructive paths. Such individuals, who want to do well at some level, may require a pragmatic understanding of why exams are important if they want to get into college. But as mentors we also need to develop their sense of self worth outside of the educational system and exams and grades - remember, many of our entrepreneurs and even inventors were just passionate about what they did, rather than scored great SATs results.

Examinations were invented, as far as I can tell, by the Chinese, to employ the "right kind of people" for the government bureaucracy. In many respects, that's what exams are still for - to see if we fit into a prescribed box. Tick if we pass, cross if we fail. But the box is a "mind forg'd manacle" (William Blake)--as much for examiners as pupils. Rid the mind of the boxed, second-hand life, and either the pointlessness of exams becomes clear or they become a little more palatable.

©Dr Alex Moseley, August 2012

Are too many people going to university?

As an educator and philosopher I cannot emphasise the importance of using the mind and expanding it to its greatest potential. I am a fervent believer of physical and mental exercise, stretching the body and the mind to gain physical strength and mental ability. But schooling and prolonged schooling are not synonymous with education and for many students the option of delaying earning a living should not be taken at all. The mind can be expanded through skills learned while working – and often this is the most rewarding and most authentic way to improve knowledge and hence earning capacity.

Over the past two decades increasing numbers of pupils have been encouraged to enter further education, ‘to go to uni’ as it’s irreverently called, as if it were a holiday camp. Indeed, some of the pupils I have known have been more interested in the nightlife than in the quality of the degree that they are purchasing. Naturally, such candidates are encouraged to invest their time in learning through work or they are encouraged to take a year or two off to mature before they set upon a massive investment of tens of thousands of pounds that may or may not bring them much relevant education.

Arguably, the younger generations have been subject to a subtle social engineering policy: because of the all the regulations, minimum wage laws, and other restrictions on job creation, the employment market for young people is tight. Far better for the government if these young people were herded into universities to keep them from increasing the unemployment statistics, and what better than that this is justified in the name of education? Education, many economists will espouse, is positively correlated with economic growth … true, but the causation is not necessarily the way implied. As we become more productive and wealthy, we are more likely to invest in education; education itself does not necessarily produce more wealth. (We are not speaking about basic literacy and numeracy skills here, which certainly are causal factors in wealth production). Wealth is produced by action and by shuffling thousands of otherwise employable and creative minds into prolonged formal education, and much is thereby lost for the economy. And what a tragedy it is that these students have to now pay for the privilege of being unproductive and three years down the road have to begin the hard slog of paying off their debts, which, according to some estimates could rise to over £50,000. Compound the interest on that and the pain is palpable.

Social engineering is the attempt to mould society according to political criteria. In its most brutal forms, we tend to look at the Soviet Union or Cambodia of the Khmer Rouge, but we should not think that our societies are far removed from such utopian ideologies. Since the 1900s, the UK has rolled out a welfare state that sought, under the guise of protecting the weak, to control people’s income and productivity; as various policies failed, more controls were demanded by all parties and when they failed, even more controls, regulations, and licences to live followed. If you’re sceptical of this history, then pick up a history of the twentieth century and join the dots: we now pay on average 40.9% taxation (according to the Adam Smith Institute) compared to our ancestors who in 1900 paid 2% income tax and a concomitantly lower burden overall.

But decades of state controlled schooling have left millions believing that being micromanaged by the state is somehow normal and even progressive compared to the darker ages of minimal state intervention. Part of that trend is to encourage young people away from authentically productive work and into higher degrees, where many of them learn very little compared to what could be learned working. It’s not that a university education is wrong – it can be immensely rewarding and enjoyable in many aspects (intellectual and social), but when it is used as a policy to enrich the nation or to keep people from increasing the unemployment statistics then the glory of higher academic study is tarnished. Universities are for those who enjoy and excel at higher learning, and when we look at the population as a whole and their abilities and dispositions, that will always be a minority of people, perhaps 10% or less. But we shouldn’t put quotas on these numbers – that’s something governments like to do!

Education and continued learning are indeed vital to individual empowerment and a more contented life. But we’re in a world in which adaptability and mental agility are increasingly critical virtues: no matter what level of education we reach, the ability to turn our mind to problems enables us to increase our productivity and thereby serve our fellow citizens so much more than the possession of a piece of paper costing several thousands of pounds. Unfortunately, formal education tends to converge onto similar patterns that are inconsistent with the aims of mental empowerment: because they work on economies of scale and in turn must attract students and grants, modern universities must be managed in a way to keep costs low and revenues high – it’s a simple business model and there’s nothing wrong in that, except that the courses become subtly solidified by textbooks and powerpoint presentations, but commonly recycled reading lists (these abound at the lower levels and it’s only a matter of time before they creep into university courses); in turn the modern student plays the game, finds out what the course requirements are and learns to pass the required exams as they passed the A-levels and GCSEs before. Some resort pilfering of online essays or approach friends and outside tutors to write their essays. The integrity of the university system will slowly be lost but no one will notice except future historians looking back at the decline of the western mind. This also implies that the great minds are turned from lecturing and influencing to management and acquisition of funds. No doubt many will cry, ‘no, that doesn’t happen at our university!’ Oh, but it will. The old creative guard will be replaced by systemisers and managerially minded academics. I once predicted to an amiable Oxford professor that Oxford would be trumped by the polytechnics one day for a failure to embrace some fashionable new lecturing mode. And so it happened: Oxford Brookes scored higher than Oxford. Probably because the former used powerpoint presentations. (Actually it was that Brookes’s academics had published more – but of what quality?) The modern Scholasticism will not debate how many angels fit on a pin head but how many cafes can be rented out on campus, how many students can be fit into a lecture room, the university’s standing in the league tables, the successful number of research grants awarded … True academic and free thinking will be lost in the process.

So we return to the seventeen year old student currently applying to university. If he or she terms it ‘uni’, then it’s probably not for them. If they are concerned about the huge debt that they will garner, it is probably not for them. If they just want to waste three years of their lives, then they would be better touring the world and working its bars and doing charitable work. On the other hand, if they burn to learn more, if the have that unquenchable appetite for knowledge and for seeking answers to complex questions, if they want to delve into the books and journals and empower their minds and understanding of life’s secrets … then it’ll be more than worth it. But how many are truly like that? Not many.

Coming down from the rarefied strata of university education, many young people can learn more through apprentices and work experience. What I often counsel those who are not academically inclined, is that they should learn through work, learn from what others are doing, and particularly learn how business works. Although the public sector takes up a massive one in five jobs in the UK (and another 25% working indirectly for government budgets), more than half the population will work for the private sector. It is here that wealth production and genuine job creation take place; it is here that fortunes can be made by the adaptive and enthusiastic. Formal schooling teaches us to get a job – but what about creating jobs? What about setting up and running your own business? What about following your dreams? That can rarely be taught by the universities, for they are educational institutions not entrepreneurial schools. A business degree teaches the vocabulary and skills to look after someone else’s business, whereas real experience, real work, and the courage to set off alone can only be had from outside the formal educational establishments.
Before we lose our universities to a supermarket mentality (or even to a culture akin to premier league management) let’s give our young people a different vision: yes, continue in education through the degree if it appeals and the debt is worth carrying, but otherwise, pick up some books on entrepreneurs and starting up businesses, get experience and go forth and create jobs!

Why have a personal tutor?

What is the difference between going to school and having a private tutor?

It's a bit like going to a gym: if you wander in by yourself you may feel intimidated and either lose heart or fall into classes and do what everyone else is doing... but having someone their to guide you and encourage you, to push you and to lay off when appropriate - that's how we get the best out of learning!

I invest in the services of Guy Baker, PT, (Twitter: Builtbybaker82) working from Nottingham (he's also on facebook). During the sessions, I'm the learner rather than the guide and it's good for a tutor to put him or herself in the learning seat (or on the bench in my case) and feel how tough learning can be! The focus is 100% on what I can do and what I have to potential to do and that's how learning should be!

At the top universities in the world, tutorial time is based on a one-to-one or very small seminars: in our one to one sessions, the pupil is gaining that wonderful focus that is offered in the highest academic places in the world!

The greatest businessmen and women often refer to their mentors - one-to-one tuition in how to proceed and run a business.

No distractions from other people, no mass produced material imposed on the mind - one-to-one offers pure learning at its best.

In a class, the pupil is a fraction (one in twenty, say, but it can be one in thirty) which means the pupil only gets a fraction of the teacher's attention at the best of times.
In a lecture hall, the pupil is merely a sound board - the lecture broadcasts the information with the hope that some of the attendees are paying attention some of the time. It may be a great ego boost for the deliver and there's certainly economies of scale in sharing knowledge with so many people all at one, but it's not an effective way of learning - and I know, I've been a lecturer.
With one to one, our attention undivided and we can concentrate on what the pupil knows and what he or she needs to learn. From a teaching perspective, one-to-one cannot be beat - whether you're pushing weights, learning dance steps, improving calculus, advancing piano skills, practising comprehension - the intensity is 100%.

At school - even the best of them - cannot always deal with the individual in the way that personal mentorship can. I've learned so much under Guy's supervision but I've also learned so much with my pupils. I say to ours tutors - don't forget to learn with your pupil. It's a mutual and mutually beneficial process! It's great fun too!

Summer learning - let other intelligences flourish

The summer brings the eternal idyll of family life, holidays, the warmth of the land and the gorgeous verdure of the woods. It is a time to explore our natural side - to seek the sea and cool rivers, to walk moors and hills, to discover hidden treasures around or just to lie in a field of long grass and watch clouds drift over.

Why do we have such a long summer holiday? It's a hangover from our agricultural past when all hands were expected to help with the harvests - ask any young lad or lass whose family has a farm and you'll find them heavily employed during the summer months!

But should our children continue to learn something through the summer months?

I think so - but not in school. Remove all formality and all sitting at desks and let the other intelligences have a chance to flourish!

Children need a break from institutionalised learning (just as teachers do!); they need to be allowed to run free and enjoy the outdoors to reset their emotions and grow in other respects.

On the other hand, over the long summer months, many slip in what skills they have learned during the school year - especially if the skills are only temporarily held in their minds as the knowledge or techniques were only thinly held by their minds.

Much learning that we do is shallow - it is taken in during the lesson but barely repeatable the following week. There are many reasons for that: distractions in a classroom environment, lack of thorough understanding - which rarely comes for many things for most children, lack of a connection to the knowledge -i.e., 'what's this got to do with my life?'

Such learning is quietly lost during the long summer months. In some respects it can be regained once class restarts in September, but if the mind is subtly ticked over - greasing the grooves as my personal trainer says - then much learning can be sustained and advanced: confidence can be gained and skill sets deepened. But to best foster such mental development, it's better for a child to enjoy finding his or own freedom in the summer months and learning through play, socialising, and relaxation (so underestimated in our culture!).

So let the children play - find bugs, draw monsters, laze around in the grass...more is gained from being human than being a cog in the educational machine.

State sponsored sleep-overs: whatever next?!

Okay, it's a warm summer but in recent days the heat is finally taking its toll on the politicians steering the nation's education. Now they want schools to stay open till 6pm and encourage parents to leave the children overnight at school: "Schools are being urged to stay open until 6pm and even offer sleepovers for pupils to help ease the pressure of childcare on parents." says the Daily Telegraph.

Midsommer madness? Not really, it's all part of the inevitable consequence of two critical paths we're on: welfarism in which the government is seen as the primary provider of services regarding people's health, education, employment ... basically life; and secondly government mismanagement of the economy.

Understanding the principles of welfarism is easy: rather than encourage personal and family responsibility, the welfare state encourages people to look to the government to solve personal and social ills. To effectively roll out such a program, the state (in any country) has to systematically undermine the fabric of family life and localism. It has done this by simultaneously weakening the ability of local communities and families to provide charitable works and to take care of each other and then providing a 'free at point of service' set of institutions to attract people to it. The effects on family life and local communities are still being assessed, but those who take a longer view of society (rather than just rake through a few recently published academic works) are not impressed.

Understanding how government mismanagement of the economy leads to ministerial calls for prolonged child provision is more indirect. The thesis here is that rising costs of living force people to have to work more. In the 1950s, many families could survive off one income. Today that choice is less available to most people, even professional couples. The rising cost of living is the same as declining standards of living: although we live in a world of plenty, it is increasingly difficult for many people to sustain real wage increases.

Why? Rising taxes and printing of money. Has anyone took a look at the UK debt levels recently? They're horrific: over £1 trillion in mid 2013: according to some estimates that means a debt level of near £19,000 per man, woman, and child. People mutter about the debt being passed on to our children, which is true that they too will have to pay for their grandparents' follies - we're still paying for wars in the 18th century, by the way - but there is no future pool of capital that exists for us to dip into.

Debt payments have to be made out from current production - future production does not exist. Over the past century, our national debt levels have just kept on increasing - and we can't blame two wars, they rose thereafter too.

This means that the current population has to work harder - or more family members have to give up more time to help pay the bills. Our tax freedom day - the estimated day in the year when we stop working for the government - is the 30th May. It's not the same for all people, of course - it's an average; which means that some people end up working longer to pay for government services, salaries, and pensions (which I have read draw 70% of our taxes - ie., 70p in every pound paid funds people who are no longer providing services, which means that 30p is funding the holes in the roads patch-up programmes!)

So our parents are working harder to make ends meet. The government says, don't worry, we'll step in and provide longer opening hours to child mind your children and even beds. This continues the slow erosion of families' and localities' values and sets up a host of psychological issues from children who are abandoned for state sponsored night care. (Sounds rather Orwellian - it is). Mind you, I bet many in the Cabinet went to boarding school so they probably have no problem sending other parents' children into night care - but the psychological damage of sending young children away is another story. Let's just say it has repercussions on their emotional health.

Of course, the extra school hours and bed provision will come with a cost ... which means many folk will find themselves working harder on the economic treadmill and they won't see their children as much and the intricate fabrics of family and local life will be snipped snipped snipped.

As a political philosopher, it is ironic for a Conservative-led coalition with a sideshow called the 'Liberal Party' to suggest more state provision of child care - this is usually the political ground of the left, which has always wanted to see the overthrow of the family so that the state may rule supreme in people's lives. Historically, you can read about the blueprint for such a totalitarian society in Plato's Republic, in which he has Socrates argue for the separation of children from their mothers to be brought up communally.

Separating children from parents breaks bonds and since the family and locality constitute the sole balwarks against central government's intrusions, it makes sense for the totalitarian minded to say, 'Hey, we'll look after your children for you.' I shall proceed to conjecture how many dodgy folk may be attracted to 'look after' children in institutional care at night but I would highly recommend we all reject the government's plans to wreck more of family life - and to stop spending money we don't have.
July 2103

Is it time to keep tabs on private tutors? - Independent article link

Click on the link to The Independent.
It was a privilege to be asked for my opinion and a pleasure to have my thoughts put into a national newspaper!

Abolish educational league tables.

League tables were introduced to increase competition between state suppliers of education. The idea, derived from sports performance, was to give parents an idea of where 'their school' was compared to their neighbour's school.
To some extent this is inevitable when governments fund schools or anything else for that matter: money spent by Parliament has to be accounted for and not just in terms of receipts but also in terms of the quality of the service. Unlike the private sector in which feedback from customers in reduced sales or increased complaints gives business people an incentive to adapt and change, feedback mechanisms in government bureaucracies are more indirect, subject to political influences, and as many obfuscations and diversions that incumbent officials can think of. You don't believe me? Watch a few episodes of Yes Minister to get the gist, and if you don't get it after that, then read some essays by C. Northcote Parkinson ("Parkinson's Law"), or Ludwig Mises On Bureaucracy.

So the money has to be accounted and the quality of service assured - which is a much improved situation than not accounting for the money or checking the quality of provision.

The problem concerning education is that a pupil's needs are so individualistic. State imposed quality levels necessarily ignore the individual because schools and pupils need to be compared on an equal basis. I have no idea how to compare two children - it cannot be done. How do you compare yourself to your neighhbour? On your ability to do algebra? On your salary? On the holidays you go on? All would be superficial and meaningless.

Certainly, I can assess their maths skills for the same questions and one may get 10 out of 10 and the other 5 out of ten. According to what the government intends to this will mean that the first pupil is in the top ten percent of the country and the second in the bottom 50 or 60%. Naturally this will encourage many parents to get concerned about their children's standing in society - and the new feudal order that governments enjoy cultivating despite rhetoric otherwise, will be cemented in people's minds. Those at the top become the experts, those at the bottom the plebian class to be controlled by the elites. Personally, I hoped we were moving away from Plato's class system in which three classes are pulled aside during their education to either rule, protect or to do the hard work. We are all unique and have skills that are exchangeable in the market place, regardless how well we do in a tiny area of life called schooling.

But what an effect such divisiveness has on people. "I was no good at school..." "I was terrible in exams..." "I hated school..." why? because school was testing them in areas that they were not competent or interested. As Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Can we not learn from that yet? Focus on the first clause - everyone is a genius: look at what a child can do when left to exercise their initiative!
Now imagine a ten year old growing up thinking, "I'm no good, I'm in the bottom 30%. I'm useless, I'm only good for stacking shelves." So why are so many very rich people school dropouts? Because schools and their tests only focus on certain aspects of ability, not all. They do not test emotional or natural intelligence for instance, or much of Gardner's seven intelligences. Business people are often visionaries; they see gaps in the market place or innovate in ways everybody else is saying can't be done. Few academics make good business people - we're tied to texts too often and believe our worth is a function of our ability to succeed in exams.

A child is unique. Most people admit that. The ones who don't are not looking properly or refuse to acknowledge their own individuality. But those who accept individuality then proceed to insist on standardised tests for all children of the 'same age range' so they may be compared and placed in league tables. The top ten percent will no doubt feel very proud of themselves but what about the 90% of kids who don't make the top grade? It's the same philosophy with companies and government offices that have employee of the month: whoohooo - and the rest of the employees? They suck is the implied meaning. Such division and competition is unhealthy - it undermines self-confidence and human potential; in effect it is a war on the human soul.

So if someone admits that children are unique and then goes on to argue that they should be sitting standardised exams at such a young age, there is, we must observe, something wrong with their reasoning.

It is somewhat different for older children who sit exams aged 15 and 16 - at least that is when they have some choice over the matter, which they do for about a fifth of their curriculum. There is an element of voluntariness in their choices to do exams - or at least to revise or not revise for them. There is also a greater maturity that they can at least understand why they are completing their courses with exams. But eleven year olds? They are still predominantly children in wonderfully exotic and imaginative and crazy ways. But the government wants to kill that.

Ten year olds already do a standard assessment test in the country to check whether their school is actually teaching them. Accordingly, their education slips as their teachers train them for exams that really do not mean much to the children and have no impact on their lives, and if they did, we should surely question the logic and morality of defining a child's future at the age of 10!

In my practice I work with lots of children of all ages and abilities, and I see what early exams such as the SATS do to children's confidence. I see so many teenagers who freeze in exams because they are taught by the school system that they 'must get it right'. This is despite the research in psychology that consistently shows that people cannot think clearly under stress. But hey, let's keep on testing them because that's what we've always done.

And what does it imply when they don't? They're a failure. I've felt it myself when I did a practical exam a few years back - I was so nervous I forgot some basic protocol. Because of the SATS my colleagues and I observe a lot of exam nervousness in older children - now imagine the effect if that exam 'graded' the child nationally. I've no doubt that our tuition company will witness an increase in demand from parents keen on improving their child's standing - we'll teach them the bigger picture, as we always do, that pre-pubescent children's precociousness or lack of is no indicator of their future abilities or how wealthy they'll be one day, that exams do not measure all of their intelligences, that they seek to box their child when their child should be stretching, developing, and flying.

Early exams that the government is proposing are divisive and stressful; the minister wants to 'raise the bar' i.e, improve standards - in what we must ask? In creating a more stressful culture? Isn't there enough of that anyway? The only beneficiaries, as often is the case with such initiatives, are the officials, examiners, and statisticians who will create, implement, and analyse the results, which, in an era of supposed austerity is another reason why such folly should be abadoned, but the primary reason is the mental and social health of our children.

Just say no to exams for little ones!

What's wrong with a national curriculum?

What’s wrong with a National Curriculum?
Simple answer: it’s national, and children are individuals.
Each child should have his or her own curriculum depending on their proclivities and needs as they mature. The child is the product of two parents and it is their responsibility – ethical duty – to care for the child and to ensure that it is educated. Each family is in turn different from every other family and can foresee their own needs better than other people. Government officers are not in such a position – their position is on of imposition regardless of local, family, and individual needs. Such is the nature of government and that will not alter.
Now, for those whose immediate concern is that other people do not look after their children sufficiently and that they need to be imposed upon by government action, I would suggest to firstly look at their own home and values before asserting their beliefs and notions of what is right and wrong on others. This is the principle of liberty – or minding your own business! Certainly, individuals and families do not always work efficiently and we can see other people making mistakes as we also make our own mistakes, but a part of the ethical question is who is in a better position to learn from mistakes and hence to improve their position? Arguably, it is the individual and the family: historically, governments create a series of cock-ups; pedagogically, governments follow the line of least bureaucratic resistance and propound fashionable theories that come and go; and morally, unless we are asked, we should be keeping out of other families’ lives.
In more particular term: if one family wished to emphasize a religious teaching and another family an emphasis on science or environmentalism, that is up to them. We can all benefit from sharing such insights and ideas as tried and tested by others, and so we can gain great benefit from allowing each of us in our families to try different kinds of learning. Now, there are principles of learning that involve being motivated, learning bits at time and gradually improving over time, and being self-disciplined. Such principles are the best that we can pass on to our children and they underpin the best educational programmes that have lasted the tests of time; but they work best when education is applied to the individual who is keen and motivated to learn rather than imposed on unwilling, unwitting, or prematurely on immature minds.
To the great liberal thinkers and educationalists of the modern era (1600s to date), such principles were obvious. We learn best when we want to learn, and children learn best when they come to the learning – when advanced skills or knowledge is imposed on them too early, the results are often repressive.
However, in the past hundred years, gradually the state has taken over more and more of people’s lives. The notion of caring for people “from the cradle to the grave” sounds like a caring utopia but it also creates incredible distortions in incentives and responsibilities that our societies are struggling to deal with. As the state took over education – initially by funding it and pushing out the independent and church schools and even banning in some countries the right to tutor privately or home educate - it was inevitable that the state would seek to instruct the schools and teachers what should be taught. It’s not just a matter of political desire to impose standards of sorts, it’s a matter of legislative necessity: if the governing body (Parliament, Congress, etc.) pays for something, its funding is in turn accountable to accounts committees, which means in turn that the committees have to ensure that the money is (a) being spent and on what and (b) being spent in a manner that the governing body decrees.
Now often with government expenditure, principle (a) often goes awry – millions, and sometimes billions ‘go missing’, which is extraordinary in itself. The second principle (b) is the leverage politicians gain from spending other people’s money. To ensure the money is being spent, certain standards are, given public interest and demands, inevitable: the state wants to know (on behalf of the taxpayers it may say) that the monies are being spent ‘appropriately.’ 
Ultimately, that can mean anything; and therein lies the rub.
In a commercial business, the purpose of spending money is to provide a service and there is a powerful feedback mechanism (the market place and its price mechanism) to ensure that the money is being spent appropriately: if money is wasted the company’s profits suffer and its managers and/or owners have an incentive to adapt (or go bankrupt). The feedback is from the customers – ultimately, businesses must serve people and when they don’t, they fail and their resources are bought out by others who may serve people better.
The only feedback mechanism in politics is revolt (peaceful or violent). Government provided services do not have the immediate feedback loop that businesses have. Money is raised through the violent intervention of taxation (do you think violence is not involved? … try not paying a tax bill) and then spent according to the implicit and explicit policies of the government of the day. Money trickles down from the state’s officers into various projects; when the money is not deemed enough, the recipients scramble for more and either other departments must lose funding or the government borrows or prints money to fund the deficits. The clamour for more funds usually emanates from the interested groups spending the monies; and gradually but inevitably (and regardless of the political rhetoric) the quality of the service becomes less important than securing extra funding for the recipients – staff, managers, bureaucrats, and the host of accessory organs that emerge to ‘help’ the state funded departments spend their allotment and secure more for the future.
When the balance tips and the people have had enough of corruption and failure, lenders may impose tighter restrictions on government borrowing, failing that the people take to the streets and demand change. This last resort is of course drastic and horrendous in its repercussions: political revolutions rarely alter life for the better, especially when guided by the corruption of government rather than the principle that government should not be involved in people’s lives in the first place (that rare form of revolution for liberty!).
These, then, are the principles of government spending. Money is raised through violent intervention in the market place and then spent according to the policies of the ruling party or individuals. Over the centuries, taxpayers have demanded that governments be accountable to the monies spent (which is a good thing!) and that they also see where and how the money is being spent (which is also a good thing given the proclivity of people to spend other people’s money without much care!).
Enter the realm of education: it is inevitable and not a bad notion that governments be held accountable in this field. The billions spent on public funded education must be seen to be doing something of use, somewhere, somehow. In the private sector, when schools or tutors fail to offer what parents and pupils want, they are forced out of the marketplace by those who do. (You don’t think the market works here? Google ‘schools for sale’ – incompetent or retiring managers sell their schools while keen school managers are in the market to buy more!) When state schools fail, they often attract more funding and when ministries of education fail the process is more convoluted. It could be decades before changes are imposed for the better, despite the obviousness of failure and current distress amongst teachers and pupils.
The purport of a national curriculum is to obviate the gross problems involved in spending other people’s money to teach other people’s children: since government funds the system, government should thus control the system to ensure certain standards are met. That is inevitable as we have seen; but what is also inevitable is that those standards are necessarily political.
Teachers, parents, and pupils may not realize that they are immersed in a political system because most of the rhetoric provided is all about ensuring that the children are given a ‘decent education,’ that ‘no one is left behind’, that the they are taught the necessary skills to catch up with other countries’ children, and so on.
But what is a ‘decent education’ to take an example?
The minimal requirements for a civilized society, without question, include being literate and numerate, but beyond that what should state schools be teaching becomes controversial.
To those of deep religious convictions much of the secular curriculum their taxes fund may be indecent; like wise the imposition of religious studies on secularly minded parents may also be deemed indecent. Such a binary example is only to highlight the problem; there are also controversies raging in science about the nature of evolution or even the very matter of the universe which are not taught at the lower levels as it would perhaps be deemed confusing for young minds (I’ve not found that true when I’ve described the basics of superstrings or the argument between neo-Lamarckians and neo-Darwinians though).
What about the texts studied for literature? The current UK government proposals insist that two Shakespeare plays be studied between the ages of 11 and 14. Now that’s a quick and sure way of killing any potential love for the bard. I’m a fan of his works but they are very dense and foreign to most youngsters; similarly Jane Austen’s great work, Pride and Prejudice, does not mean much to young people. These are heady books that require a good cultural, literary, and historical understanding to appreciate them. It certainly makes sense to encourage some form of enjoyment of the classics to maturing minds but to demand that pupils study them kills their value. It’s a bit like having fun on the beach discovering crabs, pools, fossils, tidal effects and then having to write up a report on it. Just let the kids enjoy things first – processing and application as we understand it as adults comes in its own good time. However, children mature at different ages – I think there was one pupil in my English form (when we were aged 15) who had some inkling of Shakespeare (at least he laughed at certain points which were incomprehensible to the rest of us!); indeed, the class as a whole rejected studying any  more of whatever play we were dipping into. I returned to Shakespeare when I was twenty one – could not understand much of it then either, but persisted because I knew there was something in the works that demanded attention.
Choice – true voluntary choice – is paramount in education for healthy mental development. Often though, the choice is imposed by the teacher or the state via its national curriculum. Harry prefers imposing Mozart on pupils, while Joan prefers imposing rap and its variants. Jim is a fan of global warming politics, while Anne is a sports fanatic. We all have our passions – but there’s a time and a place for them, i.e., when the pupil is listening. When we enthuse with a crowd, how many really are listening and paying attention? In my one to one practice, I know when the pupil is not interested – I see the eyes glaze over and further soliloquy on my part will be a waste of his/her time and only superficially feed my vanity.  Imposing is different from exposing – exposure to the classics or to our personal passions has a great role in opening up the young mind, but that is not what nationally, politically imposed curricula are about at all.
Many years ago I gave a talk on the primacy of private education to a conference by the Society for Applied Philosophy at Oxford. The three other speakers sharing the table argued for more religion, more environmental studies, more classics … and I agreed with all of their passions, except I argued that if you believe children should have more exposure to the classics, etc., then they should set up their own schools and attract like-minded parents. I believe in the one-to-one approach of personalized tuition, which I have built into my own company, Classical Foundations, and have entered the market place to attract custom. The shock from the other speakers and delegates was quietly palpable – one could almost feel a collective gasp, ‘who let this one into the room?’ No, the other delegates and speakers wanted other people to fund their particular passions and corners of the national curriculum.
The notion that a single ‘expert’ or several ‘experts’ can produce a curriculum to fit all children’s minds becomes incredibly absurd or hubristic – or both. That a committee sitting far from your child’s life and mind could assert what he or she should learn is risible and worthy of Swiftian satire. I watch my elder (who is being home educated) and follow his shifting passions with interest: should an official deign to enter our realm and insist that my son should know what an ‘algorithm’ is (because he’s five, and our current government thinks five year olds should know what one is – although every adult I’ve asked stares at me blankly) I think both of us would laugh and then, if he felt confident, he may inquire if the officer knew the order of the dinosaurs’ eras and which came first triceratops or stegosaurus or what the difference between a pteranadon and ornithocheirus is, the poor chap may be similarly nonplussed.  
People may retort that my son is a product of my intelligence and passion for learning; yes, no doubt my wife and influence his education – mainly in the sense of getting out of the way of his curiosity and then learning with him, but not in the peculiarities of his interests. We expose him to what we think is culturally important, but we leave him to pick up what he found interesting. We do not immerse our children in the electronic worlds of tv or internet gaming – we may watch short videos on volcanic explosions or deep sea divers, as we don’t see any of those in the UK Midlands! We let them play, and avoid imposing rules that we often hear (“no, that’s the wrong way to climb a slide!”); we permit their natural development.
This is not what you get with a national curriculum. A state imposed curriculum is a form of social engineering in which all children (whose parents put them into the school system) have to learn x, y, and z, variables chosen by current ‘experts’ passionate about particular corners or aspects battled over by factions of varying degrees of egoism, dogmatism, and rare dashes of common sense. It’s a long standing joke that when the Labour Party is in office children are encouraged to study the history of the union and women’s movement; when the Conservatives are in office it is to be battles and great feudal style leaders. The current government (Conservatives with a dash of middle of the road Liberals) want exams to be like the exams they took when they were fifteen. Fashionable, political, superficial, irrelevant, and even whimsical become such politically induced policies.
If you wish your child to learn what the current politicians think they should learn then by all means give up yours and your children’s intellectual independence and send them along to the local school and do not question – join the ranks of the unthinking; but if you have an inkling of mental freedom (and you are reading this which suggests you’re still with the argument) or a suspicion that all is not well with such systems that are imposed universally on all children, then for your own sanity and your child’s mental development, and for the principle of freedom, avoid such schools, home educate, howl like a banshee about how ludicrous national curricula are. But if sending your children to school is the only economic and logistical option available to you, then ensure that you broaden their minds outside the school – introduce them to controversies (historical, political, scientific, etc.) and encourage the inquisitive mind that they are born with and, if needs be, learn critical thinking to help them question the more complicated issues of life.
Dr Alexander Moseley, July 2013