17 August 2012

Vocational training in schools

Yesterday the CIPD published an article on their site about a call for an alternative to A-Levels following recent results.  I posted a comment which they moderated (edited for length) but I feel they lost the link between the first two paragraphs they published, below if the full comment:

During the Olympics I saw a number of people questioning why a disproportionate number of Team GB and, in particular, Team GB medal winners were former Independant school kids. This reminded me of my own school days.  From age 10 to 14 I attended an Independent school on a scholarship.  when that school went bust I returned to the state school system attending a Secondary Modern.

At the Secondary Modern the school day ran from 09:00 to 15:30 with a 10 minute break mid-morning and an hour for lunch either 12:00 to 13:00 or 13:00 to 14:00.  The only sports were one hour of PE a week for half the year (the school didn't have the facilities for a whole year group to do PE at the same time).  The choice was Soccer or 10 pin bowling for the boys and netball or ten pin bowling for the girls.  The only vocational training was art, woodwork, typing (which was only open to girls, although I landed up doing it due to having Dyspraxia) and child care (again, girls only).

At the Independent school the school day ran from 08:30 to 17:30 with a 15 minute break at 10:30 and an hour for lunch at 13:00, 4 days a week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday), 2 days a week (Wednesday and Saturday) it ran, with the same breaks from 08:30 to between 16:00 and 17:00.  In terms of academic lessons we probably did a little more than a state school but not much.  The bulk of the extra time was taken up by sports (upto 11 hours a week), Combined Cadet Force (CCF, boys only) and vocational studies (all boys did at least 3 hours of woodwork a week and 3 hours of art/craft (which could include cookery, although in my time there only 3 boys (including myself) took the option); all girls did at least 3 hours of Cookery, 2 hours of typing (whilst the boys were doing CCF) and 3 hours of art/craft (which could include woodwork although in my time there only one girl actually took the option that I know of) a week).  Additionally there were compulsory hobby clubs for 2 hours every Thursday (during which boys could take typing, although in my time there I was the only one to take the option).  I understand that this was fairly common in the Independent sector.

Is it any wonder that Independent schools turn out more Olympians and people with more rounded skill sets?

Based on my experience I think we should look to extend the school day, certainly in Secondary schools, keeping the academic hours basically the same and filling the extra hours with more sports and vocational studies.  Eleven hours of sports a week is, perhaps, excessive for most pupils but 5 or 6 hours a week would allow for a greater variety of sports to be tried and fitness to be improved.  Offering a variety of vocational studies, along side the academics, from the start of secondary would give all pupils (even those who eventually go the academic route) a firm grounding in useful work skills and allow those who prefer vocational to academic work to get a taste of the options.  Some time could also be allocated to developing cross subject skills such as debate, study skills, critical thinking, time and priority management, project management, basic finance &c.

The main thing from my experience that I would seek to avoid having repeated would be the gender divide in subjects.  Girls should learn at least the fundementals of woodwork and/or engineering and try Soccer and/or Rugby.  Boys should learn at least the fundementals of typing (or rather it's modern equivalents) and/or cookery and try netball and/or hockey.  If CCF (or similar) is on offer then it should be open to both genders.

If I'd won that £148million on the Euro lottery last week I'd be looking to set up a Free School based on just those aims.
Of course, another advantage of the longer school day is that parents don't have to scabble to get into work after doing the school run only to leave pretty much straight after lunch to pick the kids up again.

16 August 2012

Spam sales call from 07720590063

Called, hung up when I answered then called again.  Asked to speak to the Three network account holder.  Identified company as 'Sprint Communications'.  Tried to sell me a renewal on my Three contract (which is up in November) and a new phone.  When I said I wasn't interested in renewing my Three contract he offered to transfer my number to a different network.  I pointed out that I already have a phone on a different network (some years ago my sister chenged to Three and I worked out it would be cheaper to have a phone on that network than to call in from my normal phone, she's now going back to the same network as my normal phone) and wasn't interested in keeping that number.  He tried to sell me a contract on another network again.  I repeated my reasons for not wanting to move to another network and after a while he accepted it.

I pointed out that the number was registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) so, as I have no relationship with Sprint he should not be calling me.  I asked him to have my number removed from their systems and from any lists they sell on or use.  He said he'd try.

Also reported this on Who Calls Me.

Now I'm off to shop them to the ICO.  I suggest others do likewise if they get a call on a number they have registered with TPS.

25 July 2012

Giving bad news at work

Just listened to a podcast from Manager Tools called "Giving Bad News" about what to do when something goes wrong at work andyou've got to tell your boss.  Reminds me why I stopped listening to them.  Should have called it "The Career Suicide Podcast".

One of the key points they make is that when things go wrong you should own the responsibility and not blame anyone else, even if they're the guilty party.  They say your boss will understand.  Not any boss I've ever met, they probably don't have time to try to understand.  If you're standing in front of your boss and 'owning the responsibility' then you are responsible.  That's responsible as a synonym for 'to blame' and 'at fault'.  Other phrases that go with the word responsible in that sense are 'poor review at annual performance review time' and 'dismissed for under performing with predjudice and no references'.

About the only saving grace I heard in the podcast is that if someone's failure to do something is the cause of your work being late or incomplete then you should do all you can to make sure that the othr person doesn't fail.  True, but there are limits to what you can do.  You can remind people and chase them up but, unless you have role power over them, you cannot instruct them.  You certainly cannot countermand an instruction from the person who does have role power over them.

Here's an example:
I was working on a project where I had a task to do.  It wasn't on the critical path but the task that followed it was so I had a firm deadline.  Before I could start my task a colleague on another team had to do another task on which my task was dependant.  Both tasks were a few hours each.  I couldn't do his task for him so ewas dependant on him doing his task.  As neither task was on the critical path there was a significant period between when we were assigned the tasks and the deadline.  In the time between when we were assigned the tasks and the deadline on his I'd periodically ask him if he'd had a chance to do it yet.  He'd responded not to worry it would be done on time.  A week before his task was due to be complete I reminded him of the deadline and asked if he'd had a chance to do it yet.  He just came back with don't worry it'll be done on time.  I spoke to my line manager and pointed out that I was concerned that he hadn't done the task yet as leaving it to the last minute ran the risk of something else coming up and preventing him from completing his task.  My line manager said to see him again if the task hadn't been done the day before it was due.  I also fired opff an email to the project manager, who didn't respond.  Each day I prodded my colleague with a reminder of the due date and askign him if he'd had a chance to look at it yet.  Each day I got a don't worry it will be done on time.  It got to the day before the deadline, still no joy so I tell my manager and email the project manager.  The dealine passes, I raise it again with my manager and with the project manager (who was, for a change, in the office and responded "What do you expect me to do about it?").  2 days after the deadline on my task my colleague finally does his task and notifies me right at the end of the working day so I have to stay late to do my task. 
Roll forwards about 9 months.  After a restructure we're all reporting to different managers and my colleague somes up to me and tells me what the situation was.  He had been specifically instructed by his line manager to not do the task until after the deadline.  Apparently she had had an arguement with my line manager and wanted to cast his team in a bad light by making us late on tasks.
Should I own the responsibility there?  Heck no!  That's an extreme example but it's rare a week goes by where I don't see or hear of a situation in our company, one of our suppliers or one of our customers where someone has failed on a task due to circumstances beyond their control.

In the podcast they say that bosses like it when people own the responsibility.  Of course they do, I expect lions are quite happy when a baby zebra wanders into the middle of the pride and lays down for a nap.  the bosses need someone to blame but are too busy to go looking, fortunately for them there's someone standing in front of them saying "I'm to blame.  It was me."

5 July 2012

Differing prices of goods bought at different times

I use the excellent TheyWorkForYou site operated by MySociety to keep abreast of  what my MP, John Hemming, does and says in the House.  Today I got a notification that he had recived a petition regarding the purchase of a Citeron car by a constituent.  The situation, as I understand it, is that the constituent had ordered a car from Citeron before 1st April but collected it after.  On first April Citeron reduced the price of the car, the petitioner seems to feel that they should have refunded to him the difference between what he had paid and the new, lower price.

Whilst this appears to be very bad customer service by Citeron I suspect that the legal question here is when the contract between him and Citeron was formed as it is in that contract that the price will be set.  Is the contract formed when the order is placed?  When payment, or the initial part payment, is made?  Or is it when the goods are picked up.  I seem to recall that the normal milestone is when the payment, or initial part payment, is made, at that time a contract is formed.  If he paid a deposit ahead of 1st April and based on the higher price then the constituent probably locked in that higher price then.

Consider the reverse situation, if the price had risen on the 1st of April.  Would the constituent have claimed that he should pay the new higher price or, had Citeron tried to charge him the higher price, would he be claiming that as he'd ordered at the lower price and paid a deposit he should only pay the lower price?

28 May 2012

Spam calls from 02034762589

Got a spam phone call from 02034762589 about 14:10 today to a number that has been registered with Telephine Preference Service for years, I checked and it's still registered.  The call is a recorded message saying that if I've been in a road accident I should press 1.  It doesn't identify the company it's from at all.

I Googled the number and found they seem to have been bothering quite a number of people today.

I went to the Telephone Preference Service website to complain but they won't deal with it because it's a recorded message.  They suggest contacting the ICO but the ICO website says that for phone calls you should contact the TPS.  Looks like there's a hole in the system that telemarketers are exploiting.  My MP, John Hemming, used to have an interest in combatting silent calls so I'm wondering if I need to write to him and see if he can suggest who would handle this or kick the appropriate person to make sure there is someone who will handle this?

12 March 2012

Just sent this to my MP in the hope that he will vote against the Healthcare bill.  I used 'Write to Them' so he should have received the email by now (well, presumably one of his people will have and will hopefully be putting it with the many other messages he receives on the same subject, hopefully all politely asking him to oppose the healthcare bill):

John Hemming MP
Birmingham, Yardley

Monday 12 March 2012

Dear John Hemming,

please vote against the healthcare bill. If passed this will set the stage for the destruction of the NHS and decent healthcare in the UK. The NHS is the envy of people in many countries, pretty much all of them except those that have a similar system themselves. Something this good we need to keep.

It is apposite that it be called the Healthcare bill as the end result will be that we get bills every time we access healthcare. Also, please near in mind that the bodies that represent those working in healthcare oppose the bill, as do the rank and file of your own party, and there is no voter mandate from any election to pass this legislation. The only ones who seem to be in favour are the Tory party (and not even all of them).

We have seen from the US the horror that is marketised healthcare. Please keep us off that road. Please oppose the Healthcare bill

Yours sincerely,

Recent behaviour by the Tory party does make me wonder if they've realised that they will lose the next election and they want to mess the country up as much as possible and make as much cash as possible so they can push off somewhere else and leave Labour to clean up their mess.

9 February 2012

Pains of Moving House

I'll be moving house soon so I've been notifying the various people who need to know my new address of this and when I think I'll be moving.  Mostly it's worked out OK.  Gas, Electric, Insurance &c all no problems, over the phone, done.  Bank want a written form but I could request that over the internet and they'll change my details on all their systems.  Local council is a different matter.  I called their call centre and got through to someone who told me I'd come through to the wrong section (I'd selected for general enquirers as there didn't seem to be an option for change of address) and told me to try a different option.  I did and got the same person again.  Third call I got through to the council tax who could change my council tax details but nothing else.  They tried to put me through to the switchboard who they said might know who I need to talk to but they just put me through to a message saying the office is now closed.

I've written to the councilors for the ward I'm moving to, via Write to Them,  hopefully they'll be able to explain the problem and get it dealt with.
Dear Paul Tilsley MBE, Sue Anderson and Mike Ward,

I shall be moving to your word in the next couple of weeks (not sure of the exact date but the 19th is looking hopeful) from South Yardley.  This lead to the genesis of my query.

As I'm moving house obviously I have to notify the council of this so that council tax records, electoral roll &c can be updated.  I had understood, from publicity material I have seen, that a major goal of the Customer First transformation programme was to provide a single point of contact so that when a citizen's details changed they would just have to call the council once and all affected systems would be updated.  However, when I called yesterday I was notified by the call centre that I would have to call each department and notify them individually.  I have, so far, notified council tax (which took 3 calls to finally reach the correct team) but have not yet been able to find the combination of key presses to get through the IVR to the teams for electoral roll or libraries.

Was I misinformed as to the goals of the Customer First programme?  Was I misinformed by the call centre yesterday?  Is it just that the programme hasn't gotten around to joining things up yet?

Specifically on the updating of my council tax records I was disappointed that when I changed my address I had to give my bank details, twice!  Once to prove my identity and again to set up a new direct debit to replace the existing one paying the council tax on my current home.  I can understand having to prove my identity but given that I'm moving from one band A residence to another band A residence in the same city (same constituency even) so will be paying the same amount each month from the same bank account to the same local authority to have to set up a new DD seems nonsensical.

Yours sincerely,