Red Wall Tories need to learn lessons quickly

As we know the key to Boris Johnson’s 80 seat majority in parliament, and hence the reason he seems to be able to plough through carte blanche one crisis after another, is because of the Red Wall – the cluster of seats that used to be thought of as Labour strongholds which fell to the Conservatives in the December 2019.  I was born in and grew up in one – Rother Valley – and live in another – Penistone and Stocksbridge.  Rother Valley has been Labour held since 1918 and Penistone and Stocksbridge, although a fairly new seat, covers an area that has been Labour since the early 20th century.

Miriam Cates MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge
Alexander Stafford MP for Rother Valley

Boris Johnson was very astute in his address to the country after his election victory became clear on the morning of the 13th December when he said

You may only have lent us your vote, you may not see yourself as a natural Tory … And as I think I said 11 years ago to the people of London when I was elected in what was thought of as a Labour city, your hand may quivered over the ballot paper before you put your cross in the Conservative box … And you may think you will return to Labour next time around. And if that is the case, I am humbled that you have put your trust in me, that you have put your trust in us, and I and we will never take your support for granted.”

The events of the last few months have posed the MPs now holding these seats some interesting questions because they need to think about the sort of MP they want to be.  They are new to parliament and learning the ropes and don’t want to irritate the party management but they also have an eye on the next election and on retaining their seat.  Many voters in these seats have lent their votes to these Conservative MPs because they wanted Brexit done and they’d lost trust in the Labour party.  This wasn’t entirely down to Corbyn’s leadership, but it accelerated it.  If they see their MP as just a mouthpiece of, what some are seeing as an increasingly incompetent government, the votes that saw a 7000+ majority in Penistone and Stocksbridge and 6000+ majority in Rother Valley will disappear quickly, particularly if the opposition parties can get a competent PPC in place quickly.  If they are seen as standing up for their constituents and putting them before party, they may have a chance of actually keeping their seat in the next and future elections.  My impression of the two MPs in these seats have been mixed.  Neither has, yet, rebelled in Parliament.  This doesn’t trouble me as this isn’t necessarily the best judgement of whether an MP is working for their constituents. A serial rebel, particularly in a parliament with an 80 seat majority won’t get their or their constituents voices heard. What they say to their constituents through social media or in their contributions to local news media and how quickly they respond to questions and issues raised tell their constituents a great deal about what sort of MP they will be.

We send our MP to parliament to speak truth to power and we want them to be a mouthpiece for their constituents not a mouthpiece for party propaganda.  Lessons will be learned over the coming months and I do hope the new MPs, particularly the red wall ones, learn them quickly because constituents can be unforgiving souls.

The Class War Conspiracy Theories surrounding the exam fiasco

If you have read some of my posts and my twitter feed you will see that I am a big critic of the process used by Ofqual and the exam boards to allocate grades to A level students last week and, unless things change, GCSE students this week.  I’ve outlined that I do believe the better way forward would have been an amalgam of the algorithm created and the Centre Assessed Grades (CAG’s – teacher estimates). 

An unfortunate by-product of the governments mixed messaging and, frankly, mishandling of this are the many and varied conspiracy theories that have promulgated social media and the commentariat – mainly from the more left wing tweeters and commentators.  They would have you believe that this is class warfare – an uncaring Tory government sticking it to the working class.  For these people everything is class warfare.  If Jeremy Corbyn had been in charge of the Labour party he would have been all over this like a rash spouting far left theories.  Instead his proxies, like Paul Mason, are doing this. 

There is an excellent and dispassionate post by a mathematics teacher, Andrew Old, which outlines how the model actually works (very much as I’ve explained it but in a little more detail) and dispelling many of the myths surrounding it.

I consider myself to be of the left and am certainly no fan and no spokesperson for this particular government.  I happen to think the way education has been dealt with throughout the pandemic has been farcical to the point of incompetence and I do think Gavin Williamson should be considering his position, but this is incompetence and miscommunication not class warfare.  I have absolutely no doubt at all that Gavin Williamson (state educated by the way) and others have no intention of beating up children from working class and disadvantaged backgrounds.  If you look at the evidence, many private school students have also been significantly hit by the algorithm. These myths will continue to propagate because many of these people only listen to like minded individuals who speak to their own echo chamber.  They won’t engage with facts, just rumour and myth because their cause is not to help all students fulfil their potential but to promote their narrow minded class warfare BS.

If you want to look at the model used in more detail, you can download a document explaining this here. I warn you it is 319 pages long but actually quite interesting. The mathematics and statistics around it are sound but of course it is a model – a mathematical algorithm. It will never be perfect – a model never is an exact replication of real life – and this is why, in my opinion, CAGs could have been used with the model. The vagaries and inconsistencies of each can be mitigated by the other somewhat.

Time to be bold with education

I am fortunate to write a fairly regular column for the blog Liberal Base a site which promotes progressive politics free from political parties. I have written a few posts for the site but I thought I would share a series of three posts I’ve written for the site concerning three specific changes I believe would make a positive difference to education going forward. These posts are not just critical of current policy – that is easy to do – but each time I offer an alternative that I believe would be an improvement.

Firstly, something I’ve written about before on my blog about how standardised testing at the end of year 6 is a missed opportunity.

https://liberalbase.com/2020/06/23/wayne-chadburn-a-once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity-for-radical-changes-to-education/

Secondly, and particularly prescient at a time of chaos in our exams system because of the pandemic, my suggestion to scrap formal examinations at GCSE. After all we are the only European country which has high stakes testing at 16.

https://liberalbase.com/2020/07/11/wayne-chadburn-radical-changes-to-education-ditch-exams-at-sixteen/

Finally, and perhaps strangely for a current teacher, my argument that we should scrap the long summer holiday. Not only do I believe it would be crucial in reducing the attainment gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students, it might also provide a solution to the bane of the private life of all teachers – being ripped off when wanting to go on holiday.

https://liberalbase.com/2020/07/25/wayne-chadburn-adjust-the-school-summer-holidays/

While you are (hopefully) reading these pieces please take time to read some of the other excellent contributions to the site (including me calling UBI an idea whose time has come again!). There are some really great ideas being put forward and some excellent writing on the site.

Predictability of the exams fiasco

Three weeks ago when I read about the general approach of the model developed by Ofqual and used by the exam boards to produce the A level and GCSE results this year I predicted the chaos and anger that would follow (look at my twitter feed if you don’t believe me).  The question I want to ask is if I could see this coming, why couldn’t Gavin Williamson, Boris Johnson, Ofqual and their advisors?  Maybe they did and didn’t particularly care?

Whatever approach was used to assess students at A level and GCSE there would be controversy and winners and losers. No system is perfect, however the approach adopted by the government has exacerbated this and, whether intentionally or not, penalised students from more disadvantaged areas.  I repeat – this could have been seen well in advance and the government and Ofqual could have acted to correct this if they’d wanted to.  It is all well and good me or others complaining about decisions the government make – that is easy and too often seen as virtue signalling.  What we also need is alternative approaches and I want to offer one the government could have used which I do think would be fairer to more students.  Firstly, I do think the model used and its limitations need to be explored.

The model used is skewed in favour of small sixth forms where subject entry numbers are small and skewed against larger sixth forms and subjects with large entries (my own subject of mathematics falls into this category) and schools that are on an upward trajectory in their annual performance.  With small entries, teacher estimates are used to create the results.  Where the entry is larger, teacher estimates are ignored by the model.  The only thing they consider is the ranking provided by the school.  For me as a teacher this is the most invidious part of the whole process where we’ve had to rank from most likely to least likely to get the grade estimated each student within each grade.  The model used has then, in most cases, already predetermined the spread of grades based on the last three years performance of a school.  All they do then is fit the rankings with the grade spread the model has assigned to that school.  Schools are only 2 or 3 years into a new specification which always leads to greater variability in performance of the first few years.  Some schools are on a path of improvement over time in their performance – some could have started this.  Schools often have particularly gifted cohorts in one particular year.  The model used totally ignores these quite common aspects that can affect school performance.

Using mock grades as an alternative (through an appeal) is a red herring.  Often mock grades are lower in mocks than grades attained in actual exams because students don’t revise as much or prepare as much for a mock exam (which normally doesn’t really matter) as opposed to the actual exam (which does matter).  Also, if the paper used for the mock is not an actual past paper sat in exam conditions, how can we tell the exam is rigorous enough to give a valid prediction?  At the same time using teacher predictions alone is also unfair to future and past cohorts.  These are generally inflated because teachers, understandably, err on the side of the students they teach, so give a best estimate.  This will have been curtailed somewhat by the leadership team at the school who must sign off on the estimates hence they will have done some internal moderation, but there will still be grade inflation.

In my opinion the best approach would be a mix of the model and teacher estimates.  Compare the two and where there is broad agreement between the teacher prediction and the model, accept whichever errs on the side of the student. Where there is a significant difference, the exam board should expect the school to evidence why. The exam board can then judge whether this is sufficient evidence to move towards the teacher prediction. If a school cannot provide evidence or sufficient evidence, the results from the model should be used.  Schools were expected to return their predictions in June and there was no exam marking to do (as would normally be the case) and so plenty of time for the exam boards to challenge schools where appropriate. Schools would have expected their grades to be challenged and should have been ready for this.

Instead the government have stuck to a model which favours private schools (small sixth forms and generally better results over the last few years) and works against the type of students they said were their priority when the broke through the red wall last December.

I don’t, for one minute believe that anyone has done this purposely to punish disadvantaged students (as some on the tribal left are already saying) but the chaos seen was totally predictable. Serious questions should have been asked by the Deparment for Education of Ofqual as it is the politicians job to see the wider contexts and then ensure those in Ofqual mitigate for them. Because of this, Gavin Williamson, who is ultimately responsible for this, should be seriously considering his position.

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along

I have just finished Iain Dale’s book “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along… Shout less. Listen More”.  I will put on record straight away that Iain Dale is a person I admire greatly and have done for a while.  I was an avid reader of his blog Iain Dale’s Diary when blogging was becoming “a thing” and listen to his podcasts and am a regular listener to his LBC show on weekday evenings.  Iain would probably describe himself “of the right” politically and if I were to describe myself, “of the right” is probably not the best description I could give myself.  I think this is a key point the book tries to make – since I matured from an angry teenager and twenty something I’ve become much less tribal and tried to listen to and read people who I wouldn’t normally agree with because you need to challenge your beliefs all the time and, as Iain regularly says in his book, try and see other people’s points of view.

Buy the book by clicking the image above

This book did not disappoint me, and I heartily recommend it to anyone with any interest in current affairs and particularly in public discourse in this country now.  It is part autobiographical and part critique of how we speak to each other, how intolerant we have become, in general, as a society and how the nuance of what you say is important because it will be interpreted in different ways by people with differing belief systems to yourself.  It works wonderfully.  He relates how his experiences as a talk radio presenter and the many phone in’s he has done on a multitude of topics have shaped how he thinks now and how the general public, through his show, have modified and changed some of the views he once held. 

Within it he also relates the awful abuse he has received on twitter especially because of who he is.  Often this comes from the seemingly increasingly intolerant left, but not always.  The book addresses an issue I’ve been concerned about for a while – how we speak to each other and the increasingly tribal nature of our politics, particularly since the Brexit referendum.  It was nice to read that his thought processes of how and why he came to his decision to vote to leave the EU were very similar to mine and I think in both cases, at the moment we neither of us regret it. The difference being that we clearly both know that we can’t say this for certain.  We will only know if leaving the EU has been a success or a disaster in 10 or more years’ time.

There is far too much certainty in politics and general discourse these days – too many people are certain of their views and intolerant of anyone who dares to voice an opinion which goes against it.  This book is a call to curb the certainty, reign in the intolerance and treat each other with respect, whether you agree with them or not.  It took me till my early 20’s to realise this myself.  I used to be that intolerant lefty that couldn’t countenance any sort of friendship with anyone who voted for or, god forbid, was a member of the Conservative party.  Only through meeting friends at University and later in local politics and talking to people of other political hues did I realise how intolerant and stupid I had been.  I really can’t emphasise enough that you need to talk to, listen to and read from people who challenge your thinking and who hold views contrary to your own.  There is no point having your own views and prejudices reinforced and your ego stroked constantly by the echo chamber you create if all you talk to, listen to or read are people who hold the same beliefs as yourself – you really are missing out on so much and you never know, one day, someone might actually change your mind about something.  I know because it has happened to me many, many times. (You can read more about my attempt at a #BeCivil campaign by clicking the link)

This book should be widely read not just because it is well written and a cracking good read but because of the positive, life affirming and vitally important messages it holds. 

They day I became politicised…

I can trace the day I really became politicised down to 35 years ago today.  27th June 1985 I became, for a time, a very angry young man.  An angry 15 year old, just over 3 weeks away from his 16th birthday and a week after completing his last O level examination.  I can vividly remember some aspects of this day – it was the first day of the 2nd Ashes test match at Lords – a series which saw the real beginning of the domination of Alan Border and then Steve Waugh’s Australia.  Weather wise it was a fairly overcast day.  It was the day my dad died.

My dad developed my love of watching and playing Cricket (I stopped playing not long after he died – I’d lost my passion for playing the game when he wasn’t there to watch me) and took me with him every Saturday as he played cricket for my village, Anston, home and away.  He took me to Bramall Lane for the first time and was one of the two people (the other being Graham, my cousin) who I blame for the lifelong affliction of supporting Sheffield United.  He took me to watch Geoffrey Boycott and Yorkshire at Abbeydale Park in Sheffield and Worksop, even though he was a Nottinghamshire lad.  He worked in a steel works all his life, working shifts in a job he hated, just so he could put a roof over our heads and food on the table.  He was one of the cleverest people I knew, yet the only test he had ever passed was his driving test.  He was a prime example as to why Grammar Schools are an abomination and deliver more kids to academic scrap-heaps than they lift up the social mobility ladder.  My dad was my hero and to lose your dad when you are still a snotty, immature and impressionable teenager is the worst thing that has ever happened to me.

My dad had been suffering from a particularly aggressive and nasty form of leukaemia which had been diagnosed in September 1983.  In 20 or so months from diagnosis to his passing, he’d been in and out of hospital on a regular basis.  He’d been used as a guinea pig for a number of drugs and treatments and bore the scars of these when he went into hospital for the final time.  He’d also seen and experienced first hand the NHS under Margaret Thatcher.  He’d be rushed into hospital because his condition had become unstable and would be on a trolley in a corridor for hours upon end with only those cardboard bowls to be sick in as comfort, even though he was in incredible pain and discomfort, until a bed in a ward could be found for him and the doctors could try and get his condition back under control again. This happened nearly every time he was rushed into hospital.

Of course what was going on was much more nuanced than an angry and rather immature 15 year old could comprehend at that point, but that, combined with witnessing the miners strike and the beginning of the disintegration of the coal-field communities close up made me feel visceral hatred towards Margaret Thatcher.  I came from a tribal Labour family in a tribal Labour area.  My community was unravelling, and my dad was dying horribly and slowing before my eyes.  I was angry and I needed and wanted someone to blame for this and Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative party fitted that bill.

I joined the Labour party when I turned 16 and attended regular meetings.  I campaigned in local and General Elections.  I even remember turning up at an event in the parish hall where Paul Rayner (the Conservative candidate for the 1987 General Election in the Rother Valley where I lived) was speaking and heckled him about the crisis in the NHS.  What you need to understand is that at that time I was very much an introvert and incredibly shy (I still am to some extent) and for me to actually do something like this required a burning anger to make me do something so out of character.

In 35 years a lot of water has passed under the bridge.  I no longer ‘hate’ anyone, especially the Conservatives.  I’ve met and befriended many Conservatives since then.  On my local council I probably have more in common with the Conservative councillors than the Labour ones.  I left the Labour party a number of years ago (and haven’t voted for them either).  My politics have matured significantly since 1985.  No longer do I believe there is black and white but a spectrum.  No longer is my belief system driven by emotion but by listening, reading, learning and reflecting.  I listen to and respect most opinions, irrespective of whether I agree with them and am open to being persuaded.  None of these qualities I held as an angry teenager in the late 1980’s.  I’ve even read the first couple of volumes of Charles Moore’s biography of Margaret Thatcher and, whilst the anger at what her government did to the communities I grew up in (or rather didn’t do after they let the industry die) has not diminished, my views of her as a person have changed from being the devil incarnate to a strong, intelligent, single minded but brutal leader, the life and psychology of whom I find fascinating.

One thing hasn’t changed in 35 years though.  I still miss my dad so much.  I often wonder what sort of person I would be now if he’d not got leukaemia and had lived longer.  I’ve had 35 years without my dad but the 15 I had with him I cherish more and more as time goes on.

My week – June 22nd – 26th 2020

MONDAY

Today saw another announcement from the Department of Education before the government have really thought it through.  Frank Spencer Gavin Williamson announced that he wants to delay GCSE and A level examinations for a month to allow extra time for teaching.

On the face of it this sounds like a really good idea – and it does have merit.  I have slightly different views about what we should be doing with GCSE exams (I think we should scrap these and use continuous assessment throughout year 11 to get grades) but I do believe an examinations for A level as these really are a passport into a next stage, whether that be the world of work or the world of Higher Education. That though is a discussion for another post (watch this space!).

But has the SoS thought this through to its logical conclusion?  Has he discussed it with the areas of education affected by this announcement?  My hypothesis is, like most other announcements that emanate from the current government is that a thought occurs, it is deemed a jolly good thought and it is announced and only then do they think about the logistics to make it happen.  An arse about way of making decisions. The last few weeks are littered with examples of this kind of policy announcement.

Has Mr Williamson talked with the exam boards who arrange for the papers to be marked and collate the results? Has he talked to schools about how this is administered and the knock on effect of getting 6th forms sorted the academic year after? Has he talked to Universities who will be effected in that they will have an even tighter deadline in getting offers sorted for new students? Does he realise how tight the turn around actually is already?  Tightening this by a month will bring big challenges to all concerned. But of course that is the point of the current government – or so it seems – they just DON’T THINK!

Frank Williamson or is it Gavin Spencer?

TUESDAY

For the first time since the middle of March I returned to work today.  This felt a lot different to my return to work in September after being off due to ankle surgery for four months (there were other issues at play prior to the operation which I’m not going to go into here).  It felt really nice walking into school and seeing colleagues I hadn’t seen in over three months and especially nice seeing the students again face to face – I was due to teach my year 12 group.

The school had worked miracles in organising not only the key workers students (who have been in and been taught since lockdown started) but year 10 and year 12 (both in small groups and not all at the same time) in ways to allow as much social distancing and safety as possible and provide them with a meaningful diet of face to face education.  I was teaching in a large, airy space allowing for social distancing.  I was provided with my own hand gel to use as well as wipes for the keyboard and mouse I would be using.  The cleaning staff were doing their usual miraculous job of ensuring every space used is cleaned thoroughly as soon as possible after being used.  The school has clearly spent a significant sum of money getting the school as prepared as it can be with sanitation stations, signage etc.  How much of this I wonder has come from the already creaking school budget?  Don’t believe the ignoramuses out there (a few are frequenting the letters column of the Barnsley Chronicle at the moment) who think that teachers are sat sunning themselves and don’t want to go back.  Schools are being incredibly innovative (without a great deal of help from central government) in finding ways of opening up to more and more students in ways that allow for meaningful interactions with their teachers and providing the confidence that they are keeping them as safe as possible.

WEDNESDAY

The hottest day of the year so far! Oh my was it warm.  I’m not designed for really hot and especially humid weather.  I get really mardy and quite irritable when I get too hot.  There is a big difference in the hot weather we get here in the UK and what you get when you are on holiday in places like Italy or Spain.  Of course you are on holiday then and it is acceptable to hit the alcohol from about 10.30am (it is isn’t it??) and go for a siesta at about 2pm, but it really is a different kind of heat.  Often hotter than we get in the UK but a drier less oppressive heat than we get on really hot days here. 

It is even worse at night of course when you can’t bare bed sheets on you because it is so hot. You can’t get comfortable and to get any sort of sleep you have to sleep with minimal clothing on and believe me for someone like me, that is not a pretty sight – think beached and bloated whale!

THURSDAY

Some people are calling it Neil Kinnock’s Militant moment or Tony Blair’s Clause IV moment but Sir Keir Starmer has sacked his one time leadership rival, Rebecca Long-Bailey, the darling of Momentum and the Corbynista cult.  Her crime was to re-tweet (and apparently refuse to delete) a tweet from a Labour supporter which contained a reference to US police being trained by the Israeli’s, hence tying Israel in with the treatment of black people in the US which has led to the Black Lives Matter organisation to really lift off across the world.

Rebecca Long-Bailey and tweet

I think RLB (as I will call her) has played into Sir Keir’s hands here.  His first statement on becoming leader of Labour was about re-building trust with the Jewish community and RLB has become his useful idiot in demonstrating this was not just words. 

Of course it has caused concern in areas of the Labour movement but more power to Sir Keir’s elbow in trying to take back the party from the dear leader cult it had become.  I’m now waiting for some utterances from people like that inflated windbag and gobshite, Richard Burgon (thank GOD Dan Jarvis got the nomination for the Barnsley Central by-election, otherwise Barnsley would have been stuck with this cretin as an MP).  For me Richard Burgon and Rebecca Long-Bailey are everything that went wrong with the Labour Party under Uncle Jezza.  People who say they stand up for the working person but probably recoil at any encounter with them and the sort of people that working class people (particularly up North) despise. 

Everything that was wrong with Labour under Corbyn, the windbag Burgon

FRIDAY

Reading my paper this evening I come across YET ANOTHER pronouncement from our esteemed Secretary of State for Education.  Education is one of those areas where, because everyone has had some experience in the field (usually as a student), everyone has an opinion and sometimes think they know best.  Gavin Williamson is a perfect example of this.  His new idea?  He wants all students to be facing the front when they return to school in September because it is a “common sense approach to teaching”.  I had to check the date at the front of the paper when I read that as for a brief moment I wondered whether it was April 1st

I’m not commenting on whether students should or shouldn’t be ‘facing the front’ when in a classroom.  For me that is the responsibility of the teacher in that classroom who really ought to be able to decide how they want their classroom to look depending on how they teach and the subject they are teaching.  So instead of dealing with the logistics oh HOW to get all the nations school children back in September, instead of trying to deal with the funding crisis that has been enveloping schools since the middle of the last decade, instead of dealing with falling morale in the teaching profession, instead of dealing with the growing gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged children, the Frank Spencer of the education world would rather dictate how a classroom should be organised. 

Words of wisdom from Frank Spencer Gavin Williamson
More words of wisdom from Gav

Hidden amongst all this piffle? An announcement of the cutting of the catch up premium for students (predominantly from disadvantaged backgrounds) as they begin secondary school – another £55m cut from the education budget. Why worry about that though when all we need is children to face the front?!

My week … June 15th – June 19th 2020

MONDAY

How life has now changed and moved on to the new normal of the virtual world.  I now attend full Penistone Town Council meetings using Zoom, teach lessons to over 100 students at one time using Teams, do family quizzes and chats using Google Hangouts and on Saturday I will be attending my first ever VIRTUAL conference when I attend the #MathsConf23.  Of course you could do all this dressed only in your underpants but I wouldn’t recommend it.  It is quite easy for you to accidentally switch on the webcam and that could be really embarrassing for you and the people at the other end of the webcam (and on a teaching perspective – career ending!).  Even though me and many others are doing virtual training, meetings, conferences using zoom, teams, hangouts etc., Barnsley Council STILL don’t seem to think it is acceptable to run full council meetings virtually or have everyone attend virtual scrutiny committees. Who is responsible for this and why are they really frightened?  Is it the chief executive of BMBC who is liking the fact that she doesn’t have to deal with those pesky elected politicians or is it the leader of the council who is enjoying the lack of scrutiny or maybe is it as simple as they just can’t trust the dinosaurs that frequent the council chamber in Barnsley to do it properly.  When they say they are scared of “pornographic invasions” do they really mean can’t trust their own councillors not to switch on the webcam by accident and the whole of the borough is scarred by the sight of a well known councillor in his Y-fronts?

TUESDAY

Today was a momentous day in our house.  For the first time in over three months I had proper FISH AND CHIPS!!!!!!  this is where, on a local level, I am going to be controversial because even though we have three chip shops in Penistone (where I live – one literally across the road from my house and the other two within 10 minute walking distance) my preference is one in Dodworth, about 4 or 5 miles away.  Shaw’s Fish and Chips, in my opinion, is THE best fish and chip shop in the area.  When eating their fish and chips, I could close my eyes and (provided I ignore the fact there aren’t any seagulls squawking or trying to steal my meal) I could be back in Whitby.

Britain’s gift to the world

We made a conscious decision that, whilst we’ve been craving fish and chips for so long, we would wait for Shaw’s to re-open before getting them again.  On Monday they did this and today we went and did it.  I cannot quite give the sensory pleasure of this experience the justice it deserves.  The smell of the chips frying as I approached, the smell of the vinegar hitting warm chips and the taste of the most exquisite, beautifully cooked cod in batter.  I’m physically drooling whilst typing this and thinking about the experience.  If you are in the Barnsley area and fancy some amazing fish and chips, give Shaws on Barnsley Road, Dodworth a go.  They are well organised to deal with restrictions because of corona virus – they even have click and collect to avoid queues!! They use locally sourced ingredients where necessary and sustainable and traceable fish supplies and … honestly … the quality is second to none!!

Shaws Fish and Chips, Barnsley Road, Dodworth

WEDNESDAY

Yesterday saw the return of fish and chips for me and today saw the return of football!  Not only the return of football but the return of the Red and White Wizards (aka Sheffield United – the greatest football team on planet Earth).  It was incredibly strange watching a Premier League game with no crowd and no atmosphere. The crowd really does make a difference.  The game seemed like one of those pre-season friendlies – lack of match practice and lack of crowd clearly contributing to this.  I flicked between the SKY channel that had artificial crowd noise on and one where it didn’t (in case I could here the tactical genius of Chris Wilder and Alan Knill … and all the swearing). I eventually decided on artificial crown noise. After a fairly dour game the headlines of this particular game were focused on technology conspiring to steal three points from the Mighty Blades – Hawkeye (and a lack of use of VAR) clearly missing the fact the ball went over the line from an Ollie Norwood free kick.  Of course had United been playing a Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, there would have been all sorts of conspiracy theories about the big sides always getting the rub of the green of the supposed smaller ones, but we were playing Aston Villa so this didn’t gain any traction.  All in all, a point on an away game – especially when I thought Aston Villa edged it as the better team – was satisfactory and the unbelievable dream that Sheffield United might actually qualify for Europe next season is still alive.  In August 2019, I’d hoped we could finish 17th and stay up!!!! Newcastle away on Sunday!

Oliver Norwood’s ‘goal’ for Sheffield United against Aston Villa that wasn’t!

THURSDAY

I follow a group on Facebook … a local group.  I’m not going to reveal their name in case they bar me from the group and I suspect it is going to give me plenty of material for future posts.  Its initial ‘raison-d’etre’ was opposing the one-party-state that Barnsley has become, something I have sympathy with and hence accepted the invitation to join.  What it has become however is, apart from the odd insightful insight, an offshoot for EDL/UKIP-on-speed knuckle dragging types to vent their spleens sort of place.  It now features some rather ‘interesting’ ideas about, for example, how we spend our money abroad (we shouldn’t and should be ‘looking after our own’) and islamophobia (many in the group are pro this concept) to name just two recent posts and comment streams.

After yesterday’s return of the Premier League and prompted by the phrase “Black Lives Matter” appearing on the back of players shirts rather than their names, an angry accusatory post from a member duly appeared.  For me it isn’t the posts as such that are entertaining but the comments that follow.  They often display a total ignorance of the basic facts, are often illiterate and regularly both usually dressed with some rather colourful language.  I just thought I’d highlight just three comments from this particular post to demonstrates the idea of not worrying about spouting a load of total bollocks getting in the way of a good rant….

… well they did have a minutes silence at the start of each game, they are wearing the rainbow images on the shirts and the stands are full of banners praising and thanking the NHS and Key workers but apart from this…I get your point.

… the Premier League DO allow teams to show a poppy on their shirts prior to the Remembrance weekend.  The players then often sign the shirts and they are all auctioned and the money raised (been well over a million pounds) goes to the British Legion and they’ve done this for quite a few years now.  As for pissing on your telly … that would have been a rather silly thing to do – you would have permanently damaged the TV and could well have shorted your whole house out and I’m sure the smell wouldn’t be great.

I did challenge this assumption by the way – the poppy thing not the pissing on the TV.

FRIDAY

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, the man that sounds like a cross between Frank Spencer and a rather monotone vicar at the pulpit, was the man at the microphone at today’s Downing Street press conference.  The big announcement was that the Government are committing to ALL pupils returning to school FULL TIME from September.  Quite an announcement and I’m sure for many parents this will be welcomed.  As a teacher I want nothing more than for life to return to normal.  Whilst I’ve found preparing and delivering virtual lessons enjoyable, I want to return to the classroom and actually see the kids I’m teaching and talk to my colleagues and friends face to face.  I want to experience the delights of Northern Rail again on my journey into and out of work each day.

My question for Mr Williamson and co is did they actually talk to any parents and teachers before making this rather grand announcement?  They didn’t really talk to them when announcing a few weeks ago that they expected all primary school children to be back in school before the summer holiday’s only to have to retract this a couple of weeks later when they bowed to the inevitable of that just not being possible.  I suspect, unless the virus buggers off completely or the government accept that social distancing isn’t viable for most people if they want the economy to recover sometime before the end of the decade, they may have to do something similar here. It all goes to show that this government makes policy on the hoof without even trying to reach out and talk to the people who have to make their policies work.  If they could just learn to open up and collaborate before making announcements there wouldn’t be so much egg on the faces of ministers.

Frank Spencer Gavin Williamson … the Secretary of State for Education

My week … 8th to 12th June 2020

MONDAY

I’m a columnist!! I had my first piece accepted as one of the regular columnists for a new site called Liberal Base.  It is a site to draw together all those with a Liberal minded approach to politics irrespective of the party they vote for or support.  I suppose a place for centrist Lib Dems, Labourites, Greens, Social Democrats.  As a Liberal Social Democrat with a Libertarian tinge it sounds about right to me.

My first piece is going to be about Universal Basic Income (UBI).  Sounds thrilling doesn’t it?  Personally yes – and if adopted it has the potential to be AT LEAST as expensive as the measures the Chancellor has enacted to mitigate the initial economic woes of people during the Corona Virus.  I have used someone else’s post as a way of partially paying for it though along with other savings.  Morally it is an idea whose time has come, particularly with the car crash our economy is about to become as we come out of lockdown. (Post script … read it here)

TUESDAY

Great piece in today’s Times by Mike Atherton talking about how unfamiliar the West Indies team that will be touring England is in comparison to the one that toured in 1984.  He drew parallels to the Cricket County Championship then and now.  Unless you are a real Cricket geek, the West Indies team touring now will be completely unfamiliar.  Unlike that team in 1984 which contained cricketing greats such as captain Clive Lloyd, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Viv Richards, Jeffrey Dujon, Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, and others.  All were familiar names not just to Cricket aficionados but also to general sporting fan and all of them played for significant periods in the domestic County Cricket Championship. 

The West Indies touring team to England 1984

This got me reminiscing about cricket before my dad died (in 1985) when it was on BBC regularly and I used to go and watch Yorkshire play Nottinghamshire at Worksop every year just so I could see cricketing idols like Geoffrey Boycott, Richard Hadlee, Derek Randall.  The big players of the time always played in the English domestic game then – unlike now.  We are lucky if a big name signs up for a couple of games – they are more likely to sign up for T20 than the county cricket squads.  You often look back at your childhood with rose-tinted glasses but when I look back to the cricket of my youth, no rose tinting is necessary – it was far superior than now.

WEDNESDAY

Today is Brian, my dog’s first birthday! Unfortunately, because the weather has been vile now, I couldn’t take him on the long walk I had planned but he was royally spoiled with presents, homemade cottage pie for lunch and steak for his dinner!  We got Brian from a sanctuary in November last year as a 5-month-old pup.  He has changed our lives and is my little boy.  I have struggled with my mental health for several years and without Brian I really do believe this lockdown period would have been much more challenging than it has been (and it has had its challenges believe me).  The vibrancy, life and unconditional love of a dog is one of the biggest fillips when you are feeling particularly low.  He’s helped be discover the amazing countryside I live near. He has made me take exercise which is so important when you are cooped up and particularly when you are feeling blue. He has given me a purpose when I felt I had none.  I love my Brian.

My little Prince – Brian

THURSDAY

I managed to get out with Brian today during a brief window of rainless weather.  Our main walk now is through the local cemetery onto the showground in Penistone.  Cemeteries fascinate me.  There is a serenity you find in an old cemetery like Stottercliffe Cemetery in Penistone that is rare to find elsewhere.  When the birds are singing, the woodpeckers pecking and the leaves rustling in the wind there is no better place to gather your thoughts whilst Brian is traumatising the local bird and squirrel population.

There is a mix of graves from the late 19th century to modern day ones.  The contrast in the gravestones is interesting from the seriously impressive gothic monuments which were clearly there to mark prominent members of the parish in the early days of the cemeteries use to the simpler ones that are used now.  On top of this, there are a small number of Commonwealth War Graves within the cemetery marking the last resting places of several local casualties of the two World Wars.

A war grave in Penistone’s Stottercliffe cemetery

Along with all this peace, serenity and history there is Richard.  Richard is a tree – no-one knows it is called Richard apart from me and you probably think I’m a little mental giving a name to a tree but this tree is a really interesting tree and seriously deformed!  It has a sort of hunch back look to it which is why I’ve christened it Richard after Richard III – the last King of the House of York and allegedly a hunchback himself.

Richard – my favourite tree

You can tell it hasn’t been a particularly interesting day when I’ve waxed lyrical about a cemetery and a deformed tree which I’ve taken the trouble to christen!

FRIDAY

Cooking is one of my few pastimes and has come in very useful over this lockdown period.  Unfortunately, I did not feel like cooking last night so we decided to order a Chinese takeaway from an establishment I won’t name.  Now I will put on record that their food is very good and, whilst I don’t do takeaway very much, if I fancied Chinese, this is always our first choice and the food last night did not disappoint.  However, when the food was delivered, as usual I paid with cash – a £20 note, one of the paper ones with Adam Smith on the back.  Now I know that soon these will be fazed out of circulation and I know the new, slightly smaller polymer notes are already in circulation, but the paper ones are still legal tender.  Unfortunately, the person delivering our food was not having any of this and insisted that these notes are no longer valid.  Despite the fact I pointed out I’d used one without issue the last time I’d had a delivery from this particular takeaway (about 3 weeks ago) and used it quite without issue in my local Tesco supermarket, he wasn’t having any of it.  Luckily (or unluckily?) I had a polymer £20 note in my wallet, so the exchange took place but the grumpy, jobs-worth old so and so really came out.  It almost spoiled my meal as I was chuntering all the way through it.

As of 13th June 2020 this note is STILL LEGAL TENDER!!!!

Can I put on record that the Bank of England usually give 6 months’ notice of a note being withdrawn from circulation – this hasn’t been announced yet for this particular £20 note!

I did try to contact the establishment in question, but they wouldn’t really comment.  The delivery driver did miss out on his tip though – the bill was £17.90 and he would have been able to keep all the £20 if he hadn’t been mistaken and arsey.  Last of the generous big spenders I know!!

For the love of bookshelves…

Bookshelves! Is anyone else fascinated by other peoples bookshelves?  As an avid reader and owner of three lovely sets of bookshelves myself I love seeing what others have on their shelves.  I think you can learn a lot about people from both what they have on their bookshelves and how they organise them.  Bookshelf critiquing has become quite the thing since lockdown as we watch people being interviewed or broadcasting from their homes, often using their bookshelves as a backdrop.  Some people have even done virtual bookshelf tours. (look at Iain Dale’s Instagram for a rather impressive example of both how to organise your bookshelves and how to do a virtual tour!)

You have the rather modern looking, well organised and neat Rishi Sunak…

Or the slightly higgledy-piggledy but serious set of books organised by ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

You even have shameful product placement – see money expert Martin Lewis as an example…

And then of course you have to be careful as to what you show on your bookshelves and ownership of certain books can get you into bother with the thought police … as Michael Gove found out because he had the temerity to have a book by holocaust denier David Irving on his shelf…

I’m more the Rishi Sunak, Iain Dale organised sort of person.  I have three bookshelves – one large one which house the vast majority of our books on different sized compartments where I try to get a common theme for each compartment…

In another one I keep all my cooking and travel(ish) books (as well as my top shelf with my Sherlock Holmes and others collection)…

And finally I have one next to my desk where I keep my education/maths books so they are close by should I need to refer to them when doing all this online teaching I’m doing at the moment!

Notice that I always organise each shelf by height – I find the ever decreasing height aesthetically pleasing (others would call it anal!)

Yes … I love bookshelves and I really do think you can tell a lot about people by their bookshelves … be aware!