White & Windy


It is white and windy out there tonight, much like all the television and newspaper reporters who insist on reporting on arctic armageddon at every turn, mostly when there are kids in the background of shot, laughing and having fun while the reporters drone on about the end of civilisation as we know it. They need to get out more. 

While cold conditions present an obvious threat to the old or infirm most of the old have been around long enough to laugh 'a bit of weather,' off and to treat the squealing dramatists with sneering contempt. They deserve it. 


My mother for one thinks people have gone soft. She would know. She's the one who turfed my sister and I out, once we got the big door open, and into a wall of snowdrift and said 'right, hurry up, you'll be late for school.' It was the morning of the 11th February 1969. Sorry, it was a bloody cold morning of the 11th February 1969. We didn't so much walk as tunnel our way to the lane and then down the long hill to the village primary school a mile away. Now Mrs Ross at Culrain Village Primary School was a kindly lady and as much as she cared for her charges in the one classroom in the school there was a limit to how long she was prepared to let me hug the radiator at the end of the school day. Reluctantly, we began the long trek home. The snow though had not eased any and we quickly became disorientated. Some might say lost. Not surprising really given the drifts were taller than we were and the landscape was just a white blur. 

Help came with the arrival of a snow-plough which was unusual in our remote corner of Easter Ross. More unusual was the fact that it was heading straight up the hill to home. That made for an easier return journey. It was a day of unusual events in my young life. The plough was clearing the way for a mid-wife to tend to my mother who much to my surprise I subsequently discovered was 9 months pregnant. By the time I spilled through the front door my youngest brother had arrived. Wasn't expecting that. 'But what's for tea Mum?'

As a postscript to this, many years later I presented myself to the Regular Commissions Board at Westbury for officer selection. On the last day of four I was called forward for a President's interview. We knew that typically, a Presidents interview meant you were a 50/50 candidate so seeing the President of the Board was not a welcome call. I strode in, firm handshake and sat down. 'Now Crumble,' he said, 'I see you went to Culrain Primary school. I sent my boy there.' That knocked me sideways. Who would have expected that? So I chatted about Culrain with the General for 10 minutes and off I went. Two days later the little brown envelope arrived. I was in. Perhaps I won them over with my erudite involvement in the discussion groups, my Olympian performance on the individual assault course or even perhaps my Churchillian grasp of world affairs. Perhaps though, it was the Old School Tie from Culrain Primary School. Who knew that was a thing?

The Lost Boys

Supposedly clever people in positions of responsibility and influence in politics and the media are getting themselves into something of a lather about the introduction of more grammar schools. The debate is characterised with the usual entrenched political dogma from all the usual suspects but it does not deserve the attention and focus that it is receiving in the context of the broader educational debate. Just as we might have anticipated, in circling the wagons around grammar schools areas of more immediate concern are simply being ignored.  That is, they are all arguing about the wrong question.

I have suggested on this blog many times over the past six years that social mobility is more challenged now than at any time since the late seventies. Simply put, those who did well over the past thirty odd years pulled the ladder up behind them. While more grammar schools might  contribute to correcting the imbalance they are not in themselves a complete answer and they will not suit all areas of the country. Nor will they address the festering problem of the poor white and black working class who have increasingly found themselves to be excluded from what one might call normal life aspirations. In practice, new grammar schools are likely to fill up with a mix of middle class and ambitious and bright immigrant children. Nothing wrong with that in itself and indeed, the influence of bright Asian kids, (and a considerable financial shot in the arm from City based charities), has probably helped the academies in London improve their performance to the point where they are leading the way forward for the state sector nationally. We should embrace and applaud their success and acknowledge that there is no one size fits all solution in a country of 68m people. 

Nor is the ritual beating up of the public school sector an answer to anything except to polish the worn and beaten credentials of droopy eyed class warriors. Within their own means, public schools contribute greatly to the public good not least in terms of pushing innovation in education which in time filters into and throughout the state sector. Apart from their considerable advantages in terms of facilities and keeping their students in a disciplined learning environment for longer, (a local school close by ends their school day at 3:15pm three days a week and 2:20pm on the other two days...... unbelievable. As it happens, this Academy is doing well, how much better could it do?), public schools are fortunate in attracting a pool of considerable talent at the headmaster level. Easily the most important and critical component of a school is the head. As Napoleon said, 'there are no bad soldiers, only bad officers.'

The answer to our national educational debate comes in five parts.

First, things are not as bad as they are  reflected to be by Westminster windbags and their media drones. Schools seem, to me at least, to be in better shape than was the case twenty years ago and that is a good thing. Moreover, today's generation never cease to impress. They are more worldly, sharper, brighter and engaging than are all who have gone before. We simply need to add refinement, focus and a leg up for the dispossessed to  go to the next level.

Second, a rich mix of comprehensives, public schools, academies, grammar schools, University Technical Colleges (championed by Kenneth Baker), and specialist academies, (for example languages and sciences which already exist), with each acknowledging the place of the others and interaction between them all is where the answer lies. Which-one-where will be driven by local resources and local preference with government help and direction only on an 'as required,' basis. 

Third, and this is the single most important part of this post, schools must address their teaching to fit the world the students are entering. The question isn't 'where are we teaching?' but 'what are we teaching?' It is shameful for example that most schools, from our very best down, still do not teach children how to code. While some prep and primary schools have the right idea and teach basic coding almost as a language rather than a technical subject we are woeful as a nation in elevating the subject and giving it the importance it deserves and demands in 2016. For a nation which built it's prosperity on engineering we have simply lost the plot. How ridiculous is it that students leave school for university not knowing the basics of Excel, that most basic of tools in any workplace. Having achieved success in propelling maths to its rightful place of importance in the school system over the past fifteen years it is wasteful not to teach the subjects like computer science for which it is most useful and most pertinent.

Fourth, grab the universities by the balls, squeeze and twist until they start doing their jobs to an acceptable standard which offers value for the money they take from students. Some courses at some universities do offer a good value proposition, most do not. Four hours of lectures a week, half of which are usually done by a heavily accented Phd student from the Ukraine is not acceptable. If they expended as much energy in creating a rounded education with good pastoral care as they seem to do in encouraging students to drink their own body weight in cheap white spirits in their first week we would be in infinitely better shape. 

Fifth, what do we do about the Lost Boys, those who already find themselves in care, in correctional facilities or those who are on their way to life behind barbed wire but just haven't yet been caught? I have a plan.

Up until about ten years ago a Sandhurst institution existed which had the purpose of taking young officer cadets who were thought to be not quite ready for the full commissioning course. With a focus on adventure training Rowallan Company emphasised leadership, fitness, self reliance and communication skills to help cadets quickly mature. Those who passed invariably went on to do well at the Academy and after commissioning. 

We could do the same with what I call the 'Lost Boys,' in a demilitarised version of Rowallan and use old military facilities to house it before they are all sold off. Take 30 young men with all manner of black marks against them, a remote location, six instructors and a couple of academic staff and in 24, possibly 16 weeks you could turn their lives around sufficiently to give them a shot at reentering the mainstream. At the end their street-smart knowledge would be turned into a self reliance and confidence that could be applied to any environment. Think of it as a poor man's Gordonstoun meets Rowallan. This would be the deal. Complete the course and your record is struck clean. You get a shot at applying for military service and they will forgive your past misdemeanours but only if you pass the course and the entrance requirements for the service of your choice, (we're short of recruits by the way), or a government approved apprenticeship scheme. If you take the apprenticeship option you must join the Reserves for three years. After three years you are your own man. Abscond or fail (through indifference not injury), and you go straight back from where you came; end of second chance.

Think it's a long shot? I happen to think not and I'm absolutely not thinking along the lines of some reality television boot camp set up. The approach is much more intelligent than that yet remains a simple one. The thing is, while everyone is running round in circles arguing about one type of school or another it is not addressing a pretty key issue. Or are we just going to accept an exploding prison population and pretend the problem isn't there? The instructors are out there, the facilities and kit are there and there are teaching staff, retired or otherwise, who would put their hands up. The big roadblock here would be attempting to get three different government departments to agree on a policy, (probably never been done before), and getting on with it out of the glare of the media.

I had a great uncle who won an Oscar for his part in making the Dirty Dozen. Perhaps it's time to make it happen in real life but by using the outdoors and books rather than weapons and uniforms, for the good of the individual and the greater good of us all.

is this the best we can do....... seriously?

is this the best we can do....... seriously?






Bugger Bristol


In the unlikely event that it passed you by, yesterday was A Level results day for students up and down the land. Cue photographs of happy girls dressed in inappropriately short skirts jumping in the air and a queue of middle aged know-it-all celebrities quoting themselves saying, 'exam results don't define you; look at how rich I am.' Unfortunately, for many kids, they kind of do. Certainly, underachieving immediately narrows down options and gives them less control over their own destiny. 

So, many kids will have found themselves in the position of narrowly missing a grade yesterday and will have turned to Clearing to find an alternative university slot, just as the daughter of a friend did yesterday. 

With nothing less than an A, her chosen faculty bounced her on the basis that her A* was not in the right subject. She called. The fellow on the end of the telephone was very helpful, 'Looks a bit odd he said, I'll take a look and get back to you. You're not a non EU national are you by chance? We've been told you'll have no problem if you're from outside the EU.'

You see, it's all about money. Non EU nationals pay more. It is time someone tore into these universities and ripped their pious sense of entitlement to shreds. The illusion that they promulgate of fairness and value in education is cracking. As it happens, the young girl concerned happily received an offer from another, and better rated, university. So Bristol University, you can mostly bugger off you mercenary sods.

The Machines

Steven Hawking is a very clever bloke with a brain the size of Yorkshire. Sometimes though, I do wonder. In recent years he has warned about the catastrophic dangers humanity faces in the 21st century. He said we should be cautious in attempting to contact aliens warning that advanced extra-terrestrial life may not be friendly toward us and could destroy the human race. Of course they won’t be friendly. Didn’t he ever watch Dr Who?

Hawking though has more recently warned of what he thinks is a more dangerous threat to civilisation, automation. He argued that the future is wrought with the peril of rampant inequality expedited by an automated machine-based global economic system.

“If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed.” Hawking continued, “Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.”

We’ve been on a trajectory of wealth consolidation amongst a shrinking percentage of population for many years and it will present pretty serious issues for our children’s generation. Rather like demographics however, it is one of those big themes which no politician has the courage to take on. Certainly, our education system is woefully inadequate in preparing children with the skills they need, that will be in demand, in the coming fifty years. Food for thought though.

Crumble's Dad Helpline

This'll make you look good in front of the Missus

Ever had one of those moments when one of the kids has asked for help with maths prep? Making an excuse about the kettle boiling and scarpering is no way to treat these weighty matters of fatherhood. It's been a long time for us all and frankly, I don't think most Dad's got their heads much round the subject then never mind now.

As usual I'm here to help and with a flourish allow me to introduce the game changer. Download the free PhotoMath app from the App Store and technology will take up the slack.

Just point the scanner at the fiendishly devilish sum in question and Photomath will solve it in a heartbeat and, showing your new found enthusiasm for maths it will walk you through the solution. Watch the clip above in open mouthed astonishment and reflect on the humiliation this puppy would have saved in years past.

We've all been there....

We've all been there....

Thank you Bardarbunga!

Children holidaying from Britain across the azure blue shores of the Mediterranean and beyond will right now be contemplating the closing weeks of the summer holidays. As the skies darken over their little lives with the prospect of going back to Form 5B, hope and help is at hand in the form of Bardarbunga.  No, not a Harry Potter character but an angry volcano in Iceland. Oh and boy is it getting angry and potentially, it could create dark skies for real as we've previously seen, and yes, we're usually quick off the mark with the volcano thing here at Crumble HQ..

Iceland has this afternoon warned airlines that there may be an eruption at Bardabunga which is located underneath Vatnajokull, Europe’s biggest glacier.

The alert level at Bardarbunga was today raised to “orange,” indicating “heightened or escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption,” the Reykjavik-based Met Office said.

Over 250 tremors have been measured in the area since midnight. The agency said there are still no visible indications of an eruption..... yet

The volcano is 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) wide and rises about 1,900 meters above sea level. So, it’s a biggie.

You can read more here and here there is a world of resource here and here.

British kids, obviously quick of the mark, will be going to uncommonly great lengths to avoid letting their parents see news reports, listen to the radio, read the papers..... "no Dad, you need to rest and get away from the news," lest Dad gets a flap on, hires a car and drives back before all flights are cancelled and all ferries are booked.

Obviously, I don't want 15 miles of Iceland to erupt as little as does the next man, but the kids... I know what they're thinking and it very much reminds me of this scene from John Boorman's wonderful film, Hope & Glory.

Humans Need Not Apply

and while hard working students are reflecting on their examination results and potential university and career options they may wish to consider the clip above.

It's just a fact that the education system does not, yet at least, properly prepare the young for the world which they will face, not today but in three, five, ten and twenty years time. Some studies suggest that up to half of all jobs can or will be computerised or automated within 10 years. At the current accelerating rate of change, its coming down the tracks an awful lot faster than that and for many in the workforce, it's already here.

Governments face many challenges. Two of the biggest are glacial but immovable demographic changes, meaning a smaller working population bearing the burden of supporting a growing and longer living retired population but also how to support the disenfranchised part of the working population whose utility has been replaced by an Intel chip. Theoretically, everyone could be richer and have more leisure time. That's what my Geography teacher foretold when I did my own A Levels but no, what we have for the moment is a bunch of mega billionaires competing with each to throw water over themselves while many of their fellow citizens can't afford the technology that was supposed to change and enrich their lives. It's great that Bill and friends are supporting a good cause but I think you get the point.

So kids, go and learn about chips, coding, nano tech, bio tech and avoid anything that can be done by a bot and just so you know...... that includes McDonalds so don't think that fall back will be there for long.


and how's he taking it?

Good luck to all those who will be receiving AS and A Level results this morning. No point in hiding under the duvet and avoiding the issue, time to man up and face the music. Advice that the youngest Crumble Kid has interpreted in his own way. It's never easy following two elder siblings with a string of A*'s and A's, actually its bloody unfair. Where is Soroya anyway? Having just seen the results myself I reckon I've got about two hours to leg it and join him out of contact before his Housemaster calls at around 10am, "and how's he taking it.........?"


Schools Out

The educational scribes at newspapers have recently been busy sharing their thoughts on the rise in parental fines resulting in school attendance breaks to exploit cheaper term time foreign holidays. Parents have been signing petitions, child psychologists have been chucking their oar in and one person after another expounds his or her view on what “exceptional circumstances,” are.

My view is a simple one. I’m stunned that so many people seem to believe that one or two annual foreign holidays are a right not a privilege. Not the world I inhabit.