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Money matters: Doctors vs Teachers

Peter Preston has posed the controversial question: “Is one doctor with three teachers?”. His article is interesting, and makes some good points about the fact that doctors should, perhaps, not complain about a pay increase when they are already far more highly paid than equivalent doctors in other European countries.

Unfortunately, hiis eponymous question is not so good: This is a comparison based on the latest doctors’ contract, comparing conslutants – the most highly paid doctors – with the average teacher. As a contrast, here’s a alternative view.

A newly qualified teacher has an average debt of £12,069. Under the latest pilot scheme, the government repays this off for them as long as they work in teaching. They are paid an average of around £22,000, plus a £5,000 bonus for sticking it out for a year. That’s £27,000. According to the Government, primary teachers work an average 39 weeks per year (38 teaching weeks, 1 admin/training week), at 37.5hrs per week (9-4.30, Mon-Fri). So they get roughly £18.46 per hour.

A newly qualified doctor has an average student debt of £15,000. Since the government doesn’t understand that working nine to five every day precludes you from doing as much part time work as being at university for fewer hours, the average student has to supplement this with £5,000 of bank loans. That adds up to a first-year repayment of £467 worth of student debts, and £538 to the bank. The starting salary for a junior doctor is £20,295. Net income (before tax): £19,290. That’s for the basic 47 weeks, at 45hrs per week (Mon-Fri, 9-6) plus variable overtime, which for argument’s sake we won’t include. That works out at £9.12 per hour: Just under half of what the teacher gets.

So the question is: Is one teacher worth two doctors?

Or, more pertinently: Are questions like this conceptually flawed and misleading?

Edit: Yes, I clearly do have some problems with maths. But I’ve corrected them now.

This post was filed under: News and Comment.


Back on Monday, the media were worrying about the reported 27% increase in the number of pupils cheating in public exams, with the increase mainly surrounding mobile phone usage. This is a topic I’ve touched on a couple of times before (here and here).

Of course the biggest question is whether the larger figure indicates an actual increase in the level of cheating (which I doubt), or whether it represents an increase in the number of pupils being found to have their mobile phones on them at the time of the exam thanks to greater awareness amongst invigilators (which I suspect). Cheating has gone on since the first exams. After all, by putting all of the emphasis of the educational system on the outcome of standardised tests, rather than on the learning experience itself, we are positively encouraging cheating. There’s certainly an argument to be made that those that succeed in cheating in exams are those that have the ability to use their initiative. But that’s not what we’re trying to test, for whatever reason.

The current development of the short-answer exam style lends itself, of course, to cheating. More challenging essay-questions are harder to cheat, but also harder and more time-consuming to mark. However, the announcement that the number of modules in each A-Level is to be cut, which will allow for more essay questions, goes some way to tackling this issue.

The bigger picture here is that whilst cheating in an exam is relatively difficult, cheating in coursework is easy, and almost certainly much more common. That’s where the bigger, and more difficult, problem in the exam system resides. That one’s going to be harder to solve.

The other big cheating story of the week is that Blue Peter badges have been sold on eBay. But fear not. I have it on good authority, from the most hard-hitting of news sites, that a solution has been found: Badge Holders’ Cards are to be issued along with the badges, to identify the rightful owner. Obviously, as a Blue Peter badge winner myself, I was personally incredibly shocked by this awful news. Though why on Earth people are paying £70 for a badge they can win by writing a letter to the show (for the cost of a second-class stamp) is beyond me. Clearly these people aren’t clever enough to deserve the honour.

Finally, just returning to the exam story, I loved this comment by Benjamin Murphy on the Guardian website:

As a student at a Catholic seminary, I was told a story of a student who predicted probable essay titles, wrote an essay ahead of time and sneaked it into the examination. All he had to do was write the appropriate question title at the top and hand it in. His one fatal error was to type the essay.


This post was filed under: News and Comment.

Hilarious investigative journalism

Just to flag up the funniest, laugh-out-loud piece of journalism I’ve read this year:

They are one of the irritations of modern life – prerecorded messages that tell us to press a button in order to join a queue to speak to a real person. But who are the people behind the disembodied voices? Jon Ronson meets them

Read it on Guardian Unlimited.

This post was filed under: Miscellaneous.

Blair admits mistake… or does he?

Mr Blair has apparently admitted that announcing that he wouldn’t serve a fourth term in office was a mistake. From the Beeb:

He said: “What happened when you get into your third term and you are coming up to your tenth year is that it really doesn’t matter what you say, you are going to get people saying it should be time for a change.

“This speculation, I think, probably would happen whatever decision you take.

“Now, it was an unusual thing for me to say but people kept asking me the question so I decided to answer it. Maybe that was a mistake.”

So is he finally admitting that he’s done something strategically wrong? Well, no. The PMOS has come out, all guns blazing, with a ‘What he meant to say’ statement:

What he had intended to say was, she said: “It was a mistake… to believe that the announcement would kill off the speculation as to when I would resign.”

Except, clearly not, as he had a fully formed sentence there already. But hey. The slightly ridiculous thing is that what Mr Blair says no longer seems to tally with, well, what Mr Blair actually says. Just a couple of weeks back, Nick Robinson discovered this problem. He looked through the official transcript of the Prime Minister’s monthly press conference to find when he had said this:

Look as you say I am hopeful we will get the vast majority of Labour MPs behind us, in fact I am absolutely sure we will get the vast majority. The question is whether we manage to get enough to get it through with Labour votes alone. But in a sense the issue is doing the right thing for the country, it’s what the country expects and of course I want to do it with Labour MPs in full support. Look I think this is a very, very critical issue for the Labour Party for its instincts, for what it’s about, for what it is trying to do.

He had said it, it was there on tape. But the official transcript said:

I think I have said what I have said on Guantanamo. And on the first part, you know if you look at the school system at the moment…

Now, there’s always a good place for corrections and clarifications. They’re an important part of everyday life. But when you are making them up (as seemingly with the first) or just not acknowledging that a change has been made (as with the second), you’re getting into very, very dodgy territory.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics.

Iraq: Three years on

Last Tuesday, a little more than three years after the first strikes against Iraq, Mr Blair gave a foreign policy speech. I’m not one for deconstructing speeches at great length, but he has said a few things I disagree with.

the defining characteristic of today’s world is its interdependence

That, to be frank, is bollocks. Mr Blair isn’t interested in interdependence. In fact, he want to lose the interdependence that’s been foisted upon him, as he doesn’t want to have to rely on other countries for supplies of, well, anything – least of all, oil. And in many ways, that’s sound foreign policy. The world is an unpredictable place, you can never be sure that your friends today will be your friends tomorrow. So to start waffling on about ‘common global policy based on common values’ is utter rot. The peoples of the world are never going to have common values. People are always going to think different things; the challenge is to live alongside one another, not to try and make everybody adhere to the same ‘common values’.

He says we shouldn’t ‘extremism, conflict or injustice go unchecked’. Whose extremist, whose conflict, and whose injustice? We don’t have ‘common values’. One man’s extremist is another’s moderate. And if we’re not letting conflict go unchecked, who’s checking up on the Iraq war? And what’s injustice? There’s plenty of that in this country. Our value system says that treating the poor worse than the rich is less terrible than treating women worse than men. Perhaps those in the Middle East disagree. That doesn’t mean we should carpet bomb them, it means we should discuss (celebrate?) our differences.

The consequence of this thesis is a policy … that is active not reactive.

We’re now admitting to bombing countries based on what they might do in the future. Whatever happened to that one ‘common value’ of innocent until proven guilty?

This world view – which I would characterise as a doctrine of benign inactivity – sits in the commentator’s seat, almost as a matter of principle.

Would we not rather benign inactivity than malignant activity, the logical conclusion of which is a world permanently at war?

The easiest line for any politician seeking office in the West today is to attack American policy. A couple of weeks ago as I was addressing young Slovak students, one got up, denouncing US/UK policy in Iraq, fully bought in to the demonisation of the US, utterly oblivious to the fact that without the US and the liberation of his country, he would have been unable to ask such a question, let alone get an answer to it.

And, perhaps, if we in this country had this ‘pro-active’ stance whereby we attack anyone we don’t feel quite fits into the ideals and values we hold true to ourselves, then Mr Blair may not have been able to mock such a student. Attacking a country provokes a response from that country and its allies. Hitler learned that around about 1935, when he decided that Poland didn’t quite fit into his world vision. When will Blair realise it? When will it ‘click’ for him that ‘pro-active’ warfare is nothing short of a race to world instability? And why does he feel he can engage in such activity, and yet roundly denounce similar action in the Israel – Palestine conflict?

Ministers have been advised never to use the term “Islamist extremist”. It will give offence. It is true. It will. There are those – perfectly decent-minded people – who say the extremists who commit these acts of terrorism are not true Muslims. And, of course, they are right. They are no more proper Muslims than the Protestant bigot who murders a Catholic in Northern Ireland is a proper Christian. But, unfortunately, he is still a “Protestant” bigot. To say his religion is irrelevant is both completely to misunderstand his motive and to refuse to face up to the strain of extremism within his religion that has given rise to it.

Yes, but you would call him ‘Protestant’, not ‘Christian’. Just as the KKK were the KKK, and not ‘Christian’. Why, then, associate a whole religion with the terrorists rather than being more specific? The answer is straightforward: The majority of the electorate identify with Christian values, and so to attack Christianity is to attack the electorate. Only a minority identify with Muslim values, and it’s politically convenient to associate a religion with the cause, rather than to deal with the underlying issues. You would never class the actions of that Northern Ireland Protestant as religious, but rather as political. To class the actions of Muslims as political gives them a degree of validity, which means they have to be argued against and tackled. That’s hard. Much easier to say ‘Muslim bad’, and demonise the set of people, then the majority, believing as they are told to believe, will support any action against ‘the baddies’.

I recall the video footage of Mohammed Sadiq Khan, the man who was the ringleader of the 7/7 bombers. … There was something tragic, terrible but also ridiculous about such a diatribe. He may have been born here. But his ideology wasn’t. And that is why it has to be taken on, everywhere.

But by ‘taking it on’, Mr Blair means criminalising it, killing it. Not reasoning with it. Not arguing the points on their merits. Is it wrong to say that the West persecutes Muslims? No, there’s evidence of it in the newspapers most days. Is the right response to attack Britain? No. But does that mean we should simply destroy the West-hating ideology, or that we should rather engage with it, tackle the issues, and move forward?

This terrorism will not be defeated until its ideas, the poison that warps the minds of its adherents, are confronted, head-on, in their essence, at their core.

Yes! Yes! Yes!

I mean telling them their attitude to America is absurd; their concept of governance pre-feudal; their positions on women and other faiths, reactionary and regressive;

No! No! No! You don’t ‘defeat ideas’ by telling people that they’re wrong. You explain to them. You let them make their argument, and you engage with it, recognise the kernel truths, and point out the flaws. Terrorists know Mr Blair finds their beliefs abhorrent – that’s the raison d’etre behind their terrorism. How’s that approach going so far?

It is the age-old battle between progress and reaction, between those who embrace and see opportunity in the modern world and those who reject its existence; between optimism and hope on the one hand; and pessimism and fear on the other.

This just returns to the original point: Why should all the world be the same? Why can’t we have some nations we would view as ‘progressive’, and some we wouldn’t? Who are we to cast judgement over the beliefs and values of those so far removed from ourselves?

Anyway, enough from Blair. A couple of Grauniad folks have had their say on the speech, and they know rather more about these things than I. Dan Plesch, like me, thinks he’s wrong. Harry Hatchet thinks he’s right. Perhaps I’m wrong, and Harry’s right. I’m really in no position to judge.

But something that’s clear to me is that this is all political bickering. It’s undoubtedly essential bickering, deciding the future foreign policy of the country, but, as with most policies in politics, it’ll be changed by this time next year. One thing that won’t change is the reality of the situation for people who’ve lived it. People like Karzan Sherabayani. For him, Iraq isn’t a three-year problem, it’s a thirty-year one.

One of the most powerful pieces of television I’ve seen in a long time is his seven-minute report on his return to Iraq, after exceptionally cruel treatment under Saddam’s regime. It was first shown on More 4 News on Monday, then on Channel Four News on Tuesday. You have the ability to watch it any time, here. Please, please do watch it. Iraq shouldn’t be about politics, it should be about people. And Mr Sherabayani really brings this home.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics.

The ‘Goth’ subculture

GothIn Tuesday’s G2, Dave Simpson argued that the Goth subculture amongst sections of today’s youth is probably a good thing (via). Quoting an academic from Sussex University:

Most youth subcultures encourage people to drop out of school and do illegal things. Most goths are well educated, however. They hardly ever drop out and are often the best pupils. The subculture encourages interest in classical education, especially the arts. I’d say goths are more likely to make careers in web design, computer programming … even journalism.

This is not normally the kind of thing I’d pick up on. I knew many goths, but could never claim to have been one. However, something does quite regularly strike me. Often, on a Wednesday, I trundle back from my morning in GP Land and stop off at Sainsbury’s to pick up some groceries and other sundries. Now, my local branch of Sainsbury’s (which is laid out most oddly, but that’s by-the-by) is just down the road from the local Sixth Form College, and many of the students pop down there to purchase their lunch (and they might possible pick up some other sundries too).

As I’ve shopped, I’ve become increasingly aware of the disdainful attitude of the staff and other customers towards these youths – some of whom are dressed in the Gothic style. This is despite that fact that during my regular visits, I have never – never – seen any of the pupils misbehaving in the shop. Yes, they’re boisterous and occasionally loud, but that’s not really doing anyone any harm. I can quite easily pick up my shopping with no trouble whatsoever. And yet these young people are tutted at, often stalked by staff, and generally treated as second-class citizens. This is based purely on their profile as young people.

I ask you, if the staff of Sainsbury’s had a similarly negative attitude towards elderly people, would it be acceptable? Certainly not. And yet the elderly cause more logistical headaches for the supermarket than do the young people, through no fault of their own. They tend to require more assistance, and tend to spend longer in the shop, for example. The basis for the blatant discrimination against the young people appears to be a popular stereotype perpetuated by the popular press, and no-one complains about this. Society views youngsters and a nuisance, not recognising that these are the doctors, lawyers, and priests of the future, whilst simultaneously rejecting the disrespect of the elderly based on their past lives as doctors, lawyers, and priests. And yet surely it is more logical to respect someone for what they have the potential to become than to respect them for what they have been, and will never be again.

If a section of the community is not respected, then respect is not fostered within that group. If we insist on discriminating against and criminalising the harmless, natural activities of the teenagers of this country, then we cause more problems than we solve. So next time you see a ‘goth’, or read about some kid being given an ‘ASBO’, please look beyond the stereotype, and respect that the individual you’re tutting at today might well be caring for you tomorrow.

This post was filed under: Media, Miscellaneous.

Humphrey has died

HumphreyHumphrey, Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office, has died aged 78*. Possibly the most interesting of the former inhabitants of Downing Street, he was drafted in a year after the retirement of the previous incumbent of his post, Wilberforce, in 1987 following 70 years’ faithful service*.

Humphrey combined the Blairite spirit of social mobility (homeless to Minister) and Thatcherite cost-cutting (£3900 off the Downing Street pest-control bill) long before David Cameron even thought about cutting his political teeth.

Like most Downing Street residents, Humphrey was involved in many scandals during his political life. In 1994, he was falsely accused of murder, leading Prime Minister John Major to personally protest his innocence. The very next year, he was found to be ‘missing, presumed dead’, though three months later was found to have been merely holidaying at the Royal Army Medical College. This discovery lead to him releasing his first, and only, public statement to the press:

I have had a wonderful holiday at the Royal Army Medical College, but it is nice to be back and I am looking forward to the new parliamentary session.

Things were relatively stable in Humphrey’s life until the upheaval caused by Labour’s election in 1997, which badly shook Humphrey, and led his long-term kidney condition to worsen. He was forced to retire later that same year, though controversy still surrounds the issue of his departure: Some say that Cherie Blair insisted on his retirement, though this has been consistently denied.

Even in retirement, scandal was never far away: Shortly after Humphrey’s retirement, Alan Clark MP alleged that he had been assassinated by the incoming Labour government, and demanded evidence that this wasn’t the case. Of course, Humphrey was more than happy to oblige, but valuing his privacy insisted on a photo-shoot at a secret location, picturing him with a stack of the day’s newspapers. Many cruelly commented that he appeared to be putting on weight in retirement, and these comments led to Humphrey retiring completely and permanently from the media spotlight.

In 2005, Humphrey was briefly back in the news, with an attempt to discover his whereabouts using the Freedom of Information Act. These efforts were largely fruitless, though The Independent did claim to discover that he was alive and well.

Earlier this week, the Downing Street Press Office announced the sad death of Humphrey saying that he ‘sadly died last week some time’. To think that one of (if not the) longest serving resident of Downing Street was not honoured in any way, or even given the dignity of a proper announcement of the date of his death, is rather distressing. One would hope that, after so many false announcements and presumptions of death throughout his life, when it finally did come, he would be properly respected. But it was not to be.

Requiescat in pace

*That’s cat years, of course.

This post was filed under: News and Comment.

‘Comment is free’ finally launches

I missed this earlier in the week (think I must have had my eyes shut or something…)

Guardian Unlimited have finally launched their long awaited collective comment blog, “Comment is Free“:

Welcome to Comment is free, the first collective comment blog by a British newspaper website. It will incorporate all the regular Guardian and Observer main commentators, many blogging for the first time, who will be joined by a host of outside contributors – politicians, academics, writers, scientists, activists and of course existing bloggers to debate, argue and occasionally agree on the issues of the day.

It’s well worth checking out, and it’s certainly been added to my feed reader!

This post was filed under: News and Comment.

Education reforms

It appears that Mr Blair will, this evening, get his education reform bill through the Commons. Lucky him. He’s also not going to see anything like the huge rebellion some think he will – as far as I can see, he’s not going to have any huge haemorrhage of support. That seems hugely unlikely. He’ll certainly still get a majority of his party – more like two-thirds, if not more.

Of course, if David Cameron wanted to play nasty, he could have some sudden epiphany, and do a complete U-turn, and not support the bill. Then there’s a reasonably high chance that it would not be passed (though that would still take a Labour rebellion of 35), and Blair would pretty much be forced to resign. It’d do some damage to the Conservative party temporarily, but a limited amount, especially as it would barely make it into the news cycle if Blair resigned. But I very much doubt he’d ever do that, or even that he could – a lot of Conservative MPs are very much in favour of the Bill, and probably wouldn’t stick with a change in party line.

So this crucial vote isn’t really so crucial. Only if forty or so Labour MPs rebelled would it cast doubt on Blair’s leadership, and that’s not going to happen. At least, I highly doubt it. We’ll find out in a few hours, I guess.

Heck, I didn’t think he’d get 40 MPs rebelling, and it turns out he had 51. Shows how much I know. But he did get his timetable proposal through, so that somewhat lessens the blow. Probably not in the Mail, though, I’d imagine.

This post was filed under: Politics.

Up-to-date again

I’ve just finished the WordPress 2.0.1 to 2.0.2 upgrade, meaning the site is (once again) bang up to date. For others wanting to do the same, information about it is here, the download is here, and the instructions are here.

This post was filed under: Site Updates.

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