November 15 2012
Not me guv
According to the Western Telegraph, Old Grumpy has again been sent to sit on the naughty step by a selection of the county's head teachers.
Good job the modern self-esteem boosting agenda has seen the demise of the dunce's cap and that, following recent events, the option of locking me in a windowless, padded cell is off the menu.
The reason for the head teacher's displeasure is my motion of no confidence in the Cabinet member for education Cllr Huw George.
So 18 of them have banded together to write a letter to the newspaper. This follows the 23 individual letters the heads sent to all county councillors prior to the October meeting of full council (see October 17).
Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the WT has chosen not to publish the whole of this latest missive but one extract reads: "Cllr George has provided consistent and supportive leadership to schools and it would be damaging at this point to have yet more change in these uncertain times within our local authority."
I take this last bit to be reference to the report on the same page regarding the retirement of chief education officer Martin Lloyd who has decided to go "after reflecting on a challenging Pembrokeshire education service local authority inspection."
Mr Lloyd has only been in this post for two months after being promoted following the announcement that director of education Graham Longster is to "retire" at the end of this year because he is no longer "prepared to work under the direction of the Ministerial Board".
The "challenging" report referred to by Mr Lloyd is believed to be the conclusions of an unpublished Estyn inspection that has found the pace of improvement following the damning Estyn report of August 2011 has not been nearly fast enough.
In the first batch of letters, one head said: "His [Huw George's] role with moving the agenda forward following the disappointing LA report last year has been obvious - with improving standards and the wellbeing of children and young people being of highest importance - this is so evident when he is amongst young people. The relationship he has between him and schools is of the highest calibre - and I know that this will continue."
If the reports of the conclusions reached by this latest "challenging" Estyn inspection are true, then, clearly, his "consistent and supportive leadership" has not moved the "agenda forward" as claimed.
As cabinet member for education, Cllr George cannot escape responsibility for this state of affairs.
This closing of the establishment ranks is a classic example of the sort of groupthink that seems to afflict all institutions these days.
It is usually accompanied by what is called confirmation bias - the cherry-picking of evidence that supports a particular point of view.
The following extract from one of the head teacher's earlier letters gives a flavour: "Huw George visits xxxxx School on a regular basis to lead assemblies, host special events and make presentations. He is a wonderful friend to our school community. Our school would not be the same without him!
"Huw always makes a massive effort to do all he can for our school and never turns down an opportunity to visit. We feel he puts the need of the children before anything and the children think the world of him. He is funny, charismatic and completely engaging to both children and adults alike."
All this may be good PR, but, as I've said previously, Cllr George's role as Cabinet member is not to be part-time chaplain cum children's entertainer.
What is required it is not charisma, but competence!
And there is also an element of these head teachers talking up their own book because they are the front line troops and school improvement ultimately rests with them. They should try to remember that self-criticism is a surer path to improvement than self-congratulation.
Finally, while these head teachers might disagree with my assessment of Cllr George's performance, they venture on to dodgy ground when they write to all county councillors expressing "Great shame and disgust" (Narberth) "Complete and utter shock and dismay" (Tavernspite) "Horrified" (Saundersfoot) "Shocked and very disappointed" (Ysgol y Preseli) Disappointment and bemusement" (Adult learning centre Preseli) that I have exercised my democratic right to put down a motion of no confidence in a cabinet member.
The chain of accountability, as I understand it, is electorate - elected member - cabinet member - head teachers, and not the other way round, as some of these letters would seem to suggest.
Easily the biggest casualty of May's elections was Cllr Anne Hughes who had only recently been elevated to the Cabinet post for child safeguarding.
Students of local politics ascribe Anne's electoral demise to her inability to find new forms of words to explain to the electorate how she could be "A truly independent" councillor who was not required "to tow (sic) the party line" while at the same time being bound by the doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility.
I recently received a rather shirty email from ex-councillor Hughes regarding something that had appeared in the monthly magazine Pembrokeshire's Best.
P B had republished something I had written and, in the process, had made a small formatting error which changed its meaning to suggest that ex Cllr Hughes had been in receipt of an allowance as a member of the National Park.
I will not bore you with the details except to say that, as she was perfectly entitled to do, ex-councillor Hughes sent PB an email complaining about the error.
She also copied me in to this communication which ended: " If Old Grumpy is to put facts to paper - please get it right or stick to the allotment!!
This sounded a lot like the jibe opponents used to make about former US President Gerald Ford that he couldn't simultaneously walk and chew gum.
This rather stung because I find pottering about in the garden an aid to clarity of thought.
Indeed, some of my more valuable insights into the workings of the IPG have come to me when pulling up some particularly obnoxious weed, or hoeing the cabbages and turnips.
Anyway, I emailed Mrs Hughes to point out that my scribblings on the matter were perfectly unambiguous (Buying power) and she should take the matter up with the publishers of PB who were responsible for the the error.
She replied: "I have contacted the magazine and the wording whether in your words is "unabiguous" (sic) is debatable and through past editorial on your part and legal advice taken and evidence collated do not, at this time, wish to comment further".
Somewhere amidst that tangled verbiage I detect a hint of future legal action.
As I've said before: there's many a slip twixt threat and writ.
Old Grumpy was born in the early part of 1940.
To avoid our postman being overburdened with birthday cards, I won't reveal the exact date, but, for the benefit of those of a mathematical bent, who might want to send me a bottle of superior Chilean merlot to mark my seventy-third anniversary, I will say that the day and the month are consecutive integers in ascending order that added together give a prime number less than half the cube root of 729.
Unknown to me, as I lay in my pram outside the family home at Highmoor Mansion (pictured) with its 136-foot copper-domed bell tower, there was a war going on.
At five (1945 as the mathematicians will already have worked out) I started lessons at the National School, Wigton.
It was only much later that I came to realise that I was one of that cohort of children who were the first to start school under the 1944 Education Act.
And much later still that I came to appreciate how fortunate I had been to be born into a society whose politicians, even during a war which threatened the country's very existence, could find time to devise a system to give children like me educational opportunities that previous generations could only dream of.
The 1944 Act is usually referred to as the Butler Act after the, then, Minister of Education the Conservative politician R A Butler, though, as there was a National Government at the time, the credit for this far-reaching reform is shared by all parties.
I recently heard a recording on the radio of Butler recounting the time when Churchill appointed him Minister of Education.
Churchill apologised for not giving him a job directly connected with the war-effort, to which Butler replied: "Don't worry Winston, I'll find something to do"
And he did.
Some of you may be wondering why the parents of someone who lived in a grand house like Highmoor hadn't put their son's name down for Eton.
Well, after the Banks family who built Highmoor on the profits from the wool trade had gone bust, a local entrepreneur bought up the mansion on the cheap and converted it into 14 flats, also on the cheap.
We had three pokey rooms without benefit of bathroom or inside toilet.
The only plumbing in the house was the cold tap over the Belfast sink in the tiny kitchen, and cooking facilities consisted of a single gas ring and an oven alongside the living room fire.
The rent, I recall, was eight shillings (40p) a week.
But, in the meritocratic post-war UK, none of this mattered.
I passed my 11+ and alongside my classmates - the sons and daughters of car mechanics, bus conductors, publicans, small farmers and cattle drovers - managed to pass some 'A' levels and go to university.
For reasons which are hard to pin down, even though there has been a huge expansion in the numbers going to university, the degree of social mobility that existed in the 1950s and 60s seems no longer to exist.
I was laying in bed listening to one of those dreadful Radio 4 farming programmes the other day.
You know, the sort which feature a rich banker who has turned his back on the City rat-race and is now trying to find his true self by weaving cloth on a hand loom using wool lovingly hand-clipped from his own organic rare breed sheep.
This was about an organic farm with its own shop.
The owner was proudly showing off the environmentally friendly composting toilets that he'd installed in a environmentally friendly straw bale building with an environmentally friendly thatched roof.
"So will the compost from these toilets be used on your tomatoes next year?" the nice BBC lady asked.
"No", replied the organic guru.
"And why not?" asked the presenter.
"Well, we can't be certain that all the people using the toilets have been eating organic food", came the reply.
Voodoo has nothing on this.
Events over the weekend have left me considerably less pessimistic about the coming economic meltdown.
It seems that a country can default on its debts; suffer a 75% devaluation in its currency; and a huge drop in its living standards without it having any effect on the really important things in life.
Still more revelations on that other website about the IPG's sophisticated election machine.
While there are issues with all this concerning the use of council resources, the key point is that these computer files demonstrate beyond doubt that the IPG is a quasi-political party whose existence is concealed from the electorate.
In other words: a gigantic con-trick.
It would also seem that it is not just the voters who are being taken for a ride - even some of the non-political, political party's own members were unaware of its operations.
I have already discussed the case of IPG member Cllr David Bryan who was somewhat surprised to discover that "the party" was running the election campaign of his challenger Byron Frayling (see Faulty memory).
Then, as that other website reveals, some of those members who were elected on an independent/no description ticket were, unknown to them, running against "official" IPG candidates.
To entice them into the fold, they were invited to a meeting of the IPG shortly after the election where they were told by the party's putative Leader Cllr Jamie Adams: "As you know, there are nine Labour members returned, five Plaid, three Tories and one Lib Dem and the question is would it be correct to allow a group that's politically aligned to undertake the responsibility for the administration of the authority. When you consider that the largest group has nine out of the sixty you do question whether they have a mandate to undertake that."
I would have thought that, by definition, a party with nine out of 60 seats didn't have a mandate and, furthermore, it is not clear what system of arithmetic would enable that party to get its Leader elected as Leader of the council, as it would be required to do if it was to form the administration.
But you shouldn't expect too much by way of intellectual rigour from someone whose sole aim is to get his hands on the levers of power.
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