Friday, 11 May 2012

Friday fun: the woman's remote

DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this blog should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The real cost of teachers' pensions

The Office of National Statistics (htp: The Spectator's "Barometer" column) has calculated that pension obligations in the UK amount to £7.1 trillion, or nearly 5 times GDP.
The official estimate of the cost of teachers' pension obligations is £192.4 billion - less than a quarter of all unfunded public sector pensions, and a mere 2.69% of the national total.


DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this blog should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The universe, from micro to macro

A couple of brilliant animations, for wonder, First, a widely-admired one from the National Film Board of Canada:



And there's this recent one, by the Huang twins.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this blog should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Sugar linked to polio, as well as autism

Further to the carbohydrate/autism controversy, it's been over 60 years since a doctor connected sugar with susceptibility to polio.

Possibly also, depression.

The latest twist in diet seems to be away from carbohydrates and towards protein. Will anyone finally get it right?

DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this blog should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content.

News resources for children

Every weekday morning at 7.40 am, CBBC broadcasts a short news bulletin aimed at children. It's a good mixture of headline news, sport and music items.


For readers, there's also the award-winning "First News" young people's newspaper (subscription required):


See links in left sidebar for more details.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this blog should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Friday fun: how to deal with a bully



DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this blog should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Computer games for children

Ah, the lovely computer! Here's one game that really fun and challenges children to think logically - if you have any other suggestions for good games, do please comment with links.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this blog should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Simon's Cat: Shelf Life

This is the most recent in a series (19 so far) of short, funny animations. Good for all ages - link to site in left sidebar. DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this blog should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Osborne: Bankers face payment by results

A startling recent report from the Daily Telegraph outlines a radical shakeup of the banking system by the Chancellor, George Osborne. I reproduce the text below (N.B. our spellchecker has identified and corrected a number of errors in the course of transcription).
__________________________________________________________
Poor bankers could be paid less than competent colleagues under government plans to improve standards of commercial banking.
Ministers want to link pay to performance in the boardroom as part of a new drive to improve results and attract the best graduates into the profession.

A cross-party group of MPs today says that a new payment by results system is needed to stop the worst bankers hiding behind a “rigid and unfair” national remuneration structure.

“Results” would include not just profits but measures such as how much progress client businesses make, corporate governance and credit ratings.

Last night, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, disclosed that Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, had already asked the FSA, which analyses national remuneration packages, to set up a new Walker-style review and “make recommendations on introducing greater freedoms and flexibilities in bankers’ pay, including how to link it better to performance”.

Mr Osborne said the Government welcomed the MPs’ report “into this important area”. The review body is expected to deliver its recommendations by September.

In the report published today, the Treasury select committee says bankers should be rewarded for “adding the greatest value” to customers’ businesses and be given paid sabbaticals to further their skills.

MPs claim the reforms would address fears that poor bankers are having a “very significant” impact on businesses’ long-term prospects. The report quotes international research which shows that the worst bankers could cost business people and millions of employees their livelihoods and life savings.

Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford University in America, has shown that an excellent banker can help local enterprises thrive and create employment, whereas a poor one will drive his customers into receivership.

The British Bankers’ Association is strongly opposed to any attempt to alter pay and conditions. However, the committee’s report says: “No longer should the weakest bankers be able to hide behind a rigid and unfair pay structure.

“We believe that performance management systems should support and reward the strongest bankers, as well as make no excuses — or, worse, incentives to remain — for the weaker. Given the profound positive and negative impacts which bankers have on national economic performance, we are concerned that the pay system continues to reward low performers at the same levels as their more successful peers.”

They want the Government to draw up proposals for a pay system that rewards those adding the greatest “value to the performance of enterprises”.

Marcus Agius, the chairman of the British Bankers’ Association, said: “Payment by results is total nonsense. Our customers are not tins of beans and banks are not factory production lines.

“Successful banks rely on a collegiate approach and team working. Performance-related pay is not only inappropriate but also divisive.

“Business people differ and startups differ from year to year, making it impossible to measure progress in simplistic terms.”

There are currently 5 major banking groups and about 20 others. Although an element of performance-related pay already exists, ministers are now looking at enhancing rewards for the best.

Currently, bankers in London can earn up to £1.25 million. but see their pay rise to £8 million with other perks and bonuses. Earlier this year, Natalie Ceeney CBE, the chief executive of the Financial Ombudsman Service, said too many bankers – more than 90 per cent – were allowed to pass the test. “The thing that irritates good bankers, people who work hard and go the extra mile, is seeing the people that don’t do that being rewarded,” she said.

In December, it was reported that just no bankers judged to be incompetent over an 18-month period had been sacked.

In further recommendations, the report says a “sabbatical scholarship” programme should allow outstanding bankers to take time out to work in a different bank, undertake research or refresh their subject knowledge. It is also suggested fund managers and quantitative analysts be allowed to lead training sessions for university students as part of a system of “banking taster classes” to show them the benefit of a career in the profession.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this blog should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content.

Science in cartoon form: the search for the Higgs-Boson particle



DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this blog should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Spot the teacher errors

What went wrong here? No, seriously - we've seen this clip a number of times in the Behaviour Support Service. After the initial Homer-strangling-Bart fantasy has flashed through your mind, can you see the triggers and mis-steps?


DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this blog should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Headteacher to get pay cut

The headteacher of Canary Wharf Comprehensive is to have his bonus reduced, it was revealed today. Mr Garnet's pay package had soared to £17.7 million last year, despite the school failing its Ofsted inspection.

At a meeting with the Governing Body, Mr Garnet explained that his remuneration was strictly a contractual matter, the annual bonus being linked to the size of the school's budget. Since the DfEE had pumped in huge sums to turn around its dire performance, the Head's financial reward had broken all records. The Governors have decided to review the contract.

Speaking to Birmingham Teacher & TA by satphone from his chalet in Gstaad, Mr Garnet said, "It's only fair to point out that the tax on my income will cover my staff's wages for the next two years." Asked whether heads whose schools are failing, should be sacked, he said he was on a Black Run and would have to terminate the interview, but asked us to remind his teachers that pupil reports should be handed into heads of year by Thursday afternoon.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this blog should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content.

Friday fun: how to deal with cheek



DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this blog should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Water fluoridation bad for children?

According to Joy Warren, a Coventry-based scientist, fluoride in the water supply (which has helped significantly reduce dental caries, of course) not only damages children's teeth (fluorine is an extremely chemically reactive substance), but can have adverse effects on brain development in very young and prematurely born children.

That last might need thinking about, for those nursing newborns. Read here for some of the argument and counter-argument.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this blog should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Kidspeak (1)

When a new girl visited the special needs centre, the boys became quite excited. I joked with a colleague that they'd all be going down the gym to get "buffed", as the Americans say.

Apparently I'm out of date: the latest term is "henched".

Any more examples of current youth talk?

DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this blog should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Autism connected with sugar in children's diet?

A new medical study published this month correlates autism with increased sugar intake.

The amount of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the average American's diet has roared up from very little in 1972 to 60 pounds a year. But it's not just down to eating more sweets: HFCS is added to a wide range of products such as soft drinks, breakfast cereals and processed meats. The paper says that although the number of 6 - 21 year olds receiving special needs education went down between 2005 and 2010, there was a 91% increase in diagnosis of autism over the same period.

Here in the UK, a recent Daily Telegraph article also looked at sugar-related health problems, including diabetes. Sweeteners are being smuggled into everything from bread to yoghurt, cheese and sausages. When you pick up a food item boasting that it's low-fat, read the contents to find out how much sugar they've put in instead.

Weight watchers might like to read dietician Zoe Harcombe, who says that it's not fat but carbohydrates that make you put on weight. Those food pyramids and healthy eating plates that teachers show children may be seriously misleading - Harcombe pours scorn on them here. And she says that the "Five a Day" fruit and vegetables initiative has its roots in a marketing campaign by certain food producers and agrichemical companies.

So, take modern mainstream dietary advice with a pinch of salt - but not too much, of course.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this blog should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Hanging, flogging... and caning?

Nearly 3 years ago, I was having a whinge about education going to the bow-wows, and one part was about the end of corporal punishment in schools, which some would like to see reinstated. A leader in the campaign to abolish caning was a teacher in Tower Hamlets called Tom Scott, who later left teaching and is now a theatre director.

I often say that the people who make changes in teaching often choose not to stay at the sharp end (if they've ever been there at all), and I thought Scott had been away from the chalkface for so long he'd probably forgotten the details.

Not so. Here's a post by the man himself, put up on the 25th anniversary of abolition (July 22, 1986). Some of the examples of maltreatment he cites there should give any fair-minded reader pause for thought. I certainly couldn't defend those teachers.

The only caning I witnessed as a teacher was of a 15-year-old who'd told me to get lost when I was urging a group to work hard and complete their CSE English assignments (in two terms - the previous teacher had left under a cloud in the summer, with his pupils having only 2 acceptable pieces of coursework out of the required 15). A senior teacher gave him the cane once on each hand, and that was the last I saw of him in the classroom. Pour encourager les autres: almost all the others ultimately got passes in both English Language and English Literature - and these were C Band children.

The school was a very large urban comprehensive, but with a tightly-run and authoritarian management. It made a difference to the life chances of many children, I'm sure, even though I think discipline alone will get you no more than 90% of potential. It also allowed teachers to teach - not everyone is a tough guy or the inspirational type who could get children to push peanuts up mountainsides with their noses, as they say.

But yes, I'm sure there were also occasions when authority overstepped the mark. I remember one youngster from long ago, who these days would be quickly recognized as autistic: he'd tried to flush a teacher's handbag down the lavatory and was consistently denying it to the head and deputy head in the office. The deputy, a slick and tricky type, leaned forward and said in a friendly way, "Look, Jason [as it might be], we all know you did it. Why don't you just admit it and then you can go?" "Okay, yeah, I did do it." With a sweep of the arm, the desk was cleared of papers, "Jason" was hauled over it and given six of the very best, then released - howling fit to bust - to charge out of the office and through reception, clutching his buttocks. Where the parents of a prospective entrant to the school were waiting. They saw the meteor scud past, followed by the head and deputy strolling out, laughing and swishing their canes.

All most amusing, but "Jason" had to return to my classroom, red-faced and in shock at a turn of events he wasn't equipped to anticipate. On another occasion, he'd gone with a school group to Kingsbury Water Park and noticed a fishing float abandoned in a shallow lake. Without hesitation, he undressed (in front of a mixed group of boys and girls), waded out stark naked to retrieve it, and then dressed again. "Jason" was just different, and in the Pupil Referral Unit where I work part-time he would now be treated as such; thrashing would teach him nothing. Autistic children need social rules spelled out to them, like a tourist learning basic phrases in Greek.

There was also something of a confrontational culture among the more macho teachers. A teenager came to remonstrate with one of these, who let him into the classroom to continue the discussion, locked the door and listened to a stream of foul-mouthed abuse. As the peroration continued, he quietly interjected "you're forgetting something" from time to time, until the lad put his cursing on hold and said "what?". "The door's locked". The boy's face went white, and he fell silent.

Another teacher - a Northerner - wouldn't tolerate cheek and chinned a member of his own form registration group, knocking him clear over the desk behind. The boy reminded him of it when Sir came to make his farewell ("Now then, scum...") before leaving to teach abroad - but the kid said it with a grin: he knew there hadn't actually been any malice, it was just what the alpha male does to the naughty pup. Had this happened today, I imagine the man would have been in court and out of teaching.

A retired colleague did his teaching practice in a school in (I think) Reading, somewhere around the late 1960s. His class was a mixed bunch, with the yobbos ensconced at the back. But one made the mistake of taking out a newspaper and reading it behind the upraised lid of his desk. A mistake, because my friend is of Irish descent and has fully inherited the wrathful warrior gene. Leaping forward with a roar of rage, the trainee teacher smashed down the lid, which broke in two pieces across the head of the boy, who fell back stunned in his chair. There was no trouble from that class again.

Pre-World War I, my great-grandfather was a schoolmaster in an East Prussian village (paid for his services partly in firewood etc). He taught the children of agricultural labourers, dairymen and so on - tough kids in a tough time, and unlikely to appreciate the value of literacy and general knowledge. But great-grandpapa was built like a brick sh*thouse - once, when a man had disagreed with him, he'd suspended his opponent one-handed by the collar outside an upper-storey window until there was a meeting of minds. My ancestor started each day giving all the kids a whack - girls as well as boys. They all learned to read and write, and this might well have saved the lives of a number of the boys when the call-up came, as they would have been given office jobs instead of being sent out to absorb the enemy's bullets.

Quite a different world, and no Professor Challenger will find his way back to it.

Is there any halfway house between the hard ways of the past and the barrack-room-lawyer children of today? Should a civil whack on the hands be allowed again? Or is it all too fraught with difficulty?

Meantime, I shall not be so quick to judge people like Mr Scott.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Urgent need for teachers to review their insurances - changes coming!

Changes on their way mean that it's high time to review your insurance (and pensions, if you have any investment-related ones such as a personal or stakeholder pension).

Gender-neutrality law to increase costs for both men and women

By 21st December this year, the UK insurance industry will have to comply with the EU Gender Directive, which insists that men and women must be treated the same when setting rates. Up to now, by and large:

  • women tend to pay less for car insurance (typically, safer driver behaviour than men's) and life insurance (on average, women live longer than men)
  • men tend to get better annuity rates when taking benefits from their pensions, and pay less for income insurance
You might think that the fair thing to do, where gender-related pricing is concerned, is "meet in the middle", but that means the insurance company takes the risk that it may attract more business from the gender that will ultimately cost them more in payouts. So it could well be that the policy adopted will be to "level-up" premiums.

Time to get a product with guaranteed (i.e. fixed) premiums?

Taxation of life companies likely to increase premiums

But there's another change that will affect premiums, and it's to do with tax. Until now, life companies have been able to offset some of their insurance costs against gains on their investment business; this will stop from 1st January next year, so insurance premiums will no longer be subsidised by investment profits in this way. Actuaries have told HM Treasury (PDF) that this could raise premiums on some term insurances by around 10%.

Time to get a product with guaranteed (i.e. fixed) premiums?

Spouse cover and contracted-out pensions: better options now available

From April 6, 2012 the law on pensions has changed. Up to now, if you were married and some of your personal pension was built up using money from contracting-out of State top-up pensions (SERPS/S2P), that part of your pension fund had to provide a continuing income for your spouse if you died before him/her. This restriction has now been removed.

This means:

  • you can have a bigger pension income for yourself, if you opt not to include spouse protection (it may be that your spouse already has good pension benefits of his/her own), but alternatively...
  • if you prefer, you can IMPROVE spouse protection - before April 6, the spouse pension based on contracted-out monies HAD to drop to 50% of the income you were getting; now, it can be anything from 0% - 100% of yours.
For men who want a single-life annuity, this may also be a window of opportunity to get a better rate, before the gender-neutrality law comes into effect in December.

That said, there is also the question of what may happen on the stockmarkets (quite possibly affecting the value of your pension fund, unless you're in cash), and the bond markets (which influence annuity rates).

Time to review when you want to take your pension, what it's invested in at the moment, and how you ultimately intend to take the benefits?

I suggest you contact your adviser soon!

DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this blog should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content.