March 2011

Under-5s have a tough time of it in England.

Since 2008 they’ve been assessed against 69 (yes 69) “goals” the government expects them to reach by age 5.

The Department of Education commissioned Dame Clare Tickell, chief executive of charity Action for Children, to review how these 69 goals in their Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) were working.

Her conclusions were published today.

Without demeaning the effort that’s gone into the report, the bottom line is that the 69 goals should be reduced to 17.  As of today, no-one is dissenting.

The good Dame, introducing her report on the radio today, said

These are only learning goals not targets

Goals not targets?  Since when they were different?

With language like this I always find the sporting analogy helpful.

A goal is an area, usually at the end of a pitch or field, that an individual or team aims to get something like a ball or a puck into in order to score points.

A target is a surface, usually two-dimensional, that an individual or team aims to hit from a distance with something like an arrow or a bullet in order to score points.

The language of public service delivery in the UK has become so arcane that distinctions are drawn between concepts that to the ordinary human being are essentially the same.

My conclusion is that 5 year olds in England are still expected to aim for (be aimed for?) and reach 17 learning goals (or targets).

Any other interpretation is mere semantics.

Incidentally, for the connoisseurs of jargon, people no longer care for young children, a wide range of early-years practitioners do.  And you’re right, I couldn’t resist putting the phrase in my jargon bin.

The Early Years: Foundations for life, health and learning – An Independent Report on the Early Years Foundation Stage to Her Majesty’s Government, March 2011

I heard the other day about a council that has a no bad news policy.

The idea sounded intriguing if not challenging in these straitened times when there’s so much, er, bad news for councils.

It led me to pondering the question of who should speak truth to power.

In any organisation that’s got its culture* right it shouldn’t be a problem.  The wisdom of its leaders will make them want to seek the truth no matter what it is, who knows it or how uncomfortable it is.  Only by knowing the truth can wrong things be stopped and problems dealt with.

How many organisations (public, private or voluntary sectors) are like this?  Not I suspect one with a no bad news policy.

Who in those organisations, and in the no bad news council, speaks truth to power?


1. * – my definition of culture?  Nothing high falutin’.  Simply the answer to the question How do you do things around here?

2. “The phrase ‘speaking truth to power’ goes back to 1955, when the American Friends Service Committee published Speak Truth to Power, a pamphlet that proposed a new approach to the Cold War” – Glossary of Quaker Terms and Phrases

It’s great when two ideas collide and produce something more than the sum of the parts.

A few days ago I mentioned the inspirational keynote speech Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave at the Commonwealth Local Government Conference back in 2005.

Today I turned to the list of “Koehler” topics I’d committed myself to blogging about (see footnote) and there staring out at me was her suggestion to blog on I saw an inspirational talk and what I’ll do differently.

I hadn’t marked it out as one of her suggestions to use but I have to now, don’t I?

So Tutu’s speech it is.

We don’t often take the high ground when we talk about local government in this country.

The daily grind doesn’t help – of budget cuts, perceived failures (from the death of a vulnerable child to the latest pothole shock horror), not to mention squabbles with the centre amongst much else.

And we take so much for granted (see my post on the Financial Times’ Slow Lane column for example).

A turnout in a council election of 40% is a cause for congratulation when it really means 60% of our fellow citizens can’t be bothered to vote.

Tutu provided an antidote to all this.

Quoting him is the easiest way to make the point.

For the people who matter, the electorate at the local level, it is not about eloquent disquisitions about ideological and other high faluting theses.  What matters for them are mundane down to earth, bread and butter things that have to do with delivery…Are they or are they not going to get that much needed school?…Will they get electricity coming to their homes so that they won’t have to use polluting coal fires?…Will there be community libraries and recreation centres with swings and roundabouts for the children?…Are the police people-friendly and efficient and effective as a crime detection and prevention agency?…Are those with disabilities and children and other vulnerable members of society adequately catered for?

Central and second tier governments can talk until they are blue in their faces about their splendid policies which may in fact be so but, unless the people at the coalface of life experience them through service delivery, it is all vanity of vanities as the good book says in Ecclesiastes…

The electorate needs to be vigilant and ready to pounce on any evidence of unresponsive and indifferent elected representatives… for power does tend to corrupt…

Human rights are universal or they are nothing.  When they are violated anywhere we should say so clearly and unambiguously otherwise we are colluding with the violators and are in a sense accessories after the fact.

There is more, some of it specifically directed at countries and regimes in his own continent

We should be tough with Presidents and other heads of State who want to become Presidents for life and who do so by tinkering with the constitution of their land.

Nothing like that here of course.

But when we ran a workshop about the system of local government in Scotland (the conference was in Aberdeen) African delegates were universally surprised that councillors in the UK could go on being elected time and time again.  They believed that two terms was enough for all sorts of good reasons.  I thought quietly of a councillor I knew who had been re-elected continuously for a record 58 years.  In all honesty, wasn’t it way too long?

We should not be smug.  We can learn much from other societies and continents, as well as being inspired by their great men.

You can read Tutu’s whole speech on the web.  Do.  It’s well worth it.

This is Topic 5 of a response to a suggestion for topics to blog about made by Ingrid Koehler of Local Government Improvement and Development.  Topic 4 lists the earlier three posts in the series.

You can’t.

You can only apply for a part-completed application form to be sent to you snail mail for final completion.

Fair enough.  Security and all that.

This is how it “works”.

Well over a week ago I completed the initial application form.  The IPS (Identity and Passpoprt Service) web site says

we will aim to despatch the pre-printed application form to you within 24 hours.

A 10-figure reference number to view on screen is generated when you submit your application.  But the system doesn’t send an e-mail confirming your application has been received or what to do if you have an enquiry.  So you have no independent proof of successful receipt by the IPS of your details.

I hadn’t received my pre-printed application form today so I went on to the web site to see if I could check progress.

Again, you can’t – or at least if you can it’s not obvious.

You can retrieve a previously submitted form with a password and your reference number.  But only for 72 hours after submission.

An additional niggle (not a problem for me but might be for some).  The web site says the IPS paper form that will be despatched is currently unable to accept an e-mail contact address longer than 30 characters.  Thank God I’m not  (The address is invented.  It shouldn’t work.  Unless someone has called themselves that.  Which they might have been tempted to.)

The only way I can think of seeing if there’s still something in the system for me is by trying to submit a new application.  Surely it’ll warn me that I already have an application pending?  It doesn’t.  So now I have two applications in for a new passport.  Or one.  Or none.

We shall see.

Update 24 March – two part-completed passport forms have now been received.  So clearly no internal cross-checks in  their software.

I wouldn’t have blogged this if I hadn’t received a Tweet from fellow blogger Paul Clarke today about what he called a truly dreadful government transaction.  But that was about a DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority) form so there’s obviously no connection is there?  No, obviously.

The Last Word page of the Weekend Financial Times is usually calculated to annoy (me).

In the top right hand corner Tyler Brulé, editor of something called Monocle magazine – no me neither – shares his views with the world in his column The Fast Lane about the best brands of luggage (yawn) or rants against the latest iniquities of airline travel like the disposition of seats/couchettes/beds in first class, while getting in a side swipe at the great unwashed “in the back” (i.e. of the plane – me again).

Confronting him from his left, so to speak, is Harry Eyres’ countervailing column The Slow Lane, about the creative use of down-time, usually with a green tinge.

Turning to this weekend’s FT (the best UK national paper bar none, as I’ve said before) with the usual apprehension I find that not one but both have surpassed themselves with two brilliant pieces.

To take the one occupying the higher moral ground first, Eyres writes movingly and perceptively about the waves of protest sweeping the Arab world that seem as fundamental as the liberation of Eastern Europe twenty years ago.

These people he says have found their voice

They have spoken with the freedom of those who have nothing to lose but their lives…the freedom that comes to those who realise that there are some things even more important than their own individual lives: that is, principles that will protect the lives of others, both born and unborn.

He contrasts this with our Western indifference in the face of our affluence

These protests have not shown us in a good light.  They have shown us up as citizens who have in large measure given up our birthright…of freedom in return for the comforts and convenience of consumerism, dispensed by powers over which we have little control.

His words reminded me of what I referred to in a recent post as an inspirational speech about local government (yes, there can be such a thing and I’ll return to it) by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Meanwhile just over to the right Brulé has turned his attention to an aspect of air travel everyone suffers, not just those high on the hog in first class – airport security.

His target is Heathrow and a recent scene he witnessed as one of the conveyor belts in security breaks (OK so it happens  in what he describes as the comically named “fast track” but we all know it could have been anywhere in one of our great British airports).

His reported utterances of the staff concerned, all at high volume, include

“Can all you lot move over to the other belt please ‘cos this one’s broken”

“We gotta move all your stuff to the other belt so please bear with us while we complete this procedure”

“It’s the fifth time that machine’s packed it in!”

“Shelley, are you ready to go on break?  You’ve been at it too long love.  You need a rest”

There’s more but you get the flavour.

Given Brule’s usual tone I expected him to have a go at the front line staff but he goes on to say

The point is that these people have been hired for a security/service position and it’s up to their employers to create an environment where they feel proud of what they do.

Spot on Tyler.  Your thoughts mirror my own airport hell experience at Madrid airport before Christmas.  I shall watch out for your promised next instalment on customer service next week.

A small minority of bloggers (some of them not much more than the spammers of the genre) block comments from readers.

The rest of us are gagging for them.

Comments show readers want to react to us.  They show we’re communicating.  They show someone’s looking at our blogs.

That’s why lots of us ask questions in our posts.  We hope they’ll prompt comments and even better a conversation.

Sometimes they do.  Sometimes they don’t.

I’m getting the readers (and in increasing numbers – thanks, folks) but maybe I haven’t quite mastered the art of writing to draw a response.

All ideas to help me get better at this are very welcome.

In the meantime, here are questions from five of my posts that haven’t prompted any comments in the hope that they will now.  You’ll have to click through to the related post to get the context.  And yes, comments are welcome.

  • QUESTION 1 What was the stuff at work you were never told that could have saved a lot of turmoil and made things easier as you moved on in your career?
  • QUESTION 2 Does anyone know of a better [the word was used ironically] generic conference keynote contributor than a minister of the crown?
  • QUESTION 3 Maybe there’s something in the idea of Taiwan’s musical garbage trucks that could be adapted to our particular circumstances…Any brainstormers out there with bright ideas?
  • QUESTION 4 What are the ideas whose time has come in local government?  And what would people’s list be of past local government ideas whose time came?
  • QUESTION 5 Measurement [of customer standards] can be a great thing but at the end of the day whose service do you value more – John Lewis or your bank?

Eleven minutes to spare?  Check out this cartoon version of a talk about motivation given by Dan Pink to the RSA (Royal Society of Arts) in London.  It’s one of a great series of similar videos RSAanimates produces.

My 30 second version?

Pay people enough money to take the issue of money off the table.  Then, three factors lead to better performance (and personal satisfaction)

  • autonomy – our desire to be self-directed
  • mastery – our urge to get better at doing things
  • purpose – the way for organisations to get better talent.

How many of the micro-managed performance management systems strangling the public sector understand that?  How many annual appraisals use it as a starting point for discussion about how people are doing?

He doesn’t know it but Deming fan Gordon Hall alerted me to this through one of his e-mails to the various networks he encourages and sustains.

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