Strike two…

… to the press (again).

I have very strong views on strike action, and reasons for and against striking. I won’t state here which way I will be balloting, or what action I shall be taking should a strike go ahead, other than to say that I will not take any action which jeopardises my future.

Today’s news (examples here and here) regarding public sector pensions is keen to indicate that the Government have put a very enticing offer on the table. This focuses on the fact that the annual take home pension will be more than under the initial deal – which, on the face of it, is a good thing.

However, one has to search very hard to establish what happens to the level of employee and employer contributions. Likewise, to discover the duration for which these contributions are paid, at what age the pension can be redeemed, and what factors the final amount will be based upon.

My point is that there is much information that is hidden, so the deal on the table may not be as good as it seems at first glance; there is often more than one side to any story.


The views expressed here are my own and do not reflect any of the organisations that I belong to.

Grateful when you’re dead*

It was reported in today’s news that the West Oxfordshire Conservative Association (WOCA) Chairman, Christopher Shale, was found dead in a portaloo at the Glastonbury festival. This is tremendously sad and my thoughts are with those who were close to him.

After digging a little deeper, it appears that this news follows the publication of an article that portrays him as being critical of the Conservative association. The headline in today’s Mail on Sunday (seen here) reads “There’s no reason to join the Tories. We’ve come over as voracious, crass, always on the take”.

David Cameron is later quoted as saying “A big rock in my life has suddenly been rolled away” but, according to the article, he will be in the significant minority who care.

“[Christopher Shale] claims that the country can be divided into two groups, ‘politics heavy’ people and ‘politics light’ ones who aren’t interested in the subject except at General Elections. He calculates that 98 per cent of the population is ‘politics light’ and that ‘politics heavy is a big turn-off for politics light people.”

Unfortunately for him, if his calculations are correct, there are not many who are going to miss him.

*you need to see this performed live

Bigmouth strikes again

Teaching unions perplex me for a number of reasons but, for this blog, I will focus only on today’s decision of two teaching unions (NUT and ATL) to strike over pensions. Striking is supposed to be a last resort, but how can this possibly be the case while there are still discussions going on?

Striking obviously has an immediate impact upon students in the classroom, but the date of the strike, 30th June 2011, happens to coincide with INSET (training) days in many education authorities. This leads me to seriously question the reasons and purpose of this particular strike.

Today’s news can be read here.


The recent referendum on AV, which caused much debate, provides many mathematical opportunities, and this video shows what happens in the event of a tie.

Personally, I would like to see a tie decided by rock-paper-scissors. This version claims to learn your behaviour and subsequently beat you – note that it is more likely to beat you if you play for a long time (whatever the definition of ‘long’ is). The image below shows how to defeat a human opponent, and maybe this should be shown to both candidates before playing.


So, how about this for a potential framework for a lesson on experimental probability:

(i) estimate the experimental probability of winning a game against a human
(ii) estimate the experimental probability of winning a game against a human when one player has seen a ‘strategy’ (i.e. has seen the image)
(iii) estimate the experimental probability of winning a game against a human when both players have seen the same ‘strategy’(or indeed a different strategy)
(iv) estimate the experimental probability of winning a game against a computer

Who cares

Following the first national referendum since 1975, the biggest problem with UK politics has resurfaced once more. A proportionally representative vote for electoral reform resulted in a turnout of close to 40%, highlighting the current level of apathy in the UK.

AV and FPTP both have their flaws, but until the bigger issue of low voting numbers is addressed, there is little point in changing the system. Making it illegal not to vote may be regarded as a little extreme, but consider this slightly radical proposal:

Hold a referendum on whether people should be forced to vote in an election.

This particular proposal is rather ludicrous, but its provocative nature demonstrates an important point. People are more likely to vote if they have a strong viewpoint one way or the other. So, maybe the solution should be to have a controversial referendum alongside every future election, thus tempting people to the polls, rather than forcing them.

Strike one

…to democracy

Following Lord Hutton’s review and the proposals to reform public sector pensions, some teachers’ unions have voted in favour of a ballot for industrial action. The media would make you believe that this is a bad thing. While refraining from stating my opinion as to whether or not I think teachers (and the public sector as a whole) should strike, surely balloting is democracy in action.

To AV or not to AV?

Next week the UK has a referendum on whether to adopt the Alternative Vote (AV) system, and deviate from First Past the Post (FPTP), for future parliamentary elections. Being careful to avoid stating my political stance, this is intended purely as a comment on AV.

As far as I am aware, I understand how it works, indicated quite nicely here. But I have an issue with misleading information and propaganda such as in this video [its title ‘Fail’ refers to the exam score, although maybe would have been more appropriate as the popular ‘hashtag’ towards its message as a whole].

Basically, with AV, if no candidate has 50% of the votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, with second choices being allocated to the remaining candidates. This process continues until one candidate reaches 50% – theoretically giving them a majority. This was how the voting took place for the recent World Cup bid (see this article for details).

On the face of it, winning candidates could claim that they have more support than they do at present. But AV does NOT solve the problem of a Prime Minister being elected with less than half of the votes (as the video would suggest). Consider this situation, which (for ease of understanding) assumes 100% turn out, with only two parties*, and constituencies of equal size:

In constituency A, B and C, the candidate from Party X wins 51% of the votes. But in constituency D and E, the candidate from Party Y wins 52% of the votes. This would leave Party X gaining power as they won more constituencies, despite having received less votes than Party Y in total (with the ratio of votes from X to Y being 249:251). Clearly this difference would be exacerbated with party Y winning a greater percentage of votes in constituencies D and E. Furthermore, with more parties, constituencies of different sizes, and a more realistic turn out (which tends to be closer to 50%), the chance of having 50% of the population’s vote could be reduced even further.

Proportional Representation (PR) would be necessary to solve this particular problem – on which, I do have very strong views. I won’t state what they are, but the Bundestag, in Germany, and the Knesset, in Israel, are both based on PR.

On this basis, it might appear that this referendum is nothing more than political tit-for-tat, so I will end here before accidentally revealing my political viewpoint.

But, which way should I vote – for AV or not? And, more importantly, why?

*when only two parties are involved, AV is no different to FPTP, but the principle being demonstrated would still hold with three or more parties.


Update 27th April 2011:

Thanks to this article, I have now made up my mind which way I will be voting. And although the article is based on mathematics, my reasons are not.

Update 2nd May 2011:

Here is another argument for AV. Shame the scenario doesn’t apply to politics.

Hung out to dry

The only certainty following the recent election is that no sole party will hold an overall majority. Some argue that this result (and a probable coalition) is a good thing, although I believe there is a large amount of evidence to suggest otherwise. The possible combinations and permutations are endless, but bargaining and compromise are on the cards and their effects are already beginning to show.

At this time of economic crisis, both locally and around the World, stability is required. However, in order to try and gain support and appear popular, one of the major talking points is currently electoral reform. Electoral reform was never an issue immediately before the election and certainly won’t solve any critical issues, but suddenly it is high on the agenda. However, there are many possible solutions and choosing the right one is more of an art than a science; no two countries have exactly the same voting system and there is some degree of fault with all of them, so there is no obvious ‘best’ way to do it.

The Liberal Democrats have always supported proportional representation (PR) which, on the surface, is a fair system giving each party the same proportion of seats as votes. And crucially, they (currently) hold the cards. However, with PR a local MP may end up living 300 miles away – meaning raising an issue in person would become difficult. But more worryingly, PR also allows the smaller, more extreme parties a louder voice. As an example, the British National Party received more than 500 000 votes in this week’s election, which would give them around a dozen seats in the House of Commons – a scary scenario for many.

But the point is this: with a hung parliament, sacrifices are made. It will be much more difficult to agree and to pass any legislation. Progress will be stifled at a time when strong decisions are crucial. Furthermore, this situation would be exaggerated with PR – just take a look at the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) where extreme parties are able to hold the Government to ransom.

Surely, this level of debate regarding forming a Government will be an indication of how much there will end up being during Government.

Furthermore, I predict as a result of the consequent compromise, the next General Election won’t be far away. This will have the added impact of preventing political parties from establishing themselves as they strive to ’get one up’ over their rivals – continuing what we have witnessed over the last twelve months.

If the Liberal Democrats wish to become the majority party in future, they must do whatever they can to productively influence the current situation. They must show that they are a party of worth and gain support through successful actions, rather than by altering the election process.

I give it 18 months tops; meaning the next election campaign has begun.

Who cares what students think?

“Pupils are wrongly being used to interview prospective teachers, a teaching union says”
– according to an article on the bbc website (
The reasons for having student interview panels are clear. However, my own experience would question their benefits.
I have attended two interviews where a student panel was used as a part of the interviewing process – where students posed questions in the presence of an existing teacher. One of those processes did not require me to teach a lesson.
At both interviews, I was told that I was the strongest candidate according to the student panel. I was also told on both occasions that the job was given to a better candidate. Interestingly, at the interview where I didn’t have to teach, I also received feedback that I was “over exuberant”.

So what sort of signal does this send out?
It appears to suggest “we give the impression to students and to others that we care about their opinions”.
Is it any more than an impression? I am unconvinced.

Blame the Emu

This is an experiment. I am intrigued to see how and where it ends up.

I’ll start by upsetting the apple cart.
I am in a position of responsibility. My job requires me to show no bias.
The internet provides a fantastic medium for expressing opinion. I can say what I want. Anyone can hear it.
Hiding within the internet is difficult. Why do it?
Why make a claim, but disguise yourself? What purpose does it serve?
It’s like saying “vote for me, I will reduce taxes, I will improve services, I will make the world a better place” but not telling you how.
All impact is removed.
So why raise the issue? Clearly my own apple cart felt like it was being tipped; I leave you with
Welcome to my blog. Expect opinions (hint: this one is cryptic). Stay tuned.

Clearly, now that I am tapering, I have too much time on my hands.