March 27, 2011

Surveillance cameras in West Lothian school toilets? You just know that was dreamt up by a group of beardy blokes with a lot of pens in their top pockets.

Some of the head teachers said the cameras deterred violent behaviour, vandalism and smoking, and gave the children an increased sense of security. Hang on a moment, cameras deter nothing. They simply help identify the culprit after the event – if they happened to do what they did in an area covered by the lens.

The cameras aren’t protecting your kids, it’s just identifying who did what to whom once it’s all over. And, anyway, preventing unacceptable behaviour is the job of teaching staff and prefects, not the cameras.

When I was at school there was a rota of regular patrols by everybody from the headmaster to the janitor. They didn’t just sit quaffing coffee and sticky buns in the staffroom. They did their job and would glide silently around the corridors, quadrangle and toilet areas – you never knew where or when one of them would creep up behind you. A camera can’t do that.

And as for smoking; a teacher sniffing the air would soon be alerted to the fact that somebody nearby was having a puff on a Woodbine. A camera can’t do that either.

But not to worry; the cameras will only be pointing at the sink area, right? But what right-minded thug is going to give somebody a slap there? Who wants to vandalise a tap? And what tobacco addict would use the washbasin as an ashtray? All that goes on in the cubicle area – where we are assured the cameras won’t be pointing. Yet.

The executive councillor for education said, and I quote: (the cameras) “…are popular with the majority of pupils.” Popular? Hands up all those who believe for one minute that the majority of youngsters are happy to be filmed in the toilets. Must have been an interesting, in-depth survey, that one.

But here’s the fun part. When the instigators of this lazy lunacy came up with the idea, did they not research what had happened in other schools? At Lipsom School in Plymouth the cameras were taken out following “a furious protest from parents” in which they kept their kids away from school, and hundreds of the youngsters signed a petition.

Another school in Norwich found themselves the subject of a BBC radio enquiry. Grace Academy in Birmingham ended up trying to defend their thinking on Sky News for the same thing.

Even the then education secretary was brought into the fight when parents at Westhoughton High, near Bolton, discovered the school had CCTV cameras in the toilets. What’s more, over half the members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) admit the cameras were not just used to deter antisocial behaviour, but were used to monitor students.

So, if we tolerate this, where will it all end? Well, in 2007 it was revealed that schools had fingerprinted thousands of primary school children without their parent’s consent. The Department for Children, Schools and Families ruled that schools need not obtain consent from parents should they wish to obtain and store biometric data from children. Bet you didn’t know that.

Equally worrying, not happy with CCTV in just the toilets, police were called to a school in Salford when parents discovered that children had been filmed changing into their PE kit. The police seized the film after having to negotiate with the school.

CCTV cameras in children’s toilets? Does that, in any way SOUND right to you? No, the solution is simple. Go back to the old system where the teachers get off their backsides and take regular forays around their school to keep an eye on what’s going on.

Cheaper, too, I would wager.

Drew McAdam



January 3, 2011


Here’s a surprise. Straight into school at 5-years of age has a negative effect on a youngster’s education. Leave it a couple of years, and they will do much better.

Sound crazy? Stick with me a while longer.

Our kids are rounded up and bundled off to school at 5-years of age when, really, they should still be with their family, learning from playing rather than instruction. Growing in confidence and self-reliance, rather than having their imaginations stripped away to fit the acceptable norm.

Now, you would think that the earlier they start the better their education, wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, statistics demonstrate the opposite. Top of the European leaderboard in terms of education are countries like Finland and Denmark, where formal education does not begin until the age of – wait for it – seven.

While our kids are being bogged down by a class curriculum, their kids are chasing butterflies, exploring their world and constructing stories with their dollies. Yet the kids left to their own devices consistently obtain higher educational results later in life.

In fact, with the exception of The Netherlands and Malta, we are the only European country jamming our little ones into a contrived learning environment at the age of five. (And sometimes even four!)

According to the Primary Review report, compulsory learning at such a tender age was introduced in 1870 and had nothing to do with learning. Rather, it was a way of combating the negative effect of inadequate and abusive Victorian parents. In other words it was about child protection, not education.

There is no question that kids gain little benefit from formal learning at such a young age. They are not designed that way.

All that would be bad enough, but when they get out of school they have homework. Lots of it… I mean REALLY lots of it. If you don’t believe me, find the parent of an 8-year old and get them to show you. It’s enough to put any kid off education for life.

I swear, some of these tots will spend more time on homework than I found necessary when my O’levels were drawing near. And let’s be honest, all this homework is only so that teachers and educationalists can tick boxes and meet arbitrary criteria set down by the grey men in grey suits. It’s certainly not about teaching the youngsters. No, it’s about paperwork and meeting standards that are based on… well, figures plucked from the air.

Kids are kids. Early and imposed learning will turn them away from the wonder of knowledge. Let them learn from amusing themselves, spending moretime with their family, and having fun – the way it’s meant to be. Let the children play, I say.

Drew McAdam


April 11, 2010


It’s a question that has long puzzled our politicians and bureaucrats. And that question is: why do we have a booze-culture country? Why are so many of our youngsters so keen to try drugs? Why are young drivers racing the streets in souped-up bangers at 100mph and whacking straight into trees?

Well, I have a theory. And the theory is based on the fact that you reap what you sow.

When I was a kid I had a cart made out of wooden planks and the wheels from a pram. My mates and I quickly discovered that if you go really, really fast down a hill and you haven’t planned ahead or applied the brakes, you are going to get hurt. What’s more, the faster you go, the more it hurts.

By the time we took to bicycles we had already learned that lesson. We knew that heart-pounding thrills were a good thing, but that there were consequences if you pushed the limits.

And life was full of thrills. There was games of “knifie”, lighting fires, suicide rope swings, long bike runs, river swimming and climbing trees. A building site was a place to be explored – particularly if it had scaffolding.

These were all activities that added to the realisation that getting your kicks was part of feeling alive, but we had also been bumped, broken and grazed enough to know that there were limitations.

When we were old enough to ride motorcycles or get behind the wheel of the car we could enjoy the experience, though it was tempered with the knowledge that we were not immortal, and that the human body does not bounce.

Youngsters today have been starved of these thrills thanks to litigation and Health and Safety; and therefore starved of these lessons. They have been brought up in a cosseted-in-bubble-wrap environment where they even have to wear goggles to play conkers. Trees near playgrounds are cut down to ensure kids don’t climb them. I ask you!

It’s a world devoid of adventure and excitement. So, when they get a bit older, who can blame our youth for seeking out the thrills they were robbed of as young tykes? The result is experimentation with drugs and drink. They get in a car, feel the thrill of speed, and keep the pedal to the metal.

We have been so safety conscious that our kids have grown up but their life-experience has taught them naught. They are unscathed and unbruised. And, having grown up without learning the painful lesson of the balance between thrills and consequences, they are running full-tilt in an attempt to find that thrill of unfettered adventure of which we robbed them.

Our meek mantra of ultra-safety in everything has returned to haunt us. And it’s killing our kids.

Drew McAdam


March 28, 2010


I laughed when it made the news in the Good ‘ol USA. And when Oteha Valley primary school in New Zealand started doing the same thing, I was surprised. The Kiwis are known for a no-nonsense approach that I admire. But when the same baloney was introduced in West Lothian, I despaired.

I am talking about the ban on pupils taking a cake into school on their birthday. Why the ban? Because according to the jobsworths in the education department, it breaches new antiobesity legislation.

This all started when the 2008 Schools Health Promotion and Nutrition Scotland Act came into force, banning sweets and fizzy drinks from school canteens. But, as usual, the weirdy-beardy blokes – and I am including the females, too – have taken things too far with a policy that bans little kids sharing their birthday treat with their chums.

How small minded can you get, I ask. About as small as the morsel you would get from a cake cut into thirty portions, I answer.

It’s even been reported that one school in West Lothian actually let a kid celebrate their birthday by covering an (empty) sweet tin with crepe paper and using Blu-tac to hold the candles in place. Still, I suppose this must have satisfied the education department’s understanding of the letter and spirit of the legislation.

But hang on. According to the Scottish Government, “…the legislation was not intended to ban the consumption of cakes and confectionery on special occasions.”

 And Murdo Fraser, deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives, described the situation as “utterly ridiculous”.

He’s not wrong there. Meanwhile, Nick Seaton from the Campaign for Real Education, said: “…surely some sort of common sense should prevail when it comes to the occasional birthday cake.” You would think so, Nick. Wouldn’t you?

Even Marina Saunders, from a leading children’s fitness organisation, described the ban as excessive. Now Adam Ingram, the Minister for Children, is going to clarify the issue to local authorities.

But some teachers are already trying to save face by claiming that another reason for not distributing morsels of birthday cake is that some children are allergic to some of the ingredients. Well, make sure they don’t get any, then!  But because some unfortunate is allergic to butter-icing, that’s no reason to ban the celebrations for everybody else. Not unless you are a bumptious numpty, of course.

When even the politicians think things have gone too far, we have to question just who is making these dippy decisions. The answer? Over-zealous chumps in the education department.

Drew McAdam


February 7, 2010


According to a recent press release, a community in West Lothian received almost £50,000 to raise awareness of climate change. This includes the appointment of a climate change officer “to tackle fuel poverty”.

And “considering your carbon footprint” hype combats poverty, how exactly?

Well, according to the report, there will be surveys, events, workshops and a local environmental group.

Meanwhile, according to another story, almost half of West Lothian children and young people are living in poverty in households dependent on benefits.

I’m in no way belittling the plight of those who suffer financial hardship and worry – I’ve been there myself. But “poverty”?

To help combat this, the council says it is providing an additional 1,620 free school meals, free swimming on Friday afternoons and nursery places for children three and over.

The report also identifies Livingston North and South wards as the most deprived areas.

Well, let me tell you about another town that shares the same name. Livingstone, in Zambia.

A few months ago I visited the place. There, appalling social conditions means that four out of five people live below the World Bank’s definition of poverty: living on less than $1 a day. (And just so you know, shop food prices are about the same there as they are here.)

Extended families live in squalid shacks or mud huts – no bigger than the average garden shed – without water, sanitation or electricity.

If they can get one meal a day, they are lucky.

There is neither light nor heat during the bitterly cold winter evenings, nor cooling systems during the sweltering summers.

The hospitals have no equipment for even basic surgery. Patients must take in their own surgical gloves, syringes and anything else the doctor might need. Even so, the under-fives wards are packed – with children suffering from starvation and malnutrition.

I walked with some of the tiny kids – many in bare feet, over stones and thorns – who will cover around eight miles to get to school each day because education is seen as their only way out.

And they are the lucky ones.

The number of children orphaned by AIDS in Zambia is expected to rise to one million this year. That’s almost a half of all children. As a result, many children are abandoned and simply live on the streets.

That’s a whole different Livingstone, is it not? And it’s a whole different “poverty”, too.

I wonder what these orphan street-survivors would think of our definition of poverty. What, I wonder, would they pray for in their disturbed and frightened dreams.

I doubt very much that it would be an awareness of their carbon footprint, a climate change officer, surveys or workshops. I also doubt if it would be nursery places and free swimming.

I’m sure they would use any £50,000 grant in a very different way.

Lying awake in bed worrying about how to pay a bill is one thing. Lying in an open gutter scared to go to sleep because you might not waken in the morning is another.

There is a difference between the two towns that share the same name. Just as there is a difference between “hardship”, and genuine die-in-the-street-from-starvation poverty.

A world of difference.

Drew McAdam


November 2, 2009

As my Old Granny used to say: “You can’t trust a dog to watch your food”.

And here’s another thing which is equally true: “You can’t trust a politician to take care of your children.

You want proof?

Schools Secretary Ed Balls (Oh, how much fun I could have at the expense of THAT name! But sometimes it’s just too easy) has decided that primary schools will offer career-related learning, along with the opportunity to experience university life and the world of work.

Yes, that’s right. Careers advice for seven year old kiddies.

Balls also said that: “change” is needed in careers advice, as it is “too late” for children to start thinking about their future at 14, when they start choosing subjects at secondary school.


Two things here, Mr Balls. Firstly, had I been offered “careers advice” when aged seven, I would have been little more than a tiny bum and rubber skid marks as I ran screaming through the school gates.

I had more than enough to contend with trying to get to grips with the big bad world without trying to work out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Had you offered me careers advice when I was seven and not much taller than a Wellington boot, you would have discovered that I wanted to be an astronaut… or invisible. Or – even better – an invisible astronaut. Or a dinosaur.

That’s the answers Mr Balls would have got. It’s the answers he’ll get from today’s seven year olds, and – do you know what? – it’s exactly the answer he deserves!

Secondly, about it being “too late” for children to start thinking about their future at 14, I remember when I was that age I was asked what I wanted to do when I left school. I pulled a solemn face and told them I wanted to be an architect. I did that because it was the sort of answer they would want and would, hopefully, get them off my back. (In truth, by then I had worked out that an invisible dinosaur would be a good way to spend the rest of my life.)

Well, get THIS Mr Balls: I’m 54 years old and I STILL don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

In a further statement we discover that this careers advice will be made available through internet social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube. This from somebody who obviously has no idea what these sites are actually used for, then.

Mr Balls, that’s not going to work. Ask ANY seven year old kid.

Additionally, a £10 million fund will support innovative careers education. So, there you go; ANOTHER £10 million down the YouTube. Still, the bureaucrats will all get their salaries out of it, won’t they?

Politicians and children? I would have more success trusting a dog to watch my food.

Drew McAdam


June 15, 2009


MAYBE it’s just me. But it strikes me that people who should know better often follow a course of action either because they can’t be bothered finding a better alternative, or because they just want to mess everybody about.

Take for example our recent elections. On June 4 we had our European Elections. Now, you would think that the actual voting process wouldn’t take up too much of your time. You nip along to the local polling station and put your “X” on the paper and that’s it.     Read the rest of this entry »