Friday, 22 June 2012

A rose by any other name

I was fascinated to spot a "leaked" article in the news yesterday, reporting that the Education Secretary apparently plans to scrap GCSEs and bring back O-levels!

Thirty years after the demise of the O-level, it's at least being recognized and acknowledged that the standard of GCSEs is nowhere near comparable and the pernicious creeping influence of grade inflation is rendering them almost useless as a true indicator of any real ability in the subject.  Predictably, the plans have drawn howls of protest from the teaching unions and also from the Lib Dems, who I suspect are mainly just miffed because they weren't consulted about it first.  It's perhaps rather bad timing for the thousands of kids sitting their GCSEs at the moment, who are understandably not going to be best pleased about the idea of their exams being 'too easy'.  We're told there's also to be a new-style CSE exam for the "less able" pupils, so everyone should - at least in theory - have the chance of coming away with a qualification of some description, and if the end result of all this is a system that actually matches the pupil's real ability it's got to be an improvement on the present rather shambolic state of affairs.

I rather hope the actual terms O-level and CSE are re-introduced, although early indications are the acronyms themselves might not be.  But millions of people know what they stood for, would be pleased to see the return of the standard of education that prevailed when they were last used, and are going to be disappointed if it all turns out to amount to nothing.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Seconds no more?

I hadn't actually been following it regularly, but on the couple of occasions I'd seen it mentioned somewhere and taken a look, I was quite impressed with the NeverSeconds- the nine-year old Scottish schoolgirl's daily account of what her school dinners consisted of.  I can't actually remember what I had for school dinners at her age, but I will admit my recollections of school dinners at secondary school are not particularly favourable ones, and I can't help feeling today's kids get a better deal overall than we did - aided and abetted by Jamie Oliver's intervention, no doubt.  Nevertheless, some of "Veg's" meals looked pretty dire, and at £2 apiece not outstanding value for money - although at least she had a choice, which is more than we ever got.

However, it was very enterprising of her, I thought, and at the same time quite supportive of the school, since the photos were apparently all taken with their consent if not encouragement.  Sadly, the school catering service which is run by the local council, came in for some hefty criticism from an article in a national daily paper, and the aforesaid council  chose to metaphorically shoot the messenger in true council jobsworth style by banning the taking of any more photos: the reason given being that the catering staff were upset and "feared for their jobs".  As far as I can make out, the photos simply recorded what "Veg" chose to eat that day from what was available: there's no suggestion that the photos or comments were doctored or chosen to present an unfavourable or unfairly biased representation, and indeed some of the fare looked (and was reported to have tasted) quite good.  Not only that, she raised a staggering amount for charity via the blog.

Anyway, the ban apparently generated so much criticism and bad publicity for the council in such a short space of time, that I see they've now done the decent thing (and probably the only sensible thing under the circumstances) and promptly rescinded it.  Common sense prevails!  

Oh, and we never got seconds of school dinners either - except when the food was so unsurpassingly awful that there was loads of it left over.          


Monday, 11 June 2012

Credit where credit's due

Re-reading my rather vitriolic rant on Saturday, it began to dawn on me that perhaps I'd been more than just a little unfair.  Irrespective of the rights and wrongs involved, companies aren't psychic, and often the easiest way of getting changes made is simply to ask for them.  With that in mind, I popped into the Coventry Building Society local branch this morning, spoke to a very pleasant and sympathetic guy who said he'd "see what he could do" and within a matter of minutes my £40 was refunded - albeit it with the caveat that "we won't be able to do this again".  Fair enough.

So I'm once again a happy customer.  Props to the Coventry for living up to their slogan, and for realizing - perhaps - that a happy customer is also a loyal member.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Coventry Building Society = TLC? I don't think so!

In common with one-and-a-half million other people, I entrust my money to the UK's third-largest building society - the Coventry. It just happens to be my local one, and while I'm not as a general rule particularly sold on the ethos of supporting local businesses per se, it is convenient - although most of my transactions are done online anyway. In recent years, the UK banking industry has come in for some pretty harsh stinging criticism, so it's perhaps not surprising that Coventry Building Society sets great store on being owned by their members (aka customers) with the slogan TLC not PLC. Hmm...

Also in common with x million other people, I don't keep a lot of money in my account sitting earning negligible interest- just enough to cover bills, basically. While I log on and check transactions/balances pretty regularly, I have a life and I have better things to do than monitor it 24/7! So I was dismayed to discover yesterday that a couple of Direct Debits had escaped my attention and had been "bounced", the CBS ripping me off to the tune of £20 each for the privilege of doing so, according to a couple of smug little messages which had appeared in my inbox. I use the term "rip-off" there advisedly, as these extortionate fees have been the subject of much dissatisfaction from bank customers in recent years and were the subject of a failed attempt by the Office of Fair Trading to get them outlawed by the Courts. Even though the true cost to the bank of a processing a failed DD has been reliably estimated at around £2-£2.50, I suppose I should console myself with the fact I'm only out of pocket to the extent of £40: the going rate at other UK banks is almost twice that. Nevertheless, adding another £20 apiece to the cost of a couple of things I'd bought for a few quid each seems to me to be just adding insult to injury.

I shan't bother complaining: someone's got to pay for the Directors' fat bonuses. Despite a fancy advertising slogan promising "we listen to customers", there are none as deaf as those that won't hear. However, next time the cashier serves me with the customary line of idle chit-chat patter... "and how's your day?" I shall be sorely tempted to tell him/her - in words of one syllable!

**Update - see next entry: Monday 11 June  **