Now then, now then, now then; can we be both sinner and saint?

What to make of the scandal surrounding the late Jimmy Savile? Certainly, it appears that he was a predatory paedophile. It also appears that others knew of this and for varied reasons (benefitting financially, or because they were also abusers), Jimmy was given the impression he was untouchable and not alone in his preferences (Gary Glitter was arrested on Sunday).

[he] raised an estimated £40 million for charities

In what light do we now cast his accomplishments?  The money he raised, the causes he supported  – were they all just an excuse to get close to children?

He sponsored medical students at the University of Leeds to perform undergraduate research in the Leeds University Research Enterprise scholarship scheme, donating over £60,000 every year.[52] In 2010, the scheme was extended with a commitment of £500,000 over the following five years.[53] Following Savile’s death in October 2011, it was confirmed a bequest had been made to allow continued support for the LURE programme.

Or, uncomfortably, do we have to acknowledge that despite this despicable unforgivable side (which could have been stopped and should have been stopped), there was also a caring side, one that felt compassion for the underdog, wanted to help his fellow humans?

Jung postulated the self was made up of two distinct sides, residing in an uneasy compromise we call personality.

Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.

Freud talked about a similar dark side to our personality he called the id – the child within us, selfish and cruel, uncaring of its effect on others.

The id operates based on the pleasure principle, which demands immediate gratification of needs.

For some, childhood does not provide the nurturing environment from which our ‘ego’ the part of our personality that straddles both dark and light sides of our soul, grows strong enough to keep these two forces in check. Because our saintly side, if allowed to run rampant, can be as equally destructive – think of Norman Bates in Psycho. He may be a fictional character but he personifies an individual with weak ego strength. His overly dominant super-ego, an internalisation of his cold and dominating mother’s voice, led him to murder the ‘fallen’ girl his id desired.

A lifelong bachelor, Savile lived with his mother (whom he referred to as “The Duchess”) and kept her bedroom and wardrobe exactly as it was when she died. Every year he had her clothes dry cleaned.

For Jimmy Savile, being ‘nearly’ caught out (others knew what he was doing at the BBC) but not punished, freed his shadow or his id. The taciturn turning a blind eye to what he (and others at the BBC) were doing created the ideal conditions for a sexual fantasy to become a sick reality over and over again, but that does not mean he didn’t also want to do good.

An uncomfortable truth or a warning? No one is all good and no one is all bad. If paedophiles really all looked like Jimmy Savile, they would be easy to spot. Unfortunately they don’t. The recent case of April’s abduction, a tragic case in point. The man who is charged with her murder is related to April’s family. He wasn’t a creepy looking guy, with a comb-over and trousers too high on his waist. He was a father, a boyfriend, a colleague, a friend, an uncle, and a step uncle.

What Jimmy Savile’s  terrible crimes remind us is bad people don’t do bad thing 24/7. People aren’t born bad (though they may have genetic predispositions), rather they are warped by deprived childhoods, by institutionalised abuse, by members of their own family, who themselves were damaged by their pasts. These people do not have an integrated personality, rather they deny their shadows and in doing take no responsibility for its actions, when it rears its demonic head. They console themselves with the good things they do as if this balances out the bad. They throw themselves into helping others, join the clergy, raise money for charity.

But it is our shadows that allow these people to carry out their depravity unchecked. Jimmy Savile abused his own niece. Do we really believe no one in his family ever suspected? Or did a shadow, called greed and complacency, step into the light.

It is easy to do nothing. What you do might not be popular, might expose you in a bad light, might ruin your reputation,might halt a cash flow you rely on, or, as is the case with a lot institutional abuse, might not make any difference.

Ah, the shadow of indifference. Are we all not guilty of that?

The BBC’s shadow is now under the spotlight, will they take their part of the blame (and change), or paint Savile to be the ultimate villain, evil to the core. The devil incarnate, who they were unable to stop.

If we don’t acknowledge the shadow in each of us (and embrace it), then nothing will really have changed.

Jimmy Savile was certainly a sinner, but in his lifetime, many would have argued he was also a saint. Can we be both?

What do you think? All views welcomed.

We don’t need no education

French Education policy is as barmy as ours. I find that thought strangely comforting.

Last week, the French President  vowed to abolish homework. 

Hollande said school work should “be done at school, rather than at home,” to foster educational equality because some students do not have support at home.

Give me strength, please.

Robust educational research points to homework as one of the best ways to improve educational outcomes for ALL students.

In the Sutton Trust toolkit – an evidence based resource to improve learning – impact data has been collected on a number of educational strategies from streaming to uniform. Homework, particularly for secondary school students, is rated as having a moderate impact, with a potential gain of 5 months (the advantage an average student will gain over a year), at a very low, to no cost. Combine that with homework tasks that encourage meta-cognition (encouraging the learner to consider how they learn: for example, setting a task that involves evaluating the reliability of a Wiki entry), then you have a high impact strategy, accelerating learning by up to 8 months, at no additional cost.

No real surprise there, if you think about it. Homework encourages engagement with the subject outside of the lesson and also prepares the student for the independent skills they will need to revise for the exams. For those who are intending on going to University, it is imperative they are equipped with the ability to study independently, and for those entering the workplace, to learn autonomously.

On the other hand, according to the Sutton School Trust, ‘after school programmes’ and ‘individualised programmes’, have a low impact  (2 months advantage), and are costly to implement. In other words, keeping children in school longer, won’t make them smarter. I wish politicians would just be honest and admit the reason they want schools to open longer is to help working parents with childcare, not because it will raise achievement.

Back in March, there was a national outcry in France, with parents demanding the abolition of homework because it stressed out their children and took up too much time. Call me cynical, but is that why Hollande is calling for this reform? Surely he wouldn’t put votes before the education of his country’s children, would he?

At least we are not alone. Cold comfort, really. 

Further update: How not to get a literary agent

For those who haven’t been following the story of my attempt to get a ‘literary agent’ you can read it in full here, with an update here.

A quick summary: I sent the opening 3 chapters of my novel to an agent and then fell out of love with it (for a variety of reasons). I realised the ‘other’ story (going around and around in my head) was the one I should’ve written in the first place (a different version of the same idea).  20,000 words into (in my eyes) the far superior story, the agent requested a full of the first novel. I took a gamble and sent a pitch of the second version of the story instead, explaining my reasons for this change of direction. Thankfully, she didn’t tell me to go away (I wouldn’t have blamed her) and agreed the second novel sounded stronger. I promised to send her the opening 3 chapters and a proper synopsis by the end of September and if she liked them as much (or more than) the first novel, she would request the full manuscript.

That was the plan…

I finished the first draft and worked on the opening three chapters. I wrote synopsis after synopsis, with the help of two wonderful writer friends, and enlisted the help of online critique groups to read the chapters. I rewrote, edited and tweaked, panicked quite a lot and put off sending it for a number of days, even though it was ready.

Other unpublished writers will get why I acted like this. Hope is in short supply, whereas hopeful writers are plentiful. Most of the  feedback you receive from industry professionals is of the; ‘I didn’t love it enough’, or ‘we are publishing something similar to this’, or ‘this is just not for us’ variety. In other words: REJECTION. Having an agent interested in your work is such a boost to confidence I didn’t want to burst the one-day-I-will-see-my-book-in-Waterstones bubble.

I finally pressed SEND.

I waited… forgetting every agent worth her salt would be at the Frankfurt book fair.

Every time my phone beeped, I felt sick and clammy. What if the second novel wasn’t as good as I thought it was? Would I still be in love with it (vital if I am to finish) if she said she didn’t want to see it?

And then last night, about ten days after sending it, the email arrived…

What did it say?

“I hate it. Go away.”

No only kidding. She said she enjoyed the chapters and she wants to see the rest as soon as it is ready.

Whoop! Whoop! Happy Dance.

I am no further on than I was in the summer. In fact, I am a few steps behind. In August, I had a completed novel and full request. Today, I have an uncompleted novel and full request, but I couldn’t be happier. She likes it. She wants to read it all.

Of course, liking the opening chapters does not mean she will like the rest, or want to represent me, but I am back on that ladder to publication and I am going to hold on as tightly as I can.

If you want to see the opening chapters; click here. You don’t have to join the site to read.

One more whoop!

Bad things happen to good people: The Just World hypothesis

We have three back doors in our house. Regularly someone leaves one of them unlocked. We have so many nickable items casually left in view, like this laptop (my baby), or the Samsung tablet we got free with the Smart TV. So far we’ve got away with it, though when I was pregnant with our daughter (who is now 18) a burglar burnt a hole through the back door of the house we lived in, with a blowtorch (he obviously didn’t know how to pick locks). I woke (smelling burning) and waddled downstairs to investigate, disturbing him, but he still got away with my purse and bike with a flat tyre – found discarded a few metres down the road (not the best getaway vehicle).

Of course, carelessly leaving a door unlocked is not in the same league as carelessly misplacing a child, but we have done that to. Twice my son has disappeared long enough for me to start considering the photo we would use on the missing posters. 

The first time, we’d just arrived in Germany, where my husband had been posted with the army. We had taken the children to the Social Club, where a welcome event was taking place. Outside the club there was a fantastic children’s playground and my four year old daughter marched off determinedly towards it, with our nearly three year old son struggling to keep up  – his gaze fixed on the sandpit.

I was immediately engulfed in the ‘wives of’ welcoming committee, and keeping half an eye on the play park answered their eager questions, sure my husband was watching the children.

About a minute or two later, I saw my husband come out from inside the club. My heart lifted in my throat and the hairs on the back of my neck lifted. I disentangled myself from the friendly women and strode purposefully towards the slide and climbing frame. I saw our daughter’s shock of dark hair straight away. She had already found a friend and they were jabbering at each other and holding hands. I couldn’t see our son, not yet three, but again that wasn’t unusual as he was likely to be found on the edge of things, an observer rather than a doer. However, within thirty seconds, it was obvious he wasn’t there at all, nor in the immediate area surrounding the play equipment. I ran back down the grassy slope, screaming his name. What followed was five minutes of hell as my husband and I searched the club and grounds becoming more and  more frantic. And then from across the road I saw him, in the arms of a woman I barely recognised. She was the wife of my husband’s Sergeant and she’d intercepted our son barrelling towards her, after crossing two – thankfully quiet – roads, heading, it seemed, towards our flat – obviously he was searching for his mummy.

I held him so tight to me and vowed I would never, ever let him out of my sight again. I felt sick to the pit of my stomach and still, to this day, 17 years later, my cheeks flush when I think how stupid and careless we were.

The second time, he was seven and we were camping in France. We were queuing for fish and chips at the bar, when he asked if he could play with his new friend Ben. We said, yes, assuming he meant at our tent. Five minutes later we returned. No sign of either of them. The enormity and anonymity of the campsite hit us like a lead football in the guts. There must have been a thousand people swarming the site, with cars and campervans coming and going. Thirty long minutes later, after I had convinced myself he had been whisked away and was already at the border with Spain, we found him playing with Ben as he said he would be, confused by my tearful hugs and kisses (and very embarrassed).

Then there was the time our daughter had a tantrum in John Lewis, one minute lying face down screaming in-between the dress racks, while I was doing my best to ignore her – the next she was running into the lift with the doors just about to close. Her grandmother did a ninja move any superhero would be proud of and got her arm in the way of the door, thank goodness.

So what’s my point? Just recently I have been distressed by the vitriol directed at April’s parents. It reminded me of the terrible, nasty things that were said about the McCann’s in May 2007, after Madeleine was taken from her bed in a hotel chalet. In both cases, I have no doubt the parents are torturing themselves with ‘what ifs’. If only I had called her in earlier… if only I had stayed in the chalet…


But it seems that many people need to find someone to blame (other than the sick perpetrator).

What was a five year old doing out at 7pm?

I don’t know for sure, but they’d just returned from parents evening, so maybe April was allowed to play out a bit later than usual for having a good report.

In psychology this need to blame the victim is a well known phenomena and it is called the ‘Just World Hypothesis’. This basically means we need to believe that we live in a just world, where people get what they deserve. Good is rewarded and evil is punished. When something bad happens, we need to restore equilibrium and to distance ourselves from the incident. We need to believe that somehow the victim deserved what happened to them.

Afterwards, they said that the 22-year-old woman was bound to attract attention. She was wearing a white lace miniskirt, a green tank top, and no underwear. At knife-point, she was kidnapped from a Fort Lauderdale restaurant parking lot by a Georgia drifter and raped twice. But a jury showed little sympathy for the victim. The accused rapist was acquitted. “We all feel she asked for it [by] the way she was dressed,” said the jury foreman. click here for source.

In the case of rape, psychological studies have shown that the more attractive the victim, or the shorter her skirt, the less likely it is the rapist will be found guilty.

“Both men and women who viewed a photograph of the victim in a short skirt attributed more responsibility to the victim than those who viewed a photograph of the victim in a moderate or long skirt.” Click here for abstract.

When the victim is an ‘innocent’ child, blame is shifted to the parents. We need to believe the same thing won’t happen to us, or our family because we are good parents and therefore by default they must be bad (parents).

The sad fact is; bad things happen to good people and the world is not a just place. Once we accept this, then blaming the parents, or the girl in the short skirt, becomes nebulous and we can start to address why our society fosters such rare, but despicable people. Child murderers don’t appear overnight. They will have a history of minor crimes against children and women and they often come from dysfunctional and toxic backgrounds. Intervention must begin in childhood. We must do more to protect children from abusive influences so they don’t grow up devoid of compassion for themselves as well as others. We must also ensure that police forces talk to each other, so someone with a record of child abuse cannot wipe the slate clean by moving to a new area with a new name (as did Ian Huntley). We must also examine how we deal with paedophiles, and not release them if we cannot guarantee they will not reoffend (as did Roy Whiting).

We all make mistakes. Tell me a parent that hasn’t lost sight of a child for a moment or two in crowded shopping centre or at the park. What is heart-warming is that for 99.9% of the time, nothing bad will happen; the vast majority of people are fundamentally good.

April’s parents are no more culpable than Madeleine McCann’s parents were. They, like all of us, probably believed it wouldn’t happen to them. They aren’t perfect parents, but who of us are? But they are not bad parents either. Something bad happened to their child.

Zick Rubin of Harvard University and Letitia Anne Peplau of UCLA have conducted surveys to examine the characteristics of people with strong beliefs in a just world. They found that people who have a strong tendency to believe in a just world also tend to be more religious, more authoritarian, more conservative, more likely to admire political leaders and existing social institutions, and more likely to have negative attitudes toward underprivileged groups. To a lesser but still significant degree, the believers in a just world tend to “feel less of a need to engage in activities to change society or to alleviate plight of social victims.”

Next time you hear someone blaming the victim for the crime against them, just remember; ‘there but for the grace of god, go I.’ And don’t let it be a reason to accept things as they are.

Your views on this blog post are welcome.

[cough] [foot shuffle] My name is Juliet O’Callaghan and… [deep breath] I am a teacher

Why is it I feel somewhat shameful about admitting what I do for a living? 

A fly on  a wall somewhere in Westminster…

Civil servant: So Minister, how exactly are you going to leave your mark on Education in Britain?

Michael Gove: I am going to encourage all schools to become Academies, open as many Free schools as I can, utilising empty office space, bring back O-levels and Latin, and save the country millions of pounds in teachers wages, by opening up the profession to non-graduates. The army need to make a lot of redundancies, so we will turn the soldiers into teachers. Oh, and I am going slash the pension fund to help pay for the deficit.

Civil Servant: Very good Minister, but I feel I must point out that under the previous administration, schools were only turned into Academies if they were failing.

M.G.: Right. Then we must do the exact opposite. A school can only become an Academy if it is graded as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.

CS: And what about the other 80% that aren’t oustanding? Surely you want all schools to be taken over by parents and idealistic teachers, and of course [cough] profit making [cough] private enterprises.

M.G.:  Mmmm. I know. We will tell the rest of the schools they can apply to be Academies too, but only after the ‘outstanding’ ones have already applied.

CS: And what about the schools that don’t want to apply?

M.G.: Will accuse them of being obstructive and prejudiced; of being happy with failure.

CS: Right. So all schools will be Academies. And what is the reason we give the outstanding schools for why they should become Academies? Clearly they are doing very well already.

M.G.: We don’t need to give them a reason, we just need to give them money.

CS: But there isn’t any money.

M.G.: There isn’t any additional money. We’ll Slash schools budgets by bringing the amount per pupil over the age of 16 in line with Further Education colleges – that’ll serve the National Union of Head Teachers right for demanding parity in funding. Demand all schools repay deficits in their budgets immediately, and then offer them the money back if they become and Academy.

CS: We are going to bribe them. I see. Very good idea. But how do we sell this idea to the public? More and more children are achieving the benchmark 5 A to C’s  each year in grant-maintained schools.

M.G.:  That’s easy. I’ll invent a new performance measure. How about saying the 5 subjects must contain English and Maths.

CS: We already measure that statistic.

M.G.: Do we? Right then. A bit of blue sky thinking is required. What subject/s do children not tend to get a GCSE in?

CS: The Labour government made Languages optional because there was a shortage of language teachers, so lots of 14 year olds drop languages at the end of Year 9.

M.G.: Perfect. The new measure will group the core subjects together: English and Maths and science, ummm? What other subjects do schools offer?

CS: History, geography…

M.G.:Yes one of those, and of course a Language like Mandarin.

CS: I take it, Minister, we will apply this new measure once we have informed schools, so they can advise their students about GCSE choices.

M.G.: Don’t be ridiculous, man. The whole point of this new qualification is to show how badly schools are doing… what should we call it?

CS: There’s the IB – the International Baccalaureate, it groups subjects together in a similar way…

M.G.: Marvellous, we shall call it the English Baccalaureate. E.Bacc for short.

CS (whispered): E. Bacc? Sounds a bit like a nasty type of food poisoning.

M.G.: What was that?

CS: An excellent idea, Minister. So we will measure schools on a performance indicator they didn’t know about and then, in two years time, when schools have forced their students to take a Language, it will look like you have single-handedly improved standards.

M.G.: Exactly.

CS: I’m still worried you might get some resistance to rebranding schools as Academies, when Ofsted only rated 10% of all schools in England and Wales as unsatisfactory.

M.G.: Get me the head of Ofsted on the phone.  Who is the head of Ofsted?

CS: Michael Wilshaw, Minister.

M.G.: “Wilshaw. I need you to make more schools unsatisfactory. I don’t care how you do it man, just do it. Uh huh- yes – wonderful idea. Yes do it.”

CS: What did Wilshaw say?

M.G.: He said, Grade 3 satisfactory will be re-branded as unsatisfactory. As of tomorrow, 40% of schools will be failing.

CS: But grade 4 is already unsatisfactory.

M.G.: Then grade 3 will be, ummm…any ideas?

CS: A little below average?

M.G.: No, grade 3 will be; ‘not good enough‘.

CS: Isn’t that the same as unsatisfactory.

M.G.: Exactly. Is that it? I’m due at the PM’s for drinks.

CS: No minister. Not quite.

M.G.: What else? We’ve made half the schools unsatisfactory, with terrible EBacc results, surely the public will accept Academies and free schools now?

CS: The problem is, year on year, results are improving on individual subjects like English and Maths – which sort of ruins your line that the Education system is in need of a complete overhaul. 

M.G.: Well then we must discredit both the exams system and the teachers that administer it – the public barely tolerate teachers for having all those holidays as it is, so it won’t take much to turn their envy to hatred.

CS: But teachers only get paid pro-rata to reflect the extra holiday.

M.G.: Keep that to yourself, man. Let’s blame the grade inflation on coursework modules. Teachers cheat and do the coursework for them.

CS: We have no evidence of that.

M.G.: Evidence? Since when has government policy been determined by evidence? We’ll spread the rumour that teachers cheat and then propose to get rid of coursework all together, which will strain the exam system to breaking point – killing two birds with one stone – besmirch the reputation of teachers and prove the exam system is broken.

CS: What about subjects that need coursework?

M.G.: We will make students do it at school under exam conditions.

CS: There isn’t time in the school day to fit that in.

M.G.: Which means standards will drop and the public will blame the teachers because they are lazy, whining cheats. We will also release a statement saying; it is criminal that the majority of schools are not above average.

CS: That is statistically impossible, Minister. The majority is the average.

M.G.: The general public aren’t clever enough to realise that.

CS: What happens if you get picked up for it, by an education correspondent from the TES, for example?

M.G.: Bloody TES. I’ll blame my comprehensive education.

CS: Excellent Minister. Are you planning on bringing back grammar schools?

M.G.: It pains me to say ‘no’ because the baby boomers would love it, but I just don’t think I can get that one past the Liberals. However, we will bring back O levels and CSE’s – that should secure the vote of the nostalgic brigade.

CS: But if the GCSE is fit for purpose, which it appears to have been for 30 years, how will we float this idea?

M.G.: We must make it unfit for purpose, immediately. Give me the head of Ofqual. “Glenys, we must have a drop in GCSE passes this year. I don’t care how you do it. Tell the exam boards they must regrade all the exams. Yes, send an email if you must, but do not copy me in.”

CS: We could also play up grade inflation by pointing to the number of students that do resits, and the fact we have exam boards competing for business.

M.G.: Excellent idea. I can see you have the right mentality for politics. We will scrap all resits and give students only one chance to pass the exam. And we will do away with separate exam boards and have just the one.

CS: Teachers have been calling for one exam board for years – that should make them happy.

M.G.: We can’t have that. We must have unhappy, militant teachers, who go on strike and upset parents. It is the only way we are going to get away with eroding their pay and conditions, stealing their pensions and make them work longer hours. And they must keep children in school longer so both parents can go to work and therefore consume more, leading to wealth creation for the top 1%.

CS: How are we going to upset the teachers?

M.G.: Apart from freezing their pay, moving to regional payscales and plundering their pensions? A constant drip feed of attacks on their work ethic in the press. We can say ‘some of them’ are lazy, incompetent and in it for the holidays.

CS: But in every professions, ‘some’ people will be incompetent. It is not particular to teachers. I had an incompetent plumber come round the other day and now I have no hot water.

M.G.: Exactly. But by the time the plebs on BBC’s Have your Say and Twitter have finished, all teachers will be incompetent.

CS: An excellent Educational Policy, Minister.

What do you think? Are teachers the ones that are out of step with the world? Should we just put up and shut up? Do you think teaching is worse today than it was when you were in school? I really would love to know what you think.