Posts Tagged ‘UK’

Should we start school later?

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016 | Thoughts


Compared to other European countries, especially the Nordics, we start school very early. In the UK, children start school the year they turn five, with many starting while they are still four. In Sweden, it’s seven. The Nordics also have much longer summer holidays: three months in Finland.

All of this does not make much difference to educational outcomes. The Pearson Education Index ranks Finland as the best education system in Europe (1st globally in 2012, 5th in 2014). The UK scores 6th overall, 2nd in Europe. You can compare this to the intense schooling that countries such as Singapore and South Korea and by the time everyone reaches undergraduate level, we see no significant differences between intensive schooling and Finland’s “turn up for a bit in the winter, when you’re older”.

Given that, it then seems sensible to reduce the amount of schooling and allow children more time “to be children” (rather than whatever it is they are being when they are in school). How we would implement this is not clear though.

Free, as in childcare

As a parent-to-be, I like the idea that by the time my child hits five, the state will provide me with free daycare for the next thirteen years of their life. It’s not that I don’t want to be a parent, but that I do have to have a job. And then spend most of my money on daycare. That is super-expensive for one child, let alone more. If you had to pay for child care until each of your kids was seven, well, you literally couldn’t. You can easily be looking at £600+ per month, per child. If you have two children, you are spending over 50% of your take-home pay on childcare even if you earn the average UK salary (and 50% of the population earns less!).

In Finland, this isn’t a problem. The state is mandated to provide childcare and it is on an means tested system. If you don’t earn enough you pay nothing, and the amount you might pay is capped, so even if you are a millionaire your childcare will be cheaper than the UK. It’s a great idea, and the UK has now followed suit, offering free childcare for three year olds.

However, note that Finland does not have a system where children stay at home and receive more parenting, they just go somewhere other than school.

Letting children be children

Given that most Finnish children go to daycare, the system is actually remarkably like the English one. You can argue that daycare is fundamentally different than school, because it is more relaxed and allows children to learn through play. However, I think this is being unfair to our schooling system.

While some structured learning does go on in reception, a large element of the learning takes place through learning through play as well. I don’t remember doing that much work in reception. I mostly did fun stuff.

There are advantages too

One possible advantage of having some structured learning in these years, is that it may help level the playing field across socioeconomic backgrounds. In the UK, everyone will go to reception the year they turn five and start doing some reading and writing.

This is not the case in the Nordics. If you are not attending school until you are six or seven, your learning will only start if it starts at home. For example, Elina could already read when she started attending school. This gave her an advantage over other children, who may not have even picked up a book before the age of seven.

Catastrophic Care

Saturday, May 16th, 2015 | Books

Catastrophic Care: Why Everything We Think We Know about Health Care Is Wrong is a book by David Goldhill about the American healthcare system.

Their healthcare is comparable to that provided by the NHS. However we rank better because we spend only a third of the money the US does. Someone told me they spend more tax money than we do, even before the insurance costs, though I do not have a source for that.

Goldhill points out a number of problems, some common across all healthcare systems, others specific to America:

  • Holistic care, phsycholical factors in recovery and control of infections are often overlooked – for example making the ward look nice, keeping records electronically and emptying the bins before they overflow.
  • Insurance systems do not make sense because healthcare is not a risk, it is an inevitability.
  • There are incentives to take medication – you can take statins to lower your blood pressure, or you can lead a healthy and active lifestyle. Your insurance pays for the former but not the latter.
  • There is little focus on cost in insurance-based systems.
  • 68% of hospital beds in America are provided by non-profit hospitals, yet they do not produce better results than for-profit ones.
  • Medical errors, hospital-acquired infection and over-treatment kill as many people as many major medical conditions

His solution is to crap the insurance system and replace it with a loan based system. A typical American will spend around $1,300,000 on healthcare over their life-system so Goldhill suggests giving them that as fund, with a small insurance system for catastrophic conditions that cost more (though he argues nobody would charge more in a market-based system).

On a tangent, he also talks about how state assistance to buy a house actually helps rich home-owners rather than first-time buyers. I blogged about this in June.

Reading it, it made me glad we have the NHS. Of course, it may be a case of the grass is always greener where you live (which is now a thing) as the NHS is proving highly ineffective for me at the moment. Overall, as I said at the start though, we probably get the better deal spending far less on health care for a slightly better life expectancy.


2015 General Election

Sunday, May 10th, 2015 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

Well, that was unexpected.

Red Ed stood up for working-class people, promising to tax the rich and break big businesses strangle hold on the media. And the people of England said “no thanks”.

I eventually came down on the side of no for the Scottish independence referendum, mostly because without Scotland Labour would be crippled and we would end up with a Tory majority government. What a waste of time that turned out to be.

It’s a shame to see not a single independent won a seat on the British mainland.

On the plus side though, my buffet went quite well. Freshly baked bread, crisps, twice-baked potatoes, Sniff’s favourite meatballs (a Moomin recipe), chicken wings and Devil’s food cake meant that we were able to eat solidly from 10pm to 4am and still have plenty for breakfast.


The leaders debate

Thursday, April 9th, 2015 | Distractions, Religion & Politics, Thoughts

How dull.

Where exactly was the debate? There were a few topics, each candidate then said what they stood for in turn. That isn’t a debate. Has nobody who conceived of this show actually seen a debate or understood what a debate is?

There was a bit of back and forth between the candidates, but nobody really got to the meat of it. There were no real discussions of the advantages or disadvantages of different policies.

Nobody even said that much about their policies. If you didn’t already know what each party stood for, would you have watching that? Think of all the Green policies for example. They were hardly mentioned throughout the two hours.

Two of the candidates are not even fielding candidates in most of the country. According to The Guardian, one of the most popular questions after the debate was “can I vote SNP in England?” The answer is no.

Thus the SNP seemed mainly there to chip in “we’ve already done that” when an English politician put forward a good idea. That should probably be a wake-up call – we do trail Scotland on hospital parking charges, prescription charges and preventing letting agents from charing unscrupulous fees.

The one thing that Nigel Farage got right was that he was the only person saying something different. As person after person trailed out the message “we want immigration and to be part of Europe, but we want tighter controls on it”. Their answers blurred into one. Farage was the only person with something different to say. Is that the debate we wanted? One where Farage, king of the bigots, is the one offering an alternative?

Everyone else was too scared to step out of line. Nick Clegg pushed the boat out by asking the rich to pay “a little bit more.” It would have been far better if Natalie Bennett had at this point screamed “we’re going to make the rich pay loads more!” and Cameron to jam in “I think my friends pay quite enough.” But they didn’t.

In summary then, it felt like a complete waste of my time to watch it. Maybe we would be better to have a two party system with the ghost of John Stuart Mill running one party and Arthur Scargill running the other.

Summer sun

Sunday, May 11th, 2008 | Life, Thoughts

I love the UK.

It’s the only country in the world that can spend almost the entire year moaning about how bad the weather is then as soon as we finally get some sun people are like “awww, it’s too hot.”

To be fair though, it really is too hot to sleep. And I have an exam tomorrow! I need sort of air conditioned server room next year I think.