UK: LAST THOUGHTS BEFORE TERM STARTS - EDUCATION. - What can be done to boost British brains, to submerge the super-swots of Europe, the Far East and Silicon Valley? David Morton has options outside the National Curriculum.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

What can be done to boost British brains, to submerge the super-swots of Europe, the Far East and Silicon Valley? David Morton has options outside the National Curriculum.

September - from the Latin Septem, meaning seven and therefore used to denote the ninth month of our calendar.

September - when the rising generation is returning to school to face the rigours of Double Maths, Hist, Chem, Phys, Bio, Geog, Eng, Fr - and who knows even Lat - in the hope that filled to the brim with the learning and wisdom of the ages they will make slightly less of a hash of things, when it comes to their turn, than we have so far managed.

Of course there is a limit to what can be achieved on this front - even with double lessons of Geom and Alg. The square of the hypotenuse may well be equal to the sum of the square of its opposite two sides; X is more than odds-on favourite of emerging as the square root of Y - l, and Caesar probably did divide Gaul into three parts. But once learnt, will these gems of knowledge really transform our fledglings into lean, mean money-machines with happy home lives?

And if not, how can we, mere non-academics, add that extra bit of competitive oomph that will allow our offspring to wipe the floor with the UK's commercial rivals while being extra nice to the unsuccessful in our own society? This is the question which increasingly vexes the minds of anxious parents, employers, and indeed all of us who hope to be supported in our old age by the future tax-payments of these innocent young bugs.

In short, what key lessons have we learnt that our teachers didn't teach us at school - and, despite the National Curriculum, their teachers aren't teaching them? Just what can yesterday's leading lights and, let's be honest, today's steady stayers and trailing plodders of British business usefully impart to tomorrow's captains of industry, middle managers and associate directors (tea-making) so that they can triumph over the increasing number of super-swots in Europe, the Far East and Silicon Valley?

After much research, and just in time for the new term, Backbite is able to offer managers a choice of two conflicting schools of thought on this question.

The first school, the 'Error Academy', holds that the best of the lessons we have to offer would come precisely from the way we have managed to mismanage our own careers, lives, industries - and indeed our own country.

This is an admirably simple idea, what with the evidence so close to hand - and so ample. Unfortunately it falls down somewhat owing to the fact that we are, in truth, unlikely to own up to our key failings and if we did we would be unlikely to inspire the young (or indeed anyone else) with confidence in us as a source of guidance.

Mrs Thatcher, for example, is unlikely to give her memoirs the title, 'My hundred worst decisions - and how I made them'. The best we can hope for is the odd admission to some carefully chosen minor mishaps, quickly corrected, from which lessons were learnt and changes were made - or would have been, had she been given the chance. Great material, doubtless, and well worth the six-figure advance, but not the stuff that will save the next generation from seven-figure (or will it be eight-figure?) unemployment.

As a result the Error Academy suggests that we need a new way of spilling the beans on our blunders. In particular, it proposes the creation of a National Disaster Database on to which all the UK's top managers, including trade union officials and all politicians, would anonymously enter the full details of their serious failures and omissions indicating precisely the extent to which they had been led astray in their decisions by pride, whisky, laziness or lust, and how they had compounded their folly with incompetence, indifference, intransigence or international travel on Concorde.

Middle management and associate directors (tea-making) would then be asked to contribute to an even larger database of everything which had seemed like a good idea at the time but which experience had proved to be the blueprint for a 'Class A' balls-up.

The Error Academy holds that if relevant chunks of these databases were made compulsory reading for any student - or company - engaged in any course of action or inaction in Britain then business life would take on a more succesful, if also more sombre, stride.

In contrast the 'Success School' maintains that we should look not to our many mistakes but to our few achievements and discover what really made them succesful - like all the things we hadn't planned and didn't actually lift a finger to promote. So the Success School also suggests setting up an anonymous database but this time one on which the accidental factors which have made - or saved - the business day, are rigorously recorded.

The Success School holds that if we actually found out what we were really doing right (however unintentionally), and learnt how to do it more often, then business life in Britain could take on a more successful and slightly livelier step. As to which of these two schools has the most cogent arguments, will best help society or boost the balance of trade, well, I find it hard to choose - but then I always did skip those lessons in Phil, Pol and Econ.

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