Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Schools : Euro 2012 Fears and Wage Cuts

I am dreading Euro 2012. The hope that Poland will pass all my expectations and do well, is more than counter-balanced by the prospect that TVP will drown us with another of it's saturation coverages of extremely boring sports events, following it up by repeating every single Polish match several times a week over the following year or so. How many times did I find myself in front of the same set of Poland versus Denmark matches in hand ball/volley ball or whatever it was? I even got to know which match it was after a few minutes, and I hate the stuff.

Fascinating, therefore to read from a Gazeta Wyborcza report (in Polish) that the Ministry of Education is so scared of football fans that they are thinking or rearranging the school holidays to try to stop children running the risk of meeting them. Now, if they'd said that they wanted children to be back at school because, no matter how much they dislike it, they would have a better time in the classroom than watching garbage on TV, I'd be more sympathetic.

An interesting side issue at the end of the report, is that higher education campuses in the right areas stand to make quite a bit of money by putting up football fans. Having their own students living there would be quite inconvenient. I hope they have very good insurance providing cover for damage by exuberant fans.

A long running story, but, nevertheless, also a recent report in Gazeta Wyborcza, is the idea of saving public money by cutting teachers' pay and conditions. In government cost cutting attempts, widely seen as inadequate, teachers are a surprisingly easy target. Indeed some teachers feel that their conditions - hours of work, length of holidays - are generous compared to other workers and are quite understanding of rebalancing this.

What people (including teachers) seem to fail to appreciate, however, is that their payments and conditions need to be viewed as single package. The question is not whether the conditions are generous, but whether the payment is appropriate for those conditions. Are they worth what they are given?

I have no idea what is the right level of remuneration for their work done and don't believe there is any magic formula that can tell us this. It may just be that I haven't followed the debate closely enough, but I have never heard anything on the value for money aspect - discussions just covered 'better' conditions and 'fairness' of allowances, eg paying more to people who work in small town/rural areas, compared to big city teachers. The discussion on this allowance does not seem to be 'is this valuable for our rural, etc schools?' but is instead based on 'since city teachers don't get it, is it unfair that rural teachers do?'.

I do have a personal interest in this, but my underlying fear is that the Polish educational system will suffer. After all, the message to potential teachers that they can anticipate 15-20% cuts (in monetary terms) whenever a government has budgetary difficulties, simply seems to be that they shouldn't take up the profession unless they have no other choice. Its a second, or even third rate job.

I may well be over-reacting. I can see that this may be an important structural reform where public service inertia has failed to adjust an antiquated system to modern requirements. Indeed, I would like to think the Poland is one of the few countries that can face up to challenges like this.

My problem in taking this seriously, however, is my English experience. For nearly all of my 30 years working as a UK civil servant, every new government and virtually every new Secretary of State within each government created a new system of structural change overturning the principles of the last structural change. It was very clear that all they were really trying to do was cut costs, but none of them ever had the guts to face us with a message that we would actually have been much happier to accept and would have been able to manage more easily. Technology change was the primary dynamic in structural change, not political planning. (Can anyone today imagine a time when sending a telegram - text, not morse code, I'm not that old - could have been considered the most effective method of quick international communication.)

The stupid part of all this structural change malarkey was that the Treasury (UK Ministry of Finance) were absolutely clear in their cost-cutting objective. I was therefore interested to see the news - I didn't write down the link - that the current government in Poland was being taken to the Constitutional Court for requiring across-the-board cuts in government department budgets of 10%, or whatever it was. Isn't that the way governments normally work?

No comments: