Social media disclaimer

This is basically to say ‘anything I put on Twitter (as @citizensheep) – or Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ etc – comes from me and not from my employer’.

All views you read there belong to me and not the organisation I work for. (Of course, my employer may well hold some of those views too, but that’s not the point.)

Why a post dedicated to this? Because, whatever time it is, I’m always a contracted representative of my organisation and should be mindful of that at all times; and, occasionally, I say things in my own capacity that I would probably have put differently if I were writing on behalf of my employer  - and, very occasionally, I can get it wrong.

So, remember, anything I post to Twitter is my responsibility and mine alone. If you want my employer’s opinion on something, ask them.

Alain de Botton has made me angry: novels and news are not the same thing

Alain de Botton has made me angry. I thought he was supposed to be intelligent, not the sort of person to throw Ill-conceived populist soundbites to the Twitter pack.

Alain de Botton - Impact Hub - Flickr

Alain de Botton, apparently with a luminous snake in his ear. Photo by Impact Hub.

What has made me angry? His glib suggestion on Twitter this morning that human beings are more likely to care about fictional characters in novels than real people in the news:

Novels get us to care about the death of people who never existed; the news often can’t help us care about real people who died yesterday.

He may well be right, but only because of his seemingly careless comparison of two very different beasts.

It’s not the job of news to help us care. News tries to be objective, to give us information impartially. It’s hard to do, but the British press is actually pretty good at it – not least because it is required by law to be duly accurate and impartial. This often means presenting information such that it doesn’t push the viewer into siding with a particular party in the story.

Novelists, on the other hand, have an agenda. They want us to care about their characters and they work incredibly hard to ensure that we do.

But let’s not stop there. What about biographies? Biographers write about real people, and they will often make the reader care about their subject. The same goes for feature writers and anyone whose job is to push our buttons, such as charity copywriters and publicists.

And that’s why I’m angry: Mr de Botton is perfectly intelligent enough to know all of this. It seems, therefore, that he is being deliberately disingenuous: that he is ignoring nuances in presentation while taking full advantage of those nuances for the sake of publicity and ego. He knows full well the difference between objective news and subjective novels, but he also knows that his little crafted soundbite will be lapped up and retweeted hundreds of times by people who trust his word.

Who cares about accuracy when the world believes everything you say?

Politicians’ rose-tinted views of citizenship education are bad for democracy

Politicians of all colours agree that citizenship education is an important part of the curriculum. So why are they so complacent about it vanishing from schools?

Spectacles, rose-tinted. (Ok, ok - you come up with a better picture.)

Spectacles, rose-tinted. (Ok, ok – you come up with a better picture.)

There is renewed interest among politicians for lowering the voting age to 16, and most advocates agree it must be coupled with rigorous citizenship education. In a House of Commons debate on Tuesday, speakers agreed that any lowering of the voting age must be supported by a strong element of citizenship education in schools.

But the current situation is not good enough, said Labour’s Sarah Champion. ‘When I asked young people in my constituency about citizenship education and what they had learned about politics as part of that, some of them in their final year of school replied that they had only three or four sessions in which they had talked about politics in the entirety of their secondary education. Is it any wonder that we are seeing a decline in voting, and that political apathy has become the norm?’

Her colleague, Andy Slaughter, agreed. ‘Citizenship education should sit at the core of our curriculum,’ he said.

However, Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake defended the status quo, arguing that his government’s new citizenship curriculum was already good enough. Not only will citizenship be retained in the national curriculum, he said, it ‘will be strengthened’.

That’s great to hear, but what on earth does it mean?

It’s a very curious statement for him to make, considering the new citizenship curriculum is much smaller and less defined than the previous government’s. And it receives none of the top-level endorsement so enjoyed by more ‘traditional’ curriculum subjects: no ministers have publicly championed their revised citizenship curriculum.

Meanwhile, no-one is scrutinising curriculum delivery anymore (Ofsted inspects the school, not the curriculum). So, with no pressure from outside, schools have little reason to treat citizenship seriously or to fear chastisement for sidelining it. Even in the secondary schools that have not opted out of the national curriculum by becoming academies, they are squeezing out some subjects in favour of others and citizenship is one of the victims. As a result, there is dwindling demand for citizenship teachers and fewer specialists are being trained.

How can anyone in government claim the subject is ‘being strengthened’?

Citizenship is still on the national curriculum, Michael Gove made sure of that. Education minister Elizabeth Truss often replies to parliamentary questions by referring to the citizenship curriculum. Together with support from Labour politicians and over-confident statements from LibDems like Tom Brake, there is clearly cross-party agreement that citizenship is a vital component of education in a modern democracy.

In which case, can we please see fewer rose-tinted views of the citizenship curriculum and instead see concrete plans and positive action to strengthen the subject on the ground in schools.

This post was written for the Citizenship Foundation.

Dear date: I don’t like horror films and I wouldn’t travel the world on my own, but I’m undecided about the sailboat

Great news! Boffins have identified three questions for predicting a lasting relationship, allowing us to avoid fruitless exploratory conversations.

Image: Crossed Fingers 1 by Katie Tegtmeyer

Image: Crossed Fingers 1 by Katie Tegtmeyer

Finding a compatible partner has become much less of a painful trial, reports the Telegraph today. We can now discount people within seconds and rest easy in the knowledge that our chosen partner will last longer than a few uncomfortable pub meals.

Yes, we now know the key questions for predicting a lasting relationship, and there are only three of them:

‘Do you like horror movies?’ ‘Have you ever travelled around another country alone?’ ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to chuck it all and go live on a sailboat?’

If your potential suitor answers the same as you would, you’re in.

We can thank mathematicians from dating site OK Cupid. The boffins (I love the word ‘boffin’, it suggests people who can redefine life but can’t wash their own pants) concocted a ‘compatibility algorithm’ to find the three questions.

Isn’t it great? We can now avoid excruciating conversations by bypassing extraneous topics. Heck, we can skip the preliminaries altogether: just pin the answers to our chests and all anyone need then say is ‘get your coat’.

In fact, I’m experimenting with this tactic virtually. I’ve answered the three questions in my Twitter profile and I’m now waiting for prospectors to come a-calling. I just need to make a decision about that sailboat.

You want me to promote your swimming pool company for no reason? Why, of course!

If you want to be taken seriously as a good writer, you can’t do better than send your pitches to people that clearly have no interest in them or in your business. Like the guide to installing swimming pools that I’ve been asked to push to my teacher readership.

The swimming pool of an East London primary school. (Image by KassandraBay on

The swimming pool of an East London primary school. (Image by KassandraBay on

I work for an educational charity. We work mainly with schools in the UK, helping them with curriculum delivery around politics, law and society. Today, I received this email:

My name is Jason and I run a swimming pool supplies business. Writing is as much a passion of mine, as my business is, and the two often cross paths. I have ghost written a number of articles and have been published in reputed home improvement journals.

I am keen to feature a guest post on you blog as it would do wonders for my portfolio as a writer. I realized it was time I stopped ghost-writing for others and built an online reputation for myself. Here are a few ideas that I feel you will like:

1) How to Replace the Light in Your Pool Without a Hassle

2) Things to Remember When Buying Chemicals for Your Pool

3) Which is better: Propane or Natural Gas Pool Heaters?

4) 10 Tips for Buying Yourself a Really Great Hot Tub

5) Why a Spa at Home Can be a Blessing In Disguise

6) 10 Reasons Why You Should Buy a Robotic Pool Cleaner Today

7) A Guide on Choosing the Right Pool Cleaner

8) Why a Salt Sanitization System is Important for Your Hot Tub/ Spa

9) Helpful Tips on Combating Pool Algae

10) 10 Things You Should do to if You Care for Your Hot Tub

11) How to Install an Above Ground Pool Without a Hassle

12) Which Swimming Pool Filter System Should You Buy?

I would be glad to write an article on any of the above topics and am open to any ideas or suggestions that you might have.

I hope your reply is in the positive, so your readers get the opportunity to benefit from what I have to say.



Well, Jason, I’ll see what I can do. I’m sure many of the poor urban schools we deal with will be grateful to know how to install a swimming pool in their reception area.

Kids are often knocking each other’s lights out, so tips on light replacement could be very handy. I’m not sure we should be encouraging an interest in chemicals though.

I’m told natural gas is already pretty abundant in teen environments, so that may not be an issue either.

And I’m glad you think our blog could ‘do wonders’ for your portfolio because that is, of course, why we’re here. We wouldn’t be fulfilling our charitable objectives if we didn’t promote the arbitrary, unrelated commercial interests of people we’ve never heard of.

So, send me your blog post, by all means. I’ve nothing better to do than reply to you and commission stuff I don’t want. But remember, editorial control rests with me.