The Prime Minister wants maths to be compulsory for everyone up to the age of 18.
It is hard to know what to make of this. There are probably many subjects we would each think should be required of everyone – mine would be history and music – but maths? I once did Algebra, Geometry and Arithmetic for GCE and followed some Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy courses for people in the public sector, but beyond that I have had to manage as best I could – when, for example, I had charge of a residential theological college or held the finance brief as an elected member on Sheffield City Council. But success in jobs like these doesn’t really depend on being able to do maths but rather on the judgements you have to make once the arithmetic is done – by finance professionals. When I sit down now with the chief constable and look at policing and the funding needed to balance the books not just for the coming year but over the next few years – the Medium Term – those are the skills that will be put to the test.
It would also be a mistake to assume that those students who never take a maths exam are no good at sums. At one time in my life I was a board member of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales and a regular visitor to Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) – prisons for the under 18s – Wetherby, north of Leeds, being one. Most of the inmates had no formal qualifications in anything, let alone maths. Most had spent little time in school anyway. But when I joined them in a game of darts I quickly realised that their arithmetical skills were formidable. They multiplied doubles and trebles in a trice, worked out exactly how many points would be needed to win (subtracting initially from 501) and what combination of doubles, trebles or singles would get them there, reacting with great speed if they missed one number and had to adapt to a new tally. They were just as quick with scoring at snooker and when it came to working out the odds for the dogs and the horses, they left me standing.
The conclusion I draw from all this? The key to education is motivation. We spend a fair bit of time and energy making courses ‘relevant’ or ‘exciting’. We should spend more time thinking about what might motivate someone to do it in the first place. And maths might be the least of our concerns.
This is the month when I take my proposals for the budget and precept for the coming financial year and the results of the consultation I have been running on them, first to the leaders of the four district councils and then the Police and Crime Panel (councillors from each of the districts) for their views. I need the Panel to accept the proposals. If they don’t, then I have to start again.
As far as the consultations are concerned, this year we had almost 3,000 responses, which was much higher than in previous years. We also had some face-to-face meetings round and about South Yorkshire. Most people accepted the need for an increase in precept if policing was to be kept at a reasonable level. Only 17% said they did not want to pay more. Last year more than half objected to an increase in the precept (54%). This came as a surprise given the cost-of-living pressures we are all facing. I can only conclude that most people realised that without an increase, policing would be in difficulties and they value the work the police do in keeping us safe.
We also had responses on which areas of policing people most valued and which areas they thought we should look to first if cuts had to be made. In one respect, this was also something of a surprise. For as long as I can remember, one of our MPs has been assuring me that the public was demanding that we had to open front desks in police stations despite the costs involved – capital costs in adapting buildings, having officers tied to a desk all day on the off-chance that someone would come in, and the on-going salaries of these officers and annual maintenance costs. The judgement of the chief constable and myself has always been that the small benefits this might bring were far outweighed by the costs.
So I was pleased to see in the consultation that this was the view of the public as well.
Last week the Public Accountability Board (PAB) met and received reports from the police about crime and anti-social behaviour. (PAB is live streamed and can also be viewed afterwards through the PCC website.) I always ask officers to identify any emerging trends in crimes and to tell us what they are doing about it.
There were several references to vehicle crime, which seems to be increasing. This was chiefly about thefts of and from vehicles as well as interference with vehicles. Nationally there has been a spate of stealing Transit vans. Locally we have also noticed a rise in thefts of Land Rovers and Ford Fiestas.
Some high value cars are stolen to order. Some vehicles are stolen to sell on again or for use in other crimes. Some are stolen for their parts or the rare metals in catalytic convertors – and their registration plates. The many cars that are kept overnight on the road or on a driveway are obvious targets. It is not unusual for a house to be broken into, the car keys taken and the vehicle driven away. Some people helpfully tell everyone on social media, including thieves, when they will be on holiday leaving their houses unoccupied.
The police explained how they build pictures of the hotspot area for car thefts and the likely offenders. They can then target both – and the possible places where vehicles are disposed of.
But there is no substitute for making it harder for thieves in the first place. We might think it unfair to blame the victims of crime for the work of the criminal – and it is – but shouldn’t we get a steering lock just in case?
Wherefore art thou Romeo?
I went to Queens Road Academy in Barnsley, a primary school close by the town centre, to see their ‘mini police’. This is a project run by South Yorkshire police (SYP) in a number of schools across the county. The intention is to help young people understand the role of the police and for them to see the police as their friends.
I arrived just as Georgia Smart, a member of police staff from the Lifewise centre in Hellaby, and Roy, a Police and Community Support Officer from the neighbourhood police team, were preparing the room for the pupils. The young people who take part are all volunteers and come once a week for an hour and a half session which Georgia and Roy organise. The sessions cover a range of topics and themes, starting with the swearing in of the mini police and an explanation of what they will be doing over the coming weeks. This week, the topic was ‘police communications’.
Ten beamish youngsters came in, put on their SYP caps and mini police high visibility tabards, and collected their notebooks. Georgia explained how vital it was that the people in the police call centre who communicate with police officers in the community are able to get them reliable information. If they tell them the name of a person or car registration they need it to be accurate or the police officers will arrest the wrong person or stop the wrong car. This was why they used a police phonetics alphabet to avoid miss-hearing. A registration that had a P in it might be miss-heard as a B, and so on. So we all learnt the alphabet – where ‘B’ becomes Bravo and ‘P’ is Papa – and then divided into two groups in two different rooms, communicating with one another via the mini radios. There was a great wave of ‘juliet’, ‘whisky’, ‘bravo’, ‘foxtrot’, ‘sierra’, ‘romeo’ and the like passing over the airwaves, only slightly confused by the fact that one of the boys was actually named Romeo.
The young people clearly had a wonderful time, learnt a lot and respond to the police positively. As they made their way out of school at the end of the day, I am sure their view of the police had enlarged. Not only did officers keep us safe, but they were also the gateway to a magical world where people spoke this amazing language. I imagined them arriving home and asking their parents whether it was time for Tango, Echo, Alpha.