Outcomes over efficiency

Intensive farming might produce cheaper beef, but grass-fed cows are happier and healthier, says Horace Camp – which is why he believes Guernsey’s children deserve a school model that is not focused purely on efficiency or cost.

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On more than one occasion I have demonstrated how I am guided by the wisdom of the ages encapsulated in proverbs and copybook headings. Despite the world constantly fooling itself that there are new ways of looking at and doing things, in reality the millennia of human trial and error upon which our modern understanding has been built were pretty much fixed in stone well before the rise of our current civilisation.

As Mr Kipling put it in between making his exceedingly good cakes:

‘As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man

There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.

That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,

And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire.’

Possibly he should have added a fifth thing: ‘That deputies can’t help revisiting the same topic over and over and over again’.

On reflection, however, the Dog, the Sow and the burnt Fool are all reasonable analogies for the conduct of the Assembly in once again becoming embroiled in the education debate, which seemingly was close to being settled on more than one occasion but is now totally back up in the air again.

I accept the fact that there are different schools of thought on where education should be heading, but I am also sure that just about any model we introduce will, in the long term, be as successful as the current iteration, which is probably about as successful as the previous one.

What is making it hard to come to any consensus view is the number of flags which have been nailed to too many masts. Just about everyone seems to have decided that the private colleges model – you know, the one the elite like so much they are prepared to pay a small fortune to get little Tommy educated there – is absolutely not fit for purpose. Why? The sixth forms are too small, reducing the choice at A-level and condemning these (not so) poor children forced to attend them into a lifetime of disappointment and failure. Really?

Others have nailed the flag that’s attaching one sixth form to one 11-16 school but leaving two without could give some pupils the advantage of being taught in an 11-18 establishment, but strangely are happy to have three 11-16 schools to ensure all are equally disadvantaged. Madness.

Then we have some who are adamant that post-16 education has to be carried out on a single, newly developed site but academic and vocational studies are separated in different schools.

Just what is going on?

It is starting to look like the annoyingly named Lisia, ‘one school on two sites’, was possibly a better option than that currently being proposed by Education, Sport & Culture. And it certainly looks as if we threw the baby out with the bath water in losing Matt Fallaize. If only he hadn’t been quite so pigheaded and determined not to be seen as a populist, we could have been one step closer to endorsing the best of a bad bunch set of options for educating our future.

We all want the best for our children but it appears to me that ESC is placing efficiency above seeking the best outcomes. Efficiency can be a good thing and, let’s be honest, there are parts of the States that cry out for greater efficiency to be implemented pronto. But efficiency can be a double-edged sword.

When I am not modelling life on copybook headings, I often ask myself how we would do it back on the farm when puzzling life’s new challenges. I rarely use my 30 years in finance as examples of good practice because, like the States of Guernsey, finance is not the real world in my eyes, although it is closer to reality than government.

So for the purposes of the education debate, it is back to the farm for me. The predominately British way of raising beef revolves around happy and content animals grazing in permanent pastures among the naturally wild flora and fauna of river meadows and sloping uplands. In my mind’s eye I can see them chewing the cud on a lovely summer’s day resting in some of the lushest and alive landscapes in Europe.

But this isn’t efficient.

In the USA to farm beef efficiently they have designed feedlots where thousands of animals are farmed intensively and never step on a green field during their entire lives. All food, predominately corn, is hauled to them and to counter the adverse effects of their unnatural living conditions they are pumped full of antibiotics to counter the various ailments they are likely to contract in a feedlot system. To make it even more efficient and reduce the cost price of the beef, they are administered growth hormones.

If I was a beef animal, I know which system I would choose. And my choice wouldn’t be made on efficiency or cost.

I know what good looks like and intensive farming doesn’t look good to me. And so I accept that grass-fed beef will cost more, but then money isn’t everything.

If we can accept that inefficient systems can have better outcomes than efficient ones, then why are we going into the schools debate with ‘inefficient’ but evidentially proven good school types off the table before debate even begins?

Hopefully enough deputies get to see sense and pass a system fit for our tiny island community and are not blinded by what others are doing ‘more efficiently’ elsewhere. And for the love of God, make a decision and stick to it for once.

After the sad news of losing Dudley Jehan as a reader, now we have the double whammy of losing Jimmy Jamouneau, who admitted to reading at least one of my columns. Jimmy – I call him that, not Jim, because my Dad called him Jimmy, something he picked up when the young Master Jamouneau would hang around Camp’s Farm as a boy – has always been there for as long as I can remember. I bumped into him infrequently, but the conversation would pick up where we had left it perhaps two or three years before.

He really was a national treasure and Guernsey is a poorer place now he has gone. Though let’s be honest, he will still be with us as long as those of us who knew him are still living.

We will not see his like again and yet once there were so many like him.

He was the stereotypical Guernsey farmer who called no one master, spoke his own mind and did things his own way.

Wherever he is now, I hope there are green pastures, Guernsey cows and fine racehorses.

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