How Not To Run A Railway, Or An Education System

This morning’s 3D Eye post was going to be about the momentous fortnight it’s been for education in England – starting with Simon Jenkins’ “Devastating Critique” of our education system  in which he details the collapse of educational progressivism in the 1980s and its replacement by “teaching to the test”:

“They teach what they think will train a mind, not educate a citizen.”

However, reflecting on training, and trains, we arrived at these news headlines today:

London Midland trains cancelled over staff shortages

More than 30 trains in and out of Birmingham have been cancelled because of a shortage of drivers.

More than 400 trains cancelled due to driver shortages

Not only can we NOT make trains run on time in England, we can’t make some of them run AT ALL! This is truly staggering. So privatisation was a REALLY good idea! Out with all those hopeless and inefficient British Rail people who lacked proper 20th century management skills, and in with the privatised companies and their whizz-kid high-tech managers who were going to transform rail travel in Britain. Well they’ve certainly done that.

The Telegraph’s article, written by Julie Henry, goes on to say this:

London Midland has blamed a “shortfall of qualified drivers” for a series of cancellations that have affected routes from the capital to major cities in the West Midlands and services around the Midlands.

So London Midland “BLAME” a shortfall of qualified drivers – as if this shortfall is some kind of “Act of God”. They do NOT blame themselves for being a hopeless bunch of business people who haven’t a clue how to recruit, reward, train, retain and manage their train drivers.

This is an appalling situation. Rail travel in England is more popular than ever – in spite of the very high cost of using the rail system. I remember well when I was a boy that becoming a train driver was seen as an amazingly exciting and fulfilling thing to do. Who EVER thought that we’d one day see a situation where there were not too many people wanting to drive trains but too FEW?

Or is this really the case? Might there be plenty of people willing to be train drivers providing they are paid decent wages – a proper wage for the very demanding and responsible job they do – and providing the rail companies have a decent system for recruiting and training their drivers? Or do the train companies think that train driving ought to be taught within the National Curriculum?

Ms Henry’s article goes on to say,

On Saturday the company announced it would have to cancel 58 services and terminate a further 37 train journey’s early due to the shortages. [“journey’s”? Carrot’s? Potato’s?]

All around us we see examples of incompetence and mediocrity. Politicians bang on about the need to educate people for the “knowledge economy”, and yet thanks to our politicians we’re living in a country that can’t even keep certain trains running AT ALL – let alone on time.

OK – so I’m a grumpy old man who reckons that the country’s going to pot, that things are getting worse, that schools are not what they used to be – but this is serious and this happens to be TRUE.

Inequality is increasing. The banking system is still in a state of collapse. The economy is still flatlining, if not shrinking. Our political system is disfunctional. Our education system fails to educate, in any true sense of the word. We train children to pass tests – we don’t set out to educate children and all their multiple intelligences – to produce independent, creative, enthusiastic, problem-solving, lifelong learners who read and learn for pleasure every day of their lives, who are high in personal, social and spiritual intelligence, who are properly emotionally literate.

It doesn’t have to be this way. This is an English problem. Other countries do things differently. Scotland and Wales certainly want to do things differently.

The good news this week is that, as we reported on this blog yesterday, school leaders in England are coming together online and also physically to create a forum, or ’round table’ if you will, for discussion about the real issues in education, and to propose urgently-needed changes to the way we run education in England.

Let’s recall and remember these wise words of Simon Jenkins:

Schools seem terrified of experimenting with new teaching methods or radical subjects. The academic terrorism of tests and league tables has made Gradgrind’s rote-learning seem almost liberal. The British are adept reformers of institutions, in health, education, the law, even banking. They are dreadful at reforming what institutions do.


Please see our list of previous 3D Eye blog posts which deal with these issues – which we appended to our post on the Simon Jenkins article:

Related articles

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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