Map of Blue Book Balloon

9 July 2017

Sunday Special No 2 - Back to School!

Going back to school

I'm trying to post stuff on Sundays that isn't book reviews. In a couple of weeks I'm going to be back digging here so I hope to report on that - but first, over the past few months I've occasionally muttered on Twitter about essay deadlines. I thought I'd explain what that's about. I have, sort of, been back to school.

I graduated in the early 1990s with a physics degree (actually two, I did some research afterwards). I haven't studied anything in particular since then, spending 20-odd years in an office job. I work for a UK public sector organisation you will have heard of and, if you live here, probably dealt with. I won't say who they are as we're discouraged from doing so on social media.

Obviously, books WILL be involved...
It's a challenging, varied job, which has taken me at different times to Brussels and Paris, to Parliament and to a range of interesting businesses. I know how lucky I am in that, but a lot of what I've learned about the job has been by doing it, with relatively little done formally barring the normal kinds of thing like three days on "Creatively Adapting to Change" or how to give and receive feedback.

All tremendous fun, but there have been many times when I felt as if I was winging it. So when I found an opportunity to do some actual education in it (sponsored by work) it seemed too good to miss.

The course I'm doing is provided by LSE and focusses on public policy. I signed up last summer and we started just before Christmas, working around the university's regular terms (meaning: weekends, and a term’s length of lectures being compressed into a week). That first module was a gentle introduction, focussing on Brexit and health service reform.


As I said, I hadn't studied anything since 1994... that was a wonderful age where being at university gave you access to a text-based Internet that no-one else knew about, lab reports were handwritten and a laptop was something you'd only find in the shady part of town which I didn't visit. And it was mainly maths.

So having been set an essay to hand in after Christmas... and having reading to do that wasn't fiction over Christmas for the January module, was something of a culture shock. I hadn't written an essay for even longer - not a big part of physics, especially then - not since O-level days (and yes, that does date me). And these are a bit different, things like “Front-line bureaucrats are the barrier to successful implementation. Discuss”.

Since then we’ve done political basics, including what influences voting (such as that fathers of daughters tend to vote more left than those who only have sons) and forming coalitions and empirical methods (evaluation of policy, regressions, how to establish causality). Most recently we had three intensive days on “what works” covering education policy, regional disparities and how public services deliver (or don’t) which is where the street-level bureaucrats come in: they’re the subject of that essay, which I finished a few days ago.

So I've been a bit distracted. I've had to read stuff that isn't for review! I've missed book launches and signings! Did I mention there were exams? I swore I'd never sit another exam...

I would though strongly recommend this whole idea of learning things. It's not just that a lot of it is stuff I wish I'd known years ago, but the whole process has been stimulating

However, as I've said, it is all quite intensive and if you find me neglecting the blog a bit over the next year, that's probably because I've got another deadline coming up. And if I need to think something through I may well put it up here to get my ideas straight, and invite views...


  1. This is not a comment really just a note so you will know post has been read and I found it interesting.

  2. Thank you, that is very kind!