Friday, 26 August 2011

Back to School Basics Creditfree

The cost of sending our little darlings back to school looks set to increase by £27 million this year - an awful lot of money...


As both parent and teacher, the things I resented most were uniform lists that read like a six-month survival kit and the tendency for kids to break or mislay equipment within a couple of weeks. The trick is for parents to take control and to mete out their spending affordably. None of this mad dash around the shops when you’re living creditfree! 

A few of years back, Citizens Advice ran a wonderful campaign, urging parents to put pressure on schools to cut uniform costs. Some Heads like to make their mark by introducing “smart” blazers and ties, but in reality, this distracts from learning. Fair enough if there’s a history of hand me downs that all the town knows, but school wear was never meant to become the equivalent of Man U’s away kit this season.

If you’re stuck with a list without compromise and school does not have a second hand shop, have a look at some of the online exchanges. You may even be able to sell items here too, because goodness knows mow much kids grow as soon as you’ve bought them something! is a little sparse at the moment, but worth a try, and seems well stocked. Some dress exchanges have started to carry uniform, like our local, and the trusted charity shop is always a help.

To challenge rules that state how many tie stripes must show, or the colour of socks for such and such a sport, join the PTA and kick butt. A good uniform is pragmatic – basic work wear in common colours with an appliqué logo that you can remove and replace onto a larger size. Far more important are kids who turn up equipped and on time, which of course includes affordable basics that allow poorer households to invest in decent overcoats, sturdy footwear and bags that do not fall apart. 

Uncomfortable children disrupt lessons, so when this affects your child’s learning, consideration for others makes for an investment in your own. Raising awareness of substantially reduced outer and footwear at catalogue clearance websites like, and can overcome the barriers of mainstream discounts that offer more than you need or can afford, though they do require patience and some navigation.

Nowhere will you see more damage from our consumerist society than in a classroom where kids have run amok. It’s my guess that few teachers were surprised that rioters turned on their own communities because too many of us have seen unruly children break up the contents of their pencil cases for over a decade now. Some schools simply replace missing equipment, reinforcing the disposability of it all. Good schools offer nice stationery as rewards.

Even if your child does not indulge in converting stationery into missiles, be aware that an enthusiastic classmate might. I have never given my son more than a basic kit, keeping a vast stock of equipment well hidden, ready for the start of a new term or exams. As ever in the creditfree toolbag, shopping out of season is a must. February is the best month for picking up back to school clearance, because the stock’s done the rounds through September to Christmas. Another alternative if you have a large family is to open an account for discount office supplies at such as Bulk buying fifty pens at a time for a couple of quid is always a steal and it’s also worth nothing that is still live.

Dissecting Responsible Lending - part 3, repeat business

Zero-credit is delighted to welcome Steve Perry, author of "When Pay Day Loans go Wrong" and founder of the campaign website,, as a guest blogger. Steve will be challenging the responsibility of PayDay Lenders over a short series of posts this week. Read Parts 1 and 2 here!

It has been widely stated by financial experts of all different backgrounds that the business model for a payday loan company is specifically to attract repeat customers, either through monthly payments of interest only, or enticing a customer to return on a month to month basis. Whilst this can only be considered an opinion, it has many merits.


For example, a customer borrowing 100 pounds, repaying 120 pounds and never using the service again would probably cost the payday lender more money than the profit it made, through setting up the account etc.. However, should that customer return a month later and borrow 150 pounds, repaying 200 pounds, then within two payments a total of 70 pounds would have been made. Repeat business is the cornerstone of payday lending.  

It is, therefore, surely in the interest of a payday loan company to convince borrowers to use their service repeatedly for their business model to work. What's more, I believe this has been proven through payday loan companies' targeted advertising towards repeat customers. I myself am still receiving countless emails from payday loan companies trying to sell me their products. Often the email has a subject title like “all applications accepted for 400 GBP”, and in the body, I find that nothing can stop a Kwik Payday loan, not bad credit and not even some fictional foe designed to weaken the powers of a super hero!

It would seem there is absolutely nothing preventing you from taking out a Payday loan. Responsible lending at its very best.

To summarise my entire payday loan experience - one that has cost me thousands of pounds in dead money and levels of stress that to this day I do not know how I managed to cope with - I would have to say that there is clear evidence, that payday lending is irresponsible. I readily admit that my own irresponsible borrowing has been a major factor in the financial crisis I face today. However, it has also been proven, beyond question in my mind, that the burden of guilt and responsibility must also land on the shoulders of the payday lenders.

These companies have shown a complete disregard for my borrowing habits, a total lack of interest in my other financial commitments and an inadequate level of customer service skills in dealing with the problems I have faced. Finally my experience tells me quite clearly that if the payday lending system should continue to be used within the United Kingdom, an independent and specific regulator must be brought into power to control the actions of loan companies that clearly show no ability to control themselves or their customers.


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Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Unspoken Truth

Some of you may recall from a post at the start of this year that we questioned the ongoing bitterness between not-for-profit and commerical debt advice providers: The Real Losers.

There's a new twist it seems, for whilst the main names in charitable advice giving remain as opposed to the money grabbing debt management companies as ever, smaller local agencies whose budgets have been cut are finding new ways to keep their work going.


Apart from questionable consultations amongst some agencies that make no reference to what consumers might think whatsoever, Zero-credit is aware that lists of potential debt solution clients are being offered to the highest bidder.

How do you feel about your Legal Aid being paid by someone who is broke? Whose right would you say it is to decide who benefits from free advice? Are these questions for professionals or consumers, you may well ask? We don't know about you, but we're tempted to say “YOU decide!”.


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Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Why switching is a con


For some time now, I have drawn the line at saving a measly £10 on my annual car insurance. Call me stupid, and by implication, experts do, with claims that comparison only takes five minutes, but over an hour is what it takes me. The perverse kid in a candy shop experience does not stop there either, for no sooner have I entered my personal information, than the bombardment of texts, letters, e-mails and calls begins - eating away at my time and luring me into potential scams

Imagine you had to compare a tissue every time you blew your nose, mopped a spill or wiped your bum - it would drive you mad. Why? Because these are things we need to do, just like having insurance, an energy supply, or bank account - basic commodities that millions use. Notice how we’re urged to switch as soon as price hikes loom and somehow feel stupid if we don’t get in quick? With no time to think how these vultures fail to pass on their savings after a wholesale price drop, we’re hooked on their never ending story.

Since when does the master jump at the servant’s command?

Behold the crooked butler in our midst, pocketing the spoils of illicit cellar trips, whilst sacking every honest worker in sight. The sheer numbers of redundant staff when executives receive millions should tell you something. It’s a steal, a rip. Don’t buy it!

So where can you go for a fair price on essentials such as banking, insurance, telecomms and energy? Well, your local credit union, a coop or CIC is a start. Owned by people like you, often you’re invited to own a share yourself, meaning that you have a say in what’s fair. In all honesty, it may cost more at the start, because the con in comparison is to sell one deal at a loss, to secure staggering profits on another. And as for the line that it’s clever to stooze, where is the insurance in that? 

Does your Nan know one end of a “Websavvy-Supersaver 9.10” from another and, more importantly, will you when you’re older or unwell? No. Paying more for a fair share in price fixing now could be an investment in all our futures - now that's what I call consumer revenge ;-)


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Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Dissecting Responsible Lending - part 2, advertising

Zero-credit is delighted to welcome Steve Perry, author of "When Pay Day Loans go Wrong" and founder of the campaign website,, as a guest blogger. Steve will be challenging the responsibility of PayDay Lenders over a short series of posts this week. Read Part 1 here!

What is responsible advertising?


Whilst I appreciate that ultimately payday loan companies are businesses as much as any other and they exist to sell a product that will pay for itself, its overheads and ultimately a degree of profit, I believe their advertising techniques are far above and beyond what is acceptable.

Load at random any payday lender's website and you are generally greeted by a message, usually written into their responsible lending header, stating something along the lines of “payday loans are designed for short term borrowing, to cover the costs of those occasional times when an unexpected expense takes you by surprise”.

However, usually found in another area not too far away on the landing page, is another header explaining how you can borrow MORE each time you take out a loan, gaining higher trust ratings. Often there are offers to become a silver or gold member for being such a regular and valued customer, or entries into free prize draws for returning customers with unblemished records.

If a payday loan is supposed to be a short term solution for the unexpected, why is there so much advertising for repeat customers?

The simple answer is, there should be NO repeat customers for loans intended for the occasional blip in a person's planned monthly budget. Have a look at this example, taken directly from Payday Express’s recently revamped website:

Once you have had a loan with us and are an existing customer we will only carry out a credit check if you haven’t had a loan with us for two months or more, and you may select to bypass this.

Borrow once to borrow again and again, no problem, no credit checks, simple approval... And so it goes on.

The fact is that a person who is borrowing from a payday loan company on a monthly basis is not borrowing to cover occasional unexpected expenses – they are borrowing in an attempt to manage their regular cash flow.

Surely, if Payday lenders respected responsible lending, running a thorough check before approving a loan must apply to those customers who use the service the most?


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Sunday, 21 August 2011

Forcing the issue with RBS

URGENT UPDATE 25.08.11 - e-petition re Royal Bank of Scotland's ATM charges - it's our money...

I am bored. I am bored to tears of Financial Services firms screwing every last penny out of taxpayers, who are becoming increasingly vulnerable by the minute. This week’s defining moment was the news that the Royal Bank of Scotland intends to charge its basic bank account customers for using any ATM that it does not own.

Since approximately 1989, I have held some form of basic savings or current account, with variations on a theme of Link, Electron and Visa giving me automated access to my money. The deal, as I understood it, was that the Bank or Building Society needed my money, along with that of millions of others, to ensure that transactions took place.

As the agency holding vast numbers of customer accounts, the Bank or Building Society was in a position to lend - their job, simply to keep an eye on the funds coming in and out, in order to determine the amounts made available for a return on investment. It was a bit tricky at times, which is why interest rates reflected the risk involved.

So, what happened?

Well, it seems the economists forgot that without people, there is no money, and growth became the Holy Grail. I am informed, by those “qualified” to do so, that I am ignorant in these matters because an economy can grow without substance - a characteristic it shares with cancer, it seems. Not entirely convinced that this is either correct or healthy, I determine to keep my own mind.


As money reigned supreme - the currency with which we access shelter, warmth, food and drink - its curators, recognising these resources as limited, realised that they had lent too much. Some who had borrowed more than they could afford recognised this also and began paying down debt, whilst others needed to borrow more so they could brave the storm.

With so much accounting for resources that simply did not exist, the politicians were persuaded to print more money. This was of course, the loan to end all loans, complete with a Team GB of millions all bailing like billy-ho, through taxation, shorter hours and redundancies, anything and everything with all hands on deck. But like any long trip, the kids became tired and cried:

Are we there yet?

Far from offering any assurance, the curators of lost wealth simply lashed out, scoffing all the travel sweets and raiding every piggy bank for more. They picked on the small kids first, calling them names and breaking their toys. Then, realising these tots had nothing, they turned on the know-it-alls, who had helped them. Finally, with no children left “for the journey” they turned on each other. 

Banking as we know it is a dinosaur. It is morally, socially and economically bankrupt and making our lives a misery. The longer we choose to believe that this Emperor wears clothes, the greater our suffering will be. It is not big or clever to deprive people of their livelihoods, and charging the most vulnerable for withdrawals is just the start. It is our money and we have worked for it.

I for one am not about to allow some bonus-obsessed bankwit to rob us of our future and I urge you not to do so either. May OUR force be with US.


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Saturday, 20 August 2011

Dissecting Responsible Lending - part 1, credit checks

Zero-credit is delighted to welcome Steve Perry, author of "When Pay Day Loans go Wrong" and founder of the campaign website,, as a guest blogger. Steve will be challenging the responsibility of PayDay Lenders over a short series of posts this week.


Steve's Story


As a man who had the stupidity to take out a total of no less than 64 individual payday loans over 18 months or so, from a dozen different lenders, I find myself in a rather strange position of having to live with the consequences of my own shocking actions, whilst at the same time knowing full well that the industry is just as accountable as I am for two years of utter hell. The only real difference between me and the industry is that I am big enough and strong enough to admit to my own failings – the industry isn’t. Hiding behind legal terms and conditions and phrases such as responsible lending the industry deflects all levels of responsibility and blame onto the shoulders of the poor borrower.


What is responsible lending?  

It is a name made by the Office of Fair Trading, a buzz word of the industry and whenever I think of it, it is nothing more than a joke. How any of the lenders I associated with can label themselves responsible lenders is beyond me. It is the same reason why I often refer to myself as an irresponsible borrower. For the purpose of this article I shall start with the arch nemesis and ‘alter ego’ of responsible lending – irresponsible lending.

Irresponsible lending can be summed up quite easily – it is the action of approving a loan of any sum of monies to a customer without first undertaking a stringent process of checks to ensure the customer has the absolute capability to repay the loan under the terms stated. Whilst the details of what are to be considered as acceptable checks will always be a matter of opinion and debate, we must certainly all be aware of the serious consequences of a customer failing to repay a loan on time under the terms agreed:

credit damage

additional fees

the problems it causes for the lender

the increased stress caused for the hapless customer.  


Given the seriousness of the decision to be made, it should be universally agreed that the following factors need to be taken into consideration:

net monthly income in relation to the sum of monies loaned

other financial commitments, inclusive of monthly mortgage/rent, utility bills, cost of living for the month

other monthly loan repayments, monthly credit card payments, transportation costs  

all costs that would have an immediate effect on monthly disposable income

credit history in repaying monies at the agreed times.


Not one of these criteria were considered by any of the payday lenders I associated with. Not one of lender asked me about my other loans, my monthly rent, travel costs, living costs, food costs gas, electric, water…. Not one lender. Not one single question. 

Granted, had they asked and let us say that I was to lie, then they could throw the entire portion of blame back onto me. But the fact that not I, nor anyone else for that matter is even given the opportunity to lie leaves me to question the reliability and detail of the credit checks that these companies claim to carry out.

In my case lenders' so-called responsible credit-checks don’t appear to been any use at all...


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Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Paying down debt? Not bloody likely!


Failure to publish the numbers of people remortgaging and extending secured loans is hiding the truth that far from paying down debt, cash strapped home owners are borrowing more.

Zero-credit’s careful cross referencing of Financial Services Authority (FSA) and Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) data shows that, on average, people with secured loans have increased the amount they owe by £13,696 since 2007, whereas unsecured borrowing - the only form of credit available to people not on the property ladder - has gone down by £19 billion since its peak in 2008.

Amazingly, the MLAR statitsics kept by the FSA provide total volume and value for all secured lending, but only the lending value for new house purchases. This makes it very difficult to see whether the continued increase in secured borrowing since 2008 is accounted for by people who are increasing existing debt levels or others who are buying more or more expensive properties.

As the CML publishes the value of average loan advances to all house buyers, we divided the MLAR new lending values 2007-2010 by the CML average advance values 2007-2010 to achieve a volume figure for new house-buying borrowers. We then calculated the per capita values for all secured lending, in order to compare these with secured lending less new house purchases. As the graphic illustrates, the difference is significant. 

We believe that the practice of not publishing essential market volume information justifies low interest rates erroneously. Our research also found that the industry's focus on debt-service to income ratios as a measure of over-indebtedness results in bias towards the maintenance of credit repayments that favours lenders. Moreover, we note from paragraph 4.6 of the OFT's Irresponsible Lending guidance that:

"The fact that a borrower may be able to 'service a debt' over many years simply by making minimum repayments does not, in our view, equate to being able to pay off a debt in a reasonable period of time."

Perhaps the Bank of England should take note?

We also have significant examples of BIS and the FSA inaccurately profiling people with low financial capability, equating vulnerability with low income and low academic attainment. Evidence from the Royal College of Psychiastrists leads us to conclude that consumers’ self–esteem, self-reliance and their capacity to overcome adversity is being undermined. 

“The Welfare Costs of Personal Debt – Who is Paying the Price?” is available on our website in summary format, or in full to Members and Subscribers. 


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Monday, 15 August 2011

Financial Education - let us be clear

Since the late 1980s, compulsory education has witnessed a string of interventions intent on interpreting social and economic need as policy, often by idealists without classroom experience. Take the recent self-justification by David Starkey after a brief spell in Jamie’s Dream School. Despite actions that would have him disciplined in a professional setting, his celebrity qualifies him to hypothesize.

Herein lies the problem with Financial Education. Bereft of explicit learning outcomes, petitions to introduce it are no more than sound-bites to our debt incumbent woes. 

Asked to highlight the causes of over-indebtedness, advice agencies point unequivocally to unforeseen circumstances - redundancy, illness, relationship breakdown - whilst psychologists and behavioural economists can find no single demographic to pinpoint risk. Meanwhile the inclusion debate rages on the distinction between poverty and financial capability: it is hard to afford insurance when you can barely afford the rent.


At Zero-credit, our most recent research has identified government over-indebtedness and financial capability indicators to be fraught with difficulty. For instance, the notion that people borrow less as they grow older - referred to by economists as the life-cycle hypothesis - meets direct contradiction in the profile of clients entering advice agencies’ doors. Therefore, why focus on the young, unless a social marketing phenomenon akin to the anti-smoking lobby is our intent?


Moreover, the disqualification of consumers’ “subjective” sense of discomfort in favour of “objective” debt-service to income ratios, ensures repayment as king, irrespective of cost or consequence. Make no mistake, the availability of credit increases debt levels, and no amount of education will stop marketers from marketing new packaging, discounts and bundles. Are we to rewrite these into every Scheme of Work?


Should we give up? Only if in our desire to do something, we grasp at anything as the straw.

In entering the Financial Education debate, it is important to recognise that it is not so straightforward as a diagnosis of illiteracy or innumeracy. How can these be responsible for the near doubling of personal borrowing within a decade, when shameful as it is, illiteracy and innumeracy levels have been stable for 20 years? An absence of delayed gratification is our foe here, for in the desire to have now, pay later the very security of our streets has been at stake.


The higher order thinking skills required to make financial decisions can only ever provide part of the answer, for Financial Education is less a matter of teaching the functions of products and services than how to apply these, or indeed any other resource, to a range of different scenarios. Even if independent and critical thinking were achieved, there are countless examples of perfectly rational adults not sticking to these. Why else should we adopt auto-enrolment for pensions from 2012?

Make no bones about it. Financial Education is complex and demands far more of your attention than the glib satisfaction of those who stand to gain most from its teaching. Ask yourself, in all honesty, what do you need to learn before imposing an imprecise ideology on our youngsters.



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Sunday, 14 August 2011

Money Scamming Menace


Fake comparison sites that require you to sign up for a better deal are a CON!

See this neat little clause from the Privacy Policy of one of these crooks?

“We may use the information by our sister companies to offer you other companies' products and services that may be of interest to you.”

Small wonder the CAB made a supercomplaint about cold calling from credit and debt companies. 

Agree to something like this and you're asking for a wave of dodgy dealings by email or SMS.

Avoid ANY credit, debt or comparison service that asks you to upload personal information.

This is the oldest spam scam in the book.


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Saturday, 13 August 2011

So-so Money Supermarket


All we can say is watch out for the crocodiles when you're surfing for debt advice, because they bite...

Not content with an average £65 per houshold a year in commission, this comparison parasite seems to think it's okay to compare debt solutions.

Not one single mention for ANY of the free advice providers, who offer the whopping great benefit of not charging for a debt solution...

However, top in the #creditfree so-so stakes is the direct comparison between more borrowing and paying off your debts.

Two questions for you:

1) WHO gets paid on payday?

2) WHERE is the con in consolidate?

And guess what? There's no premium rate number for your answers. You'll just have to use the comment box below ;-)


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Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Housing hopes dashed


70% of households have had a lower income than the average first time buyer since 2006. Home ownership is not accessible to middle income Britain and this is making people sick.

Mortgage advertisements for the very banks that taxpayers helped to bail out leave consumers stressed by the belief that they are failing. Despite this, around three quarters of businesses plan to invest in employee wellbeing over the next 12 months, according to the CBI. Zero-credit believes employers could be picking up the tab for lenders that certainly don't invest in business.

According to the housing charity, Shelter, around a third of tenants already spend more than half their income on rent, making them most vulnerable to price hikes and limited security. The fact that house prices have continued to rise when sales have almost halved, means that people who are not responsible for the crisis are paying for it.

This is the third time that taxpayers are bailing out the banks. The first was our cash injection, the second public service cuts and this third is the cost of increased sickness and absence due to money related stress. We simply cannot afford to keep propping up financial services.

“The Welfare Costs of Personal Debt – Who is Paying the Price?” is available as a summary for site visitors and in full to Members and Subscribers at


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Monday, 8 August 2011

Break Away


Holidays are one the most important investments in your life – time away from the monotony of making ends meet to solve a new set of problems entertaining yourself, family or friends. The trouble is that so many of us are either too strapped for cash to take flashy breaks or scared of becoming victims of a failed travel company, like Holidays 4U.

Free debt advice provider, PayPlan, is currently running a short survey about summer holidays, so it's a great idea to take part, because they'll be able to track trends and make some noise about people missing out. Down time is essential for thinking critically about how to manage your money - a key skill for steering clear of debt.

To help you on your way this Summer, our top #creditfree tips include:

Travelzoo's Top 20, where there are often great day tripper deals between key cities, which are ideal for packing a lunch and visiting as many free museums and galleries as you can.

Caravan parks usually offer cut price late breaks, especially in the few days after the August Bank Holiday. It's worth pencilling some dates with friends and family, then keeping an eye open

For adults, HotelshopUK has some fantastic all-inclusive deals for less than £40pppn for two nights, based on 2 sharing - including a free bar from 7-11pm!

Sometimes, if you copy and paste into Google search, the description from a “secret hotel” you can work out what it is. This works well if you've been somewhere before and can recognise a knock down price when you see it.

City appartments near the coast are also a great idea, because you won't need a car and you can weatherproof your activites with beach days in the sun or free attractions in the rain. Try an appartment in Cardiff or Newcastle for instance.


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Sunday, 7 August 2011

Banking Tech Check


We're big fans of Brett King and his Bank 2.0 theories, here at Zero-credit. His work reminds us that the consumer is at the heart of any brand management or marketing strategy. Still, we're perplexed...

If the technology exists to tap two smartphones together to complete a transaction:

  • How come we can't switch change the payment cycle for a Direct Debit the moment we become ill, self- or unemployed?
  • How come we're paying extra for apps when technology is reducing the costs of transactions?

Brett's comment "Who owns the customer?" is very telling. No one owns us, thank you very much. Banking is a service for which customers pay - shared ownership of the bank's time and resources, if you like...

Allow consumers to own the banks - oops, we forgot, one or two taxpayers do - and we may find something approaching loyalty?


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Friday, 5 August 2011

Debt Management? There's an app for that!



Debtology is a soon to be launched smartphone application that allows you to enter income and expenditure for a bespoke list of recommendations, including referral to a free debt advice provider. It costs £1.79 to download.

Created by Sim Ilyas, who has spent several years at the frontline of providing face-to-face advice, Debtology is supported by the Bristol Debt Advice Centre, IncomeMax and Payplan. 

Sim is passionate about the potential for technology to overcome everyday problems and we agree that using hand held devices to sort unmanageable debts is a refreshing alternative to the plague of payday loan texts that simply make things worse. 


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Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Wink wink, nudge nudge ;-)

Last week the House of Lords Science and Technology Sub-Committee reported its year-long investigation into behaviour change. The outcome? You cannot change behaviour by nudges alone...

As teachers across the country survey their depleted pensions and I consider the end of my first year outside the profession, I am struck that any school behaviour policy would have told them much the same thing.

Schools are microcosms of society - teaching and support staff, the government and administration to an electorate of pupils. No authority may rule without consent, as is most obvious when compulsory education challenges the very essence of adolescent rebellion.

In good schools, rewards and sanctions reinforce a culture of learning and communal wellbeing. The best rarely resort to sanctions, of course, for their legislation - no phones, no gum - is forgotten in the desire to achieve, intellectually, vocationally and socially.

That so many of us look back on our school years with such fondness is a lesson in itself. Here we experienced the inspiration and trust that allow us to adapt in adult life, the social codes and moral compass that dictate when and where we should break the rules.

In this context, it is saddening to see educators pilloried yet again for SATs results that so many agree are a poor indicator of achievement and ability. We have only to sample a cross section of drivers to see that a one-off examination does little to raise standards.

We undermine teaching at our peril, for in this world of ubiquitous communications, the nudge we transmit to our children is that schools have no authority. Small wonder we are met with an adult population that refuses to line up.



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