The Fan: Why I'd rather interview Silvia Neid than Arsène Wenger

Wenger is so miserable, he's beginning to make W H Auden look positively baby-faced. The manager of the German women’s team seems like she has a lot more to say.

Look out for Roy Hodgson pulling up his trousers during the England game against the mighty men of Montenegro this coming Friday (11 October). I think I know the reason.
 
He’s not fat but at his age, 66, he has acquired a little beer belly. Not seen it –we use separate bathrooms – but I assume he has. You have to take some things on trust, such as the oft-repeated line that he speaks five languages.
 
Not heard any of them but I presume this is because in his long-legged career he has managed clubs in Sweden, Italy, Denmark and Switzerland, as well as England. Obviously, he must have picked up the local languages, as footballers do, being so awfully adaptable.
 
I base the theory about his belly on my own dear tum, which just seems to gave arrived with age and lodged itself there. While standing on the touchline, Roy’s belt slowly slips below his belly line, which of course is more comfy, but then he suddenly realises, worries that his shirt will pop out – perhaps even his belly – so he has to howk it up. This is an action that usually coincides with something frustrating happening on the pitch. Do look out for it.
 
All managers look worried, if not terrified but then we all look pretty miserable in repose, when caught unguarded, not having put on our face to the world. Without doubt, Wenger is the most miserable-looking manager of them all. Those lines, those frowns. He is beginning to make W H Auden look positively baby-faced. Remember him?
 
Auden was the first famous person I ever used a tape recorder to interview. In the Sixties, I was sent to see him at a house in St John’s Wood where he was staying with Stephen Spender. I had a sealed envelope to hand over to Auden, given to me by Leonard Russell, the literary editor of the Sunday Times (who was married to Dilys Powell, the paper’s film critic). I looked in it, of course, and inside there were 30 crisp £1 notes. Once Auden opened the envelope and stuffed it in his pocket, he lost all interest in me or the interview.
 
Meanwhile I was fussing about with the tape recorder, which I had never used before – an early Grundig, about the size of a Mini- Minor. The interview was rubbish and never appeared. I blamed it on the tape recorder and never used one again, which was silly. Oh, if only I had used one during those 18 months I spent with the Beatles, it would have been gold dust.
 
I bet interviewing miserable old Arsène would be just as unproductive as Auden, no fun at all.
 
The manager I would really like to interview is Silvia Neid, manager of the German women’s team. She is gorgeous, sorry, I mean a stunning football manager, and has won everything possible, including the World Cup. When the German women are playing, I can’t take my eyes off her, she is so cool, clipped, controlled, cempt . . . sorry, I mean kempt – getting lost with all these Cs. She has this sideways look, the slightest hint of a smile, though it might be a sneer or a snarl kept under leash. She could be Kate Moss’s more interesting big sister.
 
There is another woman on the football benches these days who I am fascinated by, very different from the immaculate, highly groomed Silvia. It’s the smallish, darkhaired, slender young woman who comes on in a tracksuit when a Chelsea player is injured. She does so quietly, without any fuss, so you don’t realise at first she is there at all, or that she’s a woman.
 
There are now one or two women chief executives of football clubs but I don’t I think I had ever seen a woman physio, which is what I took her to be, coming on to the pitch to administer to male footballers, tending to their flesh. I imagined all the dressing-room banter she must have to put up with.
 
Now I look her up on the Chelsea website, I see she is the first-team doctor – Eva Carneiro. She was born in Gibraltar of British-Spanish parents, trained as a doctor at Nottingham University, and has worked with Olympic athletes and women footballers.
 
Like Silvia, Eva strikes you as an utter professional. Who would never have a beer belly or fuss about piddling things like her belt slipping . . . 
Silvia Neid, manager of the German women's team. Image: Getty

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 07 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The last days of Nelson Mandela

A protest in 2016. Getty
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Fewer teachers, more pupils and no more money. Schools are struggling

With grammars and universal school meals, both main parties have decided to answer policy questions no one is asking.

If you ask people in Britain what the ­biggest political issues are, schools don’t make the top five. Yet last week Labour set its first party political broadcast in a fictional classroom where a teacher described Jeremy Corbyn’s plans for schools’ future. Without a Labour government, the teacher opines, there will be no more libraries, or teachers, or school trips. Though the scenario is a flagrant breach of the law – teachers must remain politically impartial – education isn’t a bad place for Labour to start its campaign. Schools really are quite screwed.

Three things are hitting hard. Schools have less money, fewer people want to be teachers, and an avalanche of under-sevens is hitting the playgrounds and won’t stop for several more years.

How did we get here? In 2015 the Conservatives pledged to keep school funding at the same rate per pupil over the lifetime of the parliament. Yet while the money coming in has remained flat, schools have faced huge hikes in costs, particularly staffing. Big increases in mandatory pension contributions and National Insurance have taken their toll; so has the apprenticeship levy. The
Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that all told, schools will have lost about 8 per cent of their budget by 2020. That’s £3bn of savings that must be found. Or, more bluntly, the starting salaries of 100,000 teachers.

It is worth remembering at this point how huge the schools sector is and how many people are affected. About half a million teachers work in the 20,000-plus state schools. A further 300,000 people work in allied professions. There are eight million children and an estimated 12 million parents. Lump in their grandparents, and it’s fair to say that about 20 million voters are affected by schools in one way or another.

The budget squeeze is leading many of these schools to drastic measures: firing teachers, increasing class sizes, cutting music from the curriculum, charging parents for their child’s place on a sports team, dropping transport provision, and so on. Begging letters to parents for donations have become commonplace; some have asked for contributions of up to £60 a month.

On top of money worries, teachers are abandoning the profession. In 2015, an additional 18,000 went to work in international schools – more than were trained at universities over the same year. They joined the 80,000 teachers already working in British schools abroad, attracted by higher pay and better working conditions.

Graduates are also snubbing teaching. With starting salaries increasing at less than 1 per cent a year since 2010, new teachers are now paid about 20 per cent less than the average graduate trainee. Changes to higher education are also such that trainees must now pay £9,000 in order to gain their teaching qualification through a university. The government has missed its target for teacher trainees for five years now, and there is no coherent plan for hitting it.

No money and no teachers is less of a problem if you are in a demographic dip. We had a bizarrely low birth rate at the turn of the century, so we currently have a historically small proportion of teens. Unfortunately, the generation just behind them, of seven-year-olds and under, is enormous. Why? Because the “baby echoers”, born in the 1970s to the baby boomers, had children a bit later than their parents. Add to that the children recently born to immigrants who arrived in their twenties when the European Union expanded in the early 2000s, and Britain is facing an El Niño of toddlers. By 2025 a million extra children will be in the school system than in 2010.

To keep on top of the boom the government has been creating schools like a Tasmanian devil playing Minecraft. But 175,000 more places will be needed in the next three years. That’s the equivalent of one new secondary school per week from now until 2020.

In fairness, the government and councils have put aside money for additional buildings, and roughly the same number of parents are getting their first-choice school as before. The free schools policy, which delivers new schools, has not always been well managed, but it is now more efficient and targeted. However, many more children combined with squeezed budgets and fewer teachers typically leads to bigger class sizes. Most classrooms were built to house 30 pupils. Exam results may not get worse, but no parent wants their child working on a makeshift desk improvised out of a windowsill.

Instead of addressing these challenges, both main parties have decided to answer policy questions no one is asking. Theresa May wants more grammar schools, ostensibly because they will give more choice to parents – though these are the only schools that pick pupils, as opposed to the other way around. And she says they will aid social mobility, though all the evidence (and I really do mean all) suggests the opposite.

Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, is offering free lunches to all seven-to-11-year-olds, which sounds worthy until you realise that children from low-income families already get free lunch, and that feeding every child a hot sit-down meal is virtually impossible, given the limited space and kitchen facilities in most schools. Plus, the evidence this £1bn policy would make any significant difference
to health or attainment is pretty sketchy. Labour has also sensibly talked about cash and promised to “fully fund” schools, but it isn’t clear what that means.

What’s missing so far from the Conservatives and Labour alike is a set of policies about teacher recruitment or place planning. The sector needs to know how schools will be built, and where the teachers will come from for the extra kids. In other words, the message to both sides is – must try harder.

Laura McInerney is the editor of Schools Week and a former teacher

Laura McInerney taught in East London for six years and is now studying on a Fulbright scholarship at the University of Missouri. She also works as Policy Partner at LKMCo.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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