Civil Service Fast Stream

In today’s Civil Service News bulletin email, there was reference to the Civil Service Fast Stream.  This I took to be the Civil Service’s new graduate recruitment and fast progression scheme, intended for young people just leaving university.  It seems I thought wrong:


Fast Stream opportunities to advance your career

Did you know you don’t have to be a graduate to join the Civil Service Fast Stream, the development programme for our future leaders? And you can apply from within the Civil Service. Applications for the 2018 intake are open now.
Find out what’s new in the Fast Stream


So I had a butcher’s and saw I can apply now for entry in the scheme in 2018 when I have completed my degree.  I can also apply now as a Civil Servant, regardless of having a degree.  Any Civil Servant can.  Link.

There are apprenticeships – no, thanks – internships – no, thanks – and the various schemes organised by government function.  Having gone through the schemes, one says:

Safeguarding the UK’s national security by…working to reduce conflict…
…prevent and resolve conflict; and build stability overseas.

That’s me that is!  That’s what I want to do!  Those items are listed under the responsibilities of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office within the Diplomatic Service Fast Stream.

So I have started my application.  🙂

All I need to do is the two online questionnaire tests, the e-tray exercise, the video interview and see if I have passed.  Then the application form and see if I pass the sift.  Then attend the half day assessment at the assessment centre to such exercises as the leadership exercise, the group exercise and the analysis exercise and see if I pass that.  (I have done part of one of those days before some years ago and it went horribly wrong for me; they had the wrong exercises and, well, what do I know about being an HR Director?)  Then it is the final selection process will be an assessment at an assessment centre with specialist assessments to assess capability and motivations.  If assessed as successful, I presume one has jumped through the acceptance hoops.  Then it’ll just be probation, training, assessment, placements for 2 to 3 years, resulting in a potential salary of £28k circa 2021 but doing a job I passionately want to do.

If I don’t get accepted the first time – as many don’t – I can reapply a year later.  That will be after my Master’s Degree so is better anyway.

First Level 3 module chosen

After my experience this past academic year, there is no way I am doing more than 60 credits at once at Level 3, that is, full-time study while working.  The year saved is not worth the stress, the loss of value-for-money from skipping material, the lost opportunity from not having time to read around the subject nor the impact on the grade.  And at Open University Level 3, it’s all about the grade since that is most of the final grade weighting.

I was going to do A333 Key questions in philosophy but my experience of A222 Exploring philosophy has put me off.  It was not what I thought it would be.

I had also planned to do DD301 Crime and justice as it includes ‘trans-national policing, international criminal courts and universal human rights‘ but those are only a minor part of the syllabus.  Also, it is intended for those going into ‘crime prevention and conflict resolution‘ (amongst other things) and my desired career is in conflict prevention.  Similar, but not the same thing.  I’ll need to have another think.

I downloaded the list of all the 107 Level 3 modules available to me and went through each module in turn, deciding afresh if I wanted or needed to do it.  A day’s work turned that into a shortlist of 12.

So many things to consider:

  • When does the module first run?  (DD317 Advanced Social Psychology should have started this October but will be October 2017 and DD311 Crime, harm and the state in October 2019 which is one year too late for me to do it.)
  • When does the module cease to be available?
  • 30 credits or 60 credits?
  • Does it have an exam?
  • Is there team work?  (No thank you.  I’ve carried others before, and discovered you don’t get any thanks for doing so.  A shame, as that has put me off S382 Astrophysics which I really fancied.)
  • Will it help my career?
  • I only have 120 credits left (or 150 if I’m devious and willing to add another year by doing 30, then 60 then 60).
  • Which 60 credits I want locked into the 300 credits that make up the open (non-honours) component.  (What a weird rule.)
  • Whether I want a name degree (that was a realistic option until A222 put me off philosophy).
  • Will I enjoy it?  (I can’t excel at something I do not enjoy.)
  • Ought I to do it for my career?  (Peace Studies.)
  • Will I learn something useful?

I really fancy S350 Evaluating contemporary science as it would be interesting, challenging and probably very useful to me.  One is expected to research, produce and present a scientific paper as practice for being a real scientist!  I could do something on sensor reliability in unmanned ground vehicles (or autonomous fighting machines, multi-function utility vehicle, warbots, kill-bots, autonomous drones, call ’em what you will) or the environmental impact of war in an oil-producing region.

But, it is 30 credits and I have talked myself out of the other 30 credit modules.  I’ll re-consider it this time next year.

I think I have settled on which one to do next, A327 Europe 1914-1989: war, peace, modernity, mostly because it will look relevant on a Master’s Degree application and because it ought to be relatively easy for me.  I’ve been informally studying war and how & why it happens for decades, so those parts ought not to be too alien.  However, although the title sounds relevant, I’m not terribly interested in war in history as a subject of study because that has changed nothing.  My interest is evidence-based peace process research.  But, I shall use it as a corridor of doorways to other paths to study.

Risk: what will be new to me is that it is a history module and I’ve never done one of those.  I wonder what new skills and methods I will need for that.

I’ve bought and downloaded the A327 exam paper for 2015 and it asks for “Write a commentary on the following primary source extract…” but I do not know what a ‘commentary’ looks like.  It also says “Answer the following thematic question” but what is a thematic question and what is special about how one answers one?

I have asked those queries on the Arts & Humanities forum and I hope somebody understands.  I should probably ask it on the Open Degree forum – the polymathic folk there might understand my concern better.

Meanwhile I can do advance reading by getting the set book and by going through the OpenLearn material that has been produced based on this very module.

Just keep going

This year has included a death, moving home, a new job which itself is requiring training and my wife getting some awful medical news which will effect the rest of her life.  But I am still going, doing 120 credits of study at level 2.  It requires selfishness to do a degree as a married adult, and it requires an understanding partner who will let you be selfish… for years.

TMA05 of A222 Exploring Philosophy has been a toughie.  Running two weeks late, the content meant little to me, and I could not relate to the material.  In trying to write the essay, I could not grasp how the arguments, counter-arguments and counter-counter-arguments worked.  I could not see how to construct the essay.

In frustration I just defined the terms, gave the context for the essay question, mentioned the philosophers and their theories and then proceeded to rant about the material, the subject and generally vented my spleen.    Three days I spent on that, mostly tearing my hair out, writing what I thought of the material.

It confirmed what I had thought while reading the material – I should have saved myself some time and skipped this TMA.  Just not done it.

Then, having run out of time, I submitted it anyway.  

I got more than 40% !    My rant about the material got marked (and I even got advice on how I should have presented it so that it would have been a valid philosophy essay!)

As a consequence, the average across the first five TMAs went down by 1%.  Had I submitted nothing, a very poor mark for the final TMA, TMA06, would have meant failing the module.  I now cannot fail the TMA part of the module.

Moral: no matter how frustrated, always submit something.

So much to be done: life gets in the way

After an evening spent updating life plans a restless night followed.

It is amazing how life interferes with one’s plans.  Full time study, looking for work, moving house, trying to remember to do exercise, managing one’s weight, domestic chores… they take so much time.

Ideas pop into my head every day that I want and need to record, but I cannot find the time to properly consider them and write them down.

This morning there are many to do with how long to spend on the degree and the master’s degree, whether to take full-time or part-time work, where to live.  But I also had a thought about psychological defence mechanisms of which there nine that I have learned about.

I have about 15 minutes to hand; I thought I’d nip onto the Open University site, get the list of them, mention that each of them can be used to consider:

Why do people put up with war?

Each of the nine could result in multiple blog posts considering how to tackle people’s attitudes to war and rejection that peace is worth the effort.

But I can’t because:

OU web site down when I need it

OU web site down when I need it

And now I have a train to catch.  Damn.

What a drain having a blog is

Trying to look after a WordPress blog is an enormous drain on your time.

There are the perpetual updates to WordPress, each of which means a backup of your web site first.

There are the theme updates which mean lots of testing to see what they break.

The battle with spam is a daily chore, distraction and annoyance.

Trying to find add-ins which work is another time-waster. I cannot find one which both works and yet does not silently lose valid comments. Capchas reduce it a little but are an annoyance. Akismet is as buggy as hell and makes valid comments silently disappear. Blacklisting iPs does not work. Keyword blocking does not work much.

I had such great plans, but all the spare time I want to devote to writing is spent in maintaining the WordPress product and deleting the spam.

It is all such a dreadful waste of my time and energy.

I only open my mouth to change feet …

I’ve been going to Job Club sessions on a Saturday morning; last Saturday we had Interview Practice.  For this we had to take in a CV and a job advert for a job we wanted and we were each interviewed in turn.

The mock interviews were done by an accountant from Accenture.  After a few minutes my ‘interview’ morphed into a chat about why I want to get out of IT.  I said I am going into conflict resolution, in particular, war prevention.  This got him interested and I got the best part of 45 minutes to explain:

  • why most of the people I knew in IT are now no longer in it because the UK has outsourced the IT industry overseas (hey, guess what Accenture do);
  • how the NHS has wasted £12 billion on NPfIT (National Programme for IT) and CFH (Connecting For Health) because the NHS “knows best” and refuses to use government-mandated (by the Cabinet Office) government best practice methods like MSP and PRINCE2 (he agreed about the NHS behaviour but didn’t know it applies to IT there too);
  • why arming civilian Syrians would create another Afghanistan in that we’d be back in 20 years fighting the people we’d armed (“I hadn’t thought of it that way”);
  • how it is not right for the government of a democracy to use warfare, or worse, arming civilians and generating proxy wars, to cause death as a way of promoting peace when alternative methods of change do exist (“Really?  Like what?”).

Some of what I had to say really took his interest. He asked whether I knew about the local Peace Centre, I told him how I helped with the planning for an event in July, have been researching new contacts for them and just last week spent two days there adding to a briefing paper on extremist violent groups worldwide.  He was most impressed.  I came out feeling it had gone rather well.

Anyway, my good lady wife said to me today “So, are you going to blog about the interview?

Why?

Because it sounds like you did a good job of informing David Mowat of your views.

The interviewer, the accountant from Accenture, is David Mowat MP, the Conservative MP for Warrington South.

And today the EU is debating whether they should be arming the Syrian civilians.  (The US, unsurprisingly, says the EU should dump arms in the region, while Austria and others are saying the EU is a peace organisation and should not be adding to the conflict.)

The Austrian foreign minister has said it was wrong for the EU to be receiving the Nobel peace prize on the one hand and taking sides in the Syrian civil war on the other.

And I’ve just been adding my 2p worth with a member of the UK government.

Oo-er.  I think I’ve just done my first political lobbying.

Feedback is good, good feedback is great

Having decided to do an Open University degree to learn about conflict management and war prevention, I researched what modules are available and found myself rather spoiled for choice as they include:

  • Introducing the social sciences
  • Law – Rules, rights and justice: an introduction to law
  • The uses of social science
  • Power, dissent, equality: understanding contemporary politics
  • Exploring psychology
  • International development: making sense of a changing world
  • Welfare, crime and society
  • Living political ideas
  • A world of whose making?
  • Making social worlds
  • Europe 1914-1989 War, Peace, Modernity
  • Crime and Justice
  • Business, human rights law and corporate social responsibility
  • War, Intervention and Development

So I enrolled.  Then, a couple of days ago, the Open University had a table in my local library talking about the OU and what one could do.  A nice bit of synergy.  A two minute chat lasted best part of an hour.  One of the professors – a tutor for local students – said her PhD was in war studies.  Anyway, I ran my plan by her and she was very impressed with my plan and approach, which is very reassuring.

I went to a Drupal North West User Group Meeting last night in Manchester and had the chance to talk to a few people who had used a few CMS (Content Management System) products.  I have tried a number of CMS and related products this past few years, for example there’s my own wiki and this WordPress blog.  However, I had already decided to use Drupal for the 11112018 site and was told a number of times that I had chosen the right platform for what will be a complex site, which is very reassuring.