Forgive the fury of a man typing while lying on his back. This is the first outing of this mind since an operation on my spine to correct a slipped disc. As in Kafka’s Metamorphosis, the recovering patient could well be a cockroach, and may be better off as one in a country whose school minister lauds a deeply undistinguished contribution to the debate on improving educational standards from Tim Oates of Cambridge Assessment ( A key argument here is that the absence of “approved” textbooks has diminished UK performance, compared with educational superpowers like Finland and Singapore. Mr Oates makes it clear that his romantic preference is for paper-based resources, and that his attachments are to the world of Nuffield Science and Scottish Maths (SMP), foundation and government funded projects of the 1970s in the UK. British teachers are using too wide a diversity of methods, use their own materials and exchange materials between themselves in ways that make for an undisciplined approach to gaining the outcomes desired by Mr Oakes high stakes testing and the Ministers’ national aspiration for PISA performance.

We have to put up with a lot of this Old and New Fogyism in the UK. I was an educational textbook publisher myself in the 1970s, when the champion of the art of facing backward while walking forward was Sir Rhodes Boyson, then headmaster of Highbury Grove Comprehensive in North London, and later himself a Conservative Party Schools Minister no more effective than his current successors. I wrote to him and visited the school. He explained how the re-introduction of Latin and Greek, as well as demanding that academic staff wear their gowns while teaching, were instrumental in bringing back traditional British public school (private sector) values to public sector schools like this one.After lunch one-on-one in his private dining room I was invited to tour the school with a prefect. Sadly the Latin class had only two pupils, and no one at all showed up for Greek, but I did find myself eventually in the Craft and Design centre. Here, unmentioned by my host, was a powerhouse. Working with the London jewellery markets, a brilliant teacher had created a pupil driven skill development programme which resulted in outwork and, for many, apprenticeships in the jewellery companies, who, alongside grateful parents, had endowed the school handsomely with the resources needed to do the job. The Craft teacher had been there long before his headmaster and did not relish fame: he was committed to education, and to getting his kids what they needed to be successful in life. And as a publisher I was committed to identifying good practice and spreading it around. So we shook on a publishing deal that afternoon and the four book series published as a result was very successful.

So these things are seldom what they seem to be. While mulling on these issues I heard an earlier occupier of the education ministry in the current government, Michael Gove, telling the media what he had done to improve Britain’s teaching stock. Do you realise, he said, that one in eight teachers have a first class degree and over a third have a two: one, and it is getting better every year? And it is this better-qualified workforce who are to be given a standardised, government- approved textbook by Mr Oates? Amazingly, neither Mr Oates nor Mr Gove dwelt on the critical bedevillment factor that needs to be considered before we begin to think about reintroducing paper textbooks. Class size. Pressure on UK state schools is now such that the numbers of students in class is rising, not falling. The inability to cover all bases means that, using traditional methods, it is difficult for the very best qualified teachers to do more than work on the brightest and the most troubled, because these are the noisiest and the most problematical. In the middle of a class of 35 an average pupil can sleep for five years, unchallenged and under-extended. The textbook is the proven route to making this happen.

So what to do? I was delighted to see both the British Equipment Supplies Association and the Publishers Association come out against the Oates paper. They are rightly afraid of any diminution of the traditional right of teachers in the UK to have unfettered freedom of choice in the selection of materials that they use to secure the outcomes that they were employed to achieve. The Oates paper is fragile. It generalises from science and maths to the whole curriculum. Its prejudice against screen-based learning as anything but a support mechanism is palpable. The publishing community is right to condemn it, but urgently needs to go beyond it by abolishing some of its own Fogyism. Let’s make a bonfire of blended learning and all those other halfway houses where we have sought to slowly introduce change at a pace that we think teachers (or ourselves?) can manage. Now is the time for full blooded screen based personalised learning. We have to teach individuals, not classes. The teaching role, as mentor and organized, is vital, but learners must learn at their own speed.we are not educating people for a world of print anymore. We have to raise a generation of collaborative, problem solving screen-based workers capable, as change grows more rapid, of continuous and self-learning. Mr Oates, the Minister, the trade bodies and everyone else should really be asking where the partnerships are between Britain’s great publishers, world-leading software players, educational data analytics specialists, educational institutions and high quality teachers who are going to sort this out. At the moment we see a competition of domestic minnows each trying to live in a version of their own past. We are in danger of letting down a generation of learners.

Of the eighteen Boards of Directors of ventures various that I find that that I have been involved with over the years, none gave me any confidence about answering the most simple question. “Are you really sure that you know exactly what is going on here?” My sample includes a listed London FTSE quoted company; Dutch, Benelux, US and UK incorporations; corporate cultures that went from start-up to a hundred years of history, experience as both an executive and non-executive board member. As a result, one residual conclusion that sticks with me is the thought that being a non-executive/external director (NED) in a re- regulating networked business world is as isolated and thankless a high risk position as I can imagine. My heart goes out this week to the could not have known/should have known non-executives on the board of Tesco. How could you sit there and not know that the operating margins were fraudulent, bellow the so knowledgeable commentators of the Press. Easily, I think privately. In the cocoon of corporate culture which is the Board who do you believe if not the CFO? And how do you check a suspicion without evidence which even forensic accountants find it hard to unearth?

In the event, I found that I asked the hardest questions I could devise, tried manfully to test the evidence, used my powers of judgement of events and personality as widely as possible and seem fortunately never to have been lynched by the investors and staff who I was pledged to protect. And then, back in May this year, it slowly dawned on me that our world was changing in ways that might make all of this much easier. In a totally different context I found myself looking at the work of a UK company called Aging Analytics. It was a software-based consultancy in the health sector which found itself collaborating with the Center for Biogerontology and Regenerative Medicine to answer a question posed by a Hong Kong-based investor in regenerative medicine. This company, DKV (Deep knowledge Ventures) asked its consultant how it could reduce the risks in investment decision-making (and as I know well, most risk investors are highly risk averse). The answer was a programme called VITAL, and DKV were so pleased with it (or so PR cute) that they appointed it to their board as a non-executive director. ( At the time the story made headlines and then got lost, but it stuck with me as an example of how Artificial Intelligence will be used to buttress our insecurities.

VITAL has access to all of the data derived from the investigations and due diligence that DKV conducts. At the same time it has the open web and closed subscription services used by DKV to consider. And it is constructed as an algorithm to bring weighted judgement to categorisation like “most likely to succeed” or “closest to corporate investment criteria”. In some ways it is hard to imagine why such procedures do not take place in every PE or VC context. At the great NOAH investment show next week ( I expect to see some hundreds of information and eCommerce investments unvisited and unblessed by such due diligence. And emotionally I understand why people want to rely on human experience (nous, hunch, gut, empathy), since so much of what makes these investments work derives from the people running the company, and not the algorithmic likelihood of success. And yet…

Transfer this thinking over into the true role of the non-executive director. Would risk reduction take place if data access internally for a programmatic Director was matched by access to market comparatives and trends, expected performance profiling and weighted risk comparison? For a decade now we in the information marketplace have been trying to understand workflow and support its automation. From accomplishing this in relatively straightforward areas – were the first in tax and accounting? – we have gone on to create complex systems for handling IP, financing the purchase of aircraft, or managing a continental marketplace in heavy industrial plant, to name only a few that I have encountered In recent years. Readers here will know that I think the PR market is ripe for more mechanisation. Yet how will the poor non-exec ever know that these systems are still effective, or need replacement, or are wasting resources? It will be hard enough of executive directors, with their minds diverted by growth forecasts, margins and capex control, to form a view. The view of the executive director will always be warped by performance criteria, which is why the non-exec is vital. But how can he perform if he does not have help in processing what can be known against the key issues of risk, governance, and, as the world’s bankers now know, compliance.

And then there is something else. Once we start installing intelligent systems which monitor risk and control compliance, the friendly neighbourhood regulator will be round. Asking for access. Online. Just for his own performance monitoring, you understand. So the role of the independent director becomes that of the artificial intelligence whistle blower. Of course, businesses will resist and complain, just as the truck drivers did when we forced them to install tachographs and other measuring devices in their cabs 30 years ago. Now that measurement is a fact of life. So it will be with risk monitoring. In time governments and regulators will mandate and specify some of the qualities they need in the output. And non-executive directors will once again grow confident in the knowledge that, while they still do not know everything, they know enough to protect staff and investors to a level that will make 2014 seem like the Wild West in retrospect.