Archive for October, 2010

The Whispers of the Markets

October 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Governments in Britain, particularly this one, like to listen to what the markets and executives shout. However the markets do have subtleties that need to be carefully listened to.

The Coalition Government is following its programme of austerity because the markets ‘demand’ action.

While action nees to happen in order to reduce the structural deficit, though the rate of reduction is hotly disputed among politicians, economists and the public, the subtleties of the markets are being, to a greater extent, ignored.

The subtleties of the markets are the interest rates of long-term government bonds, currently at 3 per cent. The markets are, not demanding but, encouraging stimulus. Not through Quantitative Easing, in short the printing of more money, which will see an increase in inflation and little impact on the economic investment needed.

The interest rates on the bonds will make it easier to borrow for investment, particularly infrastructure, with little government risk. When the markets have decided that the level of government investment has been met the interest rates of the bonds will start increasing to normal levels of around 4 per cent.

While the markets scream and shout the quieter, more subtle, elements of the markets must be paid particualr care and attention. Only then can one judge where the markets actually want the government to take the economy.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Budget, Spending Review and Fairness

October 25, 2010 Leave a comment

It was once said that ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. The same could be said for fairness. What one calls ‘fair’, another calls ‘unfair’. With the June Budget and October Spending Review, many have called them unfair. The government, on the other hand, calls them fair.

The government, in trying to reduce the deficit, has cut spending, increased taxes for every section of society. On this basis it is fair. However, seeing as the deficit was caused because of the recession, and the recession was caused by the deregulation of the financial sector, ultimately, it is unfair that everyone is effected by the changes in fiscal policy. To be completely fair it should be the financial sector and policy makers that should pay the shortfall and eliminate the deficit.

However, to do so would be unwise as they will look to the other sections of society and say “why aren’t they involved? We gave them credit, it’s not our fault they can’t repay it.” And thus it escalates until you are left with a large proportion of society feeling slighted, bitter and, those that can, an exodus of talent and wealth.

However, the main problem with the June Budget and Comprehensive Spending Review is that the poorest 10% are the second worst off, in relation to the policy decisions, behind the richest 10%.

In terms of income lost, the bottom 10% loses 1.6%. The richest 10% loses 2.2%. The main problem with this is that the bottom 10% cannot afford to lose 0.1% of their income let alone 1.6%. This section is either in poverty, or near to poverty. The richest 10%, arguably, can afford to lose 2.2% of their income. The poor rely more on public services than the rich, altering the percentages of how the cuts effect the actual income of these groups. This is unfair.

However, if the rich were negatively effected too much by the policy decisions then there would be an exodus, a loss of tax revenues and more demand on the next richest 10% to pick up the shortfall left by the top richest 10%.

Whilst we agree with the principle that every person must play their part to reduce the deficit, we also believe it is unfair to place the burden on the polar extremities of the wealth spectrum. Whilst we believe the poorest 10% should not be let off, we believe their contribution to be too much. The burden should fall in relation to the ability to pay, much in the same way that credit is granted. We believe this to be fair.

However, fairness is in the eye of the beholder.

Obituary: Britannia

October 19, 2010 Leave a comment

The Great and ever victorious Britannia is dead. She will be mourned by a nation.

Britannia was born at the beginning of time to Europe and God. She was the outsider in her family, rejected by her jealous sisters for her ravishing beauty, her fierce temperament, and hips that would bear an Empire.

Every woman wanted to be her and every man wanted to be with her.

Her sister, Marianne, was, for a long time, jealous of Britannia. While Britannia had the beauty and the modesty Marianne was off cavorting with French peasants. Marianne wanted to be Britannia, but eventually she settled to be the fiery, less attractive sister who has a thing for short cowardly men, and a penchant for cheese.

She had relationships with many people; the longest on/off relationship was with Mister Conservative, though she had flings with Messrs Labour and Liberal. Mister Conservative was her favourite, and she his. They had their fallings out, as do all relationships. He cared for her like a gentle lover would. He gave her gifts, fed her grapes as she relaxed on the Chaise Longue, read to her. He made sweet, sweet love to her. It was a special relationship and from their communion many children were borne. When they argued, he was out of the House for a while, before she forgave him and invited him back – mainly for the sex.

But when they did have their arguments, there were always others to step into the gap Mister Conservative left. Those were namely Messrs Labour and Liberal. Mister Liberal was a timid lover who rarely showed any passion and drive that attracted Britannia. Love was made, but there wasn’t much in it. Mister Labour was the casual fling; she was the casual fling for him. He often neglected her and was often found in the embrace of other women, especially N.H. Service. But he was good to her when he was around, often buying her gifts and showing her the passion she craved. In the end she always went back to Mister Conservative.

Her downfall arrived on the 19th of October in the Two Thousand and Tenth Year of our Lord. Britannia was cruelly beaten to death by the man who claimed loved her, encouraged by his jealous business partner Mister Liberal Democrat.

It is a complicated tale to tell and not a pleasant outcome. Mister Liberal Democrat, having never experienced the taste of Britannia and never likely would do either, entered into a business arrangement with Mister Conservative after arrangements with Mister Labour collapsed. It was a good deal for Mister Conservative, he was back earning money and he was back in the embrace of his beloved Britannia. Jealous of what Mister Conservative had with Britannia, Mister Liberal Democrat began feeding Mister Conservative lies about Britannia and how she was some sort of cheap whore. These rumours remain as rumours, vile and malicious as they are. In a fit of rage, encouraged by Mister Liberal Democrat, Mister Conservative beat Britannia to death. Blinded her because she saw too much, gagged her because she threatened to speak up. Shield stolen so she could not defend herself and trident snapped so she could not attack back. All this was done in the presence of Mister Liberal Democrat who was shouting encouragement and lies while sadistically shaving Britannia’s lion. If that was not enough, they maimed her three sons. The oldest, Royal Navy was drowned before being crippled. He is still in intensive care. Her middle child, Army, was up in arms about the commotion before he too was bloodied and crippled. He may never walk again. The youngest, Royal Air Force was quiet throughout, but he did not escape the carnage. He had his wings clipped and his aspirations of becoming a pilot may never happen.

Shocked at what happened, Mister Conservative broke down in tears and began blaming Mister Liberal Democrat. Mister Liberal Democrat, with his silken tongue, convinced him to blame it on Mister Labour’s neglect that ultimately led to her ‘suicide’. Fortunately for justice the plot was foiled. Messrs Conservative and Liberal Democrat were not available for comment at the time of printing.

Britannia is survived by many, many children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren etc., etc.

Britannia, born when time began, died 19/10/10, aged ageless.

How partial is impatiality?

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment

When people and organisations refer to how impartial they are they are in fact not impartial at all.

We are all to blame for this. As historians, by education, Mr. Pike and I are cursed with subjective objectivity or objective subjectivity.
One cannot be impartial, objective or anything else that relates to an unbiased approach. This is because, as humans, one comes with presumptions, assumptions and values that conflict with the idea of ‘impartiality’.

So next time someone says they are impartial take their opinion with a large pinch of salt.

Categories: Analysis

Generation of the damned

October 7, 2010 Leave a comment

The Coalition’s recent announcement of cuts to the Benefit system, coupled with perceived cuts to the public sector and welfare state in the October Spending Review has damned an entire generation to relative poverty and poor prospects.

It is a well known principle that investment in the welfare state and education can enable individuals to remove themselves from the poverty cycle. As has been discussed in a previous post: you are only as rich as your poorest citizen. The cuts seek to trap our poorest citizens in the poverty cycle without any means to remove themselves.

The Conservatives, especially Cameron, hark on about Broken Britain. Britain is not broken, but it soon will be. It is also well known that anti-social behaviour and general social ills are created and fuelled by poverty, bear in mind that there are always exceptions to the rule. So to ‘fix’ broken Britain what is needed is investment in education, as the great liberator, and welfare to work schemes as well as maintaining the welfare and universal benefit system – means testing might be a better option than an arbitrary reduction.

The ‘Free’ schools are another name for Grammar Schools but free from state control and therefore able to select pupils thus further damning children from poor areas. I, separate from Oldfield-Pike, advocate a fully comprehensive education system so that there is not two-tiers within the education system.

The perceived result of the Browne Review, set to announce tuition fees to £10,000, coupled with the governments reduction in funding for Higher Education will inhibit the majority from applying to go to University and will reduce the calibre of the institutions for those that do. Now, more than ever, do we, as a country, need to push for greater investment in education or we risk falling behind the rest of the world in teaching and research.

The Coalition government wants to get people into work and off the benefit system but the way they are approaching it can only spell disaster. The welfare to work programmes have been scrapped which means relying on the voluntary sector to provide the programmes through the ‘Big Society’, but, because public spending is being cut across the board, there is not any money for charities etc. to provide for these welfare to work schemes thus trapping them in the poverty cycle with their children and their children’s children ad infinitum.

Is it Time to Bring Back the ‘old’ Clause IV?

October 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Clause IV of the Labour Party Constitution is known as the aims and values of the Party. It was altered in 1995 by the New Labour leadership in order to embrace the Thatcherite consensus in Britain.

The text of the ‘old’ Clause IV was written in 1918 by Sidney Webb and states the Labour Party exists;

“To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”

Whereas the ‘new’ Clause IV states;

“The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few. Where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe. And where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.”

The ‘new’ Clause IV is aspirational; something that New Labour would have liked to achieved but did not, much like the majority of people in this country. Aspire, but forever a pipe dream. The ‘old’ Clause IV had distinct aims and a working model to obtain these aims. However, where the ‘old’ Clause went wrong was that it was hijacked by those on the far left because it was left open to interpretation. As the author of the original Clause, Sidney Webb, put it;

“This declaration of the Labour Party leaves it open to choose from time to time whatever forms of common ownership, from co-operative store to the nationalised railway, and whatever forms of popular administration and control of industry, from national guilds to ministries of employment and municipal management [which] may in particular cases commend themselves.”

Clause IV never meant to be an absolute nationalisation of industry but a common ownership of the means of production, whether that was nationalisation of key industries or a co-operative economy. It was a much clearer and, possibly, a more obtainable goal than the aspiration of New Labour rhetoric.

It is quite possible for Labour to readopt to ‘old’ Clause, but to keep it fluid and malleable so as to not fall into the trap that ‘Old’ Labour did during the latter half of the 20th Century whereby Clause IV where hijacked by the ‘hard’ left in order to bring about their vision of a socialist state. That view has no place in the modern Labour Party or in modern society, but Clause IV is still as relevant today as it was in 1918.

Categories: Analysis, Labour Tags: ,

Single sex education: Singularly divisive?

A report in The Guardian this week has revealed a surge in popularity of single sex education, especially for boys. Up until this year, there had been a five year trend towards co-educational schools (schools in which boys and girls are taught together). New figures show this has been bucked by a high proportion of parents opting for private education for their male children. The statistics show that 61% of the boys-only schools had taken more pupils this year, compared with 39% of the girls-only schools and 42% of the co-educational – or mixed-sex – schools. There are several political, social and legal concerns being raised as a result of this research – is single sex education a step in the right direction, or taking us back to the dark days of gender discrimination?

One of the strongest arguments in favour of educating boys and girls separately is the discovery of the fact that there are considerable biological differences in the ways that male and female brains function and therefore learn.

 It seems obvious, but even something as basic as the classroom environment can have a profound effect on learning. Research has indicated that something as simple as climate can have an impact; girls learn better when classroom temperature is warm, while boys perform better in cooler classrooms. If that’s true, then the temperature in a single-sex classroom could be set to optimize the learning of either male or female students. Similarly, the type of resources we use to teach can be gender specific. From an academic perspective, co-educational schools give students the opportunity to experience and adjust to different learning styles. Boys and girls can learn from each other’s approaches and learn to collaborate, each bringing their style to bear in working for common goals. This is claimed as an important learning opportunity by advocates of coeducation. For years we have been trying to reduce the inequality between men and women in terms of career choice. In co-educational schools, I think we have a better chance of achieving this.

Boys generally prefer to learn kinaesthetically, preferring physical lessons rather than sitting at a desk. On the other hand, many girls prefer the more traditional visual and oral learning methods, both of which are easier to deliver in our state education system. This can often mean we are better serving our female pupils to the detriment of boys who, parents could easily feel, are having certain learning needs neglected.

In the same vein, there is an argument that single-sex education can broaden the educational prospects for both girls and boys. This is based on the assumption that co-ed schools may have a tendency to reinforce gender stereotypes whilst single sex schools can take steps to break them down. From a curriculum point of view, this may reduce the inequalities between male and female achievement in certain areas, for example, if girls no longer need to compete with boys in a male-dominated subject such as maths, they may find it less off-putting. Equally, boys may be more comfortable with the traditionally feminine subjects like English. Indeed, there is evidence that boys and girls who have been educated in single-sex environments have a stronger preference for subjects that are stereotypically aligned with the opposite sex. We, as teachers, are often as guilty of stereotyping as anyone; we somehow automatically expect girls to like writing and boys like doing sums. It’s not uncommon to find teachers who treat girls differently from boys in maths, science, and practically-based subjects, giving them less attention and fewer learning opportunities. This kind of favouritism is impossible in a single-sex classroom, but how can we increase interest and motivation if this is the case?

Particularly within Secondary education, one of the major issues many parents have is a worry about levels of discipline and inappropriate behaviour. Supporters of single sex schools put forward the idea that we may at least be able to put the emphasis back on learning in single sex schools – that better results are facilitated as a direct consequence. Single-sex settings effectively ‘cash in’ here, as they are commonly believed to improve classroom behaviour. Hard evidence to support this view is hard to find, and it may just as easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy rather than fact-based reality. Since girls mature earlier than boys, in a class by themselves they are relieved of the consequences of the acting out that boys of the same age may engage in. Of course this is a problem that needs to be addressed, but is the solution really to remove all contact? Surely the way to overcome it is with stimulating lessons and effective teaching which is inclusive of all pupils, irrespective of gender? Advocates of single sex education claim that, to a greater or lesser extent, behaviours around sexual maturity – such as showing off in lesson time – may be reduced in a single-sex environment. At an age when hormones become prevalent, it does seem that perhaps girls and boys would both benefit from having the worry of conforming to expectation removed, but removing the opportunities for them to work alongside each other may just as easily store up problems for the future. Eventually, they will have to not only work together but also live alongside each other as part of society. How can we say we are educating the adults of tomorrow if as children we don’t provide the opportunities to develop cohesion and acceptance.  

From the proponents of single sex schools, we often hear how high the levels of achievements are within single sex education. Well, yes, often this is true. But it is very doubtful that this is the reason for their results; in England, the vast, vast majority of single sex schools are independent and private. This automatically means lower class sizes, specialist teachers and stringent admissions policies which are often selective. These factors virtually guarantee higher levels of success, and it is therefore not attributable to gender.

As a teacher, I feel strongly that one of the major aspects of my job is to prepare my children for the world into which they will become citizens who make a purposeful contribution. My issue with single sex schools, is that this is made virtually impossible because by definition they create an artificial environment. In the ‘real world’, children will never again experience anything so restrictive, and heterogenous.  In a world where we all, thankfully, promote equal opportunities and do everything we can to eradicate discrimination, how can we justify bringing children up to believe that associating purely with others who are just the same as us is the right thing to do? How can we expect children to become understanding, compassionate human beings who recognise the importance of integration if we restrict their opportunities to develop these very skills? The overriding benefit of co-educational schools is that they are microcosms of society. Since men and women are certain to interact in the workplace and in society in general, say proponents of coeducational schools, school can be an environment in which gender differences come to be understood, preparing students for life after formal education.

I fear we are spending too much time being distracted from the burning issue, that of raising achievement for all. Instead of querying the pros and cons of single sex education, what we really need to do is ensure that we raise the standard of teacher training in this country. Guarantee that no matter which school a child is being educated in, parents can be assured they are being taught the knowledge, skills and qualities needed to become a fully-functioning member of our society. To quote Guardian journalist Oli de Botton, ‘It sounds obvious, but boys (and girls) will do better if they are taught better by teachers who understand their individual needs. That means skilled practitioners using the curriculum creatively to engage and excite every single child in front of them – regardless of their gender.’