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Soon to be Dead Ed

On Thursday Ed Miliband defied the wishes of his paymasters and called the strikes a mistake and further claimed that the Basic State Pension is enough for everyone to survive on and didn’t know what all the fuss was about. He said this as he hoisted the Hammer and Sickle flag above his £1.6 million home near Hampstead Heath.

The Unions were fuming. With the usually docile ATL issuing a fatwa on Miliband’s head – dead or alive (preferably dead). A Unison representative said they gave life to Miliband and they ‘can take it away’. Bob Crow, of RMT fame, offered to ‘crack some f***ing nuts!”

Those on the right issued as statement in solidarity with Miliband, stating that it is ‘better to be dead than red’ whilst they visibly backed away from Mr. Miliband in case the angry mob turned on them after dealing with Miliband. Have fear right wingers, they’re after you too.

Some or all of this report may have been made up.

Innovation and growth

March 28, 2011 3 comments

Innovation is a process of resource allocation. First, developmental, in that it commits resources to irreversible investments with uncertain returns. Second, organisational, in that it generates returns through the integration of human and physical resources. Third, strategic, in that it allocates resources to overcome market and technological conditions that other firms take as given.

Why is innovation important to growth?

Stagnant growth, little to no growth, is as a result of a) lack of consumption, and b) lack of innovation. While lack of consumption may be tackled through Keynesian demand-side economics – boosting the aggregate demand in an economy. This is artificial and cannot be sustained without innovation. For the reasons mentioned above, innovation is a greater driver of growth than demand-side economics.

What has innovation and growth got to do with today?

Well, if you hadn’t noticed it is a worry that Britain’s growth could stagnate. The coalition government also launched http://www.startupbritain.org – a website with useful links and information, together with corporate sponsorship, to help people to innovate and start up their own business with the drive of entrepreneurialism.

Great idea, but what’s the catch?

There isn’t one. However, many may feel that this is just another shallow gimmick by the government to get people on board with their programme. It may be, but it’s not a gimmick. It’s a step in the right direction for Britain to realise its entrepreneurial spirit. It’s something that should be applauded, embraced and built upon by all major parties, especially Labour if it is to seek re-election.

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.

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.

Unequal opportunities: How do we redress the balance?

September 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Last Monday, as part of its ‘Schools’ season, BBC2 screened a documentary by ‘Today’ presenter John Humphrys which aimed to answer one simple question with a complex approach. That question, quite bluntly, was just why do ‘rich, thick kids do better than poor, clever children’? This isn’t merely another example of ‘dumbing down’ the language of politics, indeed these labels are those of the Conservative Minister for Education himself, Michael Gove, in a statement to the Commons Select Committee in July.

Despite decades of huge levels of spending on education, we have just as high a level of striking inequality between the poor and the rich than at any other time in the last fifty years. So, where are we going wrong?

The programme centred around Humphrys’ experiences meeting key figures in the Education system.  One of these inspirational interviewees was Amanda Phillips, head teacher of a Tower Hamlets primary school, one of the most socially-deprived areas in England. She revealed something that strikes a chord amongst many of us involved at the grass roots of early years education; her teachers go on preliminary home visits to three-year-olds who have never set foot on grass, been taken to the zoo or visited a museum. Part of her philosophy which is rapidly improving the effectiveness of her school is that she made the brave decision to spend a large chunk of her budget on introducing what she terms ‘middle-class experiences’ into the lives of her pupils. This is a relatively radical but hugely impressive idea, and one with which I and most teachers I know would concur. The children of poorer parents (who are more than likely to be growing up in one of the four in ten UK households without anyone bringing in a wage) are at a huge disadvantage before they even start their formal education, a disadvantage which is virtually impossible to overcome without early intervention. There are many parents who are drawn into financial hardship through no fault of their own, and for them there is not necessarily a link between income and ambition. Lots of them will wish nothing but success upon their children, and they will do their utmost to provide as many learning experiences as they can. For some poorer children, whose parents make the lifestyle choice to live on benefits, where is the incentive to work hard and achieve when they have no role model? Our responsibility is to these children, to show them that there is a far greater future ahead than the experience they have so far, that the life of the adults they know is not the one they need to live themselves. Many of these children don’t know what a nursery rhyme is, are never taken to play in the park, even to know what the sea looks like. The standard government response from whichever party is in power at the time is to insist that public spending on education is higher than before. The colossal point they’re missing is that all the money in the world won’t reverse the problem. Yes,  financial hardship is a huge problem we need to overcome, but the real cost to their children is not a lack of means, but the poverty of aspiration.

Very often, school populations will be comprised of children who live together in the same immediate area. If these schools happen to be in an area of high deprivation, a large proportion of these children will never know anything but a life of struggle and lack of opportunities. The disadvantage they have is that unless their parents fight for a place in a good state school they become stuck in the cycle of generations of families who don’t work, and have no desire to. This is when income and wealth really come into play. The luxury afforded to the children of the middle classes is choice, the choice to opt out of the state system and give their children an education which is paid for from their own pocket. No-one can deny the opportunity being offered to these pupils – small class sizes, a vast array of educationally-enriching trips and experiences, being taught alongside the children of equally highly aspirational parents. It sounds like a Utopia. Some of the children attending schools such as Mossbourne, the country’s most successful public school, just don’t have the incentive to take full advantage of attending these schools, whilst there are brighter, poorer children who would take full advantage of such an opportunity. Scholarships are rarely a solution. They generally comprise less than a handful of the places available and only  well-informed parents have a chance of getting their children one of the treasured few. How many families really have the luxury of spending up to 25,000 per year, per child for a public school education? Of course these establishments have an important place in our system and a valid contribution to make, but the benefits of an education within them should not be allowed to supersede the achievements of a poorer child who has had to struggle far more to achieve anything like the same results. It should never be the case that a CV listing one of these schools is a lifetime guarantee of advantage. We have to prize achievement based on personal merit above anything attained through the financial assurance of others. Surely what we really need to do is bring the experiences of the richer children attending public school (enlightening school trips, focused, responsive teaching and smaller pupil to teacher ratio) to the vast majority who will never be lucky enough to receive a place.

As teachers, we have a fundamental responsibility to ensure that poorer children are given the best possible start in life. Experience shows us that the children of the middle classes will always achieve in one way or another. Even if their talents are not academic, they are likely to  attend extra- curricular clubs and activities where they are given the chance to develop self-esteem and a sense of worth. The pupils who really need our teaching, care and support are those born to parents who either can’t, won’t or don’t share our ambition for their children. Of course, this is not to say in any way this is a problem attributed to all poorer parents. There are many who through no fault of their own can’t work or have been  made redundant, and still want things for their children that they have never had themselves. Still, experience in classrooms shows that it is very often pupils born to more financially-secure parents who are the ones who have those essential ‘middle-class experiences’ such as bedtime stories,  eating meals together around a table,  learn to count to 5 before they even step foot in nursery.

Another potential solution to help reduce the gap in achievement is the grammar school. This is a controversial subject, and has rather fallen under the radar in recent times as all three main parties have chosen to distance themselves from grammar schools. Whilst in power, Labour banned the building of new ones and in 2007 the Tories announced the withdrawal of their support for them. The official line of the DCSF was ‘we don’t support academic selection’. Rather worrying when we consider that a survey by the National Grammar School Association revealed that 76% of adults support the building of new grammar schools at a time when just 164 schools out of a total of 3, 361 in England are selective. The truth is, life is entirely based on selection. We are doing children no favours bringing them up in a world free of competition. In shielding them from any form of disappointment, we are merely storing up problems for the future. In my view, grammar schools should be at the very heart of the battle to redress the balance of educational inequality. They bring together children, regardless of the income of their parents, where the only thing that counts is their ability. By attending grammar schools, the children who may fall through the cracks of a standard secondary education are afforded the opportunity to break the glass ceiling and achieve success. It also ensures that money can’t buy achievement, as will, sadly, always be the case with fee-paying, independent schools. I would much rather live in a country where the children we educate have had to work hard for their success than had their parents pay for it. We shouldn’t prevent the top 20% from entering selective education because by default the other 80% can’t attend. For the children who don’t make it to grammar school, we have a different responsibility. Formal, academic education may not be the best route for them, so why aren’t we working on alternatives that really do allow these children to succeed. Instead of spending upwards of £25 million on each new academy, why not invest that money in training schemes, apprenticeships and practical skills from the age of 11? There doesn’t have to be a one size fits all approach to education. We have to understand that the needs of poorer and richer children are not the same.

So, in the midst of conference season, it seems the Coalition’s plan is to forge ahead with more academies, at least for this political term. The effectiveness of these institutions is another debate for another time, but we shouldn’t forget that at the heart of the academy plan is devolved power. There will be no unity of thinking or ethos between schools in the community as to how to reduce inequalities, yet surely the only way we can reduce the inequality is to work together on a collaborative basis, to ensure that we meet the needs of all our pupils, irrespective of the community into which they are (un)lucky enough to be born. 

It is an uncomfortable, unfortunate truth that very often financial means go hand in hand with ambition. We need to do everything in our power to show all children how important it is to have a goal and to work hard to achieve it. For those children who come to depend on school as a sanctuary and safety net, we have a duty to raise achievement, regardless of all other factors. What we have to ensure is that our guiding principle going forward is that no matter where children come from, it is where they are going that is by far the more important belief.  We’re unlikely to ever secure an even distribution of wealth in society, but with time and shared commitment, equality of aspiration is something we can achieve.

Free Schools: Is there a hidden cost?

September 23, 2010 2 comments

In the run-up to the general election, education issues were at the heart of political campaigning. All three parties were keen to prove that a vote for them would mean improving results and more freedom for teachers. In reality, every government for the last twenty-five years has promised much and delivered little in the way of real progress. Last year, the Tories announced plans to allow parents, teachers, charities, universities and businesses to create their own schools. According to the Department for Education, “these new schools will be academies, which are publicly funded independent schools, free from local authority control.’ This is the first point of contention for many of us involved in education. Although there is always lively debate between teachers about the amount of power local education authorities have, surely it is an important feature of the education system. In real terms, it ensures that a child in a county such as Surrey, an area of prosperity and financial security has access to the same curriculum as a child born in a deprived former mill town in Lancashire. The goal of the National Curriculum is to deliver a broad and balanced entitlement to learning. Yes, it can be restrictive and it is virtually impossible to fit in its content into a 25 hour week. However, it is a fundamental building block of education upon which we can all deliver a purposeful, accessible curriculum to our pupils. Should free schools become commonplace, my fear is that we will lose our handle on maintaining standards in the name of making schools a business. Children are not commodities, yet why would any business have an interest in funding one were it not in the pursuit of profit? Writing in The Telegraph, Graeme Paton wrote that Conservative supporters of the bill claimed free schools would drive up standards and reduce the gap between achievement. Raising standards should be a priority of any teaching staff, not merely a by-product of competition between local schools. We should be working together for progress, pooling resources and ideas.

My real problem with free schools is it is yet another means by which to dumb down education. Primary education is often seen as inferior to secondary, as though teachers of older children are more skilled and better educated. This is far from accurate – teaching is a graduate profession, and in most cases, only an upper second class degree will get you through the door to interview. We spend years training, and every day of our working lives continuing to adapt to the needs of our pupils. If I were to go on a first aid course, I wouldn’t think I were qualified to perform surgery, so why do parents think that having had a child is sufficient qualification to run a school?

Payment-by-results is not a realistic part of the education system, nor should it be. Achieving targets in terms of levels reached is only one measure of success. Academic success is only one part of a child’s education. The value of the social, emotional and personal skills and attributes we teach our children is by far the bigger component. I’m far prouder of a class who, by the end of the year, have learnt kindness and consideration of other peoples’ feelings than ‘beating’ a colleague by getting better results. If external agencies are allowed to take control of schools, how can we ensure the quality of the education we deliver to our children. What about the children with a statement for special educational needs? They are never likely to reach the national average standard in a year, yet when they eventually learn to write their name after months of trying, they deserve every bit as much praise as a child who reaches the national average.

The theory behind free schools is entirely reasonable and justifiable. We have a duty now to ensure that each application should be considered upon its individual merit, and it should be made explicit that to be given the go-ahead, they have to prove the quality of education can be delivered, with the needs of the pupils at its heart, not the business or university supporting it. Yes, there are several issues with the national curriculum in its current form, yet until we have convincing evidence that free schools can deliver the best possible start in life to our children, I remain to be convinced.

Vince Cable: Professional Comedian

September 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Vince arrived at the Lib Dem Conference in Liverpool today against the backdrop of a leaked speech to the media in which he criticised Capitalism for killing competition. When he took the podium he tripped, he walked it off with a little smile thus beginning his career as a comedian.

He started listing all the people and groups of society that hate him – there’s actually a lot – and shrugged it off with a classic line: “I must be doing something right.”

And then he started pulling the comedic punches:

But I am told that I look miserable. I’m sorry, conference, this is my happy face. ‘Aren’t you having fun?’ people ask. It isn’t much fun but it’s necessary.

As for real fun, I am introducing dancing classes into the coalition. Unfortunately, I keep treading on Theresa May’s toes and my partners think I have two left feet.

But what is it like being in bed with the Tories? It’s exhausting; it’s exhausting because you have to fight to keep the duvet.

It seems that Vince may have something for Theresa May and her shoe collection – that would be the only reason why one would be interested in Theresa May, is it not?

Then Vince reverted to type and became a typical economist, and a Lib Dem one at that, which ruins my argumentfor Vince being a Professional Comedian – so I shall omit it.