"All things are wearisome, more than one can say." - Ecclesiastes 1:8

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Anti-social behaviour in schools

Someone on the staff keeps going into the toilet and dropping an enormous log into the pan and then not flushing it away. Despite the fact that this is almost a daily occurence, it always takes you by surprise. They don't even look like a human has done them...

It also makes life a little awkward. If you're in the cubicle and there's someone waiting to go in after you, you can hardly say, "Oh that's not mine, by the way.".

How are we to teach the youth of today responsibility when teachers can't even take responsibility for the contents of their own bowels, I'd like to know?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

'Bullygate'

Everyone has to have a view, apparently. Here's a selection from across the political spectrum that one is inclined to agree with:

Yup.

Uh huh.

Quite likely - not interested enough to investigate further.

Amused to see that ConservativeHome retracted an earlier story and have decided in the face of the polling evidence that no one, after all, seems to give a flying fuck if Brown is prone to the odd tantrum.

Underneath it all, there's a couple of sharp observations. Here's one from Mary Riddell in a piece that is well-worth reading in full:
"Mr Brown can win on policy. He can also, if he chooses, give Labour voters what they want, whereas Mr Cameron cannot, on issues ranging from Europe to the economy, satisfy his party's disparate demands. When it comes to character, Mr Cameron is too flexible in his credo, while Mr Brown is too unbending."
By 'underneath it all' I mean underneath a pile of bullshit pieces that claim to identify the 'real issue' behind 'bullygate'. Oh fuck off! Honestly!

The trouble with the Tories

A Guardian/ICM poll reports that the Tory lead in the opinion polls is 'crumbling' and that a hung Parliament is a distinct possibility.

There's an element of wishful thinking here, methinks - but it is certainly true, as Michael Portillo points out, that it is the Tories, more than Labour that have been hurt by the economic crisis.

Portillo - a man who knows a thing or two about indecision - identifies this as one of the core reasons. He's right but doesn't go on to identify the root of this. It has to do with a fundamental lack of confidence. The Thatcher/Howe axis of monetarism would have been in no doubt about how to approach this present situation. The Cameron/Osbourne team are less sure, which is probably just as well: the circumstances of the Howe deflationary budget can't be repeated because there's no expansion of private credit to be had that might ameliorate the effects of deep cuts in public spending - this being rather part of the problem in the first place. The aftermath of Britain's ejection from the ERM can't provide a model either because in this case Lamont's fiscal squeeze was accompanied by an expansionary monetary policy - and we've rather pushed this one about as far as it can go...

I'm not clear whether team Cameron/Osbourne understand this. Most of the available evidence would suggest that they don't and that their lack of confidence is more systemic. I've suggested that Cameron was like Blair and unlike Hague or Brown in that he understood what was wrong with his party. But this understanding is more superficial than Blair's ever was and doesn't seem to reach beyond fairly cosmetic changes to their attitudes towards gays and so on. Moreover, his party hasn't been persuaded of their need to change in the way that Labour was during its long sojourn in the electoral wilderness.

There's a more melancholy possible explanation for all this. Much has been written of the problems of the left in the press and the blogosphere. Too little attention is paid to the fact that a big part of the problem with the left is simply that in the 20th century it has been to a considerable extent a victim of its own success. Today conservatives feel the need to justify inequality in terms of liberty - without realising that they are in fact operating within the framework of political values that have been bequeathed to them by the left. Rare indeed are those conservatives that are prepared to say that they believe neither in liberty nor equality - yet traditionally this was their position. I'm wondering whether if in 21st century Britain we haven't arrived at a mirror image of this situation? The Thatcher revolution was so far-reaching that Blairism could only conceive of success by parking Labour's tanks on the Tories' lawn.

This it did and the effect has been more profound than most people suppose. The polling evidence from the last thirty years or so suggest that people never voted Tory because they believed in their social policy. It's perhaps an overstatement but people said, in effect, they may be bastards but at least they know how to run the economy. This reputation was lost when Sterling fell out of the ERM under Major and recent history would tend to indicate that they've never fully regained this.

So now we're left in the following situation. The feeling for 'change' is still palpable but the reason why this feeling isn't as deep as it was in 1979 or 1997 is because the electorate is essentially being confronted with two parties that claim to be 'progressive' but are basically both carriers of Victorian morality. The only question that remains is which lot are marginally less confused than the other when it comes to the whole business of the economy?

Not an edifying choice but I know who I'd still prefer - to which end I'd like to suggest the following to Labour as a possible election slogan: "You think we're bastards? Wait 'til you see the other lot." But for even a negative pitch like this to gain any traction, it might be an idea to call time on this sort of shit...

Monday, February 15, 2010

"Concrete jungle where dreams are made of..."

Probably failing the street cred test but fortunately I'm not a teenager so I feel free to say I'm really liking this...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Goldie Hawn to run England's schools

Ok, so it doesn't quite say that - but still...
"The Tories are in talks with foreign educational groups - including one run by Hollywood actress Goldie Hawn - to set up state schools in Britain.

Shadow Education Secretary Michael Gove says he is talking to the French government and a Swedish schools chain.

And he told The Sunday Times his team had also spoken to Ms Hawn's charity, which promotes Buddhist values."
Filed under: thank fuck I don't live in England. Meanwhile, perhaps someone can explain Mr Gove's reasoning for this?
"What we want to do, for example, is to allow organisations like a Swedish company, the International English School, the chance to come here to teach the sort of rigorous academic curriculum which too many students, particularly students in poorer parts of the country, are denied."
You have the National Curriculum down there, yes? Introduced by a Conservative government, if memory serves. Yet Mr Gove doesn't think this provides an academic curriculum that is sufficiently rigorous? Why have it, then?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Clegg sacks Tonge

This strikes me as both politically sensible and the appropriate thing to do.

She has some defenders in the thread below this. One argues that she didn't repeat the organ-harvesting allegation - only that to avoid this sort of thing, the the "IDF and the Israeli Medical Association should establish an independent inquiry immediately to clear the names of the team in Haiti."

This won't do. Try this formulation: "The IDF and the Israeli Medical Association should establish an independent inquiry immediately to investigate claims that soldiers drank the blood of Christian children". To describe it as absurd is the least one could say about it and to go on about the influence of the 'Zionist lobby', as some have already, is - how to put it? - a red herring designed to distract from the nonsensical position Tonge found herself taking.

No Mean City

We occasionally get it right...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Secularism, equality and uniforms

School uniforms; I can take them or leave them. They certainly don't do what their most ardent defenders claim they do - and P.E. teachers generally love them, which immediately makes me suspicious.

On the other hand, they are a mechanism for establishing a modicum of order in a school - and they are generally preferable on aesthetic grounds.

Anyway, here's how it appears to be working in Britain's schools today:

Teenager says, "I'll wear whatever the fuck I want!" They then 'express their individuality' by conforming scrupulously to whatever uniform their peer group has designated as 'cool'. How much of this the school is willing to tolerate is up to them but in the last twenty years they've been much more inclined to send said teenager home with a flea in their ear. This state of affairs tends to be supported by all those parents who aren't living in the 1970s, which in my experience is the majority.

If, on the other hand, the teenager says, "I'll wear whatever the fuck I want - and I've got God or the gods on my side", they often get parental support to the point of a courtroom. Then the court decides in favour of the pupil being allowed to wear whatever the fuck they want, provided this has been sanctified by religion. This then hits the national media. This particular case had to do with the supposed right to take a dagger into school... Cue 'liberal-left' bloggers talking about the problem with 'secularists' and the need for tolerance and so on. Take Dave Semple, for example:
"[The] principle – which I hold dear – is simply the notion that government should not respect any one religion over the others or over agnoticism and atheism. It is the view that the State should not attempt to impose moral values on us.

This principle is not at stake in this case."
No it is - and it touches upon another one that anyone claiming to belong to the left should also 'hold dear'. It's called equality. I say, "The world is flat" - you say, "Don't be so stupid". I say, "I believe the world is flat because God has told me so in His Book" - you say, "I respect that". This case is a species of that. It is the government - more precisely the courts - deciding that decisions based on faith are superior to those that are not. It's as simple as that.

Liberals these days...

The Liberal Democrats were facing calls last night - from me - to set up an inquiry to investigate the allegation that Baroness Tonge has been harvesting monkey scrotum for use in a face-transplant operation.



Absurd, of course - because the burden of evidence should lie with the accuser. So what I've said above is pretty outrageous. And so is this:
"Baroness Tonge, the Liberal peer, said this week that Israel should set up an inquiry to disprove allegations that its medical teams in Haiti 'harvested' organs of earthquake victims for use in transplants."[Emphasis mine]
I've mentioned this before but it's worth repeating: we've been here before...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tory education policy: 'choice' and centralisation

The Conservatives are strongly in favour of choice in general, and particularly in education where they are no doubt that it is a Good Thing that Raises Standards. The model they would like to follow, as everyone knows, is the voucher system like wot they have in Sweden. This example has obvious appeal. While they could draw on one or two other international examples, they use this in order to make points that run something like this: "Even social democratic Sweden, whose state is much larger than we could possibly approve of, have seen the light and embraced the virtues of competition in education. This in turn has led to an improvement in standards that no-one disputes. Only Luddites and the mentally-deranged could possibly disagree."

But the person who actually runs Sweden's schools doesn't appear to agree:
"Per Thulberg, director general of the Swedish National Agency for Education, said the schools had "not led to better results" in Sweden.

Michael Gove, the shadow education secretary, believes that by establishing up to 2,000 of these schools, parents would have more choice and existing schools would be forced to improve.

But Thulberg told BBC's Newsnight programme that where these schools had improved their results, it was because the pupils they took had "better backgrounds" than those who attended the institutions the free schools had replaced.

He said: "This competition between schools that was one of the reasons for introducing the new schools has not led to better results. The lesson is that it's not easy to find a way to continue school improvement. The students in the new schools have, in general, better standards, but it has to do with their parents and backgrounds. They come from well-educated families."

In Sweden, more than 1,000 free schools were opened to help children from deprived backgrounds."
I'd like to be able to say that this was a source of embarrassment to Mr Gove, the Conservative Party's putative Education Secretary. But education, like so many things, is an evidence-free debate and like George Bernard-Shaw, critically examining evidence isn't one of Mr Gove's strong suits. This is why he said, "We have seen the future in Sweden and it works. Standards have been driven up. If it can work there, it can work here."

Or was it one of the Webbs that came out with this line? I can't remember. But the allusion to Stalinist apologetics is apposite. The Tories like to strike a pose as the opponents of centralised bureaucratic control. But history teaches us they are its parents - or at least the foster carers that brought it through adolescence. And all the evidence would suggest that in the event of a Tory victory in the next election, the English should expect more of the same. For example (pdf):
"[W]e will promote the teaching of systematic synthetic phonics and ensure teachers are properly trained to teach using this method."
Phonics are a Good Thing. This is the contemporary orthodoxy. I take leave to doubt it, myself. I may well be wrong but the problem is this: Whitehall is going to over-rule the concerns of everyone on this matter? And this they have the cheek to label this freedom? This and other examples of micro-management. Is setting a good thing? I favour it - in most cases. But sometimes it is neither appropriate nor necessary. It all depends. But it doesn't matter what I think, nor any other educational professional, nor any parent. Setting has been deemed a Good Thing, therefore expect to see more of it coming to your local school soon.

Then there's to be more power to Her Majesty's Inspectorate:
"[E]nsure that Ofsted adopts a more rigorous and targeted inspection regime, reporting on performance only in the core areas related to teaching and learning..."
Because they've been so effective to date - the thing is to give them more power? With regards to this crew, I'm reminded of Billy Connolly's remark about the Queen and how she must think the world smells of fresh paint. HM Inspectors experience of educational life is like this; they are an irrelevance - always have been, always will be.

Uniforms, how children sit in the class - the Minister will decide these too. And they have the chutzpah to call this 'decentralisation'? But I've drifted rather from the point I was going to make, which is this: 'choice' is subversive to the other goals that the Tories have in education in the following ways:

1) Low expectations. It's not just the Tories that think these are a Bad Thing. But competition tends to foster this. Here's how it works: if I have high expectations of my pupils and present them at a level they might fail at, my results look bad if some of them actually do fail. If I have low expectations, they are likely to pass at the level I present them at - so my results are better because they show more passes.

2) Grade inflation. So difficult to prove - but people working in education who doubt this is happening are hard to find, unless they are being paid to doubt it is happening. Is it really too difficult for people to join the dots here? How do you compete? Show you are doing well. How do we know you're doing well? It's the results, of course. Which brings me to this...

3) Teaching to the test. The Good School gets good results. How do you get good results? You narrow the curriculum, obviously. I read somewhere the 'best' schools don't do this. I found this quite funny. And implausible. Apparently there are schools where despite the fact that people's jobs and reputations are at stake, their dedication to standards is such that they've gained an exemption from the human condition. Pull the other one...

4) Subject choice. Oh me, oh my - they aren't going for languages or sciences but opting for the 'easy' subjects instead. Uh huh - and what exactly the fuck did you expect to happen when schools are judged not on the basis of the quality of their curriculum but according to crude aggregate passes?

5) Discipline. How exactly is this measured? Up here it's based on the rate of exclusions. So - lower your exclusion rate by putting up with bullshit and hey presto! - your discipline, sorry ethos, has improved. Lunchy!

This is an empty, futile rant, I realise. If the man in charge of running Sweden's schools can be ignored, what chance does anyone else have?
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