Monday, 25 April 2011

The Royal Wedding - the Losers

I'd like to say this: I'm quite looking forward to the Royal Wedding on Friday. Foremost among my reasons for this is the fact that, along with everyone else, I'll get an extra Bank Holiday. I shall always think kindly of  William and Kate for that. Then, of course, there will be the entertaining spectacle of the guests - famous and not-so-famous - who will be parading for the cameras. The wedding ceremony itself will be deeply affecting for very many people, and the makers of Kleenex tissues will be delighted at the thought of all their products being used to mop tearful eyes during the wedding vows.
There will, of course, be people who feel let down, excluded and alienated from the whole thing. No, I'm not going to do the familiar Leftie thing about the homeless and the unemployed. Nor will I issue dire Rightie warnings about Anarchists, Muslim extremists and Damned Bolshies.
Instead, I'll focus upon two men who have really lost out - Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Both these ex-PMs have not been invited to the Royal Wedding. One can only imagine their feelings. After all they have done to help the Establishment, this is the thanks they get! Without Tony, we might never have gone to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Without Gordon, the economy might have gone into free fall and (let's not forget) another PM might have been a lot harsher on the bankers who have caused this recession in the first place. It really is so unfair.
Never mind, To and Gord - now you know where you stand with the people you did so much to please, you can still have a day off to watch telly like the rest of us.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

"The Trouble With Education"...Again

Education in the UK has been a political football for years. Both Labour and Conservatives have attacked each other's education policies while in opposition, while making what appear to be sweeping changes when in power. Whether it's Tony Blair with his "Education, education, education" mantra, or John Major with his "Back to Basics" campaign, all politicians with an interest in education declare their intention to sort out the problems they see in Britain's schools once and for all. It has been a recurring theme at Tory and Labour Party conferences for decades. And yet, in today's Daily Mail, we read:
"Despite a doubling of spending on education since 2000, from £35.8billion to £71billion, Britain has plummeted down world rankings, according to the respected Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
During this period the UK slipped from eighth to 28th in maths, from seventh to 25th in reading and from fourth to 16th in science. It is now behind relatively poor nations such as Estonia, Poland and Slovakia."

Read more (if you can stand it) at:

As a teacher for 30 years, I am gripped by a sense of dejavu yet again. Back in the 1980s, before the Thatcher Government introduced the first ponderous (and horrendous) National Curriculum, the Government was quoting statistics that proved British children to be performing poorly in science tests compared to Japanese children. The National Curriculum that followed was an expensive, unworkable flop, with about 14 folders on every subject. They were later replaced by a single folder, but that did not prevent many hard-working and dedicated teachers ruining their health in trying to make Mrs Thatcher's folly work.
The Major years saw the creation (some would say "job creation") of OFSTED, which was supposed to be the instrument to galvanise schools into raising their standards. It certainly led to a good deal of pressure upon schools to do well in OFSTED inspections. For some teachers, as I have said before, the pressure was so intense that they committed suicide.
There have been many initiatives since, such as the Numeracy and Literacy Hours, the introduction and (optional) abolition of SATs testing and "Every Child Matters". All these schemes were usually preceded by a barrage of statistics such as the ones given above. So, there is nothing new about the "worrying" statistics in today's "Mail"; it is probably a sign that the ConDems are planning another "initiative". In the film "Apocalypse Now", the Martin Sheen character says:
"In Viet-Nam, the bullshit piled up so fast, you needed wings to stay above it".
Although we would put it in more restrained (and constrained) language, that sums up the view of many who work at the chalk face in education.
I have no access to statistics by way of confirmation, but I believe these observations of mine to be true:
1. British primary school children are not as good at Kendo as their counterparts in Japan.
2. London schoolchildren are years behind in the learning of French compared to school students in Paris.
3. Italian children are better at making pasta than British OFSTED inspectors.
4. British politicians are as adept and unscrupulous in their  use of statistics as politicians everywhere else.
I was once described as an "old cynic" by a Headteacher. Let my answer to that person be my last words here:
"There's only one thing wrong in being a cynic about education - I'm always right".

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Self-Righteous Indignation: the Daily Mail, Mrs Thatcher and Terrorism

The Daily Mail is incandescent with (self) righteous indignation. "Our Man in Washington Helped With Gaddafi's Son's "Dodgy" PhD", says the banner headline on today's edition. Sir Nigel Sheinwald, our ambassador in the USA and "a key confidant of Tony Blair", is alleged to have given tutorial support to Saif Gaddafi when The Mad Colonel's son was a postgraduate student at the LSE. It seems to have helped, because Gaddafi Junior graduated with a PhD in Philosophy in 2008. This is, claims theMail's leader writer, Michael Seamark, "...further evidence of the close links between the Blair government and the Libyan tyrant's murderous regime".
Well, I'm no fan of the Colonel, and I'm aware of the fact that a number of UK universities have received funds from Gaddafi in the past, but the high moral tone of this article is too much to take.
It may be that Blair and his cronies tried cosying up to the Libyan dictator, but the ex-PM, Mrs Thatcher, much revered by the Mail, kept some unsavoury company as well.
Back in the 1980s, during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and the USA and Britain were covertly arming the Afghan resistance - the Mujahadeen - one of the Mujahadeen commanders receiving assistance was a man called Hadji Abdul Haq. He wasn't the only one , of course, but what made Haq special was his readiness to use terrorism. In September, 1984, Haq's men set off a bomb at Kabul Airport, which killed 28 innocent people. Most of the victims were students, waiting for a flight to the Soviet Union. In March 1986, Haq was welcomed to Britain by Mrs Thatcher and later went on to visit President Reagan.Facing his critics in London, Haq said that the bomb outrage was "to warn people not to send their children to the Soviet Union". A Downing Street official said that the PM had "...a degree of sympathy with the Afghan people".
Exactly how much sympathy Mrs Thatcher had for the relatives of the 28 dead at Kabul Airport is not recorded.
I often wonder what the reaction of our press would have been if 9/11 or 7/7 had happened in the USSR in the 1980s. I very much doubt that there would have been any sympathy for the victims in papers like the Mail. As far as I'm concerned, helping with a dodgy PhD is a good deal less reprehensible than wining and dining a terrorist and a murderer. Still, as Mrs T and the Mail would no doubt say: Haq was our terrorist and our murderer.