Friday, 20 October 2017

Question Time needs changing!

Roger Mosey makes many pertinent points about the future of Question Time, paricularly that the BBC is "right to try to renew its relevance" (Off the Air, 13th October, 2017). Also sensible is, as "these are serious times", that there is little room for celebrities and such-like on the panel, but plenty for experts; when, for example, the Education Secretary guests, why not also include an experienced examiner, headteacher, or union leader? Doctors or surgeons when Secretary for Health is on?  
  Mosey, however, misses an important point: viewing figures are not going to increase significantly unless some radical changes are made. Regardless of how "adept" Dimbleby is, a new format requires either a younger chair, preferably female, or  different guest chairs every week. Scheduling the programme against Newsnight has always seemed ludicrous, as is the idea that "the multiplicity of minor parties" demands panel representation; Ukippers have spoilt too many editions already! Studio audience participation could be enhanced by the use of electronic voting devices, whilst the wider audience could be involved by asking them to follow @bbcquestiontime on Twitter, and responding with retweets, or not, after every question. 
 As for the getting the "excellent This Week", to "move earlier", Mr Mosey!! There is nothing like the sight of opposing politicians cosying up together, whilst earning a fat fee, to put young people off politics for ever!

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Every day is bad for PM

Why John Rentoul should think that Wednesday this week was an especially "embarrassing day for Theresa May" beggars belief (Voices, 18/10/17).  Admittedly she carelessly answered "Yes" to Corbyn`s request that she "pause universal credit", and her government agreed to last week`s Labour demand for a "freephone helpline for claimants". There was also also  the expectation that Tory MPs be "instructed not to take part in the vote" at the end of the universal credit debate, but whether this makes for  a particularly bad day for May is doubtful.
           We have a prime minister so divorced from reality she recently made a statement claiming that there is a "great prize" awaiting us after Brexit, when the UK will become a "great global country"! Theresa May even admitted she thinks she will still be Tory leader in 2022! How embarrassing can she get?
  Her government`s uselessness in foreign affairs results in arms being sold for use in Yemen, and offers nothing to ameliorate political and humanitarian catastrophes. Sucking up to Trump, rather than criticising him for his crassness, goes a step further than shame and humiliation. 
  At home, shortages of hospital beds, teachers, GPs and nurses, prison and police officers, firefighters, food and buildings` inspectors, HMRC staff and more, exacerbate problems caused by decreased funding for local authorities, and the many caused by government-enforced austerity policies and real-wage cuts. If she is not embarrassed by all of this, she should be ashamed of herself.
     One of the the troubles is that May`s rhetoric knows no bounds, and ever since the Downing Street speech in July last year, she has done nothing to lead a government  "driven" by any interests other than those "of the privileged few". The "burning injustice" that is the lack of parity funding "between the south-east and the north", amounting to £59bn over ten years, is not going to be remedied by her government with a record of disastrous cost-cutting,  and which has already committed to Crossrail 2, rather than the electrification schemes across the north, which were promised in the Tory manifesto.

    History shows that the Conservative party is based on preserving the riches, property and benefits enjoyed by the wealthy, who in return become party donors. Businesses have their regulations reduced by Conservative governments so that they can make more profits, and in return, help to fund the party. As a result, corporate excess, greedy landlordism and lack of sufficient regulation on the financial sector are problems never likely to be tackled by May`s government. Every day in office is an embarrassment, and Wednesday was no more degrading than any other day!

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Too much mis-remembering

Will Hutton misses the point when writing about there being "too much remembering" (Endlessly refighting old wars does nothing to heal a fractured present, 08.10.17). Catalans wanting independence, just like the residents of eastern parts of Germany who voted far-right, have memories of their past which are not "inflated" as Hutton calls them, but so vivid they cannot be forgotten. History is always manipulated by politicians to suit their own ends, but when its justification is "ethnically based superiority", it becomes dangerous.
 What Hutton omitted to mention is that for many in Britain the memory of the fight against fascism is not just "over-remembered and over-deified", it is inaccurate, something that our governments have been keen to encourage, and has led to a preponderance of feelings of national pre-eminence. It is clearly a case of too much mis-remembering. The idea of "Britain alone" overcoming the Nazis is still being perpetuated, even on the cinema screens. Then there are the myths about the British empire acquired to spread civilisation, regardless of the massacres and atrocities, slavery and torture. Why else would millions of documents either have been destroyed or hidden away from the prying eyes of historians? The "glorious past", a time of economic growth without the need for European co-operation and immigration, did not exist.
  It is never "a time to forget and move on", as Hutton concludes. The mythology certainly needs to be scrapped, but the truth, especially in 

Labour should end Pre-U examinations

Few, if any,will have any problems with Labour`s promises to "radically transform Britain`s education system", and that "teachers would be at the heart of it". Most of the problems which have developed since Gove`s outrageous abandonment of advice from experts could have been avoided had the then Secretary of State listened to teachers.
 There is today, however, one very secret area of the education system which involves teachers very heavily, though sadly the teachers in question belong to the private sector. Who knew, before the recent scandal involving examination-cheating at Eton and Winchester, that there existed examinations taken by privately-educated students in this country, which were equivalent to A-levels but not the same, and whose grades are recognised by universities as entrance qualifications? They are called Pre-Us, and often include questions set by teachers in the private sector, who also mark them.
     With no limits to the proportion of students universities can enrol from private schools, only private sector pupils taking these examinations, and independent school staff, in many cases, actually setting the examinations, the current post-16 assessment system is both unfair and flawed. 

     On the Pre-U website, Winchester College recommends these examinations for use by other public schools, because they "are very liberating for teachers". I bet they are!
 Having taught A-levels for over forty years, and being "unliberated", I knew nothing about the existence of such examinations, and I doubt if many of today`s teachers in state schools realise that their students are actually competing for top grades and university places with privately educated pupils whose "A-level grades" will have been earned in a rather different way. Imagine how easier teaching becomes when, for example, having to cover three hundred years of history, and knowing which questions will be on the paper, even if no actual "cheating" is involved! How many state-school students have been denied access to their first choice university because of better grades achieved in these A-level substitutes?
    Labour must ensure these "examinations" are no longer viable as university entrance qualifications immediately!

Friday, 13 October 2017

Manipulated history and Brexit

Last week`s Leader mentioned the important role history is playing in the current issue of Catalonia`s independence (The Spanish crisis, 6th October, 2017). The "feeling of hurt" after the oppression the Catalans suffered during the Spanish Civil War and Franco`s dictatorship "has never gone away", and allying this with economic resentment has led to the demand for a referendum.
   Strangely, the Leader did not see fit to compare this with the UK`s current crisis. That similar economic frustration was an important factor in the Brexit decision is irrefutable, but Britain`s struggle against the fascists also played its part, albeit rather differently. Our manipulated version of history has given many Britons an aversion to the idea of European co-operation, having been led to believe "Britain alone" defeated the Nazis, that the empire existed to spread civilisation, and that our "glorious past" showed the economy could flourish without immigration. 

     British governments have allowed historical files, which would correct inaccurate history, to remain secret, and they must share responsibility both for creating a general belief in our mythological past, and for the utter confusion which now abounds. 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

SATs (and "trick questions") should be abolished

The fact that "music, drama and art embedded into every part" of the day in a Bradford primary school has produced a remarkable "turnaround" in results in all areas of the curriculum illustrates perfectly the importance of enjoyment as a hugely important factor in learning (The secret of great SATs results? Extra music, and lots of it, 03/10/17). How encouraging it is to see children`s mental and social development being given top priority, and massive congratulations must be given to all involved.
      At last, children`s welfare is clearly beginning to feature more prominently in some educationalists` thinking. Sadly, however, its prominence was lacking when the SATs assessors decided that asking a question like this at Key Stage 2 was either appropriate or useful:
   A bat and ball cost £1.10 in total. The bat costs £1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
    It`s plainly ridiculous to put young children under stress with unnecessary testing, but the inclusion of such "trick" questions makes the call for the abolition of SATs even more urgent. 

Sunday, 8 October 2017

On Tories` unsuitability to govern

Andrew Rawnsley mentioned how a  "strategic dilemma" for the Tories is causing "fresh division within their ranks" (Roll up, roll up to see whether Theresa will flop in the big top, 01.10.17). The realisation that they clearly need to make some proposals which will have significant impact, and persuade young people, in particular, to turn away from Corbyn, is countered by those who think "they will never outbid " him when it "comes to spending money". This, however, is not their main problem. The real "dilemma" for the Tories is that they have allowed the lobbyists and donors to have far too much influence on policy, particularly in recent years, something which hasn`t caused problems, because cutting costs and limiting regulation has suited the lobbying industry just fine. Cameron`s pledge to reform the "scandal" of the "far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money" merely resulted in a register being set up, typical of his disingenuity.
  Now that public opinion has finally turned in favour of more regulation, public ownership, and fairer taxation, the Tories can no longer remain the small-state libertarian party of recent years. How much longer can Tories allow lobbyists to water down their proposals which would allow worker representation on company boards (unlike the CBI-approved non-executive directors), more affordable and social housing being built, control to be taken of the gambling industry, tenants being ensured fair rents? The answer is probably indefinitely, because of the party`s reliance on funding and support from these vested interests. 
   A possible alternative, to promise transformational changes in the public sector, appears beyond their scope of thinking. Introducing sensible pay ratios, capping top salaries, ending gender pay gaps, allowing considerable pay increases to end recruitment crises in education and health, limiting government contracts to non-tax -avoiding companies, reforming the honours system, all are being allowed to become Labour priorities. 
  EU leaders might well have "deep doubts about Mrs May", but the real doubts should be about the Tories` suitability to govern.