Monday, 16 July 2018

Public schools and exams

Yes, Eleanor Doughty, many do feel aggrieved by public schools, "with their charitable status", "old boys` network", and "often excellent results", but its got nothing to do with the Tory idea of "politics of envy" (Looking confident takes you a long way, 14/07/18). It has far more to do with unfairness. We are now learning more about schools in the public sector entering their pupils for IGCSE and Pre-U examinations, both organised by Cambridge Assessment, which is not a member of the Joint Council for Qualifications which monitors all other exam boards. A recent FOI request revealed Pre-U results with huge percentages of entrants obtaining A/A* grades. 
 Our state-funded universities should be forced to accept only A-level grades as entry qualifications. Why should public school pupils be given even more advantages than pupils from our seriously underfunded state schools? 

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Shame on Oxbridge!

Shame on Oxbridge (A degree of separation, 07/07/18)! How many students like the brilliant Michael Donkor have the Oxbridge colleges rejected because their A-level grades, gained in underfunded state comprehensives, didn`t quite match those achieved by the over-privileged 7%? How many did they put off from applying with their outmoded admissions procedure, unsympathetic interviews, and their obvious preference for white, upper-middle class students? The sooner a government has the courage to limit universities to accepting only 7% of their intake from public schools, the better!

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Guardian letter on Pre-U results

With the independent sector continuing to use IGCSEs, it is little wonder that concerns have been reignited "among some heads that the state-private divide will widen" (Opinion: The saga of the IGCSE: if it`s good enough for Eton, why not for my local school? 10/07/18). "Competing equally for the best university places" is clearly a government policy that is dead in the water.
        A-levels are also being sidelined by many public and high-achieving state schools which opt instead for Pre-U examinations. These are set and marked by teachers in the independent sector, are not regulated like other exams by the Joint Council for Qualifications, and, like IGCSEs, are run by Cambridge Assessment; they first came to light with last year`s cheating scandal (Winchester college suspends teacher over exam cheating claims, 28/08/17).
      A Freedom Of Information request revealed that History was the most popular Pre-U  examination last year with independent schools; of the 745 entered, 451 were awarded distinctions, the equivalent of A*/A grades; that`s 60.5% of the entry, compared to 23.4% gaining the same grades at A-level. For English Literature, a massive 74.9% of the entry received the equivalent of A*/A grades at Pre-U, compared to the A-level percentage of 24.8%.
   The Physics figures were 65.8% compared to 29.6%, Maths 67.7% as opposed to 41.8% at A-level. In the less popular subjects the percentages of top grades are even more remarkable; Spanish Pre-U 82.6% compared with A-level`s 34%, and Music 78.6% compared with 19% at A-level.
      Looks like IGCSEs are not the only "easier exams" being taken by private schools "to boost their chances of top grades and places at the best universities". 

Friday, 6 July 2018

Austerity still ticking Tory boxes

Brexit has, as Helen Lewis rightly says, "poisoned our politics", but, sadly, it hasn`t led to the Tory party "immolating everything it supposedly stood for" (Out of the Ordinary, 29th June, 2018). Austerity, despite its subservience to the need to "buy off" the DUP, is still being used as the excuse to shrink the state. Even when Theresa May wants us to believe in Tory generosity and compassion because she is allowing a £20m cash injection for the NHS, her mendacity does not end with the "Brexit dividend". Apparently, it led to Hammond telling cabinet "colleagues" that extra funding for all other departments was now out of the question. But £20bn extra for any public service does not mean that the same amount has to be raised by additional borrowing or taxation.
             That £20bn will go into generating extra economic activity, and by creating more jobs, increasing incomes, and paying contractors, tax revenue of the government will increase. The current average amount of tax received by the government is, according to economists, 35% of GDP, which means the government actually only needs approximately an extra £13bn. When the so-called multiplier effect is taken into consideration, that figure is even further reduced, with people`s increased spending adding more in taxation to the Treasury`s coffers.
       This is hardly rocket science, but governments fail to inform the electorate of the true figures, fearing damage to their reputation for benevolence. Our Brexit-besotted media might be suffering from austerity-amnesia, but the Tories` belief in austerity most certainly has not been sacrificed! Brexit grabs the headlines, but privatisation, landlordism, de-regulation, academisation, selection and CEO pay ratios of 130:1 are all far from suffering immolation; they, along with austerity, are still ticking Tory boxes.

Unpublished: From Cameron and penalties, to Buck House, and more

Actually, Mr Cameron, as history should have taught you, "England and penalty shoot-outs" do "go together" (Quote of the day, 05/07/18). What "don`t go together" are prime ministerial leadership and referendums, something apparently, even the most expensive education in the country did not teach you.

Now that we have an approved word for "rude or obnoxious persons", can Guardian letter writers feel free to use it when writing about the people responsible for the callous austerity cuts, the underfunding of all public services, under-investment in all areas of the UK except London, and the refusal to end tax avoidance and evasion (Dyer cuts through Brexit bluster, 30/06/18)?

As the public is coughing up an extra £30.4m for the Queen to refurbish Buckingham Palace, would it not be a good idea to let the public see, without charge, the "10,000 works of art" being "decanted" whilst the work is in progress" (Palace refit to see 10,000 artworks moved for safekeeping, 28/06/18)? Rather than relocate them to other "parts of the palace or other parts of the royal palaces estate", how about sending them out to other parts of the country, or are they all regarded as too unsafe?

Your editorial states that "in their different ways, both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have tried to ignore the half of the country that voted to remain in the European Union", but this is as misleading as the Brexiters` propaganda (The weekend pro-Europe demo should give MPs courage to set the terms, 26/07/18).Taking into account the 72.2% turnout at the referendum, the fact is that only 37% of those eligible to vote supported leaving, with 35% against, hardly "half of the country"!
     What the figures above do reveal, however, is that there is a strong case to be made for a second vote, and that politicians, mostly Tories and their right-wing media friends, are totally ignoring the wishes of the 28% who chose not to vote. Isn`t democracy meant to be governments ruling on behalf of all of the people, not just a random 37%, and especially not merely the ones who voted for the party elected to govern?

First we have Philip Green, whose greed and corporate chicanery allowed the BHS pension fund to build up a deficit of £571m, who is a known tax avoider, and whose behaviour meant the loss of 11000 jobs, claiming that "serious and potentially irreparable harm" might be done to his reputation if publication in full of a watchdog`s report goes ahead (Green seeks to gag critical report on BHS scandal, 22/06/18)!
 Then there`s the news that resident of Monaco, Lewis Hamilton, is actually "very patriotic" and proud to be a Brit", so proud, as the Panama Papers revealed, he had to use an Isle of Man scheme to buy his £16.5m private plane in order to avoid paying VAT (Passionate fan Hamilton looks to England for his inspiration, 22/06/18).
     It`s clearly not only Tory politicians who are taking  us for mugs!

Looking forward to reading expert analysis and discussion about the north-south investment gap, with Labour`s decision not to support the government`s plans for a third Heathrow runway, and Lisa Nandy`s revelations to the House of Commons about ministers being warned of "impending chaos" on the Northern rail network two years ago, I was disappointed to find that there was no mention in my newspaper of the subject at all. There were, however, two pages devoted to Royal Ascot! 
Can we leave the playing of the "race card" to right-wing politicians, please?

Monday, 2 July 2018

Investing £20bn in NHS is cheaper than we think

Prime Minister, Theresa May really did "make much fanfare about a 3.4% funding boost" for the NHS, trying to get the public to believe in the myth that is "Tory compassion". Not only did she want us convinced the NHS funding crisis would be solved, when the truth is that a 5% increase at least is necessary for the UK to "keep up with other modern societies", but also that extra borrowing, or the much more likely extra taxation would be needed for the government to be able to afford the £20bn.
     This is, quite simply, a con!.If £20bn is to be invested in any public service, much of the initial sum gets back to the government via taxation. Much of the £20bn will be spent on new jobs, extra pay or new contracts, and all of these will involve the payment of taxation which, of course, goes back to the Treasury. Apparently, according to tax expert, Richard Murphy, the average amount of tax received by the government is 35% of GDP, so when the government "invests" £20bn, all it really needs is approximately £13bn.
     Even that figure is too high, because of what economists call "the multiplier effect"; this refers to the extra money spent as a result of the new jobs, increased pay and contracts, which in turn generates more income for the government through direct and indirect taxes.
       The Labour party should be pointing all of this out to the public, as they must know the mainstream media will side with the government. Funding the NHS to the tune of an extra 5% annually is far more manageable to a rich country like the UK, when the extra taxation thereby generated is taken into account.
  The Tories have been conning us about the affordability of public services for too long!

Friday, 29 June 2018

RBS sale a disgrace

As Unite national officer, Rob MacGregor says, the sale of RBS shares, at a loss of £2bn to the British taxpayer, is "a betrayal of public finances". It`s even worse than when George Osborne sold RBS shares to Tory friends in the City in 2015, which the National Audit Office calculated cost  a mere £1.9bn!
     Hammond`s sale begs obvious questions, not just about this government`s economic competence, but about its failure to pursue any policy which hints of morality. Notwithstanding its support for privatised banks, selling shares at 271 is bad enough, when closing price the night before was 280.9, but coming after healthy profits of £752m for 2017, and plans to close 162 branches, both signifiers to investors that share prices will rise soon, has to be seen as dubious, to say the least. As soon as the political situation in Italy calms down, shares on the stock market will rise.
    What further evidence is required to show that this government has gifted the City another £2bn, some of which it will hope gets returned as Tory donations, and all of it belonging to the taxpayer!