Sunday, 10 September 2017

Time to end this lame-duck government

The situation the country is now in is both ridiculous and frightening! We have a prime minister so divorced from reality she makes a statement claiming that there is a "great prize" awaiting us after Brexit, when the UK will become a "great global country" (Tory MPs in revolt as May threatens "soft" Brexiters, 03.09.17). Theresa May even thinks she will still be Tory leader in 2022!  Her party, as Andrew Rawnsley tells us, might be willing  to put up with a "lame-duck leader", because the alternative is a "bloodbath", followed by an election defeat, but the country cannot afford such selfish Tory mismanagement and the consequent "rudderless government"(How long will Mrs May survive? She`s the very last person to ask,03.09.17).
  Meanwhile, our uselessness in foreign affairs, personified by Johnson, results in arms being sold for use in Yemen, and offers nothing to ameliorate political and humanitarian catastrophes. 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.
   Not only MPs but all those with influence, from judges to lords, from archbishops to political commentators, should, in Anna Soubry`s words, see it as their duty, to "do what they believe is in the national interest", and speak out. Enough is enough, a general election is needed urgently. Political change at the top is essential.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Vice-chancellors not worth the money

With the universities minister, in typical Johnson fashion, U-turning his view that vice-chancellors` pay is not government business, there is now a demand for "institutions to justify any salary over £150,000", with a fine the punishment for failure (Vice-chancellors are urged to rein in their salaries, 07/09/17). Most voters would welcome such a requirement for all jobs, especially as the average income is only around £28,000, with real wages for most declining.
    The trouble is universities will be able to cobble together some feeble excuses for the excessive pay with vague comments like "brings in students from abroad", and "attracts new research". The government should insist on what the vice-chancellors achieve on their own, separate from other staff, away from team work, and distinct from the collegiate approach.
 Like school headteachers, vice chancellors` success is only achieved because of the work of staff as a whole.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Let`s hear it from more dignitaries

Well done the Archbishop of Canterbury and the rest of the IPPR’s commission for speaking out about the dire situation the country is in, with worse to come (Britain’s economy is “broken” and failing to tackle inequality, says major new report). That a “radical new approach” is essential is something that needs to be repeated, and the more it is said by dignitaries like archbishops, judges, lords and business leaders, and even celebrities. The more publicity is gained, and the more likely the public and their politicians are to respond.
Challenging our Government, which has the nerve to say it is “proud of its record”, when the Brexit talks are at a standstill, there are drastic shortages of teachers, GPs, nurses, midwives, police and prison officers, building and food inspectors, carers and many more, when real wages have declined, business pay ratios often obscene, and the austerity policies continue to attack the least fortunate, cannot just be left to a Labour opposition which frequently gets a bad press in the right-wing media.
At a time when the “austerity chickens” are coming home to roost, and more and more people are appalled, it’s time a few more influential people made their voices heard. It wouldn’t hurt if that included some royals, and if protocol or custom prevented that, how about some well-publicised royal visits to food banks and hostels for the homeless?

St Olave`s and an end to Pre-Us

Refusing year 13 places to pupils who have already twice proved their academic prowess is, quite simply, a disgrace (Weaker pupils "dumped" by top grammar, 30/08/17). If St Olave`s, and any other school adopting similar policies, cannot be bothered to try and raise grades from Cs in the mocks to Bs in the final A level examination, they cannot be doing their job properly. All of their students achieved brilliant results at GCSE, so offering them the opportunity for further examination success at A level is their educational duty! Many students go on to university without top A level grades, anyway, and maximise their potential in higher education.
     Having taught A level history for over 40 years in educational establishments where results mattered, but not at the expense of everything else, as apparently happens in "exam factories", one of the most satisfying aspects of the work was seeing students improving, often by more than one grade, in the second year of the course. When management is more "intent on topping the league table", than caring for the welfare of all of their pupils, criticism has to be directed at not only the individual schools, but the system. Having school league tables based only on examination results encourages such devious tactics as those used at St Olave`s.        The sooner this country has a government which insists its schools have the well-being of all pupils as their priority the better. Perhaps a think-tank could devise "a performance measure" based on that ("It was dreadful. There were children in tears", 3/08/17)?

It was interesting to see that the statement from the Diocese of Chichester on behalf of St Olave`s school said that the aim "as a school" is to "nurture boys who flourish and achieve their full potential academically", rather than, as in most schools, to nurture their pupils in order for them to maximise their achievement (Top grammar in U-turn over ditched pupils, 02/09/17). As some of your correspondents suggested, there can be little faith in the ability of staff to raise standards, which, of course, is what they should be concentrating on (Letters, 01/09/17).
      For once, the policy of "naming and shaming" has worked, and a school cheating the system has been forced to change policy, but the revelations about the examination-cheating public schools can only be shown to have a desired effect when the so-called Pre-U examinations are no longer viable as university entrance qualifications. 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 writing the questions, the current post-16 assessment system is both unfair and flawed. 
    On the Pre-U website, Winchester College recommends these examinations, as they "are very liberating for teachers". Indeed! If the government really wants the "public to have confidence in the integrity of the exam system", as Nick Gibb says, it needs to ensure Ofqual advocates the use of ordinary A-levels in all schools. 

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

University reform urgently needed

The results of the IPPR report indicating that 134 university students took their own lives in 2015, and that as many as 26% of students in some universities "were using counselling services, or on the waiting list", are appalling (Suicide rates nearly double among UK university students to reach all-time high, study finds, 02/09/17). Far too much pressure is being exerted on our students, in 6th forms as well as in higher education, to attain the highest grades, so much so that creditable C and B grades, and second class degrees, are being sneered at.
   The current system is not designed to benefit the students, and universities are profiting, with vice-chancellors now pocketing excessive pay. The stress of leaving universities with debts of up to £50,000, and interest charged at over 6%, is clearly intolerable.

 A simple reform which could be introduced immediately is for universities to place in their publicity exact details of how many hours in each course is taken up by lectures, how much time is devoted to tutorials where academic problems can be discussed, and how much support for the welfare of the students there is. Whether there are personal tutors available, and how many, to deal with welfare issues surely is something all universities should make public. Being "overwhelmed" by the increase in mental health issues is not a viable excuse! If they are too ashamed to publish such details, they have the money to correct the situation;  they could start with capping vice-chancellors` pay, and spending the excess on employing more counsellors and personal tutors!

Monday, 4 September 2017

Too many top schools cheating the system

What your report on the grammar school which "boots out kids to keep up its league-table scores" omitted to include was the fact that the school in question, St Olave`s, insists on all entrants passing an exam at the age of 11, and also has a high threshold for entry into the 6th form (Morning Star, 30/08/17). The pupils excluded for failing to achieve 3 Bs in the interim exams had already proved themselves twice to be academically brilliant, so refusing them the opportunity to study in year 13 is inexcusable. Management, it seems, is more intent on  their school rising to the top of the examinations` league table, than giving all of their pupils the opportunity to take A levels. The welfare of the pupils matters not a jot, it would appear!
What makes this more annoying is the fact that these clever students will be welcomed at nearly all universities, regardless of whether they get grades A, B or C, and many of them will exceed expectations at higher education. One would also think that the teachers would relish the challenge of improving the grades of these pupils from the ones attained in year 12, something that most teachers find extremely rewarding.

 The current system of league tables imposed by recent governments encourages such behaviour in these "exam factories". If there have to be league tables, lets have one which concentrates on rewarding schools which aim to maximise the opportunities for all pupils, and offer them a level playing field on which to do so.

Enough is enough!

As Stephen Bush says, May`s successor "faces an uphill battle to be anything other than a brief pause before Corbyn takes over" (Politics, 25th August, 2017). We have now reached a stage where all political correspondents, apart from those stuck rigidly  on the extreme right, have a duty to urge the need for an election, and political change. The nation`s security is now at risk. Not only do we have the ridiculous situation of our government callously selling arms to Saudi Arabia knowing full well that they will be used against disease and famine-ridden Yemen, but also, as Michael Axworthy tells us, the same government is aware that the Saudis` funding for Wahhabi extremism beyond its shores is connected to "terrorist acts committed in the UK" (Islam`s great schism, 25th August,2017). We need our government to stand up to the Saudis, and if the Tories refuse, we should be allowed to elect one which will.
    Security against food contamination is also something about which May`s government is becoming increasingly relaxed, and the next horsemeat-type scandal can only be weeks away; as a result of continuing austerity policies, local authorities lack the funds to carry out their duty to test foods sold in their area, and the Food Standards Agency has been ordered to "improve relationships" with the food suppliers!
 Enough is enough! It is up to the political writers in the media to lead the charge for change!