I have some sympathy with efforts to set high standards and expectations for all pupils. However, turning the clock back twenty years and re-creating the old O-levels for some with a lesser qualification for the rest is not necessarily the way to do it.
What would be the biggest reorganisation of the secondary school curriculum will no doubt be debated widely when proposals finally emerge rather than being
briefed/leaked by the Department for Education.
In the meantime, what is interesting is the silence of Sarah Teather, the Schools Minister.
A silence that is particularly notable given the way in which other Liberal Democrats from Nick Clegg down (if such a concept makes sense) have been frothing at the mouth over Gove’s proposals.
As the Minister responsible for schools in the Department for Education, it would have been reasonable to assume that she must have been aware of the development of such radical changes.
If she did, she somehow didn’t have the political nous to realise that they might be a tad controversial and talk to some of her LibDem colleagues about them.
The alternative is that she is so completely side-lined in the Department that it calls into question what she does for her Minister of State’s salary.
So – which is it? Complicit and naive or a total waste of space?
Much as I enjoyed all the “tainted Prime Minister” stuff in Ed Miliband’s speech this morning to the Labour Party National Policy Forum, I was struck by the enthusiasm with which he spoke about local government and the contribution being made by Labour councillors:
“Labour Birmingham. Labour, in whom the people of Birmingham placed their trust in May. A Labour council changing the way we do politics with a manifesto built on 12 months of conversations with the people of this city. A Labour council improving our society with 5,000 new homes a year. And a Labour council changing our economy by paying at least £7.20 to every city council worker. A decent living wage.
And let us recognise the work of every Labour council making a difference in tough times. Liverpool’s new Mayor Joe Anderson and h is council that is building 2,500 homes. Manchester keeping open its Sure Start Centres. And Newham, standing up for tenants against unscrupulous landlords.
Labour councils whose examples will inspire our next manifesto. And let us applaud them for their work.”
Here at last is a recognition that Labour local government can be in the vanguard of delivering effective public services that meet the needs of their communities, that Labour local government is not something to be apologised for but is Labour’s future, and that the platform for winning future General Elections will be found at local level.
Michael Gove is to announce a new primary school curriculum.
Apparently, this will involve five-year-olds being required to learn poetry by heart and recite it aloud. According to the Telegraph:
“Education Secretary Michael Gove will promise a new focus on the traditional virtues of spelling and grammar when he sets out his plans for the teaching of English in primary schools later this week.
At the same time, Mr Gove will put forward proposals to make learning a foreign language compulsory for pupils from the age of seven.
Under his plans, primary schools could offer lessons in Mandarin, Latin and Greek as well as French, German and Spanish from September 2014.
The Education Secretary is said to be determined to make the teaching of English at primary school ”far more rigorous” than it is at present. …
It will also emphasise the importance of grammar in mastering the language, setting out exactly what children should be expected to be taught in each year of their primary schooling as well as lists of words they should be able to spell.”
Whilst I am not convinced about the value of reciting poetry, nor about learning Latin and (ancient) Greek, I do think that there is much to be said for instilling the basics of language in all primary age children.
There will also be a commitment to making sure pupils have some basic skills in maths and science:
“Pupils will be expected to memorise their tables up to 12 times 12 by age nine, and be able to multiply and divide fractions by the end of primary school under a major shake-up of the national curriculum.
Using decimals and basic arithmetic are also set to be a main focus of maths lessons in the future, a move which ministers said will help to raise standards in England’s schools.
In science, primary school children will be taught about key concepts such as static electricity, the solar system and how to name and classify objects in biology.”
That too is welcome. But does it go far enough?
Earlier this year, John Naughton argued in the Guardian that:
“Starting in primary school, children from all backgrounds and every part of the UK should have the opportunity to: learn some of the key ideas of computer science; understand computational thinking; learn to program; and have the opportunity to progress to the next level of excellence in these activities. …
We need to face up to a painful fact. It is that almost everything we have done over the last two decades in the area of ICT education in British schools has been misguided and largely futile. Instead of educating children about the most revolutionary technology of their young lifetimes, we have focused on training them to use obsolescent software products”
I have just returned from seeing “Posh” at the Duke of York’s Theatre. I regret to say I was disappointed. The acting is good and the play itself is quite powerful, but the reviews and write-ups had led me to expect something funnier with more pointed satire and a clearer political message.
However, don’t let me put you off – it is still worth seeing.
And it is certainly a potent reminder of the social background and early lives of those currently running the country. The “Riot Club” is clearly based on the Bullingdon Club and you can draw your own conclusions as to who is meant to be the David Cameron or the Boris Johnson character in the play ….
My attention has been drawn to an attempt to silence a children’s play area by a former Concorde pilot – and his complaint is that it is too noisy (which is what they used to say about the planes he used to fly).
Another resident has complained that the children’s mothers “were really fat”, worse still they were “from Bracknell” and can’t control their children.
As the MailOnline report puts it:
“As a former chief pilot of Concorde, Roger Price knows a thing or two about deafening people. His supersonic airliner happily hit an ear-splitting 110 decibels on take-off and would often bring conversation to a standstill as it thundered overhead.
But the 67-year-old’s tolerance levels are clearly set a little lower when he’s in his own back yard. With rich irony, he is trying to close down a local playground because the noise from excited children is too loud. …
The former pilot claims the play area – built around 20 yards from his detached house in Ascot, Berkshire – is ‘severely disrupting’ his life.
He and his wife, Dr Catherine Bentley-Thomas, 51, are fighting a private prosecution to try to force Winkfield Parish Council to shut it.
The local council spent £150,000 adding play equipment to the village recreation field in May last year, but Mr Price said the park was attracting children from outside the area who are too loud.”
According to Dr Bentley-Thomas:
“the sound of just one grandfather pushing a child on the swings had been enough to disturb her.”
The Mail also reports that:
“The residents were accused by barrister for the council Katie Helmore of not wanting ‘children from less affluent areas infiltrating their community’.
She pointed to complaints from the residents which included that the park was ‘full of really fat women from Bracknell’ who could not control their children.”
Sorry to disillusion these killjoy residents: if you live just by a park you are likely to hear other people and their children enjoying themselves.
Perhaps they should get over it. After all, it could be a lot worse.
I know that some of my readers may find this difficult to believe, but I think I should make it clear that I am not – nor have I ever been – a very athletic person.
Moreover, for the avoidance of doubt I want to make it clear that the Toby Harris who is bearing the Olympic Torch through Walkerburn on the 14th June is not me.
He is clearly a very worthy torch-bearer. However, if any one wants to catch sight of me in a tracksuit running or jogging or even walking slowly, they will be disappointed….
However, I wish my namesake (and indeed all the other Torch-bearers) my best wishes.
As the Government potentially dilutes police accountability with the abolition of police authorities, new technology will increasingly create a new way of ensuring that the police act responsibly.
I have commented before on the impact of citizens with video-enabled mobile phones being able to post on the internet videos of interactions between the police and the public within seconds of the interaction happening. This means that some incidents that might not previously have received wide coverage now do so. This places a great pressure on the police to act responsibly at all times, even though what may be an entirely reasonable response to, for example, violent behaviour may not look so reasonable when a 10-second clip is viewed without the context of the preceding incident.
Today, however, I heard of another development that will also potentially have far-reaching consequences. Wired reports that three developers from Tulse Hill in south London have build an app that aims to give the public a way to hold the police more accountable:
“Users can upload information when they’re stopped by the police to the Stop and Search UK site, including the location of the stop, the badge numbers of the officers involved, and any feedback they’d like included. There’s also a guide to the law regarding being stopped and searched, to help educate people about their rights.
The hope is that, over time, a wider picture of stop and search powers will emerge across the country, which will in turn increase accountability over a police power which has drawn controversy in the past.”
This effectively creates a crowd-sourced monitoring system and, whilst the data will not be entirely systematic or representative, the information it produces will be a powerful tool for those who want to argue whether or not the stop-and-search tactic is being used fairly, appropriiately and proportionately.
No doubt this app will prove controversial with police officers who will feel that this is yet another impediment to them being able to do their job effectively. However, conscientious officers will have little to fear and a greater confidence in the police that may stem from better accountability can only be a good thing.
If nothing else, it should act as a spur to the Home Office and local police services to ensure that their adoption of mobile technology to properly record and document interactions with the police is speeded up.
As I have previously commented, recording such encounters is an important safeguard against the over-use or inappropriate use of the power against particular individuals or groups. It is also incidentally a safeguard for officers who might otherwise be accused of abusing the power who will now be able to point to statistical evidence of how they have used the power properly and proportionately.
I have written a short piece for the Labour Lords website.
You can read it here, but the text is as follows:
London elects its Mayor in one week’s time. The choice is a simple one. Do Londoners want someone who cares about (and will do something about) the issues that affect them, such as rocketing transport fares, falling police numbers and poor prospects for young people? Or do they want a Mayor who is more pre-occupied with costly vanity projects and using the Mayoralty as a platform to gain the Leadership of the Conservative Party?
The brilliant Labour election broadcast was attacked by the Tories for being “scripted” (since when was an election broadcast not scripted?) and (wrongly) of having used actors. The attacks were typical of a Conservative campaign that has sought to keep away from any proper policy debate or focus on what directly affects Londoners.
Indeed, what is interesting about the Tory campaign is what they do NOT talk about. Their candidate’s manifesto barely mentions the word “Conservative” – relegating it to the published and promoted by small print at the end of the page. But more significant is the failure to mention childcare or child poverty, the different faith communities that make up London, or LGBT Londoners. And black Londoners are only mentioned in the context of crime. The manifesto itself is light on policy and says little about what Boris Johnson would do in a second term in office.
By contrast, Ken Livingstone’s manifesto makes a series of striking pledges that match the concerns of Londoners. Ken has committed to cut fares – saving the average fare-payer £1,000 over four years; crack down on crime by reversing the Tory Mayor’s police cuts; and help reduce rents with non-profit lettings agency for London. The Labour Mayoral campaign promises to provide free home insulation for those in fuel poverty and campaign to force the utility companies to cut heating bills; establish a London-wide Educational Maintenance Allowance of up to £30 per week to help young people stay in education; and support childcare with grants and interest-free loans.
Ken Livingstone has also promised to freeze both the Mayor’s share of Council Tax and the congestion charge for four years and to invest in improving transport services, build new homes and cut pollution.
On 3rd May, Londoners will also be electing twenty-five members of the London Assembly whose role is to hold the Mayor to account and to speak up for the interests of Londoners. At present only eight of the seats on the Assembly are held by Labour (the Tories hold eleven with three LibDems, two Greens and one ex-BNP “other”). With the Assembly being a mix of fourteen constituency seats and eleven more “additional members” elected to achieve proportionality, there is a real prospect of the balance shifting significantly. Labour is hoping to gain Barnet and Camden where the incumbent Tory has made his name by making controversial statements and there are several other constituency seats being targeted.
With just one week to go and the public increasingly focusing on what sort of policies they want from London’s government, there is all to play for.
A powerful 90-minute drama unfolded before a packed cross-section of teenage Londoners at the Unicorn Theatre in Tooley Street (just by City Hall) this afternoon.
The drama was provided by the able cast of Hull Truck’s production (directed by Anthony Banks) of Dennis Kelly’s “DNA” with tension mounting as a group of young people try to cover up the death of one of their friends whom they have been bullying (“it was a joke – he was laughing – and crying”).
The interplay between Phil (James Alexandrou) and Leah (Leah Brotherhead) is particularly entertaining but it is the group dynamic that is absorbing.
The play was originally commissioned for the National Theatre in 2007 as part of the Connections youth theatre programme and is a reminder why financial support for the arts matters.
“DNA” is at the Unicorn until 28th April when it resumes its country-wide tour.
I have been delighted to contribute a foreword to a guide produced by my good friends at The Risk Management Group for parents to help them keep their children safe online.
The guide “The A to Z of Safe Children Online” is available here.