THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

Posts categorized "Education" Feed

STOP PRESS: Robert Peston has a good idea

Robert Peston sends star speakers to state schools | Education |

One of the things I most enjoyed about Cheltenham Ladies' College, my daughters' private school, was Speech Day. Partly because the then Principal had a wicked sense of humour and gave an hilarious, but still informative, account of the year's events. But mainly because of the 'old girls' who came back and gave, for the most part, very inspiring talks. Nothing could have been more empowering than for the pupils to see what girls before them had gone on to achieve. I said to Mrs P. on one such occasion that it was a shame our old school, a bog-standard comprehensive up North, didn't ask former pupils back to speak. I remembered how little idea we had of the world's possibilities at that age and imagined how it might raise the aspirations of kids like us to hear about interesting lives. She observed drily that 'no-one remembers we were there so how can they ask us back?'

Private schools have an ethos, a history and a need to maintain contact with pupils and their families for marketing and fund-raising. State schools don't. Not only do they have no incentive to tell the world what a good job they do, they are under no pressure to be any good. In the topsy-turvy narrative of the state sector, outcomes are determined by social conditions. Success and failure are mere accidents to be equalised. They have nothing to do with talent or effort. Given such a world-view, it's amazing that any state schools do great work. The occasional inspiring leaders who make that happen deserve to be national heroes - not treated with suspicion by their 'right on' professional colleagues.

I have encountered many interesting jobs in my professional career that I had never heard of when I was at school. As the teachers had effectively never left school, they were no help in this respect. The idiot careers teacher even suggested Mrs P join the local electricity board as a telephonist. How epic a fail was it to recommend a job that would shortly cease to exist anywhere in an organisation that was about to be abolished? But she was a working-class girl from a council estate. Her life outcomes were socially-determined. For her to do better than end up on the dole would have undermined that all-important narrative.

Not to cavil, because I am genuinely pleased by Peston's scheme, but the one flaw is that it's not going to match speakers with their own schools. It's much more confidence-inducing to meet someone successful who once sat in the same classrooms as you. For example, it's great that the Prime Minister has volunteered to take part. I congratulate him, but will it really be empowering? It may only confirm the self-destructive ignorance of the public sector narrative. There's nothing wrong with Eton, you understand. It's a great school. If the Misses P had been Masters P, that's where we would have sent them. But surely the last thing Eton needs is to perpetuate the legend that it can put rich buffoons into positions of power?

Criminals suck

Apart from the anti-intellectualism of my Northern school-mates, the worst thing about my school was the way the bad children set the rules. Not that misbehaviour was rife. Those were the early days of the comprehensive fiasco. My "high school" had been a tough secondary modern a year before I arrived and the senior people in charge were serious disciplinarians. Radical leftist young teachers (like the one who issued A, B, C, D and E grades in rotation in protest against "elitism") were still waiting their chance to create today's shambles. Still, school trips were suspended for a while because some bad boys ran amok on an excursion organised by a well-meaning, ineffectual teacher. We shivered outside at break times because a minority would otherwise trash the place, smoke in the toilets (or use them for the traditional bully's version of waterboarding).

I never expected it to spread to the adult world. Yet now, just as in school, the criminals, idlers and wasters are a minority, but everything seems to be done with them in mind. They set our insurance premiums and force us to buy the safes and security systems our insurers demand. Decent adults are afraid to interact healthily with children for fear of being confused with paedophiles. We are all ruled on the assumption that we are like the worst of us.

This week I collected some medicines for my sick wife. They are controlled drugs. We recognise that we are pretty unusual for our generation in never having used drugs recreationally, but we just haven't. Until quite recently, we have generally been quite happy with our reality. Yet the palaver involved in collecting those drugs, duly prescribed, was ridiculous. Mrs P. is not well enough to hang around pharmacy counters, so I had to identify myself and be logged as the person taking possession of this dangerous stuff. The meds were brought out in a bag with a warning tag the size of a table tennis bat announcing their nature and reminding the pharmacist to register them in a special book. While a lady in pain waited, we went through a rigmarole that certainly wasn't for my protection. In fact the security theatre exposed me to a far greater risk of being robbed. Because the drugs make a pharmacy a target for thieving addicts, some were held at a secure remote location, causing a 24 hour delay. Mrs P had to endure a day of unecessary pain because - just as in our comprehensive school - the rules were set by the worst people around us.

Of course, if the drugs were legal, addicts could buy them cheaply, in pure form, from Boots. They need not conceal their habit from their medical advisers or families. The drugs could be taxed just enough to cover the cost of treating addiction, while remaining cheap enough not to stimulate crime. There would be no need for the nonsense that wasted my time this week and, far more importantly, caused such unecessary pain.

I hate criminals. And I hate politicians who criminalise unecessarily. If no individual (or his property) is genuinely at risk from another person's conduct, it should not be a crime. For so long as the stupid "war on drugs" continues, however, the bloody criminals are - as usual - hurting all the people around them, not just their immediate victims. God rot them, one and all.

Call them fees. Call them taxes. Call them bananas, if you like.

Scrap tuition fees? Yes we have | John Hemming | Comment is free |

Had this proposed new system applied when I was 17, I doubt I would have been the first member of my family to go to university. As my life has turned out, that would probably have been a bad economic decision, but I could never have known that. At that age, given my background, I didn't even know my career - as a partner in a City law firm - existed. The only lawyer I knew was a shiny-trousered specimen who practised family and criminal law on the high street of my impoverished Northern town. I doubt he earned as much as the skilled tradesmen in my family. I thought I was going to be him.

Had I chosen a building trades apprenticeship instead of a redbrick law degree, I would have thought my earning prospects just as good. Deploying even my untutored intelligence into small business, I might actually have earned as much or more as I have. I could certainly have been confident of earning as much as I expected to earn from a degree-enabled career. The prospect of paying an extra 10% (over and above already progressive taxation) on earnings above 21k would therefore have been a deciding factor.

Bear in mind I was considering a vocational degree in law, not archaeology or some other such impoverished, noble field. As a non-graduate entrepreneur the opportunities so to structure my life as to minimise other taxation would have been greater. Without the benefit of a degree in petty quibbling, I doubt if I would have worried quite so much as commenters to John Hemming's linked piece whether the cost was labelled "loan repayment," "graduate contribution" or "graduate tax". To the young, intelligent but unindoctrinated me, it would just have been money I would get to work for and not keep.

My own life might have been more or less economically rich. I don't, and can't know. I do know however, that I would have created far fewer jobs, touched far fewer business lives and paid far less tax. I might personally have done better or worse. The wider economy would have done worse, because my talents would have been wasted. That is why this proposal is so very wrong.

It may seem harsh, but the best way to finance higher education is for students (and/or their families) to pay full economic fees; especially if that harshness is mitigated (as in the United States) by privately funded scholarships for the intelligent poor, as well as student loans. One of the best-educated men I ever worked with was the Harvard Law School grad son of a Polish-American janitor. He got the real Ivy League deal on a scholarship. No taxpayers were harmed in the making of his high-powered career. I got a half-arsed redbrick education from a shabby bunch of Marxists who spent three years trying to persuade me that ambition was immoral.

Don't try telling either of us that European-style socialism extends opportunity to ordinary boys and girls

My view has nothing to do, however, with the envious, Vince Cable-ish, nastiness informing the current debate. Nor has it very much to do with the (highly uncertain) economic returns to students as individuals of most (non-Harvard Law) degree courses. It's about allowing the market to do the one thing it's good at; pricing economic choices. Of course, I hope lots of them would choose to study archaeology, Mandarin Chinese and other noble things that don't lead to high earnings. Nor would I mind if they made ignoble, economically-stupid choices like "media studies". I would just like them to make their choice as rationally as possible, in the full understanding that they can't expect others to pay for it.

Call them fees, call them taxes, call them bananas if you like. It's not what they are called, but the effect they have on our life-choices that matters. Of course no mechanism can price the wonderful uneconomic benefits to an individual of higher education. Of course people should (and would) study stuff for the love of studying it. Economic benefits, however, can and should be priced. The bill should ultimately be delivered to the person who chooses to buy, and he or she should keep the benefits, if any, of the purchase.

Since the average British graduate only earns 75,000 pounds more in a lifetime than the average non-graduate, I suspect (as the Socialists never take into account) that the universities would face more pressure on their pricing from the market than from any government.

The Guardian gets it, at last

Hideously diverse Britain: School success – the Chinese way | UK news | The Guardian.

Whenever anyone told us that certain ethnic groups do badly in school because of discrimination, my wife and I asked (based on her experiences teaching in state schools) "...if teachers are conventionally racist, why do Chinese pupils do so well and white working class children do so badly?"

Now, even the Guardian seems to get the point.

The national average for pupils in 2009 who were eligible for free school meals and achieved five or more A* to C GCSE grades including English and maths was 26.6%. British Chinese pupils in the same category achieved 70.8%. In other groups, there was a wide attainment gap between the poorest and the most socially advantaged pupils. The rates for poorer and better-off Chinese pupils differed by just 2%. So they do better, and social deprivation doesn't seem to hold them back. Why is that?

Cutting through all the condescension in the linked article, the answer is simple; the parents. What is more it's hard to argue (unless you are unconventionally racist) that there is anything Chinese parents do that other parents couldn't do just as well.

Not only is the racism industry a self-serving scam that harms the people it purports to protect, but - joy of joys - the idea that social deprivation determines life chances is stupid and dangerous too. What a life-enhancing, liberating insight! There's no need for any parent to blame others for their childrens lack of achievement. They can just show up to their parents' evenings, encourage them to do their homework and generally make it clear to them that education matters.

Who knew? Well, obviously the Chinese - and every other parent uncorrupted by British orthodoxy.

To put it another way, the envy-laden, excuse-generating ideology of the Labour movement and its house rag is - and always has been - destructive nonsense. So when can we expect a change of editorial line and a thoroughgoing purge of left-wing educationalists who have trashed the life-chances of millions? Perhaps not just yet.

Compulsory debt?

Penalty for graduates who pay off student loans early - Telegraph.

This government is so much in love with debt that it wants to impose an early-redemption penalty on students who pay off their loans before they are due. That's bad enough but it's not a new idea. Long-term lenders have been known to impose contractual penalties on those who pay off their loans early, before they have had chance to make a profit. Of course, there is the slight ethical difference that it's a matter of contract. These students will not get to shop around.

The government is planning, however, to take the concept much further. They are going to penalise me for paying my daughters' university fees as they go along to avoid saddling them with student debt. Other middle class families take the relatively cheap money and invest it or pay off their mortgage. I have left it with the Treasury to be wasted in other ways. If you ask me, present and future taxpayers should be thanking me. Certainly it's pretty ripe to punish me, isn't it?

Tell me again, Polly, how this Cameron fellow is the heir to Thatcher?

I am a prudent man and generally averse to debt. For this, the value of my pension has been decimated by a stimulus programme designed to prop up those who borrowed beyond their means. My daughters (everyone's daughters, actually, not to mention their sons) have been indebted for their whole lives by the same programme. This government seems as keen as the last one for us all to be feckless chavs.

Whatever may we expect next as punishment for our financial eccentricity? Is every lender we ever failed to borrow from going to stick us with a penalty? What was it these politicians were saying about grasping bankers again?

Katharine Birbalsingh forced to resign?

Cranmer: Katharine Birbalsingh forced to resign from Church of England Academy.

Here is another test for the Slightly Less Left coalition to fail. Are teachers free to have and to express non-Left political views or not? If it is true that Ms Birbalshingh has been forced to resign, then the Minister of Education should intervene - and right vigorously.

Today, teachers who privately question the socialist orthodoxy of British state education must be feeling afraid. If this government has any cojones at all, then tomorrow it is the orthodox socialists who have cheated ordinary children of education and destroyed social mobility in Britain who will fear for their jobs. In the linked post Archbishop Cranmer calls for the dismissal of "Dr" Bishop, the "Executive Headmaster" of Ms Birbalsingh's school. I can only agree.

PS: Prodicus is on their case too. If you have a blog, I hope you will join in.

Equality -vs- Justice

Cranmer: ‘Blairite’ Headteacher with damning Ofsted inspection publicly rebukes her Tory deputy.

The wrath of His Grace Archbishop Cranmer is as hot as his departure from this life. And rightly so. The Labour Party Conference consists of little else but one Marxist teacher after another expressing extreme political views about education. That, it seems, is fine. Yet if one ex-Marxist convert to Conservatism expresses contrary views, she is suspended and publicly rebuked by her head teacher. It is wrong. Indeed it is so wrong that the head teacher in question should be dismissed for political abuse of her position as a public servant. It is time that the leftist establishment in Britain realised that its views are just that. Not gospel truth beyond all challenge, but political opinion open to contest.

On almost the same topic, a question. Does anyone remember as much attention being paid after Blair's historic (and catastrophic) victory in 1997 to the Leader of HM Opposition's choice of Shadow Cabinet members? The BBC seems to operate under the impression that the Labour Opposition is a government in exile - kings over the water waiting for usurpers to fall. Odd Ed's political antics to put his true enemies (in his own party) in their place are of little current relevance to the nation. If he had immediate plans to return to power, he would hardly have chosen a barely-numerate ex-postman to be the Shadow Chancellor, would he?

Todays' test

Top comprehensives 'more socially exclusive than grammar schools' | Education | The Guardian.

1. An actual lottery is a fairer way of choosing which school a child attends than the lottery of which family it is born into. Discuss.

2. Parents who care about their children's education will, if their few choices are removed be:-
a) Happier
b) Less happy
c) Ready to hang left-wing educationalists from the nearest lamp-post

3. Parents who don't care about their children's education will, if they are sent to a better school than they might themselves have chosen:-
a) Give a flying ****
b) Not give a flying ****

4. Removal of parental choice will affect under performing head teachers as follows:
a) increase pressure
b) decrease pressure
c) make no difference as they are tenured placemen at no risk of dismissal

5. That there are so many sink schools with poor academic records and disruptive pupil behaviours is the fault of:
a) Left-wing educationalists
b) Left-wing educationalists
c) Left-wing educationalists

6. The independent University of Buckingham has:-
a) Been infiltrated by left-wing educationalists
b) Preserved its reputation for independent thought
c) Lost all credibility as a provider of education worth paying for

What's wrong with state education

'The school's chances were snatched away' - Telegraph.

A member of the Labour Party explains... The linked article is well worth a read. I am still pondering why, having resigned as a school governor, Joanna Leapman does not also resign from the party that bears most of the blame for the situation she bemoans. Compare and contrast the head teacher she admired (now out of work);

He just did things. When he needed a classroom, he found a disused area and created one. Storage areas and medical rooms were not being used, so he brought in a builder during the holidays to knock them through. He even sold an unused kiln on eBay for school funds.

...with the candidate favoured over him by her fellow-governors. many others – [s/he] went along with the institutionalised box-ticking and consultation exercises that are squeezing the creativity and excellence out of our public services. Several highly disruptive and violent children were still in the school in the name of 'inclusion’ and had contributed to the resignation of a couple of excellent teachers.

Perhaps most telling is her observation on the recruitment process for teachers;

Candidates would only score if they said the right phrase – usually the latest educational buzz word – we had written down on our sheets.

No-one involved with British education in the past 20 years could be surprised by that.