My harrowing experience at an Outstanding Academy as a student teacher.

I’ve been passionate about working with children for over a decade. I have 7 years teaching experience, but 3 weeks in a British school on a placement, during my post graduate degree, almost put me off the profession forever. I wanted to share my story to highlight the precarious situation our education system is in, as well as prepare future students for the worst.

Advertisements

I’ve been passionate about working with children for over a decade. I have 7 years teaching experience, but 3 weeks in a British school on a placement, during my post graduate degree, almost put me off the profession forever. I wanted to share my story to highlight the precarious situation our education system is in, as well as prepare future students for the worst.

My first impression of the placement was positive. It is classified as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted in an area of high deprivation. I have always believed that education is the silver bullet for solving social inequality, so I was very excited to develop my teaching skills in this particular school.  I was involved in a week’s intensive phonics program for 5-year olds at first. This is part and parcel of every child’s experience when entering primary schools to raise literacy standards set by the government. Despite the heavy concentration on one topic for the children, it wasn’t the worst way to start my placement given the importance of understanding the teaching methods behind phonics for early learning. At the end of the week I was given a chance to be fully creative and make my own lesson plan. My philosophy with primary school children is to always attempt to have multi-sensory learning environments with lots of movement, expression and discussion, so I created a phonics lesson which I called “Tiki Phonics”. It basically involved lots of benches for balance, floor mats, teachers running around in Polynesian face masks, children having to complete obstacle challenges for laminated paper diamonds and – most importantly – articulating all 44 phonic sounds at random points. There was tribal music, paper treasure chests and a giant animated Tiki mask on a projector ( this is an example of the kind of lesson plans I like to deliver on a daily basis). After a tough week I was delighted to see sixty five-year-olds laughing and smiling, when they had previously looked run down from having phonics picture cards thrust into their face for hours on end. At the time this felt like a big confidence booster; I thought I was going to excel at this school in the same way I had done in previous education experiences.

The classrooms were pleasant enough looking, but very cramped for 30 children. During carpet time, all children sit crossed legged on the floor to watch the teacher. This is useful for reading activities or presentations . However, at least 10 of the children were spilling over the edges, but then, to my disgust, they were made to squeeze back onto the carpet. Just think about being packed onto a carpet, crossed legged, brushing shoulders with 29 other students. And these 5-year olds are expected to sit upright and silent. I observed children wriggling, poking each other, chatting with the person next to them, fighting, whilst battling with the teacher who is trying to retain control and deliver presentation-heavy lesson plans. This could be argued as necessary, but this particular school had many days which involved five and a half hours of mathematics and English lessons, with only half an hour of actual play time outside. Is it any wonder these children cannot sit still or are yearning for discussion and social interaction? Lessons in creative subjects, or ones that at least involved movement were regularly rescheduled if the children hadn’t finished enough maths or English work. To my absolute horror, children were occasionally kept inside during break and lunch periods to catch up with class work. Children who were already made to feel guilty for exerting too much energy or interacting with each other during class time, were having their one chance of proper play during the day taken away from them.

The twisted logic of the school schedule only became clear after I had started failing in this placement. Because the government now expects to see evidence of children’s progression per lesson, with the focus on maths and English, children HAVE to complete the work set out or it sets the whole school schedule of learning back. For some children you could see this was visually stressful. In this one class, at least 10 were classified as “special educational needs”, yet what most of these children need Isn’t additional support to complete classwork, they need emotional guidance and social interaction. In short, they need to play, have fun and learn how to build relationships. I can see the arguments for sticking to a process, all children must move forward with their learning, but the stress of government intervention and its narrow definition of progress, do not take into account the emotional, personal or social needs of children. Ironically, there is heaps of academic evidence which suggests personal, social and academic achievement are mutually beneficial to each other. In-fact, it was taught to us as fundamentally crucial to a child’s development during teacher-training at university

The lessons were terrifying to plan. Usually in mathematics (and the way I was trained) I start with a simple concept and develop deeper meaning gradually. For example, I start with basic addition, and for children who excel I can move them on to harder questions and look at the groupings of numbers as a quick method for harder sums. It’s a great strategy as It works in a mixed ability group and doesn’t segregate children. For every lesson in this school however, I was expected to teach five-year-olds multiple concepts in an intensive hour every day. My first maths lesson involved addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, roman numerals and measuring with rulers with 10 minutes gap between each concept to practice.

Once I started, I realised I didn’t have the full attention of many of the children and behaviour was difficult to manage, I already had the stress of forcing children to basically sit on top of each other on this tiny carpet space. So, I decided to move the children into a circle and asked each of the children to teach me the rules of the school and what is expected of them. I already was aware of these rules, but the idea was to build a relationship with the children and to have them remind themselves and each other of what was expected. The rest of the lesson went ok, children were more manageable, but it couldn’t change the fact that this kind of maths lesson had far too many concepts to learn, I think it would be tough for most adults, let alone children one year out of reception.

This lesson was being observed by a class teacher (part of our assessment process during the Post-Graduate degree). She asked me how I thought it went. I replied, explaining that despite the class not finishing the worksheet, I was happy that we built some bridges and that I think it would be beneficial for behaviour management in the future. She turned to me and said “No, this lesson is a failure, they need to finish the sheets! We are all behind now, and I’m just not sure how you’re going to be able to build up to the appropriate teacher’s standards by the end of this placement”. At this point, my confidence was completely shattered, and I never actually managed to pick up the pieces until long after the placement finished.

After observing a few teachers, I realised that the strategy was to ask the brightest children to answer all questions on the interactive whiteboard, copy the answers on the board and send all the children back to their desks to copy this down. I was ready to do whatever was needed to get through the placement, but eventually I would need to be observed by my university tutor who would not accept this as adequate teaching. Another nightmare to deal with eventually.

The following two weeks were a barrage of criticisms, some of which were paradoxical.  I was told my voice was too loud as a man and that it could scare the children, so I became softer, then I was told my voice was not assertive enough. I couldn’t use my own tactics to gain the children’s attention, there was a school policy to tinkle a wind chime, which most children seemed to ignore at the best of times. Another school policy was to only ever point out the positive behaviour of children, which sounds great, until you have 15 out of 30 children talking and you’re only pointing out the positive behaviour of a few children whilst the rest ignore you. You weren’t allowed to ask a child to stop talking, you had to find another child in the class to celebrate as a good example for the other children, who are comfortably ignoring your attempts to quieten them with a soft but assertive voice.

One of the children in that class was particularly troublesome, he used to throw pencils, steal other children’s stationary and spend most of his time trying to distract the other children. I learnt that his parents recently went through a tough divorce which he wasn’t handling well for understandable reasons. This kind of child is the very reason I went into education. I didn’t want children to feel forgotten in the system or to be simply a statistic. I believe that teaching is more then simple fact regurgitating, but actually about developing little human beings to be able to cope with moving into a complex society. With this child, he needed more social interaction, especially with adults where his only recent experience was of aggression, disruption, neglect and trauma. What I wanted was to see him be given a little space from the robustly structured curriculum and for him to spend more time developing the emotional intelligence to cope with his fractured environment. Unfortunately, the school policy demands completion of his class work. My tactic to try and compromise with both approaches was to keep him on his desk during carpet time and spend as much time getting to know this boy, to give him enough attention and support during his classwork and to allow him to express his emotions. I even met with his mother and discussed his behaviour. He had a difficult day in class throwing pencils, stealing toys and throwing books. He hadn’t completed much work. She told me she would punish him and made it clear that she always punishes her children. I advised her that I thought this was counter-productive and suggested instead a few getting-to-know-you games and spending as much quality time with him as possible.

The next day I had an impromptu sit-down meeting with my class teacher, who pulled me aside to make it clear that “it had been noticed” that I was giving this boy an unnatural amount of attention which had raised warning flags with members of staff . Any teacher, especially a male teacher in primary education, will understand that this is a terrifying thing to be told. Even though there wasn’t any specific allegation, it caused me to completely panic about trying to build any professional relationships with any of the children for the rest of placement. Something counter-intuitive to my entire education philosophy. To my horror, she had also sat in front of my university tutor and failed me on my ability to interact with parents. Apparently, this child was on a behaviour monitoring system I was not made aware of, which was being deliberately doctored so that the parent only ever received positive news. My truthful dialogue and advice were different to the information given by the school. From then on, I was meant to ignore this boy and just accept his behaviour and follow the school policy which involved several visits to the “calm corner” where he had a behaviour card which he was meant to read and reflect on, the same card he used to chuck as soon as he sat down and proceed to jump on the chair and start throwing pencils again.

The worst period was straight after break or lunchtime. The children are meant to line up in front of the teacher on the playground before walking back to class. In my previous experiences, I used to wait until the children were quiet and settled before walking calmly to lesson. This helps with the transition between playground and classroom learning. However, this school had a policy of “get the children in as quickly as possible” and deal with the behaviour once in the classroom. I was explicitly (and hyperbolically) told during a meeting when I raised this issue “we’re not the military, we don’t expect our children to frog march into class!”

So, by my final lessons, I’m walking into the class with an energetic rabble behind me – children shouting, running, wrestling – I stand back as the children fly past me through the door. By the time I’m inside I’m watching what can only be described as an anarchic zoo, I’m tinkling these wind chimes which by now 90% of the children are ignoring, I’m desperately trying to gain control using my “don’t scare the children” soft voice, but only pointing out the positive behaviour of the two children sitting quietly as chaos reigns around them. The boy I was working with has proceeded to throw things at the other children, but I’m having to ignore his behaviour due to it being too “unnatural” to give him too much attention. Before attempting to teach all these five-year-olds six different mathematical concepts which they have to finish otherwise the children, school and myself all fail to keep up with appropriate progression.

My final meeting involves the worst grilling I’ve had in any job. I’m sitting whilst my class teacher highlights several areas in which I’m failing, watching seven years of positive experiences and a developed confidence go up in flames. I had fallen so far from my initial successful lesson. My “Tiki” phonics lesson involving sixty happy children rushing around a Polynesian themed sports hall, was still not enough to convince the class teacher not to fail me on my ability to inspire and motivate children in learning.

I hate moaning, but I literally have had positive experiences from all my jobs in education. I’ve received glowering references from every school I’ve worked in. But this school which destroyed me has convinced me never to teach in England again. If this is an example of an “outstanding school” then I don’t want to be part of that system. Ironically, I received a teaching qualification recognised round the world but didn’t achieve qualified status to teach in comprehensive schools in England. Since that traumatic experience I’ve worked in a short-term contract for an international school where I was presented an award for my creative teaching and dedication. I’ve now moved abroad and found further success, featuring in a national education magazine for my innovative lesson plans.

My advice to prospective teachers is that an “outstanding school”, based on our  government’s narrow definition of success, may be exactly the opposite of what you are trying to achieve as a professional educator. I also write this to demonstrate the awful direction education is going down in our country, where Ofsted completely misses the values of  holistic education. Literacy standards may be improving, but this heavy handed approach is turning away teachers, creating a recruitment crisis and ramping up a mental health epidemic in our schools for our children.

Tribalism is making this the most demoralizing General Election.

 

I wish I could have more hope with the upcoming General Election, Jeremy Corbyn is by far the most exciting leader in my lifetime, and although this should fill me with the  same giddy excitement of a One Direction fan winning a VIP tour to Harry Styles’s dressing room, I feel utterly demoralized. For the older generation, replace One Direction with Take That and Harry Styles with Gary Barlow. For my Labour friends in my constituency, replace One Direction with the Beatles, and Harry Styles with Paul Mccartney. 

Why should I feel gutted at the prospect of a General Election with one of the best leaders in my lifetime taking part? Because for the first time since joining the Labour party, my militant marching orders are to support Labour without a shred of critique, or a measure of cynicism. Do the Lib-Dems have any good ideas? No, no matter what policy they have, they are traitors, yellow Tories with no heart and a blood thirsty attitude towards poor people. How about the Greens, surely their lefty policies rub the right way with Labour supporters? Absolutely not, the Greens are crazy crusties with no hope of any power, and Caroline Lucas should really support Labour because we are right and she is wrong. This is literally the level we are at now. Corbyn’s hopeful “inclusive” politics, seems to only be inclusive if you’re part of Labour, otherwise you belong in Theresa May’s basement, eating the leftover crumbs of stolen primary school meals.

I grew up with Liberal Democrat parents, my mother as a councillor, and my father who is pretty much part of the woodwork which make up the foundations of the party. They worked closely with Paddy Ashdown during the Liberal Democrat renaissance of the 1990’s. My sister, a passionate scientist fighting for the environment, and tackling climate change, has worked with Caroline Lucas of the Greens. My mother and I have joined Labour, and are passionate about Jeremy Corbyn and his policies. If you heard any of us discuss politics around the dinner table, our differences in opinion are very subtle, nuanced and specific. We are all polar opposites to UKIP and the Conservative party. As are the parties actually policies if anyone bothers to actually check.

Here’s a few examples borrowed from each manifesto.

  NHS

Labour:

  “We will end health service privatisation and bring services into a secure, publicly-provided NHS. We will integrate the NHS and social care for older and disabled people, funding dignity across the board and ensure parity for mental health services.”

 

Lib-dems:

 “The Liberal Democrats will put an end to these sweetheart deals, block PFI contracts, prevent privatisation of the NHS through the back door and increase NHS funding each year”

We need services that fit around people’s lives, not ones that force them to fit their lives around the care they need. We must move away from a fragmented system to an integrated service with more joined-up care.

 

Greens:

  We will fight for a fair deal for those needing health care by opposing cuts, closures and privatisation and by demanding a full programme of locally accessible services.In particular, we will maintain the principle of a free NHS by implementing in England and Wales the scheme that provides free social care to the elderly in Scotland.

All these parties support the reinstatement of nurse’s bursaries.

So not much difference here, maybe some nuanced differences on funding, but essentially the same goal compare to the Tories; who want more privatisation, social care paid for by forcing people to sell their houses, along with UKIP who believe the NHS is a monolithic hangover of days gone by.

Then we look at domestic politics. Many lefty media outlets praised Labour’s manifesto as Keynesian, I wonder if they and Liberals understand that John Maynard Keynes was actually a Liberal? That investing in an economy in recession is how you grow the economy, rather than floating it on credit card debt? Well the Liberals have now clarified they would boost the economy with a major program of capital investment aimed at stimulating growth across the UK; Labour will take advantage of near- record low interest rates to create a National Transformation Fund that will invest £250 billion over ten years in upgrading our economy; and the Greens have stated “With scant evidence of the kind of strong recovery expected after previous post-war recessions, it’s time to admit that austerity in the UK has failed and that an alternative approach of significant investment to reduce the deficit is needed”

Obviously there are differences in how you invest in the economy between the progressive parties, but compare that to the Conservatives who are tripling private debt, decimating public services, and ramping up privatization in every corner of the country; why split each others votes in this election because of such trivial differences?

The Conservatives won just 24.3% of the population over last general election, why the hell do they deserve any kind of majority? If all the progressive parties had allied last election, they would have received 49% of the national vote. There is no guarantee that voters would switch, but why shouldn’t they? Considering the damage to the country done by this current slim Tory majority? And voters won’t switch on mass unless their supported party leads them that way.

What are the real dividing lines that stop a progressive alliance? For the Lib-Dems, it’s Labour’s position on Europe. Ironically for many in the Labour party the dividing lines in supporting Corbyn is his position on Europe. Personally, I’m immensely disappointed by Labour’s policy to accept Brexit for what it is, and given that Labour supporters voted 65% to remain, a significant majority in the party must, at some level, be feeling the same resentment. Tactically it hasn’t paid off either,  losing a lot of Remain voters to other parties, and lots of Leave voters to the Conservatives. So what’s the point in pretending Labour want to accept the Brexit result, when it’s neither honest nor tactically useful. At least in a progressive alliance, many in the Labour party would feel quite comfortable compromising for another vote on a Brexit deal, or at least staying in the Single Market.

For us in Labour, I would press the Liberals to fully endorse an anti-austerity program. From my experience Liberals are far more radical than the public notice, it’s always the hierarchy who caution patience, a cowardly tactical ploy to always appear in a mythical center ground, defining themselves from the other parties instead of focusing on their own beliefs. I cannot understand why re-nationalizing natural monopolies is not just a socialist ideal, but always a liberal one? You cannot empower people without taking them out of poverty either, so the Liberals should be far more on board with an anti-austerity program. Again if Labour compromised on Europe, something the party naturally wants, surely the Liberals can compromise by backing up a strong investment package? Which the party naturally wants!?

Now for many politically active, pro-European, Liberal Lefties, such as myself, I feel completely at odds and impotent In doing anything in this election. This tribalism is completely toxic for all people involved. Politics should be about values, policies, principles and morals, It shouldn’t be treated as religious, as many left of the Conservatives are doing now. Yes Corbyn is fantastic, but so is Caroline Lucas, and Farron’s defense of internationalism, refugees and civil rights, is equally inspiring. Nicola Sturgeon is also one of the biggest thorns in the current Conservative government . I see all these people as great politicians, but I must only support one, otherwise I’m a traitor to my cause. Not because I am against the policies, but because I don’t don my red rosette and demonize all the other progressive political parties simply because they are not Labour.

If you are truly inclusive, accepting of diversity, and passionately democratic, you cannot put all your hopes for a progressive future in one party. Under Blair, Cameron and May, every MP received their marching orders. You do as your told, or face sitting on the backbenches for the rest of your term. How can you defend a system which is effectively a democratic dictatorship? At least in coalition, people had to work to convince each other to vote for policies. You didn’t just have to turn up, vote with the whip, claim your expenses and salary, then go home again. Bearing in mind that over two thirds of European countries have proportional systems and continuous coalitions, and a reminder for the socialists in this country, that Corbyn’s type of politics is most prevalent  in European countries where there is proportional voting.

It’s far too late to ask candidates to withdraw, or have open talks with other parties. I ask as a passionate Labour supporter, to understand that by simply being in the Labour party doesn’t qualify you as morally superior, or politically more competent. That other progressive parties care as much about fixing social injustice and inequality as we do, with slightly different solutions to how to solve It. We can’t change what will happen this general election, but unless by some miracle we beat the Conservatives, we have to grow out of this primitive tribal politics, acknowledge the elephant in the room, and do something about the voting system if you care about the future of this country.

Theresa May has left us no choice but to ban Trump from his state visit.

Theresa May has left us no choice but to ban Trump from visiting the UK.

As the petition to stop Trump on a state visit, reaches over the million mark, the country is split 3 ways; a very slim minority with Islamophobic views, represented by our own deplorables from the darkest shades of Brexit phenomena; critics that disagree with Trump, but have the liberal values to at least give him a platform; and ardent critics of Trump who want to fully protest Trump’s values and policies in the loudest way possible.

I always believe that giving people a platform is important; we cannot force people away from debates because we think they’re wrong to have a certain opinion. This leads down the dark path of authoritarianism, the kind which put people like Stalin and Hitler in power.

During the build up to the 2009 general election, the BNP were gaining slowly in popularity, they managed to gain 2 MEP’s in the European Parliament, we thought then it was a scary time for politics! One memorable Question Time appearance by BNP leader Nick Griffin saw an abrupt end to any rise, and xenophobic nationalists fled to hide under a more covert banner with UKIP. Nick Griffin basically made a fool of himself, quoting memorably that he wanted better rights for British people who had been living in the country since the dawn of time, which to anyone with a remote grasp on our history, is palpably absurd. This is a great example of why you should debate everyone from any background, don’t let hate fester in the shadows where it builds credibility by being ignored by “mainstream media”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iKfrY9l2kY&spfreload=10

Surely one of the biggest winners of festering, dark shadow, conspiracy propaganda is Donald Trump. With the superficial and sensationalist mainstream media in the US, it’s understandable why people seek new sources for their information. But when people are pushed away from the regulated, centre ground of information sources, in our days of social media and the internet, they can get mopped up by any wondering lunatic with a Youtube channel or blog. In the run up to his election, Trump used information provided by the white supremacy news outlet Breitbart, and Alex Jones who regularly had stories about Obama being a real live demon.

So surely we should have him here to debate, or be interviewed by a Paxman or O’Brien who can hold his feet to the fire. Naturally I would definitely want him to have a platform, but we’re living in un-natural times. Brexit is a cliff-edge we’re all facing, whether you’ve opened your eyes yet or not. Leaving our main trading block of 28 countries, the Tories pretend everything will rosy, but in reality we have nowhere else to turn too, then the sweaty orange backside of an ego-maniac with a protectionist agenda. So Trump doesn’t represent all of America, of course he doesn’t, he lost the popular vote by 3 million people. However, we have to remember it is him in charge, and he’s leading a particularly ominous pack of rabid republicans, they will dictate terms of trade, and we will have little choice over what they will demand from us. Think access to our national healthcare, lower quality GM food, chlorine soaked chickens, and products made from prison slave labour.

So this doesn’t exactly answer why we should block him from coming, but it does show why Theresa May has to act submissive and friendly, to a man blocking women’s reproductive rights, cancelling climate change agreements, blocking entire countries from travelling to the US based purely on religion (unless they do deals with Trump’s business interests), endorsing the use of torture and breaking international law, and insulting Europeans, Asians, and Arabs as the rotten cherry on the cake.

The question is, should we British people really forsake our privileged position, as friends and equals to our European neighbours, simply to suck up to a man who is currently feeding our western values into the shredder previously used by dictators across history?

I sincerely hope not, I still believe we are a society better than this. And if Theresa May won’t stick up for the values of diversity, tolerance and liberty, which really make the backbone of our culture, than we have too. We have a lot of catching up to do with our damaged reputation across the world, lets show them what we’re really made of, and send a message.

Let’s ban the thin-skinned, sexist, racist, narcissist from coming here, sign below.

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/171928

We’re stuck in the Land of Brexit Blues. We need more than ever for Labour to gain a brain, the Lib-Dems to gain courage, and moderate Conservatives to gain a heart.

Post referendum, we’re stuck in the Land of Brexit Blues. Now more than ever we need moderate Conservatives to gain a heart, Labour to gain a brain and the Lib-Dems to gain some Courage, if we are to get out of the tornado that bought us here.

As 2016 comes to a close, I’m sure we can all agree, we’re in need of some respite and mind-numbing quantities of fattening food and alcohol, before the horrible day comes when we finally start the process of leaving the European Union; a bit like prison inmates being given whatever dish they like, before sitting in an electric chair. As I write this, and I can hear the whispered murmurs of Daily Express readers,“Remoaner, talking the country down!!”. Well whatever way you spin it, the economic and social development prospects of this country look about as appetizing as cat sick. Let’s look at the facts:
Drop in value of the pound wiped 1.5 trillion – yes trillion – pounds off of house hold income in the UK. Households in Turkey and Columbia fared better than we did.
http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/investing/article-3979306/Investors-struggle-grasp-effect-pound-s-fall-Brexit.html, investment

Investment of up to £65 Billion has been abandoned by local and foreign companies
http://news.sky.com/story/business-investments-worth-163655bn-abandoned-after-brexit-vote-10657282

A significant rise in race hate crime, up by 41% since the referendum.
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/brexit-hate-crimes-racism-eu-referendum-vote-attacks-increase-police-figures-official-a7358866.html

So off to the land of Brexit Blues we go, the good news is we managed to kill one wicked character on arrival; Mr Farage is now politically irrelevant, and after bemoaning foreign politicians taking part in the Brexit referendum, has taken it upon himself to make speeches for Donald Trump and be his diplomatic adviser. A note for the Americans, you’re welcome too him!

Now we take the first steps on the yellow brick road towards the Emerald city of the new Tory cabinet, whereupon we meet the mystic wizard, or in this case Boris Johnson our foreign secretary; who states he has a great plan for getting out of this Brexit situation, we’re just not allowed to know yet, and we should just trust him and his merry band of idiots for leading us on this path in the first place. In the story of the Wizard of Oz, the wizard turns out to be a fraud, just a simple old man. Well in this case Boris Johnson has definitely been not only a fraud, but a colossal buffoon who has endangered this country, simply to become the leader of the losing side in Brexit, and become Prime Minister. Boris has always been a life-long supporter of the EU, who saw a political chance, gambling with the future of our country, and is now busy insulting his way through every country he visits.

Back to our story, and our destiny as a county, first we need to topple the Wicked Witch of the West (Theresa May) who plots to steal our various worker’s rights.

https://www.theguardian.com/law/2016/nov/07/doubts-cast-on-theresa-mays-pledge-to-protect-workers-rights-post-brexit

Sadly there is no bucket of water to melt this witch in real life, we’ve already lost our privacy freedom with the Snoopers Charter, and post Article 50, be fully ready to lose further freedoms and human rights. Not only does Theresa May believe in watching our every move, cataloging internet browser history, but she has always wanted to deport foreigners to countries where they could be killed and tortured; Priti Patel (Secretary of State for International Development) wants to bring back hanging, and other forms of capital punishment; Liz Truss (Justice secretary) wants to restrict legal aid; Christ Grayling (Transport Secretary) wants a ban on giving prisoners books ( which has since been deemed unlawful by the High Court), Cut legal aid (by up to 30% in some cases, which led to the first ever barristers’ strike), Introduce a flat-fee court charge and back the choice of bed and breakfast owners to refuse gay couple patron. The rest of the party are dangerously worse.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jun/05/snoopers-charter-most-britons-unaware-tory-plans

With the far right holding the reins of the Tory party, the Conservatives continuously fearful of the UKIP threat and their compatriots on the Tory back-benchers, it’s time for moderates and the left to stop fighting each other, and sail us out of this Brexit mess.

Labour under Corbyn – the Tinman – need to start acting sensibly, they need to gain a brain. I’m extremely fond of Jeremy Corbyn, his unequivocal political philosophy is the most refreshing touch to politics I’ve seen for decades. The issue is that flat-out honesty is a very difficult position to take when you’re trying to win a general election. If you actually look at his policies they are very popular among-st the general public:

  • Increased funding for the NHS
  • Higher education grants
  • Re-nationalization of the public services
  • Building social housing
  • Rent caps
  • Increased tax on the wealthy, as well as challenging tax evasion.
  • Protection of human rights
  • Environmental business funding

Only 13% of the population believe austerity is a good idea, supporting the cuts; 22% believe that cuts should continue at a slower rate, and 45% believe directly in the policies of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, even if they don’t support the party.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/jeremy-corbyn-media-policies-labour_uk_57fe651be4b0010a7f3da76b

So why is Labour so low in the polls?

An Independent investigation found that 75% of media sources in the UK are deliberately biased against Jeremy Corbyn. They rarely focus on anything of substance, more about how many gaffs they can find in a simply out-and-out, vehement, character assassination campaign. His passion for helping vulnerable people can also be a barrier to votes, with the general public having a fairly right wing approach to welfare, immigration and criminal punishment. Again a symptom of the rampant and deliberately dishonest right wing media; how many stories in the Daily Mail start with “ Benefit claimant with 8 kids has mansion” or some other crap.

But this isn’t why I think Corbyn’s Labour need to gain a brain; I simply want Corbyn’s team to recognize the need for a smarter dialogue with the media, and the general public. The team devoted to spin in his office consistently get this wrong; who can forget when Corbyn sat down on a train, because he couldn’t find a seat, not that he was lying, but the media then developed multiple stories discrediting, and in very few cases supporting, his integrity and honesty, and everyone missed the point he was making about re-nationalizing transport.

When talking about foreign dictators like Castro, despite the good work Castro did redistributing wealth, providing healthcare and education, he did brutally murder his opponents. Corbyn called murder his flaws as a dictator. Now if he HAS to have an opinion that he can’t help but tell the media, given the tendency of the media to conflate Corbyn as a communist, couldn’t he have led with “Castro was a dictator who is guilty of murdering his opponents” rather than open himself up to media scrutiny?

Now over Brexit, the only time they try to hide their true feelings – which are pro-European – to behave tactically ambivalent, they fundamentally get their strategy wrong. For one thing opinion has actually changed in this country over the Brexit referendum. 7% of the Leave vote regret their voting choice, and that number is getting bigger every day, as well as the number of young people now eligible to vote, if we were to run the referendum again – maybe with an honest campaign from LeaveEU this time – we would see at least 56% of the country voting to remain.

I’m not saying Labour need to come out and say we should hold another referendum, unfortunately that would be electoral suicide, but to comprehensively say “we need to stay in the Single Market” would be a good start. Something Corbyn and Mcdonnell haven’t been able to do.

Now the Scarecrow who needs a heart; the moderate, pro-European Conservatives. As much as I dislike the direction of the Conservative party, I have found it interesting learning about the few Tories who have genuine political philosophies, rather than simply a centuries old movement to benefit only rich people.

After the Tories have systematically ripped up the manufacturing industry over the last few decades, they created the country’s wealth by being a center for world trade, and apart from the disastrous connections with a toxic American banking sector, this was fundamentally a major source of wealth coming into our country. The ironic thing is that our unique position in the European Union was the foundation to our economy, if any country couldn’t afford to give up trade treaties, it’s actually us. This is in stark contrast to the Brexiters who make up 76% of the Tory base, and a 3rd of Conservative MPs. They, like their cousins in UKIP, hate the regulations on trade which protect worker’s rights and the environment and the freedom-of-movement for European citizens. The irony is we would be better prepared for Brexit if the Tories hadn’t destroyed our manufacturing base, and now it’s the same Tories who want us to leave the main source of our countries GDP.

The ideology of right-wing, hard-Brexit campaigners, is we will continue as a country, but we’ll force those at the bottom to work longer hours, with fewer rights, on low pay; for the benefit of corporations which will only stay in the country if they are offered extreme tax breaks. My appeal to the Tories, who don’t want to see the moral fabric of society burnt at the altar of destructive neo-liberalism, is too loudly call out the absolute lunacy of their back benches, and be an ever present thorn in the side of Theresa May. I know this is going on behind closed doors in Cabinet meetings, but bringing the flawed logic and lack of a Brexit plan to the public, would greatly increase the chances we have to save the country.

Last but not least, we have Tim ‘nice but dim’ Farron. The lion who needs courage. Now, many of the Lib-Dems I know will cry “he’s the only one firmly Pro-EU!”, but it’s not brave for the Lib-Dems to take this stance. They know full well that having public support of 9% in the polls, there is no risk in coming out as fully pro-European, making that their flagship policy. And I can’t necessarily blame them; this is a “smart” move unlike Labour. But for every other policy the Lib-Dems are incredibly silent, they know having any other views in media spotlight might hold them back, or distract from their main aim. The only issue I find is that Tim is focusing all his attacks on Labour, attempting to entice disillusioned Labour supporters to the Lib-Dem ranks. I find this very strange, considering Corbyn’s Labour share far more ‘Liberal’ values then the kind of Labour moderates who support ID cards, the Snoopers Charter, and the centralization of power.

The real issue is our voting system, which divides anyone left of the Tories, leaving the Tories a majority of MPs despite only having 25% of the population voting for them. Now I understand Labour’s faults in behaving tribally, but with 27% public approval, the time is right for the Lib-Dems to start forging a progressive alliance. Tim Farron once stated directly to me, that Corbyn was too toxic to form a coalition, yet hadn’t any ammunition as to why, other then I guess Farron’s weak servitude towards a biased right-wing press. If his excuse is Corbyn’s ambivalence towards the Single Market, what better policy would it be, in bringing the parties together, if remaining in the Single Market (and proportional representation) were the foundation to any agreements? Labour moderates would love it, and so would Corbyn’s base, which on the whole favor EU market access and a better voting system. Tim Farron would have to be brave enough to extend the hand of solidarity to Labour, and promote his party’s Liberal values proudly from the rooftops to show the parties distinction from Labour and everyone else, instead of burying them, hidden, in case of media scrutiny.

It’s time to wrestle back control of this country from the minority of right-wing nutters that are hell-bent in dragging our country back to the Victorian age, economically and socially.  But it will take far more cooperation to get us back to the Britain we used to be proud of. Or…. we fight each other, risking staying in the land of Brexit Blues forever.

If you don’t oppose austerity, you don’t represent a credible opposition to the Conservative party.

So Corbyn wins again, the chicken coup rebellion by 70% of MPs and 10 MEP’s failed miserably and Corbyn gained an even greater mandate than he did previously. Small clusters of MPs have been rebelling against him as soon as he approached Labour’s headquarters In London. No other Labour leader has faced the shear animosity Corbyn faced within the first few weeks of his election.  If you combine that with the Independent’s study citing that 75% of media coverage has either deliberately misrepresented him, or simply waged a character assassination ignoring anything politically relevant – who can forget the stories about him not singing the national anthem, or not bowing low enough during a memorial service? – is there any wonder the members responded with stubborn resistance, which on rare occasions became aggressive?.

But to justify my opening statement, let’s look back to the reasons this country is in an economic and social mess; and I implore his critics to at least come up with some viable alternative policies, rather than repeat the same superficial abstract platitudes, that the right wing media uses.

Like most of my quibbles with Britain’s current predicaments, it seems that our most of my issues start with one person –cue the groans of Corbyn critics – yes you guessed it, Margaret Thatcher. The 1983 Big Bang was the start of a sudden deregulation of financial markets, coincidental (or not) with the same free market neo-liberal policy of deregulation by Ronald Reagan.  Combined with the lack of state investment in any public infrastructure, Thatcher’s focus was to make London retain its place as the financial capital of the world, and thus make our economy entirely reliant on a financial services sector in London. The only issue is that these financial institutions opened the floodgates to foreign investment, and all independent building societies and separate merchant banks where absorbed by universal banks and investment banking units. The practice of the financial sector changed dramatically, rather than smaller institutions investing in highly strategized safe projects, these big high street banks and foreign companies started gambling at risk, in a monetized feeding frenzy. Blair and Brown continued this trend of deregulation, something Labour “moderates” and Mr Tim Farron should recognize before leaping to defend the previous Labour Government.

Ok so you’re already bored aren’t you? Trust me it gets far more complex, but the gist of it is basically that our financial services became internationally entwined with the US, and this paved the way to the 2007/8 global financial crash. Once bad and risky loans were being bundled with safe investments (Collateralized Debt Obligations) then bought and sold across the world, this eventually led to the mass repossession of homes and ultimately crashed the value of housing , and the backbone of financial shares across the world. The greed of high street bankers destroyed lives, the same lives which are being crushed under austerity, whilst the perpetrators of the crash are now wealthier than ever before.  We bailed out our banks to the tune of 124 billion pounds in cash, and 333 billion pounds in the form of guarantees, where the Government will only provide cash if things go badly wrong.Now having read into this I could go on for hours about the implications of bailing out banks to this amount, because of the calamitous loans they themselves invested in. There are some atrocious stories about banks demanding to be privatized before paying back any money owed to the British government. Throw in a Brexit to this scenario and we go from a complex situation, to an all-around cluster-fuck, but that’s for another blog.

My point to all this is, why have we all bought into austerity as an excuse for a political strategy? especially considering that these cuts have hurt the most vulnerable in society and the Tories are in the process of systematically destroying the public services sector, all of which bear no responsibility for the greed and recklessness of the financial sector and the incompetence of previous governments. Tim Farron at the Liberal Democrat conference proclaimed that the Lib-Dems will become the official opposition as Labour is un-electable under Corbyn (fairly bold for a man leading a party with 8 MPs), and praised Tony Blair for his leadership, the man who not only led the way to further financial deregulation, but also introduced privatization into health, education, and that’s without mentioning the Iraq war.

Ironically, the talismanic, mystic and all round economic wizard Vince Cable – once favoured by the British public as being more competent with economics then Brown and Osborne – stated before the coalition the importance of investment over austerity as an economic policy. In fact one of history’s prominent economists (a lifelong member of the Liberal party) John Maynard Keynes, whose ideas led the revolution to modern day liberalism, stated the importance of saving in surplus and spending in recession. Yet during the coalition parliament Vince Cable changed his tune to support cuts to public services, excusing this attitude by blaming Labour’s  previous economic policies, incidentally ignoring the fact that deregulation of the financial industry started with the Conservatives, his partners’ in coalition . To this day on the Liberal Democrat website, their economic policy is still to inflict “necessary” austerity. Since the coalition, Vince Cable has expressed regret at defending the Liberal Democrats approach to coalition in regards to the economy, it turns out he was locked out of negotiations by Clegg, Alexander and Laws. Not as united on policy as Lib-Dems would like you to believe.

And now on to the so called ‘moderate’ wing of the Labour party. I was never a fan of Miliband’s Labour, ironically because I thought they were useless in opposition, always abstaining on any progressive policy put forward by the coalition and failing to show any enthusiasm for changing the voting system, something that could have dramatically changed the following general election, and may have averted a Brexit situation. The problem with old ‘New’ Labour is their obsession with electability, and their belief that principles can, and should be left at the gate, if you want to get to the corridors of political power.  This is fundamentally a toxic ideology, and why Blair should not be used as an example of a Labour party success story, given his close ties with the Murdoch media empire, and the neo-liberal policies which led to the recession and started the privatization of public assets.

And then after the slim majority win by David Cameron in 2015, with the crushed Lib-Dems and the meteoric rise of the SNP, acting leader Harriet Harman decided not to vote against the new welfare bill, restricting children’s tax credits, driving thousands of families into poverty. Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendell all advocated their limp leadership values based around an “austerity-lite” ideal, believing that what the public really need after consecutive years of public sector cuts, cuts to welfare, and pay freezes, is more public sector cuts, cuts to welfare, and pay freezes. All justified because both the Conservatives, then New Labour, messed with a global financial system, promoting greed at the expense of any egalitarian values.

And then we have Corbyn, the only leader advocating public investment, and harder regulations on the financial industry, the only leader (apart from Caroline Lucas of the Greens) who is anti-austerity. And this is painted as a mad, Trotskite/Communist belief by mainstream media, Labour moderates and Liberal Democrats? Don’t you think a little blame could go to the mad free market basket cases who caused the financial mess in the first place?

What’s worse is that Momentum and Corbyn supporters are now being demonized, vilified and misrepresented by the same self-righteous, facetious political pundits, whose only criticisms are superficial and sometimes simply based around gutter journalism. I understand skepticism from a self-serving Conservative, but anyone ‘Left’ of the Tories needs to actually have a little perspective, and stop treating us like idiots, and maybe, just maybe, talk about actual policies?.

The main criticism is that Jeremy Corbyn is un-electable, even if his critics can never fully explain why. My point all along is the now famous Jo Cox line “We have far more in common, than that which divides us”. If the Lib-Dems, and Labour moderates could focus more on their actual belief systems, go back to the drawing board and rediscover their own moral compasses again, rather than stick their finger in the wind to guess public opinion based around right wing media sources, then maybe they could see how many policies we have in common, especially in contrast to the Conservative party. Combine that with a pledge to change our voting system, and a focus on simply defeating the Tories in the interim, we could have real change in this country.

It’s time to stop the overt snobbery and contemptuous rhetoric against Corbyn. My plea to anyone left of the Conservative party is to start seeing who the real enemy is.

Grammar schools are an entrenchment of privilege and should belong in the past.

Grammar schools are an entrenchment of privilege and should belong in the past.

Theresa May has unveiled proposals to lift the ban on Grammar Schools banned by Tony Blair in 1997 – although at the time 167 schools were allowed to keep selective education. She also has stated that there will be an annual £50 million to support the creation of new Grammar Schools, as well as allowing current academies and free schools to introduce academic selection for enrolment.
The original creation of Grammar Schools in 1944, known as the “Butler Act” under the Conservative politician R.A.Butler, was hailed as a social revolution. It hailed a change in history when parents didn’t have to pay fees for their child’s education. You have to imagine a time when you had to pay for your children to attend a secondary state school after the age of 13, and money basically paid for the kind of future they’d live; not that this doesn’t happen now, but the distinctive lines of class were drawn  far more clearly in the sand back then . The system split education in 3 ways based around the 11+ examinations: Grammar schools for academics, Technical colleges for agriculture, engineering, and crafts, and secondary moderns for the rest. Again at the time this was part of a social revolution, suddenly fees were paid by the state, and there was a genuine chance for social mobility which was welcomed by all political parties. Ironically once upon a time, the Conservative party had values and idealism, whether you disagree with them or not, they had hard principles which distinguish them from the party of wealthy interests we see today.

However, the paternalistic idealism of Butler – and to some extent Labour at the time – failed to build many technical schools  , and allowed for a new form of class division in the resulting bipartisan system. Funding was unequal between schools, with grammar schools enjoying the lion’s share. Secondary Moderns perversely languished in the poorest areas in the country; resources were stretched to such an extent that a lot of schools used primary school furniture to get by and staff turnover was a continuous revolving door.

This doesn’t alone explain why grammar schools are a bad idea,  just that comprehensives should have no reduction in support. The real problem is the concept of segregating children based on a basic interpretation of intelligence.  It’s all very well creating a supposed meritocratic system in education, but unless your testing is varied , innovative, and complex, you are basically allowing a significant hand-up to a child who is simply exceptional at Maths and English.  Not only that , but you’re giving a golden handshake to children who pass these tests at 11 years old, not taking into account the variation in children’s development, emotionally, intellectually and socially at this age.

So let’s ignore history for a second, and pretend that suddenly the Tories have grown a conscience for publically funded education and social mobility, despite the damage they’ve done since David Cameron became Prime Minister. Let’s also imagine that the testing for Grammar Schools is fluid through all ages up to 18, and that it’s varied to take into account a range of abilities. Would grammar schools then be ok?

For me those problems still don’t underline the whole issue with segregation, and the ability for sharp-elbowed middle class families to rule the roost over school admissions. Even with my own family history, grammar schools divided people. There are thousands of stories where brothers and sisters become separated based on academic ability and sometimes those scars never heal.  How do you tell an 11 year old that they’ve already failed at an opportunity to change their life? There is also the issue that working class children will be up against the driven middle class parents who will not only pay for private tuition but regularly move to areas where their children’s chances of a Grammar School place is greatly increased. Wealthy parents also see the economic advantage of getting their child a Grammar School place, to avoid paying the high prices of private schools.

The worst part is yet to come however, as there are proposals to allow academies to become grammar schools, or at least have the freedom of a selection policy. School places are in total disarray around the country, as the Conservatives have created a centralised system which doesn’t take into account local issues, and is woefully bad in placing children around the country into their school of choice. Any complaint about admissions, instead of the previous system which was controlled by the local council, now has to be made to the office of the schools adjudicator, in London. So much for the devolved power Tories harp on about.

Now imagine a situation where academies can become grammar schools, and why wouldn’t they? You can guarantee good grades by cherry picking the smartest children in the area, but you would also force local children who don’t make the grade to travel to a worse school further away because they didn’t pass a maths exam at 11 years old. And how would admissions work then? With free schools, academies, and grammar schools all having their own selection policy? I can imagine the remaining underfunded state comprehensives turning into super-sized schools to allow enough places for the remaining children, stacking classes with 40+ children per teacher; sadly we can see this situation happening already without the added grammar school issue.

Personally I think Theresa May’s speech is an insult to comprehensive schools and the teachers that work there. I have experience working in a school with no sets, where children of all abilities share a class together through the years, and the teachers are skilful enough to push the lowest ability children without it affecting the highest achievers. In fact the school received the highest grades in the surrounding area. This is also a testament to the main ethos: that children learn the most productively when you take into account their social, personal and academic needs. These are all as important as each other and loosely resemble the famous Finnish model of education, where children achieve the highest levels of results in the world.

Our children benefit from sharing their education with a variety of abilities, as well as culture and religion. Social mobility is about building bridges not walls.