Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Another year, another education shake-up

It’s hard to know where to start with Brown’s latest plans for schools.

Giving parents more power in schools has been a constant refrain from Labour, particularly since it fought the last election on choice in public services. Unsurprisingly the reality has never quite matched the rhetoric. The last education shake-up was supposed to make it easier for parents to start schools, trigger inspections etc but there has been no obvious revolution in state education as a result.

Next month another education white paper will be produced – there is no apparent need for one but Labour seems to be taking the same view of education as it does criminal justice – the regular production of white papers and Bills is more important than whether they actually serve any purpose. If today’s reports are to be believed it will include more powers for parents including the absurd idea that a parent can demand action at a school their children don’t even attend (begging the question on what basis they will be judging that school?). This time it will be LEAs responding to parents’ desire for action, rather than Ofsted – marking yet another swing in the pendulum in Labour’s enthusiasm for LEAs. Traditionally, Labour has seen local authorities as essential in the delivery of state education. Then the Blair years saw them become the bogeyman obstacle to progress – independence for schools and direct funding from Whitehall became the mantra. In the last Education Bill they became commissioners of education rather than direct providers but then when Brown took over in Downing Street talk of independent state schools withered and now LEAs are sponsoring city academies – the class of school originally created to bypass LEAs. Now they are once again to be the arbiter of standards.

As for parental influence on education, the last word should go to Boris Johnson who gave this answer in the recent Spectator coverage of his first anniversary as London Mayor.

"As a ‘father’, I don’t want to waste my time at some blooming consultation with the teachers, jostling for attention with a load of sharp-elbowed mums. I don’t want to have ‘control’ over my kids’ education. I want the teachers to have control. They already have the government telling them what they can and can’t do to a degree that is utterly absurd and humiliating, and contrary to their vocation as teachers. The last thing they need is to share their dwindling prerogatives with a load of ghastly and ill-informed parents. If you mean, should parents be more free to choose their kids’ schools, then yes, by all means — but the choice will be pretty meaningless until you bring back academic selection."

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Mandy to the rescue of an old New Labour friend

Bernie Ecclestone's call for government backing for the British Grand Prix has not fallen on deaf ears. The Digger column in yesterday's Guardian sport section suggests Peter Mandelson has offered to meet Bernie and discuss the issue. In particular Mandy has suggested that regional development agency money might be used to support infrastructure improvements that might be to Bernie's liking.

It is hard to contemplate a cash-strapped Government using taxpayers to support a sport run by a billionaire, even indirectly. Ecclestone has always had a special relationship with New Labour though.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Can't polish a turd

So within a week of Gordon Brown making his weird video message to announce his flawed plans on MPs expenses they look dead in the water.

This attempt at using new media was clearly an attempt to follow the lead of Barack Obama who was so adept at using these methods to talk directly to voters in his election campaign. New Labour was always more about style and substance and while many commentators insist the Budget has marked its end, this episode illustrates that in one aspect - the obsession with presentation - it survives.

The Government still hasn't grasped that, in the end, it's what you're saying rather than how you say it that matters. Obama had a message that appealed to the voters. Brown's proposals on MPs expenses were garbage.

Or to put it another way, you can't polish a turd.

Why the End is Nigh

Anyone left in the swiftly diminishing group who thinks this Government still has anything left to offer should listen to this contribution from Harriet Harman on Today this morning. Last week Labour delivered a devastatingly bleak budget, this week it is wittering on about some Equality Bill which its main champion struggles to justify. The plot has well and truly been lost.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Cameron Shows The Way - or just more distraction burglary?

Iain Dale thinks David Cameron's speech today is his most important so far in that it is the clearest signal yet of the direction of a Conservative government.

In some ways i think Dale's right. It certainly is the starkest statement he has made yet of the awful position the Tories will inherit and the challenges that will bring. It even includes some specific areas where cuts would be made which, although limited, is certainly a welcome piece of plain speaking.

His defence of the Tories' position on the 50p tax rate is also pretty good, describing last week's budget as a piece of "distraction burglary" where Darling points to the 50p rate which is largely meaningless to distract attention from the growing disaster in the public finances.

I say only pretty good because it's a bit cheap for Cameron to accuse Labour of distraction burglary when later in the same speech he uses the same technique. Listing the high salaries of public officials and promising to name and shame them is good knock about stuff but cutting these back will save hundreds of thousands of pounds, not the billions needed.

We need our politicians to get serious about the financial mess we're in. For voters part, that means not reacting in a knee jerk way when a politician talks about making cuts. They're going to come, the argument should be about where. For their part, politicians need to talk in serious terms about where we're going to find billions of pounds in savings, not just try and focus public anger on a few (admittedly overpaid) public servants.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Ecclestone and the NUT - unlikely allies

Bernie Ecclestone has today said it is a "disgrace" that the Government hasn't offered financial backing to the British Grand Prix. That's millionaire Bernie Ecclestone mind you.

He can join others in the queue making ridiculous demands of a country approaching bankruptcy. Such as the National Union of Teachers who are demanding a 10 per cent pay rise.


Thursday, 23 April 2009

Why the regional media matters: A case study

As has been well-documented, the regional media is going through terrible times as the recession accelerates the decline of an industry that already had long term structural problems. This has largely been met with a shrug of the shoulders by the majority outside media circles - of course it has that's why readership figures are so low. If people valued their local newspapers they'd buy them.

Optimists say that when the existing regional media dies it will be replaced by new entrants to the market. I hope so - and this story from the Yorkshire Post illustrates why. Rob Waugh is one of the most talented journalists in the regional press and here he has raised serious questions about the spending practices at Leeds Met University. In the absence of a local journalist plugging away at this story this would probably have slipped under the radar. As it is, its now on the BBC website.

Quality local journalism matters. Let's hope someone finds a way to pay for it.