I'm speechless. Not that a 20-year-old beautician from Blackpool thinks "Barraco Barner" is "our" President, but that she has 17 GCSEs. Anyone reading this will think that's a misprint – or a factual error – but no. The last Labour government dumbed down GCSEs to such an extent that this is all too plausible. Under Labour you could get a BTEC in Hair and Beauty worth four GCSEs at grade C or above. This government has now done away with these "qualifications", but they mushroomed under Labour, all so the people in charge could point to the results each year and claim our education system was "improving". Some of them, such as the GCSE in ICT (now scrapped), were so easy it was virtually impossible to fail.
I'm not blaming Gemma Worrall. The fact that she took so many GCSEs indicates she had an appetite to learn and her tweet, for all its shortcomings, does suggest a willingness to engage with international politics. No, Gemma was failed by the last government, which did nothing to address the appalling inadequacies of our public education system. I still cannot believe that Tristram Hunt has the temerity to criticise Michael Gove for not doing enough to address the lack of literacy and numeracy skills in school-leavers when, in 2009, nearly a quarter of children leaving school were illiterate and innumerate. (See this article in the TES for chapter and verse on this.) (To read more, click here.)
An email popped into my inbox on Tuesday morning urging me to join a “fair admissions campaign” that’s been launched by a couple of mums in Shepherd’s Bush. Their children are at a local primary school and they’re angry that they won’t be able to get them into any of the local faith schools. “Two of our children are in Year 5 and we feel offended by the fact that out of 11 secondary schools in the borough almost half will put them at the very bottom of the waiting list due to our ‘wrong’ beliefs,” they write.
Now, I’m probably among the dozen or so local residents least likely to join this campaign but, to be fair, I don’t think they singled me out. Rather, they sent the same email to hundreds of people, hoping to cash in on the fact that Tuesday was “National Offer Day”, the day when parents who’ve applied to state secondaries learn their children’s fate. (To read more, click here.)
Tristram Hunt is unveiling a "new" Labour education policy today: he wants all children to study English and maths up to the age of 18.
Trouble is, this is already government policy. From the beginning of the present academic year, any child who fails to get a grade C or better in English and maths will have to continue studying both subjects post-16. So the only "new" bit of Hunt's policy is that children who are already good at English and maths will have to continue studying both subjects. That will mean schools having to employ additional staff whose soul purpose will be to teach children who are already doing well. Not a very sensible use of scarce resources.
Another "new" Labour education policy announced today is the creation of a 'Technical Baccalaureate' for 16-19-year-olds. Again, this is already government policy. Michael Gove unveiled a 'Technical Baccalaureate' in April 2013.
In an interview with Andrew Neil on The Sunday Politics earlier today, Labour's shadow education spokesman Tristram Hunt said that Labour would force free schools and academies to fire teachers who don't have QTS (Qualified Teacher Status) and aren't prepared to try and secure QTS.
The problem with this position is that free schools and academies who've employed staff without QTS and without insisting, as one of the terms of their employment contracts, that they should be working towards securing QTS, cannot sack them for refusing to do this without falling foul of employment law. A teacher who was fired for this reason could take the school in question to an employment tribunal and the school would be forced to pay a large fine. In effect, Tristram Hunt is saying that if he's the Secretary of State for Education he would force free schools and academies to break the law. That's an odd stance for a serious politician to take. (To read more, click here.)
I still can’t quite believe it. But here’s the evidence in black and white. In 1976, the NCCL put out a press release proposing that the age of consent be lowered to 14 “with special provisions for situations where the partners are close in age, or where consent of a child over ten can be proved”. So let me get this straight. If the NCCL had had its way, a paedophile could induce a 10-year-old child to have sex with him and, provided he could "prove" he or she had consented, that child's parents would have no legal redress?
As a father of a 10-year-old girl, that fills me with horror. Even if the NCCL had no links with the Paedophile Information Exchange, that would have been morally repugnant. The very idea that a 10-year-old is in a position to "consent" is absurd – blatantly and transparently absurd. But it's worse, far worse than that, because we now know that the NCCL was taking this line, at least in part, at the behest of a group of notorious paedophiles. In 1975, Patricia Hewitt, the general secretary of the NCCL, wrote to the chairman of PIE to thank him for a letter he had written her arguing that the age of consent should be lowered. "We have found your evidence... most helpful and I think it has certainly been taken into account by the people preparing our evidence," she wrote. Sure enough, the following year, the NCCL began lobbying Parliament to have the age of consent lowered to 10. Not only was Patricia Hewitt the general secretary at that time, but Jack Dromey was on the executive committee and he was at the meeting where it was agreed that the NCCL would take this line. (To read more, click here.)
Watching Harriet Harman being interviewed by Laura Kuenssberg on Newsnight earlier this week was a strange experience. I felt as if I’d entered a political twilight zone where nothing was quite as it seemed. Was the deputy leader of the Labour Party really saying these things? I knew she was, obviously, but it seemed so miscalculated – so unwise – it was as if Harman’s body had been taken over by someone else. A mischievous political demon, perhaps. Or Lynton Crosby. The entire interview was like a nine-minute party political broadcast for the Conservative Party.
By my count, Kuenssberg gave Harman five chances to admit that it had been a mistake for the National Council of Civil Liberties to grant “affiliate” status to the Paedolphile Information Exchange, a notorious lobby group that campaigned for the age of consent to be lowered to the age of four, and five times she refused. Why? (To read more, click here.)
After refusing to admit that the National Council for Civil Liberties link to the Paedophile Information Exchange was a "mistake" on Newsnight last night (see above), Harriet Harman has changed tack this morning. A spokesman for Harman told the BBC that she "regrets the existence of" the PIE. "Of course she regrets any organisation's involvement with them, including the National Council for Civil Liberties,” the spokesman said. "But they were immaterial to her work."
That's a step in the right direction, but hardly sufficient. Her spokesman emphasised that the PIE became an "affiliate" of the NCCL's before Harman joined the organisation ("[Harman] regrets the existence of PIE and she regrets their involvement with NCCL before she joined"), but she still hasn't addressed the question of why she agreed to become the NCCL's legal officer in the first place, given the organisation's links with the notorious paedophile group, or why the PIE was allowed to remain under the umbrella of the NCCL until 1983. Let's not forget that the PIE lobbied for the legalisation of sex between adults and children – children as young as four. There's also the question of why Harman, in her capacity as the NCCL's legal officer, petitioned the Home Office to reduce sentences for convicted paedophiles and urged the Crown not to prosecute people found in possession of naked pictures of children unless it could be proven that the children in question had been harmed. (To read more, click here.)
Earlier today on Twitter, Tim Montgomerie expressed amazement that 26 Anglican bishops had chosen to write to the Mirror, of all papers, to express their discomfort over the government's welfare reforms:
Who advised the churchleaders to write to The Mirror? Only the Morning Star's platform would have given their message a more political spin.
In fact, the Archbishops' decision to air their grievances in a Labour paper should come as no surprise. The Church of England is no longer the Conservative Party at prayer. To all intents and purposes, it is an outpost of the Labour Party. (To read more, click here.)
A new book by a Swedish psychiatrist has just come out that I like the sound of. It’s called How Children Took Power and argues that the child-centred approach to parenting that’s been popular in Scandinavia since the 1960s has created a nation of [itals] ouppfostrade [itals], which roughly translates as “bad children”.
Dr David Eberhard, a 42-year-old father of six, says a lack of discipline during childhood has left millions of Swedes unable to cope with the challenges of adult life. By way of evidence, he cites the above-average number of anxiety disorders and higher suicide rate among children raised by liberal parents.
“Saying ‘no’ to a child is not the same as beating a child,” says Dr Eberhard. “Parents should act like parents, not best friends. They should prepare their kids for adult life by teaching them how to behave, not treat them like princes or princesses.” (To read more, click here.)
The luvvies are out in force again this week, attacking George Osborne for refusing to sign up to the "Robin Hood Tax" – in reality, the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) that the European Union has been hawking around for the past five years. The above video starring Bill Nighy – it's always Bill Nighy, isn't it? – purports to be a news report from the future in which various European bankers purr with delight about the enormous good that's being done with the proceeds of the tax.
“We look back on it as a profoundly important moment," says the German banker, played by Heike Makatsch who appeared alongside Nighy in Love, Actually. “It's been good for business and it's brought billions for jobs in Europe.”
“For me the greatest thing has been the ability to find serious money to fight extreme poverty and climate change," says the French banker, played by Harry Potter actress Clémence Poesy.
“In Spain, it helped reverse the devastating cuts to our public services and we hear the same from Italy,” says the Spanish banker, played by Javier Cámara.
Only the British banker, played by Nighy, can't participate in this round of self-congratulation. Why? Because wicked George Osborne sided with his rich friends in the City. "No, we haven't seen any benefits in terms of money to fight extreme poverty," he says.
Oh the shame, the shame. (To read more, click here.)