Thursday 23rd May 2013
How do we stop young British Muslims falling into the hands of Jihadis? A new, military-style free school in Oldham is a good start
What can we do to prevent the kind of atrocity that happened in Woolwich yesterday from happening again? So far, attention has focused on the security services, but there's clearly not much that MI5 or the police can do. How do you stop home grown terrorists carrying out seemingly random attacks on off-duty soldiers? Any long-term solution must focus on preventing men like Michael Adebolajo from becoming Jihadis in the first place. But how do you do that?
A new free school in Oldham may be part of the answer. The Phoenix Free School, one of 102 to be given the green light by the government yesterday, aims to "combine all the best features of a traditional grammar school or an independent school with the military virtues of loyalty, commitment and honour" and will be staffed exclusively by ex-soldiers. "Our teachers will embody the Army’s core values of moral courage, self-discipline, respect for others, integrity and loyalty," it says on the website. (To read more, click here.)
Wednesday 22nd May 2013
The West London Free School Trust received some good news this morning. Our proposal to open a new primary school in Earls Court has been approved by the Department for Education, one of 102 free school proposal given the green light today. If you add that to the new primary we're opening in September and our existing secondary, it brings the total number of free schools sitting under our Trust to three. We hope to open at least three more in the next five years, including another secondary school in West London.
The free schools policy is one of the greatest successes of this government. 81 free schools have opened so far, with a further 109 due to open this September. If you add the 102 approved today, that brings the total to 292. Assuming all of these schools open, they will provide 13,000 school places when full. (To read more, click here.)
Tuesday 21st May 2013
Some of my colleagues have become more than usually over-excited by the events of the last few days, predicting irrevocable splits in the Conservative Party, the demise of David Cameron, the triumph of Ukip and the permanent transformation of British politics.
I think they're wrong on all four counts. The Tory Party won't split, David Cameron will lead the Conservatives into the next general election and win an overall majority, Ukip will begin to fade and British politics will return to normal. (To read more, click here.)
Friday 17th May 2013
Last week, I managed to wind up almost the entire population of Leftie teachers with my blog post about Michael Rosen's elementary grammatical error in his Guardian article attacking the idea that primary school children should be taught elementary grammar. I've never had so much potty-mouthed abuse on Twitter. And to think these people are entrusted with teaching our children how to behave.
Today, it's the turn of First News, a weekly newspaper aimed at schoolchildren, to be put in the dunce's corner. To be fair, the paper has got its hands on a decent little scoop. Rebecca Lee, a schoolgirl from Christchurch School in Bristol, has written to Michael Gove to complain about three mistakes in the spelling, punctuation and grammar paper she had to sit last week. (This is the new exam for Year 6 children known as "the SPAG test".) The mistakes consist of three rogue commas, apparently, but she doesn't say what they are so it's impossible to say whether she's right or wrong. (To read more, click here.)
Friday 17th May 2013
To see the film I made for last night's episode of This Week, click here.
Thursday 16th May 2013
I was in my garden office on Monday afternoon when I heard a loud noise behind me, as if someone had jumped over the back fence. Seconds later, a strange man walked past the window. I emerged gingerly from my office and found myself face to face with a giant. At first glance, he looked like a basketball player: mixed race, about 6ft 5, in his mid- 20s and built like an athlete.
“Can I help you?” I asked.
Instead of replying, he vaulted on to the roof of my tool shed and dropped down into my neighbour’s garden. I ran up to the house, told my wife to call the police and then went out on to the street to see if I could spot him. The road I live in has suffered a spate of burglaries in recent months – there’s at least one every week – and it looked as if I’d interrupted someone who was definitely up to no good. (To read more, click here.)
Wednesday 15th May 2013
New state boarding school in West Sussex is opposed by unholy alliance of Trots and Tories, but deserves our support
To paraphrase Shakespeare, politics makes for strange bedfellows. When I was trying to set up the West London Free School, I faced a two-pronged campaign of local opposition. The first prong was led by the shop stewards of the local branches of the NUT, the second by the headmaster of a local independent school. They were at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but came together in their opposition to a free school.
Greg Martin, the headmaster of Durand Academy, is facing a similar array of strange bedfellows. He already runs a very successful primary school in Lambeth – last year, 90 per cent of the pupils attained level 4 or above in English and maths, compared to a national average of 79 per cent. That's particularly impressive when you consider that 58.9 per cent of the pupils are on free school meals. He's now hoping to duplicate these results at secondary level, but in an innovative and unusual way. Instead of simply opening a secondary academy in Lambeth, he's hoping to set up a state boarding school in West Sussex that won't cost parents a penny. He believes that this is an excellent way of giving inner-city children from poor backgrounds the best possible start in life. (He sets out his argument in detail here.) (To read more, click here.)
Tuesday 14th May 2013
Well done to David Cameron for getting behind a Bill committing the next Parliament to an EU referendum. If John Baron predicted that this would be the Prime Minister's response to his amendment to the Queen's Speech, then hats off to him. As I blogged last week, this is exactly the move that Cameron should make.
Some critics (David Aaronovitch, John Rentoul, etc) have objected that this move is pointless because (a) Cameron won't be able to get it through the House of Commons and (b) no Parliament can bind its successor. That's a tad literal-minded of them. Okay, it might not pass, but in the event of it being defeated the Conservatives will come out smelling of roses. If the Lib Dems vote against it, they'll look like hyprocrites – an EU referendum was in their 2010 manifesto, after all. And if Labour vote against it, they'll look like they don't think the British public should have a say on the most important issue facing the country at the moment. Unlikely to be a vote winner, given that confidence in our elected representatives is at an all time low. (To read more, click here.)
Sunday 12th May 2013
Disagreements within the Conservative Party about Europe dominate the headlines this morning, but it's a storm in a teacup compared to Labour's deep ideological divisions. On the three most important areas of public policy – the economy, welfare and education – the Tories are of one mind, whereas Labour is split down the middle. The Brownites (formerly the Bennites) want to borrow more and spend more, get rid of the welfare cap and bring academies and free schools back under local authority control, whereas the Blairites (formerly the SDP) want to match Coalition spending cuts and preserve and build on the Coalition's public service reforms. Fundamentally, the divide is between hard-line, anti-capitalist egalitarians and social democrats who have no quarrel with capitalism but want the state to intervene to ameliorate some of its more adverse effects. This is a rift that has existed within the Labour Party since its inception, but has come into sharp focus since Ed Miliband became leader because of his abject failure to come down on one side or another.
Even on Europe, Labour is more divided than the Tories. Yes, there's disagreement within the Conservative Party about whether to endorse next week's motion regretting the absence of any referendum bill in the Queen's Speech and, yes, there are differences of opinion about whether such a bill should be brought forward in this Parliament. But on the vital issue of whether there should be an In/Out EU referendum, the party is of one mind. (To read more, click here.)
Friday 10th May 2013
Last week, the inaugural Bad Grammar Award was won by the 100 academics who wrote a letter to the Guardian objecting to the new National Curriculum. According to them, it places far too much emphasis on learning "endless lists of spellings, facts and rules" and, as a result, will stifle children's natural creativity. Unfortunately, these "educationalists" committed so many grammatical errors in their letter they inadvertently made an argument for precisely the sort of traditional education they were objecting to. (Full disclosure: I was one of the judges of the Bad Grammar Awards. You can read more about the mistakes in the letter here.)
You'd think that anyone criticising Michael Gove for wanting children to spend more time on "spellings, facts and rules" would take the trouble to get these sorts of things right, but no. In today's Guardian, Michael Rosen has launched a spirited attack on the new emphasis on grammar in the SATs and – surprise, surprise – commits a howling grammatical error. (To read more, click here.)
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