In today’s Spectator, Rachel Wolf, the former head of the New Schools Network, cautions Theresa May against derailing everything that’s been achieved by education reformers since Margaret Thatcher first granted state schools more autonomy in the late Eighties. Her concern is that a large number of new grammar schools would undermine successful academies and free schools. “It's worth remembering,” she writes, “that academies exist because the ban on academic selection forced schools to innovate, and to offer better teaching for all abilities.”
That’s my concern too and I suspect it’s why a sizeable number of Conservative MPs have expressed reservations about new grammar schools. Few of us doubt that those children lucky enough to get into grammar schools receive a first class education and we’re willing to be persuaded that various mechanisms could be introduced to make sure more disadvantaged children are admitted, such as insisting that new grammars accept a quota of children on free school meals.
It's the impact of increased selection on those children who don't get into grammars that's the worry. (To read more, click here.)
‘It is highly unlikely the Prime Minister has read the book,’ my father harrumphed, commenting on the appropriation of the word ‘meritocracy’, which he invented to describe a dystopian society of the future in The Rise of the Meritocracy. That comment appeared in a 2001 article for the Guardian and the Prime Minister in question was Tony Blair, but I expect my late father would have been equally unhappy about Theresa May’s misuse of it in her education speech last week.
In fact, he probably would have been even more cross because the book, which was published in 1958, was a thinly veiled attack on grammar schools. Like his close friend and Labour party colleague Tony Crosland, my father was a lifelong opponent of selective education, mainly because he saw it as tool for perpetuating inequality. In a society where the brightest children are separated from their peers at the age of 11 and groomed for entry into the elite, the monopolisation of power and wealth by a tiny minority has the air of legitimacy. Perhaps not wholly legitimate, but certainly more likely to command popular consent than an aristocratic society. Not only that, but grammar schools also deprived the working class of potential leaders, plucking the most able children from their parents’ arms and turning them into Tories. (To read more, click here.)
What’s wrong with you?’ That was the question an American broadcaster asked Anthony Weiner when his New York City mayoral campaign went up in flames in 2013. Weiner, the subject of a feature-length documentary released earlier this year, had just become embroiled in a second sex scandal, the first having derailed his political career in 2011. The extraordinary thing about the second scandal is that his efforts to rehabilitate himself as a public figure, helped by his wife’s decision to stand by him, seemed to be working. He was topping the polls when the scandal broke, which demands the question: ‘Why risk it all again?’ You’d think his experience would have taught him a lesson, but apparently not. And since the documentary was made his aberrant behaviour has continued. Last month he was caught out for a third time and his wife, a prominent aide to Hillary Clinton, finally ditched him. So what is wrong with Weiner? And could it be the same thing that’s wrong with Keith Vaz, the Labour MP for Leicester East who resigned as chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday after some scandalous revelations in the Sunday Mirror? (To read more, click here.)
For about a year now, James Delingpole and I have been doing a regular podcast for Ricochet, the American website dedicated to conservative news and commentary. It’s called ‘London Calling’ and you can hear the latest one here. Among the many topics covered on this episode are the French burkini ban, Robert Tombs’s ‘The English and Their History’, my appearance on Any Questions last week and James’s appearance this week (alongside Diane Abbott). We also talk about the West London Free School and what we did on our holidays.
E .D. Hirsch Jr., the American educationalist and author of Cultural Literacy, has a new book out that may throw some light on why France has such a problem integrating its Muslim population. Called Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing Our Children From Failed Educational Theories, it’s a comprehensive attack on the progressive approach that has done so much harm to schools in the West. Hirsch identifies three ideas in particular: that education should be ‘developmentally appropriate’, with the emphasis on learning through discovery; that it should be ‘child-centred’, taking account of different ‘learning styles’; and that the overarching aim of education should be the cultivation of ‘critical thinking’ skills.
I’ve spent the best part of a decade fighting these ideas. One of the main reasons I’ve helped to set up four free schools is to demonstrate that a more traditional education, with all children learning a core body of subject-specific knowledge from an early age, is more effective. I don’t just mean that children taught in this way will leave school knowing more than their peers. I mean they’ll perform better in standardised tests and be more-likely to go to good universities. This is particularly true of those from low-income families.
Having read Why Knowledge Matters, I now realise that my efforts may be in vain. Not because progressive educationalists are impervious to reason (although they are) but because the case against their wrong–headed approach has been conclusively-proven in France. (To read more, click here.)
Congratulations to all those free schools who got their GCSE results this morning. We don't yet have the full picture, but early reports are good.
Top marks to Tauheedul Islam Boys's High School in Blackburn, a free school that opened in 2012. Ninety-five per cent of its pupils achieved five A to C grades in their GCSEs, including English and maths, a metric known as "5A–CEM". To put this in context, last year's 5A–CEM national average was 56.1 per cent.
Another school that has done well is Dixons Kings Academy in Bradford. It was one of the first 24 free schools to open in 2011 – it was originally called King Science Academy – and was taken over by the Dixons Academy chain after financial irregularities were brought to light by a whistleblower. Sixty-seven per cent of its pupils achieved 5A–CEM. (To read more, click here.)
The BBC has published a list of the 100 best films of the 21st century, compiled after consulting academics, cinema curators and critics — and, as you’d expect, it’s almost comically dull. The list contains numerous turgid meditations on the spiritual void at the heart of western civilisation by obscure European ‘auteurs’ and not a single Hollywood comedy. It’s as if the respondents mistook the word ‘best’ for ‘boring’.
To give you an idea of just how absurd the list is, it doesn’t include any of the billion-dollar blockbusters from Marvel Studios — no, not even Guardians of the Galaxy — but does have two movies by the impenetrable Danish director Lars von Trier. Nothing featuring Denzel Washington, Tom Cruise, Matt Damon, Bradley Cooper or Robert Downey Jr, but three films starring Joaquin Phoenix (although not Gladiator, obviously).
Jennifer Lawrence, the number one box office star in the world, doesn’t get a look-in, while Michael Haneke, the miserable Austrian director, appears three times. If an actual cinema confined itself to showing just the films on this list, it would go bust within a month. (To read more, click here.)
After the misery of going abroad for the summer holidays for the past few years, I’m now happily back in Cornwall. Caroline took some persuading. We used to come every year, but the combination of bad weather and cramped accommodation became too much for her. After a bad experience in a mobile home three years ago, she vowed ‘never again’ and we spent a week in Portugal in 2014 and then ten days in France last year. That was purgatory. The last straw was being un-able to order fresh fish at a seaside restaurant in the Languedoc.
To get Caroline to reconsider, I had to splash out on a luxurious ‘chalet’ overlooking Gwithian Beach near St Ives. I say ‘luxurious’ but in Cornwall that translates as furniture from Ikea rather than MFI and, in truth, it’s more of a hut than a chalet. Still, there’s enough room for all of us, provided the youngest sleeps on the sofa, and its proximity to the beach means we don’t have to faff around looking for somewhere to park each day. (To read more, click here.)