Is diversity training snake oil? According to its proponents, women and minorities are not competing with white men on a level playing field when it comes to career advancement because of the ‘unconscious bias’ of their white male colleagues. The solution, if you’re the CEO of a large company, is to pay a ‘diversity consultant’ to train your managers to recognise and eliminate this bias. In America, it’s an $8-billion-a-year industry, yet a recent study in Australia suggests that, whatever is holding back women and minorities, it isn’t unconscious bias.
The Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian government has just published the results of a randomised control trial involving 21,000 employees of the Australian Public Service to see if the introduction of ‘blind recruiting’ would help promote gender equality and diversity. The employees were asked to shortlist candidates for a managerial position, with half of them being given their names and other identity markers and the other half not. If these public servants were suffering from unconscious bias, you would expect the ‘blindfolded’ group to be more likely to shortlist female and minority candidates and less likely to shortlist white men. In fact, the reverse happened. (To read more, click here.)
I felt a twinge of disappointment on hearing about the government’s decision to shelve its grammar school plans.
I went to the sixth form of a grammar – William Ellis in North London, which is now non-selective – and before that I went to two middling comprehensives and failed all my O levels, apart from one. Had I not retaken my O levels and got into William Ellis, I might not have ended up at a good university.
I would not want to deny to other children the opportunity I had or one I might easily have chosen for my own children, had I not succeeded in setting up the West London Free School.
Most participants in the grammar school debate refer to "the evidence" as if it was unequivocally on the side of the opponents, but that is not the case.
As Theresa May has pointed out, children on free school meals perform better in selective schools, on average, than they do in non-selective schools, and that remains true if you control for prior attainment.
But the difficulty with increasing the number of selective school places as a solution to the problems identified in this week’s Social Mobility Commission report is that there are not that many of these children.
At present, just under half of England’s 163 grammar schools give preferential treatment in their admissions arrangements to applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds, yet less than 3 per cent of those who get in are on free school meals and very few are from the UK’s lowest achieving demographic – poor white British boys. (To read more, click here.)
On the face of it, there is nothing complicated about the politics of Harry Potter, who made his first appearance in The Philosopher’s Stone 20 years ago. Like his creator J.K. Rowling, who once gave £1 million to the Labour party, he is a left-wing paternalist in the Bloomsbury tradition — the love child of John Maynard Keynes and Virginia Woolf. He feels a protective duty towards the common man (‘muggles’ in the lexicon of the novels) and a loathing for suburban, lower-middle-class Tories like the Dursleys, his Daily Mail-reading foster parents. The arch-villain of the saga is Voldemort, a charismatic Übermensch who believes in purity and strength and in the final novel promotes his own version of the Nuremberg Laws through the Ministry of Magic. Indeed, the novels are shot through with the mythology of the second world war and its aftermath, linking the struggle against fascism to the emergence of a socialist New Jerusalem.
But look more closely and something stranger hoves into view. What is Hogwarts, after all, but an idealised version of an English public school, with its houses, quadrangles and eccentric schoolteachers? As George Orwell points out in ‘Boys’ Weeklies’, his 1940 essay in which he tries to understand why millions of children find stories set in boarding schools so spellbinding, the ‘snob appeal’ of this milieu is ‘absolutely shameless’. ‘The heroic characters all have to talk BBC,’ he observes, something that is equally true of the Potter novels. (To read more, click here.)
Earlier this week the Guardian launched ‘Brexit Shorts’, a series of monologues written by Britain’s ‘leading playwrights’ about the aftermath of the EU referendum. Now I know what you’re thinking: ‘What fresh hell is this?’ But bear with me. Watching the first batch of these short films, which are on the Guardian website, isn’t complete purgatory. Not because they’re much good, obviously — although one is, and I’ll come to that in a moment. But because the reason these writers are so anxious about Brexit is due to their uncritical acceptance of Project Fear. Perhaps they’ll become a little less hysterical once they’ve been introduced to some solid facts.
Take ‘Your Ma’s a Hard Brexit’ by Stacey Gregg, which is set among the ‘peace lines’ separating Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods in Belfast. It’s not a fully fledged drama — more a piece of agitprop. And it makes the same point over and over again, namely, that if the UK leaves the European Union there will inevitably be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. ‘We know what it means to be divided,’ says the protagonist, a ‘peace-worker’ played by Bronagh Gallagher. Then she says something a bit odd: ‘I remember the border, do you? Wasn’t much craic.’ (To read more, click here.)
I first met Nick Timothy in July 2015. He had just been appointed director of New Schools Network, the free schools charity I now run, and wanted to talk about the future of the policy. He has been portrayed in the media in the past week as a right-wing thug, as well as a swivel-eyed Brexiteer, but that wasn’t the impression he gave as he sipped his builders’ tea. On the contrary, he was trying to think of ways to weaken the association between free schools and the Tory party, particularly within the education sector. His mission, he explained, was to create cross-party support for the policy by setting up more free schools in disadvantaged areas.
He was in the job for less than a year before joining Theresa May in Downing Street, having worked as her special adviser from 2010-15, but in that short time he went some way to achieving his objective. He set up an outpost of NSN in Manchester to spread the gospel of free schools in the north. He launched numerous successful campaigns, including one to persuade teachers to set up their ‘dream school’. And he created an advisory council that boasts several Labour grandees. It’s also worth noting that NSN staff enjoyed working for him, as did many of his colleagues in politics — I only heard the words ‘arrogant’ and ‘high-handed’ from his enemies. (To read more, click here.)
Comrades. I’m going to tell you why I think Jeremy Corbyn is the right person to lead this country. First of all, I like the fact that he’s not a typical politician. There’s something refreshing about his refusal to play the media’s game. Ordinary politicians are ready with a quote when a big story breaks, but not our Jeremy. He thinks nothing of switching off his phone and spending the day working on his allotment. Instead of talking to journalists on his way into meetings, he runs them over. When he does do interviews, his refusal to be interrupted speaks of a bold, confident leader who’s comfortable in his own skin. I particularly like his catchphrase and the way his voice goes all high-pitched when he says it: ‘Can I finish?’
Secondly, he’s a man of principle. He has stuck doggedly to his brand of hard-left politics for more than 50 years. The fact that this credo has been an unmitigated disaster in every country in which it has been tried, leading to the suppression of free speech, the imprisonment of political dissidents and mass starvation, hasn’t led to the slightest sliver of doubt or one jot of revision. John Maynard Keynes said: ‘When the facts change, I change my mind’, but not Jeremy. He is as steadfast and reliable as a stopped clock. That’s the kind of man I want as the head of our government in a fast-moving world. (To read more, click here.)
A leading article appeared in Nature last week in defence of intelligence research. It lamented the fact that it is not included on the undergraduate psychology curricula of many leading US universities, and attributed this to its association in the minds of students and faculties with elitism and racism. That, in turn, is due to the misuse of intelligence research in the past by eugenicists and ‘race scientists’ to justify their poisonous beliefs. The article expressed the hope that this toxic baggage can be discarded and intelligence rehabilitated as an important strand of psychology.
This optimism is often shared by academics who study the genetic basis of human differences; not just variations in intelligence but in other personality traits too. Among evolutionary psychologists, sociobiologists, neurobiologists, biosocial criminologists, and so on, there is a widely held belief that the only reason their disciplines are looked on with suspicion is due to ignorance and prejudice. Clearing up these misunderstandings simply involves them mastering some elementary PR skills, after which they will be welcomed into the bosom of the academy.
It would be nice if that were true, because in today’s academic climate many of the leading researchers in these fields are finding it difficult to pursue their careers. (To read more, click here.)
My father worked as a fire warden during the Blitz, trying to contain the damage done by the Luftwaffe, and he witnessed more death and devastation than most soldiers saw on the frontline. Over a million houses in London were destroyed and nearly 20,000 civilians killed. But the horrors of the night were made more endurable by the atmosphere in the capital as day broke. All the petty distinctions that normally characterise life in a large city had fallen away. Strangers would stop and talk to each other. If anyone looked lost or confused, people would offer to help. Most adults had been up all night in makeshift air-raid shelters, often having to cope with restless children, but instead of being tetchy and short-tempered they were full of jokes and good cheer. The sense of community was so palpable, he said, it was as if you could reach out and touch it. One people united in adversity.
The resilience of Londoners during this time has been well-documented, but it’s worth repeating a few of the remarkable statistics. The psychiatric clinics opened to help people cope with the stress were closed due to lack of use. Suicides fell to below the rate they were at during peacetime. The number of work days lost to strikes in 1940 was the lowest in history. If the point of targeting civilians was to destroy morale, the Nazi bombing campaign was a failure. (To read more, click here.)
I was disappointed to read Mary Bousted’s unpleasant and divisive article about free schools. I wonder if she paused for a second to think about the impact of her words on the thousands of teachers who work at free schools and whom, in many cases, have helped set them up?
Two-thirds of free schools have been established by groups led by teachers, many of them members of the ATL or the NUT teaching unions. It cannot be great for morale to know that the soon-to-be joint leader of your union thinks the school you have been pouring your heart into is an example of “our worst fears realised”.
Mary has the gall to characterise anyone who questions her objections to free schools as indulging in “post-truth” politics, and, in the next breath, implies that free schools are more likely to be closed than other schools. In fact, in the last five years 1.71 per cent of maintained schools have closed, compared to just 1.43 per cent of free schools. If Mary is genuinely concerned about the impact of school closures on children, that would be a reason to support the free schools programme, where the rate of attrition is below average, not oppose it. (To read more, click here.)