Northernheckler's Blog

A Yorkshireman's adventures in the big Smoke

Wishful thinking on the Olympic clap-o-meter

Lots of activity on social networks tonight about current Chancellor & wannabe PM George Osborne getting booed before presenting a medal at the Paralympics, and ex Chancellor and ex PM Gordon Brown getting cheered.

Brilliant – sounds fantastic. Have a look at the videos and see what you think
Here’s George :

And here’s Gordon :

So what we’re seeing here, is (according to the twittersphere) George Osborne getting the most humiliating reception any politician anywhere has ever had. And Gordon Brown basking in the warm glow of the love that the nation has remembered that they have for him really and they want to have his babies.

Putting aside tribal loyalties though, Gordon’s applause is actually pretty much the polite Olympic/Paralympic cheer. Just about EVERYBODY gets one. If you want to know what a truly rapturous reception for a medal presenter (sorry flower presenter) is like, then the one that Sebastian Coe got before presenting Jessica Ennis’s Gold Medal bouquet took some beating (can’t find a decent Youtube video – guess you had to be there ! (I was !) )

Note that the guy who presents the flowers with Gordon Brown who no one has ever heard of, gets a cheer just as big as GB

Of course George Osborne did get booed. That in itself says something – no one else has been booed that I know of. But does it say much though ?

Booing the chancellor is a little bit like booing  Mr Punch – it’s a tradition – you could almost hear the giggles coming from the crowd.

I remember hearing bingo callers saying “Number 10 – Maggie’s Den” – and everyone in the room shouted back “Not for long !”

A few years later it was “Number 10 – Tony’s Den” – and guess what the response from the crowd was ?

This seems a lot like that to me – sure he’s unpopular – but most of the people booing there were just having a giggle.

This wasn’t a big deal. Not at all.

I sort of wish it had been though.

Meanwhile here’s Jessica Ennis getting her medal – I must have been so close to where this was filmed from, it’s surprising I’m not in the video. One of the best nights of my life

September 3, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

David Miliband’s “Thank you” email to supporters

David Miliband

David Milliband

This was David Miliband’s “thank you” email to supporters tonight – not sure if it went to all Labour members or just to those who voted for him – but here it is anyway for anyone who missed it : -

”   I wanted to write to you this evening to thank you for the phenomenal support you have given me, and the Party over the last few months.

I am so proud of the campaign we ran together, it is a testament to each of you that as we campaigned for Labour, we also campaigned to make a difference in our local communities.

I was proud also to see my brother take the stage today, the new leader of the Labour Party, and know you will join me in uniting with Ed to take on this divided coalition.

As Ed said today, we must now secure the opportunity for Labour to serve the country again; to make it a more prosperous, more equal, more fair society.

Yours ever

David    “

September 25, 2010 Posted by | politics | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Why I’ve voted David Miliband for Labour Leader

David Miliband for Labour Leader

David Miliband giving the Keir Hardie Lecture

There are many factors that influence voters in any election. A party leadership election is a particularly interesting one in that respect.

Why ? Well I feel it’s because a party leader really has two very different jobs – one is to “lead” the party, to steer it in a particular direction, to get the various different forces within the party to pull together so that the resultant force is in the direction which the leader, and the party as a whole want to go.

The second job however is to get the party into government. This means appealing not just to members, or regular voters of a party, but also to those who may not support the party. For an opposition party this is particularly important – without the support of a few more people who voted otherwise at the last election, the party will stay in opposition.

So in considering who to vote for I’ve tried to ask myself : Can I see this person as a leader of the Labour Party, and secondly : Can I see this person as Prime Minister ?

This is what I came up with :

First of all I think the field of candidates is a remarkably strong one – if I have a disappointment it is that there are no more female candidates – I think it’s high time Labour had a woman as leader. If they don’t choose to run though, then that’s their choice. I think Harriet Harman has done remarkably well standing in, in the interim however. I’d have been pleased to have seen Yvette Cooper running as well.

Which leads me nicely to Diane Abbott – I like Diane – she has personality to spare, a strongly evident sense of humour, and is not afraid to be outspoken. I could just about see her as Labour leader – I couldn’t see her as Prime Minister though – the massed ranks of the Tory media would have her for Breakfast, Dinner & Tea (or should that be Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner)  – and I think she’s be a very vulnerable target for those wishing to make the Labour Party look foolish. Which is a shame – I still think she has a great deal to offer as a politician.

With Andy Burnham the trouble I’ve had is that I’ve almost had to look him up on Wikipedia to find out much about him. I’ve received less information about him during the campaign than any of the others, and it’s been frankly very low-key – I’d find it difficult to identify a picture of him. An invisible leader will not win any elections, so although I’ve no reason to doubt his ability as a politician, neither do I have much positive evidence either, My guess is that the wider non-Labour electorate would say “Andy who ?” – so sorry Andy, you don’t get my vote either.

Which leaves my top three – the two Miliband brothers and Ed Balls.

I could certainly see any of these three as a Labour leader. I could certainly see any one of them ultimately as a Prime Minister. Whatever the eventual result of the leadership election, I won’t have any worries about belonging to a party led by any of these three – they are able politicians, conducting strong campaigns, and I feel that they all have the potential to bring the public around to supporting the Labour party.

So how do I choose my 1, 2, 3 ?

Well my first instinct was to go for Ed Balls. Ed is someone who has responded to letters from a local MP regarding concerns I’d raised regarding my school, on two separate occasions, with sensible and timely advice. He has read my blog on a number of occasions, and has exchanged e-mails and twitter messages. I’ve met him at the House of Commons, and found him to be very impressive. On a personal level then, this makes him a good choice for me – I’ve not met either of the Milibands, and had no interaction with them up to now.

So it was looking like Ed Balls for 1st choice to me – but how did I choose between the other two ?

It quickly became apparent that the Miliband brothers were the two front-runners in this race. Obvious too, that commentators and some supporters were trying to cast David in the role of the “New Labour” candidate, carrying the torch of the Tony Blair legacy, while Ed supposedly represented a return to “core” Labour values – to win back the votes of disillusioned left-wing voters, who had deserted the party after the commencement of the Iraq war.

For myself, I can’t really believe that any of the candidates will be definable primarily along those lines – I really don’t think that there are massive differences in approach, between these three – but that this Right side / Left side argument which is flying through the online community, is trying to stir this up in order to tribalise the leadership contest.

I blogged on this here some days ago Can we stop fighting amongst ourselves please ? « Northernheckler’s Blog

At the time it was tempting me away from the Miliband brothers who seemed to be the axis of the sudden burst of in-fighting – which led me more towards Ed Balls.

The next day I had a campaign e-mail from the David Miliband campaign : David Miliband Campaign e-mail

I liked what I read. It was almost as if he’d read my blog. Or at least was expressing exactly the same sentiments as I was.

Over the next couple of days, Tony Blair appeared increasingly on the news in relation to his new book. I lost count of the number of negative comments about him – these from supposed Labour supporters – comparing him with Margaret Thatcher, calling him a war criminal, saying he was the worst leader Labour had ever had. Many of them as well linking him directly to David Miliband.

Well actually I rather liked Tony Blair. Rather respected him too – he took principled, if controversial decisions about Iraq, which had huge popular support, as well as a substantial parliamentary majority. He achieved a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, and led Labour to an unprecedented three terms in office.

But I’m not a Blairite. Or a Brownite – I’m a left of centre Labour member and voter. Blair and Brown are gone. New Labour isn’t new anymore. Old Labour is similarly in the past.

I re-read David Miliband’s email. It seemed to sum up everything I was thinking.

And so I voted :

1. David Miliband

2. Ed Balls

3. Ed Miliband

I didn’t indicate a 4th and 5th choice – as I don’t think the other two candidates are Prime Ministerial material,

So a close run thing which has in the end been decided by my negative interpretation of Labour supporters slagging off other candidates and tribalising different factions within the party, and ultimately I’ve been tipped over the edge by a single e-mail. So I’d like to say “Sorry Ed !” to my 2 and 3 selections.

If you find my reasoning quirky or illogical, you could well be right – but that’s how I came to my decision.

I look forward to reading other bloggers’ accounts of how they made up their minds

September 7, 2010 Posted by | blogs, Election 2010, politics | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What’s the big deal with St George’s Day ?


On the Sky News channel today, during the televised leaders debate featuring five candidates for the Labour Party Leadership, a question was posed of the candidates ( YouTube – 2 of the 5 Labour Leadership candidates knew that St George’s day is on 23rd April )  which caused a bit of a flurry on Conservative home Only two of Labour’s putative leaders know when St George’s Day is – LeftWatch

The question quite simply was to give the date of St George’s Day – and 3 of the candidates got this wrong,

(For those of you who don’t know, St George is the patron saint of England, with St Andrew, St Patrick and St David being the patron saints of Scotland, Ireland & Wales respectively)

There is a long tradition of wrong-footing politicians with unexpected questions – like how to pronounce Barnoldswick, or Slaithwaite – or indeed what Menzies Campbell’s name really sounds like. Asking candidates who their favourite Spice Girl or Tellytubbie was, proved a novel way of exploring knowledge of current affairs, and more recently quizzes about Bill Shankly and Ferry Cross the Mersey have been used to try and catch unsuspecting political hopefuls out.

So this unexpected question is perhaps also entirely predictable.

Does it matter that they couldn’t answer ?

Well I’d probably have got it right – I had the 4 patron saints’ dates for the UK drilled in to me as a Cub Scout between the ages of 9 and 11. Assisted in no small part by Blue Peter, who never failed to remind us when there was one coming up (I preferred Bleep & Booster myself).

I remembered St. Andrew’s Day because it was my brother’s birthday – and also Winston Churchill’s – as my working class Tory grandmother was very fond of reminding him. 30th November

I remembered St. David’s Day because it was easier to remember because it was on the 1st day of the month – and also because it was more or less in daffodil time –  1st March. My working class Tory Grandmother would also remind me as this was one of the 12 days per year when she said “Rabbits Rabbits Rabbits” to everyone she met.

I found St Patrick’s difficult to remember because that was the other March one. It was also difficult because my racist working class Tory Grandfather claimed every thing was the fault of the bloody Irish (except for the things that were the fault of Arthur Scargill and Joe Gormless), and my working class Tory Grandmother felt it best not to rattle his cage.  In later life I’ve remembered it because it’s the only one of the four patron saint’s days that ever gets celebrated by anyone March 17th

St George’s day was a funny one to remember because it’s the Queen’s Birthday on the 21st April, St George’s day, and Shakespeare’s birthday on the 23rd of April and my birthday on the 27th. Or was it the Queen on the 27th, me on the 23rd and St George … – you get the picture . My working class Tory Grandmother also had lost interest by this time as it was Spring, and she was getting ready to provide me with a suitably wonderful birthday present. Usually I could just about work out when it was though.

Having lived in England all my life and as an Englishman, how have we celebrated our patron saint’s day ? Well I can honestly say that except for 3 years I never have. Nor do I remember any body else doing, although I’ve seen a few things on pub black boards promoting Happy Hours & the like in recent times.

Those 3 years were of course when I was part of the Cub Scouts. I was the “sixer” of the Yellow Six, and as most of Yellow Six turned up and paid their subs I got to hold the flag at the St George’s Day Parade. This involved meeting with all the other scout and cub groups in the area, and walking down the middle of a road for about half a mile to a Church of England church (this remember was in a fairly secular area, where such Christians as there were, were far more likely to attend non-conformist churches or “chapels”) , where we then had to sing a few hymns and listen to a vicar. The hymns invariably included “Onward Christian Soldiers”, “I vow to thee my country”, “Stand up Stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross”, and “Soldiers of Christ Arise”. All of which to be fair were fairly standard fare from my County Primary School.

As an adult I’ve looked back on those times and felt saddened that as children we were effectively schooled in a para-military fashion – donning uniforms, waving national flags, swearing allegiance to our monarch, and to the established church, with it’s militaristic soldiers of Christ. In truth I can’t say it’s done me much harm. It seems a bit weird though.

So that’s what I associate with St George’s day – jingoism & indoctrination – which are thankfully far less common now. As an atheist who’s spent some time swotting up on Christianity as well, I have to say also that the whole cult of sainthood is one of the weaker aspects of Christianity, which stretches the credibility of the movement as a whole.

So what I’d have liked at least one of the candidates to answer would have been this :

“I’m not interested in St George’s day, because I’m not a Christian, I don’t support an established religion, and I have no wish to prop up the church and it’s non-elected leader the Queen by promoting it”

That would have made news. Sadly it would have also played right into Sky and Adam Boulton’s hands, and have lost Labour votes for many years to come. So maybe it’s better that they didn’t rise to the bait.

It wasn’t that tough a question really I guess – and the candidates I’ve voted for as first and second choice  both got it right.

A far easier question actually than predicting when Ash Wednesday falls – something which Sky News’s Kay Burley has found difficult in the past :

September 5, 2010 Posted by | idle banter, politics, Religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

More support for children with Special Educational Needs

I was pleased to see this press release Ed Balls: More support for children with Special Educational Needs from the DCSF which came to me via email from my local authority.

I’ve blogged before on the way that David Cameron seems be cornering the market in the Special Education field (David Cameron’s right to flag up provision for families with disabled children.) and how the Labour party don’t seem to be providing any responses to the suggestions he makes (Still no response to David Cameron on Autism, Disability) .

Ed Balls statement is a welcome reversal of this trend.  The part that caught my attention in particular (as Head of a school for children with severe, profound and multiple disabilities) was this :

To ensure pupils had the highest quality teaching in special schools, Ed Balls announced he was commissioning Toby Salt to lead an independent review into the supply of teachers trained to meet the needs of children with Severe Learning Difficulties (SLD) and Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD). He also announced that the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) would be taking forward a £550,000 project to develop special schools as leaders in teaching and learning practice for children with the most complex learning difficulties, meeting a commitment in the 21st century schools system White Paper.

This is welcome news indeed. I wonder how many readers are aware of just how many “special school teachers” for children with learning difficulties have actually received any specialist training to teach children with learning difficulties prior to entering those schools ? Well to give you a clue, there have been no specialist initial teacher training courses since I graduated with a Bachelor of Education in 1989. Many special school teachers have received no award bearing training after qualification either.

(That isn’t all bad news actually – mainstream teachers bring a great deal to special schools – and the shift of emphasis from specialist training of teachers for special schools,  has helped facilitate some of the achievements in promoting inclusive practice in the education of children with special educational needs. Few people teaching in the field of Special Educational Needs would consider the situation ideal however)

It’s also clear to me as well that special schools – catering for the most severe disabilities  – far from being institutions which promote segregated education, are actually the organisations best placed to provide help, advice and support to colleagues across the spectrum of educational provision, to promote the education of children with special needs in all settings.

Although David Cameron does echo the opinions of many parents in prioritising special schools over mainstream provision for children with special educational needs – he perhaps forgets that the overwhelming majority of children with special educational needs are – and should be – educated in mainstream schools. He is right to emphasise the importance of special schools though in meeting the needs of those with the most severe and complex needs – but does not I feel go far enough to recognise the key role of that special schools, and specialist teachers can play as centres of excellence, spreading good practice, and helping to ensure that the rest of the educational system is better equipped to meet all children’s needs in their own schools.

I’m hopeful that the SSAT project which Ed Balls announces in this release will be a move towards doing just that.

The two initiatives will certainly be led by people recognisable to education professionals – Toby Salt has worked extensively with the National College for School Leadership, and Professor Barry Carpenter is arguably the best known practitioner in Special Education in the UK today. He is known, liked and respected by many in the profession – including myself.

It’s perhaps worth noting that Ed Balls is in a very different position to David Cameron when it comes to making pronouncements about the future of  education. David Cameron can effectively shoot whatever pitch he likes in order to garner public support and votes.  He may or may not get a chance to implement what he says. He may or may not choose to. Whether he’ll have the funding to do so is also a matter of some conjecture as well.

Mr Balls on the other hand is the incumbent secretary of state. If he makes promises, he’s obliged to carry them out. Yet clearly he may not be in a position to do so – it’s unlikely that any changes requiring government legislation can be implemented before the election – an election which could be lost. Neither can he make rash promises though – it’s an election which could also be won !

So I’m satisfied for the moment with the promises made in this press release, but hope to see the issues surrounding the education of children with special needs, and with disabilities taking a higher priority as we move towards the election. I’m sure David Cameron will do that, but whilst I respect his position regarding these issues, I don’t feel that his party does, and would expect that this would be fertile vote winning ground for the more compassionate, and thoughtful Labour Party.

Only time will tell !


October 4, 2009 Posted by | Disability, education, politics | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Cuts for Schools ?

I was suprised this morning to read of Ed Balls interview with the Sunday Times  Labour’s £2bn cuts for schools in which he apparently calls for around £2bn worth of cuts to the education system, arrived at by – amongst other things, reducing the senior leadership teams of schools, and also making savings by bringing schools together in “Federations” where they would have one head overseeing many schools.

He doesn’t seem to be saying quite the same thing on his web site where he publishes a transcript of a later interview televised on the BBC’s The Politics Show Transcript of interview on The Politics Show . It’s interesting that the BBC in it’s version of the two interviews seems to rely rather more on the edited account of the Time’s interview, than it does on the interview it carried out itself :  ‘Labour ‘could save schools £2bn’ . Perhaps because Ed Balls did say in the BBC interview “I think it’s really important to have a head in every school, that’s my view”, and also (in relation to federation of schools) “I’m not saying  … I’m going to impose from the top down you must do this” – which sort of takes the sting out of it.

He did more than hint though at making savings through a reduction in Senior Managers, and that this could be partly achieved by encouraging Federations of schools.

So what it’s it all about ?

Well I may be a headteacher, but I don’t really know. Ed Balls is not a foolish man, and must have been aware that this would be reported, pretty much in the way it has been – a way in which at first glance few people working in the field of education would immediately clap their hands with glee.

I do know a few things though. I know that forming federations at the moment is a matter which is done at the discretion purely of the Governing Bodies of the schools involved. So it would involve either primary legislation, or an unprecedented co-ordination of Local Authority arm-bending to make sure federations happen in any large numbers.

Not that they don’t happen. In fact one of the reasons why federations do crop up is that many schools find it difficult to recruit suitable headteachers, and quite often end up seconding a head from a nearby school to oversee another one – this has in some cases led to “executive heads” being appointed across several schools. I couldn’t comment on whether it saves money – you’d need to do the sums in a real situation. However,I can’t imagine it would save much. Having an executive head often means having individual heads as well – or at least having ‘super deputies’ paid a similar salary to a head. Once you lose the sitting candidates (who are often the first post holders for “super deputy” jobs) these can be difficult posts to fill. In many ways all the responsibilities of a head (some of them legal responsibilities) – but without autonomy and individual influence on the school that a true headship brings. No head who has enjoyed being a head would ever want to go back to “running someone elses show”.

What I seem to be sensing from Ed Ball’s comments is a hint towards further Government commitment to ways of ‘radicalising’ schools – in current parlance this of course means academies, trust schools, specialist school and federations of schools – all of which have met to some extent with criticism from teachers unions.

I’m not particularly opposed to them though. Here’s why -

Since the Conservatives took power in 1979, and particularly since the Education Reform Act of 1989 there’s been a move towards schools having greater and greater independence in managing their own affairs. The role of a Headteacher has changed dramatically – and is now a multi-faceted business leadership role – but one which requires experience and expertise in education first and foremost as a qualification for the post. There are things that crop up in Headteachers woking lives then that are way outside their realm of experience – and many is the time when I would dearly love to employ – (for example) – an accountant, a computer engineer, an architect, a builder, a fund raiser, another 4 secretaries – I could go on. Why – because they would help me to do the things that I either don’t have time for, or am simply not particularly good at.

Of course I am at liberty to employ those people if I wish – so what stops me ? Two things ! –  first of all it’s very difficult to move from the structure of schools which is well established – it’s hard to think radical, because everything’s set up to keep things the same. Secondly – I’m too small. I can’t afford to do those things.

Now – supposing I was part of a group of 5 schools. Then we might be able to appoint some people who could help us to be more efficient. Suppose that we had more freedom to employ people in roles other than the traditional ones – dare I say it – as an Academy ? Then we could think radical – we could stop trying to do all the same old things better, and start doing new things better. We could forge partnerships with Universities, we could place our teachers on research programmes, sponsored by the people who sponsor university research. We could …  well we could do all sorts really.

This is what I think Ed Balls is after, and I’m not especially disagreeing (I could pick a few holes though). There are plenty who would though – the NUT for one union (and I’m a member) would throw a real wobbly for sure. So I think the Secretary of State is measuring his words, knowing that anything in the press that smacks of a slap in the face for the relatively highly paid will go down well in at least some circles, and knowing that there’ll be time enough to present a radical agenda at some time in the future.

Well that’s my guess anyway.

September 20, 2009 Posted by | education, politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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