Thursday, February 26, 2009

Layer 127 David Cameron, Progressive Conservatism and Progressive Education.

A Man of the People?

It’s an extraordinary coincidence that both David Cameron and Gordon Brown have fathered severely disabled children, and both have experienced the death of their first-born. These are the things that every parent fears most - abnormalities, extreme illness and death.

According to Michael Gove, living with their son Ivan has changed the way that the Camerons see the world, and life. Obviously for the better. Various people have said that Cameron used to be an arrogant toff.

Presumably bringing up a severely disabled child forces a parent to understand more than most of us that all children are different, all children have specific needs, all children have a right to love and care and also appropriate provision for their differing abilities, disabilities and special needs.

Expectations cannot be the same for all children, and more than anything else children have a right to enjoy life and to live without undue pressure, coercion and unrealistic expectations. All children progress at different rates, and their wellbeing must not be compromised by forcing them into inappropriate moulds.

It would be immoral to run a health service or an education service in the interests of the staff - their managers or their policy-makers. It is immoral to run a public service on the basis of performance data and statistics, driving practice according to the need to prioritise government targets.

Unfortunately there’s no evidence that Brown has views on education that differ in any respect to Blair, Blunkett or any of the other fools that have set the policies and targets for schools.

Cameron, on the other hand, has already made it clear that he’ll sweep away the targets culture and free schools from the oppressive yoke that’s been placed on our schools these many years. We shall see. If he does that and restores education to the profession it should be, then he’ll certainly win over that section of the population.

In the meantime we should allow him the benefit of the doubt, assume that he’s a man of his word, and offer him and his wife condolences on the loss of their son, and warm wishes for their future happiness.


By an incredible coincidence David Cameron was the main story in G2 yesterday, with a photograph of him in white shirt and tie on the front cover. Andy Beckett’s article sprawls across six pages, with large photos of DC playing with a Frisbee on a beach, reading a speech, in his toff gear at an Oxford ball, surrounded by his shadow cabinet, and of course the famous one on the sofa at home with his family, looking down at Ivan, who’s lying across his lap.

He says the four aims of progressive conservatism are “a society that’s fair, where opportunities are equal, that’s greener, and safer - with people protected from threat and fear”. If that means he plans to abolish privilege, inequality, poverty, homelessness and unemployment, then what’s not to vote for?

The main cloud on his horizon appears to be that neither he nor his shadow chancellor, George Osborne, understand Keynesian economics. There’s also the little matter of his “progressiveness” being completely against the traditions and instincts of the Conservative party.

The ideal scenario would be for him to split the Tories and force the remaining toffs, the reactionaries and the backwoodsmen to go off and start their own party, or join UKIP. If he promised to do that then he’d definitely be worth voting for. That and promising to bring in proportional representation and an elected second chamber.

I’ve been saying for a couple of years that the best outcome of the next election would be a hung parliament and a government of all the talents. New Labour doesn’t deserve another term, unless of course they get rid of Mandy and Blears and their ilk, and suddenly become a proper socialist party, which seems unlikely to the point of pure fantasy.

Vince Cable clearly is best qualified to be the next Chancellor. Clegg and Hughes have a basic decency and intelligence. Willetts and Hague and aren’t idiots either, and are probably entitled to call themselves progressive conservatives if they subscribe to DC’s ‘four aims’.

Harriet Harman, currently parked in the Prescott slot, deserves better. The fact is she’s the most intelligent, decent and progressive of the current cabinet. And she’s intelligent in the sense of socially, emotionally and spiritually intelligent, being empathetic and intuitive as well as knowledgeable and genuinely ‘progressive’ in her beliefs and values.

Others will, of course, favour David Miliband for future stardom, but he’s done himself no favours in his current post over the torture cover-up, which is stupid and unforgivable. He’s also tainted by being a Blair advisor and collaborator for so many years, as he climbed the greasy NuLabour pole within the Downing Street clique. He was also useless as an Education Secretary.


“Soft Skills and Starters for 10”

The Guardian published an interesting column yesterday by Yvonne Roberts, a senior associate of the Young Foundation.

In it she refers to both Jade Goody, whose affliction with terminal cancer and recent marriage have been big news in the tabloids, and in fact in all the papers, and Gail Trimble, who’s become a national superstar as a result of her excellence in captaining the winning team to the final of University Challenge.

To her great credit, Gail Trimble has said that her performance on television is no demonstration of real intelligence or understanding - it’s just quick recall of facts.

Unfortunately Yvonne Roberts refers to the development of social, emotional and spiritual intelligence as ‘soft skills’, which I think is pretty unhelpful, even if it is the current jargon at the Young Foundation and elsewhere. These intelligences are neither hard nor soft, so what’s the point? It only antagonises the kind of people who equate ‘soft’ with female and touchy-feely and of lesser importance.

Interestingly in the Cameron piece in G2, there’s a quote from Chris Patten: “We know he is clever in an orthodox sense. But the tests he will face as prime minister are tests of temperament, and he has a good temperament.”

So there we have it - ‘orthodox cleverness’ can only get you so far. What really matter in life, and in one’s career, are the things that make up ‘character’ - the things that Obama clearly has in abundance - judgement, tenacity, self-confidence, self-discipline, vision, compassion, determination, empathy, integrity, emotional intelligence and balance. It’s a blessing that we now have a leader of the Tory party who may indeed have some or all of these qualities, especially when you think about those who have gone before.

I need to quote extensively from Ms Roberts’ piece, as it hangs together so well:

The British education system is based on a form of apartheid. Those with a reasonable IQ are deemed "bright", and therefore they matter; the remainder are labelled failures, and know they are from infancy.

For decades, education has been artificially divided between the academic and those deemed inferior, who are possibly "good with their hands". Cognitive skills (academic knowledge, long-term memory, the ability to think abstractly) are still considered all that really matter. As the interim report of the primary review, published last week, points out, the result of this focus plus a distorted emphasis on numeracy, literacy, tests and targets, leaves teachers little freedom to bring out the best in each child.

As a result, we have illiteracy and alienation at one end of the spectrum and academic inflation at the other - producing young adults unsuited for work. Some schools and universities are exceptional in their determination to make education work for individuals, but most are pushed to produce young people who are anything but rounded, resilient, confident - or employable.
Much of the debate around the primary review missed the most important point: no matter what parts of the national curriculum are overhauled, expanded or removed, our system in the 21st century is not fit for purpose. It needs transformation, not reform.

The government is aware of the challenge. Verbally, at least, it endorses creativity and innovation and the importance of the soft skills - non-cognitive attributes such as attitudes, values and beliefs, self-confidence, enterprise, creativity, determination and persistence. These skills are much loved by the right as the ingredients of "character". It is these soft skills that the allegedly dumb Jade Goody has developed in public over the past several years.

In its actions, however, Labour still sticks to the past: IQ, exams and rigidly unimaginative didactic teaching rules.

US research by Martin Seligman, among others, has shown some people of superior intelligence who lack sufficient soft skills never make their mark. Conversely, others who produce low results on IQ tests, but who score highly in soft skills, can shine.

Yet with the absence of those skills and poor teacher expectations, hundreds of thousands of children are outstripped by their more affluent (and sometimes dimmer) peers who have their non-cognitive abilities developed to the hilt by middle-class parents able to invest hugely in project junior.

Flexibility, teamwork, problem-solving and determination are what's required - and while Trimble might have almost singlehandedly won it for Corpus Christi, as a society we can no longer afford to leave the thinking to an academic elite. Or endorse an education system that does not sufficiently invest in developing the non-cognitive skills and character that allow a child to achieve his or her full potential.


Further to my comments in the last blog, the Guardian published a survey yesterday which confirmed that most voters (two thirds) think that Labour would fare better with a new leader.


Alistaire Darling on Radio 4 this morning was continuing to witter on about the need to return the banks to the private sector - to “fully commercial operation”, “run on a private basis”, as soon as possible. He was also at pains to emphasise that RBS is one of the biggest banks in the world.

So bloody what? Since the banks imploded aren’t we, the public, entitled to aquire them at little or no cost, then hire capable managers to run them properly, and in doing so make fat profits that benefit us - the people? Or am I missing something?


Also in the news today the fat cat bastard who dumped RBS (and almost the whole of the financial system) in the shit, and on his ‘retirement’ became ‘entitled’ to a pension of £600,000 per year for the rest of his life. He’s only just turned 50 now. Mr Darling is going to ask him politely if he’d care to give some of the money back, since he was evidently so useless at his job, and ought to have been sacked anyway. Mr Darling said it seemed only right to give the money back since these are hard, indeed dire, times for RBS. Like - that amount of pension would be OK if RBS was making ‘normal’ profits? Fuck off!

Speechless. Just speechless.


As indeed I am at Mandy’s determination to part-privatise The Post Office. The man is a complete maniac. Brown was an idiot to bring him back into government, and can do nothing about him now. He’s no idea of the scale of revulsion for this unswerving determination to privatise public assets.

Any fool can make profits from a public monopoly - you just put up prices. The point is - it’s a matter of public policy that postal rates are kept low. Another problem lies with NuLabour’s willingness to let private sector companies cherry pick the bits of the former postal service they can make profits on.

You want the post office to be more efficient? Hire better managers, and let them work with the unions on ways to improve efficiency.

There’s a problem with the pension fund? So what? It’s a pittance compared with the banks’ bail out. And do NOT let that be an excuse - that’s we’ve given so much money to bail out the banks that we can no longer afford to bail out the Post Office. Bullshit.


Springwatch 4.

The very first tiny yellow blossom on the forsythia outside my kitchen window.

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