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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Education - how to get a glowing report

And in a further rant about academy schools...

The government has just unveiled the sponsors for its latest round of academy schools. There are 51 'new' (I use the term loosely, given that more often than not we're referring to formerly-state schools that the government has highjacked for its vanity learnin' project) academy schools opening this September, all of which have received a paltry £2m in funding from private business, in exchange for the control of young minds.

As yesterday's Daily Telegraph succintly put it,

'Teaching unions criticised the scale of the expansion, saying that companies with no track record in education were being given control of state schools. For as little as £2 million investment, organisations gain overall control of the governing body, dictating teacher's salaries, the curriculum and policies on admissions and exclusion.'

Course, the government wouldn't be so crass as to allow companies to force their own educationally biased agenda on state educated youths, would it?

Hmmm. Unless you consider that the vast majority of academy school sponsors are religious organisations which, historically, have never been all that shy in pushing their own agenda - think Spanish Inquisition and the burning of heretics at one end of the scale, and Vardy's creationist-led academy schools at the other.

Academy and Trust schools were, let's not forget, brought in by a man whose religious beliefs dictated his decisions as the head of the UK government, and who now - following an indecently hasty conversion to Catholicism - now believes he's going to sort out the 'problems of the Middle East' as head of a faith organisation. Tony Blair, your audacity is breathtaking. Shockingly, frighteningly, delusionally breathtaking.

However, I digress: the shining light of this round of academy sponsors? Step forward, Sellafield Ltd. That's right - the folks that brought you the warm, cuddly and educationally-relevant Sellafield Nuclear Plant.

The school they're sponsoring, the new West Lakes Academy, with be formed by the merger of two existing secondary schools and will specialise in science and business enterprise.

Question: what do you suppose the school's budding scientists are likely to be taught about sustainable, environmentally-friendly energy resources and their future viability by this non-biased, nuclear energy-sponsored centre of scientific excellence?

I for one would love to know.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Final Word on the Matter of Coldplay


'Coldplay singer Chris Martin has walked out of a BBC interview while promoting the band's new album.
Nine minutes into the pre-recorded interview for Radio 4 arts show Front Row, the 31-year-old asked to leave the studio as he was not enjoying himself.
The band's drummer, Will Champion, was left to answer questions from presenter John Wilson until Martin returned for one final question.
Coldplay's new album, Viva La Vida, was released on Thursday.

Martin appeared uncomfortable with the interview from the outset.
When asked about a speech he made at a music awards ceremony in 2005 where he said the band would be away "for a very long time", Martin said: "I always say stupid things and I think Radio 4 is the place that will most remind me of that."

Presenter Wilson questioned whether the new album - full title, Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends - was a morbid reflection of the band's lyrical obsession with death.
"I wouldn't agree with you there at all, no," said Martin.
"I'd say you're journalistically twisting me into saying something I don't really mean."
A few minutes later, Martin said he was "not really enjoying this" and that he did not really like "having to talk about things".
Champion answered the remaining questions before the frontman returned to answer a final question, about finding new musical territory, with the response: "Um....yes...yes, yes....exactly..."
Sales figures released by the Official UK Charts Company confirm Viva La Vida sold 125,000 copies in its first day on sale.
It looks certain to be number one in this Sunday's album chart despite only being released towards the end of the week.'

I figured it was best to repeat this nonsense in its entirety, as there is really nothing more to be said.


So this is quite bizarre. Kevin Spacey has been appointed a ‘Professor’ at Oxford University.
First surprise: that a University can appoint someone as a university teaching Professor who is not….well… a professor.
Second: That Spacey is apparently replacing Patrick Stewart in the job. Yes, that’s Patrick ’baldie’ Stewart. Curiouser and curiouser.

But that’s not the bizarre bit. Because it turns out that Spacey has been given the job in order to ’promote interest in contemporary theatre at the university’.

So, that’s an Oscar winning A List actor, being hired to increase an interest in a middle class cultural pursuit among the wealthy middle class and educationally privileged?
For why?
Perhaps when he’s finished doing that, some bright spark could see whether he fancies offloading some snow, ice and reindeer offcuts to the Inuits?

‘Double Oscar winning actor Kevin Spacey said it is an "honour" to be named as a University of Oxford professor.
The American Beauty star will be the next Cameron Mackintosh Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre at St Catherine's College, Oxford.
Spacey, who is also artistic director of The Old Vic Theatre Company, will succeed actor Patrick Stewart when the next academic year starts in October.
His role will be to promote interest in contemporary theatre at the university.
Spacey said: "It really is an honour for me to have been invited to follow such illustrious names and take up this role at Oxford.
"The university is steeped in tradition and has a great heritage in the arts and I look forward to working with the students and staff.
"I relish the challenge ahead and am excited for term to begin."'

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Shame Academy

Wonderful news this morning. The government is (once again) threatening to close the country’s ‘failing’ schools if they don’t buck up their ideas and improve their exam results:

Almost one in five secondary schools in England is to be given a warning to improve exam results or face closure.
The government is targeting 638 schools, in which less than 30% of pupils achieve at least five good GCSEs including English and maths.
The £400m standards drive, which will create up to 70 new academies, is to be launched by Schools Secretary Ed Balls.
Academies in deprived areas could "break the link between poverty and attainment", said Mr Balls.
The National Challenge, to be launched on Tuesday, will require every secondary school in England to have achieved this GCSE benchmark within three years.

This appears, on the surface, to be the same tired routine this haven’t-a-fucking-clue government has been churing out for the last couple of years. In the face of a total lack of voluntary interest from schools (run by people who actually work in the teaching profession and therefore tend to know better), this is its not-particularly-subtle way of forcing them to sign up to one or the other of its wildly unpopular academy and trust school programmes (which, taken together, effectively amount to the privatisation of state education). After all, they can’t just abandon them as a bad idea, given that central government and the DfES have backed the programmes and several billion has already been spent.

“If you don’t sort yourselves out, we’re going to turn you into academy schools! Yes we are. Look at us, and our tough no nonsense approach to education. More money over here, throw more money on the fire! That’s the ticket!”:

There are 27 secondary schools in Birmingham, 33 in Kent and 13 in Manchester facing this exams ultimatum.
The improvement plans will mean the acceleration of the academy programme, with 313 of these independent state schools set to be running by September 2010.

Look a little closer, though. The list of schools in question, released by the BBC today, actually includes 26 ACADEMY SCHOOLS. That is, those schools that have ALREADY been strong-armed into adopting academy status, and for which the move has made ABSOLUTELY NO POSITIVE DIFFERENCE WHATSOEVER. What a heart-stopping surprise this must have been to everyone except the schools, their teaching staff, everyone at the DfES and the cuddly Ed Balls himself. Or not.

What are they going to threaten to do with the academy schools that are failing, turn them into ‘Super Academy’ Schools? Extra Strong Academy Schools? ‘New’ Academy Schools? Or will they just raze them to the ground and be done with it, safe in the knowledge that no child of a ludicrously-overpaid Education Dept MP will ever set foot in a ‘failing’ school?

So the long and the short of it is, they’re going to close down a load more schools, knocking a few of them down and rebuilding them at a cost of millions for the sheer hell of it (well, if you’ve got the budget you may as well spend it, eh?), and reopening them as all singing, all-dancing academy schools, part-sponsored by mad right wing christians, second-hand car salesmen-turned-creationists (Google VARDY and ACADEMY SCHOOLS, I haven’t the heart to go into it this morning) and anyone else with a raging ego problem, a desire to control malleable young minds and a spare two million quid. (The bulk of the cost of this continuing farce will be shouldered by you and I, obviously, but don’t expect to be greeted warmly when you propose that all the children in YOUR chosen school should be taught that Jesus was made of blancmange and all French people are actually descended from Ghengis Khan. And you can forget about the knighthood, as well, since you ask).

This, people, is the end of state education in the United Kingdom, as exercised by the stinking remains of what was once the Labour Party. If I still had any energy left from having tried in vain to explain this to people over the last few years, I’d weep from anger and, frankly, from the sheer sadness of the situation. But the fact is, nobody’s noticed what’s been going on in our country’s education system, and those that do don’t seem to care, so what’s the point?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Misery Porn

Now then.
Please tell me that it's not just ME that finds this whole 'misery memoir' business quite sick? You know the kind of stuff: I was abused as a child, I adopted abused children who abused me/abused others, my husband was an abuser/paedophile, I was made to eat dog food, my dog was abused, my parents were evil, I was driven to drugs/booze/crime/sexual depravity by any and all of the above.
The kind of barely readable pap that can be niftily shorthanded as 'This is evil, this is dirty, look, look' literature.

It all started with Dave Pelzer, who has so far managed to make for himself a VERY lucrative career by writing increasingly (and increasingly suspiciously) lurid accounts of abuse at the hands of his mother, without once in several hundred pages of his first book 'A Boy Called It' even attempting to speculate as to what might have driven his mother to her actions. It's not the psychology of it the readers are interested in, you see, any more than the consumers of hardcore pornography are interested in the reasons WHY sexy young sluts love c**k (oh come on, don't act shocked, you get the same spam messages as me...).

Isn't the voracious reading of books with titles like "Please Daddy No" simply the barely-disguised ambulance-chasing 'acceptable' face of paedophilia?
If you get your jollies reading about children being abused in a book you bought from Amazon, is that REALLY psychologically all that much more depraved than getting your jollies from an account of child abuse you picked up, wrapped in brown paper, from a back street shop in Soho? (And, obviously, I do mean psychologically on the part of the consumer, I'm not suggesting that the sale of paedo porn is fine and dandy with me).

Do you really need to read about little girls being sold to dockers for sodomy purposes to know that child abuse is very unpleasant indeed?
Of course you don't.
So what are so many people (they're DISTRESSINGLY popular) reading these books for, if not vicarious enjoyment?

The perplexing thing is how upset people get when you suggest that their reading these books is a mild form of sadistic voyerism. Though that fact is plainly true, people see themselves as such sensitive bleeding hearts for reading this guff, that it never actually occurs to them that they're not sensitive wee flowers at all but that they're getting something out of it. Somehow, like other forms of pornography, the whole thing would be less offensive if people just admitted that they like it because it turns them on. Grubby beggars.

Or am I just too cynical for words?

Hot House

Look! It's a big pink hash house. And apparently this isn't a trailer for a new children's telly show (oh how I wish it were). It's actually a 'new technique' being used by police to detect "cannabis factories" through thermal imaging.

How many 88 year old grannies 'feeling the cold' do you think will be arrested by knacker in riot gear before they realise this plan might have a few flaws?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Australians: they LOVE a foreigner

What I find so eternally amusing about Australia - a place where some (myself among them) would argue that racism is more ingrained and more widely tolerated among general society than most other nations (except perhaps France) is just how pointlessly and passionately they claim the opposite to be true. Australia WANTS to see itself as a place where everything is fair dinkum, where everyone gets "a fair go", and where there really honestly isn't a mountain of ill-informed prejudice against all brown folk festering just beneath the surface.

See, for example, the desire to prevent the opening of a new Muslim school in suburban Sydney is NOT an illustration of the society's knee-jerk Islamaphobia, it's about planning issues:

Councillors for Camden, a small town on the outskirts of Sydney, unanimously voted against the proposed school for 1200 pupils. The councillors said they based their decision solely on planning grounds, citing an internal report about its environmental impact.
The proposed development had met with fierce local opposition. Camden's authorities received some 3,200 submissions from the public about the school and only 100 in favour.
Camden's mayor, Chris Patterson, stressed that the decision to reject the proposals was not made on religious or nationalistic grounds. "It is a site issue, clearly a site issue," Mr Patterson said after the vote.'


'Tensions reached their height last November when two pigs' heads were left on the site of the proposed school...'

Family Fortunes

It really is so nice in situations such as these to see that troubled, unhappy and dangerously ill people can rely upon the dignified, discreet and unwavering support of their loving families....*

2nd June 2008, BBC Online:

''Agitated' Gascoigne is sectioned

Former England footballer Paul Gascoigne has been sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
Hertfordshire Police confirmed he was taken to hospital on Sunday following reports that he was acting strangely in Hemel Hempstead.
A police spokesman said he approached a member of the public and appeared to be unwell and in an agitated state.
He was previously detained under the Mental Health Act in February following an incident at a Tyneside hotel.'

2nd June 2008, The Daily Star:

'THE sister of troubled football legend Paul Gascoigne fears he has less than four months to live.
Anna Marie Gascoigne fears her brother may not survive to be at her wedding in October.

And she said she only discovered how bad his addiction to booze was when he necked an entire bottle of gin in front of her – in one go.'

* for further evidence, see any and all articles written in the past 18 months about Amy Winehouse featuring "her worried father Mitch"