Nice try Larry but no cigar

It has been a catastrophic political blunder not to challenge the myth that Brown’s government caused the crisis and the austerity that followed. The choice, correctly framed by the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, is whether to pretend Osborne’s version of events is true and own up to perceived past mistakes or to contest it.

Pleading guilty seems the easier line to take, but it isn’t. The confession would be brandished by the government for the next five years as proof that Labour should never again be trusted with the public finances.

Instead, Labour needs to start its fightback by rehabilitating the record of the Blair-Brown years, making the point that the purpose of the pre-crisis borrowing was to modernise and improve the NHS and shabby schools. It also needs to challenge the idea that all borrowing at all times is bad. If that were the case, individuals would have to save up the entire asking price for a house rather than buying it on a mortgage and there would be no startup capital to launch businesses.

That’s not the argument about why Labour was profligate. Rather, look to the entirely standard Keynesian story. Yes, we should (using automatic stabilisers by preference, not spending sprees) increase aggregate demand in a downturn. But the flip side of that is that we should be running, yes, including that “investment ” shtick, a significant surplus at the peak of the boom. And we were at the peak of a boom: the longest one of modern times in fact, dating back pretty much to 1993.

No, not so as to pay down the national debt, no, not to save money for the future, not even to increase the firepower available for stimulus when the downturn inevitably comes.

Rather, to suck excessive demand out of the economy. There should have been, as with Ireland and Spain (not that it saved them, but things would have been even worse if they hadn’t been doing this), substantial budget surpluses in the period 2000 (or so) onwards. That’s the profligacy, that Labour didn’t even follow the standard Keynesian prescription.

Tristram Hunt goes Wibble, Wibble

For what’s the point of being a forward looking politician if people are just getting along and solving shit without you?

“Smartphones are psychologically addictive, encourage narcissistic tendencies and should come with a health warning.” That was the conclusion of a recent University of Derby study which highlighted the disturbing downside to our digital obsession.
But it could be even worse than that. Smartphone addiction could be damaging educational standards and exacerbating inequality. Advanced digital technology is now an everyday component of classroom and community, but we need to think much smarter about its long-term impact.
As shadow Education Secretary, I have a recurring conversation in the schools I visit. Primary head teachers explain to me the challenge they face in getting their pupils up to the relevant level of progress, given their various developmental delays. In particular, more children are presenting with serious difficulties when it comes to speech and language. In disadvantaged communities, children’s ability to talk, to play, to interact is often markedly behind. When I ask if the condition is getting worse, all heads say yes – and they blame the iPhone.

Yeah, right.

Pupils not being up to speed in English might have more to do with the number of children from families which do not speak English. Which has been rising rather, hasn’t it?

That Finnish teaching success

Ye, we know, Finland’s teachers are great, the school system is excellent.

But the five-year master’s degree for primary school teachers is not in question. Competition is fierce – only 7% of applicants in Helsinki were accepted this year, leaving more than 1,400 disappointed.

It’s the smart people going to be teachers. As opposed to the UK where….well, I don’t know about now so much but back when two Es got you into the teacher training college when three As might or might not get you into Oxbridge. Many of the inmates of the girlfriend farm that was the local teacher training college were in fact remarkably dumb.

Sounds like an extremely good use of £12

Ten years later, in 2002, MacFarlane-Barrow travelled to Malawi for the first time, to assist with famine relief. He met a woman dying of an Aids-related illness whose 14-year-old son told him that his one wish in life was to have enough food to eat, and to go to school one day. That encounter sparked Scottish International Relief’s evolution into a new school-based feeding operation, which MacFarlane-Barrow, a devout Catholic, named Mary’s Meals.

The charity now provides for children in 12 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, at an average cost of £12.20 per child, per year. ‘I think the reason we have got so far is that we’ve found something that really works,’ MacFarlane-Barrow says. ‘It’s so simple. And it’s also been successful because it is the community who own this – they are in charge of providing volunteers to cook the food, and supervising it.’

To feed the hungry? And as one authority had it, what you do to the little children you do unto me.

A bonzer plan there, entirely bonzer.

Hmm

A Manchester charity is proposing to open a state school that will specialise in supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children. There has never been a better time to announce such an initiative. Unfortunately, there has never been a worse time either.

Well, umm.

It’s OK to separate children by their sexuality during their education but not by their intelligence?

And Tristram Hunt can kiss my hairy freckled arse

Private schools would be stripped of £700 million in tax breaks if Labour is elected, under plans being drawn up by Ed Miliband.

The “class war” proposal could add up to £200 a year to the cost of a private school education.

Tristram Hunt, the shadow Education Secretary, is expected to outline plans to “claw back” relief given to private schools from paying local authority business rates.

More than 2,000 private schools across Britain can claim up to 80 per cent cut in their business rates because they are charities, worth around £150 million annually.

Mr Hunt will say that a Labour government will legislate to ensure the schools only qualify for this “subsidy” if they pass a new “schools partnership standard”.

Sigh. They’re charities. So, they should get the same breaks (and face the same costs) as other charities. Providing education is, and has always been seen as, a justifiably charitable endeavour.

And I’d also advise being very, very, careful about how you define “school” or “education” in this sense. For I’m absolutely certain that there’s all sorts of charities out there providing some educational benefits that you don’t want to subject to this taxation because they’re run by your supporters.

But the real problem here is that it’s a gross misunderstanding of what the charitable sector is all about. This is an areas supposed to be outside such detailed and direct governmental control.
Charity is about the things the little platoons do for the little platoons. Civil society: not politically directed centralised society. Government is and should be limited to setting the general rules. You’re a charity? Here are the rules. The same rules apply whether you’re a Labour Party front organisation, a donkey sanctuary or a school.

So here, here is that hairy freckled arse: pucker up matey and then you can fuck right off.

They had an investigation to figure this out?

Seriously?

Investigation reveals US university let athletes take fake classes
More than 3,000 students at University of North Carolina took fake classes as part of a program that allowed many to remain eligible to play sports

What?

Aren’t universities supposed to be where all the bright people are?

There’s amoeba at the bottom of the Marianna’s Trench that know about this, wolverines convene on the taiga to gossip about it. But then there’s no one so stupid as a bureaucrat insistent on not noting what they don’t wish to see, is there?

And absolutely no one at all should be thinking that this is happening at only one US university. It’s not even epidemic, it’s pandemic in the system. A 30 second conversation with most of those* playing college sport is all you need to divine that.

* Perhaps a touch harsh: but true of the major sports at the major sport playing places, if not of all sports at all colleges.

This is what happens when a craft becomes a profession

The professional classes then colonise that former craft:

 But then who am I to criticise Stephenson when journalism is as much of a rich kids’ game? Lindsey Macmillan of the Institute of Education found that journalists used to come from families 6% better off than average, whereas now they come from homes that are 42% richer. Indeed, British journalists, the supposed tribunes of the people, now hail from wealthier backgrounds than, er, bankers, an awkward fact that ought to cause embarrassment all round. I look at my younger self today and wonder if he could become a journalist on a serious newspaper. My parents were teachers. They were comfortably off by the standards of 1980s Manchester, but they could never have afforded to rent me rooms in London and cover my expenses while I went from internship to internship. They had to look after my sisters as much as anything else.

When the standard method of entry was a lowly paid couple of years on a local or regional to be followed, maybe, by a climb up to the nationals then that “right background” didn’t make a difference. When acting meant living on sixpence (rather than the nothing of interning or “parts to gain exposure” ) for a couple of years and doing Rep then again, that sorting system of separating the sheep from the hams didn’t favour background.

Once these, and other such crafts, become professions then it’s obvious enough that those from the professional classes will try to colonise those former crafts.

Quite what we do about it is another matter. No one wants either Rep or local newspapers any more and there’s no point in running them just as socially equitable training grounds.

We could say much the same about being a solicitor or an accountant. Many a working class boy has made good by doing their articles while working in the past. Now it’s graduate only entry (in effect, if not in possibility) and once again the selection process favours background.

Eh? We do?

We know that sporting talent will be randomly distributed among the 700,000 babies born every year.

Is this some ignorance of genetics from Will Hutton? We would rather expect that sporting talent will be more common in those born to parents with sporting talent, wouldn’t we?

This matters. There is growing concern that too much of Britain’s elite sport is occupied by athletes educated at private schools: for example, 41 % of the medals won at the 2012 Olympics went to the privately educated. We know that sporting talent will be randomly distributed among the 700,000 babies born every year. Yet the British system ensures that it will be those lucky enough to be born into households rich enough to educate them privately that will have the best chance to lift their natural sporting ability to Olympic standards. By any moral code, this is not fair, but beyond morality this is a huge squandering of talent.

And the entire idea there is flawed because it’s not looking at the entirety of sport. Agreed, those born into wealthier families are more likely to, if they have the requisite talents, shine on horseback or in rowing. But how many middle class or upper middle class footballers are there? Class (or income, not the same thing in the UK, obviously) might well influence which sport the talented pick up but that isn’t the same as saying that the underprivileged do not have an opportunity in all sports.

The same is true of intellectual and academic ability. The Sutton Trust reports that four private schools and one sixth form college in Cambridge send as many students to Oxbridge as nearly 2,000 state schools. Are we to believe that native academic ability is uniquely concentrated in the children of parents rich enough to afford to pay the fees (or live in the catchment area of Hills Road sixth form college, Cambridge)?

Genetics again Will. For yes, we do rather think that the children of all of those Cambridge academics have something of a leg up in intelligence. For intelligence is indeed inheritable (with regression to the mean etc). And even if you want to insist that intelligence is randomly distributed (something which it cannot be for if it were it would never have emerged in the first place) then yes, we’d still expect that children growing up in the groves of academe are going to do quite well in academe.

Actually, there could be a fascinating paper in this. Why don’t the Oxford schools display the same results? Are the catchment areas different, there being no one school that gets all the professors’ kids? Are more privately educated in Oxford?

Rules is rules of course but do they have to be enforced by complete and utter fuckwits?

The mother of a terminally-ill boy is fighting against being fined for taking him out of school for what could be his last holiday.

Maxine Ingrouille-Kidd has been threatened with a fine of up to £120 and possible prosecution if she takes her son Curtis out of school during term time.

Doctors have given Curtis, 13, who is a blind quadriplegic and has cerebral palsy, just a few years to live and warned he may only survive until his late teens.

“My son is 14 in October and this may well be his last holiday,” the mother-of-three said.

Crippled JC on a sodding pogo stick I know that common sense isn’t common but is the entirety of the regulatory state run by total and entire morons and fuckwits?

What the hell is anyone doing insisting that this boy be incarcerated in the bosom of the education system in the first place? It’s a waste of his life and our money anyway.

Way back when a childhood friend of mine (by a long way my best friend as well, which probably explains quite a bit about my character now, I tend to regard friendships as fleeting things) died of a brain tumour at 16 or so. At least he was spared someone wittering on about how he should still be working for university as commoon sense did seem to be more common then.

Just rank fucking idiocy on display here.

And this is a particularly twattish statistic

The group’s report highlights European Commission research showing that English 15-year-olds came bottom of a table of 14 countries for competence in the main language taught in schools.

Just 9 per cent of English pupils had a basic mastery of French – the most commonly-taught language – while the average across 14 nations was 42 per cent.

Err, no.

The most commonly taught non-domestic language in England is French. The most commonly taught non-domestic language across Europe is English. 42% of European youths are proficient (to the standard that this survey requires) in English.

Admittedly, that’s still higher than the number of English people who are proficient in English but that’s all part of the long march through the institutions.

Labour’s new exciting education policy

Let’s bring back City and Guilds.

Universities will run a new range of German-style “technical degrees” under Labour plans to target school leavers who shun traditional academic subjects.

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, will outline proposals to encourage top universities to develop high-level practical courses in subjects such as engineering and technology.

Sigh.

I’m really not sure this will work you know

Children should be kept in school for up to ten hours a day to help reverse the ‘real and persistent’ underachievement of white working-class pupils, an influential group of MPs says today.

Schools should extend their opening hours to ensure pupils can complete their homework, as part of a raft of measures to rescue a generation from joblessness and poverty.

In a major report, the Commons Education Select Committee said evidence suggested that longer school days could give pupils the equivalent of two months’ extra progress over an academic year.

The report lays bare the extent to which white children on free school meals are under-performing at school.


We used
to be pretty good at educating the indigenous working class. Now we’re not. And the solution is going to be to expose said children to even more of the fashionable lunacy that infests the education sector?

I’m really not sure that this is a winning proposition you know.

Great moments in Higher Education

And in what may be the most satisfying irony to come our way in many years, the Dean of Admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology– the very person responsible for assessing academic credentials and, in fact, the author of a book of advice for college-bound students–confessed in 2007 that each of her advanced degrees was strictly imaginary.

Well, that kills that idea then

Peal said the link between poverty and poor educational performance had become a “truism” in the left-leaning educational establishment, but it was disproved by international figures.

For example Japan, Canada and Poland all fare worse for child poverty than Britain in Unicef data.

But they rank higher than this country in a key measure of educational achievement, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the report said.

And social inequality is more extreme in China and South Korea, but both beat Britain in the PISA data, it added.


Turns out
that it’s just crap teaching in crap schools that’s the problem.

Tempus mutandis

I still think the only reason to go to school is to learn how to read. After that you can teach yourself most stuff. The idea that people are still leaving school illiterate is to me a total disgrace. I went to a slum school in Salford, a secondary modern, but I swear to Christ, nobody left unable to read a book.

John Cooper Clarke.

And this is good:

So which way would you vote?
It’s a tough call. I wouldn’t recommend any of them. I suppose if I had to I would vote Labour but only out of blind class hatred, nothing else. That’s what keeps these bastards coming back. To be honest, the only one whose language I even remotely understand is Nige [Farage]. Shoot me down in flames. Everyone else: they talk about nothing that seems to matter. It’s beyond satire. And even satire has become PR, you know, since someone told politicians they will get more votes if they join in with the piss-taking themselves.

Lecturers ‘struggle to speak English’ at elite universities charging students £9,000 a year

This is hardly new.

Well, the £9,000 a year might be but the struggling to speak English isn’t. We had one full professor at the LSE where English was his fourth (and very badly learnt) language. Japanese, German, Russian I think, then English. Excellent economist doing very interesting research but as a lecturer not all that understandable.

Now this is a school science project

And yesterday he became the youngest person in the world to achieve nuclear fusion from scratch at his Lancashire secondary school, using high energy to smash two hydrogen atoms together to make helium.

‘It is quite an achievement. It’s magnificent really,’ Jamie said afterwards. ‘I can’t quite believe it – even though all my friends think I am mad.’

Well done that man.

And well done the teachers who allowed him to do it of course. For he was creating RADIATION!

Markets: cooperation or competition?

A question from a reader:

Look, here’s the challenge for Christians, *if* they can see it: those men in suits, in offices, they’re out for themselves, selfish, no thought for the common good. But mankind’s progress has been migration, conquest even, leading to trade in goods and ideas and methods. Self interest has worked for mankind’s benefit, the greed of those men in suits has worked for mankind. At the very least man has been served better by his restlessness than by any higher motives. How do Christians respond to this – to us – paradox.

Within Catholicism at least, the only brand of Christianity that I know much about, it is the motive for an action which is important. A married couple having a legover as a result of their mutual love for each other is just fine: admirable even, a use of one of God’s gifts to us (dependent upon the level of contraception being used or not of course, nothing is ever simple in Catholicism). A man demanding a jump from his wife because he is blinded with lust is not admirable. Indeed, many would say it is sinful. The action might be the same but the reason matters.

As to a market economy, where we’re all assumed to be motivated by our (enlightened) self interest yes, if we think of this as purely being driven by greed then we do have a problem. Greed is indeed a sin and thus, again within Catholicism, we cannot accept that good things can come from bad. So while the results of a market economy, driven by that greed, seem to be better than any other system we’ve tried, that original motive makes the result unacceptable.

Many people, rather cleverer than I am, have grappled with this problem for some number of years longer than I have done so. But here’s at least my attempt at the beginning of an explanation.

Which is that markets, certainly the business world that I’ve been involved with, are not all that much about competition. It’s there, certainly, but that’s not what is really going on. The competition is to try and find the people that you can cooperate with. Say my process needs widgets: I’m not competing with those who make widgets in the slightest. But those who make widgets are competing with each other to find who is going to be the one who cooperates with me in providing my widgets.

We are not competing therefore: we, I and the widget makers, are trying to work out on the basis of price, reliability, quality and all that, who should be the people that we cooperate with.

To return to our sex analogy, we are in a dating market before we make our choice. True, that choice is not until death us do part but believe me, there’s still a commitment being made. Anyone in business will tell you how difficult it is to depose an incumbent supplier.

As above there’s a great deal more thought gone into this question than I can offer. But I would at least begin to argue that the way out of this paradox is to understand that markets are a selection mechanism as to who to cooperate with rather than vicious and impersonal competition driven by greed. Just as the dating market works: we’re looking for the best we can get and no one at all thinks that this is odd behaviour in that context.