Tag Archives: politics

School Days

It’s not surprising that education causes such a raucous political debate; next to healthcare, it’s probably the thing that matters most to most people.  If you’re a parent, there’s a good chance it’ll be number one on your list of public policy preoccupations.

When I’m not at my computer, one of the things I do is act as chair to the governing body of a local primary school. Being a governor is a great way to find out what’s really going on in your child’s school and I have to say that I personally have learned a vast amount about current educational practice as a result.

Keen to learn

Keen to learn

What soon becomes very apparent is that the information about school results published in league tables will only give you a very partial view of a school’s capabilities, not least because many schools are adept at making sure their results look as good as possible, even if it means preventing less able pupils from taking exams they might very well have passed. To me, that’s the opposite of what a school should be doing.

In contrast, the school where I’m governor has devoted hours and hours to ensuring that a small number of children from chaotic backgrounds have been able to stay in mainstream education. The chances are that such children will only pull down the school’s average attainment levels. But nevertheless, for some individual children, having adults in their lives that care enough and are skilled enough to provide the support they need to stay on track at school is literally a life-saver.

Neither the school, nor the teachers will get much credit for it and parents looking at the raw data will only see that a certain cohort has undergone a dip in its results. All the same, as far as I’m concerned, that’s exactly what I want our schools to be doing.  Of course exam results are important, but they’re only a part of the picture.

School children in Afghanistan

School children in Afghanistan

The education of our children matters hugely to society at large. The ultimate well-being of all of us depends on well educated, well socialised young people emerging from the school system. For individuals, education is the one thing that no-one can take away from you. I’ve never ever regretted the time I’ve spent learning new things and the ability to analyse and think is probably the single thing I value most. Education is what sets us free.

It’s easy to grumble about the education system in this country. All the same, things could be very much worse.

This is what a superhero looks like...

This is what a superhero looks like…

I was hugely delighted that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who was shot by Taliban militants for insisting on her right to go to school. To me, she’s one of the greatest beacons of hope in the world today. If humanity is serious about tackling the very many problems we face – from fundamentalism and superstition to climate change and incurable diseases like Ebola, we need as many people as possible to have access to good quality education. For girls, this is particularly important if they’re ever to achieve real equality. Three cheers for Malala and her campaign to ensure that every child on the planet can go to school; you definitely have my vote!

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Filed under politics, Women

All Change, please

Whichever way Scotland votes today, I hope this country will never be the same again. The amazing debate that’s been taking place north of the border and the incredible level of public engagement, with 97% of those eligible to vote registering to do so, is the most heartening and revitalising thing that’s happened to our democracy since, well, forever.

PollingDemocracy in Action

For decades, participation in elections and in political activity generally, has been declining across the UK. Membership of political parties has plummeted and there’s a widely held belief that all politicians are as bad as each other. Even more dangerous, there’s a strong sense, reinforced after the 2010 election, that whichever way you vote, nothing will ever actually change. Whoever’s in charge, privilege becomes more entrenched, the poor get poorer, social mobility declines. No wonder so many of us simply decide not to bother.

As we watch Scotland being intoxicated by a new passion for politics, more and more people south of the border are beginning to ask, why not us too? Why shouldn’t we too have more say over how we’re governed and how our taxes are spent? We may all live in one country, but that doesn’t mean to say that a decision that’s right for Basingstoke is also right for Birmingham or Bradford. In fact it very probably isn’t.

               London         Cumbrian lake

What’s good for London isn’t always good for everyone else

It’s high time we had a much less centralised political system. It’s time we had regional assemblies that are much more responsive to local issues and that have control over a high proportion of the revenue raised within their area. The government at Westminster could then be substantially scaled back and would focus exclusively on issues that genuinely are best managed at a national level, such as defence and foreign policy.

A new political settlement is the only realistic way to tackle the growing disparity between London and rest of the country and the only way overcome growing perception that the south-east is sucking in all the resources and talent at the expense of other parts of the country.

We desperately need change, not just in Scotland but throughout the UK. No doubt, if the Scots vote ‘yes’ to independence, David Cameron will be pilloried for losing a third of the country. The truth is, if what happens in Scotland today makes the rest of the population wake up to the idea that a top-to-toe rethink of the political settlement in this country is both possible and desirable, he’ll have done us the biggest favour imaginable.

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Filed under politics, Scotland