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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

The trouble with coalitions is……

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……..they can  hardly ever tread a straight path.

In some other European countries such as Belgium and Italy, where the electoral system is forever throwing together pacts and coalitions between parties, they are used to seeing compromises, here in the UK we are more likely to call them “U-turns”. Whether its on deficit reduction, higher education, NHS reform, defence, or justice the ConLib coalition is constantly in flux with policy being driven more by the need to keep the coalition together than what might be seen as the necessities of good government.

In many respects this was to have been expected when David Cameron’s Conservatives and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats drew up their agreement last year after we failed to make a clear decisive choice at the general election, but by far the biggest flaw at the outset was the agreement manipulated by David Cameron to engineer a five year fixed Parliament. With this new restriction in place Cameron probably felt that he had a chance of carrying through most, but not all, of his party’s programme, with a few adjustments along the way. However, it is inevitable that tensions will arise within government and within the two parties making up the administration, and as one policy after another appears to the press and Opposition as being ill judged or poorly formulated detractors can (almost justifiably) point to yet another U-turn or abandonment of important party principle. During previous periods when we have had either a minority government or a government getting by with a small majority the most important opposition has come from within the ranks of the governing party keeping the executive on its toes, this is not quite so easy to achieve when two parties are involved. The other important position to note was that a major defeat for such a government in The House of Commons might lead to a new general election as the Prime Minister attempts to secure a good working majority.

David Cameron, unfortunately decided to tie his own hands behind his back with the fixed term Parliament and it would take an enormous effort from MPs to force him back to the polls, it has also tied Nick Clegg into a very tight arrangement which so far has resulted in his party becoming the whipping boys for the coalition,  some say Cameron has played a blinder! I don’t, and I see this coalition arrangement leading to weakened policy as some on the right wing of the Tories become more vociferous, and more on the left wing of the Liberal Democrats become more rebellious, “fudge” will become the flavour of the month! I would have been far happier with a much more fluid and loose voting arrangement between the parties, without Lib-Dem ministers, that would enable a Cameron government to start out along its path, with the possibility of a sooner rather than later general election to try and cement his position.

The risk of a government falling can actually strengthen its hand with its own backbenchers and fortify its survival measures. There is nothing quite like the threat of losing one’s seat to exercise the minds of those recalcitrant MPs in marginal seats (of all parties), as they huff and puff to try and blow the government off course!

The five year fixed Parliament is a classic illustration of fixing something which was not broken at the outset.

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Written by curly

June 21, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Electoral spin offs

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Non political benefits

One of the huge benefits of getting involved in a local election campaign in South Shields is the opportunity to meet new people, the chance to savour some new cultures, or to reacquaint with areas that you have perhaps pushed to the back of your mind a little. Having spent a few weeks in the Beacon and Bents ward helping the Conservative candidate Mr. Ali Hayder, I was struck, once again, by the warmth and hospitality of our Bangladeshi community, I was struck too by the amount of Scottish people who have made the move down South to live and work here on the banks of the Tyne.

A few of those Scottish folks were brought down to Tyneside during the traditional “Glasgow fortnight” each summer in the 1960s and 70s, enjoyed holiday romances which blossomed and they have enjoyed lifelong love and happiness with a wife from South Shields or Whitley Bay! I also met a couple of ladies who married our menfolk down here and never gave it a thought to return north of the border, needless to say they are as much part of our tight knit community as anyone else. I recalled the days when I worked in a five storey department store in Newcastle with Eddy Russell in the 1970s when our half price shoe sale seemed to be more famous in Glasgow than it was on Tyneside! To prove a point about how good it was I showed one gentleman the antelope skin shoes that I was wearing, I bought them in 1976 for around £30 (which was almost two weeks wages to me back then), they have been resoled twice but are still lasting the course after 35 years, that is one of the reasons why Glasgow men in particular loved visiting Newcastle during their holiday fortnight!

Our Bangladeshi community in South Shields is a sizeable minority and many of them are third or fourth generation inhabitants here, those younger than myself speak better “Geordie” than I do and like all youngsters have a wonderful grasp of new technologies. I met quite a few from all sections of their community and found their warmth  and hospitality to be second to none, and why should it not be? Despite having been here for around 60 years some feel they still need to integrate more and they are looking for ways to extend their links with other groups, associations, faiths, clubs, and communities throughout the borough. The want to play a greater part and want to feel more easily accepted, there are barriers of course, but over the years these are breaking down and allowing a greater two way conversation to take place.

I had a long such discussion with Rana Rahman, chairman of the Bangladeshi Welfare Association, who has very modern realistic aspirations about taking the next generation of Bangladeshis further into the wider community and inviting others to come and savour the flavours and delights of the cultures which they bring to us and add to our diversity. We touched upon faith and some of the similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity, we also ranged over community projects, education,  use of community facilities, and the general lack of knowledge amongst the indigenous population about the cultures and lifestyles of some of the most hard working and charitable members of our community here in South Shields.

I hope to meeting with him and others again soon, and hope through this blog, to extend a little more knowledge and interest about their cultures, history, and faith. I am hoping to pen an article shortly that explains the role of the Islamic faith and the abstinence of Ramadan and how it affects the lifestyle of a large part of our community, the thirty days of Ramadan will begin at sunset on 31st. July this year. I am looking forward to increasing my own understanding as well as helping others to accept more readily this important part of the life of many of our citizens.

I have always thought that differences ought to be understood, encouraged, and celebrated, they make South Tyneside what it is, a hospitable place where friendships flourish and even cross the political divide. Islam has been with us in South Shields since the late 1700s when the first Yemeni sailors arrived here and began to settle in larger numbers in the mid 1800s, and because we have two distinct groups settled in South Shields I will also be meeting with leading members of the Yemeni community to learn more about their roots and the strong tie in to the region.

My greatest desire is that we can encourage more and more people to take part in a wider and more diverse selection of community activities and to partake in the political process and representation of our people. This theme applies equally to all of us who want to continue to see change and evolution in South Tyneside, I believe that our political parties (all of them) are under represented by members of minority groups and that efforts need to be increased to encourage membership generally across the demographic spectrum and to assimilate more cultures into our community politics.

In this respect, volunteering to help out in an election was worthwhile, fruitful, and educational as a result I found a spin off which left me feeling richer than I was before it started.

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“Plank” Floyd protest

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Charlie Floyd

Charlie Floyd

Charlie Floyd

Charlie Floyd is a “Crazy Diamond”

The son of the millionaire Pink Floyd guitarist is a satirist’s dream come true, just too good to miss!

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Written by curly

December 11, 2010 at 11:45 am

“Free” schools could be an advantage for the disadvantaged

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chainsCllr. Malcolm may be mistaken in directing South Tyneside’s Labour Council to oppose “academy schools”

I am a little dismayed that South Tyneside Council has decided to set it’s face against moves by some of our schools to seek academy “free” status and to seek full control for themselves over the finances, curriculum activities, management, style, and direction of their educational policies with full consultation and co-operation of their governors and parents. The exercise of choice by parents is something which Labour appears to want to challenge, and they may be in danger of blighting educational advance for pupils in some the more disadvantaged areas of the borough.

Whitburn is a prime example of a school already progressing well and wishing to push further to exceed the expectations of parents and pupils, and as Jennifer Beckles argues cogently in The Guardian (a newspaper which I am not in the habit of reading regularly enough) “free” schools set up in deprived areas could offer an improvement in morale, standards and ultimately educational achievement.

Labour leadership candidate Diane Abbott has raised these issues and spoken of the difficulties she faced in choosing a school for her son. But parental involvement in the creation of new schools could inspire other parents to get involved in school life and to engage meaningfully with their children’s education. Research shows that where this is the case, children achieve more. These types of schools are also more likely to understand and act on the issues that matter to parents.

Where there are knowledge or skills gaps, support could be gained from schemes such as the Future Leaders programme, a charitable trust which has a team of qualified school leaders trained in new school startups. Crucially, parent-created schools will help to break down the barriers between schools and families so that parents don’t feel intimidated when they walk into a school, or out of their depth in discussions with staff.

Some argue that free schools could lead to elitism as only certain types of families will want their children to attend. But if a free school is deliberately set up in a deprived area to help disadvantaged kids, how can this charge hold?

Despite the scheme being not too far removed from Labour’s academy ideas, it seems that some local parties, including South Tyneside’s have decided to take a political stand against the wishes and choices of parents, educationalists, and governing bodies, much to the discredit of local politicians. Indeed Labour’s South Tyneside leader Cllr. Iain Malcolm has taken to task one of the governors of Whitburn school, former Labour councillor Shirley Stratford who has been summarily sacked from her position as a school governor, where she was supporting the wishes of the teaching staff and the parents. By warning that any other LEA governors who wish to support parents and teachers in setting up “free academy schools” will also be removed from their positions Cllr. Malcolm is making it perfectly plain that he is looking for a fight with parents and forward looking teachers.

Shame on him, he has, with this stance, formed and moulded a political football, and the education of our children deserves the chance to prosper and flourish in new environments free from external influence, and not be kicked around by local political minions in a Labour Party devoid of national direction! I fear that the governors of Harton Technology College in South Shields and St Joseph’s RC Comprehensive in Hebburn may also come in for some “special treatment” from brother Malcolm.

One hopes that as the coalition government rolls out it’s plans for a council tax freeze that Cllr. Malcolm doesn’t play Big Brother in big boots to force local Labour councillors to oppose that too!

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Written by curly

July 22, 2010 at 8:06 pm

A South Shields’ man’s journey to the World Cup

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Andrew Grady and his “Magic Thumb”

The sounds of the vuvezela maybe droning and stretching the nerves whenever you are at home or in a South Tyneside pub watching a World Cup game from South Africa, but this hardship is water off a ducks back to former South Shields resident  Andrew Grady as he makes his way to Johannesburg from his Queens Park home in London. He has decided to hitch hike across Europe and the vast African continent using as much generosity as he can find along with his “magic thumb” and his ginger mate Simon Wilson operating the controls of the video camera.

Andrew’s efforts will not be a cheap road trip, in fact it will cost him far more to get the the World Cup this way than it would have been to simply buy air tickets and reserve hotel rooms, but he has picked up one or two small sponsors along the way and some newsworthy television and newspaper stories should assist him in gaining a bit more. His mission also seems to include spreading the Geordie language across the deserts and forests of Africa as well as improving our education of the humble lot of small communities that he interacts with along the way. Here he is in a village called Bamako teaching the local kids the best lingo in the world:

His journey has been a whole adventure full of bureaucratic nightmares with visas and cheap food including bread filled with brain, heart and liver, cooked up on a grill. Newcastle born and South Shields raised, one might have guessed that he’d become a globetrotter having taken employment in London, but this must be the journey of a lifetime, the nights spent in a £9.47 Argos tent would have tested most of us with night time temperatures dropping to bone chilling levels, but he would have been overjoyed at the “complimentary” room purloined from the Holiday Inn, Accra courtesy of the intervention of a Scottish general manager and a sighting of the Daily Mirror.

Andrew only has patchy access to the internet and is currently posting from Ghana, you can read his exploits in where you can also find lots of little vlogs (video clips – video blogs) which will eventually become part of a larger film of this adventure.

If any local businesses would like to contribute a little towards Andrew’s project they can email him

Media enquiries should be sent to

I’m looking forward to the full film and hope that the rest of his journey goes well, I also hope he finds some football to cheer about and that the English team somehow find room to fit him into their busy schedule after the lengths that he has gone to to share English and Geordie bonhomie across two continents!

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Written by curly

June 15, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Education, education, education!

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It was one of the great slogans that heralded the arrival of “New Labour”

Via Dizzy Thinks, yet I’ve just heard a person from the Electoral Commission on the radio saying that the younger voters amongst the most highly engaged in the political process for this election!

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Written by curly

April 21, 2010 at 9:53 am

Miliband on education

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David at Davos

An interesting video featuring the Foreign Secretary and South Shields MP David Miliband talking about the rights to universal primary education for children worldwide. A laudable aim, but the video is more interesting as an illustration of other things (a) Miliband’s desire to embrace modern technology by talking to a webcam enabled laptop, (b) his usual wooden performance which detracts from the important message, and (c) the media huddle finding someone more interesting behind him!

I cannot fault him for trying to espouse his sensible education message in relation to oversees development, but a quiet corner, an empty office, or hotel room, might have made a world of difference to the effectiveness of his delivery.

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Written by curly

January 30, 2010 at 11:05 am

Elf ‘n’ Safety men close Britain

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snow manCountry declared “unsafe” in current cold snap!

Imagine you are back in 1963 transported there by the “Tardis” that stood in Frederick Street, South Shields, it was a bad winter one of the worst in living memory, major routes were blocked with snow temporarily, streets were piled high with snow, what looked like huge impassable drifts formed on every terraced street by the riverside (this was the snow that had fallen from the roof, it hardly happens these days because we all have three feet of insulation in the loft), school playgrounds were just another blanket of white like any other place except, of course, they were full of children!

Shops seemed to have most things that you needed, logistics didn’t appear to be a problem, the cardboard carpets weren’t too nice mind, trains ran almost on time to and from Newcastle but they did have ice on the insides of the windows, people went to work one way or another as we somehow adapted and got used to winter. Even at the weekends you got to St. James’ Park or Roker Park to watch a game of football, the field may well have been white and the lines were marked by digging along with a shovel  and the players were given an orange ball, sometimes spectators turned up in the morning to help clear snow from the pitch, but hey the show had to go on!

Now let’s jump back in that “Tardis” and ask the good Doctor (William Hartnell) to transport us to the United Kingdom in 2009/10.

“Sorry, we cannot go there old chum, it’s closed!

The Health and Safety nitwits have declared a virtual state of emergency and it isn’t safe for you to travel or walk the streets”

What? Closed?

The Doctor may well have been right.

Roads are closed, we are warned not to travel, thousands of schools are closed, businesses have almost crawled to a halt as employees fail to get to work, shops begin to run out of supplies, and virtually the whole sporting weekend has been cancelled. It is winter after all!

The BBC/ITV/Sky and every newspaper is pre-occupied with the weather, this morning BBC Radio 5 Live has debated ad infinitum on the wisdom or otherwise of closing schools and cancelling football games during the current chilly spell, and the overwhelming opinion has been that the weather, the snow, and the ice have not been good enough excuses for closure or cancellation. Yet the biggest factor in head teachers, boards of governors, and directors at sporting arenas, reaching a decision to close has been “health and safety” or more precisely the fear of facing a civil litigious claim for damages following a personal injury or accident!

It seems that it is no longer a safe or healthy option to slide around in the playground or throw snowballs, even under supervision, all free time has to be spent indoors, and schools are no longer concerned solely with the prevailing conditions within their own perimeters, if the surrounding streets and pavements are covered with snow and ice then it is plainly not safe for the schools to cater for children. We should all remind some educationalists that it is the parents’ responsibility to ensure that the children get to school safely, not the headmaster’s!

In some cases schools cannot operate because a certain percentage of staff fail to get to work quoting “the weather” as a valid reason, in days gone by classes would double up and teacher to pupil ratios would be thrown out of the window for a few days, it seems this is no longer an option, but the worst reason that I’ve heard so far for a closure decision must be the one that relieves the school of the difficulty of reporting a higher than normal absentee level. Schools are measured on their levels of attendance, including those days when “the weather” apparently prevents the most local of pupils from getting there, but if the school is closed then those absences are masked completely!

The next big argument I’ve heard today is whether or not an employer should continue to pay someone who fails to get to work because of “the weather”, many are prepared to be flexible and will pay if the hours are made up later, some suggest using days of annual leave during this period of inconvenience, but should we really imagine that we have some sort of strong case in thinking that our employer must pay us come what may? After all, it’s hardly our fault that Britain is in the middle of a Siberian winter, so therefore we cannot be held responsible for not providing a few days labour!

Finally, football, rugby, horse racing, and indeed curling have all seen numerous events cancelled this weekend and generally not because the venue wasn’t fit for purpose. Most football pitches have under soil heating and covers to ensure that games can go ahead, most major stadiums these days are all seaters so spectators don’t have to stand on snow covered terraces, most rugby players wouldn’t blink an eye at turning out in sub zero temperatures on rock hard ground, they are rough tough men after all, but yet again the prevailing conditions at these venues are not the reason why the fixtures have been called off. Oh no, the reasons are all wrapped up in “Elf ‘n’ Safety” with local committees charged with issuing safety certificates to stadiums on a game by game basis, these groups consist of police, fire brigades, local councils, private ambulance services, and health care professionals and it is they who have decided that car parks, side streets, and footpaths around stadia are “not safe” for spectators to use, or that conditions are too dangerous for professional drivers of police cars, ambulances, or fire tenders! Hence safety certificates are refused and the sporting weekend is off, yes even the curling championship in Stirlingshire (which relies entirely on solid ice for it’s playing surface) is off following “health and safety” concerns:

“Following extensive discussions with a wide variety of interested parties including Central Scotland Police, The Fire and Rescue Service, the Scottish Ambulance Service, and Stirling Council it has not proved possible to address all health and safety concerns and receive the full backing of the Emergency Services within the time scales involved.

“Without achieving this it would be impossible to gain the necessary insurance to hold the event. Every possible effort has been made to facilitate this unique event but it has been acknowledged that public safety must remain the primary concern.”

God help us, if a game traditionally played on frozen lochs cannot take place in conditions that have endured three weeks of temperatures lower than those in my freezer, there is little hope for us.

Of course now that Great Britain has closed down in the face of fear (i.e. our insurers won’t cover us and if something happens we are sure to be sued by someone) we have to ask just how did we get into this ridiculous mess? When accidents no longer happen in snow or on ice, but that someone must be made accountable and be available to give a pound of flesh and a mighty slice from the bank account is hardly enough, the fat cat professionals in the legal services also have a huge vested interest, the barristers and solicitors need their almighty slice of the cash too. We began this treacherous route down the American sue everyone in sight modus operandi when some bunch of lawyers and barristers decided that the “no win, no fee” option involving insurance premiums was the way to go, and that natural justice would be available to all regardless of merit or finance, and so they legislated and it all went downhill towards the closure sign from then. One of NuLabour’s gifts to us.

So the UK has now closed down for winter, the Stadium of Light in Sunderland with it’s excellent facilities and pitch will not host a game against Bolton tomorrow in case anyone slips on the ice on Newcastle Road – good grief. Meanwhile we have taken to stealing sand from the beaches to make it “safe” for us to walk the streets, presumably to defend against possible litigants (I had a feeling that South Tyneside was running out of rock salt/grit yesterday).

Can someone please tell me why we appear to be the only state in Europe that cannot cope with winter any longer, have we just forgotten what winter is all about? Has the nanny state grown so mighty that we are afraid to try and get through our daily lives with just some adjustments to protect us against the “Elf ‘n’ Safety” police and Big Brother doing everything in his power to look after our interests? God forbid that we should ever have to deal with a real emergency, we’d never cope!

Oh well, to compensate, the good Doctor offered me this video of Sunderland playing Everton in the fifth round of the FA Cup in 1963, the year of the big freeze. You will notice the mounds of snow piled up around the edges of the pitch as players such as “the King” Charlie Hurley revel in the conditions. As far as we are aware none of the sixty-three thousand people were badly hurt, or killed in the making of this film or by their attendance at a football match! That was back in the days when the “open for business” sign was hung on the UK’s shop door.


Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger blasts Britain’s Elf ‘n’ Safety xulture, The Sun reports him as saying this about match cancellations:

“It is the price we pay for living in a society where everybody wants 100 per cent security.”

“Nobody accepts risk any more – everybody is always guided by fear.

“If one of 60,000 people has an accident, you feel very guilty and nobody accepts any more that the slightest insecurity could exist in society. “That’s why games are postponed when there is no real need. We have gone from individual initiative to collective responsibility.

“Any single accident that happens to any individual, we are collectively responsible for it. When you organise a football game, you have to stand up for that.”

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Eating makes you fat!

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Benn's Balti menu

Health police launch attack on food

Click picture for story

Yes folks Hilary Benn and Labour’s “health police ” are on the march again as the nanny state establishes a new “Healthy Food Code of Practice” that will ask all restaurants and fast food outlets to clearly label the amount of sugar and fat in unhealthy meals. Not only will they give manufacturers the excuse to score more profit by reducing the amount of crisps in the packet but they’ve even managed to link in the global warming crisis too – ingenious!

They’ll tell us to eat less meat, go vegetarian, and keep a slop bucket in the kitchen, we’ll start digging for victory campaigns in poorly used public parks and become a nation of turnip growers again.

All because Mr. Benn presumably thinks we are all thick and we don’t realise that eating makes us fat!

God save us from the nanny state.

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Written by curly

January 5, 2010 at 9:29 am

Thoughts before Christmas

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These anti bullying campaigns are getting out of hand.

What sort of warped society are we becoming when a Christian can be sacked for doing what Christians do (i.e. praying for sthe sick) on the ridiculous basis that they have become a bully?

Mrs Jones was then called in by her managers who, she says, told her that sharing her faith with a child could be deemed to be bullying and informed her that her services were no longer required.

Not withstanding the actions of the education authority, it raises questions about the non believing parents who deemed it necessary to make an official complaint. One has to question whether either would raise any similar objections if Mrs. Jones had been an adherent of any other religion?

Peace and goodwill to all men!

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Written by curly

December 20, 2009 at 12:02 pm