Should school teachers be evaluated by their own students?


Image © Cybrarian77

Stephanie Kopf

This is the question currently on the minds of Hamburg’s educators and politicians. More importantly, will this kind of evaluation lead to positive change or just cause mutual bad-tempered reactions that will ultimately lead to a worsening relationship between teachers and students? The city in Northern Germany is wondering.

A new move by Hamburg’s Senate is causing heated debate on the city’s educational scene, according to reports by the local paper Hamburger Abendblatt. The local faction of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) proposes that teachers should be evaluated by their students, claiming that the goal is to raise the quality of teaching in class. The paper further reports that politicians are now focusing more on singular teachers than schools. But that’s not all the SPD proposal calls for. Teachers should also observe each other at work.

Germany has a thorough approach to most things, and education is definitely one of them. Various statistics from Germany will confirm the country’s go-getting attitude. German schools and politicians are still talking about the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study from 2010, where German schools showed less than stellar results. Apparently this is still a serious sore spot. The worldwide PISA studies report on scholastic abilities of 15-year-old school students in OECD member countries.

The declared goal of the SPD is achieving a broad and comprehensive feedback culture. Their idea is that every student gives their teacher a short feedback after every class. Young graduates wanting to be teachers in Germany already have to first complete a type of trainee phase at schools, where they are observed by older colleagues and receive such feedback from students.

But the new proposal is also about communication between teachers and school supervisors. Which involves a pretty serious change of MO and which the party itself says is going to be a long journey.

Hamburg’s School Inspection department (Schulinspektion) is researching the strengths and weaknesses of the city schools in a long process. In the course of their inspection they have arrived at the conclusion that there are actually less differences in teaching quality from school to school, but more from classroom to classroom. It does make sense to tackle individual issues first before moving on to bigger goals. Read more of this post

Lib Dems – idealists or realists?


Image © Liberal Democrats


Like many people I am not a member of a political party but did vote for the Lib Dems on the grounds of their opposition to the Iraq war and their promise to abolish tuition fees.

In an article (Times 14th) Daniel Finkelstein took time out to refer to the historic march against the Iraq invasion and said ‘Almost ten years ago, idealists young and old congregated in capital cities all over the world to protest against the forthcoming invasion of Iraq’. Well, sorry Mr Finkelstein, but events have shown that we weren’t the idealists, we were the realists. The idealists who took us to war have created a situation where, following the chaos created in Iraq, Iran fills the vacuum and threatens to become the dominant, nuclear armed, state in the region.

Many of those who marched were from the middle classes and many duly voted for the Lib Dems because of that party’s opposition to the war and because of the party’s promises to eliminate tuition fees.

Yes, tuition fees again, but this time the issue is what it did to the party.  Mr Clegg took those (middle class) votes and used them to gain his party a position where they could hold the balance between the Tories and Labour. But when it came to the crunch he used those same votes to turn his back on promises he had made over tuition fees. From that moment on he lost the support of thousands if not millions of middle class voters.

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Trying to be a little less “British”

Andrew Calderwood

The North-South Divide is a topic of conversation that is often discussed within British society. The subject matter involved within these deliberations will generally focus on the lack of parity in respect of the levels of pay, variance in the standard of living, and inconsistent job opportunities between the two regions. A theme that is also examined, which may be deemed a more trivial matter, focuses on the perception that those from the Northern section of the divide are far more personable and hospitable than their Southern neighbours.

A case could be made in support of the formation of a sub-culture in the North, whereby striking up conversations with strangers is not unheard of and going out of ones way to offer a helping hand is graciously appreciated, rather than met with a view of caution. Unfortunately, the majority dwelling in the south do not appear to welcome the spontaneous acts of kindness and goodwill that those beyond the Watford gap adopt, often fearing the motives behind these actions.

One who is unfamiliar with customs in the south of England would be forgiven for thinking that its occupants have evolved an aversion to friendliness and have yet found a cure to what is not far short of a crippling disease. They appear inherently unable to embrace the versatility that liberal behaviour can provide and which in turn can help to break the often monotonous actions of everyday life. In the South it is noticeable that people are far colder towards one another and less likely to interact on a prolonged scale. People often give the impression that they are worried that any friendly actions will be deemed abnormal and somehow provoke a negative reaction. The old adage that a smile costs nothing, while embraced by the northern kin, is a preaching which, it could be said, generally appears lost on those in the south.

As I am currently experiencing, Canadians are more closely related to those residing in the north of the United Kingdom, habitually taking warm greetings to the next level and upholding an innate friendliness that appears to be adopted in unison from all sections of society. Everyday it is hard not to be caught off guard by the sea of smiles and chorus of pleasantries that greet your arrival. Whether it be a passerby on the street or the proprietor of a bar or restaurant, the depth of their amiability remains alien, no matter how hard one tries to embrace it. When originating from a society in which you are encouraged to focus your eyes on the floor in order to avoid impulsive social interaction, or to stick to a pre-determined script of brief pleasantries when forced to interact with others, becoming accustomed to progressive social attitudes can take time.

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Should We Celebrate a Decline in Global Poverty?

Adam Parsons – Originally published by Share The World’s Resources

The World Bank’s latest data suggests a decline in global poverty throughout every region of the developing world, as well as the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on halving poverty well ahead of schedule. But is this really the ‘good news’ that we are led to believe?

You may be forgiven for missing the good news recently reported by the World Bank: that the number of people living in extreme poverty has declined in almost every region of the developing world. According to the latest global poverty estimates, both the percentage of people living on less than $1.25 a day and the number of poor declined between 2005 and 2008, the first time that an across-the-board reduction has been reported since the World Bank began monitoring poverty. Not only that, but preliminary estimates indicate that the share of people living in extreme poverty declined between 2008 and 2010, even despite the global financial crises and surging food prices. By 2010, it appears that the $1.25 a day poverty rate fell to less than half the 1990 rate, which means that the United Nation’s first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for cutting extreme poverty in half has already been achieved, five years ahead of schedule. This is surely a cause for celebration – or is it?

To answer this question, we first have to understand why the World Bank’s poverty statistics are so important, which is not only for what they tell us about the number of poor people in the world. The World Bank is the monopoly provider of global poverty figures, and it is no secret that they are often used to support the view that liberalisation and globalisation have helped to reduce poverty worldwide. In other words, a reduction in global poverty can usefully defend the Bank’s neoliberal policies that favour economic growth and free markets as the overruling means to combating poverty. Since around 2000 when the Millennium Development Goals were first conceived, the World Bank has consistently painted an upbeat picture of the global poverty situation. This is not a conspiracy, as some people might suggest, but simply an ideological justification for the current arrangements of the global economy and the status quo. So long as the MDGs remain in sight and global poverty is on a downward trend, then the Bank’s continued defence of neoliberal policies can be vindicated.

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Why I’ve joined Liberal Left

Mathew Hulbert

Image © Brett Patterson

This week, I’ve joined Liberal Left.

I’ve done so, having first expressed considerable reservations about the group when it first formed a few weeks ago, even going so far as to set them out in a lengthy blog post for Lib Dem Voice.

So, why the volte face?

Well, for a number of reasons which I want to set out here.

Before I do that, however, let me address a couple of questions which were immediately posed to me when I announced my joining of Liberal Left on Twitter.

Do I still support the Coalition Government?

I’ll be honest with you, this is a tricky one.

I supported its formation and have defended it ever since, but there’s no denying that, as time has gone on, I’ve become more and more disillusioned with the direction of travel.

I guess the best way I can describe my current position is as follows: I support Liberal Democrats in Government making and taking decisions that are in accordance with our stated values and policies as a Party.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me, however, to hear that I hate us being in Coalition with the Conservatives and I also feel greatly saddened when it appears that our Ministers have capitulated to the Tory agenda, as – I’d argue – they’re doing by supporting the Health and Social Care Bill currently going through Parliament (though I still hold out a hope that it will, even at the eleventh hour, be stopped.)

Do I want to see the Coalition Government end before 2015?

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Why we should all support Equal Marriage

Mathew Hulbert 


Let’s be honest, it’s not the easiest time to be a Liberal Democrat.

Part of a Coalition Government with our traditional enemies, implementing changes to health, welfare and education which, I very much hope, we would most certainly not be doing  if we were in Government by ourselves. We get arrows shot at us from all sides; the Left call us traitors to the cause and the Right think we’re the ones preventing them from being properly Conservative.

However, on a host of issues, this Government is taking great strides in making Britain better, fairer and greener. One of these is very close to my heart.

I ‘came out’ as being gay just over a year ago, having been in the proverbial closet for more than half of my life, around 15 years. It was daunting but my family and friends have been brilliant, realising that this is just who I am, how I was born; just like some people are attracted to the opposite sex, I’m attracted to people of my own gender. Nothing more complicated about it than that. All myself and other members of the LGBT community ask for is equality, genuine equality, nothing more, nothing less.

Great strides have, of course, already been taken. The abolishing of the vile Section 28 which made illegal the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools (in effect aiding homophobia by making it illegal for teachers to explain that some people fall in love with people of their own gender and that there’s nothing wrong with that.) Civil Partnerships, which enabled gay people to gain the same legal rights as married couples. And, for these and other achievements, the last Labour Government deserves great praise. But there is still much, much further to go.

The current ‘controversy,’ of course, is about gay marriage or – as I prefer to call it – marriage equality. For most people, this isn’t an issue; being gay is no longer (quite rightly) shocking or a cause of alarm. But, of course, very sadly, there are those for whom being gay is seen as anything but natural; you know the rhetoric, we’ve heard it again from some Catholic Bishops and others in recent weeks, “it’s an abomination,” “it’s morally wrong,” “It undermines families,” etc, etc. I hate having to listen to such vile and wrong words being spoken or to read them in our printed press, but – as disgusting as it is – it does serve one purpose. Such language makes those who utter or write it seem so extreme, that anyone with any kind of common sense will realise that they’re clearly wrong. Read more of this post

Ups and downs in job numbers in the northeast

Georgia Lewis

Image © Colin

People who probably had no idea the Geneva Motor Show was even happening this week were made well aware of it after a surprise announcement by Nissan. A new compact car is to be manufactured at Nissan’s Sunderland plant, a rare beacon of economic hope and employment in the beleaguered northeast of England.

Sky News was first to jump on the bandwagon with the declaration that it was great news for the job market and they fitted in a spot of Cameron cheerleading because this happened partly because of £9.3 million in support from the government. Never mind that it mostly happened because of £125 million in investment from Nissan – through the Sky News prism, this was irrefutable proof that the Con-Dems are serious about job creation.

First, the good news – this means about 600 new jobs at the plant and when you add in jobs created along the supply chain, up to 2,000 new jobs. Not only are there new positions being created but, for the current employees at the plant, they can enjoy a greater sense of job security. This is great news indeed and will make for many happy households in the northeast.

But let’s not get too excited about an economic revival of the northeast just yet. Last November, multinational mineral resource processing company Rio Tinto announced the closure of an aluminium smelter in Lynemouth, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Blaming carbon taxes for the closure, this has resulted in the loss of 515 jobs. Last May, Indian company Tata Steel cut 1,500 jobs in nearby Teesside and Scunthorpe, a bit further south, again citing the costs involved in reducing emissions. So that’s 2,515 people looking for work many miles north of Westminster.

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Guest Blog: The problem with Syria, And how not to solve it


Image © FreedomHouse

Tom Vine

Syria is in crisis, and there is much debate about how the global community should deal with the violence Syrian demonstrators are faced with from Assad’s forces. Recent developments, though, have at least offered a glimmer of hope. This week, both the UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos, and the Syrian Red Crescent, an aid organisation, have been allowed into the cities of Damascus and Homs respectively. But this seems to be only the beginning of a long journey towards peace in Syria.

Public demonstrations have been ongoing since March 2011; an outburst at the Assad family who have ruled over Syria since Hafez al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad’s father, became president in 1970. The Telegraph today reports that the death toll now stands at around 8,458. This is far too high a figure for us to ignore.

The solution, however, is not at all simple; and neither is the background to this brutal conflict. Syria’s current troubles began when the Ba’ath Party took over in 1963 after a military-led coup. By 1970, Hafez al-Assad had seized power, beginning the 42-year tyrannical rule of the Assad family. The government ruled with an iron fist, and democracy was unheard of. Without fail, Hafez al-Assad was re-elected keeping him in power until 2000, the year of his death, whilst multi-party elections for the legislature were outlawed.  For a population that was, and still is majority Sunni, such overtly corrupt rule by an Alawite Shia government made an uprising inevitable.

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Liberal Left – Direction for the Liberal Democrats


Image © The Prime Minister's Office

Linda JackChair of Liberal Left

The outcome of the 2010 election was for many Lib Dems a huge shock. In retrospect maybe we should have been prepared for the potential of a coalition with the Tories – but we weren’t. Over that fateful weekend I was in constant touch with a pal on the Federal Exec, reassuring me that we would never jump into bed with them – to the extent that I relayed that assurance on to an angry constituent who said he hadn’t voted for me to “let the Tories in.” So, when the likes of John Reid and David Blunkett in the Labour Party were wheeled out to speak against the possibility of a Lib/Lab coalition and it became inevitable that we would end up with the Tories, I was personally devastated.  I also couldn’t understand why “confidence and supply” was ruled out and why as a party we didn’t force Labour to provide it.

Like many of my fellow activists I thought long and hard about what to do. For some it was all just too much and they resigned on the spot, for others it was the tuition fee debacle that pushed them over the edge. That camel’s back-breaking straw has been different things for different people – the Health and Social Care Bill being the latest in a long line. But my decision to stay and fight was influenced by a number of things.

Firstly a phone call I received from an old friend in the Stop the War Coalition. She had been chatting with mutual friends about what I might do. After all, I was the most vociferous critic of the likes of John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn – how could they stay in the Labour Party after it backed Bush in the war in Iraq? But I explained to her that, for the first time, I understood why they stayed. It was their party too: why should they conveniently butt out and allow the right to hijack everything they had ever stood for? By staying and fighting they could be a constant thorn in the side of the leadership as well as reminding loyal activists that they were not alone in their opposition to Blair et al. And of course it is always worth taking the long view – do we believe the post 2015 Liberal Democrats will have slid irredeemably to the right, or is it more likely that there will be a backlash and a return to the left of centre roots of the party? This can’t happen if those progressives in the party (still clearly in the majority) leave.

Secondly, there was the knowledge that I was not on my own in my opposition to the coalition and in particular that there were others in the party whom I highly respected, who felt the same. At the special conference when the party voted overwhelmingly in favour of the coalition agreement and as one of only 4 to speak against and 12 to vote against, it was easy to feel isolated.

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The radical argument against welfare benefits for young people


Image © Beth Granter

Brendan O’Neill

The instinct of leftists is to leap to the defence of welfare benefits for young people whenever the government wields its austerity axe. So when the Lib-Cons reined in Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA), the small amount of money paid to hard-up 16 to 18-year-olds for attending sixth-form, campaigners went mad, claiming that young people’s lives would be “extremely hard” without EMA.

When workfare was introduced for 16- to 24-year-olds, encouraging them to do some work in return for their jobseekers’ allowance, the reaction from the left was so furious you could have been forgiven for thinking the Lib-Cons had built a Dickensian workhouse and forced thousands of youngsters to live/labour in it. Some clueless commentators even compared workfare to “slave labour.” A rousing cheer went up in left-wing circles when big businesses started withdrawing from workfare and when the government announced the watering-down of the scheme.

Yet this instinct to erect a moral forcefield around welfare benefits for young people, so that any reform of them comes to be frowned upon, is a deeply problematic one. It shows how out of touch much of the left is with the lives and experiences of young working-class people in particular. Most dramatically, it demonstrates the failure of the left to appreciate that reliance on state benefits is not a neutral and is certainly not a healthy relationship – rather it is one which can seriously harm young people’s aspirations to independence and stunt their cultivation of social solidarity within their communities.
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