Where now for Labour education policy?

Memorandum on the eve of the Labour Party Conference to Stephen Twigg, shadow spokesperson for education

by Robin Richardson

As you and colleagues prepare for speeches, debates and conversations at this year’s conference, I am writing to suggest some of the principal themes and ideas that I hope you bear in mind.

For convenience, though at the risk of over-simplifying, I will set out the themes as three separate messages, each with its own title. In reality, as you know, themes such as these are tied

(cc) The Edge Foundation

together in a package. They are not separate from each other. Each gives strength and resonance to each of the others, and by the same token each is reinforced and amplified by each of the others.

1       Think Danny Boyle, not Daily Mail

Between 1997 and 2010, when Labour was in power, there was an understandable but regrettable desire amongst education ministers and their advisers to avoid negative coverage in the Daily Mail, and other papers with similar agendas and outlooks. The consequence was that many good things in education were not celebrated or even publicised to the extent that would have been appropriate – things like the progress in early years education, the increasing success of girls and young women, the greater access to higher education, the national strategies for literacy and mathematics, better provision for disabled children, projects such as the London Challenge, the invaluable role played at local levels by school governors, the energy with which bullying was addressed, particularly prejudice-related bullying, the major advances in the achievement of most minority ethnic communities.

In the absence of such things being publicised and celebrated, the Labour education ministers seemed all too often to be mean, ungenerous, narrow, fearful, controlling.

You cannot, I appreciate, ignore the Daily Mail. You can, however, defy it, challenge it, say no to it, say robustly that by and large schools in this country are doing a very good job. Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony at the Olympics this summer was saluted right across the political spectrum, and in the full range of national newspapers. So, more generally, were the Olympics and Paralympics. A cabinet minister said in the Daily Telegraph that ‘we must pass the Danny Boyle test’, meaning the Tories should show themselves to be up-to-date, lively, creative, generous, open-minded, self-critical, spirited, full of good cheer. The Labour Party too, of course, must and can show it is all these things, particularly (though not only) in its education policies.

A columnist in The Times said the Olympics and Paralympics this summer ‘have made us nicer people’. Well, that may be a bit over-optimistic. More accurately and modestly, they reminded us that we are nicer – more generous, more imaginative, more caring, more public-spirited – than we are inclined to suppose, and than we are portrayed most of the time by most of the media. Think Danny Boyle, Stephen, not the Daily Mail. Read more of this post

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL): Zero-Hours Contracts a 100% Betrayal

By Legal Eagle – article published July 18 2012 

Image © toryjk

If you’re currently seeking work at the moment you may have encountered `zero-hour contracts`,  accepting such a post means you will be employed on an hourly rate, your working hours set by your employer while remaining vague, intermittent and unspecified to the employee. Such contracts are a form of casual labour, no contract of employment usually exists, if you work under such an arrangement it is devoid of either implied or expressly stated terms. As the CAB points out, such contracts are common for shop workers but it should be added that they are increasingly prevalent as employers take advantage of the economic downturn recruiting desperate job seekers on reduced terms and conditions.

The TUC is rightly concerned about `zero-hour contracts` considering people employed this way to be `vulnerable workers`, as operating without a contract de facto makes an employee susceptible to exploitation.

 Such concerns are eloquently outlined in a TUC publication (highlighting the increase of zero contracts in the teaching profession), `Enforcing Minimum Workplace Rights`:

 …many workers are now vulnerable through their contractual status. Significant changes have occurred in education – short term and zero hour contracts, teaching agencies and unqualified teacher cover. It’s a minefield! If you look at education union websites you will see that there are many ongoing campaigns to try and resolve some of these issues. Read more of this post

Does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Speak the Truth and Nothing but the Truth?

Alex Clackson 

Image © orhun tastekin

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has given us a sneak preview of what might be said during his speech to the UN on the 26th September, when he gave an interview to CNN with Piers Morgan.

 The President began with fairly basic claims which any American would probably agree with, i.e. condemning the disgusting video which joked about the Prophet Mohammed and condemning the violent protests that followed in the Middle East. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also confirmed he is fully supportive of peaceful protests against authoritarian regimes, supported dialogue to deal with the violent clashes in Syria and had no problem with the Arab Spring. Thus far, the Iranian leader might have as well been Barack Obama or David Cameron as his views sounded completely liberal and westernised.

Yet the first time we truly start to see the difference between the West and the Iranian leader is when Osama bin Laden’s death is discussed. Dr Ahmadinejad told Piers Morgan that he would have preferred if a trial was given to Osama bin Laden rather than just shooting the former Al-Qaeda leader on the spot. This is an issue which is hardly ever debated in the West. Considering that Iran is frequently considered an authoritarian state, it is slightly amusing that the Iranian President is the one suggesting that a fair trial should have been given to bin Laden while the Western governments were more than happy to see bin Laden killed without a court hearing. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad goes on to correctly suggest that many Americans feel sceptical regarding the official reason for 9/11. The Iranian President makes a vital point that two countries (Iraq and Afghanistan) have been occupied and many civilians have been killed without a proper investigation on why 9/11 happened. Perhaps it is no longer shocking to claim that the invasion of Iraq (and possibly Afghanistan) was unjustifiable because of 9/11. As an independent inquiry has found out, Iraq and Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11. In addition, as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has mentioned in his interview, the terrorist threat has not been completely eradicated in the Middle East and in fact the anger towards America is even higher. Therefore it can be soundly concluded that the consequences of 9/11 and American actions have led to detrimental results and complete instability in the Middle East. And as Ahmadinejad said, “For the death of 3000 people, one million civilians should not have died together with 6000 young American soldiers.” Read more of this post

Release Professor Cyril Karabus the world is watching…

Legal Eagle is joining Left Central to write occasional pieces. Some of you may have come across his articles on the website new political centre – where the Eagle normally resides. Read more of this post

Outrage at the arrest of Cape Town`s Professor Cyril Karabus by Nontando Mposo Cape Argus

We are publishing the following article after an urgent request from South Africa and are happy to do so, if it helps stimulate debate and interest within the UK and offset a potential miscarriage of justice.
A follow up article from South Africa will be published soon on this site.
Published Cape Argus 24/09/12

Medical professionals and organisations from around the world have expressed outrage at the arrest of Cape Town’s Professor Cyril Karabus.
Karabus, 77, of Claremont, is imprisoned in Abu Dhabi on charges of manslaughter. He was arrested on August 18, while in transit in Dubai to South Africa, from his son’s wedding in Canada.
A former professor of paediatrics at UCT, Karabus is an internationally “well-respected medical figure” who specialises in paediatrics and medical oncology.
He also headed the oncology and haematology unit at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital.
While working as a locum 12 years ago at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, he operated on a three-year-old cancer patient who later died of leukaemia.
In his absence he was tried and found guilty of manslaughter. His lawyer, Michael Bagraim, said no attempt was made to contact Karabus.
A family member said yesterday letters and e-mails expressing “outrage and support for Karabus’s integrity and reputation” had been received from organisations such as the World Medical Association, the SA Haemophilia Federation, the SA Medical Association, the Western Province blood transfusion service and the School of Child and Adolescent Health at UCT.
Karabus’s initial conviction was overturned, but on October 3 he would stand trial again for the same charges.
Bagraim said : “There is incredible support coming from all over the world.
“It’s amazing how many people are making contact and offering to help, including paediatrics students whom he has trained over the years.”
He said donations towards Karabus’s legal costs have been pouring in. “Patients and students he has helped over the years are donating, some with as little as R100 … people just want to help in anyway they can … it’s phenomenal.”
Karabus, who depends on a pacemaker for his heart, is in the jail’s hospital wing because of his medical needs.
Bagraim said Karabus’s wife and son had flown to Abu Dhabi on Friday. They had reported that he “was his usual cheerful self”.
He said Karabus was keeping himself busy by playing chess.
In an e-mail to Bagraim, Dr Philip Lanzkowsky, from New York, expressed his shock at the arrest.
Karabus took over from him as chief of paediatrics at the Red Cross Children’s hospital in 1965.
“I have been an expert witness in some landmark malpractice suits concerning childhood malignancies including leukaemia,” Lanzkowsky said. “It is an unfortunate fact that children with leukaemia often die from the disease, complications of the disease or complications of therapy.”
A Facebook page named Prof Cyril Karabus has been opened to rally support for a petition on http://www.avaaz.org/. It has been signed by 3 660 people and the number is rising.

Where now for the pupil premium?

Robin Richardson

Children living in low-income households, reports Ofsted, are not benefiting from one of the Imagecoalition government’s flagship education policies, the pupil premium. Since the government itself requested Ofsted to look into the matter it’s probable the report will lead to changes in the ways the premium is used, and not used. It’s relevant in this regard to note that the recent Cabinet reshuffle has given David Laws a high-profile responsibility for ensuring the premium’s success.

The pupil premium, explained Laws in an article shortly after the 2010 election, is designed to have two beneficial effects: it will ensure deprivation funding is better targeted than hitherto and will go to schools with the highest levels of challenge.

In language clearly reminiscent of utterances from his Tory partners, Laws said ‘this government should not dictate to each school precisely how it should use the pupil premium – the coalition is moving away from Labour’s obsession with micro-management’.

Setting up false dichotomies is a familiar rhetorical device, much used by politicians in all parties.  The effect of the false dichotomy proposed by Laws – either freedom or micro-management – was that necessary but painful and divisive conversations were discouraged or prevented. Why do inequalities in our society persist? Why, after nearly 150 years of compulsory education, do inequalities in wider society continue to be so starkly reflected by inequalities in educational outcomes? What evidence is there that schools know how to reduce inequalities?

Read more of this post

Northern Ireland’s Abortion Debate

Stephen Donnan 

Image © Elvert Barnes

Few issues are as divisive as abortion, aside from the death penalty or euthanasia, all deal with the issue of the sanctity of life, and very rarely do issues such as these come before national legislatures. However in the case of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, both authorities currently criminalize abortion. Future Health Minister and current MLA for South Down, Jim Wells, caused a storm of controversy last month by stating that abortion in NI should remain illegal, even in cases of rape and incest. Speaking to the Nolan Show, Mr Wells was quoted as saying: “A termination of a pregnancy should not be the first option in that situation. The other option is that you kill the child who’s a totally innocent victim in this terrible set of circumstances.”

In relation to the issue of abortion legislation, Ireland (both Northern and Republic of) is a strange one. Out of over fifteen major parties across Ireland and dozens of smaller parties, only three have visible pro-choice policies. The Socialist Worker’s Party, the Irish Labour party and Labour in NI are the only parties that are pro-choice, and even with that, Irish Labour are heading for a split in their membership over the issue. Not even the Greens, a mostly proactive party in the area of social rights have reserved abortion as a conscience issue.

Bernie Smyth of Precious Life, an organisation that lobbies to defend existing anti-abortion legislation, had a rather heated radio debate with Alliance party MLA Anna Lo in August, claiming that allowing abortion in cases of rape would create a case of ‘bad law’ in which such legislation could lead to it being used a contraceptive. But what are the facts?  Read more of this post

We Must Protect the Welfare of the Disabled

Paul Hindley 

Image © helen.2006

Over the past week, Britain, and indeed the rest of the World, have seen the very best disabled athletes on display in the London 2012 Paralympic Games. This celebration of the sporting achievements of disabled people has lead to many commentators stating that the phrase dis-ability has become redundant. However, away from the lights of the Olympic Stadium, hundreds of thousands of disabled people around the country are afraid that their disability benefits may be cut. These fears come at a time when the British government and governments around the world are pursuing a strategy of austerity. Austerity has led to the British government taking a hammer to the welfare state in an attempt to balance its books. However, these cuts to the welfare state, especially to the benefits received by the disabled, are in the long run short sighted and will seriously undermine those struggling with disability.

The Coalition government will over the next few years enact reforms to disability living allowance (DLA) changing this benefit into personal independence payments (PIP). As part of these reforms, thousands of disabled people will have to be reassessed in order to receive the new payment. However, many fear that they may lose their benefits or have them reduced as part of the government’s austerity drive. Only last week there was a scandal involving Atos a private company that is sponsoring the Paralympic games. Atos profits from carrying out government assessments on those disabled people who are out of work and claiming welfare such as the employment and support allowance (ESA). Many disabled people feel victimised and unfairly targeted by these reassessments and this has led to many anti-cuts protests during the Paralympics.  Read more of this post

Colombia’s New Plan for Peace

Daniel Crump 

Image © pablodf

After months of suggestion and speculation, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos has laid out a plan for peace talks with the government’s long time adversary, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The first round of talks will take place in Oslo, Norway in October before moving to Cuba at a later date. Meaningful dialogue between the two groups has not occurred in Colombia since 2002 as a result of former President Alvaro Uribe’s anti-FARC policies which focused exclusively on restoring Colombia’s economic and social confidence through the eradication of FARC.

There are numerous reasons why many in Colombia believe the time is not right to embark on peace talks with FARC, and others believe that the right time may never come. They believe the guerrilla movement has all but lost its original central message and thus has nothing to meaningfully argue for in negotiations with the government. They also recognise that given their previous links with Colombia’s Communist Party, they do not share the view that Colombia’s recent economic growth is necessarily the best course for the country. This, coupled with the movement’s appalling human rights record means that Santos’s move towards talks are rightly being viewed with some suspicion, perhaps most notably by Uribe himself.

A blood-soaked history

The origins of the FARC movement can be traced back to the 1950’s and the creation of the National Front, a Liberal-Conservative coalition that sought to share power after years of civil war. Because of the NF’s support for wealthy landowners and the overseeing of the capturing of peasant land, a number of Guerrilla movements rose up to oppose the widespread corruption. One of the groups to benefit most from the anti-government feeling of the time was the Colombian Communist Party (PCC) which acted as an umbrella organisation for the different sections of Colombian society looking to claw back power from the National Front and improve living conditions for the poor.

The FARC was formed in 1964 by Manuel Velez and other PCC members after the Colombian government directed attacks on several ‘self-defence’ territories set up by the PCC. Velez and 47 of his followers would engage in combat with government forces at Marquetalia, a PCC stronghold and FARC numbers would grow considerably from there.  Read more of this post

Save St. Heliers

Georgia Lewis 

Image © lydia_shiningbrightly

I feel like a parent with two incessantly fighting children. I just want to yell at them both: “I don’t care who started it, I just want you to work it all out, get along and stop blaming each other!”

Except I am not yelling at kids. I am yelling at the Conservative and Labour parties in my London borough of Merton. And the wrangling is not over a toy or who pulled whose hair first. It is about the now-very-likely closure of the accident and emergency and maternity units at St Helier’s Hospital in south-west London.

The curiously named “Better Service, Better Value” (BSBV) team has been brought in to find ways to improve health services in south-west London. This is a team of doctors from clinics and hospitals in the area as well as “patient representatives”. People started to sit up
and take notice when it came to everyone’s attention that they were looking to close a maternity and A&E unit in either St Heliers,
Kingston, Tooting or Croydon University hospital. And now the recommendation has come out – St Heliers should lose these services.
This is in an area where A&E admissions are up 3% and 6% more babies were born there last year and this figure is not dropping any time soon. There might be a “planned care centre” for either St Heliers or Croydon University hospital.

Never mind that the maternity unit has just spent £3 million on an upgrade or that St Heliers has a further £219 million of ringfenced
funding introduced under Labour and maintained under the Conservatives, it looks like that money may now be spent on
downgrading services. Although given the vagueness of the information provided by BSV, we can’t be sure how much that will cost. Or whether there will be job losses. And if so, how many?  Read more of this post