They’re most of them Marxists, you know – Michael Gove’s views of education

Robin Richardson 

Image©Steve Punter

Many education officers and advisers in local authorities are Marxists. So are many teacher trainers in universities. That is why more and more schools must be removed from local authority control, and why teacher training must be increasingly taken out of the hands of universities. Also, the teacher unions are more interested in the rights of shop stewards than in the rights of children. That is why their influence in the education system must be curtailed. These people – local authority advisers and officers, university lecturers, union officials – do not want to see a rise in educational standards. On the contrary, they are enemies of promise, implacably opposed to excellence, revering jargon and Marxism. Read more of this post

Pointing The Finger – by Julian Petley and Robin Richardson

LeftCentral Book Review 

Image©Nevit Dilmen


…It takes the form of an attack on multiculturalism for which Muslims are held responsible and which is a coded word for them. It cuts across political and ideological divides, and is shared alike, albeit in different degrees by conservatives, fascists, liberals, socialists and communists` (Bhikhu Parekh quoted in Pointing The Finger…)

In April 1964 Malik el-Shabazz (Malcolm X) left Detroit for Mecca, in the midst of an acrimonious split with the `Nation Of Islam`. Malcolm at this time was the USA`s foremost bogey-man, the unacceptable face of the civil rights movement. His position caricatured in the 1950s as `the hate that hate produced` – a view fitting the `orientalism` framework described by Edward Said. Whatever the merits of this documentary about the NOI, it does appear clear that Malcolm`s visit to Mecca changed him, his pilgrimage making him aware of the ethnic diversity of Islam. Recording in his diary, `it seems every nation and form of culture on earth is represented here…`. This revelation, as Manning Marble outlines encouraged Malcolm to alter his view on race. Malcolm reflecting at the time that, ‘I began to perceive that `white man`, as commonly used, means complexion only secondarily, primarily it describes attributes and actions`. Thus a metamorphosis resulted from advances in Malcolm`s `religious literacy` combined with his genius `critical literacy` (concepts outlined and explained in Pointing The Finger). Read more of this post

Book Review: Hollywood and the CIA: cinema, defense and subversion by Oliver Boyd-Barrett, David Herrera and Jim Baumann

Image© Miguel Angel Azua

Red Lester

SPOILER ALERTS: This review refers to plot points in some of the films mentioned.

Two recently released films, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, both nominated for the Oscar for Best Film in the 2013 awards, have been criticised in some quarters for aspects of their portrayals of the CIA. Argo, which won the award for best film has been accused of exaggerating the role of the CIA agent, altering and creating events for dramatic effect, and presenting the Iranian people as an aggressive and fanatical mob.  In the case of Zero Dark Thirty, opinions are divided over whether the film glorifies or justifies torture as a means of obtaining intelligence; it certainly alarmed members of the US Senate who wanted the CIA to deny that such techniques had been used to gain information. Questions were also asked about whether ‘inappropriate’ intelligence had been shared with the scriptwriter. Read more of this post

Happy St Patricks Day and may the road rise with you…

Nora Connolly 

© Image Oxyman

They died in their hundreds with no sign to mark where save the brass in the pocket of the entrepreneur

It`s that time of year again, when the Irish Diaspora, is expected to celebrate the land that made us refugees. St Patrick`s day has always conjured up ambivalent feelings for me, long before it was cynically appropriated by a multinational drinks company. The traditional parading in green, the masquerading in shamrocks and Irish harps unsettles me. Nationalism, regardless of its provenance, always makes me uncomfortable. But, despite the bogus nationalist artefacts and sentiment, it`s an important opportunity to pay due deference to the Irish in Britain, for their distinctive contribution to the economic and cultural life of the nation. It`s also a chance to recognise, as Paul Michael Garret does, that a homogenous view of British society founded on a notion of assimilation by virtue of `whiteness’ `helps to mask the internal ethnic, regional and national differences which characterise the UK. ` The Irish as Garret points out didn’t simply assimilate into British life as `the myth of homogeneity requires the denial of differences`. This is important because when we deny differences, there is a danger of misjudging later migration by people `who possesed a different skin colour`and whose entry to the UK is viewed as problematic, while earlier `white` immigration considered smooth and problem free. Read more of this post

What if Jim Callaghan had won the 1979 election? – education and society in multi-ethnic Britain, an essay in subjunctive history

Image © Allan Warren

Robin Richardson

‘Thinking about what might have happened,’ says a character in The History Boys by Alan Bennett, ‘alerts you to the consequences of what did.’ Another character replies: ‘It’s subjunctive history … The subjunctive is the mood you use when something might or might not have happened, when it’s imagined.’

‘We told Rampton,’ reflected and rejoiced people of African-Caribbean heritage in Britain in 1981, ‘and Rampton told the world.’ Anthony Rampton’s report, West Indian Children in our Schools, had been warmly welcomed by the prime minister, James Callaghan, and by the secretary of state for education, Shirley Williams. The report’s essential message was that England’s education system was institutionally racist. Day by day in schools, it declared, a perfect storm of customs and policies worked against the interests of Black people and to the advantage and benefit of white people. This was an uncomfortable message for Mr Callaghan, who had not said anything remotely similar in his celebrated Ruskin speech in 1976. But his positive response to the Rampton report, supported and reinforced by Mrs Williams, laid the foundations for one of the most exciting and sustained  revolutions in education and society that these islands have ever seen.

Rampton’s document was the interim report of a committee of inquiry set up by Mrs Williams in 1979. Her decision to create the committee had been informed by a report published in 1977 by the House of Commons select committee on race relations and immigration; by the damning claim in 1969 by E J B Rose (co-founder of the Runnymede Trust) in his magisterial Colour and Citizenship that African-Caribbean children  were ‘a source of bafflement, embarrassment and despair in the education system’, and that they ‘often presented problems which the average teacher was not equipped to understand, let alone to overcome’; and by a seminal essay published in 1971 by a young teacher in London named Bernard Coard, who had been born in Grenada. Read more of this post

What if Jim Callaghan had won the 1979 election?

Image © brizzle born and bred

Mike Guilfoyle 

In a fascinating debate recorded in 1983 in Hansard Lord Wells -Pestell drawing on his former role as a Probation Officer opined in response to what many in the Probation Service and beyond considered at the time an overly prescriptive approach from the Home Office on the future direction of the Probation Service that : ‘we feel that the Home Office has failed to provide a positive programme for the future development of the probation service. There is in the statement a narrow preoccupation with cost cutting which is unrealistic having regard to the importance of the service to the community’ From the middle of the 1970’s the probation service had been faced with a growing range of external pressures relating to resources, professionalism , greater accountability and a debilitating sense that its traditional faith in the case-work informed rehabilitative ideal, predicated on the almost mystical status of the Officer/Client relationship as the core task of the probation service, whose efficacy was being called into question and was facing ever newer challenges to its performance that needed to be measured and quantified. Such moves became enmeshed in the introduction of what became known by the label of  the New Public Management ( NPM) into the public sector, whose profound influence , albeit in a more attenuated form melded with the modernising strategies that later characterised New Labour’s approach to public sector reform. Read more of this post

Would we have been rolling about in laughter if James Callaghan had won the election in 1979?

Peter D`Sena  

Image © Ingo Hoehn

Peter D’Sena wonders if Callaghan had won

the election of 1979,

would so-called alternative

comedy and its associated forms of popular

culture have had a very different

genesis, trajectory and influence.


“Ladies aaaand Gentlemen!”, bellows the compere. “Please give a warm welcome our headline act tonight: the one, the only, Jim Davidson!”

It’s a Saturday night in March 1983 and in a new West End club (let’s call it the Comic Shop) the atmosphere is hot, sweaty, smoky and slightly claustrophobic.  Our hero struts on and, as this is ‘Sit Down’ comedy, he perches on a stool, Perry Como style, in order to start his routine.  A heckler in the crowd drunkenly berates the leader of the opposition (Willie Whitelaw), but even his jibe about the nation’s big, bushy browed soft target falls on deaf ears – the age of political apathy of the ’70s, has by this time grown apace and the passive audience quickly hushes this would-be participant down.  And why shouldn’t they?  The opposition is becoming merely ornamental.  After all, inflation is down into single figures; the labour party seems to be in internal harmony, especially after buying the loyalty of the Liberals and preventing the formation of a splinter group (the would-be SAP); and labour’s deputy leader, Tony Benn, not only seems to be a credible complement and successor to Callaghan, but also likely to capture a greater margin of victory in the general election called for a few months time.  Even for the few who are bothered to politicise, there seems to be more to laugh than cry about.  Dr Owen’s tactics of submarine diplomacy, in 1982, proved enough to prevent the quirky Argentinian leadership from taking the Falklands; Callaghan has pulled back from schmoozing with the new president – the B-list actor, Reagan and distanced himself from Star Wars; and the death of Brezhnev has opened the door to the possibility of a socialist-dominated Europe moving closer to reciprocal agreements with the new Soviet leadership.  Unemployment, which had been a threat in the late ’70s, seems to be turning around, so much so that a TV show called Boys from the Black Stuff won’t be taken beyond its pilot.   The show with a character called Loadsamoney looks to have much more potential under Labour than Yosser Hughes.  This is an age of parody rather than post-modern irony, and in the media the closest thing to conflict is the TV ratings war, where it’s a close call between Blind Date and Fantasy IslandRead more of this post

Dan Walsh Visits India: A Musical fusion and Metaphor for our time.

Dan Walsh LeftCentral interview.

Image © Sean Elliot

Dan Walsh has been described, as the best clawhammer banjo player in the UK and if you have seen his amazing live performance than you will surely agree with this.

He is an artist with an immense reach, a vast genre busting range of music at his fingertips and is a hugely versatile musician. He is as happy playing Egyptian tunes as he is a Scottish and Irish Medley. Or, indeed when playing funk or a Northumbrian Medley and if this doesn’t get your feet tapping, then we should not forget that Dan is specialist player of Bluegrass music. He can also make a banjo sound like a Sitar.  He is an outstanding live performer, who also happens to be highly articulate. Following that noble tradition of British folk music he is politically progressive with an international outlook. He agreed to talk to LeftCentral about his recent trip to Kolkata in India. Read more of this post

Poverty as the over-riding reason for low attainment of school pupils

Carl Parsons 

©Image Psd`s Photostream

Here we go again. Blame schools and now local authorities for low attainment in education and particularly for the gap in attainment between children from affluent families and those from poor families. It should be easy to mount convincing arguments about poverty, simply low family income, as the root cause of low achievement in schools. People need to understand that we are talking statistical probabilities, not certainties, that children from poor homes will do less well in school exams. The fact that these arguments have not been successful and we witness a trend against welfare means that schools are expected to provide the solution to low educational attainment. Schools are expected to narrow the gap, no, now it is close the gap, in performance between the affluent and the deprived. Consequently schools are blamed when the gap remains, beaten up by the much heralded, but tiny number of, examples that have achieved high attainment from pupils growing up in disadvantaged circumstances.

Underachievement in education of pupils from poor families is an injustice, a tragedy, a scandal, a moral disgrace, a political absurdity. Such neighbourhoods, and the schools there which struggle to educate poor children, are allowed to persist through a collusion of those who want to blame poor people and the vested interest of the middle classes (squeezed middle?) frightened of losing resources. Read more of this post