Posts Tagged ‘Hartcliffe’

The Tories and the Return of the Grammar Schools

September 7, 2016

I caught a glance of the front page of the I newspaper today. The cover story was of Theresa May bringing back the grammar schools. I’m afraid I haven’t read the article, so you can criticise this article for my ignorance, if you like. But I don’t think it’ll make any difference to what’s written here. I’m annoyed by the policy, but not surprised. I think Mike published something on his blog a few weeks ago reporting that May was trying to bring back grammar schools. And others have also seen it coming years ago. The author of a book I reviewed a few weeks ago on this blog, which attacked the foundation of the City Academies under Tony Blair, believed that this was all going to lead to the return of grammar schools, as the academy system leads to the separation of the bright, wealthy elite, who can afford to pay, from the poor and less intellectual.

It was also on the cards, given the immense nostalgia there seems to be in this country for grammar schools, if not the 11 plus. That was the exam that decided your future. If you were bright and passed it, you got to go to a grammar school, and could look forward to a middle class, clerical career. If you failed, you went to a secondary modern to be taught a mostly practical education to prepare you for one of the manual trades. A similar system survives in some continental countries, like Germany.

Some people continue to support the system, because the less academically able were nevertheless directed into an area more suitable for their abilities. This might be so, but it was also responsible for creating massive social inequalities. Tony Crosland, one of the founders of the modern comprehensive system, passionately advocated them because of the way the 11 plus discriminated against the poor, and reinforced the British class system. If you were poor, you were far more likely to find yourself failing the exam, and condemned to a life of manual work. There were scientific reports at the time also pointing out that the test itself was unscientific, and that a single exam at that age did not give an accurate picture of a person’s true intelligence.

Even some Tories despised the exclusion of working class pupils from ‘O’ levels. Rhodes Boyson, who was one of Thatcher’s education ministers, described in one interview how he felt it was unfair to discriminate against working class pupils in secondary moderns. They were prevented from taking ‘O’ levels at the time as part of the focus of the secondary moderns on technical and manual trades. He talked about how he led a group of his pupils through the ‘O’ level syllabus and got them to pass the exam, which technically they should not have done. Boyson was a grotty education minister. It was he and Thatcher, who began the process of destroying the Local Education Authorities and trying to take schools out of their control, thus laying the basis for the academy system. But Boyson had at least been a teacher, and had done something radical which genuinely helped working class pupils with this action back in the 1960s.

But nevertheless, there is still this continuing nostalgia for the grammar schools. They were supposed to be better than the comprehensives, which some no doubt were. Many comprehensives were too big, and there was immense harm done to pupils through some of the ‘progressive’ education policies. There were real horror stories in my part of Bristol about Hartcliffe school, which had a reputation for theft, bullying and very low academic standards. But this has changed. The school has been re-organised, and I think standards have improved massively. But the stereotype of the failing, substandard comprehensive, compared to the glittering excellence of grammar schools remains. One of those, who continues to demand their return is a certain Charles Windsor, or as he is better known, Prince Charles. Among his correspondence that became public a year or so ago, to the embarrassment of the government, which had been trying to keep his interference in politics very quiet, were his letters asking for their return.

And now it seems he’s going to get his way. And millions of working and lower middle class children are going to find themselves kept down, by an educational system that deliberately discriminates against them achieving any kind of career above the low paying trades deemed to be their lot by their social superiors. Ultimately, this isn’t about excellence in education. This about reinforcing the traditional British class system, and keeping the lower orders down and away from the middle and upper classes.

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Vox Political: Tory School Privatisation will make Standards Worse

March 27, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has a very interesting piece from the BBC. The leaders of the Conservative, Liberal and Labour groups in the Local Government Association have written a joint letter to the Observer, stating their opposition to the government’s plans to turn all schools into academies. The stats actually demonstrate that all academy schools actually perform worse than the schools under state/ local government control. There’s also a graph with the article that demonstrates this.

Mike asks the obvious question of why, if Academy Schools are so poor, are the Tories so keen to convert all our schools into them? Is it because they don’t want an educated, critically-thinking electorate, but indoctrinated drones that will take low-wage jobs because they lack the qualifications for anything else? Or is it because they know that everybody else’s children are more intelligent than they are, and can’t handle the competition?

Mike’s article is at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/03/27/tory-academisation-plan-will-worsen-education-standards/

My guess is that the Tories are keen on privatising our schools for a number of reasons, not excluding those Mike has outlined. They firstly want to privatise them for the economic profit of their paymasters in big business, including one Australian-American media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, who also has an educational arm to his business empire. I think it’s called Aspire, rather than something more suitable, like ‘Despair’.

Secondly, it’s carrying on from Thatcher’s campaign to create a class of schools removed from local authority control. Like Mussolini, Maggie Thatcher is, to the Tory faithful, always right. Anything she does cannot be criticised in any shape or form and is absolutely correct, whatever happens. To quote the old scientist, it is very much a case of where there’s a difference between theory and reality, so much for reality. Thatcher was basing her campaign against state education, and more broadly, teachers, on the popular resentment in the 1970s and ’80s about teachers from the ‘loony Left’ indoctrinating children in state schools, teaching them that gays were equal and making them anti-racist, when they should instead have been teaching them good, hearty Tory values. Remember the clause in her education bill attacking the teaching of homosexual propaganda in school? And I can remember her also delivering a foam-flecked rant to the Tory faithful about how ‘Fabians’ were teaching children ‘anti-racist mathematics’. At the time, there were concerns about the failures of those schools which had adopted ‘progressive’ educational policies. Like one school in inner London, where the teachers decided not to teach, as this would ruin children’s innate creativity. There were also horror stories run in the press about Brent and Lambeth councils, and the bizarre, highly authoritarian attitude they took to education, in which nearly everything was suspected of racism. They were supposed to have altered the old nursery rhyme, ‘Baa, Baa, Black Sheep’, to ‘Baa, Baa, Green Sheep’ to make it less racist. It’s been stated several times since that this was just an urban myth, and that the Sun has admitted it made it up. On the other hand, I’ve met people, who did go to school in those boroughs, who claimed they did have to sing it. So I honestly don’t know. Given the mendacity and racism of the Scum, it wouldn’t surprise me if they had made it up.

Thirdly, there was and is a strong perception that comprehensive education, which was mostly introduced by Labour, but which also had some Tory support, had failed, and that standards had fallen. The older generation in particular looked back to the grammar schools with nostalgia as institutions where standards were much higher. It looked very much like Thatcher was using this nostalgia to try and reintroduce them, albeit in a slightly different, updated form. In actual fact, the Labour party under Crossland had decided to introduce comprehensive schools because the grammar schools were elitist. Very few working-class children were sent there. Instead, they were considered more suited to the secondary moderns, where they would be taught a manual trade. Grammar schools were reserved for those set on clerical careers and the like, and so were very much bastions of the middle classes.

There were immense problems with some of the comprehensives. Some of them were too large, too underfunded, and hampered with the kind of teaching staff that have become stereotypical amongst the Right. Hartcliffe, one of the comprehensive schools in my part of Bristol, had an unenviable reputation for poor academic performance, and chronic theft and bullying amongst its pupils. It has changed greatly since then. It’s been divided into two buildings, rather than a single huge one, and standards have risen markedly in the past few decades with a change of headmasters.

My guess is that the changes that occurred to Hartcliffe, have also been common amongst failing schools throughout the country. Standards in state education have risen. But this counts for nothing, as the Tory Right is ideologically opposed to state education. Tory toffs like Cameron, Gove, Osborne and Thicky Nikki seem to look back for their view of a good education system to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when schools, or at least, the grammar schools, were largely private, and the proles were given just enough education to allow them to get a job once they left school, which was at 12, then 14. Changes in industry mean that you now need a more educated, technically proficient workforce, and so they can’t get away with sending children that you out to work. So the higher education sector has expanded, but the Tories would like that to be the nearly exclusive province of the monied classes, and so have raised tuition fees to exorbitant heights after they were introduced by Bliar.

And so contemporary schoolchildren are going to suffer because of a political orthodoxy that started with Maggie Thatcher in the 1980s, and has continued through a mixture of greed and ideological inertia. Oh yes, and the Goebbels-like determination to keep pushing a good lie if it gets you votes.

The Young Turks on Fox News Attacking Obama’s Plan for Free Community College Tuition

February 24, 2016

This is another example of a policy by the Democrats that should be taken up over here. And of the right-wing rage that would accompany it if it ever was. The clip comes from a year ago (2015) and shows Steve Doocy and the rest of Fox and Friends getting very annoyed with Obama. That in itself is no surprise. What is interesting is the reason this time round. Obama had the sheer audacity to state that he was going to make federal funds available to pay for two years’ tuition at community colleges. The federal authorities would pay for three-quarters’ of the tuition fees for those two years, and the individual state would be required to pay the rest. This would mean, according to one of the pundits on the TYT panel, that Americans would save on $15,000 tuition fees each year for those two years.

Doocy on Fox and Friends can’t stand it. He states that he’s only just finished paying off his college fees, and doesn’t see why anyone else should get the chance of a free higher education. The Fox panel also shout that if you’ve just got a baby now, you’re not just going to pay for their education, but someone else’s as well. Students shouldn’t have the right to a free education, because nothing is free.

The Turks’ panel of John Iadarola, Dave Rubin, Jimmy Dore and R.J. Eskow give that attitude very short-shrift. They point out that the estimated $60 billion it’s supposedly going to cost is actually the total amount the American state spends on education. They also point out that investing in education is the way Finland actually boosted its economy by educating its people. They also make the point that the money is better spent on education, which will also ultimately benefit everyone in the areas the students in which the students are studying, than just simply giving it to millionaires in the form of tax cuts.

As for the line that present-day students shouldn’t have it, because it didn’t exist way back when, Iadarola states that this is a profoundly un-American attitude. He states that when American introduced Social Security, nobody argued against it’s introduction because, hey, their aunt had to scrimp and save and go without, so why should others have it easy. Or they came to America as indentured servants or slaves, so why should indentured servitude or slavery be ended. People generally want things to be better for the next generation than they are now, not the same or worse. And in the case of education, they certainly don’t agree that something that important, where primary and secondary education are free, should also be made more expensive to stop people taking it up.

As for Steve Doocy, they point out that he’s 58 years old, and attended one of the better American universities. He’d therefore still have to pay his tuition fees if this came in, because he did not go to Community College. Their producer also makes the point that Doocy was at College in the 1970s, so there’s no way he has only just paid off his student debt. And they also argue that the average student debt is so large, $20-30,000, that the only way students can afford to pay it off is for the luck 0.1% to become Fox News presenters.

I’ve reblogged this because British students are now in the same position since Bliar’s government introduced tuition fees, and the Lib-Dem-Tory Coalition hiked them up massively. In the case of Bliar, he was a member of the British-American Project, a Reaganite initiative for schooling the next generation of British politicians. He and the other leaders of New Labour were impressed with Reaganite American attitudes and policies. In the case of Cameron and Clegg, they’re Thatcherite toffs, who resent the working classes getting above themselves and having opportunities which they feel should rightly belong solely to the well-heeled. And it is a Thatcherite policy. I can remember it being discussed when the Iron Lady was doing her best to destroy everything decent in British political culture. Mind you, there were certain figures in the Labour party even then, who supported it, like David Cox, the Labour MP for Hartcliffe in Bristol.

It’s slightly ironic that as British politics has moved to the right with New Labour, so parts of the Democrats have moved to the Left. This particular policy is rather more left-wing, for example, than the current policy in Britain.

I’ve also reblogged this because I’ve also heard the refrain directed against certain policies over this side of the Atlantic, that people shouldn’t have particular benefits, ’cause ‘we never had it in our day.’ And the reply should be the same: it’s not an argument, as people should want to make things better, as The Young Turks have said about education above.

Oliver Letwin’s Memo and Tory Racism

December 31, 2015

Yesterday, documents released to the public under the thirty-year rule included a memo Oliver Letwin wrote to Maggie Thatcher on the riots in 1985. These included a number of racist statements revealing Letwin’s contempt and absolute lack of any kind of sympathy or understanding of Black Britons and the problems facing them at that time. He denied that the rioting was due to racism, despite the fact that this was extremely well-documented in the Met police. He stated that riots, and the problems of crime, and social inequality plaguing the Black community were due to their moral defects and declared that White people didn’t riot. This comes as news to me, as one of the areas in Bristol that has been hit by rioting is Hartcliffe. This was a council estate, built in the 1960s as dormer suburb to house the workers at the local Wills tobacco factory. It also has had its problems with high crime and increasing marginalisation. It’s population is also largely White. Letwin also didn’t want to see ‘positive discrimination’ introduced, and sneered at welfare spending on the Black poor stating that they would merely use the money for discos and drugs.

Mike has covered the report at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/12/30/the-5-most-shocking-quotes-in-oliver-letwins-racist-memo/

Letwin has apologised for the memo. Nevertheless, it’s contents are so offensive that the long-time Black activist, Darcus Howe, has stated that it borders on the criminal. He had no confidence in David Cameron to do anything for the Black people of Britain, and called on Corbyn to use this incident to show his support for British Blacks, and that Labour was no longer the party of Blair and the two Milibands.

See Mike’s article at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/12/31/oliver-letwin-memo-borders-on-criminality-says-darcus-howe/

I’ve mixed feelings about Howe. At times his attitudes are too bitter, and he does seem determined to put the worst racist interpretation on matters. A few years ago at the turn of the century one of the terrestrial TV channels did a programme in which he looked at the Caribbean today, and its heritage. The tone was almost unrelentingly bitter. He seemed to hate the fact that portraits of the historic leaders of one of the Caribbean nations were still on the walls of the country’s legislature, and condemned the four hundred years or so of British rule in the West Indies for the suffering this had inflicted on his people. In this, obviously, he has a point. The economies of the Caribbean nations were built on slavery almost from the moment they were colonised by Europeans. Many of the leading figures in colonial society – the governors and presidents – were slave-owners and the architects of the racist social and economic system on the islands. Having said that, there is still an argument for keeping their pictures around, as they are part of the history of the Caribbean nations. Regardless of how immoral the regime over which they presided was, they were still founders of the modern Caribbean states and so need to be remembered, even though their racial attitudes and policies totally deserve to be condemned.

Elsewhere, Howe seemed to have missed the point. There was a group of White West Indians, including a few White Brits, down by the docks toasting the victories of the British navy over the Spanish. Howe raged that they were celebrating the enslavement of his people. But they weren’t. They were celebrating the British navy repeatedly defeating the Spanish. Now at the time those victories were part of the British campaign to wrest the Caribbean from the Spanish Empire, and developing it using slave labour. But the Brits did not toast the introduction of slavery or the enslavement of Blacks. It was a nationalist, rather than racist, celebration. And really all about jolly British tars like Walter Raleigh singeing the king of Spain’s beard. Slavery was not mentioned.

But here Howe does have a point. And, despite Letwin’s apologies, and recent Tory attempts to win over Black voters, I really don’t think attitudes have changed in the Tory party. I’ve been told by former party members that the Tory party generally doesn’t like Blacks. Mind you, they also despise the White poor.

The attitude of the Conservative party and New Labour is that poverty is caused by the moral failings of the individual. If you’re poor, it’s because you’re lazy, or ‘feckless’, in the words of Gordon Brown. ATOS and now Maximus were called in to administer the ‘fitness for work’ tests in order to prevent as many people as possible claiming invalidity benefit. As very many bloggers have pointed out, including the Angry Yorkshireman and Johnny Void, modern Tory welfare policy is centred on the Victorian concept of ‘less eligibility’. Welfare is supposed to be made as difficult and demeaning as possible in order to deter people from claiming it.

And I’ve no doubt the majority of Tories really are afraid that giving the poor money is wasteful, and that they will just use it on ‘discos and drugs’, or alcohol and superfluous consumer products that they shouldn’t be able to afford.

So I’m not impressed by Letwin’s apology either. It may well be that he’s moved on, and is no longer as racist as he was. But the same attitudes towards poverty and social exclusion remain at the very centre of the Tory party and their attitudes towards the poor and working class, and particularly, but by no means exclusively, Blacks.