Vocational Education

Here’s a post I wrote over on my Educational blog in the run up to the election looking at the failures we’ve had in the field of vocational education. A field that looks set to be ignored and let down under the current government.


This was the week they came, the manifestos. I’ve been waiting for them in anticipation and it was beginning to feel they’d never come. I love manifesto season and I’ve started to read and digest them.

One thing that jumped out at me in the Labour manifesto was a renewed commitment to vocational educational. Vocational Education is something that has been on the fringes of education policy in the UK for a long time, but we haven’t ever managed to get it right.

Last year I had the privilege to see Professor Geoff Hayward deliver a lecture on vocational education. Geoff was, at the time, head of the school of education at Leeds University but he has since moved to the same role at Cambridge. Geoff spoke about vocational education, and how British society has repeatedly failed to provide for “the forgotten 50%”. (He also go wrote “Education for…

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Immigration is a hotly contested topic that I hear a lot about, seemingly every day I hear someone mention it with a tone that implies it’s a dirty word, but I just don’t get it.

Coming over here, taking our jobs….

I work in a maths department with 12 teachers, 4 of them are immigrants. 3 from Canada and 1 from the Irish Republic. We have tried to recruit teachers this year but no one applies. There are not enough maths teachers in this country to fill all the jobs and there are not enough trainee’s to fill next year’s jobs, despite generous bursaries and other incentives to get people to train. So they certainly aren’t taking “our” jobs.

Today my daughter was seen by an out of hours doctor. He was chinese, yet we’re told there is a shortage of doctors in this country, so he’s not taking “our” jobs.

In fact these “immigrants” are actually making a positive contribution to our society.

Who’s country is it anyway?

There are few, if any, indigenous British people left. Perhaps the odd one in Wales, Scotland or Cornwall. The rest of us incorporate genes from a vast array of people’s from across the world. Even those with long family histories of “British” ancestors will have Viking, Norman and Anglo Saxon in them to compliment the indigenous celtic genes. How far back should we go? How territorial should we be?

Going back to my department at school, of the other 8 only 2 are from Bradford, the city where the school is based, so should the rest of us not be allowed to work there?

What makes someone part of a nation?

Os it their place of birth? Is it their parents place if birth? Their Grandparents place of birth? Who decides? Which isn’t your nationality defined by the country you settle in, pay your taxes in, contribute to society in?

If people want to move here, work here, build a better life and society here why would we stop them? I find the whole idea of a migration cap bizarre. Who really cares which side of an imaginary line someone is born on, if they’re committed to a country surely that’s what counts right?

It annoys me that it’s seen as a dirty word. One of the greatest things about this country is the diversity and tolerance we have as a society. People from a vast array of backgrounds, races, religions living and working together. Let’s not lose that. The rise of the UKIP rhetoric, a xenophobic rhetoric, is irksome and worrying and we need to get past it.

The SNP and Hunting Bans

A lot gas been said this week on the topic of the SNP and the impending repeal if the hunting ban in England and Wales and it seems that people in some quarters seem to be latching onto it as a stick to bash them with. It’s worrying for many reasons, not least the fact that I feel the same people will bash them with it whichever way they decide to go.

As a party vehemently opposed to hunting and killing foxes with dogs, the SNP will come under fire if they abstain. It will be pounced upon by all to bash them for “deserting” their beliefs on fox hunting.

However, they are a party fighting a devolution agenda. They want the rest of the UK to stay out of decisions which affect Scotland and also feel they should stay out of decisions that don’t affect them. In fact, they previously said they would abstain on issues that don’t involve them. If they were to show up and vote against repealing the ban they would be hammered for going back on that and for sticking their noses in to business that doesn’t concern them. (Scotland banned foxhunting before the rest of the UK and repealing this ban wouldn’t affect the ban in Scotland.)

Their opponents from all across the political spectrum have shown they are going to attack them whatever happens and I believe this is wrong. The SNP have a hard moral decision to make, whatever they do right will attack them on it, because they are trying desperately to hide the fact that Scotland voted massively in favour of an anti austerity party. They also want to keep the “Scottish wolves at the door” myth alive as it has served them well and will no doubt continue to do so.
The real problem is that I think many on the left will attack them too, because they somehow blame them for the disaster we saw on election day. It’s not the SNPs fault the tactical vote to “keep the tories out” deserted the Lib Dems after they joined said tories, it’s not the SNPs fault that Labour failed to stand strongly enough against austerity to satchel the mood of the Scottish people, and a divided left taking pot shots at each other over things like this plays right into Cameron’s hands as it causes negative press for all left parties and takes the focus away from where it should be. Which is opposing the cuts to our essential services, opposing the attack on our human rights, workers rights, civil liberties and all the rest they have planned.

“The Universal Panacea? The number one shift in UK education I wish to see in my lifetime”

Here’s a post I wrote a while ago Iver on my Educational blog. It looks at the inequalities that are inherently inbuilt into our current system that I would love to see eradicated. I’d love to hear your opinions.


Last week a colleague (http://thegoldfishbowl.edublogs.org/) “tweeted” me to tell me he’d signed up for something called a blog sync (share.edutronic.net/ ), and suggested I might like a go at it. I had a look and despite initial reservations about deadlines etc I figured I’d give it ago. So the topic for the month is: “The Universal Panacea? The number one shift in UK education I wish to see in my lifetime”, and here we are.

Since signing up for this I’ve run hundreds of ideas through my mind to try and come up with an answer. I’ve discovered that there are quite a few changes I would like to see! And I have discovered that at the crux of most of them is “I would like to see an end to the inequality in the UK education system”.

Inequality is something I despise on all levels, whether it be…

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4 Govian Years – A Retrospective

Here is a piece I wrote a while back on my other blog (dedicated to maths and maths teaching) which looks at Michael Gove’s run as Education Secretary. http://wp.me/p2z9Lp-gR


I was going to call this piece “Goodbye, Mr Gove”, but Old Andrew (@OldAndrewUk) has already written this one with that title. I read his post, really enjoyed it and agreed with the majority of it. But that’s not what I wanted to write. This mornings announcement was a total shock, one from which I still haven’t really recovered! I wanted to have a look at some of the policy decisions that have happened during Mr Gove’s tenure and explore my feelings on them. I have tried to write objectively, and not taint my feelings on these policies with my feelings of Gove himself. I haven’t researched specifically for this post, all the measures here are from memory. If I’ve attributed something wrongly, or remembered it wrong, I do apologise. Feel free to correct in the comments and I will amend.

Progress 8

Progress 8 is something I…

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Labour Leadership

So just over a week since the election defeat and we’re now firmly into the process of choosing a new Labour leader. It didn’t take the Dark Lord long to come out and have his say, claiming that the failure of the party to accept his choice last time was ultimately responsible for the defeat and that moving foward the party would need to return to the “New Labour” of he and Blair, as the lurch to the left hasn’t worked. He presented us his candidate, who promptly withdrew.

These claims have been repeated by many on the right of the faction, but I have trouble believing them. The tory press sold a “Red Ed” line and the Blairites (I’ve always wondered if the term should be Mandelsonite) backed it. However, the reality was much different. Ed Miliband was a great leader with great policies, but I feel that on many issues (imigration and austerity for example) he pandered too much to his detractors on the right.

The election results showed that the Labour vote share was up on 2010. It was up more than the Conservative vote, and in England and Wales there was a gain in seats, although not a large enough gain. Blairites and many commentators have suggested that this was due to the middle class deserting a post New Labour party, but analysis of voters suggests this to be untrue,  and that actually the working class vote was the vote that hit hardest.

In England and Wales one would assume that a lot if that we think yo the Greens and to UKIP,  the Greens stood for the left wing principles Labour were missing, and UKIP built a worrying rhetoric around their anti hero that seems to have sold well to a group who feel Labour have left them behind. North of the border we saw real dominance from the SNP,  a party running in an anti cuts, anti austerity ticket. This all suggests to me that the next leader should be opposing these ideas and there’s certainly an appetite for it amongst the new blood, as well as the old guard.

In the wake if the 2010 election defeat the Tories and the tory press sold a lie to the public. They created this myth of “Labours Recession” and the “Conservative Recovery”. The truth is that Labours spending was working. Our country was improving at a rate of knots. Those of us of a certain age will remember being schooled in portacabains, buildings built on the cheap that were falling down. I remember someone kicking a football against the wall in the biology room and the wall literally falling off. The schools built under building schools for the future are amazing facilities to learn in. NHS waiting lists were under 2 weeks, A&E waiting times were brought down, patients were able to get high quality care fast. SureStart was improving lives of millions. That’s now all gone.

The Global recession was caused by the banking crisis, which was caused by banks, as Richard Burgon said in his acceptance speech, “The clue’s in the nane.” Labour’s failure to defend their spending and to tackle these myths cost a lot of votes, and I feel going forward this needs to be addressed.

Of the candidates Yvette Cooper seems to be the one who is most likely to stand up to austerity and reconnect the party with its roots. She’s already spoken about these issues and certainly seems to hold these views. I did also like Andy Burnham’s video announcing his candidacy, stressing that his vision is a party that stands up for all. Both he and Liz Kendal impressed me when I saw them speak on the NHS during the campaign, although I worry about Kendal’s backing of private health care providers.

I think that all 5 candidates (these 3 plus Tristram Hunt and Mary Creagh) are excellent speakers, all have the charisma that the public seem to think is more important than policies and all have strong feelings for the party.

Today we are all wondering what has had to Chukka, perhaps there is a skeleton? Perhaps he really just didn’t realise the scrutiny the media would present him? Perhaps he’s cut a Blair Brown deal with Hunt? Maybe there is another, personal reason for not running, or maybe he thinks 2025 is a more likely victory year so is holding off? We may never know, but we can’t let it detract us. We need a new leader to win us the election in 2020 and to restart the good work.

I’ve heard some say “we need this person to win,’ or “winning is more important than direction.” I disagree, the party is a democratic socialist party, and must select the leader that’s right for the party and the country. Whatever happens in the end though, we must unite behind the winner and not see the back stabbing Ed Miliband faced, or that Cameron is facing from Davis now.

Will the Lib Dems rise again?

Last week saw an unprecedented wipe out of one of the main 3 political parties in the UK, the Liberal Democrats. Anyone who has been on twitter or Facebook over the week since will have seen the popular hashtag #LibDemFightback and your bound to have noticed the posts pertaining to the amount of new members they’ve gained since the election. A decent amount, around 11000 last I saw, but still less than half the new members Labour have gained and still a fraction of the overall members Labour have and less too than the Greens. So what next for the Lib Dems? Will they come swinging back at the next election, or will they continue to be a minor party with a single figure number of MPs? 

What went wrong?

A lot has been said about this, but I think to fully understand it you need to look at what had previously gone right.

The Liberal Democrats are quite a new party, formed from the remnants of the once great liberal party. (A party that were one of two main parties with the Conservative party. Parties that were not overly different, which showed when Churchill and others regularly crossed the floor. They suffered a massive wipe out in the twenties after entering a coalition with the labour party who were on the rise trying to make things better for the working man.) And the SDP, a breakaway ftom the labour party who thought it was too left under Michael Foot. The Lib Dems built themselves up to over 60 seats in 2005, and this success was twofold.

Firstly, they had built a following of liberal Conservatives in the south and mobilised the labour tactical vote well in many areas to keep the tories out.

Secondly, in traditional Labour heartlands they appealed to disillusioned Labour voters who felt Blair had taken the party too far to the right, picked up a number of protest voters from Labour with their repeated rhetoric on the ‘illegal war in Iraq’, won the student vote with talk of tuition fees and mobilised the tactical tory vote to “keep Labour out”.

What does this have to do with their downfall

In 2010 the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition government with the Conservatives. One of the first things they did in that government break a pledge they’d made on raising tuition fees. These two things meant that instantly they’d lost the student vote for 2015 and the traditional Labour vote who’d voted tactically, as a protest or because they felt Labour were too far to the right were likely to go too.


When the election came strange things happened. I like in Leeds NW, predicted to be a Lib Dem / Labour marginal, even a three way marginal. Although the sitting LD MP had a 10000+ majority in 2010. The tories didn’t name their candidate until nominations were due to be handed in. They didn’t campaign and an analysis of the general election results against the local election results show masses of tory voters voted LD. A similar story was seen in Sheffield Hallam and other Lib Dem / Labour marginals.

In neighbouring Pudsey, a Conservative / Labour marginal the reverse happened. The Lib Dems didn’t campaign and a local vs general analysis showed LD tactically voting Tory.

I’m sure the Tories are quire happy with the way the deal panned out, but I’d wager the Lib Dems didn’t felt the same when the Conservative machine steamrollered them in the South as the Labour tactical vote deserted them.

So can they recover?

I think it will be tough for them to recover in the traditional Labour areas. A lot will depend on the new Labour leader and the direction that party takes, but it is currently difficult to imagine a recovery there, or in Scotland.

In the south, however, they maybe able to make some ground. There’s no doubt that they reined Cameron back during the coalition, and I think when the tactical voters see the true face of Cameronist Conservatism they may find it in them to vote LD again to keep the Tories out. I think the LDs should have focused more on this in the campaign, their southern wipe out may not have happened. I feel it wasn’t shouted as much as it should have been due to the need to appeal to Tory voters in seats like Leeds NW and Sheffield Hallam.

A lot will rest on their own new leader. They need to distance themselves from the worst of coalition, and celebrate the successes they had in stopping Cameron. I’d assume that Tim Fallon is the candidate to do this. I think that their rebuilding process will be long, and that it won’t happen in the Labour heartland, so they should focus their efforts on regaining the Labour tactical vote and “Keeping the tories out”.

Should we move on?

Today I was asked: “Now the election is over, don’t you think it’s time to let politics go and move on?”

This is an idea that worries me. We live in a democracy. The country has elected a government to represent the views of the people. That doesn’t mean that we say “there you go old chap, do what you will with the place we will vote again in 2020.” Politics is an ongoing thing. We have the democratic right to lobby our mps on issues in parliament, we have the democratic right to peacefully protest and we still currently have the right of free speech (although with the snoopers charter this is looking more threatened) and I certainly intended to use those rights. There’s also far too much voter apathy, and perhaps conversations can help with that.

Elections are not just every five years, there is local elections, I’ve a feeling another referendum on electoral reform is brewing,  there is likely to be a referendum on EU membership by 2017, there is the upcoming police and crime commissioner elections. Then there’s two of the main parties running leadership elections. These are issues that can directly affect all our futures.

On top of that, I realise that in an ideal world everyone would read all the manifestos and choose the one they agree with. In practice the media whip up a storm over a few issues and a lot of people decided based on a single, or a few issues. Further still, even those people who have read the entire manifesto may have chosen the best fit to their view, but may still vehemently disagree with some of the policies in there, or policies that are not in there and come after. This is why the democratic process exists, why you have a named MP who you can write to an explain your views and urge them to express them in parliamentary debates and urge them to vote for or against certain pieces of legislature. The petition is another part of the democratic process, it shows parliament the state of public opinion and when enough signatures are gathered it puts an onus on parliament to at least commit to discussing the issue raised.

These are the democratic processes that we have to hold our government to account. Not everyone realises this, and not everyone realised they can make a difference. This is why conversation on the topics can be imperative.

So no, I don’t think it’s time to let political updates go and move on. I think it’s time to mobilise, and lobby hard, to ensure the government is working for, and accountable to, its people.

Attack on the unions

I imagine I’m not the only one who noticed the anti trade union section of the Conservative manifesto.


The idea that people are being “protected” from strike action is a joke. The right to strike is the only thing that can guarantee workers rights. No one wants to strike, ever. By striking you lose your pay for the duration of the strike and you lose pension contributions. Strikers are often worse off for striking and it’s generally people in situations where they cannot afford to lose that pay who feel the need to strike. A need most often put on them back attacks on their conditions or on their wage.


We will also repeal nonsensical restrictions banning employers from hiring agency staff to provide essential cover.

This is the bit that irks me the most. Strikes only have an effect if the work stops. Strikers withdraw labour to show their bosses that they are, in fact, essential to the business and should be recompensed as such. By allowing these services to continue with agency staff the tories are completely negating the a ton and removing the only tool workers have to ensure they are treated fairly.

The Conservative party have long been in favour of putting the big businesses, the rich, their donors, ahead of the people who work hard on floor. The fat cats in the ivory towers watch the money roll in while the people doing the hard work to make that money take home a pittance. They boldly spoke if trickle down economics, the idea that as the rich got richer they would start to pay more, but the reality is that the majority of the time as the big businesses get richer they find ways to pay their workforce less. Unions and strikes gave them some protection. Thatcher went to war with the unions, removed many of their rights and left them with a fraction of the power they had to stand up for their membership. New Labour failed to revoke these laws, but did at least leave them with some power. Tory plans will remove the little power the unions have left and leave workers no way to defend themselves.

The reasons for this become all too clear when you look at this graph:


The share of the income of the top 1% holds an inverse relationship to the number of union members. It suits the tories, and their pals in big business that fund them, to kill off the unions once and for all.

Destruction of our emergency services

You’ve all seen those adverts for our armed forces, you know the ones, they reiterate how important ALL the jobs involved can be. From the frontline all the way back to the catering and administration staff we are reminded that each and every one is important to the armed service.

So why is it that this ConDem coalition felt they could sell us lies about our emergency services? They have spouted a rhetoric that claims to have “protected frontline services”, but they have cut the support. I have a friend who works as a civilian in the West Yorkshire Police, he used to work shift patterns to allow him to take statements at times that were convenient to witnesses. He has seen a large number of his civilian colleagues made redundant and they’ve had their shiftwork removed. The reality of this is that when witnesses work 9-5 it is frontline officers who have to make the journey to collect statements etc and this is taking police away from the frontline. They’ve also had their travel expenses cut, meaning if a witness cannot come to the station it again falls to front line officers to do the task.

Cameron spoke on channel 4 in the run up to the election about how the police service had suffered budget cuts but “crime has fallen”, my contact suggests that the reality is that as officers have to do all the paperwork etc themselves a large number of minor crimes are now no longer recorded. This effects the overall crime figures and gives Cameron his misleading headline.

It’s not just the police that have been attacked, recently ITV aired a documentary about the emergency department at the Manchester Royal Infirmary, the consultant in charge spoke about his frustration at being able to spend “less than 20% of [his] time with patients”, this was due to the government cuts to the administration staff and other non-frontline services. Paramedics are being replaced with “Emergency Care Assistants” who have little more than first aid training. They are the first to arrive on the scene and their job is basically to assess whether the 999 call was warranted and if it is to call a paramedic. This means that people in dire need of emergency care are being kept waiting longer.

The last 5 years have been dire for our emergency services, on top of cuts to Police and Emergency Health we’ve seen the fire brigade attacked to such an extent that they have felt the need to strike. Let that sink in.

And this all happened under a coalition, the Lib Dems able to rein in the worst and most extreme cuts the tories hoped for. The Lib Dems no longer have that power, so the future looks very,  very bleak.