I don’t want to get carried away – it is all too easy to admire someone’s goal and their tenacity while forgetting to evaluate them based on their results and in their historical context. At this point, it takes Govian willpower to say that his structural reforms to the education system have been a success – for three reasons.
Firstly, and rather obviously, we hardly know anything about the performance of children that have attended free schools, or those who have been taught under the Gove era. Ofsted reviews of free school suggest they are no better than others. What we know about the features of the best performing schools across the world (mostly teacher quality but also data-driven classrooms, high aspirations, longer hours, etc.) are only sporadically apparent in the first waves of free schools.
Secondly, the National Audit Office and others have raised serious concerns over the transparency of the selection process, free schools’ availability where they are most needed, and the looming trouble in the department’s capital budget. Collateral damage from a battle against an incalcitrant bureaucracy? Perhaps. When you blast a blob goo comes out. But one can not read these reports and celebrate success.
Thirdly, Mr Gove may have been the most radical reformer in the coalition but his changes should be seen in their proper context. Checking them against Thatcher’s legacy is important. So too is realising that they are a turbocharged version of the reforms began under the Blair government – free schools are academies. (Literally – they are academies under law.) I sense a tendency among some Conservatives to confuse how Mr Gove revolutionised the party’s views on education with him being the first and only person in the country to want to shake up the schools system. Read more
Today’s young people are less likely to booze, take drugs or commit crimes than previous generations. They are sober, serious and staid. Socially, their maturity belies their years. But as a new report makes clear, the Great Recession has made them economically juvenile: in receipt of more support from the state and from their parents. Young people are growing up faster and slower than their forebears.
In their annual survey on living standards in Britain, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggest that the fastest growing type of inequality over the past five years has been between the young and the old, rather than between the rich and the poor or London and the rest of the country. (There is of course overlap here, and the IFS says the rich-poor divide will soon widen.) This rupture promises to affect the future of Britain’s economy for generations to come.
Without North Sea oil and gas it is unlikely that there would even be a referendum on Scottish independence. Its discovery is the first chapter in the foundation story for nationalists who believe that Margaret Thatcher was in effect Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood. But oil is about more than the past; it is critical to the Yes campaign’s arguments about the present and the future, too. It anchors the (somewhat spurious) argument that Scotland would be richer than the rest of the UK, and allows Alex Salmond to promise the creation of a sovereign wealth fund.
Scots’ perceptions of the economic consequences of independence will be vital to the outcome of the vote on September 18. But unfortunately for Scots there is a big discrepancy between the forecasts of direct tax revenues from the North Sea made by the Scottish government and those made by the Office for Budget Responsibility, the UK’s fiscal watchdog. In this post I want to try to explain why these forecasts differ and why I believe the Scottish government’s optimism is misleading.
The grey tower blocks that wrap around the Gascoigne Children’s Centre in Barking, east London, are in various forms of disrepair. Demolition jobs stand unfinished; cross sections of smashed homes reveal pastel wallpaper flapping in the wind. Families from more than 80 countries live in the remaining houses. Gascoigne is the last stop for many people who have been shunted around the UK’s social housing stock. It is also the epicentre of a demographic earthquake transforming Britain.
There are more babies per person in Barking and Dagenham than in any other local authority in Britain. One in 10 people in the area is under five and the local pre-school is thrice oversubscribed. Lunch “hour” at the packed primary school runs from 11am to 1.30pm. Inside the children’s centre, high-pitched wails ricochet off the walls. After 20 years working on the estate, Rahat Ismail, the centre’s manager, is used to the noise. Showing me into a quieter room, she sits down on a carpet beside nine mothers and nine babies. It is time for Babbling Babes, a singing session designed to help infants with their cognitive skills.
A 15-month-old boy with a wispy afro is asked to pick from two plastic figures, each representing a song. Handling objects improves motor development and, at this boy’s age, a baby begins to see that others’ experiences are different from his own. Glancing at his peers, the boy rejects a farmer by the name of MacDonald and opts for a black sheep. We sing, inquiring as to its wool. Read more
Buried in a folder somewhere in my flat is a piece of paper certifying that I am not a sex offender. During university holidays I worked for a charity that tries to help young people with learning disabilities. Before I could start I had to be approved by Disclosure Scotland, an executive agency of the Scottish government that maintains lists of people banned from working with children and disabled people, and advises organisations so they can “make safer and more informed recruitment decisions”.
I worked with children who had, inter alia, Down’s syndrome, autism and Asperger’s syndrome. As well as helping to run a summer school, I worked one-on-one with children in an effort to improve their confidence, learning and health. Giving parents a break was part of the job, as was taking advantage of Edinburgh’s cultural and sporting highlights. My work took me all over the capital. Physical contact was unavoidable – for example, when crossing busy roads. Some of the children I worked with liked to go swimming and some would need help getting changed. Parents needed to trust me to take care of their vulnerable children in vulnerable situations. Read more
For some voters in September’s referendum, independence offers the prospect of Scotland “becoming the European social democracy we are politically inclined to be”, as Irvine Welsh puts it. Welsh, like many Scots (and many Scottish artists), sees the vote as a chance for Scots to “assert democratic socialist values over neo-liberalism”. It is a common argument made by those who aren’t necessarily staunch supporters of the ruling Scottish National party and yet still intend to vote Yes on September 18.
Now contrast that with the views of Ewan Morrison, another brilliant and sweary novelist. In a post on BellaCaledonia, a popular left- and Yes-leaning website, the author of Close Your Eyes explains why he will be voting Yes in the referendum:
“Not because I buy into any of the retro leftist idealism that seems to please the majority of Yes voters I know, but because I think its [sic] important that Scotland stops blaming the UK for its woes and tries to survive as an entrepreneurial capitalist country. I vote Yes to force a change in the Scottish psyche away from Nay saying, resentment, and ‘prolier than thou’ righteousness. I vote Yes to begin the cull of turn of the century unreformed and uncritical socialist ideals that have been holding this country back and scaring away investment.” Read more
In the comments to an earlier post on whether the Yes vote in the independence referendum is being exaggerated, JeanJacques writes:
“Everyone of these ‘institutional’ polling agencies predicted a Labour victory in Holyrood 2011. They have zero credibility.”
This is a notion whose ubiquity is inversely related to its accuracy. It is not true.
Another thing one hears from Scottish opinion poll watchers is that there may be a version of the Shy Tory effect happening ahead of the independence referendum. This is another reason they give for why the Yes vote may lower than polls suggest.
Behind these results lies a theory: the “spiral of silence”. This is where an individual is reluctant to give his opinion because of what he perceives to be the views of a vocal majority, and where this reticence has a knock-on effect on others’ silence. (Hence the spiral.)
One paper on the subject lists three criteria for the spiral: (1) The issue must have a moral component to it; (2) There is a time factor or dynamic aspect of public opinion; (3) There is ubiquitous and consonant mass media coverage
Sound like any referendum you have heard about? Read more
“Why do opinion polls in Scotland vary so much?” asks Peter Kellner. It is an important question. An answer would give us a clue as to what will happen in the independence referendum. The president of YouGov is puzzled by the results from his and other polling companies. He produces this table by way of argument:
Mr Kellner has taken the past five or six polls from five of the main pollsters and calculated the average for the Yes vote. Next to that column he shows the range in the Yes vote across the five or six polls. Aside from ICM, these ranges are narrow.
He wants us to take two things from this table. First, that there has been very little movement in any of the individual polls since Christmas 2013. Second, that there is a curious difference between the results of YouGov and TNS, which place the Yes vote between 39-42, and Panelbase and Survation, which report higher totals. Read more
Not a single track has been laid for High Speed 2 and yet George Osborne is already talking about “High Speed 3″, an extension of the project to link Manchester and Leeds. In a speech on Monday in Manchester, the chancellor spoke of his support for a “Northern powerhouse”: a conurbation to rival London, connected by transport links such as HS3, and governed by independent mayors. It is an excellent idea.
Although there will be a temptation to see Mr Osborne’s speech as simply another part of the HS2 debate, that would be simplistic. It represents the coming together of different conceptions of the future for British cities – and as ever political necessities.
One of the authors of this pair of books is a dyspeptic Scottish socialist prone to exaggeration. The other is Gordon Brown. He and Alasdair Gray have written works that argue for opposing sides in the debate on Scottish independence. The pro-union former prime minister and the secessionist novelist have different styles as well as arguments. Gray’s masterpiece Lanark (1981) won him comparisons with Dante and Joyce, whereas Brown’s prose is somewhat more straightforward. His new book begins: “I love my country. Simple as that.” Read more
David Cameron is “a sphinx without a riddle”, who “bumbles from one shambles to another with no sense of purpose”. Nick Clegg is “a goner”. Ed Llewellyn, the prime minister’s chief of staff, is “a classic third-rate suck-up-kick-down sycophant presiding over a shambolic court”. Tell us what you really think, Dominic.
In an interview with the Times, Dominic Cummings, Michael Gove’s former special adviser provides piquant descriptions of people in and around No. 10, whom he says are blocking or slowing his ex-boss’s radical reforms to the English school system.
Mr Cummings is an intriguing character who wears his learning about as lightly as Cristiano Ronaldo wears Nike. But his views should be given a hearing and not only because he remains a vital influence on Mr Gove. Last year he published “Some Thoughts on Educational and Political Priorities”, a manifesto for what he calls an “Odyssean” education system. After a bumpy ride through cognitive science, complexity theory, genetics, mathematics and military strategy, and a detour into dystopian predictions, he arrives at something close to a conclusion: England’s schools must become much better if its children are to compete in the modern world. He says that this requires a savage attitude towards the structural bulwarks to reform. Read more
Not content with writing brilliantly about one wizard, JK Rowling has blogged about Alex Salmond. In a post on her website the Harry Potter author explains why she is donating £1m to the No campaign – and will be voting against Scottish independence.
I encourage anyone interested in the referendum on Scottish independence to read Ms Rowling. She expresses more clearly than most unionists the idea that patriotism is compatible with scepticism of independence. Ms Rowling may also help to explain why the Yes campaign is struggling to convince women. Hers is a proud, quiet and pragmatic defence of Scotland within the UK, one that will chime with many voters. Read more
So much for the death of the Tea Party. Last night House Majority leader Eric Cantor defied the predictions of data whizzes and old school pundits alike by losing his Republican primary to Donald Bart by 28,898 votes to 36,100. Mr Cantor, who few people would describe as a moderate, spent a lot of money in a political cycle where other Tea Party candidates have struggled to match the movement’s 2010 successes. The question analysts of US politics are asking this morning is: how did this happen?
Not being present yesterday evening in the heady summer heat of Virginia’s 7th congressional district, I can only speculate how Mr Bart might have pulled it off.
But here are three suggestions: Read more
With the honourable exception of the pupils who have to take their GCSEs in a climate of ill-informed hysteria, there is something for everyone in the Birmingham schools story. It is evidence of too much and too little central control. Religious schools are part of the problem and part of the solution. Responses by politicians tell us something (or nothing) about the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and Labour.
On Monday, Ofsted published details of its inspections of 21 schools in and around Birmingham. The schools inspector found five of the schools to be “inadequate”, its lowest of four possible overall ratings. Deploying various euphemisms about a lack of “safeguarding” and failures in “governance”, Ofsted alleges that it discovered evidence that pupils were being exposed to extreme Islamic views, or at the very least, that they were not being encouraged to be tolerant. In some cases it received evidence from teachers who said that incompetent school governors with radical views were playing increasingly influential roles in the running of the school. Read more
The table below shows the latest results from NatCen’s semi-regular polling of English attitudes towards how Scotland should be governed. Only about one in five say Scotland should be independent. I suspect this is more likely to reflect indifference more than a passionate belief in the union. Either way, the results don’t suggest that the coverage of the referendum has led to an increase in sympathy for the Nationalist cause among those living south of the border.
“Devolution will be and is the salvation of the UK”, Tony Blair said in 1999. Fifteen years later, as Scotland prepares to vote in the referendum on its independence, some might say devolution will be turn out to be Britain’s downfall. But that is not stopping politicians from giving the former prime minister’s gambit another try.
On Monday, the Conservatives became the third of the three main Westminster parties to publish proposals for powers that could be devolved to Scotland in the case of a No vote on September 18. In part this is belated realpolitik. Further devolution, rather than independence or the status quo, is not on the ballot paper. In hindsight, Prime Minister David Cameron may come to see that decision as myopic. It is an option that remains popular with Scottish voters, as politicians from both sides know.
The prime minister’s short-termism notwithstanding, the Conservative offer should be seen as part of a response to longer-term trends. Centrifugal forces are undermining British cohesion. Scotland is the most obvious manifestation of this trend but it is also apparent in Wales, Northern Ireland, and don’t forget, England. Read more
I recommend following Election Data; he makes cool maps like this:
It takes data from the latest ICM poll on Scottish independence and applies them to a map of Scotland’s regions. The numbers refer to what share of the electorate say they do not know how they will vote on September 18. There are maps showing the spread of the Yes and No vote on Election Data’s ever-informative Twitter feed.
The highest shares are found in the borders and in Glasgow but as pollsters have tried to explain before, geography isn’t the best way to split the undecided vote. Better to look at a person’s interest in politics (the apathetic being generally more persuadable) and, intriguingly, gender. The latest Ipsos Mori poll showed a 50:50 Yes- No split among men but women voting 2:1 in favour of keeping the union. Read more