Showing posts from January, 2014

Education and the Private School Problem

It looks like the New Statesman carries an interesting and thought-provoking article this week, by George and David Kynaston.  George is another SGS alumnus and former Teach First teacher, while his father David is the widely regarded and very readable historian of modern Britain.  They've turned their sights on the issue of private school dominance in modern British society, adding to the wider debate about education and social mobility.

I haven't read the article yet - it arrives in the school library tomorrow - but NS editor Jason Cowley (a recent visitor to SGS himself) blogs his thoughts about it here, and George Kynaston was on this morning's "Today" programme (2 hrs 54 in) discussing it with Fiona Millar, the education campaigner.

Plenty of words have been exhausted on the issue of how education might best promote social mobility and of course there is no easy, ready-packed answer.  The Kynastons accuse the left of ignoring the issue of the private sector…

Road-Blocked Obama?

President Obama's State of the Union speech was not expansive in its promises, and uplifting only in the form of a few rhetorical cadences rather than specific policy proposals.  In fact, of course, this is about as realistic as he can get, as a second term president facing a hostile House of Representatives and operating in one of the most poisoned and divided political milieu in Washington since the days pre-dating the Civil War. 

The Economist magazine carries a fair-minded assessment of his speech, and a couple of things stand out.  One is that despite his seemingly robust commitment to work around Congress, using Executive Orders if necessary, Mr. Obama has shown in practice a far greater respect for the limits of executive power than his predecessors, signing fewer executive orders in his first term than any president since the second world war.

The second point comes at the end of the article, where the Economist take a quick look back at Mr. Obama's two predecessors i…

Hillary Clinton's Dominance

Barack Obama may still have three years to run, and came out fighting in a State of the Union address which signified his desire not to spend the remainder of his presidency as a do-nothing lame duck, but it is in the nature of the game that second term presidencies see a lot of attention focusing on what comes next.  And here, the Democrats have always only had one name in the field - former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The Washington Post records the biggest primary poll lead ever for the undeclared Clinton.  She leads her next putative runner, Vice-President Joe Biden, by an astonishing 61 points.  No-one has scored that highly before.  And Clinton's not just the biggest beast by far in the Democratic firmament, her name recognition dominates what is at the moment a puny set of Republican possibilities.  Bear in mind that the once mighty New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had a disastrous January, with the George Washington Bridge scandal still likely to c…

Jeremy Paxman's War

It’s only January and I must confess that war memorial weariness is already in danger of overtaking me, so heaven knows what I’ll be like come August.Nevertheless, I did have some positive anticipation for Jeremy Paxman’s new series on the outbreak of the war, telling it from the British perspective, and I wasn’t disappointed.In an age where many television documentary presenters are often a little anaemic and underwhelming on the small screen, Paxman somehow bursts through the medium with which he is so familiar, bringing his melancholy mien and authoritative tones to burnish his own telling of the story with some elan.

Paxman’s documentary was imbued with a strong narrative drive, and the rather worn outlines of this history were somehow brought clearly into focus once again.Amongst the more familiar aspects, Paxman gave us less well known stories too – the visit by Foreign Secretary Edward Grey, the bird-watcher of Fallodon, to the bird house at London Zoo two days before war was d…

Does Anyone in Education Like Gove?

The Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, is in full-on attack mode today.  And surprisingly, given his history, his targets are not teachers, or "middle-class grammar schools".  His target is the man thought to be one of his closest allies, Education Secretary Michael Gove.  In a further twist to the Gove dilemma, his shadow Tristram Hunt reckons that one of his own ministers - Liz Truss - is opposed to his distinctly one-sided approach to the teaching of World War One.  Which begs the question of just who in the world of education really does like the Education Secretary?

Ofsted first.  Whatever he says today, Michael Wilshaw is certainly an ideological ally of Mr. Gove's when it comes to reforming (or "attacking", depending on your view) teaching in the classroom.  It speaks volumes about Gove's political management that he has managed to alienate the Ofsted chief, who was said to be "spitting blood" (OK, we get it, he's angry) …

Corruption and Death in Africa, Repression in China

A new country in Africa and a new leader in Beijing both, in their own ways, represented a small sense of hope and change last year.  Not any more.

The new country, South Sudan, has rapidly descended into the almost textbook condition of new African countries of inter-tribal violence and the financial corruption of its 'big men' leaders.  The signs were there long before its independence, and the reluctant conclusion of Richard Dowden, director of the Royal African Society, in his article for African Arguments, is that after 50 years, African leaders have learned nothing.  Dowden's article is a good primer for anyone unfamiliar with the current bout of South Sudanese violence, tracking the historic enmities of the country's different ethnic groups.  It is also, perhaps, a rather rueful reminder that part of the reason we laud and elevate the memory of Mandela, is that his ability to transcend conflict and practise reconcilation remains a uniquely rare characteristic a…

Sex on Sunday

Whatever else is happening at the weekend, the Sunday papers will usually manage to find space for the latest round-up of sex scandals.  They're all pretty dreary, but clearly selling papers, and sometimes - when various celebrities' kiss and tell stories have temporarily dried up - there is even a political angle for the qualities to use as a hook.  If the British political establishment isn't providing enough sex news, then we can always co-opt a European one.  Most papers have Valerie Trierweiler somewhere on their front pages; the French 'first lady' is about to become an ex-first lady following president Francois Hollande's gallant statement that they are separating.  This adds nothing to our general knowledge of the world, other than perhaps a sense of wonderment at the rather dreary-looking Hollande's apparent success rate and lovely gallic approach in avoiding marriage at any cost, and the French did, on the whole, leave this one alone.  French lea…

World War One Revisited

In the centenary year of the start of World War One we have already not been wanting in commentary, controversy and analysis of this watershed catastrophe.  Education Secretary Michael Gove kicked it off with a typically broad-brush and poorly researched article in the Daily Mail.  Gove is no historian, and has no historical credentials, but he did at least put the war on the front page for a while, even if his methodology was roundly criticised by Cambridge Regius Professor of History Richard Evans.  It is also true that there are plenty of myths surrounding the war which could do with a bit of bulldozing, a process that has been going on now for over a decade.

Television historian Dan Snow has written a useful and illuminating guide to ten of the most egregious World War One myths, and why they should be consigned to Tortsky's dustbin of history, on the BBC News site.

The debunking was given popular impetus some years ago with the publication of Gordon Corrigan's book, &quo…