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I’m on my war horse

Last week I reprinted a blog about how children learn, having been requested to do it, and got some very positive feed-back. Somebody even suggested that I should send it to our new Education Secretary, Damien Hinds. I thought that would be rather a waste of time because the man is part of the political elite and in touch with several wealthy private companies and, being committed to George Osborne’s orders, openly intends to take as many schools away from the control of the local authorities as he can and turn them into private Academies that are run for profit.

Since then, the world has moved on apace and an admirable journalist called Aditya Chakrabortty has written in yesterday’s Guardian about what is actually happening to one of our schools now. Is it an appalling story, so I’m going to pass it on here for those of you who haven’t seen it.

The school is a primary in Essex called Waltham Holy Cross and Mr Chakrabortty has visited it and ‘helped on a school run’. He says he found it ‘more than a school’. ‘This is a community,’ he writes and the children are happy there and enjoy learning. This month’s SAT results for Year 6 show a remarkable double-digit improvement in reading, writing and maths.  And yet, believe it or not, Ofsted inspectors, who visited the school just before Christmas have damned it as ‘inadequate’ and told the Head and the staff that it will therefore be handed over to a trust called Net Academies who will turn it into a ‘model school’. And there appears to be nothing they can do about it.

The Head took action at once and together with her governors, wrote to report that even before the inspection had begun, the lead inspector had told staff that ‘based on the previous year’s Sat results their school would be inadequate.’ In other words, as she pointed out, judgement had been made before the inspection even began. She also reported that when one of the inspectors was asked to move his car, which was blocking the school entrance, he not only refused to do any such thing but said ‘I’m Ofsted. I can park wherever I want.’ How’s that for arrogance? Back in the old days, Her Majesty’s School Inspectors, who were largely academics or ex head teachers or other long serving teachers would never have been so rude.

But they misjudged Waltham Holy Cross for this is plainly a very good school indeed. Back in March when they were told the news, the staff and the parents didn’t accept that the school was going to be handed over to an academy – in their case a group called Net Academies – and that there was nothing they could do about. They started a campaign, took legal advice and action, and were careful to do everything properly. All complaints, for example, were submitted via the correct complaints process. And they started by firing off Freedom of Information requests. One of them, a lady called Shaunagh Roberts (Respec’!), looked up Net Academies and as she says ‘Got a jolt’. Two of Net’s seven academies in Warwickshire and Reading have been ranked ‘inadequate’, a third ‘requires improvement’. According to the latest Education Policy Institute report, Net Academy Trust is the sixth worst primary school group in England. Its board is stuffed with City folk: PFI lawyers, management consultants, accountants, but apparently no working teachers. It has dropped three of its schools but its aim is to run 20 to 25 institutions. There’s money in academies.

They also uncovered a smelly little bit of corruption.

When the school got its Ofsted report, the local authority told the Head ‘that Clare Kershaw, the Authority’s Director of Education, would want us only to go with Net Academies.’ And Clare Kershaw was also  – wait for it! – a trustee with the charity New Education Trust, out of which came the Net Academies. Both the Council and the government have assured Mr Chakrabortty that the two were separate entities and that her interest had been properly declared. Net denies any conflict of interest. Yet the charity’s last set of accounts describes the academies as ‘a connected charity’ and Clare Kershaw appears on an official document for the academy trust. Humm!

I have sent a twitter message to Waltham Holy Cross School offering to help them in any way I can and telling them about this blog. And now I’m feeding and watering my war horse.

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Happy the bride – or not as the case may be.

I’m posting this on the 68th Anniversary of my wedding – and no, I can’t believe it either! But I’m posting with a purpose. There are so many wonderful wedding photographs put up on social media, the brides looking so beautiful, in gorgeous dresses with masses of flowers and an attentive bride-groom beaming love at them. All just as it should be and it warms the heart to see them.

But not all weddings are so beautiful, so blessed, or so surrounded by good wishes. So this blog is for the brides who keep quiet and don’t put pictures of their weddings on display because they are rather ashamed of them. I know how it feels because I was just such a one. And here are Roy and I standing in the garden of the house where I grew up and hour or so after we got married and every picture tells a story.

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This story is not quite what you might think. Let me interpret the body language of my new husband. I’ve seen that stance and expression many times over the course of the years and I know what he was thinking, I used to call it his ‘sod yer face’ and on this particular morning he was saying ‘sod yer, I’ve married her and there’s nothing you can do about it!’ I was just wishing that the day could be over and that I was anywhere but there.

We often told one another in the years that followed that at least we had our worst day right at the beginning and the only way to go from there was up. So I’ve put another picture to show you the two of us very happily together with our new son a few years later. There was after all something to be said for starting badly.

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But maybe I should tell you the story.

For a start and central to all this is the fact that my mother had decided when I was still in the cradle that I was born evil, that I would never amount to anything and that nobody would love me, because I was too horrible. Looking back on it, it all sounds a little unlikely now, but that is what she felt. So when I returned home after registering my intention to marry Roy at the local registry office, she greeted the news with horror saying ‘No you’re not!’ and refused categorically to let my father sign the consent form which the registry office had given me. I was 19 and therefore needed my parents consent.

Luckily I’d thought this one out on my way home, so I knew what to say to her. It was quite simple.  ‘If you won’t sign the form, I won’t eat anything until you do.’ She was suffused with fury and said ‘No you wont. Don’t be so silly.  You couldn’t do it.’ But I was quite sure that I could and I did, sticking close to her all the time for the next six days, so that she could see that although I drank water, I wasn’t eating anything. By the end of the sixth day, I was visibly losing weight – I also had fearful pains in my stomach but I didn’t let on about that – and that night, she and my father had a long, growling conversation after I’d gone to bed. The next morning, the form was signed and lay beside my plate.

The wedding day was just under a week later, I was still finding it painful to eat and she had found a way to get in a last moment of hatred while we were signing the register.

‘It wont last,’ she said to our handful of guests in a loud voice. ‘I give it six months.’

This time, I didn’t say anything but I made up my mind that it would last a lifetime. And it did. Things could only get better.

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This entry was posted on July 29, 2018. 3 Comments

Why can’t we let our kids learn?

I’m reissuing this one by request because sadly it’s a relevant now as it was when it was written. Our children are still being pushed to pasdamian1s exams, instead of being allowed to learn. And now we have a new Education Secretary called Damian Hinds, who seems to have noticed that ‘schools need less stress’ and is going to send teachers a ‘tool kit’ to help them cope with it. Tell you what Damian, just get rid of all those tests and examinations and you would be surprised at what would happen in our schools.

I can’t in all honesty say that I expect anyone deeply entrenched in the philosophy that the more examinations children can be required to take, the more they will learn to take much notice of what I have to say about the natural learning process. On the other hand there is a Labour politician called Angela Rayner and what she is saying gives me hope, so this is more for her than for Damian.

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This one is by special request, because so many of my friends think that what is being done to our children in the name of education is damaging, senseless and often downright cruel  and I keep saying it isn’t necessary. So now I feel I must give you chapter and verse.

We’ve known all about it since the early years of the twentieth century when the first 
educational pioneers, like  Susan Isaacs and Maria Montessori discovered that learning is a natural and pleasurable process. And if we ever need proof of the truth of what they were saying, we only have to look at any young creature playing. Kittens may look cute but what they are actually doing is learning how to catch their prey, apes romp in the trees learning to maintain their balance and enjoying every minute of it, human children play all manner of games and enjoy them hugely. What they are doing, without knowing it, is using this natural learning process. It’s what all children do when tests and Ofsted inspections and league tables don’t get in their way. So how does it work?

It always starts with curiosity, which is natural and in-built.

If and when the child follows his curiosity, he starts a whole series of activities in which he learns what he wants to know, by trial and error. Mistakes are part of the process and not at all frightening. You learn from them.

And when you have mastered the skill and found out what you wanted and needed to know, you move on to stage three, which is a state of rapturous happiness. Just watch a baby when it’s learnt to feed itself.

When the skill is mastered and/or the knowledge absorbed, and the child has been making use of it for some time, he puts it to one side and seems to forget it. But there is a fifth stage. After an interval no matter how short or long, the child returns to the skill and hasn’t forgotten any of it, it’s part of his character now, once learnt never forgotten, like riding a bicycle.

So why on earth don’t most teachers simply make use of this process, sparking interest whenever they can, providing the materials so that child can satisfy his curiosity and enjoying the whole thing with the children? One sad reason is, that few of them now are taught about the process. All the information about it was removed from the PGCE syllabuses a very long time ago, to the disappointment of the great educationalists of our much maligned sixties, like Leila Berg and Mike Duane of Risinghill fame and the great AS Neill who ran Summerhill school.

But there is another factor which has to be considered today. Parents and teachers and children are all told by our politicians that they have to be tested to show that they are learning, some of the fiercer ones are even talking about bringing back the cane, god help us all. And of course what they’re saying simply is not true.

The real reason we keep imposing tests, exams, Ofsted inspections and league
tables is that the big “educational” companies make money out of it, it’s an extremely lucrative business and the more exams they can persuade our idiot politicians to impose on our children, the more the companies can earn.

We are in thrall to greed.

 

 

 

 

 

This entry was posted on July 26, 2018. 4 Comments

I have learnt a useful new word

And it’s a word that perfectly describes Donald Trump. I found it in a Tweet written by John Cleese who described America’s uncouth President as ‘vulgar, inflated, vain, boastful, noisily ignorant, sleezy and common as muck’. Spot on John! And then went on to analyse what is the matter with him, describing him as “Pronoid”.

It’s a real word. I looked it up! And I’d like to see it used more often. For as John Cleese wrote: ‘Pronoid is the opposite of paranoid. A paranoid person thinks, without any basis in reality, that everyone is out to get them. A pronoid person is someone who thinks, without any basis in reality, that everybody likes them.’

I think that by now most of us have got heartily sick of hearing Trump describe his great talents. He is good at everything, he’s got brains, he knows everything, he’s got property everywhere. ‘I love Scotland, I’ve got property there.’ Everybody loves him. But he went further in rudeness and uncouth behaviour than any of us have seen him do before, when he met the Queen of England, when, as we all saw from the pictures, he arrived late to his meeting with her and then totally ignored her, stepping in front of her as though she were not there. Uncouth arrogance like that, simply takes your breath away. As somebody else said on Twitter  ‘Have you seen these pictures! Imagine somebody doing that to one of our early Monarchs. He’d have had his head chopped off.’

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It would be bad enough if he were an oddity but there are arrogant, ‘pronoid’ people in all sorts of places. Some of them like Boris Johnson, Jeremy HuntJH and Nigel Farage, cloak their appalling arrogance by clowning and sadly, many people think that’s funny and therefore don’t take them too seriously.

Max Hastings who is a friend of Boris Johnsons (Eton, Oxford, Bullingdon club) has this to say about his friend. ‘It is a common mistake to suppose Johnson a nice man… He is a man of remarkable gifts, flawed by an absence of conscience, principle or scruple.’ And this is the man who is inching up to take the premiership from Theresa May.

And Nigel Farage, the darling of the television companies who is so good at posing with a pint of beer in his hand, as a man of the people, is no such thing. According to reports from Transparency International, he has earned between £524,000 and £700,000 from TV and radio interviews in the last four years.

“Giving power and money to the government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” 

-P.J. O’Rourke

And never forget. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So that brings us back to Trump again!

What a world we live in. I’ve written about four hideous examples of a pronoid personality, but they are legion, and the ambitious, pronoid men behind the posed public faces are dangerous. We’ve seen enough of them in our lifetime to know that. Think Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Mugabe etc, etc.

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This entry was posted on July 18, 2018. 3 Comments

Thank you for all your messages

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Since BBC news broadcast my tribute to the National Health Service, I’ve received emails, messages on Facebook and Twitter from all over the place and from too many people for me to be able to thank you all.

So this is by way of thanks, it was lovely to hear from you and to know that you approved of what I had to say.

And if you missed it, as I did! The producer sent me a link. Wasn’t that kind of her?

So here it is, in case you missed it too:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/health-44703044/nhs-at-70-early-patient-pays-tribute-to-life-saving-treatment

 

This entry was posted on July 12, 2018. 3 Comments

Hot off the press!

Just a very quick blog this time.

I was recently interviewed by the BBC about my experience with NHS when it was first created almost 70 years ago.

My interview will feature on tomorrow’s (Wednesday 4th July) news at 6pm and 10pm on BBC1.

So make sure you tune in and let me know what you think.

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This entry was posted on July 3, 2018. 1 Comment

Tell the truth and shame the devil

Although, if I’m to tell the truth, and I do try to, I don’t think our present day devils would be shamed by it at all. They’re so immersed in their own fantasy world that they wouldn’t recognise the truth if it jumped up in front of them, stark bollock naked, and bit them. They’re a new breed and it’s a breed with unlimited greed and boundless ambition but without a shred of conscience. Think Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Stalin, all convinced they were gods and could ride rough-shod over the rest of us and do as they pleased, and, in our present terrible time, the benighted Trump and the kings and queens of Brexit, like Farage, Gove and Johnson and their ilk. That lot can lie through their teeth to con us to vote the way they want us to, and when the conned majority have voted their way and they’re caught out in their lies, they can pretend it was all a joke and get away with it, because no one is allowed to say that an MP is a liar. Even when he (or she) is lying through his/her teeth. And that’s an extremely dangerous state of affairs because it means that the rich and powerful can never be held to account.

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But of course it isn’t just lying politicians. The culture of falsity spreads all through our society. Advertisers tell us gaudy stories about the efficacy and value of the products they’re pushing and we all know and accept it, worse, the media con us with propaganda every day of our lives and most of us accept what they’re saying and writing because it’s done so skilfully that we don’t question it. An article I found in our local freebie yesterday is a horrid example.

Under the headline ‘Experts visit Blake’s home’, the journalist told us that ‘officers at Historic England had visited Blake’s cottage in Felpham and had decided not to put it on their at risk register.’ Well isn’t that comforting. Now we don’t have to worry about the place and we can all get on with our lives and forget all about it. The article goes on with several more soothing and anodyne statements. English Heritage are going to continue to monitor the building’s condition and are advising the Blake Cottage Trust and Arun District Council in working towards a secure future for the cottage. There you are, you see. Sorted. Nothing at all to worry about. Except of course that the cottage is still in EXACTLY the same state as it was in when I visited it and reported about it on my blog with pictures. ‘If Blake’s Cottage had a voice it would cry HELP!’ The rafters are still rotten and broken, the thatch is still falling through the ceiling, there are still damp patches on the walls. Just go and look at the pictures. NOTHING HAS CHANGED. The triumvirate who compose the Blake Cottage Trust, who are supposed to hold the cottage ‘in Trust for the Nation’ have ‘owned’ it since September 2015, or in other words for nearly three years and NO REPAIRS HAVE BEEN CARRIED OUT at all. Nor will they be, no matter how much advice they are given by the kindly Expert from English Heritage. And nothing will be done because THEY HAVEN’T GOT ANY MONEY and haven’t got the remotest idea about how to raise any. NOTHING HAS CHANGED.

I hope there are still people in Felpham who are still concerned about our Blake’s Cottage and, if there are, that they will get in touch with me. But I think most people who read that article will be conned into a false sense of security. That is how half-truths work. I’ve been depressed about it ever since I read it.

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However to cheer us up a little, I can also report that a very courageous journalist, called Carole Cadwalladr, who works for the Sunday Observer and recently blew the gaff on Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, which took a lot of courage because the trolls and harpies who can’t bear to hear the truth have been viciously after her ever since, has been awarded the Orwell Prize for Journalism. Respec’ Carole! I wish there were more journalists like you. The mealy-mouthed ones who only say what their bosses tell them to say are a pain in the bum and do a lot of damage.

And on a final cheering note and to celebrate the fact that there are still courageous truth tellers in the world I’m ending with a poem that pokes fun at the liars.

Liars are Lovely.

A liar is a comfortable man. He’s right.

Easy to look at, in a well-placed light,

Where his stage make-up isn’t obvious,

His charm is sweet but rarely nauseous

His false teeth gleam, the toupee joins don’t peel,

The padded shoulders almost pass for real,

A twisted spine is hidden by his suit.

Truth’s such an ugly brute.

A liar’s a companion you won’t fear.

He tells you only what you want to hear

Good for a laugh to gloss the time of day.

Or a slick tale to chase your blues away

Where passion is not raw but sentimental.

Riot and rape, and all things elemental.

May tear the other harder world apart

He’ll keep such horrors from your placid heart;

Nothing he says or does will make you rue it;

He’ll talk of sex but never really do it;

And if you’re fifty make you feel fifteen.

The truth’s so bloody mean.

A liar is a politician, made

To keep all truthful thinkers in the shade.

He’ll mesmerize you till you’re sure you could

Give him your vote for all consumer good

You’ve ever dreamed that you could want or need.

Especially when he smiles into your greed.

He’ll chloroform your conscience as you buy.

Leave megadeath to his remedial lie.

To arm is noble; death is a release;

Carnage is colourful. And war is peace.

And if the bombs should chance to fall on you,

He’ll smile sincerely, “Nothing he could do.”

Knowing that in his artful world, most politics

Are muffled by mellifluous statistics

Where truth is dull, deadly and repetitious,

And readily avoided by the ambitious.

What people need is just their daily lie,

The lie sensational, dull truth put by.

The truth’s so uninspiring; makes you bored.

Leave truth to artists. They can be ignored.

This entry was posted on July 2, 2018. 4 Comments