State education?


Does anybody actually care about the millions of children who don’t attend private schools and will reach the age of 15 not being able to read and write properly? Obviously, not looking at the mess state schools are still in… Mind you, May and Gove are highly educated…


The Gender Pay Gap Gains Are At Risk Of Erosion

Amid the bleak economic outlook, women in the UK had a little something to smile about just before the festive season got under way.

This was owing to the Office of National Statistics‘ (ONS) revelation that the gender pay gap had narrowed markedly.

Figures showed it had dropped below 10% for the first time after women’s earnings increased faster than men’s. The gap between men’s and women’s median full-time hourly earnings had fallen from 10.1% in April 2010 to 9.1% in April last year.

The change followed a 1.9% increase in women’s earnings – up from £11.69 an hour to £11.91 – compared with a rise of 0.8% for men, from £13 to £13.11.

Meanwhile, women working part-time were also being paid more than their male counterparts. The gender pay gap for part-time workers was -5.6%, widening from – 4.3% last year, the ONS said.

Undeniably, as it stands the pay gap based on all employees had fallen from 19.8% to 19.5%.

In this sequence, a month earlier, the minimum wage for women was increased to £6.08 an hour. However, The Telegraph reported on research which suggested women in their 20s were earning more than men of the same age.

But this hard-won progress that has so far been made in narrowing the gender pay gap is in danger of disappearing in a puff of austerity smoke as more and more women lose their jobs.

Female unemployment in the UK is at its highest in 23 years – 1.13 million.(ONS)

Women workers also made up two thirds of the 48,000 hike in the number of people out of work in the three months to December, which brought the jobless figures to 2.67m.

Putting aside the top earners, those women still managing to hang onto their jobs – amid whole swathes of public sector redundancies sweeping across the country – are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

In a report last year, the Resolution Foundation noted that “while the National Minimum Wage protects workers from falling too far into poverty, it does not guarantee a decent standard of living.”

It stated: “The Living Wage is currently set at £8.30 in London and £7.20 in the rest of the country.”

On 9 February, BBC’s Newsnight programme carried a report in which a woman employed by a supermarket chain store revealed she was in rent arrears despite working and receiving benefits.

The night-shift shelf-stacker told the reporter she could not imagine being able to survive on her low income with the additional responsibility of having children to feed and clothe.

Unsurprisingly, research undertaken by the Save the Children and Daycare Trust charities last year revealed low-income families were having to turn down jobs or were considering leaving work because they could not afford to pay for childcare.

The situation has clearly worsened since then given the shocking results of a survey carried out by parenting website Netmums, which revealed some parents are now turning to loan sharks to keep their families afloat.

Of the 2,000 mothers who took part in the website’s survey, a staggering 70% were teetering “on the edge” of financial disaster; 61% were short of money on a weekly basis and 20% were eating less in order to conserve money for the maintenance of their children.

In this context, Joanne Mallon, author of Toddlers: An Instruction Manual: A Guide to Surviving the Years One to Four, is now calling for childcare to be viewed as a joint enterprise rather than the sole responsibility of women.

She said: “As a mother I would absolutely go without whatever I needed to, to make sure my children have what they need, without a second thought.

“Both mothers and fathers benefit from being able to work whilst their child is in childcare, so both should contribute towards this expense.

“But very often this doesn’t happen, and mothers are left financially worse off as a result.”

In the same vain, the European Federation of Public Service Union (EPSU) has warned of a “roll back” in the strive for equal wages, if governments do not take into account that women are disproportionately affected by major cuts in the public sector.

Under these circumstances, I am inclined to agree with Gloria Mills, the Chairwoman of EPSU’s women and gender equality committee, who stated: “Equality on all fronts is a mark of a united and civilised society – it is not just for times of economic prosperity.”

Why are Syrian women protesters ‘invisible’ in mainstream news?

Since the March 2011 uprising in Syria which saw its citizens openly revolting against their leader Bashar al-Assad, more than 5,000 have lost their lives.

Among the dead are women who have been protesting against a regime which has been roundly denounced for its aggression and brutality on the international stage.

This week Prime Minister David Cameron made an unequivocal statement about Mr Assad’s future as President of Syria.

He told CNN he “hoped” the general secretary of the Baath Party would acquiesce to a request by the international community to vacate his post by the end of 2012.

Mr Cameron’s comment — while attending the Word Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland — echoes the U.S. position on Mr. Assad’s controversial reign.

The White House said the commander of the armed forces “had lost control of Syria” and “will go”, BBC News reported.

Western and Arab diplomats believe the impasse can be resolved with a U.N Security Council resolution calling for Mr. Assad to devolve power to his deputy.

Although the resolution enjoys backing from 10 security council member states, its fate largely depends on whether Russia uses its veto to blow the plan out of the water next Tuesday.

While the mainstream media focuses on the political game of chess the world’s most powerful leaders are involved in, the contribution of Syrian women in the battle for freedom continues to be under-reported.

The fact that they are not visible in most media reports — despite being involved in the now famous “flash mobs” — has prompted some quarters to question whether they are fully taking part in the revolt.

Dr. Mohja Kahf, Associate Professor 
at the U.S.-based University of Arkansas and author of “Women’s mass protests during the Syrian Revolution: A Preliminary Analysis“, argues this perception is misleading.

She points out that Syrian women have been “providing logistical work for protest activity”.

“Because women were not seen street-protesting in the first few electrifying days of massive protests especially in Daraa March 18-24, the Syrian revolution was early typified by the viewer reaction, “Where are the women?”

Dr. Kahf also states women have been involved in “day and night protests, marches, candle-lit vigils, sit-ins,” as well as “interfaith and inter-sect rallies”.

“Women have innovated one form of protest men have not done: the Indoor Protest,” she adds.

During one of these events women read statements while the congregation holds up banners and chants protest songs.

In an effort to ensure the individual sacrifices they are making are to be documented, Syrian women have been relying heavily on the social media — i.e. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and blogs.

In this context, there are a number of videos of the prominent Syrian actress turned activist Fadwa Soliman on YouTube.

She belongs to the country’s Alawite sect — the minority religion to which most of the regime belongs.

Last December, Al Jazeera reported Ms. Soliman had been “disowned by her family for her leading role in the protest movement”.

In one video she claims “millions of Syrians are rebelling in order to recover the freedoms that were taken from them”.

The revolutionary, who shaved off her long hair in protest, goes on to describe “the torture and killing” in the beleaguered country before calling on Canada to encourage the world’s most powerful nations to intervene.

Facebook pages also detail a bloody roll call of the females — young and old — who have been killed in the mass revolt so far.

So why is there a dearth of mainstream news coverage on Syrian women protesters? There are a number of possible contributing factors.

One reason could be the fact that western journalists are severely restricted inside the country so corroborating claims is difficult.

The reason may also lie in how news is managed.

When Kira Cochrane, features writer for the Guardian, examined the British media she found that “in a typical month, 78 percent of newspaper articles are written by men, 72 percent of Question Time contributors are men and 84 percent of reporters and guests on BBC Radio 4’s Today show are men.”

Furthermore, women linked to protesters are being singled out by government forces, according to Syrian/Palestinian American and Michigan based lawyer Muna Jondy.

She told Christa Blackmon, Social Media Editor for Aslan Media, of one incident where “the wives of democracy activists were being stripped and forced to parade the streets of their town until their husbands surrendered themselves into the hands of the government”.

Ms. Blackmon goes onto to state that because journalists inside Syria face many restrictions “it may be a long time before we uncover the full extent of the gender violence”.

Increasing class sizes should be avoided at all costs

In 2009 The Guardian newspaper published an article based on a report which warned private schools would have to increase their class sizes in the future to cut costs.

The article noted that “since 1981 private schools have reduced the number of pupils per teacher from 12.6 to 8.3 by investing in more teachers”.

It went on to reveal that in some cases teachers’ salaries accounted for 70% of the private educational establishment’s total expenditure.

Gavin Humphries, one of the co-authors of the study conducted by education consultants MTM Consulting, believed this practice was not sustainable.

He also stated that “certain sacred cows” such as the policy of “having a pupil-teacher ratio of less than 10:1 needed to be challenged”.

So why have private schools traditionally favoured small class sizes?

The policy is based on the school of thought that smaller class sizes allow children to benefit from greater individual attention thereby improving their overall performance.

This is significant because it was research suggesting this premise to be a valid one that led the Labour government to introduce the regulation limiting the maximum class size for infants to 30 in 1998.

Last week, Niall Bolger, Chief Executive of Sutton County Council, urged the Education Secretary Michael Gove to increase that limit to 32 to save money.

He claimed such a move would not have a negative impact on a child’s education, the BBC News website reported.

Thankfully, the coalition government chose not to entertain his proposal.

Some would concur with Mr Bolger, who made the plea because of the high demand for school places in the borough and the cost of accommodating extra pupils.

There is also a school of thought that argues improving the quality of teachers trumps reduced class sizes.

Every child has the right to a good school education irrespective of the financial circumstances of their parents.

In theory, it should provide them with a platform from which they can spring forth confidently and capably into the world of work, further and higher education.

In short, its importance cannot be understated.

Increasing class sizes could be the slippery slope to allowing more changes to creep into an already flawed mainstream education system, at the moment.

The London Evening Standard’s front page lead about the poor levels of literacy and numeracy among many of the employees at the new Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford City last September, confirms this point.

The CBI – a body not known for pulling its punches – went straight for the jugular revealing the results of a survey it conducted among “566 employers showed 42% were not satisfied with the basic use of English by school and college leavers”.

It also said 44% of those businesses invested in remedial training to get the youngsters up to speed.

We are only in the second week of 2012 and the standard of schooling in Haringey is back in the spotlight.

The source of the latest controversy to hit the beleaguered East London borough is a leaked Whitehall document which describes its primary schools as the worst in inner London, according to the Evening Standard.

Meanwhile, the furore over the coalition government’s plans to take five of the failing ones out of the local authority’s control to turn them into academies rubbles on.

The alarm bells have been ringing out for quite some time now and I cannot help but wonder how many more young people have to slip through the mainstream education net before something seismic is done to stem the tide.

I realise it is much easier said than done but surely increasing class sizes cannot be the only solution to alleviating the cost of educating extra pupils?

After all, it is a child’s wellbeing and future prospects which are at stake.

Legal aid: The dismantling of a principle?

On 26 October 1945, Mr Marcus Lipton, OBE, spoke emotively in the House of Commons about “the provision of legal aid for poor persons”.

The Labour Party MP for the Lambeth Brixton constituency from 1945 to 1974 told members that it “must be regarded as an essential contribution towards improved social services”.

He went on to mention how the Army Council introduced the scheme to assist servicemen and women in their “civil affairs” in 1942.

To further underline the vital importance of legal aid, Mr Lipton used a principle built into the Magna Carta: “To none will we refuse or delay right or justice.”

The swingeing £350m cuts proposed by Kenneth Clarke, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, will dismantle that very principle by leaving those without means with no way of obtaining redress of grievances.

It is no wonder that alarm has been raised by some of the most unlikely voices.

When anybody mentions Lord Tebbit, I immediately think of his no-nonsense get-on-your-bike speech directed at the unemployed in the 80s.

Yet the former Tory minister and ex-MP for Chingford has told The Guardian Newspaper that the planned cuts could be “going too far”.

He is openly supporting amendments ensuring minors or parents on their behalf are entitled to legal aid when pursuing medical negligence claims.

At a time when the disparity between the rich and the poor grows ever more vast, the planned cuts raise awkward questions about the link between obtaining justice, our legal system and having access to immense wealth.

Hitchens: ‘What does not kill us makes us weaker’

Since Christopher Hitchens’ death was announced last Thursday, fellow wordsmiths have been chronicling every word he wrote and said.

Whether you liked or detested the polemicist it would be foolhardy to deny his great literary and journalistic talents.

This afternoon I chose to reread “Trial of the Will” – the Vanity Fair article in which he positively rips to shreds Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous quote: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

When I was a student and “part-time” activist the famous quote easily rolled of my tongue in company when the discourse turned to the great feats historical figures had achieved despite being severely disadvantaged.

I was also quick to repeat it like a nervous tick when friends would confide in me about a traumatic event they had experienced.

Looking back, I don’t think I actually believed the German philosopher’s claim.

It was more I wanted to believe human beings – including me – could triumph over any adversity.

Hitchens questions why he always thought Nietzsche’s saying was “profound”.

He is brutally honest about the indescribable pain he continues to suffer because of his esophageal cancer and the medical treatment administered to inhibit its march.

The 62-year-old notes that in this harsh world we live in harrowing experiences can “leave you considerably weaker”.

NATO must assist Libya’s democratic rebirth

The brutal death of Muammar Gaddafi is not the fairytale cinematic ending the coalition government would have wanted and, no doubt, basked in.

There will be no international war crimes trial with the flamboyant despot standing defiantly in a glass-fronted dock spouting utter nonsense from his “Green Book”.

There will also now be no possibility for the British families of victims of the atrocities he committed during his 42-year dictatorship to obtain recourse.

Instead, what the world is left with is graphic mobile phone footage showing the blooded, balding oppressor cowering as he is manhandled by those he had previously oppressed.

Moments later he was dead.

It is an observable fact that few Libyans believe justice has not been served.

Of course, that in no way puts an end to the matter but what is clear is that the focus should now be on the future of the Northern African country.

In the New Statesman’s rolling blog, Zamila Bunglawala was spot on with his diagnosis of the scope of problems its inhabitants are likely to encounter and how they can attempt to overcome them in the coming months and years.

He called for the “Franco-British led NATO push” to offer as much guidance and training as possible so Libya can move forward from this inauspicious start in a democratic fashion.

There is much work to do and this is not the time for those involved in helping to topple the self-styled “king of kings of Africa” to suddenly get cold feet because they are “unhappy” about the manner of his death.