Category Archives: Opinion

A Grammar school system I would buy into


If we think it makes sense to take the top 25% of pupils at aged 11 and put them into a school just for them so they can reach their potential unhindered by those who learn more slowly, then why don’t we think it makes sense to take the bottom 25% and put them into a school just for them so they can reach their potential unhindered by those who learn more quickly?

If we are to return to a period of educational segregation then let’s make sure all the best teachers and resources are in the schools for the bottom 25%.

If the bottom 25% were given all the advantages of a grammar school with a curriculum tailored to play to their learning strengths such as strong visual memory, creative and practical skills, just think of the impact on crime, employment and mental health.

The IQ test (on which 11+ is based) was designed to identify children who were significantly behind their peers on academic performance (in the bottom 2% of the population) so they could be offered tailored, specific support to enable them to catch up and fulfil their potential. Instead we use it to identify the children who are likely to achieve well in whatever school they attend.

So I say YES! to a grammar school system that gives the bottom 25% the belief that they are special and worth investing in. The other 75% will do just fine in a mixed ability comprehensive. Won’t they?

Of course, if this really were the grammar school system then children would need to be tutored to fail and it would be patently ridiculous to encourage academic failure, yet the grammar school system the Conservative government would like to resurrect does exactly that.

Branding 75% of 11 year olds as failures will hardly encourage success.

Author note: I am firmly for inclusion for all children – schools that value all pupils and adapt the curriculum and setting to accommodate all learners, tend to develop caring and nurturing pupils who understand that everyone has strengths and everyone finds some stuff difficult.

Are half my FB friends racists, or are they just scared?

As a result of the refugee crisis I have found myself increasingly categorising my FB friends as either racists or non-racists based on the posts their share and comment on.  Having friends with such repugnant (to me) points of view leaves me in a dilemma. The easiest option would be to purge my friends list, but in every other regard I admire these people and want to remain a part of their lives.  These friends would also, I am sure, not class themselves as racists, but rather rational pragmatists. So what has led them to express such views?

Fear is a powerful tool. It is used by advertisers to make us buy products we don’t really need and by health campaigners to prompt us to change our behaviour. It is also used by political parties and pressure groups to advance a particular ideology.

Recently, some political parties and anti-immigration organisations have been spreading fear through misinformation that if Britain lets in some refugees then many more will come; and that these refugees will be an economic burden ultimately bankrupting Britain.

However, research demonstrates that both these beliefs are false.

So this is my attempt to share the facts with all my FB friends in the hopes my newsfeed will no longer be clogged up with Britain First posts.

Fiction Fact
Asylum seekers must stay and register in the first country they arrive in. There is no law that states this, but countries find it administratively easier to apply this rule, which is known as ‘Dublin regulations’. These regulations allows one EU country to require another to accept responsibility for an asylum claim where certain conditions apply.

As far back as 2001 the EU published a directive that empowers member states to bypass the system and admit asylum seekers in cases of “mass influx”.  Germany has already suspended ‘Dublin Regulations’. Source: Amnesty International

Britain can’t afford to take more than 20,000 Syrian refugees because they are all going to claim benefits.

And they will take jobs away from British people.

Research conducted by University College London found that since 2000 refugees were less likely than native Brits to be on state benefit and no more likely than natives to be in social housing. And unlike native Brits they have contributed a net £5 billion to the UK economy in taxes.

Considering there are now almost four million people fleeing violence in Syria, 20,000 just doesn’t cut it!

This can be the case in some areas of the UK if it is not managed well. Minimum wage, for example, is a way of ensuring that immigrants do not undercut locals. Some studies have shown that migrants create jobs for local people – overall taking account of a number of research studies the impact on jobs and wages appears to be neutral or positive. Source: New Scientist, 12th September 2015 edition, p.10-12.

Europe is experiencing an unprecedented influx of both economic migrants and refugees. According to research, labour migration into Western Europe has been falling steadily since 2007. And whilst refugee numbers have been increasing since the Arab spring of 2010, they still have not reached 1992 levels, when millions of people fled Yugoslavia. Source: New Scientist, 12th September 2015 edition, p.5.
If we take in refugees that are already in Europe it will only encourage more to come. This relates to push and pull factors. A push factor is violence, or lack of food and sanitation in refugee camps in for example Jordan or Hungary. A pull factor is benefits, housing or jobs etc.

So far there is no evidence of pull factors, but a great deal of evidence for push factors. Source: The Oxford Martin School on Global challenges.

The UK is a soft touch compared to other EU countries. In the UK, the weekly allowance for a single adult asylum-seeker is £36.95 per week, lower than many other EU countries. The equivalent weekly rate in France, for example, is £58.50 (on an exchange rate of 73p to the euro).

Elsewhere in the EU, asylum-seekers must be permitted to work if their claims have not been decided within 9 months, although some countries permit this after less time. This does not apply in the UK, where permission to work will not be granted unless 12 months have past and the claim remains undecided. The UK has introduced severe restrictions on what work an asylum-seeker may be permitted to do even if this condition is met.

Detention is used much more extensively in the UK’s asylum system than in other EU countries. Those countries also have time limits on how long a person may be detained under immigration powers, whereas the UK has no time limit. Source: Amnesty International

Should we not end this War on Drugs?


After reading of another death from an overdose of PMA, which, according to Harry Shapiro, of the drugs agency DrugScope:

“ has become increasingly prevalent after a crackdown on the chemicals needed to make ecstasy (MDMA)”

Should we not end this War on Drugs and make them available in the same way we do alcohol and tobacco?

“In 2011, PMA was linked to one death. In 2013 there have been 23 deaths linked to the drug.” Research by BBC Radio 4’s File on 4 programme found.

According to Professor Nutt, PMA is five to ten times stronger than MDMA (Ecstasy). The tragedy is the 23-year-old man did not die from taking ecstasy, but from taking what he thought was ecstasy. How many thousands of people took what they thought was ecstasy on New Year’s Eve? How many are taking it right now? Whether we like it or not people take drugs, be it alcohol, tobacco, ecstasy, cocaine or weed and most of these people will be back to work on Monday, drug free, except for the smokers, of course.

Comparison to alcohol is a common argument used by those who wish to legalise drugs. Most adults drink, but most adults are not alcoholics. Using alcohol is not the same as abusing alcohol. Hence the same logic can be applied to drugs. Therefore the vast majority of users will not become addicts. However, if you take smoking as the comparison ‘legal’ drug, the picture is not so clear cut. Most adults who smoke are addicts. What starts as an occasional activity soon becomes a daily habit. There are very few ‘social smokers’. If drugs are more like cigarettes then making them legal would be a disaster.

The truth is of course somewhere in the middle. Drugs are not all the same. I would not arrive at work to teach after a glass of wine, but I’ll drink three cups of coffee before first lesson. Some drugs appear to have more addictive features (cocaine and heroin) whereas others seem to be more specific to a particular occasion e.g. ecstasy and partying, and therefore less inherently addictive.

All drugs are not equal. If they were legalised there would be costs AND there would be deaths. But there are costs NOW, and there are deaths NOW. We have to accept that allowing drugs to be sold openly would create a new set of problems; health rather than criminal. The constant availability of high fat/sugar food is too much of a temptation for many people, hence the rise in obesity and associated health risks.  Many more people who may never have tried cocaine will do so increasing the amount of addicts and potential fatalities. The biggest risk will be from commercial interests. There would have to be legislation on advertising and promotion, much as there is now with tobacco and alcohol. Tax revenue from sales, and money originally spent on the war on drugs, will have to be diverted into health and support services.

I’m not suggesting legalisation is going to solve the drug problem, but it will make it easier to identify those who are at risk and enable resources to be targeted in those areas. Dying from a dodgy ecstasy tablet or being knifed in a turf war between rival drug gangs is hardly solving the problem either, and the randomness of these deaths makes them wholly unpreventable and deeply uncomfortable.

It has been argued that some of the most ground-breaking discoveries have resulted from drug altered perception, such as the structure of DNA. Equally heroin addiction makes women vulnerable to sexual exploitation and violence, and casts a tragic shadow over many families. Yet trying to eradicate drugs seems about as useful as catching rain water in a sieve. We need to be grown-up about drug use and we need to understand what turns USE to ABUSE. Rather than a war on drugs, we need to fight a battle against factors that make addiction more likely such as dysfunctional family relationships, abuse in childhood, low self-esteem and deprivation.

Just as drugs are not all the same, neither are the people who take them, and neither should be the laws that govern them. Colorado and Washington have taken a bold step in allowing the sale of cannabis to over 21’s. It will be interesting to see whether these States descend into ‘reefer madness’, or whether the extra tax revenue (estimated at 40 million) provides much needed community funds. It will also be interesting to see if other governments follow their lead or whether they will continue to engage in a war where there can be no winners.

What do you think?