Episode 105 – Tiernan (@tiernandouieb) interviews schools expert Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) about the current state of education in England. Plus Brexit Fallout, a quick look at one year since Grenfell and some special excerpts from Randy McJab’s new novel about David Davis’s days in the SAS.
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Episode 105 – Tiernan (@tiernandouieb) interviews schools expert Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) about the current state of education in England. Plus Brexit Fallout, a quick look at one year since Grenfell and some special excerpts from Randy McJab’s new novel about David Davis’s days in the SAS.
Grenfell links, mentioned at the start of the episode:
Links and sources of info from Laura’s interview:
All the usual ParPolBro stuff:
‘All you need to do is take down the target quickly, then disappear’ the commander reminded him down the Comms unit. ‘Yeppity yep old man’ replied David Davis, Codename Silver Turkey. ‘Sigh. Firstly I’m younger than you its just everyone very quickly progressed past your lack of ability, and secondly please can you just say affirmative like everyone else, Turkey?’ ‘Yes indeedy’ replied Davis as he clambered over a low wall making it look harder than it was. When he finally got his left leg over, he knelt in the bushes and surveyed the area. He could only see leaves. Then he remembered he was in the bushes and so peered around. Smart Double D, he knows what’s going on. Somewhere in the complex in front of him was the target. Well he assumed so anyway, he hadn’t bothered to read the notes. I mean what would he need notes for? He’d got his hi vis jacket and brought a particularly large spoon to hit someone with, what else was needed? A rustle nearby. Davis leapt back behind the bush. Where they aware of him? He needed to stay really still and really calm. Any wrong moves now and his life could be on the line. Da-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding – His phone went off at full volume. Hmm I’d better get that thought Turkey, it might be important. As he answered he heard the sounds of someone legging it down the street. ‘Hello?’ ‘We’re calling up about the car accident you were in that wasn’t your fault?’ ‘Oh er, I don’t remember that but I bet someone else bloody well did cause it. Please tell me more’ said Davis. The runner’s steps got further and further away.
A small excerpt from ‘I don’t have to be clever to do my job’ a Diary of David Davis’s time in the Territorial SAS by Andy McNab.
Hello and welcome to the Partly Political Broadcast, the podcast that puts politics in a comedy marinade for an hour then bakes it in a tin of actual information before serving on a cold dish to someone who looks at it and says ‘urgh what the fuck is that, I ordered a pizza.’ This is episode 105, I’m Tiernan Douieb and this week as bleached pork knuckle and US President Donald Trump says he’ll know within the first minute if the North Korea summit is going well because of quote ‘my touch, my feel, that’s what I do’, I’m concerned we’ll have to tell our grandchildren that World War 3 started because a scorched sex pest spent a historical meeting of nations trying to cup an alopecia suffering panda. Ha! I joke of course. As if anyone will survive to tell those sorts of tales. I am also worried that Trump has got his meetings with Kims confused over the past few weeks and while I’m pleased Kardashian escaped a tiny handed harassment, does Mrs West now have security assurances from the White House on promise of disarmament?
Yes by the time you hear this two dictators will have met, as Fox News stated and got in trouble for. So weird that for years they’ve been condemned for fake news but as soon as they state actual facts they get in even more trouble. Trump spent the weekend in Canada at the G7 summit where six other leaders babysat him but sadly no one gave him crayons or a small toy plane on the flight back to the US and so once home Big Donnie tweeted that he was rejecting the G7’s joint communique aka rules on trade deals due to ‘false statements’ from Canadian President and someone who’d play a president in a teen film about singing Justin Trudeau. Yes, Trump accused someone else of making false statements. It couldn’t have been a bigger Freudian projection if he’d spent the weekend beaming Sigmund’s picture on the tallest building in Quebec. So the US continues to be in a trade war with its closest allies which is likely to lead to thousands of people losing their jobs and income, while its leader hangs out in Singapore for a likely meaningless photo op with a known murderer and abuser of human rights. Still hey, while all those workers at European or UK steel factories or US bourbon distilleries are wondering how to pay their rent at least they’ll be able to point at a photo of Trump and Kim Jong and say ‘hahahaha they both look like if stupid dogs were turned into people.’ And that’s all that matters right?
Over in the tragic kingdom, Brexit continues to make huge leaps nowards as its been confirmed there is a backstop plan, although sadly not one that involves going back and actually stopping this tedious mayhem from happening. Instead it just means that the UK remains tied to the EU if an Irish border solution hasn’t been reached, so a bit like how rich children keep getting an allowance if they still haven’t bothered looking for jobs. Brexit Secretary and a man who clearly laughs too loud at comments that aren’t jokes because he doesn’t understand them David Davis threatened to resign, again, if no time limit was given to the backstop. Prime Minister and constant walking advert for Shark Week Theresa May has refused to give a time limit showing that no one really cares about anything David Davis does, and he still hasn’t resigning showing that Brexit is definitely not about giving the people what they want and also that we have a man negotiating Brexit who is unable to even negotiate leaving his own job. It’s very likely Davis’s resignation plans were just to sit and wait until someone else resigned for him, tell everyone how brilliantly he’s going to do by himself and then write a reminder on his phone to google what resigning means. MP Nadine Dorries, the sort of person you’d invite to the end of a party to make sure everyone else leaves, tweeted that ‘Davis is ex SAS. He’s trained to survive. He’s also trained to take people out.’ No idea who she thinks he should be taking out, because that’s not how Brexit can work, you can’t just kill everyone in the EU, someone will definitely notice. Davis was in the territorial SAS which is less training him to survive but more giving him a water pistol and doing everything they can to make sure he isn’t needed. The only reason Davis would survive anything is due to a Windy Miller level of flukey unawareness.
The cabinet have approved a plan for a third runway at Heathrow airport though Transport Secretary and Hellboy sidekick Chris Grayling is in charge so it’s likely it’ll be too small for a plane to land on and only in use once or twice a year. Environmental groups are rightly angry about the plans which is why I reckon the smart thing to do would be to build the runway, then plant trees on it. Bada-boom, everyone’s happy. Foreign Secretary and gerbil taxidermied using gelatine Boris Johnson promised, as MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, that he would lie down in front of bulldozers to prevent it, something that I hope happens, not just because chances of injury are high but it’d be interesting to see Boris preventing a hole from being dug for once rather than just digging his own.
The government also announced that affluent prune and Rupert Murdoch can buy the rest of Sky but only if he sells off Sky News, which would likely be bought by Disney. Meanwhile Disney are set to buy several of Murdoch’s Fox entertainment business. So that could mean movie crossovers between Marvel’s Avengers and Fox’s X-Men, and news crossovers of people in giant cartoon outfits reporting on the UK government’s constant Mickey Mouse operations. Speaking of media moguls who are also awful shithawks, Paul Dacre, who looks like an old man did a face swap with a giant arse, is stepping down editor of the Daily Mail, which means he’ll be heading in the same way he’s been punching for years. Hopefully he’ll receive recognition for everything he’s done over his 26 years in charge and by that I mean I’ll keep fingers crossed that people boo him in the streets every day of the rest of his life and the Nobell specifically invents an anti-Peace Prize award shaped like a giant todger and made out of cow pats just for him. I also hope all the Daily Mail staff band together and get him a one way £1 P&O ferry trip. Preferably to Europe just to rub it in.
More than 100,000 women marched across the UK on Sunday to commemorate it being 100 years since women got the vote, meaning that now, for a century, men and women alike can feel miserable and responsible for shitty election results. And lastly Theresa May says she regrets her reaction in the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire saying that her actions made it appear that she didn’t care. That is of course not true, it’s just that she’d already used up all her tears crying about the snap election results so had nothing left for real people. On a lighter note, after a contestant on hit reality show, sorry I missed an s there, Love Island said they didn’t know what Brexit was, May admitted that she has never watched the ITV2 program. I’m certain that’s because if she needs to hear people being clueless about Brexit, she already has her own cabinet and anyway she can’t understand the idea of people having any sort of committed partnership for less than £1.5bn.
Hello and a massive achoo from my stupid hayfever filled face today. This week’s podcast has taken so so long to make purely because I’ve spent 90% of my day today sneezing. If, as people used to say, sneezing is supposedly an 8th of an orgasm, then let me tell you, I’ve had quite the day. In truth though it’s all bit a grim and I was certain I’d escaped the pollen menace this year. I had a dabble of sneezing in March & feared the worst but it turned out to be a cold and I thought, yeah take that trees and plants! I am immune! But some sort of fauna has got all jiggy today and absolutely taken me down. I bet it’s the triffids. Bloody triffids. Anyway, have fun spotting every single time I edit a sneeze out of this show. Clue: It’s every other word. They should really find a way to generate electricity from sneezing or something just so it’s worthwhile. Green Party, I’m looking at you. Suddenly the name takes on a whole extra meaning. Right that’s enough snot talk.
Thank you for listening to the show once again and I promise it’s a good one today. I mean, it’s a good one every day, I don’t know why I don’t promise that every week. In fact I’m taking back my promise in case you get suspicious about previous episodes and I don’t want any communications from you about how actually this week’s is not as good as a previous one and therefore I’ve broken a promise and now have to live in the forest, or whatever it is that people do when that happens. Speaking of nice communications, thanks to Rory, and I think that’s how you pronounce it. Ruaridh, is that Rory? I must admit I am bad at Irish names because it could be spelled like that but pronounced David or something and so apologies if that’s wrong. I am an amateur. Anyway, Rory tweeted me after to listening to last week’s show to point out that Scottish Water is indeed already nationalised putting us little Englanders to shame. Again I’m aware that I often miss points of devolution policy when talking about stuff and that’s because I live in stupidy London and forget some of the rest of you live in places where they do things properly. I will try and get someone on for a Scotland update soon and a Wales chat at some point which, over the two years of doing this, I have totally neglected to do. Once again, everyone neglects Wales. I’m sorry Wales. Mine Droog. Also someone and sorry, I can’t remember who because of sneezing, dropped me a line to say that last week’s show was again too quiet. My response to that is ‘AAAAAAAARRRGGHHHH’ because I’m really not sure what to do without accidentally deafening you. I have cranked it up a bit more this week. And turned up the volume too. Arf. Seriously, it’s slightly louder again so please do let me know how this noise works for you, especially when I’m making noises like ‘AAAAAAARRRGGGHHHH’.
Big thank you to Annie M for donating to both the Patreon and the Ko-Fi like a total hero. Be like Annie! If you want to do a monthly dose of charity please donate even just $1 to the patreon.com/parpolbro and this week because it’s still worth 75p in exchange, I thought you should know $1 is worth 0.85 Euro cents. I have no idea what you can buy for that because when I try and search my google goes all Brexit. I’m guessing you could get a baked good or naughty comic. Probably. If you wanna just buy me a coffee please do so at ko-fi.com/parpolbro and this week I had a Frostino which is a clever way of filling a cup with ice and just a smidgen of coffee so after you’ve drunk it you still feel tired and now you’re poor as well. Winner! Both those donaty links are at partlypoliticalbroadcast.co.uk
Last thing is that this Saturday is our first ‘How Does This Politics Thing Work Then?’ the kids politics comedy show I’ve written with Tatton the creator of Simple Politics.co.uk. That first show is at the Farnham Maltings on Saturday 16th and then on the 17th we’re at the Underbelly Festival on Southbank where I’m also hosting a Comedy Club 4 Kids that day so come and see both. We tried the politics show at a school in Ramsgate on Thursday and it worked very well and no one died. So that’s a win. Please bring your small people and come along for a guide to parliamentary politics and some jokes about centaurs.
On this week’s show I am interviewing former editor of Schools Week and regular education expert for the Guardian Laura McInerney all about, well, education. It’d be silly to interview her then discuss something else entirely wouldn’t it? Yes. Yes it would. There is also a little bit of Brexit Fallout too. But before that, here’s a bit of this:
Ok, so there’s going to be a sparsity of gags for a minute or two because it’s necessary. On Thursday this week it’ll be one year since the horrific tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire in which 72 people died and another 70 were injured. It’s taken just under a year for Theresa May to apologise for not meeting any of the Grenfell residents immediately after the fire, which is pretty bad. I mean, I know I still haven’t sent thank you cards out to everyone who attended my wedding nearly two years later, but nobody died at my wedding due to incompetence, neglect and greed. No matter what the other guests say. But at least May’s inadequate apology has arrived quicker than it’s taking to rehouse 95 families who were displaced by the fire and are still living in emergency or temporary accommodation. May originally said all residents would be rehoused within three weeks, then last September housing minister Alok Sharma said it would be within one year and then Sajid Javid with his round, round head like someone removed his human face and replaced it with a lychee, just a few weeks before he moved from Housing Secretary to Home Secretary, two similar sounding jobs that he’s equally bad at, said that it was very unlikely they’d have it sorted by June 14th. That is just one of so many issues that still haven’t been resolved in the past year, with over 500 children being referred for mental health treatment due to PTSD from witnessing the fire and the deaths of loved ones and friends, to the fact there is still no ban on the combustible cladding that was used on the tower. There is going to be a consultation on the latter but while that happens over 200 other buildings around the UK are at risk.
The Grenfell Tower inquiry is now underway and some of these issues are already being covered as well as who is to blame at Kensington and Chelsea council and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation, the landlords, for ignoring tenants concerns for well over a year before the fire. It is also being questioned whether the fire brigade’s policy of stay put should now be scrapped too. The closing statements of the inquiry are happening end of October so it’s likely the first report will appear a short time after that. That’s a long time to wait for those who’ve been affected directly or indirectly by this with immediate action needed on housing and care. Whatever happens, the fire that happened a year ago and those that died must not be allowed to die in vain, and questions must be asked about privatisation, tenant management companies and why there is such a lack of compassion from the government for those that suffered and lost friends and family? I’m hoping to get someone from Grenfell United or Justice for Grenfell to come on the podcast at some point as it’s a very sensitive subject with so much to cover and it’s not something I feel comfortable doing. Check out supportgrenfellunited.org, Grenfell Speaks on youtube and Twitter and justice4grenfell.org for more info, and grenfelltowerinquiry.org.uk for full details of all the hearings and statements so far and if you go back to Episode 67 I interviewed Leigh Pickett from the Fire Brigades Union about the firefighters at Grenfell and all the cuts that have happened to the fire service. Thoughts with everyone taking part in the memorial events this week too.
INTERVIEW WITH LAURA MCINERNEY – Education
‘We don’t need no education’ shouted children during Pink Floyd’s track ‘Brick In The Wall’ although if they had had some, they’d have sung ‘We don’t need any education’. Of course that song was a purposeful rallying against rigid schooling, but had Pink Floyd written that now, well for a start it’d sound terrible as two of them are dead, but ignoring that, they’d probably have written a chorus that went along the lines of ‘We do need an education but in a system that has more funding please, reasonably sized classrooms and with a more balanced curriculum because frankly this doesn’t work for us and our teachers seem sad.’ Sure, no way as catchy but far more of a message in some ways. I’m not saying the Conservatives haven’t helped education since they’ve been in government, but it does feel like the only really positive thing they did for schooling was move Michael Gove from being education secretary in 2014, meaning that the MPs that have followed in his footsteps have at the very least, not been Michael Gove. Over the last few years there have been u-turns on unpopular grammar school proposals, class sizes increasing in two thirds of secondary schools, access to free schools meals being reduced for primary school children and a push of something called T Levels which I don’t understand but having had 3 cups today, I think I’m nearly at the boss stages.
So this week I thought I’d get an update on what is going on with the English Education system – again shout out to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who I have no clue about so maybe just replace this with some soothing panpipe covers of Rage Against The Machine or something, sorry sorry sorry – and so I spoke to Laura McInerney. Laura is a schools expert having spent six years as a teacher, then becoming editor of Schools Week as well as an education journalist for the Guardian, Observer, New Statesmen and The TES among others. Basically when a child tells her he or she are in year 5, she doesn’t panic like I do and assume they’ve travelled from the past. Laura very kindly let me ask her all about current funding levels, what the deal with grammar schools is and as you’ll hear, why my inability to not laugh at children means I shouldn’t be a teacher. Hope you enjoy, here is Laura:
INTERVIEW PART 1
Tiernan Douieb: Theresa May’s had this grammar school drive since she’s been prime minister. Last year there was a big call to put out loads of new grammar schools and that’s, kind of, been decreased to just increasing funding for grammar schools. Is any of that going to help the state of education services in any way? Do you think it’s a good idea?
Laura McInerney: So, the one bit of evidence that anyone who likes grammar schools clings to is a report by the Education Policy Institute a little while ago, and that said that at the very margins where there are children who just get in, who might be from very poor families, there might be a tiny boost for them, but it’s very, very marginal and it’s their only piece of evidence. Opposite that, you have boodles of evidence from decades that show that there are some really negative effects. So, in the areas around the country that have grammar schools, what we tend to find is that, if you’re quite clever and you went to grammar school or you don’t, you do pretty well, but if you’re in a grammar school area and you’re a poorer student and you don’t get into the grammar school then your results are slightly depressed. That’s just because, in grammar school areas, those schools will often suck in the best teachers, they will often suck in more resource, they will suck in the parents who have more social capital to help, and it’s just really, really difficult then for the other schools to try and serve the entire community who are left over, if you like.
TD: You just said that the students who do well, they do well in a grammar school or not, regardless? They do well in comprehensive schools as well?
LM: Yes. If you look at, say, London, and London has some particular affects but, in London we have lots and lots of pupils from very low income families actually who do extraordinarily well in their comprehensive schools. They far outweigh what’s going on in the grammar school areas around the country. So, there’s no evidence to believe that really bright kids, wherever they are and from whichever background, if they go into comprehensive schools, wouldn’t do well.
TD: Then probably the obvious question is, if that’s the evidence, then why the push for grammar schools? Is it purely ideological? If so, what is the ideology behind that?
LM: Theresa May went to a grammar school and I think that’s important. She had a political advisor, Nick Timothy, who left after the last election because everything bombed so badly and he went to grammar schools and is a very big grammar school advocate. And, you know, it’s quite aspirational. The thing is, if you say to people, ‘Roll this dice and if you get a 1 out of 6, your child will go to an amazing school,’ I think a lot of parents would roll the dice, and that’s how grammar schools are presented, that it’s a chance to win and do better for your child. What they don’t say is that the very existence of that dice, of being able to roll it, means that if you don’t get a 1 and you get a 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6, the school that your child will go to will be slightly worse, that’s the bit that is actually the reason why Conservative and Labour parties, ever since the 1960s, have shied away from grammar schools. As a politician, you want 100% of people to vote for you, and if you can only help that 20% of parents’ children go to the best school, you’re going to be onto a political loser.
TD: That’s crazy, then. If politicians have been shying away from it since the 60s but Theresa May has thought, ‘Oh, well now’s the right time,’ that’s a completely mad decision to make.
LM: Yes, it was insane. It was a completely insane decision to make. I still don’t really understand it other than thinking that it was going to be very aspirational and or dead cat, you throw it out there while Brexit was going on and it was something else for people to focus on.
TD: Just playing devil’s advocate, is there something to be said for, because they’ve now said they’re going to increase funding in grammar schools by £50 million rather than make loads of new grammar schools, is there something to be said just for giving those existing schools more funding anyway because it’s good to give schools more funding? Or is that then still depriving other schools from that funding and causing a bigger problem in that area?
LM: So, it depends where the funding is coming from as to whether or not it’s a clever idea. I was the editor of Schools Week newspaper for 3 and a half years and we did a big investigation at one point where we looked at what was happening in grammar schools, and they have been expanding for a while anyway. That’s just because we’ve got population growth in a lot of the areas where grammar schools are, and certainly, in the next few years, there is this wave of about 10 or 9-year-olds at the moment, the 10 and 9-year-olds there are loads of them, we had a big baby boom about 9 years ago. So, they’re starting to come through secondary school in the next few years. If you’re in a grammar school area, they have to go somewhere, it is easier to build some extra classrooms on schools that already exist than to run around rapidly building new schools. So, I think it’s fine, it’s smart to put a few extra classrooms into grammar schools. Kent, for example, has already had the equivalent of a new grammar school in terms of expansion in the last few years anyway. But, the thing with the funding is that you always have to remember it’s a counterfactual, for every pound that you spend somewhere, is there a pound that you could be spending somewhere else? That’s the real issue with, if this is just cash that would follow that pupil wherever they go and they happen to go into a grammar school, that’s one thing, but if we have £50 million worth of cash, I would never suggest that we spend it in schools that already serve pupils who all go on and do very well. There are other children, for example, who don’t pass their GCSEs, who are excluded, who then get into pupil referral units, and we can basically already see the prisoners of tomorrow. They’re going to cost us a fortune when they get older and I would rather that £50 million went to improving services for them than for children who are probably already going to go to Oxford, Cambridge or Bristol or something.
TD: Sure. That was the other thing I was going to ask you, can you see that this selective education then leads to the lack of diversity that is now being highlighted in Oxbridge universities? Is it a slope that if you end up in grammar school, you’re more likely to go to these universities and it starts that division quite early on?
LM: Not really. The issue there is that they’re selective universities. It just so happens that bright children in some parts of the country go to grammar schools, so all of those ones that then get those top grades who go into university come from a grammar schools, somewhere else in the country they’re all in comprehensive schools. There are more than enough children in state comprehensive schools getting 3 A to A* grades each year that would enable the entire cohort to come from there but you can’t just pick people for that reason, because they’re in a comprehensive. So, I don’t think that’s what causes the lack of diversity at university, I think that’s just about picking kids who get As.
TD: Sure. I was wondering if it was a continuation of the ideology of selective schools, certain pupils, and that carries on. I was looking at the T levels, obviously that’s an area I know nothing about, but is that a good idea or does that then say that certain subjects are different to others? I was wondering if that then separates certain people from going to certain higher education places as well?
LM: You’re not alone in not understanding or not knowing much about T levels. I think that is also true of ministers a lot of the time. T levels are supposed to be a vocational equivalent to A levels, we have gone round this mill about a million times, and the same mistakes are being made with the new version of T levels. They’re very complicated, how exam boards will offer them is being complicated, the grading system is overcomplicated. What’s slightly bizarre is we have got these things called BTEC Nationals, which are run by the one for-profit exam board, I think that’s why the government don’t necessarily like them. BTECs have served quite well for a long time so I don’t really understand why we’re spending all of these millions and millions of pounds to try and create new vocational qualifications when we do have some that work quite well, but the government are going to go down this route. Chances at the moment of it working when I ask people in the know, so will they still exist in 10 years’ time, kind of vary from about 10% to about 30% chance of success.
TD: Wow, that’s really bleak. What a huge waste of time and money, that sounds depressing.
LM: We’ve literally done this though about every 5 years for the last 50 years, so there’s no reason to believe it will be different this time.
TD: That brings me to another question, is anything that the Department for Education doing at the moment based on benefitting education or is it all on some sort of weird ideological drive? I do this thing called Comedy Club 4 Kids and we go into schools and we teach children stand-up, the amount of teachers I’ve spoken to who have just said, ‘What is this curriculum about? It’s causing a lot of problems.’ Is the Department for Education doing anything that you think right now is actually benefitting education?
LM: First of all, we have to separate out the officials and the civil servants, who I think work incredibly hard in the Department for Education. Obviously, they are at the whim of ministers all the time. I think everyone in education, even if I vehemently disagree with them, I think everyone is trying to do their best job, and they truly believe that what they’re doing is going to benefit education. On occasion, there are politicians who will pick a policy that they also believe will be very convenient for the polls, or very convenient when it turns to election time, but, by and large, I think most people are doing what they believe will benefit. Even the grammar school stuff, Theresa May, Nick Timothy, genuinely believe that there are poor bright children who need to have an elite education in order to go on and become parts of the elite in the future, they really believe that. Is it based on evidence versus ideology? Certainly the grammar schools is one case where I think there was overwhelming evidence against it, it was almost like climate change or homeopathy, you know, we’re really talking at that level. The rest of education though, it’s not easy to get good evidence, it is a social science, it’s very dependent on teachers, it’s not like medicine where if I give you this drug, it doesn’t really matter our relationship too much, this drug will still work on you independently. Teaching doesn’t work like that, if you don’t have good relationships with your pupils, it will affect what’s going on. If they don’t like subjects, they will just zone out. So, we find ourselves in an area where actually you can’t always have evidence. As a politician, you sometimes just have to do what you think is the right thing and you hope, somewhere down the line, that works. I remember David Blunkett once saying that to me, the best he hoped for as Education Secretary was that some day down the line when he was 80 years old, someone who was 30 or 40 would be able to come up to him and say, ‘I was at school when you were the Education Secretary and this is how your policies helped me.’
TD: I suppose that’s the problem, as you say, it’s got very long-term results that you can’t check immediately, but then there’s been a lot of call out at the moment about the amount of tests that children are having to go through, and that seems to be having an immediate effect on children’s learning that must be able to be gauged somehow.
LM: Yes. So, I run this app called Teacher Tapp, that surveys around 2,500 teachers every day. We’ve been getting some really interesting results on this. So, we just asked about SATS actually, and what we’ve found is teachers do say that pupils are coming out with higher academic standards. They genuinely believe that primary school children now, on the back of these tests and the more rigorous curriculum, they are definitely learning more and are smarter. The downside is they also say that children don’t like learning as much and they’re no longer as creative. The government’s view, particularly the Schools Minister Nick Gibb, is that sort of doesn’t matter when they’re 10 or 11, they will develop that creativity and that love of learning because they’re now smarter, and that gives them quick wins, they’ll become motivated and you develop those skills later. So it’s all very well to say that children love learning but actually, if they can’t read, they very often don’t love learning. So I do think that Nick Gibb has a strategy but, again, we have to sit tight and see whether it works, and if it doesn’t, we could just have a generation who are incredibly good at punctuation but loathe learning and don’t bring creativity into the workplace, and that would be a nightmare for the economy.
TD: Yes, it would be a real nightmare. Also it’s something I feel as a creative person, I suppose, if you can vaguely class my job as that, but I really feel like creativity is being ignored by the last 8 years of the government quite a lot in that arts has kind of disappeared and I know that a lot of secondary schools are losing some of the creative subjects. Hasn’t there been evidence over the years that children need creativity in order to help with everything else as well, help expand their minds with other subjects too?
LM: So, basically, learning anything is helpful for learning everything. So, we could show that learning Chess GCSE or Trapeze GCSE would be good for you learning history and geography as well because it’s about brain development and neural pathways. I think that, again, the government’s view would be children will still be creative. If you look across the world, it’s very often when people are the most oppressed that they come out with the most creative things, but I don’t think that’s a reason to do it, I don’t think we should therefore oppress people so that their creativity comes out. I do think that some of this becomes about opportunity. So, let’s imagine, if we took music lessons out of the curriculum, or art lessons out of the curriculum, children would still make music, they would still sing, they would still listen, they would create stuff, but would they always have access to instruments? Where is the teacher who will run their orchestra? Where is the teacher who will do the plays? If these children don’t have parents who are available, able financially and with their time to take them and get an instrument or teach them then those children start to lose out. It’s about opportunity, I think, and the funding is what’s really starting to bite on that. It’s not just about this rigorous curriculum, if you what you have is a rigorous curriculum and then a threadbare cupboard of resources because there’s no funding going into schools then I think we find ourselves in a really difficult time. What I think you will find if children don’t have creative outlets is we’ll start to go backwards on things like juvenile crime, which has dropped immensely in the last 20 years. Children don’t spend their time vandalising phone boxes, largely because there aren’t any phone boxes any more, but also because they’re very busy with their work and with their clubs. Bored teenagers are not a good thing for our country.
TD: That’s true. I’m also amazed that there’s a positive to the lack of phone boxes, that’s great.
END OF INTERVIEW PART ONE
And we’ll be back with Laura in a minute, but first:
‘Silver Turkey, do you read me? Silver Turkey, we need your assistance now.’ Davis heard the sound on the radio and knew what he needed to do. ‘Project Fear’ he shouted back at them. ‘Davis’ the commander shouted at him ‘this is not a drill, we are under fire, three of our men are down. We need back up now.’ Davis sighed and finished his beer. He pressed the button to reply ‘Look, it’s not going to be anywhere near as bad as everyone says. Whatever is going on, it won’t be as bad as Mad Max.’ Davis remembered to take his finger off the button before doing a massive belch, unlike last time. ‘Davis!’ the commander shouted again ‘why did you send us here, it’s a complete trap, you’ve sentenced us all to death.’ Davis rolled his eyes. ‘Moan moan moan, that’s all you do. If you just committed to this, you’d be fine. I never said it’d be easy.’ Davis flicked through the various different late night sex line channels in his hotel room. ‘we’re overwhelmed please, please help u…’ but his voice was cut off by the sounds of rapid fire. Phew thought Davis. I haven’t even got my trousers on yet.
So votes on the EU Withdrawal bill start the day this podcast is released, as I mentioned last week. What’s likely to happen is that the Conservatives will be whipped to vote to reject all the amends the House of Lords made. We know this because former Home Secretary and personification of gormlessness Amber Rudd has joined forces with haunted thumb Iain Duncan Smith to tell Conservative MPs, remainers and brexiteers alike, to back May or pave the way for a government lead by Puddle Lane resident Jeremy Corbyn. Yet again proof they won’t invest in infrastructure if the Tories will go out of their way to make sure paving isn’t done. So it’s likely fear of Labour winning whenever another election will be, combined by the terror of having to contract out roadworks means the Conservatives will likely vote against all 15 of the Lords amendments and these range from staying in the Euratom agency, transferring the EU charter of fundamental rights directly into UK Law, and the big ones being that the government has to report to parliament about what its done to form a customs union with Europe, that the government should negotiate continued membership of the European Economic Area and the date of Brexit is removed from the face of the bill. Probably because Bill is very sick of being used as a calendar and would really like his face back. There are also 3 amendments relating to how the Henry VIII powers can be used and basically all of them see what the government is doing in its power grab and say no, stop that you awful people.
But the question is, will Labour be backing the government or opposing? Well last week the opposition made an announcement about changing their own Brexit stance even though no one was really sure they one in the first place. According to Corbyn and Shadow Brexit Secretary and bad computer drawing of Gordon Ramsay, Keir Starmer, Labour are now, and yes, get ready for this jargon splurge, ‘demanding full access to the internal market of the European Union, underpinned by shared institutions and regulations with no new impediments to trade and common rights, standards and protections.’ What does that mean? Er, very little, it’s a bit vague and could mean staying within Europe somehow, and keeping membership of certain groups. Or something. It does mean Labour are not doing a Norway option, which would mean voting for the Lords amendment to retain membership of the EEA which won’t go through because the Conservatives and the DUP will vote against it anyway and then certain Labour MPs with very Leave constituencies who don’t want free movement will vote against it too and so then any frontbench Labour MPs who vote against it will just risk going against Corbyn and getting the sack which will show that Labour is still divided and a mess and boom, suddenly they’ve lost a vote they’d lose anyway but worse than that. It’s like a pub football team going up against, I dunno, Brazil, for a laugh but as the 30th goal goes in, one of the team thinks its worth screaming out to the crowds that all his friends are arseholes so he can’t even join in the consolation drinks. But regardless of this, the language in that jargon is ever so ever so slightly more towards a softer Brexit on account for no more obstructions to trade, like you would have in the single market. So if that’s what they mean then the big final vote on the final deal is in the Autumn and if Labour oppose that, along with Conservative Remainers and other members of the commons who aren’t happy with it, they could get a majority and then either block Brexit entirely or drastically change the entire deal for better or worse and probably cause another election. Its losing the short game to play the long game, maybe. If that’s what they’re actually doing. It could also be that they don’t have a clue and by the end of the week things will still be less clear than Sarah Huckabee Sanders conscience. So yes, Labour now look set to now be backing a softer Brexit option though not a fully soft one but more one that when you bite into it you know it won’t kill you but it may cause some awful bum troubles later. So mediocre dinner now, bum troubles later, but after that, possibly that glorious feeling that you only get when bum troubles stop and the future looks bright. Maybe. Well I liked that analogy anyway.
And a backstop is so called, apparently, after a fence used in baseball to stop the ball leaving the pitch. So a Brexit backstop is basically there because the DExEU still haven’t hired enough civil servants to be fielders or ball boys or whatever it is you get in baseball matches. Ball handlers? That sounds wrong. So a backstop means there would be a temporary customs arrangement between the UK and the EU to stop there being a border between Northern Ireland and Ireland until a solution can be found, but because no one has a solution apart from David Davis who keeps insisting they could, I dunno, have a border but carried by a series of constantly moving voles, or a border made by 256 men in anoraks with laser pens pointing them at ground where a border should be so it only works at night. Because there are no solutions, May has given up even pretending there might be and not put an end date on the backstop. So this temporary solution will be like when you had that temporary admin job where you knew they wouldn’t get rid of you because you got your work done quickly and were much more fun to talk to than the rest of the office but no way did they ever want to pay for you to have a holiday because they don’t like you that much.
You might have also seen news that human pedal bin and founder of Leave.EU Arron Banks was offered a business deal by a Russian ambassador involving six Russian goldmines. All of which sounds like a brilliant James Bond plot but is actually more indication that Russia may have had some influence over the Brexit referendum. Banks has previously said he only had one meeting with the ambassador but leaked emails show he had at least three including one with talking fetid frog anus Nigel Farage just before they both visited Trump and that Banks handed over phone numbers for Trump’s transition team to Russian Officials. Cabinet Minister David Lidlington, you know, the one who always looks like his suit is slowly digesting him, has called for an investigation into this, which means it’s likely the government will do something about it circa 2045 when everyone involved is dead. Still it does sound like a Bond plot, including some emails that show Banks and his cohort Andy Wigmore tried to get Lord Guthrie involved in the goldmine deal as well as Peter Hambro, who is an old Etonian dealer in precious metals known as gold finger. I really hope Danny Boyle does his job as director of Bond 25 and does an intricate story about Daniel Craig sifting through hours of emails before shouting at a variety of prime time programs that have booked the main villain to do an unbalanced think piece on why MI6 have upset the will of the people. Or I suppose they could just do a remake of ‘From Russia With Love’.
And now back to Laura:
INTERVIEW PART 2
TD: Funding, you were saying, is a big issue and, again, that’s something I’ve heard just from the few teachers that I’ve spoken to, but I know that the Department for Education recently announced another £50 million towards expanding special schools but apparently that’s come from an old fund, so are they actually protecting the school budget or is it depleting in real terms? What’s happening with that?
LM: It is depleting in real terms. It’s protected in the sense that it’s not going down in the numbers in the column that you see that says how much cash is available for schools but, in real terms, it’s not kept up with inflation, it’s not kept up with the cost pricing on schools, it’s not kept up with that they need to pay greater pensions for teachers and the higher national insurance and the apprenticeship levy and so on. The government have this lovely ploy at the moment where they put announcements out and they say, ‘We will be doing this thing,’ and this number ‘illion’ I call it, 10 million or 3 million or 53 million or whatever random number illion goes with the policy. Then, as you say, we discover that, in fact, this cash was promised 3, 4 or 5 years ago and it’s not new. They’re doing that very cleverly because the public just hear ‘number illion’, that sounds like a big amount, the government are clearly putting cash into schools.
TD: How much of the funding that is available is dependent on school ratings and things like that? I feel I’m jumping subjects quite a lot but there seems to be so much to cover with education at the moment, but I heard that Ofsted now are quite unreliable in their reports, is that affecting what money schools are getting and is that affecting how Ofsted is being seen?
LM: So, schools are largely funded on a per pupil basis, that has some local variation built in and that will change shortly and we’ll go to the national formula. It’s not the case in Britain that schools, well, in England and in fact in the others, but in England specifically, it’s not funded by the quality of a school, so it’s not like an outstanding school gets more money and a struggling school gets less. There are pots of cash available for certain policy areas, so if you want to run a teaching school where you train teachers then you can get some cash for that and you can only do it if you’re of a certain standard. You’re right, the inspectorate has come out and said it isn’t able to inspect as regularly as it would like to be able to because of various laws that were put in a few years ago. That means now they’re not as confident that their ratings are correct, so you could have a school that is outstanding, that applies to train teachers, gets money to do that but may not be outstanding because, in fact, it hasn’t been re-inspected in the last 10 years or so.
TD: That sounds really unfair, that doesn’t sound right at all.
LM: Yes, that’s also because Ofsted, the inspectorate, have had their funding cut dramatically as well and that’s still going so they’ve now come out and said, ‘With the little amount of cash we’ve been left with,’ and they’ve got lots more responsibilities looking at children’s secure centres, looking at nurseries, looking at private apprenticeship providers, ‘We can’t possibly continue the same level of service for schools.’ So, you know, we just can’t continue to have a system where we really rely on those Ofsted gradings without something changing in the system.
TD: Overall, funding is probably the biggest problem that schools are facing right now, would it be right to say that?
LM: I think it’s the main thing. Well, school leaders will say that funding really matters and they are struggling with keeping teachers, getting teachers in. We have a lot of teachers leaving the profession every few years, that’s always been the case, so they’ll tend to stay for about 5 years and then quite a lot will leave within that time. Also now we’re struggling to get people in, they don’t want to come and train in the profession at the same rate, that’s a problem.
TD: Is that because low pay but also incredibly low hours and the workload seems to constantly increase? I mean, it used to be I know people wanted to teach and go into teaching but does it almost put people off, I suppose?
LM: Yes. We’ve also got a demographic dip coming up. So, for the next 5 or 6 years, not as many people go into university and come out of university so we’ve got this demographic lull before the big baby boom comes through. So, fewer graduates who’ve now got what they feel is a lot more debt from university, they look around, they see other graduate jobs with higher starting pay because teachers’ starting salaries are quite low, and also we’re increasingly hearing teachers say that they want to work 3 or 4 days a week because it’s the only way to get the job done with the work load but they’re only getting paid 3 or 4 days a week. So, quite rightly, these 21-year-olds with an enormous amount of debt are saying, ‘Well, I can’t work 3 or 4 days a week and do that job so I’d just rather go and do something that’s a bit easier and pays me more.’
TD: So we’re quite likely to see some sort of crisis in the next couple of years with a complete lack of teachers? I mean, more than as there already is a lack of teachers.
LM: We’re already at that point. I think, the teacher shortage, the ministers have now, I think, in the last few months, started to accept the crisis word. I’ve always felt that as long as there were supply teachers, we were in an interesting position because it meant that there were teachers, they just were choosing not to do full-time jobs. So, that’s telling us something about the profession. I think we may even be getting to a point now where agencies are struggling to get staff and then we’re really snookered.
TD: Oh god, so I’ve got to plan home-schooling for my daughter then straightaway, that’s where we’re going.
LM: Or just accept that she may end up in massive classes. You know, one of the ways around this is bigger classes but our classrooms tend to be built for 30 children, and if you do have a situation where children are in bigger classes, it doesn’t just mean there’s more of them, it means they’re shoved up against windows and balancing books on top of fire hydrants and things. It’s a bit dismal and it’s hard to get a handle on how we resolve this. The government are desperately trying, I can’t say that they’re not, they’re throwing money at this, they’re throwing initiatives at it, they’re throwing man hours at it, but it is very, very difficult. Until they resolve the workload problem for teachers then I think it’s not going to be a compelling enough profession, even though it’s a brilliant and I recommend everybody to do it because I loved being a teacher. I don’t think they’re going to get enough people in.
TD: Well, I really hope they do because I’d be terrible at home-schooling my daughter, she’d have an awful time.
LM: Why don’t you become a teacher? Would you not do it?
TD: I’m not good at the authority bit. I’ve taught kids stand-up and I’m very good at being the fun person that pops in, I’m very, very bad at telling them off if they’ve done something wrong, I just laugh. I laugh a lot so I’d get in a lot of trouble.
LM: You’re going to have to learn sad face, which is when you do an overly dramatic sad face at your daughter when she does something wrong.
TD: I’m already dreading that, I’m already far too bad at just finding it hilarious. It’s the problem of a massive child having a child. So, the government are currently doing a report into pupils that excluded from schools, why does that need to happen and is that important?
LM: So, every year we have these thousands of pupils who are kicked out of school and they’re put into pupil referral units or alternative provisions, some of whom are amazing, life-changing, but only 1% of those children go on and pass their 5 GCSEs. If you look at any prison around the country, about 55-60% of prisoners were excluded from schools and went into these pupil referral units. So, we know already, we can go and look in these schools and see the prisoners of tomorrow, I just think that’s amazingly tragic and it’s great that the education select committee that’s run by a number of MPs who ask ministers questions have said, ‘This is an outrage, there are more and more pupils being excluded, we know they don’t go on and get their GCSEs, is there some solution? Can we get better providers into this market? Can we get better teachers in?’ So there’s going to be a charity called The Difference who are doing a, sort of, Teach First model, trying to get teachers to go and work in pupil referral units just to try and solve this problem that is so obvious. I think it’s a really good thing the government are doing, I just hope that it doesn’t get lost in the next few years amongst all of the Brexit stuff because it could be life-changing for quite a lot of children.
TD: Yes. Like you said, it’s a very obvious correlation as to what happens if they’re expelled. Is that affected by the fact that it’s not very publicly popular to help prisoners in this country for some weird reason? Whenever there are polls on rehabilitation, it’s always just ‘no, keep them in for longer’. Does that then affect giving treatment children younger or is there a difference in getting people on board with this?
LM: I think the issue with exclusions in particular is that teachers don’t want to feel that bad behaviour will be condoned and those children will stay in school, not least because if teachers are dealing with bad behaviour the whole time, that makes the job less pleasant and so they leave. But, I think we also have to look at what a phenomenal waste of talent, we’re on about 50,000 young people at any one time. I was recently talking to a British manufacturer who’s really struggling to employ people and they only employ 15,000 people in total. So, imagine if you could get these 50,000 young people their qualifications and make them employable, we could solve some serious skills shortages. They also go on and cost about an estimated something like £1.25 billion over their lifetime in additional health, prison and benefits. So, in the end, even if you don’t care, even if actually, emotionally, you’re not connected to this issue, those billions of pounds could be going into making sure that every other child is in a classroom that’s smaller in a school that’s not falling apart, that teaches art, that does music, I would much rather the money went there than on someone’s prison bill. It’s just such a phenomenal waste.
TD: Absolutely. God, that’s such a large amount of money, it’s unbelievable.
LM: It’s billions.
TD: Completely crazy. The very last question that I want to ask you, that’s something I ask all the guests, apart from yourself and Teacher Tapp and Schools Week and your Twitter, which educational journalists and papers and websites would you recommend that listeners check out for solid reporting and information on education?
LM: Having built Schools Week and knowing the team there really well and still working there, I obviously have to say Schools Week, but I do think that nearly 4 years ago when we started, we really did set out to try and do reporting in a different way and really make it really relevant and look and find unusual facts and truths and things. I still rate Schools Week very highly on that. I also write for the Guardian, their education coverage is fantastic. There is something called the IFT Data Lab, they do amazing data work, so you can find them, Education Data Lab or IFT Data Lab, they do these amazing blogs where they look at what the data is showing us. So, recently they did a really interesting one that showed they think they’ve been able to find out, through maths, which primary schools might be artificially inflating their primary schools for the SATS exams. So, they didn’t name any of the schools but the maths is very clever and if you’re quite geeky, that’s worth looking at. Then there’s a think tank called the Education Policy Institute who do these very big detailed reports, they did the one on grammar schools, and they’re also a fantastic go-to. If you’ve got a really nerdy topic, like school funding, that you want to look at, go to the Education Policy Institute’s website and find their reports, they’re amongst some of the best.
END OF INTERVIEW PART TWO
Thank you to Laura for making time to chat with me. You can find Laura on Twitter @miss_mcinerney and her website is at lauramcinerney.co.uk with links to many of her articles for The Guardian and Schools Week among others. Teachertapp is available and free on all your phone app stores, so if you are a teacher do download and use that to give feedback on how your experience of teaching is going. I’m assuming there’s a button you can just press for it to send a 3-minute-long scream so you don’t have to do it yourself every day. The transcript of the whole show including the chat with Laura will be on the partlypoliticalbroadcast.co.uk website soonish should you want to have a look and all the links she recommends will be added by the end of the week as well. Also BBC2 have just recently shown a 3 part program called Grammar Schools: Who Will Get In? that is apparently excellent and currently on iPlayer. I’ve not had a chance to see it yet but I’ve been reliably informed that it’s very worth a watch.
I have got one more guest booked in at the moment and then I’m going to be looking again for recommendations. I’d really like to interview someone about Chinese politics, Grenfell Tower which I’m struggling to get anyone to talk to about, and party donations if you can suggest anyone who might be good for those subjects. If you do, or on any other subjects you think I should talk to someone about, please contact me via the contact page on the partlypoliticalbroadcast.co.uk website, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via the @parpolbro Twitter or Partly Political broadcast Facebook group. Or just call me on my landline number. I’m not going to give you the number because I have no idea what it is, no one called me on it for over 3 years, I’m not even sure if it works anymore. But if you can find it, give it a ring and I’ll be so confused by what’s going on I’ll probably just throw things at the phone till it stops. As always, best to email.
And that is the end of this week’s Partly Political Broadcast podcast. Thank you for absorbing these sound waves into your head holes once again and please do spread word about this show to other humans or exceedingly clever animals, review it on all of your podcast apps all at once with multi-fingered dexterity and please donate to the Patreon or ko-fi accounts if you can because ice cream is getting expensive. I mean, er, oh damn. Because it all helps make this show better. Through the medium of my ice cream consumption. Hey, with topical shows, it’s all about the good scoops AMIRIGHT?
Big thanks as always to Acast who kindly keep stock this show amongst their top range of audio groceries and to my brother The Last Skeptik for all the musical noises, and who’s new album Under The Patio is available for pre-order now.
This will be back next week when David Davis resigns but by accidentally sending a letter to Theresa May that is his misspelled order for resin for his garage.
This week’s show is brought to you by Randy McJab’s exciting new account of Brexit Secretary David Davis’s time in the SAS. ‘I don’t have to be clever to do my job’ is in all bad bookshops now but I wouldn’t read it, you can probably just have a guess what happens in it and that way you’ll be covered if anyone asks. Here’s another short excerpt.
‘That’s it, I’m leaving’ said Davis. No one looked up. ‘There’s no way I’m going to stay here as a Rifle Artist SOS member…’. Officer Stewart looked up. ‘It’s SAS member David. We’re the Artists Rifles. You’re the only one that needs help.’ Davis grunted ‘why are you such a traitor? Anyway, I’m going unless you can get me a dog that can fly and has rockets on its back so I can just whistle it orders and it’ll take out baddies while I’m at the pub.’ The entire room let out a tired sigh. Office Stewart looked up from his book. ‘David, flying dogs don’t exist and even if they did, they’d have to be army certified, and you’d have to be of a high enough qualified level to use them.’ ‘Yeah, yeah of course’ said David. The light dying in his eyes. ‘I was just joking anyway’. He started putting his stuff back on his desk, screwing up the post it note with all the dog names on it and throwing it in the bin.