Monday, 21 January 2019

Academisation is not the route for Catholic schools

The Diocese of Brentwood has been seeking to move a number of its schools over to academy status, despite the growing resistance of parents and teachers.

The Diocese claim to have consulted with stakeholders but in a number of cases across the east London boroughs of Redbridge and Barking and Dagenham this has been questioned.

The whole approach seems to be wrong headed. Back in 2010 the Catholic Education Service warned schools to consider very carefully before going down the academisation route.

The attitude of some seemed to change when academisation appeared inevitable, with the Conservative Government seeking in 2015 to force all schools into becoming academies.

The legislation, though, to make this happen was rejected, partly due to a revolt by Tory MPs

Most recently, there seems to have been a real cooling on academisation, with the present Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds announcing a review of accountability measures. He has also stated that the government will not be forcibly turning schools into academies” unless Ofsted has “judged them to be inadequate.”

The precarious position of the Conservative Government with the not unlikely possibility of a Labour Government coming to power in the not too distant future should also give pause for thought. Labour Party policy is to end the academisation programme, seeking to return failing academies to local authority control with a new regulatory scheme.

Some diocese claim that academisation will provide protection should there be a hostile climate toward faith schools. The logic of this position is difficult to fathom, given that academisation creates a direct funding link between central government and the school.

If a government hostile to faith schools came to power, it would be far easier to cut academies funding than say a school operating under a local education authority – especially if the latter were from a party on the opposite side of the political divide.

There are good and bad academies, just as there are good and bad state schools. However, there should be concerns on grounds of accountability .

A number of the academy trusts have had financial problems.

Academies employ their own teaching staff so they can increase or reduce teachers pay accordingly. They control their own finances and curriculum. Term times can also be set independently.


Ownership of the school property passes into the trust, a contentious move for many Catholic parishes, where the parishioners often provided the funding for the building of the school in the first place.


In the case of the Brentwood Diocese, most of the schools concerned have very good reputations with parents clamouring to get their children into them. The simply question for the diocese must be if it aint broke why fix it?

published in the Catholic Universe - 20/1/2019

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Is social media helping society?

The growth of social media has radically changed our whole way of life over recent years.
Increasing numbers of people seem to be living their lives in that virtual reality world.
It is amazing the number of times people seem to be chronicling their lives or saying something on an open forum, that maybe should be being said in private to a loved one. 
Sometimes there are reflections in the social media sphere of loneliness in the real world. Others see the chance to showcase themselves. 
There are also great shows of joy, happiness and sharing.
Opportunities abound to easily learn more about the world around us. The other side is the possibility to shut oneself off in a silo of like minded individuals. 
Anything contrary to the accepted view can then be dismissed as fake.
Some of the hostility generated on social media forums is truly incredible to behold. Many seem to think that because they are contributing to a virtual reality world, the normal societal niceties don't apply.  
Things would be much more civil on social media channels if people considered whether they would say what they write if the recipient was physically sitting opposite them in the room.
Some of the local hubs developed are very useful for gaining information.
They can though also be sources for amplifying disinformation. Subjects like crime can be hyped way beyond the reality of what is going on on the streets. This can frighten people, which is not helpful.
There is also the danger that these sort of forums can become the personal unaccountable fyfdoms of one or two people, which again is not conducive to the public good. 
Overall the social media world is in its relative infancy. It has opened up a whole new dimension to life, much of it very positive but care needs to be taken to remember that those contributing are real people with sensitive feelings. Social media should not become an arena for petty points scoring, aggression and abuse.

published 17 & 19/1/2019 - Wanstead & Woodford Guardian - "Do we say things online we should keep private"

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Was Marko Arnautovic waving goodbye as West Ham send Arsenal packing at the London Stadium

West Ham 1-0 Arsenal

West Ham deserved victory in this hard fought London derby, battling Arsenal to a standstill by the end.
The home side were constantly harrying their north London opponents, never allowing them the time to settle and  build their fluid game from the back
The first half saw both sides, create chances but neither could provide the finishing touch.
Arsenal's best effort came from Alexandre  Lacazette, forcing keeper Lukasz Fabianski into a decent save low down to his right.
West Ham almost took the lead when an exchange between Marko Arnautovic and Sami Nasri, led to the latter laying the chance on for the incoming Felipe Anderson, who saw his effort skim wide of the post.
The second half was just three minutes old when Anderson's cross from the right was headed weakly out by the defender. It fell to the impressive Nasri, who cushioned the ball for the incoming Declan Rice to score his first Premiership goal.
Arsenal continued to press but were limited to a long range effort from Matteo Guendouzi.
Arsenal captain Laurent Koscielny had the ball in rhe net in the dying minutes but the effort was ruled out for offside.
Arnautovic was substituted with 20 minutes left, waving to the crowd, in what many expect could be his last home game for the club.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini would not be drawn on the Arnautovic situation, again claiming the Austrian striker's back problems, as the reason for his withdrawal.
The manager was keener to talk about the man of the match performance from Rice. "I am sure Declan will be a top player. He improves with every game he plays. He is strong in one v ones and has a good technique," said Pellegrini."He will be a good player for West Ham and the national team."
Arsenal boss Unai Emery felt his side needed to improve control. He was also disappointed at the lack of chances his team created.
Emery remained tight lipped as to why the club's top wage earner Mesut Ozil was not even on the bench.

published - morning star - 13/1/2019

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Media have played major role in promoting climate change denial

The latest dire warning about the threat posed by climate change came recently from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which told of how the world has 12 years to stop temperatures rising above 1.5 degrees.

The effects, if this happens, will be catastrophic, bringing more droughts, floods, wars, water shortages and thousands of environmental refugees.

The delay in taking action to confront climate change, will also see the cost rise inexorably, going forward.

Most would have expected this bombshell of a report to hit the headlines, well not in the British press. Three papers put the story on their front page, the Times only thought it worthy of mention on page 13, whilst the Daily Mail failed to report it at all.

The Evening Standard editorialised on the report, without actually reporting what it said.

The broadcast media was better, with the BBC and ITN giving it lead story billing on news bulletins, with much analysis throughout the day.

The non-reporting of the IPCC report is merely the latest example of how the British media has failed over the years to convey the real danger posed by climate change.

Terror threats or atrocity stories always get top billing. Not so much the natural events that usually result in far more death and devastation. Indeed, for a long time it seemed that there was a conscious effort to not link such natural catastrophes to climate change.

The BBC has been a particular offender in failing to report the true gravity of the climate change threat.

For many years in the name of balance, the Corporation reported both sides of the story. So although 95% of scientists were saying that climate change was happening and would have devastating consequences, unless addressed, the small minority, often backed by the fossil fuel industry lobby, who denied that narrative, were given equal billing.

The Corporation were recently rebuked by Ofcom for breaching broadcasting guidelines in an interview on the Today programme with climate sceptic Nigel Lawson. In the interview, Lawson claimed “official figures” show that “during this past 10 years, if anything… average temperature has slightly declined.” The statement was later refuted by the Met Office.  The Ofcom ruling stated: "Statements made about the science of climate change were not challenged sufficiently during this interview, which meant the programme was not duly accurate."

The BBC ties itself up in its delusional views of balance but the simple truth of reporting is that if it is raining outside, the reporter really needs to go out and get the facts, not report one person who says it is raining, whilst someone else who says it isn’t.

The combined effect of this failure to report the true danger posed to humanity by climate change has been immensely damaging.

There have been many authoritative reports published over the years, but every time the danger has been played down with the constant caveat that there is another side - it may not be happening.

This has enabled politicians to put the issue on the back burner. Those like former Prime Minister David Cameron have sought to win green votes, with stunts like the riding with huskies, only once in power to talk of “getting rid of the green crap.”

The issue has been one that can be dealt with when the economy can afford it. So, in the good times, measures to combat climate change can be undertaken. But in bad times, they must be dropped.

The media has helped produce the mood music for the self-delusion, thereby doing an immense disservice to humanity.

Time is of the essence on climate change, urgent action has been required for at least the past couple of decades, however, the indolence encouraged by the media coverage has partly ensured that that action has not been taken.

The latest IPCC report’s dire warnings were intended in the main to get through to the politicians. The actions now required to deal with climate change require major decisions on switches to renewable energy and sustainable transport systems. In reality, we are probably talking about a complete change of economic model, if the planet is to be saved.

An economy not based on consumption and waste but preserving and reusing what we already have. A world where people need to drive and fly less and probably go vegetarian.

A world where fossil fuels stay in the ground. These are unpalatable truths for many industries, especially those involved with fossil fuel extractions, but they need to be faced and acted on by politicians in power today.

The media has a duty to report this often unpalatable reality to people across the world. The failure by many to even report the most recent IPCC report does not augur well. But going  on failing to report the true nature of the climate change threat will be a huge dereliction of duty on the part of our profession if it continues.

published - Morning Star - 19/12/2018

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Give us this day our daily bread.. but don't feed it to the birds

It was great to see so many people out over the Christmas and New Year breaks walking in the various parks.
The weather was mild for much of the time and when the sun came through it seemed almost like spring had sprung.
Whilst we all appreciate the natural environment unfortunately, at times, it gets abused. Wherever human beings go it seems a stream of litter follows. Why when people come into our natural green spaces do they not respect them, take their rubbish home or put it in the bins provided?
It was also concerning to see a number of people feeding bread to the birds. One couple in Wanstead Park were not only dishing out the bread but apparently teaching their daughter this was a good thing to do. It isn't. 
Bread is bad for the birds, it damages them internally. In addition, the bread not eaten, sinks to the bottom of the lakes creating more damage to the eco-system. 
This is not news, there has been much publicity about the damage bread does to birds and waterways. There are notices that explain but still some people keep doing it. 
Along by Eagle pond, despite the notices, some people arrive and start dumping their bread, causing untold damage. Just as with reducing plastic use we need to stop some of our other destructive practices.
If people want to feed the birds fine, buy the right products - grain etc, sold in supermatkets and pet shops. Use the bread for something else.
Finally, it'd be great if people came to our parks by foot, cycle or public transport if at all possible. For some going by car is the only way they can get there but this is a very small number of people. 
A park keeper was telling me recently how some people will drive 500 metres, park their car and get the dog out for a walk. Why? Surely, they could walk that 500 metres. The emissions created are helping destroy the planet, that we all depend on for life.
These are all small things but all can easily be changed.

published - Wanstead & Woodford Guardian - 3 & 5/1/2019

Thursday, 3 January 2019

West Ham struggle for a point against Brighton at the London Stadium

West Ham 2-2 Brighton

West Ham will regard this as a well won point but must wonder what would have happened if they'd got on the front foot, prior to going two behind.
The opening half was a pretty non-descript affair, with the two sides largely cancelling each other out. The best chances fell to Felipe Anderson and Marko Arnautovic but Brighton stopper David Button saved both efforts.
Seven minutes into the second half, Anderson broke forward from midfield but saw his shot from just outside the penalty area whistle inches wide of the right hand upright.
It then looked as though West Ham would rue the missed chances as the visitors struck twice in three minutes
First, Lukasz Fabianski punched out a corner that fell to Dale Stepens whose crisply hit shot found the net through a mass of players.
Then Issa Diop allowed Shane Duffy to get behind him and prod home another corner.
West Ham's fortunes were transformed when substitutes Mark Noble and Michail Antonio replaced Robert Snodgrass and Pedro Obiang. 
It was a Noble long ball that put Arnautovic in to poke home. Then a couple of minutes later, a Noble cross field ball found Antonio, who powered to the byline to pull the ball back for Arnautovic to fire into the roof of the net.
Another mazey run from Antonio, finished with him blasting over from a couple of yards.
West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini was disappointed that Brighton scored two goals from corners. "It was very disappointing to concede from set pieces,"said Pellegrini, who confessed his team were aware of this Brighton strength but still let them score.
Brighton manager Chris Hughton was hugely disappointed to have conceded a two goal lead. "On the first half performance we were very good," said Hughton, who told how Brighton's immediate aim was to get the magic number of points to stay up, then put as many points as possible between themselves and the bottom three.

published - Morning Star - 3/1/2019

Friday, 28 December 2018

People need to come together in the New Year for the common good

The hope for the New Year must be that people start coming back together in the UK.

The upheaval that has been the Brexit process has split the country apart. There was the debate between those who wanted to stay in the EU and those who wanted to leave.

There was always going to be a loser and winner. The final margin of victory for leave was so small (4%) that implementation of the will of the people was always going to leave a large number (48%) of the country dissatisfied.

If there is a second referendum, with the vote going the other way, there will be equal dissatisfaction on the leave side.

The Brexit debate also brought the racism present in society to the fore. Attitudes that many had thought went with the 1970s, resurfaced, with the referendum vote seemingly providing licence for some to be openly racist to fellow citizens and those coming in from other countries.

Whatever some might say the anti-migrant atmosphere that had been growing over the years leading up to the referendum was the major force driving Brexit.

The terrain was prepared largely by cowardly politicians unwilling to highlight the benefits of immigration to the country. Media also played its part, continually framing the debate in the negative terms of which party promised to reduce the number coming here by the most.

For a number of newspapers, simply economics dictated that anti-migrant (racist) headlines sold papers.

Another division that has grown due to the Brexit debate has been that between old and young. There has been a constant line advanced that old people voted to leave, betraying the young, who in the main voted to stay.

The actual evidence of these voting patterns seems a little flimsy.

The young versus old debate though is one that has been being forumulated in the media over a number of years. It goes that the older, baby boomer generation had it all – secure well paid jobs, houses and a clean environment. Because they had/have it the young people are being denied.

The construct is palpably wrong there are a few rich older and a few rich younger people. Equally, there are many more poor old and young people just striving to survive.

The division is an intergenerational one of class, between a few who have most (1%) and the many (99%) who have less.

It is the need to split this overall cake more fairly across the board that should be the focus, not setting one generation against the other.

Moving forward into the New Year, the country needs to come together between generations, races and creeds. We all have more in common and will prosper from coming together in community, rather than heading off into sealed off silos getting resentful toward others perceived as being on the other side. They are not we are all in it together and need to look out for each other at all times  

published - Wanstead & Woodford Guardian - 27 & 29/12/2018