Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

I managed to catch up with some of yesterday’s Andrew Marr show yesterday. It was great to see two women MP’s sitting on the sofa doing the newspaper review. Yes there was at times a political edge to it, but in my opinion it gave some more context, additional insight and depth to the stories they were discussing. You can watch the paper review here.

One of the things they discussed was an article in the Independent on Sunday in which the Tory education secretary, Nicky Morgan, admitted poor children face soft bigotry.

She told the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) that Children from poor backgrounds are still being written off as low achievers by their teachers because of the “soft bigotry of low expectations”. She said more needed to be done to stop children being held back. The article didn’t go into exactly what a conservative government would do but Labour has promised to put an end Westminster’s “alpha male” education reform culture.

The shadow education secretary,Tristram Hunt, speaking at the same conference, promised to call time on the “exam factory” approach of recent years and offer in its place greater autonomy for teachers and school leaders.

Hunt said: “The cult of the big reformer. A sort of alpha male compulsion to see everything through the prism of your ‘reforming legacy’.”

“Change must come from the bottom up,” he said, adding: “through giving teachers and school leaders the freedom and autonomy to deliver an exciting education”.

He also said the existing model of school improvements simply didn’t work: “The existing model of school improvement is creaking at the seams. The idea that if we just raise the targets, stamp our feet and demand a bit more, then every child will fulfil their potential is now, surely, approaching its end stages.

It is a scandal, that three quarters of children from one area (in this instance Trafford in Greater Manchester) achieve five good GCSE passes while just a 30 minute drive away in Knowsley only 35% of children get the same number of passes.

The ASCL’s general secretary also spoke and warned that the government’s continuous reform of the curriculum was impacting negatively on students because it made it impossible to measure how well England’s schools are performing, in addition parents and employers found it difficult to understand what qualifications are worth.

Meanwhile in France, the far right group led by Marine Le Pen, the Front National failed in its bid to come top in France’s regional elections, putting the party far behind Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP. The UMP secured 30% of the vote in the first round of elections against the FN’s 26%.|

This was an interesting development as polls had suggested that Le Pen’s party would come top. Perhaps following an initial surge in interest voters who had previously considered voting for the far right group can see what the Front National party really stands for and are therefore not prepared to give it the support it requires.

Honeyball’s weekly round-up

Labour Party

The general election campaign is now in full swing and yesterday Labour announced plans to double the number of childcare places provided at Sure Start centres to more than 118,000.

The shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt promised to ‘save’ the Sure Start scheme. This would reverse a decision by the government in 2010 when they were freed from previous requirements to provide childcare, meaning that hundreds of the centres face the threat of closure and have had their funding cut. Indeed, Labour revealed that hundreds of centres were forced to close and others have reduced services as a result of the cuts.

In addition there are 720 fewer Sure Start centres than in 2010 and if it continues to fall at the current rate by the end of the next parliament, Labour warns that 38,000 fewer places will be available by the end of the next parliament.

Last week marked the International Day of Zero Tolerance on FGM (Female Genital Mutilation). The theme for day was “Mobilisation and Involvement of Health Personnel to Accelerate Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation”. Essentially this means stressing the importance health care professionals play in fighting this terrible and barbaric crime.

They have a duty to adopt and promote a zero tolerance attitude to FGM. This is of course just one part of the strategy. Urgent, but well thought out action has to be taken to stop the cycle being promoted from generation to generation, something Tanya Barron, chief executive of Plan UK has written about and stated before.

With the dedicated effort of all stakeholders, charities, governments, health care professionals and prosecutors the cycle can be broken. There is some hope, work carried out by charities such as Plan UK, have resulted in 60 communities declaring themselves free of FGM.

An investigation carried out by the BBC’s Panorama which will be broadcast tonight has found that the UK’s biggest bank, HSBC, helped and allowed its richest customers to dodge paying tax by allowing them to set up secret accounts in Switzerland.
HSBC, the UK’s biggest bank, helped rich customers to dodge paying tax by allowing them to set up secret accounts in Switzerland, according to a report last night. Following the investigation some £135m of unpaid tax and penalties have been handed over by those British citizens involved. You can see the film on BBC 1 tonight.  More exclusive details have been revealed on the front page of today’s Guardian.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The Conservatives came under fire this week for only hiring ‘yes men’, after Baroness Sally Morgan, former Labour advisor, was sacked as Chair of the schools watchdog Ofsted.

While Education Secretary Michael Gove insisted the decision was “good corporate practice”, claiming there was no political motive, figures ranging from former head of Ofsted Sir David Bell to the Lib Dems’ David Laws were quick to accuse the government of working to an agenda. Labour’s Tristram Hunt said the Department for Education was playing “political games” and others suggested the government were ‘battening down the hatches’ already, as pressure begins to build in the run-up to the 2015 election.

The Ofsted Chair role is not the first high profile post in which a non-Tory has been removed. The Arts Council, National Heritage and the Charity Commission have all, of late, seen Conservative loyalists parachuted into the top jobs. Morgan herself said there was “absolutely a pattern” to her dismissal.

With nearly half of Sixth Form heads claiming they have had to discontinue core A Level courses because of £100 million cuts by the Department for Education, it is little surprise Gove wants to short-circuit the debate. His decision is a mark of how the Tories have changed – or, rather, shown their true colours – since taking office in 2010. Cameron’s early attempts to detoxify his party and adopt a more conciliatory and consensual approach – Morgan was, in fact, a Tory appointment – have been exposed as a sham. In almost every policy area the Conservatives have fallen back on hard-right policies, designed to placate their backbenchers rather than serve the electorate.

Good leadership involved having a range of genuinely independent voices around the top table, not just hiring members of the converted to preach to. Gove’s choice of personnel for the Chair of Ofsted is just the latest signal that the Conservatives are less interested in reasoning with those who disagree with them than they are in appeasing prejudices within their own ranks. Gove suggested on yesterday’s Andrew Marr show that by sacking Sally Morgan he was “refreshing” his team; I’d argue that it’s the government which, after the hubris of 3 years in office, needs refreshing. Getting rid of dissenting voices is not the way of doing this.

Speaking of diversity in decision-making, Lloyds Banking Group this week took the radical step of setting a 40% target for the number of women in Senior Management positions by 2020. The figure for the company’s 5,000 senior managers is currently around 28%. The announcement – which is expected to be formally enshrined as a target by CEO Antonio Horta-Osorio – at a speech next week, will make Lloyds the first FTSE 100 Company to set such a goal. Fiona Cannon, the organisation’s head of inclusion said the move made good business sense, pointing out that to be successful the firm’s top brass had to reflect its “incredibly diverse” customer base.

I am delighted that companies are starting to recognise the advantages of pluralism. Whilst getting women on boards rightly receives a lot of attention as a means of driving the direction of travel and setting a benchmark, it is vital that progress is not limited to non-exec positions. To make meaningful progress on the issue of workplace equality, we need women to be rising up companies at all levels, so that there is a steady progression of female candidates arriving in senior posts and knocking on the boardroom door.