February 28, 2012

Can comps work?

John Redwood asks why comprehensive schools don't work.

Is it structural? One could ask how many comps have enough able students who (crucially) want to learn. If there aren't enough to form separate sets, the right ethos can't be engendered, leaving the able and ambitious to struggle to learn against the background of continual low level disorder.

That's one argument. But if Sir Michael Wilshaw could make it work in Hackney, why can't it happen across the land?

Has he shown that excellence can be achieved within the comprehensive structure? Some comps celebrate mediocrity and tolerate bad teaching.

If comprehensive schools can be made to work, what does that tell us about the head teachers who aren't realising pupils' potential? What proportion of head teachers are failing, and what should be done about them?

February 27, 2012

How can we teach basic economics?

Economics is too important to be left to mathematicians.

In my years of formal education the subject of economics could be taken without advanced maths. To be sure, the student of "economics for gentlemen" was unlikely to become an expert econometrician, but could gain an understanding of basic themes of the subject.

That's important. How otherwise to understand statements such as
A study by BBVA of 173 cases of fiscal squeezes in OECD countries over the
last thirty years concluded that demands on Spain are almost unprecedented.
They found only four such cases, and three were offset by devaluations.
There is near unanimity across the political spectrum that drastic
pro-cyclical tightening at this stage is unwarranted and dangerous. 
If you can't understand this, you can't understand some of the basics of the eurozone crisis.

Yet economics as a school subject is being captured by maths. That may be essential for a specialist economist. But how can you understand modern government if you're not familiar with basic economic concepts?

How is modern education equipping students with such understanding?

Spain creaks louder

Ambrose went through something of a love affair with the Spanish economy, arguing that its innovative exporters could pull it out of slump. Different story now. Although Spanish governments ran the economy prudently - even with surpluses (unheard of in countries like France and the UK) - Spain was undone by negative real rates of interest foisted on it by the ECB. Ambrose now concludes
My guess is that Germany's refusal to countenance any form of EU subsidies, debt-pooling, or fiscal union -- other than policing the budgets of captive states -- has definitively broken the EMU spell. Latin nations by increasingly regard talk euro of solidarity as humbug. It has been a nasty shock. The era of national economic rearmament in Europe has begun.
Richard North has less sympathy for poor little Spain:
As we wipe away the tears, though, one also wonders whether this is the Spain with its rapacious commercial fishing fleet, equipped with generous EU grants, known for its plundering of British and African waters? Is this also the Spain that is so poor that it has been one of the net beneficiaries of the EU budget, hoovering up around €60 billion in EU net payments in the eleven years from 2000-2010, yet which has had enough spare cash to buy up our banks and Heathrow airport?
Some of Spain's economic wheezes are reminiscent of Greece. Big power groups had to sell power below cost for 10 years, and ran up a state backed "tariff deficit" of €20bn. Central government has been failing to rein in the spending of provincial governments. Now, reports a Spanish paper:
The Spanish government has adopted plans to allow private suppliers to recover, by the end of March, between €30bn and €50bn in overdue bills they are owed by Spanish municipalities – a move which is expected to expose the real size of Spain’s public debt.
The poorer countries of Southern Europe were only ever in the EU for the massive subsidies they could get out of it. So they have quite a conundrum now. Under the proposed austerity policy "the unemployment rate would rise to well over 25pc with six million out of work by the end of the year".

How will the bond markets react as the real state of Spanish debt starts to emerge? The property market is already collapsing, unemployment is high, already some municipalities can't pay their bills.

The Spanish confidence trick is drawing to a close. They haven't done out and out lying like the Greeks, but the structure of governance has been too primitive to absorb the floods of money that have poured in.

One can have sympathy with ordinary Spaniards, just as one can with ordinary Greeks. But that is no reason to beggar ourselves to prop them up.

Moral: splitting off the wholesale from the retail banks is beyond urgent. Then let the chips fall where they may.

Will Spain still be in the eurozone by the end of the year? Not if their government is rational.

The Guardian on what became Fakegate

We can still read The Guardian piece of 15 February, including for instance the statement that
DeSmogBlog, which broke the story, said it had received the confidential documents from an "insider" at the Heartland Institute.
We know that's not true now.

Plenty of science blogs have commented on the detail. What's striking to a layman is the tone. Thus
If authentic the documents provide an intriguing glimpse at the fundraising and political priorities of one of the most powerful and vocal groups working to discredit the established science on climate change and so block any chance of policies to reduce global warming pollution.
It's as if the Roman Catholic church was discussing a pernicious heresy.
"It's a rare glimpse behind the wall of a key climate denial organisation," Kert Davies, director of research for Greenpeace, said in a telephone interview. "It's more than just a gotcha to have these documents. It shows there is a co-ordinated effort to have an alternative reality on the climate science in order to have an impact on the policy."
The contorted English of "an alternative reality on the climate science" seems to refer to the temerity of scientists daring to critique a scientific theory. Oh the scandal!
The documents confirm what environmental groups such as Greenpeace have long suspected: that Heartland itself is a major source of funding to a network of experts and bloggers who have been prominent in the campaign to discredit established science.
This is The Guardian reporting as fact that the science is established. When we read of "several prominent voices in the campaign to deny established climate science", the parallel with the Church and heresy is complete. How dare these itinerant preachers try to cast doubt in the minds of true believers?

When the history of the AGW scam comes to be written, Suzanne Goldenberg's embrace of dogma will deserve a dishonourable mention.

The Guardian on Gove and Murdoch

The Guardian has a piece by phone hacker investigative reporter David Leigh about contacts between Michael Gove and Rupert Murdoch's people.

It all looks pretty ancient, though. Is this whiskery stuff the best The Guardian can do?

February 06, 2012


With No 10 saying aid to India is continuing and that's it (talk about a duff ear for politics), calm down and relax to this.


February 02, 2012

Gas drilling in Balcombe?

The blog gasdrillinginbalcombe is providing a forum for discussion of Cuadrilla's proposal to see whether exploring in Balcombe for shale oil might be worth while.

This post doesn't aim to add to that discussion, which follows a meeting at which a senior Cuadrilla  man was ambushed.

Rather, I do recommend signing up for email notifications of comments. There's a lively debate going on which not only elucidates issues around fracking but also brings out the personalities of the main posters. Educational and entertaining.

Could Wales leave the United Kingdom?

This is the title of a poor quality piece in The Guardian.

It's mainly a profile of Leanne Wood, apparently the favourite to take over the leadership of Plaid Cymru (who knew?). A "proud republican", she views Wales's economic development as typical of other colonial/extractive economies like those in Latin America. Her "Greenprint" for the south Wales valleys sets out a vision of "food sovereignty" and "self-sufficiency".

The Guardian piece is longer on the profile of Ms Wood than it is on numbers and comes with self-regarding fillers by its writer, John Harris. Judging by the map, we may be in for a border dispute over the Wirral.

Wales has a gleaming new assembly building (who paid?), free prescriptions (who paid?), and "when the coalition in London raised tuition fees to £9,000 (no, they didn't), the government in Cardiff guaranteed to meet the cost of the increase for any student who lives in Wales". Who paid?

Even the Welsh Labour leader has suggested replacing the House of Lords with a chamber split evenly between the UK's constituent countries:
You'd have a lower house selected on population and an upper house selected on geography, so there's equal representation. That's something we could look at now. The US does exactly that, and the US is stable.
This is fairyland. Let Wales go its own way, then. But does it want to?

Sadly, at last year's Welsh Assembly elections Plaid came third, even behind the Tories, with 19% of the main vote. "Not exactly earth-shaking", says The Guardian's man, leaving you to wonder why his long piece centres on a political loony whom they might choose as their leader.

Suddenly, I'm in favour of Welsh independence. Go for it, Wales.