Education Secretary Justine Greening has said she wants grammar schools to do much more to ensure access for children from all backgrounds. I remember when comprehensive schools were introduced with the objective to give all children an equal opportunity for a good education. I cannot understand, despite my own grammar school education, why the establishment of more grammar schools will improve the educational achievements of children from less privileged backgrounds.
Surely the issue lies in the number and quality of teachers and the leadership they receive, at all schools in the country. All schools, irrespective of their classification, can provide high quality education with good teachers and leadership. Greening is looking at the symptoms and not the cause. If the quality of all secondary schools is improved, the only reason to select a grammar school is snobbery. At that point, the bias of the parents will be detrimental to the education of their children for choosing a school by style over content.
Drop the migration target
I agree with your campaign to drop the migration target. Having lived in Oxford all my life, and having worked in an employment-related job for the last 16 years, I know this city having a cap on foreign students would simply not work. I seriously doubt Oxford University would accept it, and the many businesses that rely almost solely on visitors and foreign students would be devastated.
Oxford has always enjoyed high employment and a thriving economy due mainly to the turnaround of students, a large proportion of whom are foreign. Our main industrial interest, BMW Mini, employs a huge amount of migrant workers, and so do the many care agencies that have popped into existence over the last few years. It doesn't take much imagination to think of the effect that a limit upon foreign workers would have. The cap is completely counterproductive and should be dropped immediately.
Statistics released yesterday told us that EU migrants make up 11 per cent of the manufacturing workforce in the UK. I hope this does not become another opportunity for anti-Brexiters to voice once more how leaving the EU and reducing immigration will be a disaster. Controlling immigration does not necessarily mean reducing it.
While I do believe the Government will try to reduce the numbers entering the UK over the next few years, in response to the electorate's concerns, if the economy does start to slow down because of a lack of EU workers I have no doubt that the Government will react to this by allowing more of the most appropriate workers (including unskilled ones) to come to the UK. After all, a poorly-performing economy never reflects well on the Government.
The real meaning of controlled immigration is limiting it when it needs to be limited, and increasing it when it needs to be increased. In other words, there is flexibility.
How will anyone be able to distinguish between an overseas student and a resident UK citizen in the street and away from college premises? I am worried about the dangers of the reported rise in hate crimes in this country.
The Prime Minister has laid bare the full scale of Britain’s toxic air crisis, with air pollution now the fourth biggest health risk behind cancer, obesity and cardiovascular disease – causing 9,000 deaths a year in the UK. Diesel vehicles are a major source of dirty air and it is right that these are tackled. However, this should be just part of a series of measures introduced to improve our air quality.
Investing in active travel, such as walking and cycling, can reduce the illegal levels of pollutants we’re exposed to. Walking is also an easy and accessible way to improve an individual’s health; it reduces the risk of certain cancers, helps people maintain a healthy weight and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease – so it tackles the three other bigger health risks at the same time.
We need cities designed around people not vehicles. Promoting and enabling walking for everyday short journeys is the quickest, cheapest and easiest way to reduce air pollution in our cities. With the Government’s air quality plan due to be published in the coming weeks, the Prime Minister needs to lead the way and commit to creating “walking cities”.
Poor pension planning
The Royal Mail is to close its salary pension scheme to avoid an extra £1bn shortfall. Obviously no non-public body can sustain such a generous pension scheme. It does rather beg the question of just how much taxpayers' money is being poured into the black hole that is the public sector defined benefit scheme, available to teachers, NHS workers, police, firefighters, the armed forces and others. Many beneficiaries are being encouraged to retire early with a “package”, which includes a lump sum as a method of saving on salaries of experienced workers in favour of less experienced and less expensive employees. It’s to this Government’s shame that its only concern in the matter of Government paid pensions is to restrict the state old age pension – already one of the lowest in Europe – and to increase the future retirement age to 70 and above.
Them and us?
The black holes of the internet
I first came across the internet in the 1970s when I was a consultant to Nasa, and when it was known as the ARPANET. It was designed specifically to allow communications even if a major part of the network were destroyed. Security was not an issue as the hardware was completely within the purview of the US Defence Department. When the internet was opened to all, this changed. Security has been added as an afterthought and the internet is full of holes. Fixing one hole usually creates a few more.
My concern is connecting this system to “things”, particularly to road vehicles. I am certain that there are many who are already at work cracking the car systems. It will not be long before people will be able to seize control of multiple vehicles simultaneously and cause mayhem on our roads. They only need to crack one brand and they can cause millions of vehicles to malfunction at the same time with disastrous results.
There is no problem with the internet in a car for entertaining the children on a long trip. They already do this on their mobile phones. It’s linking the internet to vital systems in any situation that must be strictly avoided.
Nicola Sturgeon believes the 2014 Scottish independence referendum wasn't divisive, and that an IndyRef2 would be a positive experience. The last independence referendum failed to divide the UK, but it ripped Scotland apart: friend against friend, co-worker against co-worker, family member against family member, neighbour against neighbour. Did Sturgeon and I reside in different nations in 2014?
Popular Boris Johnson
On reading John Rentoul's question, “Is Boris Johnson a buffoon who makes Britain a laughing stock in the world?”, I unhesitatingly said “yes” – and then learned that I had earned premium membership of the Out of Touch Liberal Elite. Great! Where do I sign?
Rentoul then argued that those of us who do not rate Johnson as a world class politician have not taken into account that the Foreign Secretary is the second-most popular politician in Britain (after Theresa May). However, popularity at home is often unfathomable and does not always equate to international high standing (and, of course, vice versa). So yes, I would still say that Johnson is most certainly a buffoon who most certainly makes Britain a laughing stock in the world, as though we needed any help.
Coincidentally, I read Rentoul's article on the (regrettable) popularity of Johnson just after we had discussed the qualities of the wonderful Eddie Mair and reminded ourselves of his brilliant interview with Johnson which, after much supporting evidence, contained the killer question: “You're a nasty piece of work, aren't you?” I find it somewhat depressing to reflect that this is the picture of the second most popular politician in Britain.
Working with Trump
President Trump's press conference with Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was extraordinary. There was not one worrying, contradictory, unpleasant or unfocused word from the President.
The importance of Nato, of working with China, of seeking an understanding with Russia if at all possible, were all addressed in a balanced way. We can perhaps begin to hope that this President is increasingly surrounding himself with wise counsel, but nonetheless retaining sufficient hints of aggression and unpredictability to concern the countries that need to be concerned, not least North Korea, Syria, Iran and Russia itself. It is, of course, a tragedy that Russia should be listed alongside those other three countries.
There is a bumpy road ahead, with Syria the biggest potential flashpoint at this stage. But world leaders are establishing the links they need to the president to help rein in any unwise behaviour. The Chinese, Japanese, South Korean, British, Canadian and NATO leaders are probably now on easy “pick up the phone and talk” terms with President Trump. But the Russians are certainly not. Nor are the French or Germans. Angela Merkel will need to try harder. A “holier than thou” foreign policy from the Germans does not suit them.
There is some hope that from next month a President Macron, should he win the election, would be pragmatic and be able to reach a good understanding with Trump, even if Merkel and President Hollande cannot.
If so, that would be very good news indeed for the West, as efforts continue to normalise a very unusual President.
Lessons in history
Sean Spicer should do an MA in Holocaust Studies.
Mike Bor, MA in Holocaust Studies
Deaths in psychiatric system
When things go wrong in the psychiatric system and someone dies prematurely, often in tragic circumstances, there’s a mantra which goes something like “lessons need to be learned”. But based on the facts, failures and tragic deaths keep occurring. It seems as though no one’s learning the lessons.
The mental health system in the UK is littered with failures that result in various internal investigations, independent investigation reports and serious case reviews. The investigations or reviews have a general purpose of finding out what went wrong so the same failings don’t occur in the future. On the basis that they do occur and lives are being unnecessarily lost, something is desperately wrong.
The mental health mantra of “lessons to be learned” was used when mental health services in Sussex reviewed ten killings linked to patients in its care. A Sussex Partnership NHS Trust patient Matthew Daley stabbed Donald Lock to death in July 2015, prompting the trust review, where it teamed up with NHS England to review 10 killings that occurred between 2011 and 2016. Colm Donaghy, chief executive of the trust said: “We believe going back five years will give us the information we need in terms of whether or not lessons can be learned.”
Of course lessons can be learned, but it would have been optimum if they were learned after one killing, not 10. It’s not a case of whether or not they can be learned; they simply weren’t learned.
While it can’t be denied that some people do experience mental troubles that are sometimes very serious, the “treatments” used in the mental health system can often exacerbate conditions or lead to iatrogenic conditions. Since the psychiatric drugs prescribed to people have been linked to violence, aggression, suicidal thoughts and suicidal behaviour, and since there are repeated failures, it is apparent that lessons are not being learned. It really is a time for change.
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