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Henry Hill Red, White and Blue

Henry Hill: Welsh teachers 'demoralised' by assessment and reform

Henry Hill is a British Conservative and Unionist activist and writer. Follow Henry on Twitter. He is also editor of the non-party website Open Unionism, which can be followed on Twitter here.

Welsh teachers ‘demoralised’ by assessment and reform

According to a poll by the Times Educational Supplement, three quarters of teachers and head teachers in Wales disapproved of reforms brought in by the Labour administration there. One head described the sorting schools into bands by results (which sounds like a sort of vague, compromise-style league table) as “worse than a waste of time”. Teachers also objected to the introduction of standardised tests in mathematics and English to allow for accurate progress comparisons.

According to TES Welsh reporter Darren Evans, quoted by the BBC, “the "overwhelming message" from the survey was "listen to us, trust us, we're the experts - just let us teach".”

There’s a reason the Welsh government isn’t going to do that, though.

To find it, look no further than this article from the Economist’s Bagehot column published last March. It’s generally a rollicking attack on some leftist pandering Clegg indulged in at the Liberal Democrat Welsh conference, but one section on Labour’s legacy on Welsh education really stands out. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, here’s the gist:

In 2001 Welsh Labour, looking for an alternative to England’s nasty and ‘consumerist’ education policy, scrapped league tables. The result:

“Welsh exam results fell so precipitously during the Labour era that academics from elsewhere flocked to the principality to investigate what had gone wrong. They discovered not a funding gap but a man-made crisis triggered by Welsh politicians, who bowed to bullying from teachers' unions and scrapped examination league tables.”

The full article is well worth reading in full, as it quotes extensively from one of those academic surveys. Since league tables were the only portion of the pre-devolution education system that had changed at the time, England and Wales essentially served as a controlled experiment on the virtues of publishing school data and letting parents make informed decisions.

Controlling for all other variables – including the usual excuses like resource disparity – the Welsh disaster was laid square at the feet of the decision to render educators completely unaccountable to their consumers. As Bagehot put it: “Trust me, in education and public sector reform circles, the self-inflicted Welsh education debacle is famous, the stuff of dinner-table conversation.”

It’s good to see the Welsh government has started to take steps to put power back into the hands of parents and make education provision more transparent – uncomfortable as that may be for some of the providers.

An independent Scotland would ‘not have rejected military action’ in Syria

You read that right. According to Alex Salmond, an independent Scotland would not have ducked out of taking action on Syria as the UK has done. The fact that an independent Scotland would have avoided getting caught up in ‘Blair’s wars’ is also an SNP talking point, so they’ll have to forgive us finding this new hawkishness surprising.

Of course, reading further into it reveals that the tough talk isn’t quite all it’s cracked up to be. The SNP backed a Labour amendment that did not rule out further action via the UN, but the Conservatives tabled a similar amendment which means that whilst parliament may have voted both down, the sentiment clearly carries the endorsement of most of the UK Commons.

Moreover, since an independent Scotland is apparently going to have a ‘Defence Force’ rather than an army and a fairly miniscule defence budget, the unstated fact is that an independent Scotland might have had an easier time voting for ‘action’ on Syria because there would be considerably less riding on it.

Unless I’ve completely misread Scotland’s post-Union defence situation, there’s no real risk that it will have to send troops anywhere except as part of a UN taskforce or a vast coalition. The UK, on the other hand, has one of the world’s largest defence budgets and globally-capable Armed Forces which are capable of being a genuinely useful partner to the US military in any theatre of operations.

It is this that, as David Blair put it for the Telegraph, elevates us above other Western countries in American eyes – at least until recently – and it means that when the UK votes for ‘action’ it faces the serious prospect of having to put its money where its mouth is. Salmond can claim that Scotland would “work with our allies to help the victims of conflicts, contribute to conflict resolution and ensure that war criminals are brought before the international criminal court”, but he’s basing that claim on his party supporting an amendment that keeps on the table the option of sending the British army into Syria – the one option independence would certainly deny him.

Upcoming election cycle ‘most important since 1998’ for Northern Ireland

Alex Kane, a commentator for Belfast’s Newsletter, provides an interesting analysis of the upcoming major cycle of elections due across the UK in the next three years – local government and Europe in 2014, Westminster in 2015 and devolved in 2016 – which covers each of the Province’s myriad parties.

The most important trend is that, whilst ‘green’/nationalist politics seems to be solidifying around Sinn Fein, the pro-Union side is fracturing into lots of competing alternatives – great for voter choice, but opens the (still somewhat remote) possibility of SF overtaking the Democratic Unionists as the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly. That would have a truly seismic effect on politics there, although not because it would make a united Ireland any more likely (the border poll guarantee prevents the decision being made as a result of a fluke election).

Kane thinks that this will likely be the ‘last hurrah’ for the once-dominant UUP and SDLP, with the latter increasingly hard to tell apart from SF and neither really carving out a distinctive case to put to the electorate compared to their larger rivals. Meanwhile the Alliance Party are pitched against NI21 for control of the ‘nice’ pro-Union vote. The NI Conservatives are dismissed as “to all intents and purposes, dead”. Alas.


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