DOUGLAS GEORGE (by email)
I have to confess I haven’t made a study of John’s tax affairs. But MPs should
abide by exactly the same laws as everyone else.
Why does no one advocate introducing proper grammar school-style education
into top streams in comprehensives? This should keep the grammar school
brigade happy and, because children develop at different rates, avoid the
pitfalls of the old two-tier system with selection based on one exam. And
are you going to raise the bar for entry in to the teaching profession? We
should demand a 2.1 or better for secondary-level teachers, as in Finland.
Depending on supply, this may involve paying more so should keep the unions
happy. Ian Parsonson (by email)
You are absolutely right, Ian. I am a strong believer in setting and streaming
within comprehensive schools. More children should be taught by ability in
more subjects. And more children, overall, should be pursuing a traditional, “grammar-style”
academic education in any case.
I am also an admirer of Finland’s success in getting the most talented
graduates into teaching. They recruit teachers exclusively from the top 10
per cent of graduates and it’s no coincidence they have Europe’s best state
schools. We have committed to raising the bar for entry into the teaching
We have said that, as a start, anyone who wants to get on a taxpayer funded
postgraduate teacher training course should have, at the very least, a 2:2.
We have also said that the entry requirements for all new primary school
teachers should be higher; instead of accepting just a C pass at GCSE maths
and English, we should insist on at least grade Bs.
Which current Labour politician do you most admire, after Peter Mandelson? CHRISTINA
THOMAS (by email)
The Labour politician I most admire is Gisela Stuart, for talking sense on
almost every issue I can think of.
You’ve been given plenty of opportunities to say how wrong you were to
support the Iraq war. Doubtless you’ll tell us that the thriving democracy
there is evidence that people like you were right to support the invasion.
Or do you in fact regret your militaristic millenarianism? Paul Bradley
Over six years on from the invasion, an insurgency led by al-Qa’ida has been
defeated and a nation assumed to be incapable of stable self-government is
maturing fast into a thriving democracy. It was the incredible bravery of
British and American soldiers that bought the time necessary to turn the
tide. I hugely admire, and honour, their sacrifices for freedom.
Didn’t William Dalrymple do a pretty effective job of demolishing any claim
to credibility or authority you have on matters of Islam or foreign policy?
What’s it like being called (in effect) an ignoramus by an expert? Marcus
Hutton (by email)
I have great respect for William Dalrymple as a writer but he and I have
sharply different views on this issue. Others who are immensely well
qualified on this topic have written fluent and knowledgeable rebuttals of
William’s criticisms of my book, Celsius 7/7. I will not seek to improve
upon them here, only to say that I hope most Independent readers recognise
the need to respect the good faith of those on both sides of this argument.
I would invite all of them to read Celsius 7/7 and make up their own minds.
What’s the difference between a conservative and a neo-conservative? Are
you more of one than the other? Susan Bloomer (by email)
Strictly speaking, the neo-conservatives were a group of former Democrats who
joined the Republicans in the 1970s and 1980s because they believed in a
robustly pro-democracy and anti-totalitarian foreign policy. But they
differed from traditional US conservatives in supporting the New Deal
settlement and an active welfare state.
The term neo-con has since been flung around as a general term of abuse by
opponents of an interventionist foreign policy. Since I strongly support
such an approach, and want to see the west take more assertive action, from
Darfur to Afghanistan, I’ve been called a neocon. Indeed much worse. Like
ignoramus and millenarian militarist. I don’t mind what people call me, but
the biggest influences on my foreign policy thinking, however, haven’t
actually been Americans but British conservatives in the tradition of
Canning and Churchill.
Why is the Conservative Party not calling for the abolition of top-up fees? Bernard
I am afraid I will have to dodge this question ? it is one for my colleague,
the brilliant David Willetts, who deals with universities.
As a long time beneficiary of a grammar school education (1950-57) I would
ask why any government would wish to abolish such schools. What would you do
? specifically ? to reverse the decline in academic standards? Dr
Peter Smeaton, Chester
I would emphasise 10 main changes. First, recruiting and retaining the highest
quality individuals into the teaching profession.
Second, getting Ofqual, the standards watchdog, to fix our exams so they are
directly comparable to the world’s best. I want our 16 and 17-year-olds to
sit exams which are as testing, and as attractive to colleges and employers,
as those on offer in Singapore and Taiwan.
Third, allowing state school students to sit truly stretching international
exams, such as the IGCSE, which currently only private school students have
Fourth, ensuring Ofsted focuses on the quality of teaching rather than the
zeal with which a school complies with irrelevant bureaucratic diktats.
Fifth, reforming the national curriculum to strip out unnecessary accretions
and concentrate on providing a stretching academic programme for all pupils
to the age of 16.
Sixth, giving teachers new powers to keep order in class, including protection
from violence and intimidation.
Seventh, liberating the weakest schools from local authority control and
handing these schools over to organisations with a proven track record of
Eighth, allowing the very best schools to benefit from academy status, and
freedoms, providing they use those freedoms to help other, under-performing,
Ninth, encouraging new providers into the state system, as they have in
Sweden, by allowing parents to transfer the money the state currently spends
on their child’s education to the sort of school they really want.
And tenth, reforming pupil funding to ensure more resources are spent on the
very poorest ? to help reverse the widening gap in our education system
between the fortunate and the forgotten.
Should some/any faith schools be tax funded? I personally do want not my
money to go to schools that teach the earth is less than 6,000 years old, or
that Jews were turned into apes, or that anyone who does not accept the
particular faith is hell-bound. Ewart Shaw, Warwick University
Nor do I. My children attend an excellent faith school in London, which has a
strong Christian ethos but also offers a broad and inclusive education in
the tradition of the very best schools. I want that choice to be available
to all parents. No school which went to any of the extremes you mention
would be allowed to operate under a Conservative government.
Do you think that the amount of money you are paid to write a column for The
Times is obscene? Compared to salaries paid to those who save lives
every day, it does seem it, doesn’t it? Rosemary Davies (by email)
I think we need to do much, much, more for those, especially our armed forces,
who risk their lives for this country and others. And I don’t think it’s
possible to quantify how much we owe those who work in the NHS. As for my
own pay, I am happy to leave it to others to decide what I’m worth.
Would education policy be easier to formulate and more in accord with
actuality if it started from the premise that there is no such thing as a
bad school, only bad parents? Chris Latimer, Walsall
No. The quality of schools matters immensely. You only need to look at what’s
been achieved by brilliant schools in areas where there’s been a culture of
low aspiration and educational failure. Whether its the KIPP Charter schools
in America, the new free schools in Sweden, Mossbourne Academy in Hackney,
Manchester Academy in Moss Side, or Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham in
Lewisham, the importance of a good school in transforming disadvantaged
children’s lives cannot be overestimated.
Everybody in Fleet Street bangs on about how clever you are. Did you get a
first from Oxford or not, and why do you think so many of your client press
friends have chosen to focus on your brains? Richard Spall (by email)
I’m grateful both for the kind words some people direct my way, and for the
excellent education I received. It’s my fault, however, that I neither got a
first, nor really deserve the generous compliments of others.
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