Saturday, 27 February 2010
Friday, 26 February 2010
Yet Michael Gove has declared the plans for a register "deeply sinister" and has promised to block them, as have the Liberal Democrats. Of course, parents should have the right to educate their children at home so long as that is what they are doing, and many home educators do a great job. But equally we have an obligation to the children to be sure this is not used by a minority as a cover for the sort of abuse shown to Khyra Ishaq. After all, twice as many children on the child protection register are 'home educated' as those educated at school. Children's interests must come first. And the three political parties should quickly agree a light touch registration arrangement that ensures that they do. To do so is only 'totalitarian' if one believes that the interests of the child are always outweighed by the beliefs of the parent - even if they should contribute to their child's death.
Wednesday, 24 February 2010
This posting was picked by the Guardian website.
Tuesday, 23 February 2010
The new policy will allow parents to demand a new school provider - choosing from those like the Harris Federation that are showing such success in academies, or from excellent schools like Outwood Grange - if their own school is failing. The local authority will be obliged to ballot parents on the plan but they can't ignore parents' wishes. The policy will apply as much to primary as secondary schools. Schools already have the right to opt for foundation or trust status, something a new provider is sure to demand.
The policy is certainly a less costly route to diversity in these straitened times. But there are some potential pitfalls. The first is that it doesn't extend the academies programme and freedoms as much as it should. Despite No 10's best efforts, there is still a blind spot about academy status in DCSF. All the schools that become part of the academy chains should be able to become academies, funded directly from Whitehall and fully independent of the local authority. Second, the government has missed an opportunity to reverse its silly opposition to primary academies: a chain of primary schools could be the ideal way to develop this approach. There are also important issues around how chains are inspected and held accountable, as Robert Hill argues in a new think piece for the National College.
Nevertheless, by moving onto a debate about the right structures needed to raise standards, Gordon Brown has finally put his stamp on an education policy that has been allowed to drift for too long with the lack of focus that came from trying to mesh schools and family policy in a single department. These new 'brands' of school could extend Tony Blair's academies' strengths in a fruitful direction. By combining new powers for parents, structural reform and a strong drive for minimum standards through the National Challenge, Labour is offering a serious alternative to the Tories' policies at a time when they are facing increasing questions about affordability and impact. Labour's manifesto should give this new policy the additional radical edge it deserves.
A version of this posting appears on the Public Finance blog.
Monday, 22 February 2010
But, I'm quite sure that nobody in their right mind would want to call this helpline in the future given its founder's blase attitude to confidentiality and her admission that the website refers people to a few favoured solicitors. I'm not surprised that one of the only non-partisan patrons of the 'helpline', Professor Cary Cooper has quit as a patron because of Christine Pratt's flagrant breach of confidentiality. But the whole saga also raises issues about the charitable status of the organisation, which were not satisfactorily dealt with by Mrs Pratt in her interviews today.
A registered charity should be resolutely non-partisan - actively seeking support from all three parties if politicians from one party are involved - yet the front page of this organisation's website boasts quotes only from Ann Widdecombe (who, to be fair, has commendably expressed outrage at Mrs Pratt's behaviour yesterday) and David Cameron.
And such an organisation should not just be impartial in its politics, but in the advice it offers. The Charity Commission says that where charities are used for 'significant private advantage', there may be grounds for removing an organisation's charitable status. There are 5,000 employment lawyers in the country, yet this charity seems to refer people to just five firms, one of which is apparently run by her husband (as Mrs Pratt admitted on the Today programme). There is nothing wrong with running a website and 'helpline' to promote firms of solicitors, and offering some potentially helpful free advice in the process, but I can't see why it should qualify for charitable status any more than the 'free half hour' that most solicitors offer new clients should qualify them for charitable status.
I trust the Charity Commission will now be taking a close look at whether the 'National Bullying Helpline' has lived up to its obligations as a charity. None of this is to defend unreasonable behaviour by the PM or anyone else in No 10: if it has happened, it should be dealt with appropriately. But Mrs Pratt has allowed her own prejudices to outweigh the duty she has to anyone who trusted her 'helpline' as a source of impartial advice and confidentiality. And far from gaining the positive publicity she presumably hoped to elicit through her media interventions yesterday, she has caused immeasurable damage to her own organisation.
Saturday, 20 February 2010
Friday, 19 February 2010
However, her saner colleague Michael Gove who has seen how such Nimbyism can impede the establishment of academies, has decided that planning decisions about new schools, including new primaries, will be taken centrally in his department should be become secretary of state. So major national infrastructure projects like high speed rail will be taken only after every parish council has had the chance to complain, but local councils will have no say on whether new primary schools should be established in their communities. That's localism in action, I suppose.
This posting has been picked up by Stumbling and Mumbling.
Wednesday, 17 February 2010
Tuesday, 16 February 2010
However, this incongruity has finally awoken the anxieties of the Daily Mail, which has a scathing attack today on the actress's philosophy and Gove for adopting her 'unproven' approach. As Christopher Wilson writes:
Whether the Tories’ Mr Gove has checked the efficacy of this system, we wait to see; more crucial is how he can contemplate giving taxpayers’ money to a system devised and patented by an unqualified individual, whose knowledge of the special educational problems of this country can at best be rudimentary.....Surely, with ‘hundreds’ of teachers trained in the use of MindUP, the research has already been done — it either works, or it doesn’t. Apparently not. So quite what value MindUP can offer our nation’s children can only be in the far-seeing eye of Mr Gove. But when putting forward his ideas, it’ll be interesting to see how many times he comes up with the word ‘ empathy’ — for ‘empathy’ is what MindUP is all about.
Monday, 15 February 2010
Now, in a batty wheeze, George Osborne comes along to undermine Gove's efforts with his plans to empower the Socialist Workers Party with a battery of 'workers co-op' schools. Presumably this will open the door to schools run along the lines of the notorious William Tyndale school in Islington, in the mid-seventies, the school whose antics led directly to Jim Callaghan's famous Ruskin speech and the accountability we have today? (Do read this terrific piece by Jill Tweedie from the Guardian archive showing how working class kids lost out.) I appreciate that Boy George was probably not yet born in 1976, but its philosophy was best summed up by its headteacher Terry Ellis who declared: "I don't give a damn about parents". With this in mind, perhaps the shadow chancellor could explain how parents' and pupils' interests - or the authority of the headteacher - might be preserved in schools where teachers can opt to exercise a takeover at any moment?
Of course, there is a role for co-operative schools, and the government has promoted a range of trust schools along these lines. But as Michael Stephenson, general secretary of the Co-operative Party, put it today:
"George Osborne's comments show the Tories are completely clueless on co-operatives. Mutuality is about giving communities a say in how services are run. That is about more than involving workers, it is about people running services as a community asset. The Tories don't have co-operative values.....George Osborne's plan for employee-run public services fails to balance the needs of consumers, the public, with the interests of the public-sector workers themselves."
UPDATE 1: Tessa Jowell has more here on Labour's co-op trust schools. The key point is that they are not simply run in the interests of the teachers, but for those of parents too. That may be what David Cameron spoke about two years ago; it is not what today's policy suggests.
UPDATE 2: James Crabtree at Prospect seems also not to recognise the difference between a mutual which is owned by the community and allowing the workers to take over an existing service. Without substantial safeguards, the Osborne plan could actually prevent other radical proposals on new academies that would be in pupils' interests, or necessary school mergers.
This posting has been picked up by the TES.
Saturday, 13 February 2010
Friday, 12 February 2010
During this period, the toilet facilities quickly became unpleasant. There were only 10 toilets – six in the single shuttle and four on the lower deck of the double deck shuttle. Although Eurotunnel provided some additional toilet paper, they did not clean or empty the toilets, which were overflowing....This led to passengers designating one carriage as an open toilet area. Passengers have no recollection of any senior member of Eurostar or Eurotunnel staff, or other authorities, other than the three medically trained FLOR staff, walking though the shuttle to see how the 650+ passengers were, or to provide explanation or instructions.
It also strongly bears out my experiences with the lack of timely information. To say that better communications with customers and in the tunnel are clearly essential is an understatement. They need staff who know what they are doing. I blogged at the time about the utter uselessness of their website in providing practical information during the chaos - we were due to travel early on 22 December and chose to fly to Cologne from Stansted instead. It took some weeks before they explained clearly the compensation they would provide to passengers like me who had booked alternative flights and accommodation with no guarantee of reimbursement. I am pleased to report that I have now received refunds and good communications by email about the refund process.
But today's report sets out the scale of communications inadequacy - all of it entirely avoidable with today's media:
to travel was communicated clearly, there was no information or advice on alternative transport or accommodation. Customers have also complained that information was not sufficiently prominent on the homepage (making it especially difficult for those using handheld devices to access updates). Indeed, the homepage layout was not amended until midday on Monday 21st , when content other than the disruption message and booking engine was removed. Some email communications were sent to customers, but not until the Monday. There was no facility for providing text updates to passengers. Overall, the information about alternative methods of transport was poor. No real facility was established for sharing contact numbers and timetables for ferries, trains or airlines. There was also a lack of clarity regarding validity of Eurostar tickets on trains and ferries. In fact, this had not been officially arranged and although some train companies did honour Eurostar tickets, many other passengers were forced to buy new tickets. Over the initial period of disruption, on the Saturday in particular, there was uncertainty over compensation and what costs would be reimbursed (e.g. for hotels, transport and other expenses such as meals).I hope that it is not just Eurostar that learns the lessons from this saga, but on communicating with passengers, it is vital that they are learned by airports and airlines, and other rail and sea operators too. We booked Eurostar in December, ironically, to avoid the chaos we experienced at Heathrow two years before. In both cases, it was not the disruption that was the biggest problem, but it was the lack of proper information about what was happening and how to access alternatives. Communication is key.
Passengers were often instructed to call the customer line or visit the website for more information but then found these to be totally inadequate.The call centre hours were slightly extended in the evening..Beyond this there was no ‘out of hours’ provision. The staffing levels were not able to cope with demand....For passengers calling from abroad using mobile phones this was unacceptable and many feared incurring large phone bills. The website was updated with basic information regarding the disruption, but customers felt that updates were slow and insufficient. Whilst the advice not
Thursday, 11 February 2010
In truth, both policies throw up serious questions. There are differences in approach. Balls warms to local authorities more than Gove. He has chipped away at the freedoms of academies – the state-funded independent schools that were the centrepiece of former prime minister Tony Blair’s school reforms – while rapidly expanding their number. His legislation would entrench Labour policies in ‘guarantees’ to parents. Gove has pledged to ‘break down barriers’ – often set by local authorities – to allow new schools and free academies. His ‘draft manifesto’ on education confirmed plans to support 220,000 new school places in the poorest communities.
In fact, many of Gove’s ideas build on Labour’s policy architecture. Allowing ‘outstanding’ schools to become academies provided that they support weaker schools replicates a model already adopted by Outwood Grange College in Wakefield and Greensward School in Hockley, Essex. A requirement that failing schools become academies within a year unless they improve echoes Labour’s National Challenge, aimed at lifting the minimum achievement in secondary schools. Even Gove’s plan ‘to break down barriers to entry so that any good education provider can set up a new academy school’ reflects a growing role for not-for-profit sponsors in academies and trust schools. So much so that Gove’s internal critics argue that unless he allows profit-making providers, as in Sweden, he will find it hard to effect the radical change he seeks.
According to Anna Fazackerley, head of the education unit at centre-Right think-tank Policy Exchange: ‘A significant number of potential multi-academy sponsors say they have been put off by the inability to make a profit.’ However, Gove is keen to avoid charges of ‘privatisation’ in an election campaign.
Equally, teacher training reforms dubbed ‘brazenly elitist’ by Conservative leader David Cameron are less radical than their sales pitch. The headlines focused on a plan to bar the dwindling number of third-class degree holders from teaching but the main pledges echo Labour ideas. Paying off the student loans of top mathematics and science graduates is worth around £2,000 a year to a new teacher, but would replace £5,000 golden hellos. The Tories would also expand Labour’s Teach First programme for top graduates and rebrand existing programmes to attract experienced graduates as Teach Now.
Bigger differences lie in the parties’ approaches to funding and accountability. Labour has significantly increased spending on schools: real-terms funding per pupil has risen by 85% since 1997, while capital spending has grown six-fold. And, although this spending spree is coming to an end, Chancellor Alistair Darling was persuaded by Balls to announce that school spending would increase by 0.7% a year in real terms in 2011/12 and 2012/13. Balls doesn’t rule out cuts in quangos or in other education programmes, though he has yet to emulate Lord Mandelson’s university and college cuts. The National College for the Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services has urged efficiencies in schools through federations and structural change, and the Department for Children, Schools and Families has published its own money-saving guide. This has angered heads’ leaders. Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, says: ‘Heads, quite rightly, feel insulted by this attempt to decapitate schools.’ A freeze on teachers’ pay and lower employer pension contributions also seem likely.
Yet while Labour has given some commitments to school spending, the Tories have not. Without such guarantees, they are likely to require even bigger cuts than Labour, which will make it harder to afford their two main commitments – the extra school places in poor areas and paying schools a premium for disadvantaged pupils.
The Tories say they need to make these pledges because Labour has failed on social mobility. A Higher Education Funding Council for England report did show that a fifth of the poorest youngsters now go to university, compared with an eighth in 2004. But the proportion of better off undergraduates has grown slightly faster, so the gap has not narrowed.
In terms of secondary schools, Balls says his National Challenge programme is making a difference. Its target is that by 2012, 30% of pupils in all schools should gain five good GCSEs, including English and mathematics. In 1997, 1,600 schools (half the total) did not achieve this. By 2009, the number had fallen to 247, and schools in the poorest areas are improving twice as fast as those in better-off areas. However, Gove argues that Labour’s approach is not feeding through into university success. Despite the reported improvements, he calculates that the number of boys at Eton public school with three As at A-level in 2009 – the minimum required for elite university courses – is still greater than the total number of boys in the state school system on free school meals who gain three A-levels.
His concerns are shared by Alan Milburn, the former Labour Cabinet minister. In a December report, he said: ‘If the growth in social exclusivity is not checked, it will be more and more middle-class children, not just working-class ones, who will miss out.’ He wants radical measures to improve social mobility, such as the pupil premium and vouchers for parents in areas with lots of failing schools. Prime Minister Gordon Brown rejected Milburn’s more controversial ideas, but backed other proposals, such as paid internships to improve access to professional jobs.To be fair, more poor pupils – measured as those receiving free school meals – are going to good state schools, according to a 2008 study by the Sutton Trust. The number attending the top 200 comprehensives has risen by 44% in the past ten years, although the overall number of children receiving free school meals has fallen by 18%. However, while the numbers are up, the proportion of poor pupils in those schools is still only 7.6%, against the national average of 13.6%.
Gove argues that a pupil premium would encourage good schools to ‘work particularly hard to attract’ poorer pupils. The Liberal Democrats agree: their leader Nick Clegg confirmed last week that he would spend £2.5bn on the premium, funded from ‘savings’ in the education budget and limiting tax credits. But there are big questions over how the Tories would fund the premium and their other ambitions. They have said they would divert funding from Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme to pay the capital costs of their 220,000 new school places.
But this would be a costly intervention. Primary rolls are starting to rise again, but secondary rolls are set to fall by 55,000 until 2015 before rising again. Gove has confirmed that he plans to take school place planning out of local authority hands, and approve new schools directly in Whitehall. This will effectively encourage surplus places, so the extra revenue costs could exceed a billion pounds a year. The pupil premium could prove even more expensive, as many believe even the Clegg figure underestimates what it would cost. At present, schools in deprived areas or with large numbers of deprived pupils get the extra funds based on national and local formulas, whereas other schools with a smaller proportion of disadvantaged pupils get nothing extra to pay for them.
This means there are only two ways to fund the policy: find extra money at a time when cuts seem likely or redistribute existing budgets away from disadvantaged inner-city schools to more prosperous suburban and shire schools and local authorities. The Conservatives have not said how big their premium would be, but if it is to be introduced at any meaningful level – many say this should be an extra £2,000 or 50% of per pupil funding – the redistribution could be substantial. Such changes can produce a huge outcry from the losers and little thanks from the winners, as Charles Clarke found as education secretary in 2003 when he made more modest reforms to make school funding fairer. So significant financial compensation would be required to reduce such losses. Doing this at a time of financial restraint would be no easy task.
Alongside funding, an ideological battle is taking place over how to make schools accountable for pupil performance. The National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Head Teachers are balloting their members to boycott this year’s English and mathematics tests for 11-year-olds. Both Balls and Gove have tried to appease the unions with respective proposals to increase teacher assessments and test children at the start of secondary school instead. But whoever wins the election, schools will have to be more accountable to those they serve.
Labour’s Children, Schools and Families Bill proposes minimum ‘guarantees’ for parents and pupils in everything from ‘good behaviour, strong discipline, order and safety’ for pupils to opportunities for parents to be involved in their child’s learning. Many of the proposals included in the 88-page consultation document issued after the Bill’s second reading reflect existing entitlements. Those that are new include a promise of one-to-one tuition, tougher home-school agreements and a report card on the schools for parents to supplement existing league tables.
However, many schools believe that the legislation is too bureaucratic and lacks the money to fund the guarantees or the means to enforce them. Dr John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told MPs: ‘[There is] potential in an increasingly litigious society for parents to take up an awful lot of head teachers’ time in disputing what are rather uncertain and woolly guarantees.’ The Tories would rely instead on published data, including results from new reading tests for six year-olds, and tougher Ofsted inspections. But an absence of legal levers could prove problematic when it comes to what schools teach. The headmaster of Harrow public school, Barnaby Lenon, echoed Gove recently with claims that too many state schools were cramming their pupils with ‘worthless qualifications’ to boost their league table rankings. And the Tories have argued that the increase in the proportion of pupils gaining five good GCSEs, including English and mathematics, from 35% in 1997 to 50% in 2009 is devalued because pupils are taking easier exams.
The Conservatives would exclude vocational qualifications from league tables and could give extra credit to harder subjects. Yet despite arguing that schools should teach all pupils languages and history to age 16, they would not require them to do so. Instead, they hope a combination of league table, Ofsted and parental pressure would do the trick. Some schools would choose a more academic curriculum, but a growing number prefer to focus on employability and research skills.
And the fate of languages provides a cautionary tale. When Estelle Morris, as education secretary, decided in 2002 to give schools the freedom to drop modern language lessons for 14 to 16-year-olds, she urged them to apply the change selectively as a way of enabling a minority of pupils to do more vocational subjects. In fact, the proportion of pupils sitting a language GCSE has fallen from a peak of 78% in 2001 to 44% in 2009. Recent pressure from ministers and published data have not increased the numbers. ‘The lesson,’ says Morris, ‘is that the consequence of giving schools greater freedom – on this or on anything else – is that they will sometimes make decisions with which the rest of us might not be thrilled.’
Both parties face problems with their attempts to create dividing lines. Balls’ bid to win parents’ support risks unleashing new bureaucracy on schools at a time of tough spending choices. Gove might find that exhortation is not enough to promote freedom and tougher standards simultaneously. And as both parties’ plans come under increasing scrutiny, they will face growing pressure to explain exactly how they will fund and achieve their ambitions.
Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Tuesday, 9 February 2010
An excellent new poster for the Labour Party NHS campaign. It is about time that the reality behind the Tories' patient unfriendly policies for the health service were given a proper airing. Voters need to realise that when they get Ashcroft-funded leaflets from Tory candidates pledging to scrap terrible Labour targets, this is what they really mean. I hope there's a lot more where this came from.
Of course, George thought he had gone into the Dail not just to win a spectacular by-election victory for Fine Gael but so that he could speak truth onto power by taking charge of his new party's economic policies. Instead, he found himself sidelined by the party leader Enda Kenny as the head of the sort of useless economic forum that oppositions create to keep their supporters busy, while the regular politicians continued slagging off the government as if nothing had changed. All this clearly upset Boy George. With the result that yesterday he announced not only that he was leaving Fine Gael, but that he was quitting his Dail seat. Conveniently his RTE job is still open to him should he wish to resume his punditry.
I'm sure there is a moral in this tale somewhere about the need to treat celebrity politicians with kid gloves. But let's just say Fianna Fail's hapless leadership can't believe their luck. And Kenny is reduced to seeking loyalty pledges from his shellshocked backbenchers. Nobody ever said that Irish politics lacked drama.
Monday, 8 February 2010
To be fair, much of what Johnson proposed is sensible enough. A clampdown on those with poor English or those bringing dependents in for short courses seems unarguable. But, the severe tightening in student working hours is already being misreported in the Indian press (it applies apparently only to sub-degree courses though this was not made clear yesterday) and will cause confusion in the international education market.
A British Council report last year showed that with over half a million overseas students, the UK rivals the US as a top international student destination. Their numbers, which have grown as a result of major recruitment drives, include 55,000 Chinese students and 35,000 Indian students. Those students who are not from within the EU must pay full fees, and the proportion of postgraduates from overseas at 36% is much higher than the 13% of undergraduates who are from abroad. Both groups make a huge contribution to the UK economy and our innovation and science bases and are worth at least £5.5 billion to our economy.
Now, as students will find that they are allowed to work up to 20 hours a week in the USA and Australia, those countries could gain an additional competitive edge, particularly on sub-degree courses that lead directly on to degree courses. This decision could cost our economy dear at a time when universities and colleges are already facing cutbacks. Ministers need to think again about the messages they are sending - and their impact on a growing export market.
Saturday, 6 February 2010
Thursday, 4 February 2010
Last week the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Head Teachers started to ballot their members on a planned boycott of this year's national English and Maths Key Stage 2 tests for 11-year-olds. At the same time, the National Equality Panel laid bare the extent of economic and educational inequality that still exists in Britain today.
The NUT and NAHT argue that the tests impose an excessive workload on their members, and force teachers to drill pupils in English and Maths when they could be doing other things. Yet the independent expert group on assessment, comprising five
experienced education figures, found these tests to be "educationally beneficial" and pointed out that the best way to prepare for Key Stage 2 tests is "through a varied programme of high-quality teaching throughout the year, not through repeatedly sitting practice test papers".
Aside from the revelation in the equality panel's report that there is still a 26 percentage point gap between the achievements of poorer children and their better-off peers at the age of 11, it is clear that the planned boycott by the two unions is wrong-headed. National test data allows teachers to compare the results of different schools, and of schools in similar circumstances, helping to drive faster improvements in poorer areas such as east London. It is crucial to revealing hidden weaknesses so that they can be properly addressed.
But the achievement gap that remains – and the fact that one in four pupils fails to reach the expected standard in both subjects – shows why it is so important to retain the accountability and openness that has helped to drive improvement in so many schools. If testing is abandoned we will lose such vital information in the future. Yet both major parties have been trying to appease the unions with proposals that – despite their protestations to the contrary – could see the demise of this key indicator of primary school performance.
Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, said before Christmas that he was "not closing the door" on scrapping the tests at 11 in 2012, if Labour is re-elected, provided he was confident that teacher assessments could provide a reasonable alternative. And his Conservative shadow had earlier proposed moving the tests from the end of primary school to the start of secondary school, with secondary teachers doing the marking, and those marks used to create primary performance tables. Both proposals would reduce independent scrutiny. Teachers already do plenty of their own assessments, but theirs is not an independent judgement. If the results are published and become the main indicator of primary school success, the incentives for cheating will be greater.
The Tories' ideas are equally problematic. Secondary teachers have a different vested interest. They are judged in part on the progress they make with each pupil from the start of school to their GCSEs. If they mark pupils down in Year 7 it will look as if they have made greater progress by Year 11. And the moment such results are used in primary league tables, there will be justifiable uproar in primary schools.
Despite suggestions to the contrary, parents strongly support the tests. An Ipsos Mori poll for the Government in 2008 showed that 75 per cent of parents think information on the performance of primary schools should be made public, and 70 per cent of parents place value on the tests in providing information about how their child's school is performing. The unions say that teachers can be trusted to perform the assessments honestly. And while most teachers undoubtedly can be, the unions hardly inspire confidence when they counter scientific and representative polls with unscientific self-selecting ballots of parents collected by their members. At a time when we are regretting allowing self-policing by MPs of their expenses and the lack of regulation for financiers, it would be extraordinary to contemplate removing the most important piece of independent scrutiny that we have in our primary schools.
Despite their flaws, tests remain our best way of providing independent information to parents and taxpayers about how individual schools are doing and giving teachers
comparative data that they can use to improve. Instead of dreaming up alternatives, politicians should be vigorously defending the tests. Abandoning them will limit the chances of many of our poorer pupils getting the education they deserve. They will be the real losers.
Wednesday, 3 February 2010
To see Alan Ayckbourn's splendid new play My Wonderful Day at Bath Theatre Royal last night. The play follows the absurdities of adult behaviour through the eyes of nine year-old Winnie. Her mum, Laverne, has gone into labour at the house where she cleans, so Winnie who has accompanied her that day, is left in the 'care' of the adults of the office, as she proceeds to fill her exercise book with an essay on her day, as a school assignment. Watching the tantrums, adultery and jealousies of the adults, whilst experiencing their patronising behaviour, gives her a memorable essay and creates a highly entertaining black comedy, enhanced by Winnie's insistence on speaking French (as it is a Tuesday) to please her Francophone mother. With a stunning central performance by 18 year-old Ayesha Antoine (pictured), the play breezes along in 100 interval-free minutes.
Tuesday, 2 February 2010
So, the Liberal Democrats, as keen PR enthusiasts, should stop worrying about whether or not Gordon Brown has been having ‘death bed conversions’ and embrace AV as a major step forward for Westminster elections. Once voters get used to it, they will surely be open to more reform in the future. The only shame is that the referendum is not scheduled for polling day, when it could be sure of a big turnout and would not be open to abandonment by any government opposed to such an extension of democracy.
Monday, 1 February 2010
When Dave has got his elected sheriffs, can elected coroners be far off? We may think the airbrushed posters are creepy, but they can't match this TV ad from Dwight McKenna in the current coroner race in New Orleans. (Hat tip: Time/Swampland blogs)