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Grammar school pressured into reversing rejection of under-achieving sixth-formers

Lawyers acting for some of the affected families had issued judicial review proceedings against St Olave’s [Image: Gareth Fuller/PA].

Does anybody think the head and governors of St Olave’s would have backtracked on their policy if not for the glare of public disapproval on them?

And what will happen now? Will the issue be brushed under the carpet or will we see schools behaving more responsibly in future?

I fear the former.

The grammar school revealed to be systematically pushing pupils out halfway through the sixth form has dramatically backed down and said that all affected pupils will be able to rejoin the school next week without conditions.

Pressure from parents taking legal action and media coverage … has seen St Olave’s grammar school in Orpington, south-east London, change its stance and drop its stringent academic requirements, which had seen pupils who had not achieved top marks being abruptly told to leave midway though their A-level courses.

The affair has lifted a lid on the possibly illegal practice designed to boost a school’s league table position, carried out at a number of high-achieving schools across England, despite schools being unable to exclude pupils for reasons other than behaviour. Friday’s development will put pressure on other schools which follow the same practice to reconsider their policies.

On Friday evening a statement was finally issued on the school’s behalf by the diocese of Chichester.

“Following a review of the school’s policy on entry to year 13, the headmaster and governors of St Olave’s grammar school have taken the decision to remove this requirement and we have today written to all parents of pupils affected to explain this and offer them the opportunity to return to the school and continue their studies,” it said.

“Our aim as a school has been and continues to be to nurture boys who flourish and achieve their full potential academically and in life generally. Our students can grow and flourish, making the very best of their talents to achieve success.”

Source: St Olave’s allows rejected sixth-formers to return to school | Education | The Guardian


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St Olave’s cruelty to pupils shows the ruthlessness of the league table system

St Olave’s grammar school in Orpington, Kent. ‘St Olave’s needs to rethink this shameful policy before it damages more of the young people in its care,’ writes Mark Crane [Image: Gareth Fuller/PA].

Can open, worms everywhere.

St Olave’s Grammar School has been exposed as expelling pupils for underperforming in mock examinations – in order to maintain its position at the top of school league tables.

The practice has been condemned as it harms the future of the pupils it discriminates against – and members of the public have come forward to express their disgust in the letters page of The Guardian.

Here’s Lucy Binney, of Oxford:

Young people who have achieved well enough at 16 to be accepted by these highly selective sixth forms are having to change school halfway through their A-levels, and are likely to end up with qualifications far below their potential.

When a school prioritises its league table position, it suits its interests better for a pupil to get no A-levels once off their hands, than for that pupil to get mediocre A-levels while still on the school roll.

The pupils involved and their families don’t usually make a fuss, because they are humiliated and don’t want to identify the young person.

So the strategy is not only to dump the under-performing pupils, but actually to sabotage their chances.

That is evil. It is exactly the opposite of the way a school should behave.

Sixth-form teacher David Hampton makes another excellent point:

While those responsible for the policy put their own kudos ahead of students’ needs, the media’s tendency to highlight only the successes of these highly selective schools doesn’t help.

True. As a local newspaper reporter, This Writer had to produce many stories praising schools on the exam results gained by their pupils.

But the practice of dumping students isn’t confined to grammar schools, according to Jane Weake, of London:

This practice is also commonplace in many London comprehensives… These students are just being cynically abandoned to sink or swim. Often they sink! This is not in their best interests.

Philip Kerridge of Bodmin asserts:

While schools are under enormous pressure to deliver results they will cheat. Who says so? Not only me but also Durham University’s Professor Rob Coe in evidence to a House of Commons committee investigating primary school assessment.

Environmental toxicologist Mark Crane, himself an Old Olavian, expressed his surprise at the school’s current policy:

If such a punitive system had been in operation when I was at the school then I, and most of my schoolmates, would have been asked to leave, and it is unlikely that I would have gone on to complete a PhD, teach at the University of London, publish over 100 scientific papers, and build a successful scientific consultancy.

So the school is harming not only pupils’ life chances but also the UK’s ability to compete, not only in academia but in commerce and world markets (I would say).

Retired headteacher Chris Dunne warns that the Conservative government’s drive to turn all schools into privately-owned academies would make parents’ attempts to gain redress almost impossible:

The parents who are now seeking legal redress against St Olave’s should count themselves lucky it is a maintained school, and as such governed by laws that make what amounts to an exclusion on these grounds illegal. The government’s drive to turn all schools into academies will effectively close off such an option for all but the most determined, and wealthy, parents.

So the Tories are complicit in this con.


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Is there a lie at the heart of ‘top-achieving’ grammar schools?

Parents and teachers have criticised the school for behaving like ‘an exam factory’ [Image: David Jones/PA].

Is this how grammar schools achieve their elite status?

Around 16 pupils at St Olave’s Grammar School in Orpington have been slung out on their ear because they didn’t make the grade in AS and equivalent internal exams before entering their final A-level year – the top grade, that is.

This brings a new dimension to the “social mobility” argument about grammar schools: In this situation, the pupil’s background doesn’t matter at all – their only purpose is to present an impression that the school offers the highest-quality education and creates the best-qualified alumni, even when it doesn’t.

Doesn’t that make this organisation a fraud?

And what about the students who have been penalised? Their entire careers are in jeopardy because of this late-stage betrayal by the school they thought they could trust to guide them onto the next level of their lives.

Regardless of their background, their progress into the higher echelons of UK society has ground to an unceremonious halt.

Is it really because they aren’t good enough? Or is it because their teachers can’t be bothered to do the extra work?

It’s easier to just dump the chumps, after all – right?

Then the school maintains an unfairly-earned high status for which the staff haven’t had to work.

Is that what is happening here?

If so, Theresa May should kiss her plan for more grammar schools goodbye – forever.

One of the country’s leading grammar schools has been accused of acting unlawfully by throwing out sixth-form students who failed to get top grades in AS and equivalent internal exams ahead of their final A-level year.

About 16 pupils at St Olave’s grammar school in Orpington, in the London borough of Bromley, were told their places for year 13 – the last year of school – had been withdrawn after they failed to get the required three Bs. One father accused the school of dumping his son like “old garbage”.

Parents and teachers have criticised the school for behaving like “an exam factory”, focusing purely on results and school league table success at the expense of students’ education and welfare.

Days before the start of a new term, those students who have lost their places are reluctantly looking at alternative schools or colleges at which they can complete their A-levels in order to go on to university or pursue a career. All are devastated at losing their friendship group, and many are struggling to find schools that offer the same examining board.

Education experts say a number of other schools – including other high-achieving grammars – are employing similar tactics to ensure the best possible results, but it is thought to be the first time the issue been challenged in court.

Source: Grammar school ‘unlawfully threw out’ students who failed to get top grades | Education | The Guardian


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Jeremy Hunt takes to twitter to tout latest NHS failures

We really need a new title for a Conservative Health Secretary. He’s not responsible for the health service any more – the Health and Social Care Act 2012 put an end to that – so perhaps ‘Health Cheerleader’ would be a better title?

He has certainly been cheerleading for his new part-privatised NHS over the past few days, with a series of tweets under the banner “The NHS as you know it”. But do any of his claims stack up?

First up, on December 28, was his claim that the number of operations performed on behalf of the NHS was up by “one million”, with the number of cancelled operations stable (that means it hasn’t gone up or down). Here are the graphs:

150105hunt1

The trouble is, the number of operations clearly hasn’t increased by a million since the Coalition took power. The graph shows Q2 data only. It clearly shows that operations in that quarter stalled for three years at the same level (after a sustained period of improvement under Labour) and the number currently taking place suggests only a continuation of the trend under the previous government.

Figures for Q2 2014 are only 131,389 higher than Q2 2010. Readers are apparently being asked to assume similar or higher figures in order to make Hunt’s “one million” but with a quarterly figure of roughly 132,000 there’s still nearly half a million operations missing.

Verdict: FAIL.

Next, on January 4, Hunt claimed his NHS had 850,000 more operations every year than under Labour (we’ve already debunked that one), 13,000 more “clinical staff” and was rated “top in world”. Here’s his graph:

150105hunt3

Obviously he’s wrong to claim credit for new clinical staff, if he means doctors – all of them would have had to begin training after May 2010 when the Coalition came into office and it takes longer than four-and-a-half years to train a doctor.

Then, if you look at the small print on the graph, its sources relate to information running up to 2013, when Conservative-led changes to the health service had only just begun to be felt.

The comments include one from Labour Left’s Dr Eoin Clarke asking Hunt to explain why complaints about the NHS have increased by 70 per cent since the Tories took over, while patient satisfaction fell by a record amount (from a previous record high under Labour). No answer was forthcoming.

Verdict: FAIL.

Next, again on January 4, Hunt claimed: “Cancer tests up 51% compared to Lab & 700,000 more treated 4 cancer this parliament”. He was instantly berated by commenters for using “4” instead of “for” (this writer would take issue with “compared to” as well – it’s “compared with”). Verdict: Extra FAIL.

In terms of the information – here’s the graph:

150105hunt4

But Eoin Clarke (again) asked why waiting lists are at a six-year high and Cancer Research UK has said funding has been cut by four per cent, in real terms.

And Chris Manners pointed out, “I wasn’t aware sending lots of people for cancer tests was an end in itself.”

Next – January 4 again:

150105hunt5

This one is easily debunked – and was, by commenters on Twitter, as follows:

Thig ar Latha: “And it’s about an hour of training then registering yourself online. My staff have done it.”

This is corroborated by Millsy: “Dementia awareness? It’s an hour lecture… That’s not training.”

Ash Sohoye adds an extra layer: “Most of the dementia training you spk of paid for by charitable giving not NHS.”

Gerry suggests an ulterior motive: “And reason you incentivise GP to diagnose early dementia – to ensure patient sells whatever they own to fund their future care. Diagnosed dementia data will be available to private providers to forward plan services in areas of demand to maximise profit. As for the training – a cosmetic exercise to cover your real dementia objective – making profit from vulnerable patients.”

(Finally, there’s this comment from Ermintrude: “And how much social care funding has been pulled to support ppl with dementia which leads to longer hospital stays?” – which is on a tangent to the discussion but relevant to NHS users in Wales, where the Labour Assembly Government regularly receives flak for its choices. With funding from Westminster decreasing by 10 per cent per year, the Assembly has chosen to prioritise social care, in order to reduce the length of hospital stays. This is a long-term plan, however, meaning Tory shills have taken the opportunity to lay into Labour even further by claiming the strategy has been ineffective. Time will tell.)

Verdict: FAIL.

Next – on January 4:

150105hunt6

Yes, cancer survival rates are improving, according to a trend set by the NHS under the previous Labour government. Where is the ‘boost’ effect of support from this Cancer Drugs Fund?

Perhaps it has yet to appear. But then, Jeremy shouldn’t be mentioning it with these results, should he?

And, as Scott Wainwright points out on Twitter, isn’t Hunt [corruptly] selling off cancer treatment to organisations that donate money to the Conservative Party?

Verdict: Stupid FAIL.

Finally – also on January 4: “£2bn of additional funding for the frontline next year, backed by a strong economy.”

150105hunt7

Vox Political has already debunked this but it’s worth going over the facts, starting with the claim about this money being “backed by a strong economy”: None of this funding has anything to do with economic growth and it isn’t even new.

This blog quoted BBC correspondent Louise Stewart, who said £1.3 billion “would be found from savings in other government departments.” Not new money, then. “The remaining £700m will come from the existing Department of Health budget and will be put into front line.” Again, not new money. And none of it has been made possible by any economic growth – the same VP article points out that Income Tax receipts are only just around their pre-crash high.

Verdict: Not only a FAIL; also a LIE.

So that’s “The NHS as you know it” under Jeremy Hunt: Statistics abused, problems ignored, ulterior motives and outright lies.

Let’s end on something a little more factual. These images from the Labour Party were all supported by the line: “The NHS as you know it cannot survive five more years of David Cameron”.

150105NHS1 150105NHS2 150105NHS3 150105NHS4

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Peter Oborne is right to support the 50p tax rate

140127oborne

… but wrong about many, many other matters.

The Torygraph‘s chief political commentator was right to come out as a supporter of Ed Balls’s pledge to raise the top tax rate back to 50p in the pound.

He was right to say it was “profoundly shaming and offensive” for Conservative voters – especially those who are not super-rich – when George Osborne lowered the top rate to 45p, two years ago.

He was right when he wrote that “to make the rich richer at the same time as making the poor poorer – what George Osborne has been doing – is simply squalid, immoral and disgusting.

“Any decent human being must surely feel sick in the stomach that he is taking this action at the same time as cutting the amount of tax paid by people earning more than £150,000.”

To that, let’s add a point about the kind of people who are benefiting from the lower tax rate – the kind of people who take home around £1 million a year in basic pay, who are promised bonuses of up to twice those yearly salaries, and who caused the financial crisis that has allowed Osborne to pursue his policy of impoverishing the poor.

That’s right: George Osborne’s 45p tax rate is a £100,000 extra bonus, every year – in gratitude for all their help, one must presume – for bankers.

Oborne is also right to say that Labour’s decision in the 1970s, to impose a top tax rate of 83p in the pound, was a huge mistake – for whatever reasons. It genuinely drove people out of the country, whereas at 50p they just grumble and threaten to go.

All of the above being said, Oborne continues to espouse some utterly wrong-headed nonsense. He claims that “the Conservative Party is not an interest group which represents only the very rich” when all of its actions since getting into office in 2010 demonstrate ample proof that a minority group representing only the very rich is exactly what it is.

Oborne actually puts in print: “The Coalition government has devoted a great deal of effort to lowering the living standards of the poor. I support this project.”

It’s great to see a Tory voter actually admitting this, but imbecilic behaviour for a columnist who (one presumes) wants people to respect his point of view.

He goes on: “I believe that Gordon Brown’s welfare state forced some people into a life of dependency… There have been many people on welfare who need much more of an incentive to return to work.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

The reason many people are without jobs and claiming benefit is, there are almost five jobseekers for every job. This is a situation created by the Tory-led government in order to keep wages low; with so many people clamouring for jobs, people who do have work but are on the bottom rung of the employment ladder can’t ask for a raise – they would be jettisoned and replaced by a jobseeker (most likely on lower basic pay than the original holder of the job).

Nobody was forced into a life of dependency by Gordon Brown; the vast majority of unemployed people genuinely want to improve their situation with a job that allows them to avoid claiming benefits – and it is good that the Labour Party, if returned to office next year, will work hard to bring the Living Wage into force for all working people.

You see, Mr Oborne and his ilk conveniently forget that the vast majority of people whose living standards have been hit by the Tory war on the poor are in work. They are so poorly-paid by George Osborne’s corporate friends that they have to claim tax credits – or, as I like to call them, Employer Subsidy – and housing benefit – otherwise known as Landlord Subsidy.

That’s improper use of our tax money. We should not be subsidising fat corporates with our hard-earned taxes, so they can deliver ever more swollen dividends to their shareholders; and we should not be subsidising greedy landlords who charge multiples of what their properties are worth to tenants who have nowhere else to go if they want to keep their pittance-paying job.

It is valid to criticise Gordon Brown for allowing this to happen, but who knows? Maybe this figurehead of neoliberal New Labour was using tax credits as a stop-gap, intending to persuade corporate bosses round to the Living Wage in good time. We’ll never know for sure.

There remains a strong argument that government schemes to get people into work should have checks and balances. As underwriters of these schemes, we taxpayers need assurances that the firms taking part will not abuse their position of power, using jobseekers until the government subsidy runs out and then ditching good workers for more of the unemployed in order to keep the cash coming. That is not a worthwhile use of our cash.

We also need assurances that participants won’t drop out, just because life on the dole is easier. I was the victim of several personal attacks last week when I came out in support of Labour’s compulsory job guarantee, because they hated its use of sanctions. I think those sanctions are necessary; there should be a penalty for dropping out without a good reason.

In a properly-run scheme, those sanctions should never be put into effect, though. That means that any government job scheme needs to be driven, not by targets but by results.

Look at the Welsh Ambulance Service. Targets imposed by the Welsh Government mean that ambulances are supposed to arrive at the scene of an emergency within eight minutes – even if they are 20 minutes’ fast drive away, on the wrong side of a busy city like Cardiff, when they get the call. This means the Welsh Ambulance Service faces constant attack for failure to meet targets.

But what kind of results does the service achieve? Are huge numbers of Welsh patients dying, or failing to receive timely treatment because an ambulance arrives a minute or so after its target time? No. There will, of course, be some such occasions but those will most likely be the result of many contributory factors.

So: Results-driven schemes will put people into jobs and improve the economy; there is no need to impoverish the poor; the very rich never deserved their tax cut; and Ed Balls is right to want to re-impose the 50p rate.

The Conservatives are wrong to attack poor people; there is no need to impose further cuts on social security as part of Osborne’s failed austerity policy; and these things show very clearly that the Tories are a minority-interest party supporting only the extremely rich.

In the end, I find myself agreeing with one more comment by Mr Oborne; Ed Balls really has “given ordinary, decent people a serious reason for voting Labour at the coming election”.

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Part-time Chance(llo)r and towel-folder to explain how impoverishing people makes work pay.

Not fair at all: We love this shot of George Osborne because it clarifies perfectly that, as with Michael Howard before him, there is "something of the night" about him. Will YOU believe him when he says it is fair to punish the poor for an economic recession they never made, while rewarding the rich who did the damage?

Not fair at all: We love this shot of George Osborne because it clarifies perfectly that, as with Michael Howard before him, there is “something of the night” about him. Will YOU believe him when he says it is fair to punish the poor for an economic recession they never made, while rewarding the rich who did the damage?

You know the Tories are scraping the bottom of the barrel when they wheel out Gideon George Osborne to defend benefit changes as “fair”.

It’s hilarious (unintentionally, I’m sure) that they’re wheeling out a man whose appearance in last year’s Olympic Games prompted an international crowd in a full-to-capacity stadium to ‘boo’ him – in order to try to popularise their unjustifiable crimes against the poor.

This is a man whose only proper job was folding towels at a department store, if I recall correctly!

He’s due to make a speech at 12.30pm today (April 2, so it can’t even be defended as an April Fool) in which he is expected to say the Tory cuts mean “this month we will make work pay”, and nine out of 10 working households will be better-off.

They’ll be better of than the remaining one-tenth of households, maybe, but the Tories are never going to convince intelligent people that they’re making work pay by cutting anything! Common sense tells us that, in a country where wages are deeply depressed (such as the UK – oh yes they are) the only way to make work pay is to offer a living wage!

But what can we expect from a political organisation that is now focusing its efforts on redefining the dictionary?

The lexicon here at Vox Political gives multiple definitions for the word “fair”, so I’ll pick out those that may be applied, as follows:

“1. Reasonable or unbiased.” The changes include a below-inflation cap for people on working-age benefits and tax credits, meaning they will become worse-off, year-on-year, while the cap remains in place. Meanwhile, people in the top tax band – who therefore take home the most pay – are getting a £100,000 tax break. Reasonable? No. Unbiased? Not a chance in hell.

Let’s also remember that Osborne is the Chancellor who thought it was a good idea to promote tax avoidance schemes on the Daily Politics TV show, on January 9 this year.

“2. According to the rules.” The Tory-led Coalition is the government that changes the rules to suit itself. Let’s all remember that when Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions was found, by a court, to have been breaking the law by imposing sanctions against people who refused to take part in the ridiculous ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ schemes that take more than a billion pounds out of the economy every year (almost £900 million for companies offering placements, along with hundreds of millions more for ‘Work Placement Provider’ companies), this administration’s answer was to introduce retrospective legislation to wipe away its guilt.

“3. Describing light-coloured hair or skin, or somebody with this.” Let’s widen this definition a little; a person who is “fair to look at” would be deemed attractive, so let’s go with that. Are these changes attractive? Most definitely not. They are designed to make the claiming of benefits unattractive.

“4. Sizeable, as in ‘a fair number of responses’.” This is accurate – the changes will affect millions of homes, throwing many of them into abject poverty.

“5. Better than acceptable.” If they were acceptable, then we would not have seen thousands of people demonstrating against the new Bedroom Tax, in towns and cities across the UK. Nor would we have seen the huge amount of campaigning against the benefit changes online and via petitions. And there will be motions against implementing the tax in local authorities up and down the country. The people responsible for them don’t think these changes are acceptable; nor should you.

“6. No more than average.” It could be suggested that Grant Shapps has been saying the more stringent application of the Work Capability Assessment to applicants for Employment and Support Allowance has created a more representative average number of claims by ensuring 878,000 people dropped their claims when faced by those changes – but, wait a moment, this has been exposed as a lie, hasn’t it? In fact, the number of people dropping their claims has been revealed – by official DWP figures – to be the natural wastage you get from people getting better or finding work they can do while ill, and the number of people receiving the benefit has, in fact, risen.

“7. Not stormy or cloudy.” Clearly the storm of protest around these changes renders this definition irrelevant.

Osborne, who not only advocates tax avoidance but allegedly participates in it himself – he was the target of a campaign by 38 Degrees, early in the life of this Parliament – also seems a strange choice to talk about fairness and making work pay, because of his involvement in a ‘get rich quick’ scheme which was extremely unfair and had nothing to do with work.

Readers of this blog may remember that Osborne used taxpayers’ money to pay mortgage interest on a farmhouse and associated land that he claimed to use for Parliamentary purposes in his Tatton constituency (this has not been proved), and then sold the properties for around £1 million, pocketing the lot. He didn’t work for the money, and this exploitation of the taxpayer can hardly be considered fair – but he got away with it because his privileged position as an MP, apparently, allows it.

Fair? No.

Corrupt?

This seems more likely.