Religion in schools? Let’s concentrate on sorting out this world

by The Codgers' Club Friday, October 18 2013

by Peter Cook

Let’s keep religion out of education.

Just now I’ve read about a state funded orthodox Jewish girls’ school that doctored the GCSE exam papers to remove references to evolution.

Last week we heard of a Muslim academy school that made girls sit at the back and teachers wear headscarves.

All over the country there are Roman Catholic schools that preach anti-contraception propaganda.

There are hundreds of Church of England schools. I’m not sure what they teach, but then probably neither are they.

What religion you belong to is mostly determined by where and to whom you were born.

If I was born in Pakistan I would almost certainly be Muslim – if I knew what was good for me.

If I had been born in Burma I would probably be Buddhist. If in India, quite possibly Hindu.

As it is I was born in England and was christened into the Church of England where I became a quite angelic though vocally inept choirboy.

The fact is, no one knows if there’s a God or not.

If there is one, he, she or it has decided not to reveal him, her or itself to the likes of you and me. Not yet anyway.

So let’s put all that aside and concentrate on sorting out this world, before worrying about the next, which we can’t do anything about anyway.

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Categories: Education | Religion

Travel Back in Time in Thanet

by Emma's Kent Adventures, by Emma-Jane Swaffield Tuesday, October 8 2013

The district of Thanet boasts a large number of exciting destinations and attractions. History lovers will find a large number of enchanting towns and villages to explore in Thanet, many of which have preserved their prominent landmarks and offer a wealth of interesting historical attractions. Here is a selection of some of Thanet’s most captivating and vibrant historical attractions.


Exploring the traditional Old Town of Margate is an uplifting experience that people of all ages are sure to love. Old Town is home to Margate’s first harbour, which was built in 1320 and offers visitors an insight into local life in the 17th and 18th centuries. The area is also home to the Theatre Royal, the second oldest theatre in the whole of England. Culture vultures will want to make sure that they catch a show in order to appreciate the layout and acoustics in all its glory. Many of the buildings around the harbour are from different eras and have been restored and renovated to their former glory so this is a great place to wander around and explore on a sunny day.

Image courtesy of ©Iain Farrell (Flickr)


The charming seaside town of Ramsgate is steeped in rich history and can be found high on a cliff overlooking the sea. Taking a trip to the Maritime Museum is the perfect way to gain an insight into Ramsgate’s rich maritime history and can be found in the impressive and eye-catching Clock House (which dates back to the turn of the 19th century) at the Royal Harbour. This harbour has the unique distinction of being the only harbour in the UK awarded the right to call itself a “Royal Harbour”. The title was bestowed upon it by King George IV after he was touched by the hospitality and adoration shown by the people of Ramsgate when he used the harbour in 1821.

Other local attractions that should not be missed by local history buffs include St Augustine’s, a gothic era church designed by August Pugin and completed by his eldest son, Edward, who was also an architect. While you are there, be sure not to miss The Grange (aka St Augustine’s Grange). This is a Grade I listed Victorian Gothic style building that was also designed by August Pugin, the interior was designed before the outside which was in contrast to the Georgian style that preceded it and was designed to be his personal family home. The interior of the house was completed in 1850 and Pugin passed away just 2 years later at the age of only 40.

Visitors will be able to check out a range of vintage gaming machines in the Pinball Parlour, which is situated inside a stunning Georgian period Italianate greenhouse.

Image Courtesy of ©andyj300 (Flickr)


Situated just a few miles along the coast from Ramsgate, the town of Broadstairs is simply bursting with old world charm.

The town enjoys connections with the popular novelist Charles Dickens as it is said to have been his favourite holiday spot. Visitors who are interested in the life and times of the great writer will want to head straight to the Dickens House Museum. In addition to the hordes of prints and photographs that can be found in this well maintained museum, visitors who wander through the streets of Broadstairs’ old town will find numerous other connections to Charles Dickens.

Wandering along cobbled streets in the pedestrianised section of the town really sets the scene for history lovers, while many of the local cafes and restaurants have been restored to their 19th century appearance and some have even taken on the name of famous Dickens characters. Taking a trip to Bleak House is the perfect way to follow in the footsteps of Charles Dickens, as this impressive cliff top building is the place where the writer spent his holidays in the 1850s and 1860s.

Visitors can also take one of the local heritage tours, while the Crampton Tower Museum displays a wealth of interesting machines and is a tribute to Victorian era engineering.

Image courtesy of ©Jon Curnow (Flickr)


Take a trip to the tiny village of Birchington-on-Sea to admire the colourful stained glass window that commemorates the burial of poet and Pre-Raphaelite hero Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the Parish church there. His grave is also there and is marked with a large Celtic cross for his gravestone which was designed by his old friend Ford Madox Brown.

Visitors will also want to take the time to wander through the picturesque Quex Park, which is home to a number of interesting historical attractions such as Regency Quex House with its 7 acres of elegant, picturesque, Victorian gardens and natural woodland or the Powell-Cotton Museum, which contains a large number of local curios and one of the most fascinating collections of natural history in the UK.


Why not visit the tiny village of Manston to discover the important role that Thanet played during World War II? A number of legendary aircraft can be viewed in the impressive RAF Manston History Museum and several of the stories of local airmen are retold here in exciting detail.


The village of Minster has been an important religious site since 670 and visiting the gently crumbling Minster Abbey is the perfect way to get a feel for this. Minster Abbey was one of the earliest monastic foundations, rebuilt in 1027 after the original buildings were destroyed during Viking raids of the 9th and 10th centuries. It is believed to be possibly the oldest inhabited house in the country and is now inhabited by Nuns who give guided tours giving an explanation of the historic background to this ancient site.

Visitors can also find the St Augustine’s Cross nearby which, according to legend, marks the very spot where St Augustine met with King Ethelbert and preached his first sermon to people of England in 597. There is a Latin inscription on the base of the cross which can be translated as:


"After many dangers and difficulties by land and sea Augustine landed at last on the shores of Richborough in the Isle of Thanet. On this spot he met King Ethelbert, and preached his first sermon to our own countrymen. Thus he happily planted the Christian faith, which spread with marvellous speed throughout the whole of England. That the memory of these events may be preserved among the English G G L-G Earl Granville, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports has erected this monument, AD 1884"

Image courtesy of ©Shirokazan (Flickr)

Where to Stay?

There are many wonderful places to stay in this beautiful area to tie in with the rich history that this area has to offer such as Bleak House in Broadstairs where Charles Dickens himself used to stay all those years ago, or how about the beautiful Victorian building that is now the Comfort Inn at Ramsgate? Then there is the Georgian Grade II listed Royal Harbour Hotel, a delightfully quirky 19 bedroom townhouse with magnificent views of the harbour and sea. Or why not take a break from all the culture and history by staying in the wonderful holiday lets provided by Beeches Holiday Lets? These wonderful and functional self-catering houses come in a range of sizes and are “homes away from home” with all the comforts you could ever need. There is a wide variety available across the areas of Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs.

So as you can see, there are many wonderful places to explore a wealth of rich English History in Kent that is fascinating for the young and old alike. You can walk in the same footsteps as many important figures from our past and visit the places that inspired many historical greats. Why not take the children and give them a history lesson they won’t forget?

Categories: Charles Dickens | Curious Margate | Education | Entertainment | History | Holiday | kent | Leisure | Manston | Margate

Can the eleven plus really ever be tutor proof?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, March 19 2013


PROPOSALS for a shake-up of Kent's often divisive 11-plus came under the spotlight today (Tuesday) when county councillors discussed the outcome of a review by headteachers designed to get a consensus around possible changes.

The review was set up primarily to see if anything can be done to counter the widespread coaching culture that everyone - even the Conservative administration at KCC - now generally acknowledges is far too prevalent in Kent and has skewed the system so much in parts of west Kent that it can seem that only those who actually do have some kind of  private tuition are guaranteed a place.

KCC outlines changes to the eleven plus test>>>

Perhaps we should not be surprised that county councillors were a little pessimistic about the odds of countering the coaching culture, although most commended Kent County Council's efforts to try and level the playing field.

Education director Patrick Leeson said the reforms were not about a "new" test but a "better, more fit for purpose set of assessment materials." 

Cllr Mike Whiting explained that KCC recognised no test could be immune from coaching but "it was the right thing to do to make the test fairer for everyone."

Those most sceptical were the opposition parties. For Labour, Cllr Les Christie said he sympathised with the aims but said the idea that those with the means would find a way to improve the chances of their child passing. "People with the means will find a way round it."


Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Trudy Dean said "unfortunately, there is no holy grail here" and quoted our stroy about the number of places being allocated to children from fee-paying schools (40% in some cases) saying "that is going backwards, not forwards."

At first glance, the proposals are rather modest. In fact, there is very little on the paper setting out KCC's thoughts that deals directly with the issue of coaching.

There are  reasons for this. The most obvious is that whatever else KCC might do with the exam, the idea that it can really be completely tutor proof is a non-starter. KCC has shifted its language slightly on this over recent months, perhaps recognising that it was rather over-optimistic at the outset.

It started off by saying it wanted a test  immune from coaching - to the extent that it was suggested that shops like W H Smith could be banned from selling practice papers - and edged towards a position where it aid it wanted a test that was less susceptible to coaching.

You won't get anything specific in the report about exactly how this objective will be achieved. However, Cllr Mike Whiting, the Conservative cabinet member for education, says the general aim will be to align the test more closely to what primary school children learn on the curriculum as part of the Sats. 

That reflects the valid concern that some elements of the test - noticeably non-verbal reasoning - are not ordinarily taught at state primary schools and an advantage can be secured by those that can afford tutors to instruct them on the techniques and familiarise themselves with the questions that come up.

So, adjusting the test in ways that mean you should not require coaching - which, it should be noted, is explicitly ruled out by KCC - ought to level the playing field a little.

But I suspect not by much.

Such is the determination of some parents to secure grammar places for their children, it is hard to see how this modest change will diminish the thriving commercial coaching industry.

Tutors will simply shift the emphasis of their servics  - and indeed, some already advertise that they also are able to coach children to improve their SATs results.

Fine-tuning the 11-plus to bring it more into line to reflect Sats begs the obvious question: why not rely on the Sats results in the first place - a thought advanced by quite a few headteachers in Kent who took part in the review? The answer, apparently, is that we now have admissions that are governed by a national timetable and it would be impossible to devise a system of offering places not knowing how well pupils had performed in their Sats (not a problem for university allocations though).

The additional problem is that the Sats would become the same kind of focus for pressure on pupils and schools.

 It is hard to see how the problem many grammars now complain about - namely, that pupils who have been over-coached struggle once they get to grammar school  - would necessarily be moderated by any of the changes being suggested.

KCC does deserve some credit for trying to do something about the eleven plus and its belated recognition that far from improving social mobility, the Kent system militates against it.

But it has rather tip-toed timidly around the edges of the issue, which in a way is about all it might have been expected to. 

It is worth remembering that this is KCC's third review of the 11-plus in the last few years.

The first two saw no changes at all, as those wrestling with the seemingly intractable problems of how to create a level playing field for children realised that the only option was the nuclear one – in other words, scrapping it altogether.


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Categories: Education

Kent gets caught in grammar vs free school tussle

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, March 14 2013

To say that Conservatives at County Hall are miffed is something of an understatement.

The news that the government has intervened to say that the site Kent County Council wanted for a new grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks should instead be offered to a free school has gone down like a lead balloon.

Wrangle over Kent's grammar school plan >>>

This is, after all, a Conservative government where there remains plenty of residual support for selective schooling and plenty of backbenchers who think that among David Cameron's' most catastrophic decisions was to turn the party away from supporting the return of the 11-plus.

The irony here is that KCC had come up with a plan, widely supported by local parents, for additional grammar school places in an area without a selective school. It is consistent with the government's own policy of allowing existing schools to expand where there is an issue of lack of places.

The problem is that the coalition has another policy to deal with unmet parental demand and that is free schools.

And on this occasion, at least for the moment, free school plans are deemed more important. So, the Kent case for more grammar places has been undermined by a decision by the schools minster that the Sevenoaks site of the former Wildernesse School be handed to the proponents of the Trinity Free School.

Why? Partly, I supect, because the government is concerned that it is way off its target for several hundred free schools to be open by 2015 and wants to maximise "buy in" from those behind such plans for new schools. And while selection is important in Kent and a few other areas, it is not across most of the rest of the country where grammars do not exist.

The government is desperate to promote the idea that parents can do something to enhance choice by opening free schools and it is a message that has much greater resonance with parents where grammars are not a feature of the local education lanscape as they are in Kent. 

County Hall Tories are livid not least because they see a political dividend from being seen to support more grammar places, which like it or not, remain extremely popular with parents here. With an election in May, they were probably hoping to plaster election leaflets with the claim that they were acting to respond to parents' wishes by extending selection.

And the decision to offer the site to a free school is the worst example of top-down politics which will raise all sorts of questions about the government's commitment to localism and not interfering with councils. KCC has had other tussles with the secretary of state Michael Gove, notably over the scrapping of the BSF project. It joined a legal action brought by other councils challenging the decision and it was not welcomed by Mr Gove.

Now KCC is suggesting it might have to go into battle through the courts again on a fairly arcane issue surrounding the question of whether the government has correctly interpreted its own legislation about handing sites to others for schools where the site is already occuppied by another school (albeit temporarily).

The view from the campaigners is that the Sevenoaks plan for more grammar places is not dead in the water and that once Mr Gove is apprised of the background he will be won round to seeing the case.

Given the rather fractious relationship he has had with KCC and its leadership in the past, he may need some convincing.


It would be interesting to know exactly when KCC was aware of the government's thinking on the move to offer the site at the former Wildernesse School to the backers of the Trinity Free School.

KCC was very keen to let everyone know that it had chosen the site for its grammar annexe and got into a spot of bother about it - it now looks rather like a pre-emptive strike although one that has yet to pay off. 



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Categories: Education

Uni? Do I HAVE to?

by Kent music reviews and teenage views, with Nick Tompkins Thursday, September 13 2012

I am seventeen years old. I've just begun the second and final year of my A levels, and all I hear day in day out, are the words, "personal statement", "degree" and most irratating of all "UCAS". At this point in time, if I could just find the individual responsible for the word "UCAS" I would most definitely fight them. Fisticuffs. 

The way I see it, I have just endured 14 years of education- beginning with finger paintings and egg and spoon races, with a slow progression to where I am now-  corsework, essays and ultimately two hour exams (of course via the albhabet, sex education and algebra). To get this far, the idea of another possible four years or more of attending lectures and meeting essay deadlines, kills me. This isn't even touching on the inevitability of walking away with £50,000 of debt. 

However, even as a 'nay-sayer' of University, I am still told by my teachers and peers, "Oh, you've still got to at least apply, otherwise if you change your mind you'll have nowhere to go!" at which point a small part of me dies inside. This is because despite my sheer dislike and contempt for the idea of University, I still have to spend hours of my time attending open days- none of which I believe will interest me considering the whole concept they are offering seems utterly depressing, despite the courses themselves- I must also write a personal statement: a document expressing my passion and desire for a place at said Uni, and through means of flattery, bragging and a bit of grovelling, I must then plead my case for how much I would LOVE to go to University. This process by the way, takes many months and usually several drafts are needed before the final product; I can't wait to get cracking on that bad boy...

Throughout my GCSEs and my A levels, myself and my peers have been drip fed ideas of Universities and degrees directly into our absorbant young brains, and I must admit, after that, it did take me a while to even imagine a post-school future for myself where a Uni wasn't present. However, even though I am heavily leaning towards not going to Uni, around 80% of my peers are all planning to head off to University next year. If this is roughly the case for all schools, and the majority of these students come out with a degree, just how credible is a degree going to be anyway? I mean, in the dark, dingy abyss that the economical future of my generation seems to be, there will of course be 'less jobs', 'less money' and 'more unemployment', so if EVERYBODY has a degree, what good will it do anyway? I'd much rather get out there (give or take) four years early with my youth on my side- lower sallery, easy to for the boss to manipulate, full of child-like enthusiasm- and get a head start on all these other competitors trying to take my job with a piece of paper and a silly hat with a square on the top. Another reason not to graduate: the hats look ridiculous.

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Categories: Education | School | Schools | Work

Why a bro always says yes

by The What's On blog, with Chris Price Saturday, February 11 2012

When my best mate called me with the offer of a free ticket to a James Morrison gig this week, I did what all bros should do: I said yes.

Fans of How I Met Your Mother will understand this eternally relevant maxim from the Bro Code set out by the show’s lothario Barney Stinson.

And when my pal found himself without a date to take to this questionable choice of concert, I did what I thought any good bro should do: I took pity on him, took in a deep breathe and said of course I’d ensure his £30 ticket didn’t go to waste.

I’ll level with you. I didn’t hold out high hopes for James Morrison’s show at the Hammersmith Apollo on Thursday evening.

The images which came to my mind were ones of being surrounded by mums who had dragged along their begrudging husbands in an evening of polite head bobbing and the occasional sing-a-long.

These images, of course, all came true but far from being dismayed at my faithful adherence of the Bro Code, I came out of the gig uplifted and thoroughly glad I’d gone. First off we had a cracking opening act in Rainy Boy Sleep, whose handy guitar work and distinctive voice set the tone for a night of top-draw musicianship. His stand out track was set finisher Ambulance. Definitely check this lad out.

Then when James Morrison came out to a chorus of screams of the slightly more mature kind, he positively owned the crowd, rather than being the wishy washy hey-thanks-for-coming mush monger I had expected him to be.

It just goes to show that a gig with a genuinely talented singer and band will always be worth watching. In this age of false celebrity, it was nice to see someone on stage with real songwriting pedigree rather than the flash-in-the-pan garbage we hear is going to be the next big thing on the radio every week.

It was easy to get wrapped up in the arm-swaying mood of tracks like In My Dreams, I Won’t Let You Go and Broken Strings. I am not ashamed to say I was a bona fide James Morrison fan by the time he rounded off the night with You Give Me Something before a huge encore finishing on Wonderful World.

And before anyone says Hammersmith Apollo is a mission to get to, the journey was easy. The high speed rail line to St Pancras from Gravesend got me to London in 23 minutes before a half hour trip along the Piccadilly line to Hammersmith. It cost £14.80 for the travelcard. Simples.

In summary, it was a night where I learnt two things. The first was that my friend is a secret James Morrison fan, no matter how much he said he had got the tickets to try and attract a date.

The second was that a bro, should indeed, always says yes to help out a fellow bro. No matter how lame saying yes might seem at first, you will always be rewarded with a cracking night out.

Categories: Celebrities | Education | Entertainment | Showbiz

Hard luck if Ofsted visits on a bad day

by The Codgers' Club Friday, February 10 2012

by Alan Watkins

One could almost hear the discussion a few months ago between Jim Hacker, if he had responsibility for education, and the chief inspector of schools at Ofsted.

It probably went something like this:

Hacker: Right! We’ve been in power now for more than a year, and the schools are not providing evidence that their kids are better off under our parties.

Inspector: That’s because ....

Hacker: No excuses! My job depends on showing improvements. Change the ground rules.

Inspector: As I tried to explain, Minister ...

Hacker: All those schools with satisfactory records! It’s not good enough. Re-grade them as unsatisfactory.

Inspector: Yes, Minister.

Good belly laughs all round.

The trouble with Yes Minister and Jim Hacker was that it was always so close to the truth.

Not that Michael Gove would have done anything like this, of course.

I was chatting with a head the other day. Her school is officially satisfactory with good grounds for Ofsted to say it should achieve a “good” rating.

Since she was appointed she has transformed her school from failing to the point where it can see an excellence label on the horizon. You would think she would be delighted – she’s not!

Instead of being praised, she now faces the sack if surprise visits from Ofsted are still “satisfactory” within the next two years.

She (as well as her governors and all her teaching team) face ignominy.

They will be sacked and replaced by a team who will manage to tick a few more boxes on the Ofsted checklist.

They have also found the rules keep changing that set their targets.

There are no problems with expecting improvement. Nor is there blame to be had in trying to achieve perfection.

What is completely ignored by the 'tick box’ culture encouraged by the inspectorate is the nature of the community served by schools.

My friend’s primary is typical of many in Kent and Medway. It has a mix of children – and a mix of parents. Most are responsible. Some are not. At home some children are ignored.

“For some parents – too many by far – children are status symbols,” I was told.

“When they come to an after-school dance they are made up to the nines, dressed in the latest fashion – they look like tarts, but they are only six and seven-year-olds.

“Some of my mothers are 19 and 20 – how old were they when they had their children? What understanding do they have of parenting, life and all the other skills? The answer is little or none.”

I often see mums pushing pushchairs and chatting on mobiles as their child tries unsuccessfully to get their attention.

“It’s the same in the home. Our children learn from nine to three – then they go home where there are no books, inappropriate television and violent video games, no house manners ...

"Some of our kids come to school without the basics like toilet training. They don’t speak. They have few personal skills.

“Parents arrive in the area and their children are suddenly dropped on us. We have kids from certain families where children come and go as they please.

“We have kids who arrive unable to understand a word of English. The trouble is the inspectors don’t recognise local problems such as this. All they are interested in is the ticks.”

Like lots of satisfactory schools, her team have been told they are unsatisfactory, coasting, not pulling their weight, failures ...

“If my school has not improved I shall retire – I’ve never said that before, but I shall.”

At another school there are dozens of children whose first language is not English.

They have appeared as their families move into north Kent. When the inspectors arrive there will be black marks against their place of learning for failing to teach them in the few weeks that they have been on the school roll.

There isn’t a school where conscientious teachers do not leave every day with bags full of work to mark, to check or to advise. They have forms to complete to confirm their projects are working, reports to produce on the ordinary and the exceptional, and pages to explain why a child has been punished and how.

They then work at home until midnight night after night after night. Is this what society really expects?

Surely our schools should be happy places of learning where teachers can pass on their experiences, and bring out the best in the children? Hard luck if Ofsted arrives on a bad day.

We may lose good heads if this happens – and is that really what we want?

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Categories: Education

Why KCC may tread carefully over 'new' grammar school.

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, January 11 2012

When David Cameron ruled out the expansion of grammar schools in 2007, he said they were "unpopular with parents, who do not want children divided into successes and failures at the age of 11."

The comments - along with some rather barbed criticism about supporters of selection being people who "held on to out-dated mantras that bear no relation to reality" had party activists and councillors in Kent frothing with indignation.

Now it looks like a door has opened on to the possibility of Mr Cameron's veto being overturned in Kent, which - with 33 grammars - is regarded as the torch bearer for supporters of the 11-plus.

The irony is that parents urging a new grammar school for Sevenoaks are doing so on the basis of the government's own new policy of permitting popular, over-subscribed schools to expand to meet demand for places. (Actually, several grammars have expanded their intake in recent years incrementally through admitting extra pupils via the appeals process).

Plenty of Conservatives will be looking to see how Kent County Council responds. To date, it appears to be treading cautiously around the issue, saying that it needs to assess a range of issues before deciding what to do.

It certainly throws up some difficulties, notwithstanding the fact that there has been a long-standing issue in Sevenoaks about the fact that there are no grammar schools in the borough.

A key issue is that there can be no entirely new grammar school. The legislation only permits the expansion of existing schools - and there are none directly in Sevenoaks.

However, the government would sanction a "satellite" school, affiliated to an existing one and it is that idea which is gaining some traction at County Hall. But there is a further issue, which is that the legislation requires the ethos of any such satellite schools to reflect the ethos of the sponsoring school - described colourfully by one politician as "the mothership".

The schools that are discussing becoming involved are, like all but five of the 33 grammars in Kent, single sex - meaning that the satellite school could have to be, too.

It is unclear who would pay for such a satellite and KCC will be wary about committing significant sums to a capital project when other schools in Kent expecting major redevelopment have been left in the lurch after Michael Gove's abrupt cancellation of the Building Schools for The Future programme last year (which KCC challenged in court).

And if KCC doesn't have the money, will the government step in? I can't help thinking that might be something of a hostage to fortune if it does.

Then there is the problem of what to do if other popular and over-subscribed schools seek support to expand their numbers and whether, in opting to increase grammar school places in one area, there could be a detrimental impact on other schools.

Underlying all this is the political desire among Kent Conservatives - and others - to offer some tangible evidence that the party has not completely turned its back on selection, regardless of what their Prime Minister may have said in the past.  

KCC managed to alienate some county MPs when in a cost-cutting measure, it ended a scheme offering help with transport costs for grammar school pupils last year.

Opening a new satellite grammar in west Kent would send a signal that it hasn't completely abandoned its support for a totemic article of faith for many in the party.


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Categories: Education | Kent Village of the Year

Au revoir Europe

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Tuesday, December 13 2011

Good riddance!

You can imagine that retort ringing out on both sides of the Channel after the UK turned its back on a new European treaty.

I don’t know what the French or German equivalent is - maybe they don’t have one - but the feeling is pretty mutual.

Most British people don’t want closer ties with the EU, although many stop short of wanting to get out altogether.

Most Europeans don’t like us much, and the Eastern newcomers even less - after all, they hardly ever give us more than Nul Points in the Eurovision Song Contest.

The worry about David Cameron’s decision is that it will prove even harder for Kent firms to win work on the Continent, especially in France.

It has been hard enough already, with the French in particular erecting unspoken but real barriers to outside competition.

If Brussels talk of revenge seeps through to potential buyers across the EU, fostering an undeserved anti-British feeling, that’s bad news for our businesses desperate to boost imports at a time of falling orders at home.

The hope is that any bitterness felt across the EU about Britain’s decision will not last long and that trade - the main reason we joined the EU and why a majority supported membership in a referendum - will fade.

As for the decision, it is hard to see how any other could have been reached.

Maybe an alternative negotiating strategy that stroked the backs of Merkozy would have worked better. It is intriguing in the What If Game to ponder whether the approach of a belligerent handbag-waving Margaret Thatcher or an emollient Tony Blair or Gordon Brown would have fared better.

Probably not.  But with the eurozone financial crisis set to deepen, and the euro in great jeopardy, it is surely better to be the one independent-minded lemming that turns away from the cliff rather than follow its mates over the edge.

Categories: Education | Europe

Frosty reception

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Monday, April 11 2011

It is hard to square the image of eager young apprentices showing off their myriad talents at Kent 2020 Vision with the newspaper headline proclaiming that young people coming out of school are useless.

David Frost, chief executive of the British Chambers of Commerce, bemoaned the lack of skills among young school-leavers and the cost to business of educating them to a standard the state should have done already. He added that vocational education was not valued by our education system, and called for a return to grammar schools.

Well, Mr Frost, you should come to Kent (I know you have been to Kent Invicta Chamber a few times, but perhaps you did not notice that we do things to your liking here). We have retained grammar schools, while at the same time boosting vocational education. Some 3,000 apprentices signed on in Kent and Medway last year.

Vocational training centres are helping 14-16 year olds understand better the world of work and offering them an alternative to A Level and higher education. Kent County Council deserves praise for championing apprenticeships and vocational education. Those young people at Detling showground were exemplary.

They were adept at hairdressing, making lead roofing, looking after sheep - you name it and those 16-19 year olds could do it. The 30 chosen to take centre stage at the show were nice kids too. Most employers would, like Lord Sugar, be delighted to hire them.

They were great ambassadors for apprenticeships, chatting to stand-holders and impressing so many that 80 firms pledged to take on an apprentice and a further 500 expressed interest. I know there are challenging areas but the academy system is raising the game.

The education system may not achieve everything that business wants. And university tuition fee hikes are a turn-off to higher education if ever there was one. But at least in Kent, there are young people giving a lie to the headlines. We should be proud of our youngsters and not join in the clamour to trash them.

Categories: Business | Education

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