Monday, 8 August 2016

Social mobility - is it 'replace-the-toffs'? Or, 'move-into-the-gaps'?

A few queries about 'social mobility'.
This is bandied around like its a necessary social good. I'm always suspicious when the Right talk about something that seems egalitarian as if it's good as they spend a lot of time berating the Left for being egalitarian. So, the social mobility they're talking about must be within the status quo, presumably. Assuming a fairly constant population, then 'social mobility' must mean 'less advantaged people' (as they would put it) moving upwards socially to replace usually more advantaged people. Again, presumably, they mean they do this by virtue of their ability thereby replacing those in that position not by virtue of their ability.

Grammar schools - like the one Theresa May went to and which, she believes enabled her to compete with the toffs - need to come back so that people like her (she believes) can properly compete with the toffs again, and, presumably, replace toffs at the top.

However, the social mobility that people talk about in relation to the grammar schools of my era (1944-1970) are usually talking about 'bright' working class boys and girls who moved upwards into administration and professional jobs where before people of that background hardly figured. This social mobility hardly involved replacement (along the lines I described in previous paragraphs). What happened were two things: the administrative and professional layers and experienced some losses due to two World Wars, and - even more importantly, this was an expanding economy. In other words, there were gaps that needed filling.

So in the here and now, which is the social mobility they're offering: 'replace the toffs'? or 'move into the gaps'? Or both?

And where is the evidence that either of these processes needs segregation at 11 to achieve that?

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Theresa May brings back Secondary Modern schools - though she will say she's bringing back grammars.

Theresa May looks set to allow selection for secondary schools. This sounds like a return to a grammar school-secondary modern system.

1. The main justification for this is 'social mobility'. The evidence for this is that there was social mobility in the years of the system roughly 1944-1970. However, at the same time there was continued economic expansion along with a steady inflow of labour for the lowest paid jobs from Ireland the Commonwealth. Whatever mobility went on has to factor in that. Personal anecdotes from working class people who went to grammar school doesn't explain the whole picture.

2. Worldwide there is evidence to suggest that whenever you run a selective system, money and qualifications follows the selective schools. More money and better qualified teachers go to the selective schools. This is discrimination.

3. We know how to improve education for all. Sir Tim Brighouse has shown that the key thing is co-operation at classroom teacher level between clusters of schools. He has been sidelined.

4. Some of this is about 'regularising' what is already taking place, with covert selection in academies through entrance requirements, weeding out of SEN and EAL children. The pressure for it will have come largely from such academies wanting to cement their status as the local top dogs in the local education 'market'.

5. The effect will be to increase pressure on primary schools to 'coach' for whatever selective systems are in place. Education will become even more test-oriented as if education IS the test. There isn't enough time in a school day to cover the strategies required to do the tests successfully or to cover all the content. This will only be achieved either by parents who know how to do it and time to help their children or those who can afford to buy in tutors. The tests are then a test of parents' education levels and/or their income. This is discriminatory.

6. The spread of grammar schools across the country will be patchy and varied. This means that not only is their selection locally but there will also be a form of regional selection going on. Again, this is discriminatory.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Forthcoming books

Laugh Out Loud Joke Book (Scholastic) Sept 1 
[It is what it says it is: a joke book]

Who Are Refugees and Migrants? co-written with Annemarie Young (Wayland) Sept 22
[a non-fiction book for schools]

Jelly Boots Smelly Boots (Bloomsbury) Sept 22
[a new book of poems for children, illustrated by David Tazzyman]

What is Poetry? (Walker) October 6
[a book about how to write poems for children, parents and teachers]

Zola in Norwood (Faber) jan 15 2017
[a book for adults about Emile Zola in England and his last couple of years in France]

Barking at Bagels (Andersen) Feb 2 2017
[a short ‘chapter book’ for early readers, illustrated by Tony Ross]

Uncle Gobb and the Green Heads (Bloomsbury) Feb 9 2017
[a sequel to Uncle Gobb and the Dread Shed, illustrated by Neal Layton]

Siegfried Sassoon thinking about aerial warfare in 1932

Just came across this poem:

Thoughts in 1932

Alive — and forty-five — I jogged my way
Across a dull green day,
Listening to larks and plovers, well content
With the pre-Roman pack-road where I went.

Pastoral and pleasant was the end of May.
But readers of the times had cause to say
That skies were brighter for the late Victorians;
And " The Black Thirties" seemed a sobriquet
Likely to head the chapters of historians.

Above Stonehenge a drone of engines drew
My gaze; there seven and twenty war-planes flew
Manoeuvring in formation; and the drone
Of that neat-patterned hornet-gang was thrown
Across the golden downland like a blight.

Cities, I thought, will wait them in the night
When airmen, with high-minded motives, fight
To save Futurity. In years to come
Poor panic-stricken hordes will hear that hum,
And Fear will be synonymous with Flight.

The self-employed and 'migrants'.

I have been self-employed since 1973.
This means that I've been out and about actually or metaphorically looking for fees, or short-term contracts to earn a living.
This is a highly individualised activity.
In some of the work situations, I might find myself in intense co-operation with small groups of people over relatively short periods of time but the actual point of contract is very individual.
No matter how analogous this kind of self-employment is to waged or salaried labour, it isn't the same. It's not inferior or superior. It's just different in this crucial matter of the point of contract.
I've noticed that several times (possibly more) when people are interviewed on TV or radio about 'immigrants' and they ask the person to identify what work they do, it is clear that such people are sometimes (note 'sometimes') self-employed e.g. people on market stalls, or people in the building trade who are often paid on a job by job basis, sometimes cash in hand. 
1. The government is doing all it can to get people out of waged labour (with accompanying state benefits) and on to self-employed status. This is one the ways in which the government 'reduces unemployment'! It's nothing of the sort. It's just juggling categorisations so that it looks this way.
2. The most extreme view of self-employment is that it brings you into 'competition' with everyone else! Everyone is potentially your enemy! That's to say, anyone or everyone could in theory do what you do and possibly go to the person who pays your fees or arranges your contract and say that he or she could do the same as you for less money. It is only through some effort of mind that a person can overcome this view of the world as your competitor. it requires a counter-ideology.
3. In the situation of migrants from anywhere (another side of town, another region, another part of the UK, Europe, the world) who are prepared to negotiate a fee or contract for less than you, then it's true they 'undercut' you. Elsewhere in the waged and salaried sectors I've been at great pains to point out that I believe a) workers can't undercut wage rates because they don't fix them b) governments have made enormous efforts for decades and in particular since 2008 to freeze wages, as evidenced by what e.g. Nick Clegg stated the Coalition had done up until 2015 c) the destruction of jobs is done by the movement of capital about the world (e.g. destruction of Ford's Dagenham) not by migrants.
4. With the self-employed sector expanding (see above) there is great potential for racist groups and parties to absorb self-employed people into their ranks, who appear to be 'workers' (in the sense of waged and salaried people) who say they are being 'undercut' or even that 'immigrants depress wages' (when they mean 'fees' and 'contracts') and who have absorbed the 'compete with everyone' ethos and direct it exclusively at the particular kind of migrant they don't like (as opposed to a 'migrant' from the next street, the other side of town or another part of the UK.
5. This is a re-run of pre-fascist situations in Germany and France where fascist organisations were able to draw on support from what the French left have called 'les garagistes' - the little self-employed garage owner who sees both organised workers (who might make the one or two guys he's employing demand more wages) and bosses of big factories (who fix the prices of the goods and plant he needs) as a threat.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Why they keep going on about Corbyn and 'leadership'?

Many months now of mainstream media people, Blair's warlords, several sundry ex-leading members of the Labour Party who voted for the Iraq War, PFI and who failed to nationalise the railways or build council houses all saying that Corbyn is not a leader.

Several possible interpretations of this:

1. Corbyn represents a permanent and irritating criticism of what they've all been saying and doing for the last 10 years.

2. They all work to some kind of cardboard cut-out template of 'The Leader' - the kind of thing you used to be able to buy from Woolworth's when I was a kid. The problem for them is that Corbyn doesn't fit the template. In fact, the template comes from a weird mutual chit-chat between right wing politicians and the media. The media give marks (quite literally in the case of the Guardian) for 'good performances' by leaders while political parties do what they can to mould their leaders to fit what the media give good marks for. Cameron was rude, clich├ęd, snobbish, racist (remember the 'bunch of migrants' and the sneer at 'Indian dancing' and the support for Goldsmith's islamophobia  in the London mayoral election?) but of course, with the help of speech-writers, had a glib turn of phrase - all this while he and his government have been taking money away from low income people to pay for the recession and bank crisis.

As Corbyn doesn't fit the template, then he can't be 'The Leader', they say.

3. Another possibility is that whatever Corbyn is, says or does, if they hope that if they keep on saying 'Corbyn's not a leader' enough people will believe them. This is part of a very old idea: if I say something, it'll happen. Or something else: people will believe that being the template 'Leader' is what we need to make our lives better. Do we? Do we need glib, smooth-talking, fibbing people like Blair or Cameron?

4. I'm dead keen that there should be a good team of people, popular in their party, popular in the country, good at helping each other, good at explaining things, good at pointing out how the system as a whole is rigged to enable the rich to defend their wealth, create yet more wealth at the expense of the non-wealthy and the poor. At present, 172 Labour MPs, ex-Blairite warlords and sundry miffed New Labourites are doing everything they can to prevent this team emerging and strengthening itself.  They fear that such a team will emerge and are trying to crush it. I don't find myself yearning for someone like Blair or Cameron to 'lead'. Far from it.

How do the rich take money from the poor? Here's one way.

If you look hard enough in what people in government say, they will explain exactly how they wage class war against the poor and working people in general.

Greg Hands, ex-Chief Secretary to the Treasury once explained that the banking crisis led to what he called the 'great recession' and 'misery to millions of families'.

Now we could stop right there and ask why? Why should a banking crisis cause the rest of us 'misery'? Shouldn't it simply and only involve bankers and/or extremely rich people taking a hit? After all, these 'millions of families' going through 'misery' didn't actually cause either the 'banking crisis' or the 'great recession'.

But it seems from Greg Hands' statement as if somehow people like him have had nothing to do with causing the 'great recession' or indeed any of the 'misery'.

Now let's call to mind what Nick Clegg, one time deputy PM. Here's how the BBC wrote about something he said in 2015:

"The deputy prime minister said public sector workers had made a "huge contribution to balancing the books" over the past six years, saying the "uncomfortable but unavoidable" curbs on pay had helped saved £12bn."

This was what the Tory-LibDem government did. In face of the banking crisis they took money away from public sector workers to the tune of £12 billion.

This is nothing else but class war. It is the government helping the extremely rich, super rich, move on from the banking crisis by taking money away from the lowest paid.

Those of us who support Jeremy Corbyn want this sort of thing to stop and the very least to claw back some of this lost income.