Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Archive for November, 2016|Monthly archive page

DINOSAUR: Grammar Schools? Back to the past!

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on November 18, 2016 at 1:59 pm

dinosaurI confess that when I was merely a fledgling dinosaur I was sent packing to a grammar school.  Well, back in those days it was something which we had no control over.

Under the “tripartite system”, brought in after the war, schools were divided into three difference types that were meant, theoretically, to suit children’s particular set of abilities. Basically, at the age of 11 years, youngsters were tested to see which kind of school suited their particular talents. Well, that was the theory anyway.

The choice was between the grammar schools, or the secondary modern and the technical high schools. But as the technical schools were to say the least in short supply, it usually boiled down to a choice between the grammar and the secondary modern – and basically if you didn’t gain a grammar school place you were deemed to have “failed”, and were packed off to the nearest secondary modern.

So there I was, my satchel on my back, heading for a small West Country grammar school – but completely unaware of those who were destined for the local secondary modern school. As far as I could see they just didn’t exist.  The set-up basically created a system of social division.

My kids on the other hand went to comprehensive school.  They attended their neighbourhood “comp”, mingling with those from the local community and benefited from a sense of social integration.

Then some bright spark of a politician came up with the notion of what became known as “parental choice”. In other words they, the parents, could send their children to any school within the local education area that they wanted to.  As a result we now had a structure based on social fragmentation.

Goodness knows how we’d describe the system we’ve got now. Me, I’m lost for words. To make matters worse, the Tories (well, some of them) now think it’s a good idea to bring back the grammar schools – a notion that should have been buried decades ago.

Bang to rights!

I’ve been a follower of the radio soap, “The Archers” on and off for as long as I can remember. Its catchy signature tune always evokes a sense of rural cosiness in the community of Ambridge where everyone knows their place.

But occasionally a plot line crops up that shakes the foundations of the old order. The example of Helen Titchmarsh (nee Archer) and her knife attack on her controlling, scheming husband Rob has had millions gripped over many weeks, with Helen in custody and the wicked Rob recovering – and scheming.

Last month we had the grand finale. The trial. With Rob still making plans for his future, the two of them have their time in court. And finally, in an hour long episode, the jury argues its way to a conclusion. She’s not guilty. No doubt there were cheers from millions of listeners glued to their wireless sets.

I thought the conflicting opinions of the members of the jury were particularly well handled – particularly the emerging views of the self-appointed “chairman” who, it’s finally revealed, has a very dim view of women and feels they’re capable of all sorts, in order to keep men in their place. Gradually, however, a more rational set of opinions emerges – and Helen is found not guilty.

No doubt the verdict gained the applause of all those listeners who support women’s rights.  And that’s how it should be. And congratulations to the Archers’ script writers for their handling of this particular story line!

Just curious:

Being a curious sort of dinosaur, a number of questions have crossed my mind recently. For example, in the great purge by Labour’s head office, how many members of the party have been expelled or suspended?  And how many of these found themselves unable to vote in the leadership elections as a result?  Not only that, but how many would have cast their vote for Jeremy Corbyn, and how many for Owen Smith?

Just wondering, you understand



CLARION COMMENT: The Cameron Legacy

In Editorial, Uncategorized on November 18, 2016 at 1:54 pm

So, with the Brexit vote over, Cameron decided to fall on his sword and abruptly resign from his post as Prime Minister (and of course as leader of the Conservative Party) – Indeed, he went further. He stood down as an MP.  For us, the electorate, whether we like it or not, it’s now welcome to Theresa May’s new regime!

How quickly he’s become yesterday’s man. Yet Cameron’s going was typical of him. After declaring that he would remain as a backbencher he then resigns his Parliamentary seat of Witney (in the lush, true blue pastures of the Cotswolds) and walks off into the proverbial sunset.

It’s difficult to assess how he’ll be remembered. There was always a certain chameleon quality about him. Certainly, despite his early promises, his legacy will be, to say the least, controversial. His years at number 10 were marked by austerity (cuts in welfare and in job security for ordinary families), and even his forays into foreign policy were less than auspicious. His downfall was of course the European Union.

Whether it’s helpful to look back at his background when considering the Cameron legacy is difficult to say. He was born into a wealthy stockbroking family, attended an elite independent school, moving on to Eton before ending up at Brasenose College, Oxford. Here, it’s been noted, he joined the “Bullingdon Club”.  This outfit was noted for grand banquets and such boisterous activities as trashing restaurants and college rooms (they always paid for the damage, incidentally). Fellow club members included George Osborne and Boris Johnson.

After taking a year out, Cameron went on to work amidst the tangled web of Tory internal politics at the Conservative Research Department. But by this time he was developing Parliamentary ambitions. And in 2000 he was chosen as Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Witney. From here he worked his way up through the ranks of the Parliamentary Party – though he did succeed in making enemies on the way. He was branded by one fellow MP as “superficial, unreliable and with an apparent lack of convictions”, whilst Guardian columnist, Charlie Brooker, described him as a “boiled egg with no sweets inside”.


By this time Cameron had re-branded himself as a “modern compassionate Conservative”. He promoted green politics, announced the launch of “the Big Society” and then came out with a speech which became encapsulated by the media as a declaration that we should all “hug a hoody”.  It was no wonder that some of his fellow Tories accused him of betraying Thatcher’s legacy!

When Cameron became Prime Minister in 2010, the reality was to be something very different.  Lacking an overall majority he was forced into coalition with Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, pledging that together they would “work hard for the common good and the national interest.”  And then came the spending cuts. The age of austerity had begun.

The cuts started with a vengeance in June 2010, masterminded by Cameron’s old Bullingdon Club mate, George Osborne.  Welfare was sliced, pensions were diced – and there were cuts in spending, too. Cameron even claimed that “we were all in it together,” whilst the banks and the City continued to play fast and loose with the economy as if there’d been no yesterday.

Despite slashing cuts the Tories failed in their objective to balance the books.  Instead they gave us the “bedroom tax” whilst growing poverty in our society created the need for food banks.

Yet, on a completely different policy front, he promoted the legalisation of gay marriage. Few surely could fault him on that.

On so many fronts, Cameron has been inconsistent. And his treatment of his former Liberal Democrat partners at the last election was ruthless (though it could be said that through their co-operation with so many of the Tories’ policies, they deserved it). But it was Cameron’s gamble over membership of the European Union that was to be his downfall.


Cameron had decided to re-negotiate our terms of membership of the EU, and then claim any deal as a great victory for the UK. It was obvious that any such deal was to be limited. After all, there has to be some consistency in the rules that govern the EU, otherwise the whole concept on which the Union is based breaks down.

And then, after claiming a spurious victory, Cameron launched us all into a referendum on whether we should stay in the EU or leave.

After the result was announced of course Cameron’s downfall was inevitable. He has left us with the uncertainties of life outside the EU, and arguably with rather fewer friends than we had before he entered Downing Street.

What Theresa May has to offer of course still remains to be seen – though her opening gambits haven’t been promising. Apart from her decision to re-introduce grammar schools, plus her “stop go” stance on nuclear power we have had very little to go on – yet.  No doubt we’ll have plenty more to say on that over the coming months.