Monday, June 25, 2012

Return of the O' Levels

A leak of the Education's Secretary's plan to scrap GCSEs and replace then with old style O' Levels has attracted the expected amount of criticism. Well there is no life left in GCSEs unfortunately. To save the standard of education they will sooner or later have to go. That's simply because no government is going to stand over the headline of GCSE A*-C pass rates falling to 50%. It now stands at 81%. 7 years ago it was 55%.

Sadly there is no way that better teaching practices and the idea that pupils are working harder than their predecessors is solely or even largely responsible for making those gigantic leaps in improving numbers year on year. Instead we have teaches to exams and perverse competition between the Exam Boards working to increase scores whilst not necessarily increasing comprehension.

The negative effect it is certainly having is in confusing higher education institutions and businesses as to how bright a particular student is.

O' Levels are not the answer. We need a bit more thought than going back to the old system that was deemed to need replacing itself only 25 years ago.

With school leaving age shifting from 16 years old to 18 we have an opportunity to rework education and start competing with the great results that are coming out of other systems like those of Finland and South Korea. For starters we can get rid of this aspiration for smaller class size nonsense. There aren't enough brilliant teachers to go around and they are more important than the class size. I'd rather have my child with a brilliant teacher in a class of 50 than an average teacher in a class of 25.

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The State of British Politics

What's happening in British politics today, in the wake of the local elections held on May 3rd 2012. Labour did well. They didn't shatter expectations but they did well. They had an open goal to aim for with the calamitous budget from George Osborne, Theresa May's lost day, Francis Maude's jerry can gaffe, Vincent Cable's lack of strategy letter, the 500 families Newham council wanted to foist upon Stoke, and then the small matter of Britain re-entering recession.

Ed Miliband thought now would be a good time to revive Malcolm Tucker's "omnishambles" as the buzz word to describe the situation for the government. Blowing his load too soon, in my opinion and that's a brilliant word to being out for a general election. He'll do very well to top it and even now only a month or two later it's lost its edge. And with all that Labour pretty much rode the wave of inertia which punishes governing parties at local elections.

So, what's going on? Well, Labour can't shake off their guilt from landing the country in the situation it's in. Their leadership duo were in it up to their eyeballs which means when they tell us they have the economic remedy any right thinking person doesn't believe them for a second. Alistair Darling was the best person Labour had coming out of government. The idea that Labour want to ride his coattails with the growth in GDP that he oversaw just before the party left power is despicable considering Gordon Brown wanted him out and replaced by Ed Balls.

Besides which there is no way of telling whether Darling was doing everything right or whether he enjoyed a dead cat bounce. Considering the depth of the fall in GDP and the relative stability elsewhere (Greece was bad but nothing like now) there's plenty of room for doubting his perfection.

It can't get much worse for the Tories. The disingenuously named double-dip recession is only expected to be short. So maintaining control of the deficit now and recognisable growth to come ahead of 2015 would mean they are not looking to hand Labour a solid majority. The daily stack up of poor news has abated. The jobs figures for the past 3 months have showed mild improvements. Take the economy back the same way and they'll start having some confidence in themselves again. Though David Cameron's continually questionable choice in company keeps plaguing his leadership. Gary Barlow is the case in point this week.

The Liberal Democrats, well. They just can't get over the tuition fee debacle. They thought they could ride it out but nearly two years on it still overshadows everything they do. Nick Clegg will never regain trust of the voters and so they'll be left with only loyal hardcore support until there's a large scale jettison of the betraying pledgers.

Of course, the two main parties aren't being shifted from their perch yet. However, there is a chance that this country will awaken from its stupor and actually vote someone else in who might do something different. UKIP and the Greens did well. The Green's already have their first MP in Caroline Lucas. Hopefully that's a stepping stone for them rather than a flash in the pan. UKIP need to stop being a one man show with a single policy. Nigel Farage can only spread himself so far. He needs his team to be more visible to capture the public's imagination.And George Galloway of Respect is back in the House with a recent by-election win.

It'll come around eventually...

Jimmy Carr Opens the Book on Tax Morality

A satirical comedian who makes his living out of jokes about bankers bonuses and fat cats has been caught out as a tax dodger. He's going to earn a lot of money, went to his accountant going what do I do with it, and gets told he can legally pay 1% on it with a K2 arrangement.

So who's in the wrong? Jimmy Carr? His accountant? The companies that pay into his company knowing it's bound to be dodging tax as it has a Jersey address? The law makers who allowed this loophole?

Jimmy is taking all the personal flak but there's another 1000+ people abusing the scheme, including folks like the lovely Gary Barlow, who need to share the public wrath. It's not turning out too bad for Mr Carr. He's held his hands up, admitted it's an error in judgement and pulled out of the scheme. The twitterati are certainly largely forgiving of him.

If he earns a similar amount to last year that'll mean he'll pay more income tax in 3 months than the average British worker will pay in their whole 40+ year working life. Does that square things up? What about his charitable giving. Does denying the treasury the choice of where to spend a large chunk of his money cause less upset because he chooses good causes to give some of it to instead?

Individual choices are poor when it comes to the common good. That's why we have a system of laws in the first place. The laws on income are clearly faulty as it doesn't capture all income for liability to income tax. The tax code is amazingly long and wasteful. The amount of human energy and resources that goes into both exploiting and enforcing complicated tax rules is shameful. It needs to be kept simple so morality is off the table and all this effort can be redirected to something more useful. 

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