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Friday, April 22, 2011


Nothing winds me up more at the moment than hearing rich film stars complaining about government arts funding in the UK. I have no objection to people funding arts projects. Let's be clear about that. Let me be the first go on a record to say that I have absolutely no objection to multi-millionaires Kenneth Branagh or Helen Mirren (who was paid £500K for two days work by Nintendo) funding any or all arts projects that they see fit anywhere in the UK.

I suggest that instead of writing letters to The Observer they write letters to old Etonian Hugh Laurie, who earns more than $400,000 per episode for the American medical soap "House". Each episode could pay for one regional theatre company for a year, or something like that. I think the general public would be moved to see the artistic community banding together in this way.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Waiting, waiting

Oh man, I watched something horrifying on my last plane journey. I was flicking through the movies looking for something to watch after spending four solid hours typing on my laptop. I couldn't see anything that looked appealing that I hadn't seen, and I certainly wasn't going to watch Harry Potter, but then I spotted a title I didn't recognise. I chose it. The strapline was that it was documentary about the American public school system. Yawn. Still sounded better than Harry Potter. So I started watching it.

It was compelling, interesting, well-made, fascinating and above all, horrifying. Every day I am tortured by middle-class guilt because I didn't send my kids to private school and this didn't make me feel any better (even thought it was about the US). Public schools are failing us.

England's primary trainee teachers came second to last out of eight countries with a score of 32.2 out of 60.

[From BBC News - England's teacher trainees 'do worse' in maths tests]

The filmmaker began by noting that he drove past three public schools every day while he was taking his own children to private school. I liked this: I can't stand liberal posturing about education from people at (for example) newspapers who went to private schools and Oxbridge and send their own children to private school in turn.

In essence, the point of the documentary was that the biggest problem in American schools is the teacher's unions, which I'm sure applies equally in the UK.

One of the most amazing things I've ever seen in my life was the footage from the "rubber room" in New York where teachers who are suspended awaiting a hearing for a variety of disciplinary problems (up to and including sexual abuse). They do absolutely nothing all day here. In the US, 1 in 57 doctors will lose his medical licence. Around 1 in 100 lawyers will be struck off. And, of course, people don't chose bad doctors or lawyers, so the bad ones do less damage. Only 1 in 2500 teachers will be fired, and they basically have to kill someone to do that.

Despite years of reform, capital investment, targets, increased assessments and testing, a great deal of comprehensive education languishes far behind that offered by the independent sector and, indeed, other European nations. The manner in which private-school students dominate the elites of politics, law, business and media, not to mention Oxbridge colleges, is sobering enough for middle-class parents who have the resources and ability to add value to state education, but it leaves the vast majority of working-class children, especially those with minimal parental back-up, with little to no chance of bridging an ever-widening divide.

[From Katharine Birbalsingh: 'The middle class is disguising the failings of state schools in the inner cities' | Education | The Observer]

Anyway, the documentary was about the US charter school movement. It featured an incredible guy called Geoffrey Canada, who started a charter school in the worst-performing school district in New York, in Harlem. I won't spoil the movie by telling you any more, but it's well worth your time. Watch "Waiting for Superman" when you have a chance.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]