Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cracks in St. Andrew's Car Parks

The news that cracks have started to appeal in St. Andrew's Car Park is very worrying indeed, especially as this is a much trumpeted effort which has won awards in the past. I hope that the council are swift in their report on this because the public will naturally be concerned. I have submitted an emergency question to Council on Tuesday but am yet to hear if it has been accepted. In the meantime you can read more here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Clarke votes for longer holidays

Charles Clarke must now justify why, yesterday, he voted for an extended 12 day holiday for MPs in February instead of the usual 7. Conservative MPs opposed the move which was only supported by Labour MPs.

MPs have ridiculously long holidays and to extend them is a slap in the face for British people who pay their wages. This government has a long list of problems to tackle, mostly of their making, such as reducing the deficit, tackling anti-social behaviour and improving the NHS. Surely this must keep them busy at Westminster?

But no, Charles Clarke and his Labour friends vote for more holiday instead of tackling our problems.

David Cameron has set out that the Conservatives will, in necessary, work through the summer holidays after being elected to get a grip on the problems created by Labour.

Mr Clarke's move is cynical - if Labour doesn't have anything to do, maybe they ought to get round to calling a General Election?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Second LibDem PPC quits

Following hot on the heels of Newcastle LibDem PPC Greg Stone, who quit because of rude remarks he made about female MPs using a false name on a website, now the LibDems have lost their PPC for Stoke, David Jack, after he apparently sent racist emails.

The one thing you can say is that Mr Jack realised his error and quit immediately rather than hanging on and fighting his difficult corner. People's trust in politics is bigger than any candidate's career.

UPDATE: Iain Dale blogs that this is not representative of the whole party but of the actions - which he denies, may I add - of an individual. I totally agree, after other candidates who have quit from other parties, I think we all accept that Stone and Jack say as much about the LibDems as a "bad apple" candidate says about the Tories or Labour. I do wish politicans and bloggers from all sides saw it like that.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cameron's Right On Teachers

There isn't a single parent or pupil reading this that doesn't rate the quality of teaching as one of the single most important factors in the quality of our education system; in fact, most might rate it as the most important factor. An inspirational teacher makes the world of difference.

David Cameron today launched the Conservatives Draft Education Manifesto and the central plank of this excellent document is just that - quality teaching.

The most important part of this is the acceptance that we need to get rid of poor performing staff. The quality of teacher training, but also the support provided in school, is vital here - but at the end of the day, the teaching profession is still a vocation but a tough one at that. Some people will not cope with life in the classroom, like others do not cope with the court room, mechanics garage or press room. So the Conservatives will tackle poor teaching with more speed - good idea, after all those children do not get that time back, their education moves on. Nobody ever says to a kid, "OK, to be honest that teacher wasn't very good, so do you fancy doing year 8 again with a better one?".

Now, if we are going to do more to get rid of bad teachers we have to do more to replace them with good ones; exceptional, "elitist" you might say. I would, however, say that Mr Cameron and Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove are only part of the way to explaining how we do this.

We do want only those with high quality qualifications to be teachers; but we need to understand what is stopping them from applying at the moment. This is not meant to be an exhuastive list, nor is it based on anything other than my thoughts, but we need to be ready to tackle:

1. Poor behaviour and the lack of methods to tackle this
2. The culture of targets and inspections
3. False alegations and the impact of them
4. Lack of support from some parents
5. Constant government reform
6. Wages & Conditions

I am sure in time these will, one by one, be addressed fully.

However to be frank this is the best and most important education documents in a very long time and it deserves to be welcomed; it certainly was from people of all politics in my staffroom.

UPDATE: I understand Labour have slammed the proposals and the Unions have gone mad because they say sacking bad teachers may lead to a temporary rise in class sizes whilst the new teachers are trained up. I would urge Labour and the Unions to try that arguement with parents on the doorsteps or in the playground - the parents I know, including myself, would rather have a great teacher with more kids than a bad one with fewer.

UPDATE 2: Speaking to a friend who is "in" teacher training he has said that this could be done with no impact on class sizes at all - good to hear - as long as the incentives to teach are right and the Teach Now programme is implemeted properly. Great to see the party really thinking this stuff through - excellent eye on detail of policy.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Clegg's Haiti Moment

Nick Clegg is a careerist politican, we shouldn't forget that, but somebody ought to be briefing him on events and how to behave in the outside world. Mr Clegg, whom we should not forget cannot tell you how much the basic state pension is but can remember his exact number of lovers, has done it again - pushing the case for donating to the DEC on behalf of the victims of the terrible Haiti earthquake but then being forced to reveal he hadn't done it himself! (More here). Some are even saying that Clegg is getting better on policy but worse on being in touch with real-life; his decision to quit shopping at Waitrose because of the recession, a classic.

The question for me, though, is do we have a right to know if politicans donate to charities and, if so, which ones? Generally "no", but we do expect our politicans to practice what they preach.

p.s. I have donated; not directly the DEC website but to "bucket shakers" in the street whom must have mobilised very fast and give up their time to back this excellent cause.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Greens are petty and shortsighted when they reject jobs for the City

The decision of Green Councillor to work en bloc to reject a planning application for the car park of the disused Romany Pub on Colman Road for a new shop is nothing short of disgraceful and shows the party up for the shortsighted bunch they are.

Forget the jobs created through construction, forget the jobs created when the store opens, forget the virtual lack of local opposition and forget the need to clean up this site.

Don't worry about the fact we're in a recession and ought to be doing all we can to back business.

The Green Party rejected this proposal just in case Tesco are planning to buy the site after planning permission is granted. I am told that Tesco's have no idea about the site, haven't made any approaches and don't have plans for a store in the area.

So why have the Greens done this? Because their shortsighted attitude is going to drag this City down. I am furious with their petty actions; I hope all those in the area who are unfortunate enough to not have employment and may have applied for these jobs note who has denied them this opportunity.

At Last - CCTV in the Castle Gardens

A big word of congratulations to my Bowthorpe Conservative colleague, Cllr. Niki George, who has won his long campaign to get CCTV installed into the Castle Gardens to tackle anti-social behaviour (click here for more).

Cllr George has really pushed this inssue, including multiple questions to council; the re-buffs he got from Labour on the issue made him more determined to do this.

This kind of news shows why grassroots democracy is so important; it can pay off if you have the determination. Well Done Niki.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Winning the e-war in Norwich South

This excellent website seems to have taken a lot of time and trouble to review the online presence of all selected candidates in constituencies around Norfolk. He includes some very detailed feedback, including on websites, blogs, social networking and how they all link together. It is very thorough and Chris Bardell really does seem to have made something very up-to-date and useable here.

In an article in which the LibDems are described as just "adequate" and Charles Clarke is "uninspiring", it is good to see the efforts made by the Conservatives in the City coming out on top. We have put a lot of effort into our online campaign and it really does pay off - our doorstepping tells us this too. The Tory effort in Norwich South beats all of the other parties.

There are convincing wins for Brandon Lewis in Yarmouth and also Chloe Smith in Norwich North in their seats.

I am really convinced this is going to be an internet election and we are well ahead of the curve - with more to come still. I take on board what Chris says about the use of the facebook group - although my own page and the campaigners page does make up for some of this - so we clearly have more to do to improve further. Let's go for it!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Brown's Critics Go Wobbly

According to the BBC, the meeting of the PLP went by without note and the rebels stayed silent. I warned they wouldn't have the nouse to go through with the task of removing Mr Brown. Labour MPs have chosen their captain to go down with the ship.

However, what I thought was interesting was the degree to which Brown now relies not just on his cabinet as a whole but a few figures within it.

Note during today's photocall with the Prime Minister launching a stratgey to give out free laptops and internet access to low income families, there lurking in the background was ... Lord Mandelson and Ed Balls. The 2 men currently keeping Brown where he is.

Oh, and during all of this tonight's polls show significant Tory leads. Thank God Labour MPs don't wonder why!

Is our media really this predictable?

This excellent blogpost (click here) by Glasgow Labour MP Tom Harris is well worth a few moments of your time ... I hope our media isn't this obvious, but I think it probably is!

Saturday, January 09, 2010

In defence of the Headteacher

The decision to close schools isn’t an easy one, and Headteachers seem to take the rap no matter what they do. If you close, the commeteriate launch at you on BBC News24, and if you don’t then parents will queue up to attack you if things go wrong for their children. Snow Days are a no-win for any head. But this year, with prolonged bad weather, it seems that much of society is taking it out on schools, and if doing this will make the weather better!

Now Tory blogger Iain Dale has waded in and asked why if some schools can open, others cannot. It’s dangerous to disagree with Iain, but I’m afraid he is totally wrong about this.

In direct answer to his question, some schools open and some close because they are all different depending on size, location of pupils, location of teaching staff, structure of the site and support of grounds staff. But I don’t think Iain understands the ways that schools work and blaming the legal side of things is only half the problem.

Schools are not businesses – you cannot operate on a skeleton staff and everything begins and ends with the bell, not when the boss chooses it.

Some teachers will find it harder to get into school. I work 15 minutes walk away from my school, but my colleagues come in from Diss, Thetford, Lowestoft and – sometimes worse in terms of travel – small Norfolk villages. If you are late, who registers your class? Or teaches period one until you arrive? Let’s double up classes I hear you cry! Great plan – so how many rooms can cope with 60+ kids at a time? In my school we have around 6 rooms that could cope with those numbers. If you cannot make it in at all you have 5 periods of cover to arrange. Every class needs a teacher in front of it and I bet you nobody could find a supply teacher for love nor money in the last week. So the moment 6 staff are away the school is in trouble, even for the biggest High School you only need to be missing double figures are pupils will either be unsupervised or badly supervised.

So let’s assume we have all the staff in school that day. What about the pupils? If you work in a small village school – as my wife does – the majority of pupils are probably walked in by their parents. But larger primaries (like my daughter's) and all High Schools (like mine) take their pupils from a large catchment area. To give Iain some idea, my school has pupils from Yarmouth, Diss, Cromer and Swaffham. You don’t get much more travel than that. So the kids struggle in, the snow falls and come 3.30pm they can’t get home again. Trust me, on Wednesday as the snow started to fall parents were turning up to collect pupils and others were requesting they leave school early. A few years back I can remember standing on the playground at gone 5pm still waiting for parents to collect all because we opened in the snow. No teacher pushes the kids out of the door at 3.30pm and doesn’t care what happens to them then. A 2-3hr bus journey home is unacceptable for 11 year olds.

So now let’s assume we get all the teachers in, plus the kids and that they can get home okay. What kind of learning do you think is going on? A simple rule of teaching is that it is impossible to get anything done when it is snowing outside. On Wednesday my double History lesson 9.05-10.30 was going great guns; the snow started and the kids ground to a halt. Even closing the blinds didn’t work! What should we do with them? Teach or babysit?

So now let’s assume we get all the teachers in, plus the kids and that they can get home okay, and that they are learning ok. What about the times when they go outside? We can’t trap 1400 High School kids inside during break and lunch; the playgrounds are almost un-patrolable. This is your chance, as a pupil, to pelt your least favourite teacher with snow – dangerously and yes, it can hurt – and get away with it because the chance of seeing who threw a snowball at the back of your head is nil. No wonder extra staff don’t want to go outside when some petty adolescents want to get their revenge on you with no chance of being sanctioned. I have know circumstances where teachers have been hurt (snow, ice, stones inside them etc) and yet nothing can be done to redress this.

So now let’s assume we get all the teachers in, plus the kids and that they can get home okay, and that they are learning ok and that teachers are willing to do duty. Now what about the school site? My school is based around several buildings and the pupils have to move between sites. Our site team are excellent and are out from 5.30 and yet you still cannot guarantee that things are safe. Yes, I’ve known pupils falling and the parental complaints that follow. Yes, I’ve known teachers falling and all of the fall out that follows. There have been legal issues, of course, but what about the genuine health & safety issue here?

And finally there is the argument that snow falling is one of the events that kids always remember, and the chance to tabogan or sledge is one of life’s great moments. Let’s give it to them.

Iain, it isn’t as easy to say “open” or “close”; it is a myriad of factors. Every school, every Head and every teacher is aware of the knock-on impact we have. It is the toughest decision anyone can make at 6am to decide to open or close.

This is an issue nobody will ever get right all of the time, but we have to trust the professionalism of our Headteachers rather than carping on when things don’t go the way we want them. Schools are odd because although nearly all of us have been through them, very few really understand how they work. Or to put in another way,

For every parents who complains that a school is shut, there is one who is concerned that their kids are not properly supervised on a site still covered in ice.

Friday, January 08, 2010

The BBC vs. Reality

When he's not talking about politics, Norfolk Blogger tends to be spot on. In this post, he highlights the massive difference between online weather forecasts from the Met / BBC. He's totally correct too; not only are there massive differences between different companies but areas only miles apart have totally different weather forecasts.

So today I am conducting my experiemet of comparing the BBC forecast to what is actually happening outside of the window in the City Centre.

The BBC said 9am would be "sunny". My window said it was "snow blizzard".

Not a good start. More later.

UPDATE: BBC says snow by midday; my window says clear with some sunshine.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

All the news thats fit to print

Apparently the third biggest political story in the UK today, and worthy of tweets from C4, is that a Tory advisor, who has no public recognition at all, got an £80 fine for getting abusive over not having a train ticket ... in 2008 (click here).

Aside from the fact that this is ridiculous to even make the headlines, and before LibDems everywhere start leaping up and down, haven't we seen this before (click here) ... only with somebody far more senior and in a far worse position?

Things like this make me despair of the British media.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Don't get excited

The Hoon-Hewitt plot (backed by Norwich MP Clarke) has set Wesminster alight in the snow today. And yet from the excitement of lunchtime it has all fizzled out. Why? Because Labour MPs are spineless and unable to act in the way that the Tories did in 2003 or the LibDems in 2007. Most of their MPs would rather go down to defeat with Brown and have a post-election bloodbath than do so now in the hope of producing a leader who may just save them a few extra seats. OK, that's fine by me and probably fine by Cameron too.

So let's not get too excited; it'll all come to nothing, as usual from Labour.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Does Brown believe this stuff?

So, Gordon Brown tells Andrew Marr: "Everything I have ever won in my life I have had to fight for."

You can understand the political line of attack behind this; portray Gordon Brown as the great battler in life, compared to David Cameron who has had everything presented to him on a silver platter. In the Downing Street bunker that line made total sense I'm sure.

The trouble is: it doesn't work.

It doesn't work because the class warfare stuff is failing badly.

It doesn't work because Cameron is open about his background and his rebuttle about the importance of family and education is good.

And it doesn't work because it isn't true.

Gordon Brown was selected for a safe Scottish Labour seat and even now will not struggle to get re-elected come the next election. He didn't have to fight for the Labour leadership in 2007 either, prefering a cornonation to an election. In fact, in many ways the opposite it true. Brown shows every signs of hating battles, even choosing to put off an election when he may have won it.

I am not saying he hasn't has problems in his life (his eye sight, for example, and the loss of his daughter) but to portary Brown as one of life's great battlers just isn't true.

If he said this line for political advantage he takes the British people for fools; we can see through it.

If he said this line and believed it, well, that's much more serious ...