Archive for June, 2011

“Outstanding” comprehensive rejects academy status

June 29, 2011

Headmaster pans “punitive” Ofsted

The headmaster of Southgate Secondary school, an Enfield-based comprehensive rated as “outstanding” by schools watchdog Ofsted, has said Academy status would “shut us off from other schools“.

The government is encouraging schools to adopt academy status, which, according to the government, frees them from local authority and national government control.

But during an interview on education policy, Headmaster Anthony Wilde said collaborating with other schools would be harder if Southgate left local authority control. Southgate helps local schools by supporting headmasters and seconding teachers.

“We want to collaborate [with other schools] as well as compete,” said Wilde.

The government has also introduced the ‘English Baccalaureate’ (EB) – a special certificate for pupils obtaining grade C or above in English and maths, one each from science and humanities, as well as a foreign language. Mr Wilde said while they would support students in obtaining the EB certificate, it was important not to discourage pupils who preferred other subjects, such as Art.

Deprived neighbourhoods

He described Ofsted’s inspection regime as “punitive”, because while praising good schools, it punishes schools in deprived neighbourhoods, sometimes threatening them with closure.

Asked about the Free School Policy allowing parents to set up new schools, Wilde said it was “a good idea” because it “encourages smaller, more focused schools”. But in reality, “only middle class parents” applied to set them up. He also said that comprehensives could become more focused themselves by creating smaller school units.


Film ‘Thor’ shows Monarchy is Bad Idea

June 24, 2011

Within the first 30 minutes of Thor, we learnt our ‘Hero’ is heir to an autocratic regime – there being no sign of democracy in his home realm of Asgard – and following the theft of a precious artefact, has no qualms against attacking another realm – that of the ‘Frost Giants’ – despite no proof of their involvement in the crime.

We watch as Thor kills legions of Frost Giant soldiers who merely attempt to defend their planet. The film glosses over ‘Our Hero’s’ blatant war mongering by depicting his Frost Giant Victims as very ugly. Therefore, we are invited to believe, they deserve a hiding.

Soon Thor gets into trouble, not from a guilty conscience, but from being outnumbered by his foes and is rescued by his father Odin – The Ruler of Asgard. After being banished to Earth as punishment, the mentally prepubescent Thor learns some rudimentary
manners only to finally be re-instated as the Asgardian heir, the position that turned him into a thoughtless angry oaf in the first place.

Moreover, we have no idea whether the Asgardians themselves are content with their society. The film only ever shows Thor, his family or close confidants.

We are shown rapturous Asgardians celebrating a royal ceremony but for all we know his could merely be North Korean style state propaganda.

If we take Thor at Face value, we are really vouching for a mystical Viking equivelant of Kim Jong Un, son of the North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Il.

On another interpretation, the film becomes an unintended satirical critique of the hereditary principle.

-We’ve already touched on the first conflict in the film, solely caused by the warmongering of the spoilt prince Thor himself. Like all autocracies, the people of Asgard are at the mercy of the whims and insanities of those in the ruling family.

-When in Thor’s absence, his brother Loki temporarily becomes King following Odin’s death, he performs all sorts of misdeeds, there being no independent judiciary or parliament to act as a check his power.

-During the final fight scene, Thor, Loki and Odin end up destroying the humongous teleportation device that allows travel back and forth from Earth.

You don’t get the impression there will be an independent review to find out why such destruction occurred. Nor that there will be a trial for careless destruction of state property. The Asgardian press, if it exists, won’t be sending reporters to find out what happened. Most likely, as is the way in autocracies, Odin will instruct them what to write the next day.

Ironically, Marvel’s other hero Captain America, set to team with Thor in the Avengers movie, is famed for fighting Nazi totalitarianism. Yet there is apparently no contradiction in him collaborating with Thor.

The box office success has led to calls for a sequel. Perhaps it could be that contact with the Earth via twitter and facebook inspires an ‘Asgardian Spring’ of demands for freedom which compels Thor to create an orderly transition to a democratic system?

Or better still, the US and Britain take part in a neoconservative inspired invasion of Asgard to instil regime change, pitting Thor against Captain America and Iron Man?

It’s just a thought.

Who do we integrate with?

June 17, 2011

My Mother and I came to London in 1989. I was 3 and a half years old. We had travelled from war torn Iran and had gained asylum.

Fast forward 22 years and a citizenship ceremony later: I like to think I’m as British as a public transport delay. However, there are still elements of Our culture I don’t understand.

If this piece ended now, two paragraphs in, you would have a solid Daily mail headline: ‘Asylum seeker refuses to integrate after 22 years’.

Not that I’m singling out the Mail. Multiculturalism and Integration often make the news whenever the media haven’t got a royal wedding or super duper injunction to keep them entertained. The new mantra is Multiculturalism: Bad; Integration: Good. David Cameron agrees with this mantra, even using 2,000 words to make the same point as the previous sentence in a recent speech.

But integration is a difficult concept because ‘native’ British culture is itself diverse. If you doubt that assertion, try to complete the following: `10 things in common between Stephen Fry and Paul Gascoigne’

So if it’s understandable for Paul and Stephen find elements of each others behaviour alien, so I hope is my bafflement when dinner is called ‘tea’ (Who calls Breakfast ‘Orange Juice’?)

Though of course, the Mail might disagree: ‘Stephen Fry refuses to integrate for 58 years after gaining asylum from Mother’s Womb.’

The language I was raised with at home was English. I developed a stammer when I was 5 and a speech therapist told my mother to focus on only one language. Consequently, I speak Farsi with a limited vocabulary and an English accent that some Iranians find highly amusing (imagine a white guy called Simon Jones speaking broken English in a Middle Eastern accent).

Growing up in North London, I have had friends of many different ethnicities and from all backgrounds. As long as we could play the Super Nintendo Games console for ridiculously long stretches, I would be friends with anyone as a child. A simplistic philosophy for cross cultural interaction I know, but probably much better than what has traditionally been tried in Jerusalem, parts of Africa and Northern Ireland.

After a state education in my beloved north London, I gained a finance degree from Durham University where some might say I reached the zenith of integration into the British cultural mainstream: I was drunk a lot.

I graduated in 2007. After a foray into accountancy and a resulting quarter-life crisis, I’m now trying to ‘find myself’ by venturing into stand up comedy and journalism. Perhaps my decision to leave a stable career to pursue such risky occupations in order to fulfil a vague and self indulgent psychological need is actually the zenith of my integration into an individualistic British Culture. My decision was no doubt influenced by reading spirituality books while backpacking in Thailand, usually while drinking a healthy number of beers.

Today I believe I’m as British as a transport delay because:

– I am in my element in any situation requiring participation in a long and orderly queue;

– when holidaying, I deal with any linguistic differences by still speaking English, only louder than at home;

– when careless people bump into me on the street, I always apologise.

Before you gift me a Bowler hat and a copy of the Times bare in mind the following less stereotypically “British” points about me:

I found the national exuberance over the royal wedding to be irrational and faintly ridiculous. My main thought during the wedding was to wonder in which wars Prince Charles and Phillip were awarded all the military medals they were wearing.

However, does my aversion to monarchy just show I’m a well integrated member of the Republican minority in this country?

Our national Anthem makes me laugh and I prefer the Sex Pistols’ rendition – though that preference has a lot to do with many of my school friends being punk rockers.

My experience of Shakespeare is limited to what I was forced to read in school. Since then, I have shown no interest whatsoever to find out more about Shakespeare. However, my apathy towards Our National Playwright is shared by many white Brits.

The problem with mandating cultural integration is how you can measure conformity to the wide umbrella that is British culture.

Should Abdullah, fresh off the boat, aim to adopt the values of David Attenborough or Dizzee Rascal or both? If it is both, you wouldn’t blame Abdullah for taking the easy option and going back home, probably to face certain torture and death.

This is not to say that migrants shouldn’t be expected to learn English or adhere to British Values; Freedom of Speech, Tolerance, Highly unfashionable male summer wear and so on.

It just means we should be more careful when bandying the term ‘integration’ around, as if ‘being’ British can be reduced to liking fish and chips and preferring Tea to Sex. Not that there’s anything wrong with a good cuppa…