My presence on the Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education is an indication that modern RE teaching goes beyond Christianity, and that secularism is also addressed.

As a life-long atheist I never attended RE lessons as a school pupil; I also avoided school assemblies that had any hint of religion in them. I would file in for the notices at the end of the assembly. My parents were keen that I avoid all religion.

I am more relaxed about exposure to faith than my parents. I think children should be taught about religion, all religions. I also think they should be made aware of the various types of secularism, and this chimes in with modern attitudes to curriculum.

The SACRE meeting began with a debate on lapsing membership, and it was proposed that anyone missing three consecutive meetings would be taken off the council. If apologies for absence were tendered then this would count as attendance for the purposes of deciding whether to terminate someone’s membership. This, of course, does depend on everyone being properly informed about meetings times and venues; and if someone could prove that they had not received a meeting notice then this would also be taken into account.

The meeting start times were also discussed, with a suggestion that it be moved to 4pm.

Later on the Schools Survey 2016 was discussed. This will be going up on the Borough Council’s website soon. this survey is just about the religious education on offer in the borough’s schools.

The meeting was chaired by a man (Kevin Ryan), and the assembled were nineteen in total: eight females and eleven males.

The Campaign for State Education

As much as try to claim that education is not a policy area that excites me, I find myself regularly drawn to it. I guess this is because my take on education in the UK is rather like my brand of socialism. Whilst I want to help the gifted and encourage the ambitious, I also want to help those who are in neither category. The drive to take schools out of democratic accountability, and to pit school against school in some sort of pseudo-Darwinian struggle is decidedly not progressive in the eyes of this commentator. Choice is fine, but real choice should be available to everyone. Choice in education is often limited by the depths of one’s pockets, faith, or an arbitrary exam that those not immiserated can be coached for.

I stumbled across the Campaign for State Education’s website – interesting even for those whose take on educational matters is the polar opposite to mine. Check it out here.

In the meantime, I will continue to press for an educational policy in Southend-on-Sea that works for all of its students.

Education in Southend West – some relevant statistics

As a result of the Conservatives’ education policies, there are 146 unqualified teachers in schools in Southend-on-Sea – a rise of 13.20% in the last year.

In Southend-on-Sea, approximately 3,700 children are being taught by unqualified teachers.

There are still 2,195 children in schools in Southend West that are rated by Ofsted as less than ‘good’.

There are 412 infants being taught in large classes of over 30 in Southend-on-sea – a rise of 221.90% since 2010.

There are 146 fewer registered childcare places in Southend-on-sea since 2010.

There are 5 fewer designated Sure Start children’s centres in Southend-on-Sea since 2010.

The cost of a part-time nursery place in The Eastern Region has risen by 23% since 2010.

Southend West deserves better than the Tory plan for education

Labour has a better plan for education.

Labour’s promise on education includes protection for the education budget, and ensuring that it rises in line with inflation. We will ensure that all teachers in state schools become qualified, and require teachers to continue to build their skills. We also promise to cap class sizes, end the free schools programme, ensure all schools are locally accountable. We will introduce a technical baccalaureate.

It will become compulsory, under a Labour Government, for maths and English to be studied until age 18, new Technical Degrees will be introduced, and tuition fees will be reduced.

In contrast, Conservative plans will see effective cuts in spending. Our children do not deserve to be disadvantaged – do not let the Tories in to make this happen.

Why science and engineering is important to the UK

I have an article here, reproduced below:

It ought to be a no-brainer, a question about the importance of science and engineering to the United Kingdom. In my job, as an information technology professional, I get a glimpse at the importance of science and technology.

In my, thus far, thirty-eight year long working life I have witnessed huge changes in how we work, and what we work with. I have also seen the UK’s industrial base change, and now we are far more dependent on service industries. It is clear, though, that we were a market leader in the science and engineering sectors, and we still are. The challenge ahead is to keep Britain important.

The twenty-first century is already seeing significant changes and challenges. Whilst the old order of Western Europe and North America is still very important, Asian and South American economies are rising. To meet the challenges that are presented by the likes of China, India, Japan, Brazil, Russia, etc, the UK has got to make sure its workforce has the skills and is able to meet the challenges that lie ahead. Education is key.

Business also has to acknowledge the simple maxim of adapt and survive. This means that education does not cease with the first job, but should be an ongoing thing – and employers should encourage training. Research into new technologies, which could mean new ways of doing old things, or it could mean new opportunities, must be encouraged – and Government can help here. Research without development, though, is effectively useless.

I liked it when the last Labour Government made policy to encourage more of our young into universities. I like it not that the current Government is making university a less attractive proposition. I also think that the education system must provide confidence in its examination system – employers must know the qualifications equate to ability and learning.

But it is not just about getting the numbers up at universities and further education establishments – I would hope that science and engineering courses would see a rise in popularity, and a more even gender balance. Women, so it seems to me, are for one reason or another enrolling in these courses in far fewer numbers than men. It is also true of my industry, computing, that the ratio of men to women is very unhealthy.

I am not a scientist, I am not even someone who reads much about science. It was not always the case. In a recent interview I was asked about my earliest favourite subjects at school. I answered that it was astronomy and palaeontology. I cannot adequately explain why I did not stick with them, or other sciences, but in part it must be down to the schooling that I had that did little to encourage here. I suspect, no I know, that the schools of today are unrecognisable from what I experienced in the 1960s and 1970s. The future must see similar levels of evolution in how we teach, what we teach, and the subjects we teach.

I am no crystal ball gazer, but it does not require prescience to see that the technological revolution has a long way to go, and that this revolution has happened because of advances in science and engineering. Britain has to remain at the vanguard, or it will see the effects in lowering relative prosperity. The internet and communications are shrinking our world and making changes in every facet of life.

We also have a future that has to address the issues of climate change. My belief is that new technologies, new green technologies, will become ever more important. This is an opportunity for a small island nation that clearly will be affected by rising tides (for example) to lead the way. Energy is another area that has got to see technology create new sources, or the lights really will go out.

Science and engineering matter in their own right; they also matter to the UK. For Britain to remain competitive and relevant, and for this to translate into prosperity, we need new scientists and new engineers emerging from our education system, and we need employment opportunities for them to take up.

Labour candidate talks politics at Project 49

Julian and Steven discussing why it is important that those with learning disabilities also have a voice in the coming election

Julian and Steven discussing why it is important that those with learning disabilities also have a voice in the coming election

This week the Labour Party candidate for Southend West, Julian Ware-Lane, visited Project 49, a facility for adults with learning disabilities. He had been invited as the customers are an often neglected set of voters, and this was an opportunity to engage with them, and for them to find out about Julian and the Labour Party.

Project 49 is named after its address in Alexandra Street in central Southend-on-Sea. This falls within the town centre Milton ward, which Julian represents on Southend-on-Sea Borough Council.

Julian answered a range of questions about politics in general, and the Labour Party in particular. Julian explained why he was Labour, and why he believes Labour served the greater good.

Julian said: “It was a very good session and I was very impressed with the range of questions. The idea that there is such a thing as society, and that society means everyone, is intricately entwined into my political DNA. We are all interdependent. Adults with learning disabilities have a place, and I want to encourage them to express their opinions through the ballot box.”

“I have suggested that Project 49 repeat this exercise in the run-up to the 2016 local elections – people with learning disabilities also deserve a say in how their town is run.”

A warm reception

A warm reception

Helping young people afford a university education

I can think of no bigger barrier to going to university than the prospect of its unaffordability. For those from less wealthy backgrounds are bound to worry because they will graduate with a huge amount of debt.

The Conservative and Liberal Democrat government’s decision to raise tuition fees to £9,000 means students are graduating with an average debt of £44,000.

I cannot imagine that anyone would be delighted with the idea of beginning one’s working life by being weighed down by that much debt.

An incoming Labour Government will tackle this. An incoming Labour Government promises a significant reduction in tuition fees, lowering the cap from the current £9000 to £6000. This would kick in in September 2016. Additional grants are also promised for students from low and middle-income backgrounds.

This decision allows the aspirations of our young to be fulfilled. This will benefit those who pay these tuition fees, and it benefits society as a whole. An educated society is a better society, and we should not be putting barriers in the way of those who wish to be educated, and want to better themselves. Lowering the debt burden on those who are starting their adult working lives has got to be a good thing.

This is another example of Labour’s better plan for working families.

This change will be funded by restricting pension tax relief for those on the highest incomes. And the increase in student grants will be paid for by asking the highest earning graduates to contribute a little more.

We all want our children and young people to succeed in the future. Under this government, they are being badly let down but this won’t happen under Labour. We will ensure that the next generation isn’t left behind.