Examining the future

Two Thursdays bring to an end another exam season for students across the land. For many there will be relief and celebration, hard work being rewarded with good grades and well deserved places at universities and sixth forms. For some there will be disappointment and a need to rethink future plans.

This year there will be much more uncertainty for everyone completing GCSEs, as there are major changes to A-levels.  Significant changes are also being made to GCSEs.

Sadly the politicians can’t leave things alone. There may be shortcomings in the exam system, but major changes are more likely to disrupt than enrich our children’s education. Here’s hoping that the latest changes won’t undermine the hard work and achievement of so many young people.

Recognition at last

Delighted that the British Library has been given a Grade 1 listing, but sad that architect Colin St John Wilson is not alive to see his visionary design finally recognised.

The British Library is one of the finest public buildings of the twentieth century and has a quality that will endure long after lesser buildings have faded. The courtyard in front of the main entrance has matured into one of London’s most successful new public spaces and the building’s dramatic yet graceful interiors inspire those who enter. The graceful way in which the British Library steps back from the frontage of St. Pancras railway station provides both respect and exciting contrast to its exuberant Victorian neighbour.

It often takes time for great works to be recognised, and it has been a long time coming for the British Library. At a time when so much of little quality is being constructed across London, it is reassuring to know that a great modern building is now protected for future generations.


Lord of misrule

The Lord Sewel affair highlights the unfortunate weakness from which people in pubic life seem to suffer: the idea that somehow they can get away with behaviour that they would condemn in other people. Is it the feeling of power that goes to their head, or do they just take leave of their senses?

It is truly bizarre when somebody who is Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords, Chair of the committee responsible for maintaining standards and who was instrumental in drafting standards for members of the house, gets himself filmed in a compromising situation involving drugs and prostitutes.


Congratulations to Tim Farron on being elected as the new leader of the Liberal Democrats. He has a real challenge ahead, but he is a principled and sincere politician who will advance liberalism at a time when the forces of reaction are in the ascendancy.

Pleased to read the LibDems under his leadership will be opposing the insane extension of the so called “right to buy” to include Housing Association properties. It’s a ridiculous waste of public money that could be spent on far more effective ways of helping people into home ownership.

With an unfettered Conservative government now in power, it’s becoming clear just how effective the LibDems were in the coalition government at ensuring fairness in the balance of taxation and welfare expenditure. Now the Conservatives have an overall majority, their lack of compassion is exposed for all to see.

Osborne breaks housing rent promise

It hasn’t taken George Osborne long to start breaking his promises. A couple of years ago the Housing Association sector negotiated a ten year agreement that rents would increase each year by the consumer price index (as measured in September) plus 1%. This was agreed so that Associations could prepare business plans with certainty and borrow funds to invest, giving lenders a high degree of confidence that they would be able to afford their loans.

Based on this promise from George Osborne and the government, Housing Associations have prepared plans to develop much needed new homes in mixed communities designed to meet as many needs as possible. But now Osborne has torn up his promise and is forcing Associations to reduce rents by 1% a year for four years – that’s a huge cut in income for businesses that had tried to work in partnership with government to tackle the housing crisis.

So, businesses beware. GEORGE OSBORNE IS A CHANCELLOR WHO BREAKS HIS PROMISES – you can’t trust what he says!

Lacking Trust

As we look at a world where we all constantly have so much contact we realise that this contact lacks closeness. We pass through other people’s lives but make little effort to engage with them. Distrust is the keynote of our existence.

The news this week is still overshadowed by the terrorist atrocity in Tunisia. In its wake tourists are fearful and the local population fears for the future of its key industry. But will the reaction to it frustrate rather than advance efforts to community cohesion?  The signs aren’t good.

Meanwhile the other major news story of the week is of how Europe has failed to cope with the economic crisis in Greece. Anger mounts and it is unclear as to how committed either side is to solving the problem. We can all join in the blame game, but as ever it will be the poorer parts of Greek society who really suffer, pawns in the games played by the rich and powerful.

Durham does it in style

Durham University certainly knows how to celebrate the graduation of its students in style. For us, the celebration started with an excellent meal in hall at Van Mildert College on Thursday evening. This was followed by the formalities on Friday, a day we will always remember.

A memorable Congregation in the magnificent Cathedral first thing was a near perfect balance of formal ceremony with humour and a true sense of occasion. The University Chancellor, Sir Thomas Allen,  was on particularly good form with a speech that combined an appropriately inspirational message with wit and anecdotes about Durham and its students. He coped well with the students who insisted on giving him a hug rather than the more appropriate hand-shake.

Then on to the Natural Sciences reception at St Chad’s, another highly enjoyable event, before returning to meet some of our son’s friends emerging from their congregations later in the day. A picnic lunch by the river, a rest back at Van Mildert, then a visit to the Anthropology party and back to Palace Green to enjoy the last of the band playing in the marquee.

Finally an excellent family meal at The Cellar Door Restaurant brought a marvellous day to a close. The time has flown by. Thank you Durham and your university for such a fitting climax to our son’s three years with you.

Thank you Cambridge

A privilege to attend the celebration event yesterday for PGCE students who’ve completed their year at Cambridge University.

For anyone involved in education it’s very encouraging to see another generation of very able, talented young people entering the teaching profession and benefitting from the excellent training provided by the Cambridge Faculty of Education.

I wish all of those completing the course every success as they move forward with their careers.