Friday, July 04, 2008

House Points: Education is all Balls

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

As ever, I hit the bottom of the page just as I threaten to say something interesting. There is a an article on the good and bad points of Academies by Ross McKibbin in the current London Review of Books.


Judging by the name of the department Gordon Brown created for Ed Balls, this government has nationalised children, schools and families. So we shouldn’t be surprised at the subjects MPs think they can hold him responsible for.

What is Balls doing to reduce the bullying of children with disabilities and special educational needs? That was from our own Lynne Featherstone.

What plans does he have to increase singing in schools? That was from the Labour MP Robert Flello, who has inspired many songs himself. "For He’s a Jolly Good Flello." "Mellow Flello." "Goodbye Flello Brick Road."

Singing in schools is a wonderful thing and bullying is a serious problem. But aren’t these questions for local councils or individual head teachers?

Oddly, it was only when Norman Baker asked about teachers no longer being confident to touch children that Balls tried this defence. Because of measures like the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act of 2006, it is one area where the blame can be laid at ministers’ doors.

Regular readers will know how this column enjoys family history. And the history of the Balls is more interesting than most.

Step forward Professor Balls. Ed Balls’s father Michael is Professor Emeritus of Medical Cell Biology at Nottingham University. He is widely admired for his work on finding alternatives to medical experiments on animals.

Michael Balls is also politically active. While a lecturer at the University of East Anglia in the 1970s he organised the successful campaign against the 11 plus in Norfolk.

So when the family moved to Nottinghamshire, did his son attend one of the county’s comprehensives? Did he bunnies.

The young Ed Balls attended the private Nottingham High School (current fees £3358 per term.) That was not his choice, of course. But it is hard to forget when Ed Balls presents himself as the scourge of selection in education.

Back to Monday’s questions. It was interesting to see Vince Cable backing the establishment of two Academies in his Twickenham constituency. For too long Liberal Democrat education policy held that unless a reform could be introduced everywhere, all at once, then it should not be introduced at all.

The Academies programme has its absurdities, but Liberals should support variety and experimentation in education.

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