BULS Supporting Michael Chessum to be VPHE of NUS

Following careful consideration, BULS has decided to support Michael Chessum’s campaign to be VPHE of NUS and we ask Birmingham delegates and Labour students nationally to do the same. We believe that Michael is the most competent candidate, and will achieve the most for students now, and in the future.

He has been the only candidate to continuously fight against the Tories’ fee regime and its further marketisation of our education system. Michael has been instrumental inthe organising of two national demonstrations, mobilising thousands of students across the country. Such demonstrations proved highly successful, gaining the support of Labour Students, and the general student population, nationally.

As Labour students we should be fighting against the current coalition government’s outrageous, and damaging, policies concerning higher education fees and their on-going commitment to severe austerity measures. Education is a public good and, at Birmingham, we believe that education should be universally accessible and publically funded. Michael Chessum is the only candidate for VPHE who we believe shares our values and will fight to defend them.

Furthermore, Michael is the only candidate committed to opposing Theresa May’s regressive and racist visa changes, which will have a detrimental effect on International Students who contribute so much to our higher education institutions and country as a whole.

Michael’s past record shows that he knows when and how to use direct action tactics, whilst his pivotal role in founding NCAFC proves his dedication to fighting the government’s austerity measures.

We need a VP Higher Education that will offer a robust defence against the coalition’s stark attacks on education. We wholeheartedly believe it is time to put factional divides behind us and unite in our support for Chessum, as the candidate most able to deliver.

Catie, Ed, Ellis, Areeq, Alex, Sam and Dan


#godisgove and #torybible

#godisgove and #torybible are to hashtags on twitter which have both appeared in recent days in the wake of Michael Gove’s decision to issue a King James edition of the bible to every state school in England. Now I’m not going to get into the whole inappropriateness of this act (If you know me well enough you’d remember I’m a massive atheist, but, I like to keep my role as BULS’s Vice-Chair totally separate from religion). But here according to LabourList are the top 10 best tweets featuring those hashtags.


@4harrisons – And Cameron said “let there be growth” but lo! There was no growth

@mattedbrooke – And God said, “why have you eaten from the forbidden tree?” And Adam said, “we inherited this fruit from the labour government”

@ChrisBryantMP – Faith, hope and charity – have now been abolished as they were unproductive

@politic_animal – And on the seventh day he would have liked to have rested, but the government had opted out of the Working Time Directive

@lethandrel – And the lame were made to walk and the blind to see – well, according to the new assessments ….

@johnprescott – Blessed are the coalition for they shall inherit from and blame the last government

@cllr_robbins – Blessed are the freeschoolmakers: for they shall be called the children of Gove

@MatofKilburnia – And Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt, which Gove did putteth in school dinners & lo Jamie Oliver was displeased

@GoodmotherMobbs – And the lepers were ‘cured’; as ATOS found them fit for work

@evilflea – And then He createth all of the beasts and the animals, excepteth the cat, which he did not make up.


Sex education malarkey

I think most of us can agree that sex education has an important role to play in public schools. But to what level of importance would you say it is?

To Conservative MP, Andrea Leadsom, it seems not very. Let’s put this into context. In England and Wales sex education is not a compulsory subject for public schools (I know for one that I personally received nothing at my High School) and that parents are allowed to “opt out” their child if the school does teach it. And you wonder why we have the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe.

Anyway, back to Andrea Leadsom. It seems she believes that parents should have to “opt in” their children to sex education classes and that current sex education books are “inappropriate”. This is while a report published by Ofsted last year pointed out that a quarter of schools in England are not providing good enough lessons about sex, relationships and health.  At the same time new research in the last couple of weeks provided information that “81% of 14 to 18-year-olds said their information came from the internet, the television and their friends.” and “one in four pupils do not have any sexual and relationship education in school.“.

Now some may say that abstinence only sex education is the only sound and “moral” way forward. But when we analyse this claim, it’s quite apparent that this argument is not grounded in research and facts. The Council of Scientific Affairs states that ”Current research findings do not support the position that the abstinence-only approach to sexuality education is effective in delaying the onset of intercourse.”.

I have already done a similar post on sex education before. But the point still stands, we need more not less sex education. If we truly want to tackle STDs, teenage pregnancies and yes, even abortions (again look to my previous post and subsequent comments regarding abortions) we need sound and effective sex education with no “opt-outs” for pushy and insecure parents.

So please Leadson, could the education system have some more.


Ignorance Is Not Bliss

There’s been a tsunami wave of comment and opinion about ignorance and what to do about the riots in the last week, most of which has been speculative and, in some cases, downright prejudiced (I am of course referring to David Starkey). However what I want to shed some light on is the ignorance that I see every day surrounding disability and conditions that inflict millions of people.

I was on a bus this week where an elderly lady got on with a walking stick and was clearly unsteady on her feet. When she struggled to find her bus pass and got into bother, the bus driver continued to harass her, demanding that she either produce her card, pay or get off the bus. There was tutting and sighing from other passengers, and I even heard the word ‘drunk’ whispered by several people. It was 10.30 in the morning, and although regrettably some people do start drinking early in the day in areas like mine when they’d be better off doing something constructive, I think this woman would have had a tough job getting plastered this quickly.

The lady was not drunk as it turned out, but she had Huntington’s Disease, as another lady pointed out to me as she helped her with her heavy bags. Huntington’s Disease is an hereditary neurodegenerative disorder affecting muscle control which only begins to take effect in middle age, and leads eventually to dementia and in many cases untimely death. The bus driver in question was not a bad man, and was only in his twenties; he was probably concerned about losing his job if someone got away with not having their pass. However it struck me that this lady, who had a perfectly intelligent and coherent conversation with another passenger before she struggled off the bus, undoubtedly has to put up with this ordeal every time she leaves the house, with people commenting and assuming and speculating whenever she goes shopping or to visit relatives.

Why are we not educated about conditions such as this? Why do people with diseases or conditions that are not self-inflicted have to put up with social stigma and embarrassment every day by people who are not discriminatory, but are completely oblivious to the existence of the disease they cannot escape? It’ll never happen in the current climate of cuts, but I believe we should make our children attend compulsory awareness classes, not in school as the curriculum is already stretched, but outside, perhaps in the summer holidays, alongside first aid and financial management tutorials. Ideally it would inform people of ‘invisible’ conditions such as autism and tackle the taboos surrounding common illnesses like cancer. Perhaps then people’s lives would be less of a struggle and allowances would be made for the disabled by other members of the public. If the classes were to take place at 16 it would probably be more of a benefit for society as a whole than national service or leaving young people on the street; it may also encourage more volunteering, which will go some way towards creating a big society and boost young people’s employability at the same time.

Gove Could Learn A Lesson or Two

The papers today report that Education Secretary Michael Gove is asking school leaders to recruit members of the “wider school community” to take over the job of teachers striking on Thursday, the implication being that it is better for parents and governors to take classes for one day then see the school close. Aside from the bad logic that if the main aim is keeping the school open so as not to incovenience working parents, then there won’t be any parents available to teach Henry VIII’s six wives, this policy demonstrates the Big Society is a means of undermining unionised labour as well as a cover for cuts. The only positive thing that could come of this ludicrous suggestion is that parents who do act as supply teacher on 30th June may get some idea of just how difficult a profession teaching really is.

Further to my blog a few weeks back, “Unite Behind the Unions”, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are still pandering to the right-wing media by warning the unions that striking would be unwise and counter-productive, while Tony Blair on the BBC’s Politics Show today refused to be drawn on any domestic policy issues, except to say that the unions are small ‘c’ conservatives who should learn to ‘modernise’, whatever that means. But then Blair never pretended to be on their side.

I do not dispute the fact that pensions need to be reformed in line with the ageing population and gender equality, while many in the private sector would be dancing all the way to the bank if they had pension schemes like those of some public servants; nevertheless what is going on at present smacks of the 1980s, and the threats of changes to union legislation mooted by Gove are deeply worrying.

No confidence

This is just a quick post before bed (IMF, economists and the wider economy tomorrow, don’t worry). But unless I have been completely mislead, the Universities Minister, David Willetts has suffered a motion of ‘No confidence’ against him in Guild Council today.

Oh no! Not the University of Birmingham Guild of Students (ever so slightly sarcastically) you might say. But, do not underestimate the power of collective action. Moves against Willetts are happening all over the county with even his former University tutor following suit. So here we have it, a year into the Tory-lead Coalition and already two Ministers of suffered votes of ‘No confidence’ from influential organisations (correct me if I’m wrong on that particular point) with Willetts soon to follow.

It seems Vince Cable was right, the Coalition is clearly being too Moaist.


They Just Don’t Get It

I’ve now returned to Birmingham after a week in which the Coalition managed to look incompetent and shambolic as well as cruel. We’ve had Willetts admitting he is content to see poorer students having to settle for a degree at their local sixth form, rather than enjoying the full university experience; Norman Tebbit joining the near-univeral coalition against the NHS transformation; U-turns on defence spending and health to add to the growing list which includes school sports and buildings, forests, and even the Downing Street cat; and of course Nick Clegg. When he hasn’t been complaining that he is the nation’s ‘punchbag’ or facing criticism from his own son, he has been making some interesting comments about social mobility.

I am not going to slam the Deputy Prime Minister for having had a leg-up from his neighbour (a peer of the realm) in order to get an internship at a bank (it had to be a bank), because I challenge anyone reading this – assuming I have a readership – not to have seized the opportunity in the same way if they were in Nick’s position. A Labour party which wants social justice and equality of opportunity from birth should not be blaming someone for a background thay had no control over, and that even includes Cameron who had someone put a word in from Buck House. However, Clegg’s attempts at addressing the age-old problem of the ‘It’s who you know’ culture were embarrassing, coming at the same time this government is slashing Sure Start centres, EMA, univeristy budgets and allowing socially divisive ‘free’ schools to blossom up and down the country.

I spoke to people this week in the valleys who have Masters’ degrees who have spent over a year unemployed – young people with ambition, drive and what should be a promising career ahead of them. I overheard sixth form students on the bus complaining that they had not been accepted for any of their UCAS choices, despite the prediction of 4 As at A-level. I have personally had difficulty finding summer placements when I am not lucky enough to be able to work unpaid for six months in central London. Nick Clegg’s diagnosis was correct, but there is far more to it than setting an example to almost-bankrupt businesses by paying interns at Lib Dem HQ.

We need a new cultural shift in this country, brought about by government, where the disadvantaged are caught as soon as possible and at every stage of their lives are helped to gain the same opportunities as the better off. This should not involve positive discrimination or handouts, but should involve investment in our young people which other European countries manage while they bail out their neighbours, but we seem to think is unaffordable. A national internship scheme or national bursary programme, complementing investment in careers education (which at the moment is dire) to inform young people that they are just as talented and ambitious as the more privileged, and what opportunities are out there for the taking, is desperately needed. The underlying factors, such as affordable transport, need to be subsidised so someone who lives in the middle of nowhere with no ‘contacts’ can get work experience in a city near them.

There are important elections coming up in the devolved nations and local councils in England. Young people should be demanding better from the government and their local councils at the ballot box, and should express their dissatisfaction with the Coalition, which just doesn’t get it.