The senior official who ran the country's schools until last year has condemned the comprehensive system, saying academic standards have suffered because of an obsession with fairness. In a startling indictment of Government policy, Ralph Tabberer, the former director-general of schools, said not enough emphasis had been put on "scholarship, genuinely high quality study and its importance". Even teaching children "character" and the difference between right and wrong had been neglected, he said.
He gave warning that the comprehensive system was "not working" and said Britain risked being overtaken by developing nations. Mr Tabberer, who now works for the world's biggest chain of fee-paying schools, said the future of education could only be assured by increased involvement of the private sector. But he said "inverted snobbery" in Britain had led to 30 years of near-apartheid between state and independent schools.
Mr Tabberer's comments, in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, will come as a serious blow to Gordon Brown. He was director-general of schools at the Department for Children, Schools and Families until stepping down for family reasons last year. His warning will resonate with those who fear that the needs of the brightest schoolchildren have been marginalised in recent years, leading to a rise in applications for state grammar schools and private schools.
A recent Government-backed report suggested bright children in state schools were being failed by teachers who refused to give them extra help for fear of promoting "elitism". Fewer than half of pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland left school with five good GCSEs last summer, including the key subjects of English and mathematics.
"We have tried a comprehensive system and that is not working," said Mr Tabberer. "The clock's ticking. Everybody else is catching up because they haven't got the same struggle to reconcile fairness and excellence." He added: "How do you make that the focus of education, and also the development of character, to turn out people who know the difference between right and wrong? "These are areas which are not getting enough attention in state policy and in the education debate."
Mr Tabberer led the Training and Development Agency for Schools, which trains teachers, before effectively becoming the second highest ranked civil servant at the DCSF. After stepping down he was appointed chief schools officer at Dubai-based GEMS Education, which manages almost 100 schools.
In his interview, he was careful not to levy personal or political blame, but he compared the current situation with the reforms of the Blair years. "We got a lot of things done, particularly between 1997 and 2004 or 2005 - the pace of change was fantastic," he said. "But the problem has got bigger and harder."
GEMS runs international schools in the Gulf, as well as a number in Britain. But it has made its name by providing low-cost education to the large south Asian communities of the Middle East.
Mr Tabberer said it was "humbling" to see Indian children at schools of 5,000 pupils, where costs per head were a sixth those in British state schools, achieve far superior GCSE results.
He criticised the failure of British parents to teach children to value education and to encourage competitiveness. But he said politicians needed to show more leadership.
Although he does not advocate a return to grammar schools, he said the emphasis on making sure the system was fair and equal had reduced the stress on teaching children to be competitive. "We don't spend enough time at the moment arguing about scholarship, genuinely high quality study and its importance."
He also called for closer ties between the state and private sector. "UK people are going to have to set aside a 30-year history of almost apartheid where inverted snobbery stands in the way," he said.
A spokesman for the DCSF said: "We make no apology for making closing the social gap an absolute priority. "It is about making sure that every child fulfils their potential."
Fighting fascism with fascism
People have taken to the street to fight fascism with, er, fascism. Last week's attack on free speech by the UAF (Unite Against Fascism) organization (which sounds suspiciously like an Irish paramilitary wing) was truly anti-liberal and purely fascist in action. It is a tactic that has been increasingly used by the left throughout time: the control of language and the threat of violence against those who do not obey.
Both sides of this argument mirror each other in their actions and their desired outcomes. On one side we have a collection of individuals coalesced around their fear of the unknown, namely ethnically different persons. On the other we have a group who do not understand the most basic human right: free speech. Both groups should be vigorously opposed by all, yet one is openly endorsed by the mainstream parties. Is it any wonder that people choose to vote BNP when they show such a disdain for rights?
It was by ignoring the BNP that allowed them to sneak under the radar and attract voters. The state's role in the demonstration also calls into question the changing relationship between right and wrong protests. The state is rubber stamping protests it approves of by standing aside and allowing this to happen. Equality before the law has vanished. The only way to defeat them is by engaging them and discussing their griefs so you can enlighten them. The current approach will not work especially as it merely looks like the establishment wanting to protect their right to use violence either via the police or approved protestors against a 'differently' oriented minority.
Only in Britain: An official kangaroo court
Mothers are having children taken away after a court hearing at which they are not allowed to be legally represented
A SECOND case has emerged of a woman who has had her children taken away from her and been prevented from objecting because she was judged “too stupid” by the authorities. Lawyers acting for the 24-year-old from Nottingham, who has had two daughters adopted, say she has since shown herself far brighter than was believed when the original judgment was made. But it is now too late for her to go back to court for the return of her children.
Last month, The Sunday Times reported a similar case of a mother deemed too unintelligent to care for her child.
The plight of the women has highlighted the role of the official solicitor, the state lawyer appointed to represent them, but who declined to contest either case.
New figures show that hundreds of parents have had the official solicitor, currently Alastair Pitblado, imposed.
Since January 2006 his department has been brought in to represent 588 parents deemed to “lack the mental capacity” to instruct lawyers in cases where their children faced the possibility of adoption.
Last month The Sunday Times highlighted the case of Rachel, also a 24-year-old from Nottingham, who is taking her legal challenge to the European Court of Human Rights after her three-year-old daughter was ordered to be adopted because she was ruled not to be intelligent enough to care for her.
In the latest case the mother’s two daughters were both adopted in 2006 after a health worker noticed that her living conditions were unsatisfactory.
Before the case was finalised in court, however, it was decided that the woman lacked the intelligence to instruct her own lawyer, which led to the official solicitor being brought in. A psychologist’s report gave her a low IQ but said her learning disability would improve in time.
The mother insisted that she wanted to keep her girls but the official solicitor said she did not have a case at the time and did not contest the adoptions on her behalf.
Her solicitor, Simon Leach, who runs Nottingham Family Law Associates, said: “I would have liked her to have given evidence, or certainly have someone speak on her behalf, so it could be explained at length why she should keep her children. But the system would not allow it.
“At that time she had little or no understanding of what her children needed but she was very loving of her children and still is.
“But I sat down with her last week and she was using words she could never have used before. It was clear to me that her level of understanding had improved considerably.”
Leach said there were still question marks over whether she would be able to care properly for the girls but since the adoption had already happened the issue could no longer be addressed. “It’s too late now,” he said. He added that his firm had been involved in up to 20 cases in which their clients were handed over to the official solicitor.
The official solicitor typically declines to contest any final care orders.
Leach said this was because the system did not allow the official solicitor to do so.
He said: “I think the official solicitor should be able to put a case. It’s not just about justice, it’s about justice being seen to be done.”
Free to walk British streets, the war criminals Britain cannot deport because of their human rights
Hundreds of war criminals are walking the streets of Britain with impunity, a shocking report reveals today. Around 300 people suspected of war crimes or genocide have been referred to the immigration services or police for action, said the Aegis Trust. But glaring legal loopholes mean they cannot be deported because sending them home to face a possible death penalty would breach their human rights.
The trust, an independent group working to eliminate genocide, said the suspects cannot be prosecuted here because only British residents can be arrested and charged under the Government's war crimes legislation. And the law only applies to crimes committed after 2001 - despite many of the worst genocides taking place before this, including in Bosnia and Rwanda.
The report's authors unearthed asylum and immigration case files relating to suspects living in the UK. These included an alleged Zimbabwean torturer, an Iraqi torturer who worked for the Saddam Hussein regime, a member of the Sudanese militia and a Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger assassination squad driver.
Also found was a member of the Sierra Leone 'Mosquito' rebel group notorious for murder, rape, looting, burning, sexual slavery and forced amputations. Other immigration files list child soldiers from Sierra Leone, officers in Charles Taylor's army in Liberia, a Somali warlord, a member of the Serb militia 'Arkan's Tigers' and a rebel from Angola implicated in hostage-taking.
In April, four men accused of mass murder in the Rwandan genocide won their battle to stay free in Britain. The four are wanted to stand trial for their part in the 1994 massacre in which 800,000 people were killed in 100 days. But the High Court ruled that there was 'a real risk they would suffer a flagrant denial of justice' if returned to Rwanda.
Nick Donovan, head of research for the Aegis Trust, said: 'There are two 'impunity gaps' in UK law which prevent prosecution for international crimes. 'Those suspected of genocide, crimes against humanity and most war crimes cannot be prosecuted in the UK if they committed those acts before 2001. 'And non-residents such as students, tourists or asylumseekers without residence status can't be prosecuted even if those acts were committed after 2001. 'This is not a hypothetical issue. It's about individuals suspected of heinous crimes: individuals who this country needs to bring to justice if we do not want to remain a haven for war criminals.'
Proposals to close the loopholes have been tabled in Parliament by the Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Carlile. But ministers have only said they are prepared to debate changes.
The Aegis report came as ministers faced a separate attack over deportation. In a report today, Parliamentary spending watchdogs warn the backlog of asylum cases is growing fast because efforts to deport foreign prisoners are swamping detention spaces. The Public Accounts Committee said the backlog doubled to 8,700 last year. This does not include hundreds of thousands of 'legacy cases', some of which have been stuck in the Home Office system for years.
We've never had it so good. Why then are we so downhearted?
In our affluent age, family, church and dusty old virtues seem redundant. But they gave us a sense of contentment we now lack
As the general election nears, an implicit question threads its way through the discussion of Labour's record and the opposition plans for change; is Britain getting better or worse? As luck would have it, this is precisely the issue addressed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in its study of “new social evils”. One big theme to emerge from it is that the greatest evil is the retreat of society in the face of rampant individualism.
We live in a time of profound social pessimism. There is a widening gulf between our view of ourselves and of society at large. Nine in ten of us are optimistic about our family's prospects, yet fewer than one in five feels optimism about other people.
The contemporary feeling of social unease is undeniable; the dark seam exposed by the foundation is the same one mined by David Cameron in his talk of a broken society. Yet, despite the recession, a latter-day Harold Macmillan would have every reason for proclaiming that we have never had it so good.
It isn't simply that we live longer, earn more, travel farther, enjoy more recreation than our parents or grandparents. We are also more tolerant, better educated, more compassionate, overall, than our Victorian counterparts.
There are two obvious ways to resolve this paradox. Maybe social pessimism simply reflects higher expectations and the opportunity we now have to wallow in our doubts. Conversely, isn't what matters what we feel? We are twice as rich as our grandparents but no more content.
The truth may be more subtle. It is the way things have got better that makes us feel worse. Avner Offer, the economic historian, sums up this argument in one line: “Affluence breeds impatience and impatience undermines wellbeing.” Offer means by this that affluence makes us feel as though we no longer need the social norms, conventions and institutions that encourage us to look to our own and society's long-term interests.
He calls these cultural safeguards “commitment devices”. We can include in them not just institutions such as the family, the Church and welfare state, but also the values associated with those institutions: unfashionable ideas such as thrift, temperance and duty. The weakening of these commitment devices has been implicated in the rise of a culture of instant gratification, inauthentic communication (advertising, PR, spin doctoring) and unearned entitlements.
But, as we are starting at last to realise, it is impossible for society to thrive, and for most of us to get what we want, without commitment devices. Progress has its costs. Women's economic emancipation may weaken the extended family; social mobility leaves behind a less self-reliant and self-respecting working class.
But why have we failed to understand what we were losing in the forward march of individualism? An explanation may lie in the disjuncture between human evolution and history. While evolution is slow and incremental, history is accelerating in leaps and bounds. The brains that did fine for us for the first 200,000 years of our existence find it hard to cope with the revolutionary changes of the past century. For most of our existence as a species there was no long term: we hunted, we gathered, we died young. We are hardwired to be short-termist. That's why behavioural economists (the people who brought us the idea of the “nudge”) argue the only way for governments to get us to save more for retirement is to trick us into it.
Many civilisations collapsed, in part, because the elite - the only ones who lived with plenty - succumbed to self-indulgence and a loss of vitality and authority. Today most of the UK's population have more disposable income than they need, not only to survive, but to enjoy good health and opportunities for leisure and self-development. But we have exhibited a mass version of the decadence that history has taught us to associate with the fall of the Roman Empire. There was a “chickens coming home to roost” feel in much commentary about the economic downturn.
Could it be that this period of rampant individualism and hyper-consumerism is transitional? Human beings have spent most of their existence producing just enough to survive. We have only had a few years to see that plenty creates as many problems as it solves. So are we starting to ask a different question: what do we truly need to live the good life? After all, this is what we tend to do in our own lives; we crave something we are denied, we over-consume it when we have unlimited access and then realise (in my grandmother's favourite bon mot) that “enough is as good as a feast”?
The idea of a transition between excessive consumption and the emergence of higher goals echoes Maslow's famous “hierarchy of human needs” that puts self- actualisation at its peak, well above material need. It also chimes with “the environmental Kuznets curve” - which suggests that nations are indifferent to the degradation of the natural world when they are on the road to growth. However, as nations become richer they start to value and protect the environment because social needs are seen as being as important as individual self-interest.
From this perspective our problems with affluence, and our susceptibility to social pessimism, reflect not just the power of new technology and the allure of its consumer goods but also a more general frailty as we go through what some have caricatured as the adolescence of Enlightenment Man.
Our susceptibility to excess may not be the only zone of transition. For nearly all human existence we have lived in relatively homogeneous communities, largely ignorant of the rest of the world. But as technology, commerce and transport widen our horizons, conflicts arising from the clash of cultures and identities reverberate from the Swat Valley to the European election results. Over the longer term will we adjust, developing a truly global model of citizenship, one that is able, for example, to tackle climate change?
A third journey may help to explain the crisis besetting our political system. After millennia of worshipping earth and sky gods, royal dynasties and, much more recently, elected leaders, we are no longer willing to look up to authority. We find ourselves unwilling to be governed but not yet willing to govern ourselves.
Lives are better today but our unease is real. There are new social evils. The better future waiting for us will only come about if we acknowledge the ways current thinking and behaviour are failing us.
No blogger anonymity in Britain
"Thousands of bloggers who operate behind the cloak of anonymity have no right to keep their identities secret, the High Court ruled yesterday.
In a landmark decision, Mr Justice Eady refused to grant an order to protect the anonymity of a police officer who is the author of the NightJack blog. The officer, Richard Horton, 45, a detective constable with Lancashire Constabulary, had sought an injunction to stop The Times from revealing his name.
In April Mr Horton was awarded the Orwell Prize for political writing, but the judges were unaware that he was using information about cases, some involving sex offences against children, that could be traced back to genuine prosecutions.
His blog, which gave a behind-the-scenes insight into frontline policing, included strong views on social and political issues. The officer also criticised and ridiculed “a number of senior politicians” and advised members of the public under police investigation to “complain about every officer . . . show no respect to the legal system or anybody working in it”.
Some of the blog’s best-read sections, which on occasion attracted half a million readers a week, were anecdotes about cases on which Mr Horton had worked. The people and places were made anonymous and details changed, but they could still be traced back to real prosecutions.
In the first case dealing with the privacy of internet bloggers, the judge ruled that Mr Horton had no “reasonable expectation” to anonymity because “blogging is essentially a public rather than a private activity”. The judge also said that even if the blogger could have claimed he had a right to anonymity, the judge would have ruled against him on public interest grounds.
This will place significant limits on what people are game to say on blogs. And since Britain's speech laws are so strict, it closes off just about the last avenue for non-conforming people to say what they think.