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A school I know

Let me tell you about a school I know.

As schools go, it's a big one. The grounds and buildings are extensive although it has to be said that they're a bit of a mish-mash. They've had some new buildings in recent years, but many of them are a bit shabby and run-down to be frank. Still, everyone seems happy enough with them; "Needs must", they say. The parents are the same really - a real mix. The school has managed the unlikely feat of bringing together families from all sorts of different backgrounds in one place and avoiding all those social rifts you seem to get at most comprehensives: there are machinists and lorry drivers and teachers and accountants: name a job and you'll probably find a representative among the parent body somewhere.  It's non-denominational too, with Christian and Moslem families represented alongside the secular majority. It's a cross-section of society at large I guess, and by and large they all seem to rub along together pretty well.

It's perhaps not the best-equipped school around: some decent science labs wouldn't go amiss for a start, but hey, some schools won't even let the kids try science practicals these days. Despite the less-than ideal facilities, the school still manages to achieve some truly excellent results. The children - it's co-ed by the way - score very highly in standardised tests of their language and maths skills - way above the average in fact, and what is really remarkable is that children from poor families are doing just as well as the rest - better in fact than a middle-class child at an average school. This is the kind of school where a bright kid from a poverty-stricken background can get their chance in life.

There's no selection though: no academic hothouse, this. There are children who are academic, of course, but most are just like any other kid: good at some things and not so good at others. The school has more than its fair share of special needs kids too. It's not easy coping with such a variety, of course, but they seem to have found a way to more than muddle through. I'm sure that other schools could learn a lot from watching them.

How do they do it? Do they just swot the life out of the kids? Well, no. Experts who have inspected the school have praised it for turning out children who are well-rounded and self-motivated.* They are apparently socially adept and better adjusted to the adult world than the vast majority of children today.  The inspectors have also praised the school for delivering the tailored, child-centred education that has eluded almost every other school in the past. Children are playing to their strengths all the time, which I suppose might explain the good results.

It's a fine school then. An extraordinary one, even. So there's no surprise that it's very popular, with the school roll growing at as much as 25% a year. With more and more parents wanting to get their children admitted, it's just as well they have so much room: so far they've been able to accomodate everyone who wants to get in.

It strikes me that this school should be, to a socialist, pretty much the ideal. Just run down the list again - comprehensive, non-denominational, child-centred, and turning out rounded, self-motivated children with literacy, numeracy and skills to boot. This is everything the left says it wants in a school.

So why the hell do they want to close it?

(*The inspectors report is here, by the way).




Regional climate models

The precipitous descent of the Times from the newspaper of record into a propaganda sheet for greens is something to behold.

Today's "news" features an article by environment editor, Jonathan Leake, in which he reports that Britain will experience 3-4oC temperature rises by 2080. This is so entirely daft, I hardly know where to begin. It's hardly even controversial that climate models are not particularly skillful. Even the IPCC only predicts 2 degrees per century, and this claim is on the verge of being falsified just a few years after it was made.

In fact, there is not a single climate model that is skillful at regional or seasonal levels. Not one. And yet here we have Leake quoting Nigel Arnell, professor of climate science at Reading University as saying these outcomes are "likely". This is deeply unscientific.

Interestingly, the Met Office report on which the Leake article is based turns out not to have been released yet. I wonder if it's actually rather more hedged about with caveats than the headlines would suggest?





For Christmas I want....

One of these.


The end of the NHS?

To misquote Glenn Reynolds: "They said if I voted Conservative it would signal the end of the NHS, and they were right!".

Lord Darzi, one of the Health Ministers, is initiating a little publicised project called Personal Health Budgets (PHB), a new way of funding NHS care for chronically ill patients.

So says Nurses for Reform. This looks as though it is the start of the introduction of Singapore-style healthcare accounts, an idea I have long promoted. Everyone gets given a fund of money to spend on healthcare. They manage it themselves, and spend it how and when they like.

It's not a panacea, of course, but it's better than the alteratives.




Home Ed and another fake charity

Signals are being sent out that the government's umpteenth review of Home Education will advise the government to "get tough on home tuition".

The government will be advised to crack down on home education to ensure it is not being used as a cover for child abuse or for parents to avoid educating their children at all, in an independent review that has angered families that home-school their children.

The inquiry into home education was ordered by ministers in January to investigate whether home education is used to conceal "child abuse such as neglect, forced marriage, sexual exploitation or domestic servitude".

As has been pointed out, this decision will have implications for everyone, because it destroys the principle that parents are responsible for their children's education.

It was fairly clear that the Badman review of HE was in fact a sham, set up as a cover for the introduction of a predetermined policy outcome, and there has been a litany of fake charities doing their masters' bidding and queuing up to smear the home ed community. I've posted before about the NSPCC, but today's article has a new one: the National Children's Bureau.

Half of the NCB's £20m income comes from government departments. Add in their National Lottery funding and you get to a whopping 73%.

And what did the NCB have to say on the HE review? Here's their principal officer Jacqui Newvell:

We know a lot of home educators are doing a great job but our concern is the minority who slip thought the net.

The problem is of course, that nobody seems to have identified anyone who has "slipped through the net". There just don't seem to be any instances of home ed being used as a cover for abuse.  This underlying purpose of the review seems not to have been about child protection. Instead, it's about expansion of bureaucratic empires. It's a "solution" in search of a problem.



An indictment

It really says something about our parliament that two of the four candidates to be the next speaker appear to be tainted by the expenses scandal.

Do they think we've forgotten?



One step at a time

Back at the start of the year, I wrote a pair of posts about the International Journal of Climatology, an organ of the Royal Meteorological Society, criticising them for their weak policies on the need for authors to archive their data and code (see here and here). This oversight had allowed one of their authors, Prof Ben Santer, to get away with refusing access to his data.

At the time I wrote to the head of the Royal Met Soc, suggesting that they tighten things up in this area, and received a very courteous reply from the CEO, Prof Paul Hardaker, indicating that the issue would be discussed at the meeting of the society's publications committee in May.

Now we're into June, I wrote to Prof Hardaker again today, and received another very prompt and very courteous reply.

The Committee felt that there would be value in the Society formalising a policy on this that would apply to all our journals. They have asked me to bring a draft proposal to their next meeting (which is in the autumn) for us to finalise the details.

While it's a tad disappointing that what would appear outwardly to be a very simple change is taking so long, this does at least seem to be continuing in a positive vein.

In the meantime, I hope that Prof Hardaker's proposals set an example for the rest of the climate science world and adopt the econometricians' approach to the issue.



New in the blogroll

Liberal Vision are liberal LibDems. It's not an oxymoron after all. ;-)



Why are newspapers going out of business?

Without a doubt it's because they publish stories that are hideous bunk, that are works of fiction, that desecrate the very idea of truth and they do it without blinking, without shame and without remorse.

Like this one:

Climate change is already killing 300,000 people a year in a “silent crisis” that is seriously affecting hundreds of millions more, an influential humanitarian group warned today.

A report by the Global Humanitarian Forum, led by Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General, says that the effects of climate change are growing in such a way that it will have a serious impact on 600 million people, almost ten per cent of the world’s population, within 20 years. Almost all of these will be in developing countries.

So what do the experts say about the report? Roger Pielke Jnr takes up the story:

It is a methodological embarrassment and poster child for how to lie with statistics. The report will harm the cause for action on both climate change and disasters because it is so deeply flawed ... The report is worse than fiction, it is a lie.

And how did our green friends work out the figure of 300,000? Pielke Jnr again:

[T]o get around the fact that there has been no attribution of the relationship of [greehouse gas] emissions and disasters, this report engages in a very strange comparison of earthquake and weather disasters in 1980 and 2005. The first question that comes to mind is, why? They are comparing phenomena with many “moving parts” over a short time frame, and attributing 100% of the resulting difference to human-caused climate change. This boggles the mind.

As Pielke points out, when these calculations are done properly the differences in disaster losses are attributable completely to socio-economic factors.

The report is clearly a travesty. Who is going to mourn the newspapers that publish it?



Another MP we might want to be rid of

A little nugget from Hansard:

Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission for what reasons the information on hon. Members' expenses which has been leaked was not processed solely on paper, prior to scheduled publication by the House authorities in redacted electronic form.

To some hon. members, it seems, the problem is still that we know what they were up to, rather than the fact that hon. members had their snouts in the trough. Not the kind of MP we want in the House.



Frank Pope, hypocrite

The Times, which was the newspaper of record many moons ago, gives space to someone called Frank Pope today. Mr Pope wants to give us all a good lecture about climate change.

Problem is, in reality Mr Pope doesn't really give a stuff about climate change, as we can see by taking a look at his Wiki page.

Graduating with a degree in Zoology from the University of Edinburgh, Frank began working with Coral Cay Conservation in Belize, Central America...

He subsequently worked on maritime archaeological projects in Uruguay, the Cape Verde Islands, Greece, Italy, Vietnam and Mozambique on wrecks including the San Salvador, Graf Spee off Montevideo and Lord Nelson's flagship HMS Agamemnon in Uruguay, Princess Louisa in Cabo Verde and the San Sebastian Wreck in Mozambique.

With a biography like that it's not too far from the truth to say that Mr Pope is personally responsible for global warming. Why does the Times make us listen to people like this?





A sea shamty

I haven't written anything about global warming for a while (although I have not been idle on that front - watch this space) but there's a great story at Climate Audit this morning.

While a great deal of sceptic attention is focused on the problems with the land surface temperature record (poor station siting, dubious adjustments) it is important to remember that in terms of detecting the alleged global warming at surface level, ocean temperatures are far more important, the seas representing a much larger proportion of the world's surface than land.

So, what's the news?

Well, it seems that a new version of the sea surface temperatures has been released, incorporating a whole bunch of "improvements" to the way they are put together.

Guess what effect these improvements have had on the trend?

Yup, with the improvements in place, the new version 3 shows that the seas are warming much faster than we thought back at version 2.

So what was this improvement? Well, it's too early to be sure but it looks as if the improvement involves a new way of dealing with sparse data. It seems that where there is not much information to work with, the scientists simply insert some numbers generated by a climate model. In other words the new sea surface record is heavily fictionalised.

Even funnier, Professor Ben Santer a man who is probably best known for having been accused of doctoring one of the early IPCC reports, wrote in the International Journal of Climatology that the climate models were splendid and marvellous because they could now accurately predict tropical sea surface temperatures. This is not really very surprising now we know how it seems that the sea surface temperature record is based partly on that same model output.

As someone used to say: hey it's climate science.




What constitutional crisis?

Several commentators have referred to the Snoutgate scandals as being a "constitutional crisis". I don't get it myself. It's a crisis only if our constitutional institutions can't deal with the problems they are being presented with. As far as MPs' expenses go though, they seem to be taking the whole thing in their stride. Guilty MPs are being deselected or are standing down. Where they aren't jettisoned in one way or another, they will surely be dealt with by the electorate, and their parties will suffer the consequences more widely. It's working very well as far as I can see.

So where's the problem? Sure, if the BNP win a majority at the next election, that would be a crisis, but I don't really think that's an issue when there are more salubrious alternatives around for all shades of political opinion - even for libertarians like me.

We might have had a problem if our parliamentarians were chosen by proportional representation - then we might get the crooked pols back via party lists, but fortunately we don't, and we should keep it that way. Quite why the left is trying to change us to a system that is less likely to let the electorate get rid of crooked politicians is beyond me.

This is not to say that our constitutional arrangements are any good. Far from it. Just that we need to take things slowly and carefully. It would be a pity to throw the baby out with the bathwater.



One for the shopping list

Heresy Corner reviews Ben Wilson's new book, What Price Liberty?


Guardian readers: 'Does not compute'

Martin Kettle writes about Dambisa Moyo on the pages of Comment is Free, in a piece that is broadly supportive of her position on ending aid payments. The CiF readers seem largely to be behind her too, with several calls made for trade deals rather than more handouts. You can almost sense the confusion - Moyo's message is what heartless rightwingers have been saying for years - the message of hateful Thatcher and moronic Reagan - but they find themselves not only unable to vent their fury because the message is being delivered by a young black woman, but also finding themselves finally having to admit that the hate figures on the right were, erm, right all along.

This is rather extraordinary, but I wonder if I might have put a spanner in the works by pointing out in my own comment that the default position of Guardian reader is that buying green beans from Africa is equivalent to murder - it's going to lead to global warming isn't it? We're meant to be buying only from our local farmers' market, no?

I can square this circle without a problem - buy the goddam string beans and help the poor Africans. Guardian readers on the other hand are going to have to reconcile their desire to open doors to African trade and to close them at the same time.