My view on Grammar Schools – Why they’re essential for Social Justice

grammar school“Reading To Some Purpose” was the unimaginatively titled lesson we had every Wednesday afternoon at my primary school. It wasn’t the most inspiring part of the week but we just got on with it because as a 9 or 10 year old you didn’t question the curriculum a great deal. It was question after question of puzzles, problems and generally working things out intuitively. Only now do I realise this was probably one of the most important hour of the week.

I went to school in Grantham which was one of the few areas in the UK to retain the grammar school system and although 13th January 1981 started as a normal unremarkable day there was a rumour going round that something was afoot. The headmaster walked into our class, we all stood up as was the rule and he announced that we were about to take the eleven plus. After a practice paper we took the real thing and it was all about “reading to some purpose”. I recognised the style and format of the questions as I’d been doing them every Wednesday afternoon for almost a year. These days we’d call that coaching but every primary school did it as preparation for the eleven plus as every child had an opportunity to try for a grammar education. There may have been some parents who paid for extra coaching but, with a year of coaching week after week during school time this would have made, at most, a marginal difference.

Today’s argument that grammar schools only benefit the well off who can afford coaching is defunct in the Prime Minister’s plan for good school places for every child regardless of background. If Free Schools are able to be selective grammar schools the feeder primary schools will almost certainly be offering classes like the ones I had (but perhaps with a catchier title!). If they don’t I would encourage any parent to make sure they did either as part of the curriculum, enrichment or as an after school club.

It is surprising and bordering inconceivable that the most vocal opponents of grammars are the ones who purport to be the most dedicated to social mobility not least Her Majesty’s Opposition. Grammar schools are the very examplar of social mobility and diversity. My grammar school, King’s School in Grantham, boasted illustrious past pupils like Sir Isaac Newton but during my time there I rubbed shoulders with children of service men and women, some from council estates, some from very well heeled areas and, myself, the son of an office clerk and wallpaper factory worker. Instead of dogmatically searching high and low for an excuse to loathe grammar schools a true champion of social justice and cohesion would welcome an opportunity for the brightest to excel in a school so well suited to a child’s talent. Incredibly opening such a school became banned under the Labour Government, a ban which cannot be lifted too soon.

As someone who has attended both grammar and comprehensive schools I can say from personal experience that it is right to look at lifting this ban. The grammar school is where academically minded pupils can excel in academic subjects, be proud about it and not, as I was in both the comprehensives I attended, bullied for it. As a grammar school pupil you are much more likely to be with others who want to learn in a similar way. Like it or not the comprehensive system fails those pupils who want to excel at academic subjects. At comprehensive school the pool of talent is so broad and the desires for children to learn so varied and inconsistent it is difficult to give children of different abilities the differing attention they need to either excel or to get on at all.

There is a problem with the grammar system, though, that exists to this day. The grammar was seen as the school the whole catchment area aspired to. Attending the secondary modern was seen as a failure when it should have been seen as an equal alternative to grammar for vocational as opposed to academic excellence. It is right, therefore, that alongside the move to allow new grammar schools there is just as much energy in raising the profile of vocational education with the announcement of T levels as the vocational equivalent to A levels. Along with Rob Halfon’s relentless drive on apprenticeships, all routes of learning are being promoted and improved like never before.

Quite rightly the Prime Minister is not looking to dogmatically force every town to have a grammar. This is a matter of choice for the parents and children. This is about not preventing the opening of a new grammar if there is a demand for one. This is about allowing choice and not stifling it. Growing up in the Blair era, my children had no chance to aspire to a grammar education but perhaps if I’m blessed with grandchildren they will be among the first to be educated in a brand new modern grammar school. It can’t happen soon enough.

Richard Short is the National Co-ordinator for Conservative Workers & Trade Unionists. This article contains his personal views.


Conservatives Must Be the Party of Pensions

richardprofileTrade Unions have been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons. Militant Union leaders with an agenda other than the representation of their members have done nothing other than fuel calls for new legislation to limit union powers. Meanwhile, outside of the Westminster bubble, there continue to be many more moderate Trade Unions fighting for fair and reasonable settlements with employers.

Whilst campaigning this last weekend for the Copeland by-election it was clear to anyone that would listen that the plight of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) employees is very much a case in point. Not a headline grabber it has to be said like other union disputes – not a militant stand and certainly not a proxy for a fight against the Government.

No, here we have hardworking employees who have paid into a pension scheme with the well-founded expectation of a decent pension when they retire. Sadly, under current proposal from the NDA that is all now under threat.

The Trade Union representing the workforce, Prospect, is supporting these nuclear industry workers and is negotiating on their behalf to maintain hard won pension rights, which have been protected since 1989.

The Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists fully supports the Prospect Union and like them wants to see all pension rights protected as this is absolutely in line with Conservative Party values. Along with our successful policies of inflation busting increases to the national minimum wage and creating the national living wage, making sure there is a decent pension on retirement drives right to the heart of this Government’s agenda of looking after those who work hard and do the right thing.

Indeed, workers who put money away regularly and consistently into their pension scheme to enjoy a comfortable retirement without seeking any extra support from the taxpayer must be lauded for their efforts – not penalised.

This is precisely what Trade Unions are best at and what we support. Where workers have signed up and contributed to a scheme we completely understand their grievance if the scheme is changed to their detriment. On the one hand this exposes the weakness of a final salary scheme where members are beholden to the trustees but it is also right that scheme members can expect those same trustees to administer their pension in the members’ best interests.

In the case of the NDA there has clearly been a breakdown of this trust and representation from a strong but moderate trade union is the best chance to break the impasse, maintaining goodwill and productivity among the workforce.

Yes it is right that Trade Unions must not be a force to disrupt our working lives and must not be allowed to bring national infra-structure to a grinding halt costing the economy millions in the process. But there is a place for Unions to be a force for good, making sure workers get the best from Conservative values.

Richard Short is the National Co-ordinator for Conservative Workers & Trade Unionists. This article contains his personal views and it does not necessarily reflect the views of Conservative Workers & Trade Unionists as an organisation.

Conference Security or Job Security?

richardprofileTo Tory onlookers, like me, it is very amusing watching the Labour party lurch from one crisis to the next.

At the time of writing their latest was their debacle over security providers to the Labour Party Conference. To paraphrase Jeremy Corbyn’s predecessor it ended in a
‘grotesque chaos’ only to be rescued at the very last moment with the appointment of OCS. Having been intricately involved with Party Conference security with the hotel industry at party conferences I still remain unconvinced that OCS can validate security clearances in time but I sincerely and absolutely hope they do.

I really don’t care what trouble Labour NEC’s dogma gets its own party into but I really do care about the negative impact on ordinary workers their dogma brings. Ironic that this conference is in Liverpool, the very city where the Militant Labour council leaders callously used their own workers as bargaining chips in a vile political game where even they admitted giving redundancy notices to 31,000 workers was a tactic to buy time.

Party conferences are excellent news for the hosting town. They are planned well in advance, they bring vast amounts of business from across the UK and internationally. Businesses serving a party conference forecast over a year in advance the supplies they will need, the services they will use and, above all, the hours of payroll which need to be budgeted for. Workers in conference venues, restaurants, hotels and a myriad of other places will be given extra shifts, extra workers recruited and jobs secured, all because of a few days of party politics.

Most reading this will have attended conference and will know just by looking around how busy it is and the amount of staff that are being employed directly and indirectly. Even at the periphery, public transport gets a boost, businesses get unrivalled publicity and the host town gets recognition as a provider of major conferences which could secure future business and secure yet more jobs.

In short, party conferences are excellent news for workers and this is recognised by the Conservative Workers and Trade Unionsts. If there were needed yet more reasons why only the Conservative Party are the party of the workers you will not see any reference to workers from Labour MPs and activists. We have heard about the Labour Conference’s importance as its “Sovereign decision making body” from Labour’s John Woodcock and even Unite’s Len McClusky, whose first concern should be his membership, prefers to pick fights with fellow Union Boss Tim Roache of the GMB. While Labour boycotts and the Union barons bicker it is the workers who are caught in the cross fire, just as they were in this very city 31 years ago.

Will their infighting mean they won’t get that overtime? Will their jobs be less secure without the big business of a party conference? Not one Labour MP or Union leader has said the conference must go ahead for the sake of the workers and it would never occur to them to do so. Why is this? Because they only care about their sorry selves, their self promotion and self preservation and have the thinnest veneer of compassion for the conference workers. These are the workers who have been looking forward to a few more hour’s more pay. These are the workers who have been looking forward to a bit more hard earned spending money than they would normally have through the dignity of a pay packet.

The true workers’ party are the Conservative Party and the Conservative Workers and Trade Unionist do care and we are glad the conference workers in Liverpool now have a little more certainty about whether or not they will have work to do at the end of September.

Richard Short is the National Co-ordinator for Conservative Workers & Trade Unionists. This article contains his personal views and it does not necessarily reflect the views of Conservative Workers & Trade Unionists as an organisation.

Never Give Up On The Conservative Coalfield Challenge

richardprofileOn May 5th 2016 there will be a Parliamentary by-election in Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough and there is a myth that some areas are out of bounds to Conservative campaigners. A council estate is assumed to be a Labour stronghold and a leafy suburb assumed to be Conservative. While this is the stereotype it doesn’t have to be true.  

In his article for ConservativeHome, Mark Wallace hit a nail so squarely on the head it hammered home in a single blow, we need to go back to the coalfields. This is exactly what I was doing with the by-election Conservative Candidate and Director of the Conservative Trade Unionists, Spencer Pitfield.

It was clear from our door knocking in a typical working class area of the constituency that there is no shortage of support for a Conservative candidate. It was just as clear from even self confessed Labour supporters that they were not enamoured with their new leader and while in disagreement were never hostile towards us as the hard left activists of the Momentum Movement would like to believe.

Read the full article from Richard on ConservativeHome >>

Richard Short is the National Coordinator for Conservative Trade Unionists. This article contains his personal views and it does not necessarily reflect the views of Conservative Trade Unionists as an organisation.

Industrial action solves nothing in junior doctor dispute

richardprofileSo the junior doctors have had their strike with a threat of more to come. Not all doctors were on strike yesterday as emergency cover was maintained. In other words the junior doctors, under the direction of the BMA, decided that to press their argument home they were to impose on the patient weekend conditions on a weekday.

Throughout the day there were conflicting versions from striking doctors as to why they are on strike. One version complains that they will effectively get a pay cut with the new contract, another complains that they will no longer get higher pay for unsociable hours.

Most follow what is the quasi-official line of the BMA that this is all about patient safety. This is where the argument completely unravels. Study after study shows that discharge rates at weekends reduces massively (my personal favourite study is from the 2003 paper from the Emergency Medical Journal).

Reducing delayed discharges is not only crucial to the welfare of the individual patient but also to the patients waiting for admission and patients waiting to be seen in A&E only to be delayed by, you’ve guessed it, a delayed discharge elsewhere in the hospital. It is no coincidence that A&E sees its highest backlogs on Mondays when doctors resume non-emergency work and go about releasing patients who could otherwise have been set free to go home 24, 48 or sometimes 72 hours earlier. While the frantic bed unblocking goes on there are patients being denied the care and treatment they need.

In my own personal experience I have been told to come to hospital on a Sunday to collect a patient who was discharged only to wait for over 4 hours while nurses frantically searched for a doctor to sign a prescription. A consultant was found who was worked off his feet. If junior doctors were on shift his job would have been less exhausting, my friend would have been discharged a great deal earlier and the bed would have been free, for example, to an A&E patient.

Ironically it is in A&E where a junior doctor may well be working at the weekend and frustrated with weekend bed blocking due to lack of junior doctors on the wards. This account is repeated in the BMA’s own publication ‘Hospital Discharge: The Patient, Carer and Doctor perspective’, where patient “Julie” spoke of hours of delay due to not being able to find anyone to sign the paperwork. In this same publication a former chair of the BMA Junior Doctors Committee says of delayed discharges: “When done poorly patient care can suffer, with distressing consequences for the patient and their family.”

Jeremy Hunt has called on junior doctors to follow nurses, technicians, caterers, engineers and all the other people that make the NHS tick to work a regular weekend shift to nail the problem of delayed discharges. They have been persuaded by the BMA not to answer that call and go for the emotive argument of patient safety.

The actions of the highly qualified, dedicated but poorly led junior doctors have not only continued to leave patients at greater risk at weekends, but have exacerbated this by recreating these conditions on a weekday through industrial action.

Richard Short is the Northern Coordinator for Conservative Trade Unionists. This article contains his personal views and it does not necessarily reflect the views of Conservative Trade Unionists as an organisation.

Let’s Support Bolton Wanderers’ Workers

richardprofileBolton Wanderers Football Club is in such serious financial difficulties it is unable to settle a £600,000 tax bill and has been served a winding up petition by HMRC. This has obvious ramifications for the club but our first thoughts must be with those who are ordinary workers at the club – the members of staff who now face an uncertain future.

Two weeks ago the club announced that its first team were not going to be paid but that ordinary employees with bills to pay and mouths to feed would not be affected.

It is now looking increasingly likely that wages for all staff may not be paid before Christmas.

I came to hear of the plight of the workers at the club through my fellow lifelong Bolton Wanderers’ fan, Gavin Clements.

Mr Clements has set up a fund to help ordinary employees of the club, most of whom are not high earners and could be facing a bleak Christmas without being paid this month.

He said: ‘I am a season ticket holder and love our club. I know thousands of others who feel the same way so I hope we can now support the fantastic loyal staff this Christmas.’

He added: ‘The best news would be for a buyer to come in and make sure the staff are paid. If that happens the money raised will go to local Bolton charities.’

I contacted the Conservative MP for Bolton West, Chris Green, and he has also pledged his support for the hardworking staff at the club, which is at the heart of his constituency.

Chris Green said: ‘It’s great that fans are coming together to support ordinary workers. I’ve written to both the FA and Sports Minister, Tracey Crouch MP and working to make sure the staff are paid this month. I’m grateful to the Conservative Trade Unionists for giving their support too.’

I shall continue to work with Gavin and Chris to make sure the ordinary members of staff get a fair deal and bright future as employees of the football club.

It is easy to dismiss large football clubs as being full of high paid celebrity types but anyone who knows football will know that the heart and soul of any club are the hardworking staff.

The groundworkers, caterers, cleaners, technicians, and office workers are not high earners and I’m pleased that the Conservative Trade Unionists group is able to raise awareness of and fully support Gavin Clements’ campaign.

Richard Short is the Northern Coordinator for the Conservative Trade Unionists and a Bolton Wanderers fan.

You can support the campaign by donating here.