I hope everyone is having a good Easter break. It’s particularly nice that the weather has now decided to behave in a slightly more spring-like fashion!
Last night I went to the wonderful Trinity Arts Centre in Tunbridge Wells to see a screening – the only one for miles araound – of an award-winning French film, A Prophet. A midweek late night – you can tell it’s the school holidays! Trinity is one of the realtively few cultural oases in this town – most of its cultural and artistic life is drained away by its proximity to the capital. Trinity, for those who have never been, now has a really superb and varied range of top quality arts events. Take a look some time.
Anyway, back to last night: the film was, as expected, grimly depressing – a gritty portrayal of life in a French prison with all the seediness, violence, and gang behaviour associated. And long – it ended at 10.15. I then went for an Indian take-away and got into a long conversation with the very young Bangladeshi waiter about the relative merits of life here in England and in Bangladesh. He works here 7 days a week and lives in a shared house, sharing even a bedroom with two other young men. Every spare penny is sent back to his mother and younger siblings in Bangladesh. I asked him what he saw as the main differences between life here and in Banbladesh. Here, he said, everyone has money, and that is good, but relationships are weak, whereas back home no-one has any money but feels supported by their family and community. I asked him whether, from his observation, people were happier here or in Bangladesh. His answer was startlingly trenchant: emotionally and spiritually people are happier there, but here in England people are ‘physically happier’. Food for thought – to go with the curry.
So the election campaign has started at last. I have just had an email from the MP and Conservative candidate for Tunbridge Wells, Greg Clark, to say that he intends to accept my invitation to speak to sixth form students at Bennett in the first week back. I have invited, of course, representatives from the other main parties too. Apparently, any registered candidate has the right to speak to students, if the school has allowed one candidate. This could pose some interesting dilemmas, given the range of registered candidates in this constituency. We will have a school election on polling day, in which all students will have the right to vote – good citizenship education. The aim is to get young people to vote, when they can. Interesting debates around about whether the voting age should be reduced to 16. Why not?
Many are saying that there is little to choose from between the candidates, which does of course not exactly encourage young people to rush to the polls. I must of course remain politically neutral, as must all staff at school. However, I will venture the following, non-party-political, comments: I have reservations about the degree of direct state micro-management of education in particular which has grown up over the past 10 years, shared with the recent select committee report. A similar comment could be made more broadly about other areas of public life. I do not think that the degree of detailed control from central government which we have seen is the best way to build capacity in our education system. However, I certainly would not advocate an undiluted market-place-based approach either, the ‘sink or swim’ way of running a country, which some in the conservative party may advocate. I do think there are some interesting ideas around for new ways of building schools’ and communities’ capacity to run their own education, and these ideas span the political spectrum. I am very interested in finding ways of supporting the voluntary organisations, including church groups, and their role in civil society, including education, and re-empowering local communities. For anyone interested in more of this, do a bit of googling of Phillip Blond – some really interesting and new ideas.
There will be no update to this blog next week – I will return in the week beginning 19th April. Enjoy the rest of the holidays!