The Telegraph reports that today Ed Balls will announce a replacement for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) that sets both the curriculum and the tests:
"He said: "There is an inherent conflict of interest
in having one body that is both developing the curriculum and keeping
the curriculum up to date with the modern needs of employers and
learning, and at the same time having set the curriculum and set the
tests, also reporting after the fact that standards have been
"And while I think the QCA has tried
really hard to be robust and independent I just think that if you have
an organisation with different functions that look like they conflict,
you aren’t going to win the highest level of public confidence.
"And that is why I think now is the right time to address this issue."
What’s interesting is that the replacement will still have its senior officers appointed by ministers. Those setting the exams will still owe their position to political favour. Political priorities are the root cause of problems with grade inflation. It might have been worth thinking about a system that is, instead, under the control of those who rely on exam results to differentiate between students – perhaps universities as Jamie Whyte proposed in the Times.
"A private sector company has been granted the power to award degrees for the first time, provoking complaints about the "privatisation" of education.
The news that a subsidiary of education company BPP has been given the go-ahead also suggests that universities could face stiff competition as the private sector moves in on their turf."
Private universities are nothing new, whether the great American institutions or Buckingham University here in the UK, but now the BPP College of Professional Studies has become the first company to gain the power to offer degrees. This expansion of a university system accountable to the students who attend universities rather than politicians in Whitehall has to be a good thing. It might force public universities to up their game as well.
The Telegraph reports that the Unite union, which represents 12,000 Royal Mail managers, is threatening strike action over Christmas. They are protesting plans to end the company’s final salary pension scheme and replace it with a career average scheme.
Final salary schemes are in retreat across the economy as firms try to avoid the financial risk of massive future bills. With people living longer company pensions just can’t be as generous without putting firms, and future employees’ well-being, at risk. Most private sector firms are biting the bullet and closing final-salary pension schemes, limiting current and future employees’ benefits. The Royal Mail managers expect that the public sector is different – that politicians will prefer writing a big cheque at the taxpayers’ expense to the PR risks of dealing with a strike.
There’s another side to this story. Next time someone tells you that we can’t have the private sector provide public services because that will undermine the ‘public service ethos’ think of cases like this. If workers in the public sector are kindly, self-sacrificing sorts, better people than you or me, why are they prepared to play the Grinch and threaten to ruin so many children’s Christmas?
The cards include today’s major political figures with Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem and minor parties all represented.
Every politician has been rated on their media skills, scandal avoidance and integrity by a panel of political journalists, bloggers and think tankers.
Also included is their record: years of private sector experience prior to political activity, length of ministerial service and the frequency with which they shift from department to department.*
There are fascinating details of some of our most famous contemporary political figures on each of the 52 cards, plus the obligatory two jokers.
The TPA cards are dual purpose, carrying both Political Trumps data and conventional playing card suits. To play Political Trumps just match up politicians against each other on their different rankings and see how they compare. Each player chooses a category and squares off with their opponent – if their card has a superior ranking, the player claims that card. The winner is the player who collects all the cards in play. Alternatively, just use the cards as a conventional novelty deck when you next play bridge or poker.
To order your pack of Political Trumps today, click the PayPal button:
(Cost including P&P is £3.99 per pack). Alternatively, send a cheque for £3.99 made payable to "The TaxPayers’ Alliance" to 43, Old Queen Street, Westminster, LONDON, SW1H 9JA.
When it comes to the facts, the cards reveal some fascinating (and little-known) truths about our high-spending, high-taxing political class:
Overall, measuring points scored for media skills, integrity and scandal avoidance out of 300 the Political Trumps deck reveals:
As well as being a bit of fun, Political Trumps also has a serious message. Public services are failing because politicians lack the management experience and subject knowledge that is needed to run large, complex organisations. Services will only become more effective and efficient when politicians stick to setting high-level policy and remove themselves from management.
An interesting FT/Harris poll is covered in the Financial Times today (here for questions, here for further write-up). It’s worth reading the poll results and analysis in full, but here is a quick summary.
Overall, the results show that while people generally do not think that Europe is well placed to compete with the emerging Asian economies, they are not yet willing to take the hard decisions that will ensure they remain competitive. There is a hard fight ahead for free-market ideas.