‘Killing season’ on NHS wards: Patients at risk when junior doctors start new jobs, says health boss
Hospital death rates go up by 8 per cent when junior doctors start their jobs in what a top NHS executive has labelled a ‘killing season’. Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of the health service, has admitted publicly – for what is believed to be the first time – that patients are at risk during this period.
Yesterday he pledged to end the scandal under radical training reforms which will see junior doctors shadow senior colleagues for their first week.
Thousands of newly qualified medical graduates take up their first hospital jobs as ‘foundation year’ doctors in the first week of August. Sir Bruce expects that 7,000 junior doctors will begin the new induction scheme voluntarily next month before starting their posts in August.
From next year it will be compulsory for all junior doctors to shadow senior colleagues for at least four days.
The death rates and number of mistakes are so notoriously high that the day of the week when junior doctors typically start has been dubbed ‘Black Wednesday’.
Sir Bruce hopes the scheme will halve the number of errors. He said ‘The intention is to end the so-called killing season. This is good news for patients – we recognise the change-over period in August puts patients at risk.
‘Junior doctors are under stress as they change from being a student to a professional and they need help to adapt to a working environment when they’ve never done a job before.’
The scheme follows a successful trial in Bristol, where it was found to halve the number of mistakes by junior doctors in their first four months.
There was also a drop in the numbers of patients left permanently damaged by their errors, down from five cases to just one.
Dr Dan Poulter, a Conservative MP and hospital doctor, said: ‘This should have been done a long time ago. There’s nothing more important than human life. It’s unacceptable that doctors are thrown in at the deep end and patients’ lives are put at risk. ‘The Department of Health needs to be credited for ending the chaos on the wards.’
Katherine Murphy, of the Patients’ Association, said: ‘Patient safety should be of paramount concern to the NHS, and it has always been clear that it is, on occasion, compromised during August. Given that everybody knows this to be the case, action should have been taken long ago.’
Joyce Robins, of Patient Concern, welcomed the plan. ‘This is an excellent idea and will be a great relief to patients,’ she said. ‘We all know how difficult it is when you start a completely new job – but for a doctor there are lives at risk.’
One of the problems facing junior doctors is that hospitals are so vast – many are more than a mile wide – so it takes several days for them to find their way round. If they are suddenly summoned to a patient who has had a cardiac arrest it may take them precious extra minutes to get there.
In addition, many go on holiday in the six weeks between leaving medical school and taking up their posts, over which time their newly acquired skills and knowledge become rusty.
In 2009 a study involving 300,000 patients at 170 hospitals by Imperial College London found that death rates were 6 per cent higher on Black Wednesday.
When cancer patients or those undergoing surgery were excluded, the rates were 8 per cent higher. Such patients are rarely looked after by junior doctors and are instead under the care of more senior, specialist medics.
Junior doctors change jobs every six months – in August and February – and Sir Bruce admitted the new scheme tackled only one part of the upheaval, adding: ‘We will audit the shadowing and see how different trusts manage it and their results.’
Lives put at risk by shortage of drugs, NHS leaders warn
Because the NHS will not pay the going rate for them. Drug wholesalers can sell their stuff more profitably abroad
Four in five NHS trusts in England and Wales say patients are suffering “unacceptable” delays for drugs to treat life-threatening conditions including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and organ failure.
A survey of 60 NHS authorities found that the shortage was doing patients “serious harm”, with some having to be admitted to hospital for emergency treatment after they were unable to get their medicines.
Pharmaceutical companies began rationing drugs to the NHS four years ago after British wholesalers and pharmacies started selling them abroad to take advantage of favourable exchange rates.
But NHS leaders and politicians said that the restrictions had gone too far and urged ministers to intervene and force suppliers to put the interests of British patients first.
Prof John Parkes, the chief executive of NHS Milton Keynes and Northamptonshire, said: “The current restriction in supply imposed by drug companies is harming the public and must be addressed urgently.”
The scale of drug shortages for NHS patients was detailed in responses to Freedom of Information requests to 60 primary care trusts and health authorities by Huw Irranca-Davies, the Labour MP for Ogmore. He found that up to 70 common drugs were unavailable in some areas, with patients facing delays of up to six months for the medication.
Earlier this year, a group of MPs on the all-party pharmacy group blamed shortages on pharmacists and wholesalers trying to make extra profits selling drugs to Europe, where they can get a better price than in Britain.
Companies imposed rationing to stop this sale of drugs abroad, but NHS leaders and pharmacies say the regime has backfired and has made the shortages much worse.
Andrew McCoig, the chief executive of the NHS pharmaceutical committee for Merton, Sutton and Wandsworth in south London, said shortages were “out of hand and nearing catastrophe” in his area.
“The manufacturers must bear the majority of responsibility for the current crisis we’re all experiencing,” he said. “They will not explain their imposed quota system and they will not discuss the issue directly.” He said it was “untenable and ultimately disastrous” for patients.
In Cornwall, patients had to be given specialist advice after pharmacies ran out of a drug for Parkinson’s, and in Devon a shortage of drugs to treat stroke patients led pharmacists to warn that “the consequences could be further hospital admissions or even fatalities”.
In Hampshire, patients with schizophrenia were forced to switch drugs after their medicine was unavailable for six months, while the Calderdale, Kirklees and Wakefield group of NHS trusts handed over reports from pharmacists that “serious harm” had been caused to patients. Calderdale and Kirklees local pharmaceutical committee said: “Before the introduction of manufacturers’ quotas, the market for medicines worked effectively. No longer can patients be assured that if they walk into a pharmacy their medication will be available immediately or within an acceptable timescale.”
In Essex, one health authority said the shortages had caused such significant deterioration in patients’ conditions that they had been admitted to hospital, increasing the burden on the NHS.
NHS leaders said the problems were being exacerbated by the Coalition’s health reforms, which will mean more patients are treated by GPs rather than in hospitals. Dr Mike Prentice, the medical director of NHS South of Tyne and Wear, suggested this would increase pressure on pharmacies. Mr Irranca-Davies urged the Government to introduce a public service obligation for drug manufacturers to force them to prioritise British patients.
“We are talking about drugs for life-threatening illnesses, like cancer, coronary care, and diabetes,” he said. “My message to the Government is they need to stop taking a back seat on this issue. If nothing is done, it will get much worse.”
The Department of Health said it was considering an investigation to determine the scale of the problem. A spokesman said it was up to drug companies to make sure quotas were set fairly.
He said the Government had an emergency reserve of essential medicines. “We will take any action necessary in the event of disruption to supply and distribution of medicines that causes serious risk to patients.” The pharmaceutical industry denied that quotas were to blame for shortages. Stephen Whitehead, the chief executive of the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries, said quotas were a “legitimate means of ensuring that UK patients receive the medicines they need”.
He said that without the quotas there would be an even greater shortage of drugs. “Quotas are a sticking plaster, not a cure, but in the current situation, figures relating to patient harm could be far worse without them,” he said.
“If all the medicines manufacturers provided went to UK pharmacists, they would have in excess of what they need, but while these medicines continue to flow out of the UK these problems will persist, and make no mistake, patients will be affected.”
At last British Labour admits: Talking about immigration ISN’T racist as Miliband says his party was wrong to brand opponents as bigots
Voters who raise concerns about immigration are ‘not bigots’ and Labour got the issue ‘wrong’ for years, Ed Miliband will say today.
Unveiling plans for a major U-turn, the Labour leader will say the party became ‘disconnected from the concerns of working people’ during its 13 years in power.
In office, Labour often tried to silence criticism of its immigration policy by suggesting it was inspired by racism.
Today, Mr Miliband will admit this tactic was wrong, saying: ‘Worrying about immigration, talking about immigration, thinking about immigration, does not make (people) bigots. Not in any way. They are anxious about the future.
‘Labour, which is more rooted in people’s lives than any other party, must listen to those anxieties and speak directly to them in return.’
His words are a thinly-veiled attack on Gordon Brown, who branded Rochdale pensioner Gillian Duffy a ‘bigoted woman’ for raising concerns about the impact of immigration during the 2010 election campaign.
Mr Miliband will also distance himself from Mr Brown’s pledge to create ‘British jobs for British workers’. The policy failed almost immediately when critics said he could not block workers coming here from the European Union.
Mr Miliband, who also attacks the Coalition’s immigration cap, will say politicians ‘need to be honest about what can be done’.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the MigrationWatch think-tank, last night welcomed the change of heart, but said it needed to be followed by a change of strategy.
Sarah Davies, 32, from Norwich, who lost her cleaning job four months ago, said: ‘There are a lot of foreign workers and you are competing against them for even the most basic jobs.
‘It means people like me are being left on the scrapheap. I don’t want to be a burden on the taxpayer.’
He said: ‘Mumbled apologies are not enough. Having caused the mass immigration of recent years, will Labour now pledge to cut back future immigration, and if so how?’
Mr Miliband will suggest that Labour under Tony Blair became ‘dazzled by globalisation and too sanguine about its price’.
He suggests the impact of immigration has had a class divide, with the well-off benefiting from cheap labour, while others find their own jobs and incomes are undercut.
‘Immigration made things easier for some, but it also makes things harder for others. If you wanted a conservatory built, you were probably better off. If you were working for a company building conservatories, you probably weren’t.’
The Labour leader will also outline a string of changes to the party’s approach to immigration.
He will acknowledge the party made ‘a mistake’ in not putting controls on the number of migrants who flocked here from Poland and other Eastern European countries after they joined the EU. Countries joining in future, such as Croatia and Turkey, should face curbs.
Firms with more than 25 per cent of foreign workers on their books should have to notify their local JobCentre, in order to provide an ‘early warning system’ about potential skills shortages in the economy.
Mr Miliband will also call for a crackdown on employment agencies that boast of exclusively employing foreign workers, saying a change in the law may be needed.
He will say: ‘The idea that in core sectors of our economy, industries like construction or agriculture, you can get recruitment agencies who boast all their workers are Polish or denigrate the talents of people living locally is deeply wrong.’
Mr Miliband will also call for better enforcement of minimum wage laws. He will say it is wrong that just seven employers have been prosecuted for failing to pay the minimum wage when recent studies have suggested that up to 220,000 workers in the care sector alone are not being paid the legal minimum.
The Labour leader will warn that the Government’s immigration cap will affect just three per cent of migrants. But he says Labour will ‘examine the evidence’ on whether the cap works before deciding whether to scrap it.
A Tory spokesman said Labour continued to lack ‘credibility’ on immigration.
Race to open Britain’s first new grammar (selective) school in 50 years
A race has opened up to establish England’s first new grammar school in 50 years.
Two local authorities are competing to be the first to use a “back door” route to get around a legal ban on the creation of entirely new selective schools.
Croydon, in south London, which currently has no selective schools, is planning to open a 600-pupil grammar on a site it has identified.
The move follows a vote in Kent to open a similar-sized grammar school in Sevenoaks.
In each case, the school would open as an “annex” of an existing grammar elsewhere – a tactic sanctioned by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary.
Experts said the plans were likely to open the floodgates for other councils to set up grammars where there currently are none.
Mr Gove’s proposal to scrap GCSEs and return to traditional O-levels, revealed last week, is also likely to fuel demand for the academic rigour grammar schools provide.
It comes as a number of comprehensive schools attempt to attract parents by introducing their own “grammar streams” for their brightest pupils, chosen through 11-plus-style ability tests.
Conservative-led Croydon council has committed nearly £15 million for a new 120-pupil secondary school in South Norwood, to be run as an annex of an existing school. Grammar schools in neighbouring authorities have been invited to take it on.
Bids will also be considered from non-selective schools, but Tim Pollard, Croydon’s cabinet member for education, said he supported the reintroduction of pupil selection.
“We need more academically high-performing schools in the borough,” he said. “If that means we have a partner whose admissions criteria includes selection tests to identify pupils with the highest level of aptitude, this would simply add a new dimension to the range of options available in the borough.
“Many parents move mountains to get their children into a selective school in neighbouring boroughs. Having a selective school would provide the extra choice locally which parents want.”
Mr Pollard said at least one selective school was already looking at the proposal. Grammars in the neighbouring boroughs of Sutton and Bromley are popular with parents in Croydon.
Tory-controlled Kent county council gave its backing in March to a satellite campus for around 600 pupils in the town of Sevenoaks.
Children in the town currently travel about nine miles to attend the nearest grammars in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells.
Discussions with potential “host” grammar schools were ongoing, said a Kent County Council spokesman. No site for the school has been agreed.
Only 164 grammar schools remain in England following the expansion of comprehensive education in the 60s and 70s. It was revealed last year that as many as half of pupils who pass the 11-plus entrance exam fail to get a place in grammar school because of the sheer competition for places.
Since a change of law under Labour in the late 1990s, the construction of entirely new grammar schools has been banned. But Coalition reforms now allow existing schools – including grammars – to expand where there is demand, even if this means opening an annex many miles away.
The Kent and Croydon proposals have been condemned by opponents of selective education who claim they will undermine local comprehensive schools and harm children who fail to win places. Supporters of selection expect a legal challenge to be mounted.
Some comprehensives are responding by creating “grammar streams” for high-ability pupils. Knoll Academy, in Sevenoaks, has incorporated a “grammar stream” for the top 25 per cent ability range of students, with priority given to those who passed Kent’s 11+ exam.
The academy also announced that it would offer the three separate sciences at GCSE rather than just the double science syllabus.
Stockwell Park High, in south London, has also brought in a “grammar school pathway” for the top set of pupils. Teenagers sit a test in English, maths and science to determine whether they are eligible.
Crown Woods College, in Eltham, moved into a new building last year and split pupils into three schools or houses. Higher-ability children, selected by a combination of test results and primary school assessments, are in Delamere house.
The other two houses, Ashwood and Sherwood, are mixed ability. Children from each “school” wear different-coloured ties and have separate lessons, teachers and lunch breaks. For the first time this year, the school is oversubscribed with 900 applications for 270 places.
Michael Murphy, the head teacher, said his school was competing for its intake with other popular schools including grammars.
He said: “The aim is that every child of every ability makes excellent progress. And we do that by offering a tailored curriculum to each child, whether it be academic, or vocational or a mix of the two.”
Nick Seaton, secretary of the Campaign for Real Education, said: “Parents everywhere will welcome these developments. “Most existing grammars schools are vastly oversubscribed and parents should have the choice of a grammar school place if their child is eligible.”
Will the great morass of British education defeat attempts to upgrade it?
The Education Secretary’s latest plans, including the return of O-levels, confirm the scale of his ambition for our schools. But the task he has set himself defeated his predecessors
In the lobby of the Department for Education there is a long line of photographs of former secretaries of state, 30 of them in total since the war. Very few made any difference at all. Michael Gove must wonder whether he will make a bigger impression.
He has certainly been hyperactive, and has become the darling of the Conservative party as a result. His leaked plan to bring back the O-level, and ditch GCSEs, is the latest in a long line of announcements that have earned the Education Secretary full marks from Tory activists.
But what does saying there will be a “new O-Level” actually mean in practice? And will Mr Gove’s school reforms really raise standards?
In all the countries with the best schools, teaching is a much higher-status profession than in Britain. With this in mind, Mr Gove has set more demanding standards for entry into the teaching profession: they must now have at least a 2:2 degree and the bar could be raised further in future. He has encouraged the growth of Teach First, which encourages high-fliers to try their hand at teaching. And he has reformed teacher training, so that more training is on the job, rather than based on academic theory or fashionable dogma.
To make their jobs easier and less stressful, teachers have been given new powers over discipline, and rules that undermined their authority in the classroom have been pruned back.
What about the quality of management? How do we make sure that the best teachers get rewarded and keep teaching, while those who are not up to the job are either turned around or moved on? A problem with state-run services is that in the absence of market forces, managers don’t have the same incentives to weed out underperformers.
Labour had been turning around some of the worst schools by making them into so-called “academies”. This meant that the failing management would be replaced, a rich sponsor would provide some extra money, and the new academy would have greater freedom to fire bad teachers and set its own curriculum.
There is good evidence that this programme worked, and standards in the academies rose faster than in their predecessor schools. But, although it started in 2002, the academy programme had only reached about 200 schools by the end of Labour’s time in government, less than one per cent of all schools in England.
Mr Gove has continued this programme, but also hugely expanded it in a number of different ways. He has allowed good schools to turn themselves voluntarily into academies, which means they get greater freedoms over hiring, firing and the curriculum. Primary schools can now also be turned into academies. As well as trying to turn around the very worst schools, he wants to change the much larger number of “coasting” schools – the schools that are not terrible, but not good enough either. He is raising the “floor standard” – the level of performance below which schools can be handed over to new management.
The long-term goal of the academy programme is to emulate the competitive forces of the private sector within state education. Schools that are badly run will be taken over by new and better managers. The process is just beginning, but already academy schools are forming into chains.
In the past we often saw brilliant head teachers turn around individual schools. But they could not take over other schools. Now groups with a proven track record of turning around poor schools are able to replicate their successful methods on a bigger scale. Already, more than one in 10 secondary schools is part of a chain. Federations such as ARK and Harris are raising standards in large numbers of schools.
Where does the proposal for a new O-level fit into all this? It fits with Mr Gove’s determination to raise standards, and stop politicians kidding the public about how well schools are doing. Last summer, 23 per cent more youngsters had good GCSE pass rates than in 1995-96. In part, this reflects real progress but it also reflects the fact that exams have been made easier.
For years there has been a race to the bottom between different competing exam boards. To attract schools to sit their exams, boards have lowered standards. A recent Daily Telegraph investigation uncovered the full extent of the problem, with secretly shot footage of chief examiners advising teachers on future test questions and the exact wording that pupils should use to obtain higher marks.
Research by Durham University found that between 1996 and 2007, the average grade achieved by GCSE maths candidates of the same “general ability” rose by a whole grade. As part of the O-level proposal, Mr Gove is suggesting having a single exam board in England, as they already do in Scotland, which will remove one of the main causes of grade inflation.
Although Mr Gove has yet to explain his proposals for the new version, the O-levels of old were more “norm referenced” than GCSEs. In simple terms this meant that a certain proportion of pupils each year would get As, a certain proportion Bs, and so on. But GCSEs are not really anchored in this way, which has allowed politicians to say that grades are going up, even as international comparisons suggest we may be falling behind other countries.
Mr Gove is also concerned that targets set by politicians can have perverse effects. That’s why as part of the O-level proposal he plans to end the Government’s obsessive focus on the number of children getting five GCSE grades at C or better.
This measure, which formed the basis for league tables under the last government, has distorted teachers’ priorities, because getting a child from D to C helps in the league tables, but bumping up a pupil from a B to an A doesn’t.
As one teaching manual – “Boost your borderline students” – helpfully explains: “Students who achieve a GCSE grade C or above in mathematics help to boost the school’s statistics for the Department… and so show the school in a better light for Ofsted and for league tables… D/C borderline students are now an important focus for all teachers.”
The effect of this focus in recent years is clearly visible in GCSE results for English and maths. Comparing 2010 with 2002, 5 per cent more students got a C in maths, and 5 per cent fewer got a D or an E. But the numbers getting A* to B were unchanged. In other words, instead of increasing standards across the board, schools have been forced to play the league table system. In practice this means that bright children and the less able are being neglected because of government targets.
Yesterday there was a furore because of newspaper reports that the O-levels proposal could also mean a return to a two-tier system, whereby most children would study for O-levels but less academic children would study for a more basic Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE).
This looks unlikely to happen, and Deputy PM Nick Clegg was quick to rule out the idea, putting him on a collision course with Mr Gove. Yet while a simple return to the old CSE would be a mistake, something is needed in its place and the proposal raised a hugely important issue: how to cater for less academic children?
Governments of Left and Right have been right to try to get more children to go down the academic route and increase the numbers going to university. In the 21st century, there is more demand than ever for higher skills; globalisation and technological change are relentlessly pushing down the wages of the unskilled, and pushing up the premium that graduates earn.
But there will always be some pupils who are not suited to the academic route. By the age of 14, lots of my classmates were wondering why on earth they were struggling to learn quadratic equations, which they knew they would never use again in their lives. As a result they were bored, felt second rate, and were disengaged from school. We waste the talents of millions of children in this way.
Despite the success of small projects such as Young Apprenticeships, where 14 year-olds spend three days a week at school and two days in work, politicians have shown little interest in the subject. Perhaps that’s because the political class is full of people like me, with dangerously similar backgrounds (PPE, Oxford) who think that academia is the only way to go.
In Finland, which is often held up as a model by the Left, more than 40 per cent of pupils go to vocational schools from age 15. Last year, former Labour education secretary Estelle Morris suggested that children in Britain could choose to go down a vocational or academic route at age 14. This is an attractive idea in principle, but we would need to guard against the vocational track becoming a second-class, second-rate option.
Mr Gove is thinking big, and ruffling a lot of feathers along the way. His O-level proposals are another example of his radicalism, but their messy leaking also shows that the schools revolution is still a work in progress. He wants to tell us the truth about our schools, not kid us about how well we are doing.
His energy is impressive, and he is attacking the problems of educational failure from every angle. But when he contemplates the grainy colour photos of all those failed former education secretaries, he must realise that he has a mountain to climb.
The moonbat gets it right for once
George Monbiot of The Guardian says that the Rio+20 draft text is 283 paragraphs of fluff
World leaders have spent 20 years bracing themselves to express ‘deep concern’ about the world’s environmental crises, but not to do anything about them
In 1992, world leaders signed up to something called “sustainability”. Few of them were clear about what it meant; I suspect that many of them had no idea. Perhaps as a result, it did not take long for this concept to mutate into something subtly different: “sustainable development”. Then it made a short jump to another term: “sustainable growth”. And now, in the 2012 Rio+20 text that world leaders are about to adopt, it has subtly mutated once more: into “sustained growth”.
This term crops up 16 times in the document, where it is used interchangeably with sustainability and sustainable development. But if sustainability means anything, it is surely the opposite of sustained growth. Sustained growth on a finite planet is the essence of unsustainability.
As political economist Robert Skidelsky, who comes at this issue from a different angle, observes in the Guardian today:
“Aristotle knew of insatiability only as a personal vice; he had no inkling of the collective, politically orchestrated insatiability that we call economic growth. The civilization of “always more” would have struck him as moral and political madness. And, beyond a certain point, it is also economic madness. This is not just or mainly because we will soon enough run up against the natural limits to growth. It is because we cannot go on for much longer economising on labour faster than we can find new uses for it.”
Several of the more outrageous deletions proposed by the United States – such as any mention of rights or equity or of common but differentiated responsibilities – have been rebuffed. In other respects the Obama government’s purge has succeeded, striking out such concepts as “unsustainable consumption and production patterns” and the proposed decoupling of economic growth from the use of natural resources.
At least the states due to sign this document haven’t ripped up the declarations from the last Earth summit, 20 years ago. But in terms of progress since then, that’s as far as it goes. Reaffirming the Rio 1992 commitments is perhaps the most radical principle in the entire declaration.
As a result, the draft document, which seems set to become the final document, takes us precisely nowhere: 190 governments have spent 20 years bracing themselves to “acknowledge”, “recognise” and express “deep concern” about the world’s environmental crises, but not to do anything about them.
This paragraph from the declaration sums up the problem for me:
“We recognise that the planet Earth and its ecosystems are our home and that Mother Earth is a common expression in a number of countries and regions and we note that some countries recognise the rights of nature in the context of the promotion of sustainable development. We are convinced that in order to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environment needs of present and future generations, it is necessary to promote harmony with nature.”
It sounds lovely, doesn’t it? It could be illustrated with rainbows and psychedelic unicorns and stuck on the door of your toilet. But without any proposed means of implementation, it might just as well be deployed for a different function in the same room.
The declaration is remarkable for its absence of figures, dates and targets. It is as stuffed with meaningless platitudes as an advertisement for payday loans, but without the necessary menace. There is nothing to work with here, no programme, no sense of urgency or call for concrete action beyond the inadequate measures already agreed in previous flaccid declarations. Its tone and contents would be better suited to a retirement homily than a response to a complex of escalating global crises.
The draft and probably final declaration is 283 paragraphs of fluff. It suggests that the 190 governments due to approve it have, in effect, given up on multilateralism, given up on the world and given up on us. So what do we do now? That is the topic I intend to address in my column next week.
At last, a British politician who’s brave enough to tell the truth
There is a vacuum at the heart of British public life where truth and bravery should be. On almost every subject there is a shortage of honesty and courage.
Before the last election no political party thought that voters could be trusted with the truth about the dire state of the public finances and the profound sacrifices necessary to put them right. None of the three party leaders is currently telling the truth about the European Union.
If we want to control immigration or cut red tape we need much more independence from Brussels.
No politician is prepared to say unpopular things about the need for considerably more airport capacity, nuclear energy or toll roads.
None thinks we are ready for tough choices about the kind of investment in infrastructure that is necessary for our economy to flourish once again.
One of the explanations for this is that we live in an age when our leading MPs are all quite young. During their years on planet Earth they’ve spent little time beyond planet politics. Few have run businesses, commanded men in uniform or worked with the real people in the real world.
They know how to listen to a focus group or interpret an opinion poll, but then today’s politicians are not leaders but followers —afraid of bold decisions or taking risks.
This didn’t matter when the economy was strong. Now things are going wrong we need a different kind of politician.
One Cabinet minister is increasingly standing apart from the crowd. Yesterday, this newspaper revealed that Education Secretary Michael Gove wants to bring back O-level-style exams.
Although this brave proposal is popular with parents across England, it is not uncontroversial. It takes us back to a system that separated academically gifted children from those with different aptitudes.
But I would argue that the abolition of O-levels in the Eighties was actually an early sign of the culture of dishonesty in our national life.
Britain fell into the grip of a dishonest kindness. We started to hand out good exam results like sweeties — regardless of whether pupils had really learnt anything at school.
We told ourselves that it didn’t matter whether parents spent their time working with their children or just letting them lounge in front of the TV.
We allowed school-leavers to think that a life on benefits was socially acceptable when it’s actually a place where they would easily rot and never fulfil their potential.
The statistics that poured out of the schools system suggested that all was well, however.
Like tractor production data from the old Soviet Union the latest exam grades were always better than last summer’s.
We were told to rejoice but employers and universities saw through the big lie. They complained that the children graduating from Britain’s schools lacked basic literacy and numeracy skills. Britain started sliding down the international league tables that compared the abilities of children in China, Germany, Korea and Britain.
Michael Gove is the first Education Secretary to say that enough is enough. He has said he’s not afraid to preside over a drop in exam grades. They’ll look less good, he concedes, but they’ll be more honest.
The teaching unions that have presided over the ‘All Must Have Prizes’ system will fight him tooth and nail. They want to protect their jobs-for-life regime where bad teachers are rarely sacked but are instead allowed to damage countless pupils’ life chances, year after year.
Gove is undeterred. He’s ready to close down a system where children who can’t manage their times tables are studying for exactly the same exams as those who are on track to study physics at Oxbridge. Meanwhile, the questions in exams have become preposterously silly.
In one science exam 16-year-olds were asked if they should look at the stars through a telescope or a microscope.
Another test asked: ‘What part of a rider’s body does a riding hat protect?’
Like Labour, the Liberal Democrats are said to be worried about the return of a two-tier educational system, where some children get O-levels while others study allegedly inferior CSEs — or whatever the less onerous exams system envisaged by Gove might be called.
This is nonsense. Britain already has an education system that is getting more unequal by the day.
Those children who are doing best have parents who spend hours with them at home, helping them to study and learn.
If they can’t afford a private education these same parents will often move homes or jobs in order to get their children into schools that use honest exam and traditional teaching systems. We all know the stories.
Meanwhile, children who are floundering fall further behind.
The compassionate politician who cares about equality of opportunity won’t accept this status quo, and will point out that the current system is dishonest. It puts children with very different abilities through the same sausage machine and then pretends that those who get ‘F’ or ‘G’ grades have still passed.
Michael Gove wants academically gifted children to be stretched by studying O-levels.
He wants other children to have a more appropriate educational experience, albeit an equally rigorous and demanding one.
This Government’s investment in high-quality apprenticeships and a new generation of technical colleges is early proof that it is serious about restoring the standing of vocational education.
This is a big moment for David Cameron. It is rumoured that he hasn’t yet approved Gove’s plan.
Nick Clegg has already reacted angrily to the plan to restore O-levels. But the truth is that, technically, he has no powers to prevent it. No new laws are needed for Michael Gove to restore honesty to the exam system.
The Prime Minister should tell the Liberal Democrat leader that the Education Secretary will get his full support — and that unless he wants to destroy the Coalition, he should let Mr Gove get on with the great task of rebuilding our education system.
Michael Gove’s performance is leading some Conservatives to ask whether he could be a future party leader.
That talk may be premature but there are still good reasons to take it seriously.
My hunch is that the British people are ready for a principled politician who stands more in the mould of Margaret Thatcher than of Tony Blair.
They may not always agree with truth-telling politicians like Thatcher and Gove but, in challenging times, they respect their conviction — and their authenticity.
If Michael Gove can succeed in the education portfolio, a bigger role awaits him.
For many people he can appear a bit bookish and sometimes a bit confrontational. But as well as an accomplished minister he has a powerful life story. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his Scottish mouth, but was adopted at an early age into a middle-class family. His father ran a fish processing business in Aberdeen.
Michael Gove recently spoke movingly about the love that his adoptive parents have given him. ‘I’d never want to search for my natural parents,’ he said, ‘as I would never want to give my mum the impression that her love for me was not enough or not complete.’
He has become a crusader for adoption reform so that children do not languish in care homes but get the same opportunities he enjoyed.
He is also a crusader for Press freedom. He wants to pull back powers from Europe. He supports lower taxes and a tough approach to crime.
One day, some time in the future, this brave politician might well be the kind of leader that the Conservative Party chooses and the nation craves.
Cutting the experts’ apron strings
Jennie Bristow answers your questions on how to be a subversive parent and stand up to ‘supernanny’
“You’ve said that to raise children, we have to see ourselves as adults first. In an age when many adults don’t do that – remaining ‘kidults’ – does this mean they are not raising their children properly?”
There is a genuine problem with the extent to which adult authority can become weakened through successive generations, and I do think we saw a bit of that in last year’s riots. Parents feel de-authorised by a culture that dictates how they should use persuasion rather than discipline to attempt to control their children, and makes them doubt every spontaneous action. In addition, the message that parents aren’t up to the job is transmitted directly to children via schools and popular culture, so this just fuels the sense of infantilisation.
However, growing up and rising to the occasion aren’t rocket science; people have been doing this throughout history. So it’s a real mistake to say that society should deal with the problem of the ‘kidult’ by adapting to it, through treating parents even more like children (and thus infantilising them further). Far better to recognise the role that official intervention has played in creating this problem, and to start to cut the apron strings…
More of that wonderful British multiculturalism
Violent refugee was jailed for at least 26 years today for stabbing his girlfriend 57 times
Somalian Zakaria Mohamed, 29, was on probation when he killed television recruitment consultant Amina Adan, 32.
He had assaulted her twice before during their year-long relationship, but magistrates put off sentencing him so he could take part in a domestic abuse programme. But she took him back and he killed her with three knives and shards of glass from a broken mirror before the counselling sessions were implemented, the Old Bailey heard.
Judge Anthony Morris said he did not know why the sessions were not prioritised before Mohamed served an unpaid work element of a community order. Mohamed pleaded guilty to murdering Miss Adan on November 6, last year, at the home they shared in Walworth, south London.
After a row, drunken Mohamed went home, dragged her down the stairs by the hair, beat her unconscious, kicked and stamped on her and began to stab her.
After police arrived, Mohamed threatened to kill them and had to be subdued with a Taser gun.
Miss Adan, who was brought up in Kenya, was described as being hard working and popular at the Al Jazeera news network where she worked in human resources.
Judge Morris told Mohamed: ‘You are a controlling and domineering man and Amina was frightened of you and you sought to control her with violence. ‘I am satisfied this was a punishment for her standing up to you. ‘This was a savage, brutal, sustained and premeditated attack in which you clearly intended to kill. ‘It was clearly a totally senseless killing in which you deprived a hardworking young woman of her life.’
Mohamed had been in breach of a community order and a deferred sentence at the time.
He came to the UK in 2002 on a forged Dutch passport. His request for asylum was turned down but he was given indefinite leave to remain in 2007 under an amnesty.
In April 2011, he pleaded guilty to battery on Miss Adan and was placed on a community order which included a domestic abuse programme. In May, 2011, he punched Miss Adan in the stomach and went on the run before being arrested in July. In September, he was convicted of the assault and on October 20, of breaching the order.
On October 20, Camberwell Green magistrates deferred a likely prison sentence until January 20 this year, so he could take part in the programme.
Judge Morris said he was surprised the programme had not been implemented first. He said: ‘It would be more important that they should have prioritised the domestic violence programme.
‘This was not something the probation service were not aware of because he committed another offence, and it became even more urgent he should embark on this programme. ‘Unfortunately, for reasons I do not fully understand, that programme had not been started fully.’
Prosecutor Timothy Carey told the judge the Ministry of Justice would be holding a review into the case because the murder took place while Mohamed was subject to probation.
Miss Adan’s sister, Hanan, said in a statement: ‘We will probably never know why he could possibly act in this way to another human being. It is something we will never forgive or forget.’