Henry Hill is a British Conservative and Unionist activist and writer. Follow Henry on Twitter. He is also editor of the non-party website Open Unionism, which can be followed on Twitter here.

Welsh schools are worse than any in England, report finds

A few weeks ago, I brought to your attention that teachers in Wales were claiming to be ‘demoralised’ by the efforts of the Welsh government to re-impose some vestiges of the sort of school assessment system we’ve had in England for a while now. I linked to a really excellent piece by the Economist’s Bagehot column about how much of a car crash Welsh education has been, and why that was. I heartily recommend you read it. Here is the link again.

That Bagehot article is timely twice over. First, it lambasts Clegg for hpiecis cowardly decision to pander to the received wisdom of the Welsh teaching establishment and Liberal Democrat activist base rather than what was good for children, a bad habit into which he has fallen once again. Second, a new report published this week sets out once again how bleak the educational picture in Wales actually is.

Apparently “Wales performs less well than all regions in England, including comparably deprived regions like the North East.” Poor young children in Wales are falling far short of the achievements of children in similar socio-economic situations throughout England, and English children outperform their Welsh counterparts overall no matter what their background.

Vaughn Gething, the Welsh minister charged with poverty reduction, claimed that the report “says we are doing many of the right things and acknowledges that the rest of the UK could learn from what the Welsh government is doing”, particularly with regard to “the way we represent school performance information” – presumably because his career depends on saying such things.

In a cunning move, the Welsh administration dispatched a spokesman who doesn’t hold an education brief – which makes his singling out of ‘school performance information’ as an accomplishment all the more striking. The original collapse in Welsh school results, after all, was caused in large part by the abolition of league tables and the abandonment of ‘school performance information’ as a nasty, market-based Tory idea in the Nineties. As Bagehot writes:

“Welsh exam results fell so precipitously during the Labour era that academics from elsewhere flocked to the principality to investigate what had gone wrong. They discovered not a funding gap but a man-made crisis triggered by Welsh politicians, who bowed to bullying from teachers’ unions and scrapped examination league tables.”

Still, as I mentioned the last time I touched on this issue, Welsh Labour is finally taking steps to make good on that old mistake, presumably in the teeth of an educational establishment which would quite like to trial its theories on our children in peace, thanks. May this report be a string to their bow – and a boot to their backside, too.

SNP accuse Labour of trying to ditch austerity proposals to win Dunfermline by-election

As the latest by-election to the Scottish Parliament enters the final straight, the SNP have accused Labour of trying to take credit for their various giveaways, and distract voters from the party’s on-going examination of which areas of public spending they might cut if they retake power in Holyrood.

The Nationalist campaign, having as so often largely abandoned separatism in favour of non-constitutional issues, provides a long list of free things the SNP provides people and how the Labour Party threatens them. SNP candidate Shirley-Anne Somerville now claims that in their latest leaflet Labour are trying to take credit for the SNP’s spending spree. Another member of her team, in a line that lives somewhere on the border between brilliant and cringe-worthy, demanded that Labour ‘pulp the fiction’.

Labour, probably unused to being the grown-up party of fiscal responsibility but giving it a go, accused the SNP of being desperate because the voters aren’t interested in breaking up the UK. It remains to be seen whether their policy review, chaired by Professor Arthur Midwinter of the University of Edinburgh, can withstand the blunt political need to compete with nationalist giveaways in close-fought seats. Best of luck to them.

Belfast and Sinn Fein remember Shankill Bombing in their own ways

Hundreds of people gathered in West Belfast yesterday to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the 1993 Shankill bombing, in which nine civilians including two young children were killed when a Provisional IRA bomb went off in a fish and chip shop. The event also remembered the victims of several other bombs which wracked the Shankill area over the course of the Troubles.

Not wanting people to forget the tenth casualty, republicans unveiled a plaque to accidental suicide bomber Thomas Begley, one of the two-man IRA team which conducted the attack, who died in the explosion. His confederate, Sean Kelly, escaped the blast and appeared at the ceremony with Begley’s father. He offered an apology for the loss of innocent life before going on to praise Begley as a comrade in arms.

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