Armed gangs in Africa? Unbelievable!

The Libyan interim government has set a Saturday deadline for forces, but Moussa Ibrahim, chief spokesman for Muammar Gaddafi has responded that “No dignified, honourable nation would accept an ultimatum from armed gangs,” he said.

His riposte is ironic really, considering that Gaddafi was the driving force in founding the African Union, the Assembly of which comprises for the larger part the most brutal, thieving, dictators in the world, most of whom gained power by armed force or by tyrannical suppression.




My opinion is that Gaddafi has fled to Algeria …

The Algerian government has formally denied that a convoy of armoured cars that could be carrying top Libyan regime officials had crossed its borders. “This information is baseless and we deny it categorically,” the foreign ministry said following a report by Egypt’s official news agency. The unconfirmed MENA report said six armoured Mercedes had Friday morning entered Ghadames, quoting a Libyan military council source in the town on the border with Algeria. The source was quoted as saying the convoy had been escorted by pro-government troops until it entered Algeria. Rebels had not been able to pursue the vehicles as they lacked munitions and equipment. “We think they (the cars) were carrying high Libyan officials, possibly (Moamer) Kadhafi and his sons,” the source said. Algeria also declined to recognise the Libyan rebels’ National Transitional Council on Friday, insisting it would adhere to the policy of “strict neutrality” adopted since the start of the conflict.

Three days later the Algerian government reported that the wife and three of the children of fugitive Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi are in Algeria. A foreign ministry statement said Col Gaddafi’s wife Safia, daughter Ayesha and sons Muhammad and Hannibal left Libya early on Monday. Algeria’s UN ambassador said they were received on humanitarian grounds

Knowing North African politics, I would venture to say that Colonel Gaddafi fled first then, having arrived without incident, was followed by the least contentious members of his family. I believe that the Algerian government is not telling the truth. In addition to that, I am willing to bet that most of the the six armoured cars contained Libya’s gold reserves.

What is the truth about Free Schools?

The BBC currently has an online article about Free Schools. There is considerable opposition to the new free schools from some Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs, as well as the teaching unions, who say they will take resources and pupils from other schools and destabilise the system. But how true is that?

Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, describes the free schools programme as a “reckless experiment with the future of children and young people. There is no evidence that the free school model raises standards but there is evidence from abroad, especially Sweden, where there are huge concerns,” she said. “Free schools have been selective and socially divisive – and there is no evidence they have raised standards.”

The government says the US Charter schools movement is closer to its free school programme and that in Chicago and New York, Charter schools have helped close the achievement gap between rich and poor students. So are charters schools a success or a failure?

To parents of children in the 3,000 publicly funded, independently run charter schools across the USA, the news must be bewildering. One day education researchers say charter schools are great; the next day brings reports of charter failures. Consider these two reports in December:

• Compared with students in regular schools, children attending charter schools perform no better in reading and worse in math, according to a Department of Education study of 150 charters.

• Not so, according to a report from Harvard researcher Caroline Hoxby, who weighed results from charter schools in 36 states and found those students ahead in both reading and math.

What looks like conflicting research, though, is actually a matter of measuring the wrong things. Lumping all charter schools together is mostly useless as they range from experiments aimed at rescuing dropouts to programs providing performing arts students a school to sing or dance at. Such comparisons are futile. Parents considering charter schools need better advice than these apples-to-oranges studies. A better guide comes from independent education researchers who say the most successful charters – please note that – the most successful charters.

Here is a synopsis of an evaluation as to what makes a successful Charter School …

Insist on rigorous instruction. Students at KIPP Academies, probably the most successful charter schools in the U.S., feed a college-prep curriculum to poor and minority students in large doses: nine-hour days, half days on Saturdays and an extra month during the summer. And it pays off. Three of every four KIPP graduates go on to college, compared with fewer than half the students in the neighborhood schools they left.

So, we have children working nine-hour days at school, plus Saturday mornings and a longer holiday – tough regime but what else makes this improvement? Can it be replicated throughout?

Innovate. Often, what’s innovative about charter schools is not new teaching techniques but how the schools are run. The founders of the five Green Dot charter schools in Los Angeles organized a teachers union and pushed decision-making, including hiring, to the classroom level. That attracts talented teachers and raises salaries — the payoff from using half as many administrators as traditional Los Angeles schools.

Thus it appears that by reducing the administrative personnel – and that is what the Coalition Government are doing by cutting out the Local Authority – they can pay teachers more because they do not have the burden of the costs of the Local Authority to carry. But won’t this simply cream off the best teachers from the state and private system if they can pay more? The answer is yes, in short. So the Free Schools are likely to fill their teacher placements with high-flying teachers, but what will happen when the supply of exemplary educators runs out?

Welcome accountability. The 11 Aspire charter schools in California practice “360-degree accountability,” in which parents give letter grades to teachers and administrators. Students, parents and teachers sign academic warranties agreeing on what students should be learning and what happens if they fall short. Students are tracked not just on test scores but also on such measures as the ability to handle time wisely.

It would seem from ‘360 degree accountability’ that even more pressure will be placed on teachers to outperform those elsewhere for fear of being badly graded and therefore replaced. But the teacher supply issue still stands.

So what are the facts surrounding Free Schools?

Firstly, the Department for Education says applications include teacher, parent and faith groups, and an existing school setting up a free school. Of the 323 applications, 115 were from faith groups. So over one third of the new Free Schools will be faith schools, which is broadly similar to the existing ratio of state to faith schools. However, existing fee-paying independent schools can and there has been considerable interest in this status from the private sector.

What are the concerns? Critics – including the Labour party and several teachers’ unions – say they will prove divisive, are likely to be centred disproportionately in middle-class neighbourhoods, to weaken already weak schools by attracting the best performing pupils, and will contribute to creating a two-tier system.

There are also fears the changes will give too much freedom to faith-based schools or fundamentalist agendas – although schools must show their curriculum is “broad and balanced” and government guidelines say creationism must not be taught as a valid scientific theory. And some critics are angered by the funding and administrative time going into what they consider to be a “pet project” promoted by the education secretary, which looks likely to benefit relatively few children at a time of spending cuts in education and youth services. Teachers’ unions are also critical of the fact that free schools do not have to employ qualified teachers.

Meanwhile, critics on the right say Mr Gove has missed an opportunity by not allowing free schools to be run for profit

So we are likely to see more schools being removed – maintained schools cannot opt out – from the state system and being run by private individuals and companies. The measure of success will depend upon – or be restricted by – the supply of above average ability teachers to raise the standards. We may also find that there will be a polarisation, with the majority of these schools in middle-class areas. Not so optimistic really, if that is to be the outcome.

Bishop admits that church schools succeed because of selection

The British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society advocate a genuinely inclusive school system in which all pupils are educated together, not separately according to the beliefs of their parents.

The Church of England’s new head of education, the Bishop of Oxford, Rt Rev John Pritchard, is the first high-profile Anglican to admit that Church schools get their league-topping results by using privileged admissions criteria to select the best pupils. Mr Pritchard has set the cat among the pigeons by telling the Times Education Supplement that he would like to open up church schools to more non-Anglicans – reserving only 10 per cent of places for the children of church-goers. By doing so, he said “We may not get the startling results that some church schools do because of getting some very able children, but we will make a difference to people’s lives.”

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “The Church has repeatedly denied that the strict selection criteria that are applied in some schools are the reason they perform so well. We are told that it is because of the ‘Christian ethos’. Now the cat is out of the bag and the Bishop of Oxford lets us know that the Church is fully aware of why their schools perform so well.” Mr Sanderson said: “It is astonishing that we are even having this discussion or that this is an issue at all. It is scandalous that state schools, paid for by the taxpayer, can refuse to admit children on the grounds of their parents’ religion or purported religion. In no other area would this kind of blatant religious discrimination be permitted.” Mr Sanderson did concede that it was a step in the right direction, but he expressed doubt on whether any dramatic changes would be made in the near future, if at all. He said that voluntary aided schools control their own admissions policies and the church would not be able to force them to comply. “Parents who access these schools won’t be too thrilled to see them opened up to the community at large,” he said. “We’ve all heard of pushy, non-religious parents suddenly becoming regular church-goers in order to get a letter from the vicar that is the open sesame to the local church school. The Church of England’s main focus these days is education, and if they give up their admissions privileges, their schools will become just like all the other schools in this country, and the resources that they hog to themselves will have to be more equally shared out.”

Mr Pritchard told the TES: “I’m really committed to our schools being as open as they can be. Every school should have a policy that has a proportion of places for church youngsters… what I would be saying is that number ought to be minimised because our primary function and our privilege is to serve the wider community. Ultimately, I hope we can get the number of reserved places down to 10 per cent.”

Half of the 4,800 Church of England schools are voluntary aided, meaning they control their own admissions policies. He said that schools should not “collect nice Christians into safe places” but should serve the wider community. The Bishop’s comments come ahead of the publication of new guidelines on admissions due in the summer. The Bishop’s proposals are likely to face stiff opposition from others involved in education within the Church. Revd Clive Sedgewick, director of education for the dioceses of Bradford and Ripon & Leeds said there would be resistance from some parents who have come to regard Church schools as almost like a private education without the fees.

In an editorial in the TES, Gerard Kelly said: “The vast majority of faith school funding is provided by taxpayers, who come in two varieties – the religious and the non-religious. Whatever the precise proportions, it is generally accepted that services paid for by taxpayers should be available to all. Except when it comes to faith schools. Here, believing taxpayers often take precedence over non-believing ones. One hundred per cent discrimination for the remarkably cheap price of 10 per cent contribution to building costs. This is patently unjust. Church leaders may retort that non-believing taxpayers have access to 80 per cent of schools that are non-faith. But that isn’t the point. Can you imagine a non-faith school refusing to admit a church-going pupil because there was a school for her sort locally? The Bishop has taken a principled stand. But it is time the state was equally brave and told faith schools to open their doors.”

British Humanist Association’s Chief Executive Andrew Copson stated: “Any reduction in discrimination has to be welcomed but it remains outrageous that 100% publicly funded schools are permitted to discriminate against children and parents on grounds of religion at all. We would encourage all people within the Church of England who believe in social justice, equality and fair access to public services to seek a total end to discrimination in their schools, on other religious groups to do the same, and on the government to end its support of religiously selective and segregated education at the public expense.”

Integrated, prosperous, peaceful Africa won’t recognise the rebels cause in Libya …

The African Union has voted on the matter of recognition of the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC). It has said that it will not explicitly recognise the NTC, which has beenrecognised by more than 40 countries worldwide as the legitimate government of the newly-liberated Libya.

The outcome of the African Union’s lamentable decision underscores the influence ex-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had within the AU. The self-styled ‘King of the African Kings’ was the organisations main financial backer and had given massive aid packages to several African leaders, many of which it is now alleged provided him with mercenaries post the February 17 uprising. Bizarrely, the AU called for an inclusive transitional government for Libya that would involve officials from the former Gaddafi regime. It seems to have escaped the attention of the AU that Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the Chairman of the NTC, was Minister of Justice (unofficially, the Secretary of the General People’s Committee) under Colonel Muammar al-Qathafi from 2007 to 2011. Jalil has announced that free and fair elections will be held in Libya by next April. Surely it is up to the people of Libya who they chose to take part in their new democratic government. “The AU peace and security council is weighted with countries who have backed Gaddafi in the past or owe him favours. They will not recognise the NTC” said one senior Western diplomat with knowledge of such negotiations. Officials present at the summit said the 15-member council was divided almost in half between countries that have recognised the NTC and countries that have not. The council comprises , Benin, Burundi, Chad, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

At the meeting, a senior South African government source said the AU could recognise the rebels, but said the group may want some from Gaddafi’s side involved in a transition. Only three heads of state attended the emergency summit. Two of them, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, have been vocal supporters of Gaddafi, which may have influenced the group’s decision. It appears it will take many African leaders a great deal longer before they re-appraise their benevolent neighbour, who showered them with money that belonged to his people in a vain and narcissistic attempt to be the first leader of what might have been Africa’s equivalent of the EU. In reality the AU is nothing like the EU. With the exception of few representatives hailed from countries such as South Africa and Ghana, the individuals grasping the stalk of this union’s umbrella are heinous African rulers, criminals to most seasoned observers; obviously not leaders. As members of this union, these despots – the sponsors of the endless African misery – are united for a common purpose: helping each other in crisis time.The notion that the AU resembles the EU in any real sense is regarded by most statesmen worldwide to be as insane as Qathafi himself. The motto on the AU’s homepage is ‘Integrated, prosperous, peaceful Africa’ … sorry? Integrated?

The stench of African politics … the ‘king of African kings’ is history …

The U.N. Security Council will likely vote this evening on whether to release frozen assets amounting to £1billion, which is needed by Libya’s National Transitional Council for humanitarian purposes as well as the necessary funding to start running the country. Mustafa Mohammed Abdul Jalil, the chairman of Libya’s rebel Transitional National Council called for funds to help with the humanitarian needs that are arising from the current conflict.

True to form, the sub-Saharan African countries are showing how out of step they are with the attempts of much of the international community to provide whatever practical help they can. South Africa in particular has failed to grasp the reality of the groundswell of Libyan support for ousting Qathafi –  but then Qathafi did bankroll much of the African Union. Zuma and his government had agreed on Wednesday that Libyan money frozen by the UN at the outset of the uprising should be released for humanitarian purposes, but it has spoken out against releasing these funds to the NTC. It has steadfastly maintained that it would not recognise the NTC officially until President Jacob Zuma attends a meeting with the African Union on Thursday night, but the member states of the AU voting for progressive action in the new Libya would be like turkeys voting for Christmas: They clearly cannot get used to the new order which is Libya without Muammar Qathafi and the AU without their paymaster. Western countries have sharply criticised South Africa’s stance regarding this practical step. David Cameron, the prime minister of the UK has been urging Zuma to support the UN vote as well as pushing the AU to recognise the National Transitional Council.  

Professor Shadrack Gutto, the head of African studies at UNISA, said South Africa’s refusal to vote for the release of the assets for the NTC was symbolic, as the motion would be carried, even if South Africa voted against it. However, Gutto said South Africa’s reasoning in opposing the move to help NTC financially was a way of standing up to the UN and repeating how unhappy it was with Nato’s military support of the Qathafi opposition, despite having voted in favour of UN intervention in Libya.  Gutto also asserted that freezing Qathafi’s assets had hurt ordinary Libyan citizens. Outisde of Africa, most intelligent people consider those assets to belong to the Libyan people and not Qathafi. He was not the only African academic to voice concerns. Professor Chris Landsberg, head of department at the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Johannesburg also said that he was pleased to see some enlightenment in the South African government’s foreign policy. In an interview with the BBC he said that there was no reason for South Africa to vote with the motion. Being the sole objector didn’t make the South African government’s position wrong, he said. I suppose that statement passes for logic but it hardly recognises the monumental task that the NTC have before them. Like the politicians in sub-Saharan Africa, the academics too are going to have to get used to the new world order that is materialising from the burgeoning Arab Spring. Let’s hope that happens sometime soon, as the Africans have not done themselves any favours in world opinion by their attitude to the Libyan conflict. It seems to have escaped them almost entirely that the Libyan people no longer want their murderous despot.

Where is the justice in this?

A psychotic killer detained at Broadmoor Hospital for stabbing a mother and her teenage son in Milton Keynes is set to be released. Gregory Davis, now in his 30s, killed Dorothy Rogers, 48, and her son Michael, who was a 19-year-old at the time,  at their home in Great Linford in January 2003. Davis was detained indefinitely in 2003 but has now been deemed well enough for a conditional discharge. Police, social workers and a medical team are to discuss the move which would involve supported accommodation and Davis having to report to health care workers.

Davis was known to Mrs. Rogers as he drank in the same pub as she did. He forced his way into her home and bludgeoned her with a hammer, then stabbed her over 30 times with a carving knife. Following this assault he pursued her son Michael through the streets to a nearby playground where children were playing.  It was there, in front of parents and children, that Davis disembowelled Mrs. Roger’s son.

Whilst I am pleased for Davis that he appears to have recovered – presumably with the use of anti-psychotic drugs – his impending release does beg the question: is eight years a sufficient punishment for murdering two wholly innocent people? I know this man was may have been mentally ill at the time, but two lives have been tragically lost and the time he has spent in prison seems a paltry term for his crime. Mrs. Roger’s surviving son said “How can a psychopathic double killer suddenly be cured and safe enough to return to society after so few years?