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Hello! I’m Michael. (That’s about as coherent as it’s going to get.)

This blog comprises whatever I happen to throw at it. I’ve divided this stuff loosely into Work (anything that is vaguely related to the job I do) and Me (anything that isn’t). Have fun, if you can.

Schools Minister says feminism can be taught in citizenship classes too; but A level win is significant

13 January, 2016
I wrote this for work. It was published first on Citizenship Foundation blog.

In Monday’s debate about keeping feminism in A level politics, Schools Minister Nick Gibb told the House of Commons that the subject can be taught in other subjects too, such as citizenship. Of course, that doesn’t mean it will be.

A Suffragette procession from 1911

Monday’s debate was the result of uproar last year when the UK Government decided to drop feminism from A level politics.

That decision has now been reversed, and Schools Minister Nick Gibb lost no time in taking the opportunity to claim the issue as one close to the Government’s heart:

‘We believe that pupils must learn from a young age that treating everyone equally and fairly in all spheres of life is part of the democratic values we are proud to enjoy and uphold’.

He went on to tell MPs about other opportunities his Government’s school curriculum provides for teaching about issues like feminism, such as the citizenship curriculum:

‘In addition to the role they play in teaching children about the lives and contribution of women, schools can teach feminism as part of citizenship education, which is in the national curriculum at key stages 3 and 4 and is designed to foster pupils’ awareness and understanding of democracy, governance and how laws are made and upheld, of which the suffrage movement is a vital part’.

Of course, these are just opportunities: feminism is not set out explicitly in the programmes of study for citizenship, so teachers can ignore it if they wish.

The same goes for other curriculum subjects: primary pupils, as Mr Gibb also claimed, ‘can be taught about the work of Jane Goodall, the renowned anthropologist, and the palaeontologist Mary Anning’ in science lessons – but it doesn’t mean they will be.

Therefore this victory for feminism in A level politics can be seen as an important one, because it remains explicit at that level and can’t be avoided.

2016: let’s make it a Happy New Year for citizenship education

4 January, 2016
I wrote this for work. It was published first on Citizenship Foundation blog.
Christmas candles by Markus Grossalber

‘There are millions of people lighting candles of hope in our world today. Many of those are teachers.’ (Image by Markus Grossalber.)

I know I’m a few days late, but I’m sure it’s still early enough in January to wish you all a very happy new year.

Of course, that may seem like wishful thinking, considering some of the news we’ve been hearing recently. Even this weekend, reports reached us of IS killing five more Westerners in a chilling video message that threatened to invade Britain and usurp our democracy:

‘All British government, all people of Britain, know that today your citizenship is under our feet and that the Islamic State, our country, is here to stay and we will continue to wage jihad, break borders and one day invade your land, when you will be ruled by Sharia’.

The threat was even more shocking for its endorsement by a five-year-old boy dressed in military fatigues.

The video comes a few days after David Cameron’s New Year message in which he pledged to take on the extremist threat to Britain, reaffirming his resolve to ‘come down hard on those who create the conditions for that narrative to flourish’ and vowing that we will have ‘greater confidence in – indeed, we will revel in – our way of life’.

He seemed a bit confused about what that meant though, apparently forgetting his previously-stated British values of ‘democracy’, ‘the rule of law’, ‘individual liberty’ and ‘mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith’ (whoever wrote that last one could be encouraged to add ‘brevity’ to the list). Instead, he told us: ‘if you walk our streets, learn in our schools, benefit from our society, you sign up to our values: freedom; tolerance; responsibility; loyalty’.

We know teachers also struggle with how to approach British values and extremism. But we also know the power of good citizenship education – wherever it is, whatever it’s called, and whatever the Government’s current rhetoric – to challenge and empower people to play a positive role in a flourishing society.

As the Queen reminded us in her customary Christmas address to the Commonwealth, ‘it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. There are millions of people lighting candles of hope in our world today’.

Indeed there are, and many are teachers; and, for them, citizenship education can be an essential tool. In 2016, let’s help them keep their candles alight.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday: what Christmas is all about

27 November, 2015

Yay! It’s Black Friday! I can buy all the stuff I can’t really afford and impress my nearest and dearest with fabulous Christmas presents. Giving has never felt so good.

Image by Kimmo Räisänen on Flickr
Image by Kimmo Räisänen on Flickr

I’ve been building up to this all week, following up on all the emails offering me ‘Black Friday Week’ deals that I simply couldn’t resist. My darling friends will finally love me when they receive their bright yellow Moleskine in a pink carry-case, the waterproof HD camera, the fridge, the new car and enough Tesco Christmas lights to frighten all the cats in south Birmingham.

It’s great, because I could never afford such presents otherwise. In the past, I’ve always felt like a lesser human-being for not being able to give people the latest branded must-haves; now, I can prove that I really care, that I’m prepared to fight my fellow citizens to the death to bag a bargain for my loved ones.

And it means I’ll have money left over for Cyber Monday! I think I’ll treat myself to a Meccanoid robot to keep me company when I ‘work from home’ (in front of my new 48-inch Samsung 4k telly). And I’ll do it without having to fight anybody at all, other than helpdesk operators grateful for the opportunity to occupy themselves with server crashes and payment problems. Goodness! With all these bargains, I’ll still have a little change for the pre-Christmas sales, the Boxing Day sales, the January sales, the mid-season sales and some Easter eggs!

But wait, what’s this? Giving Tuesday? ‘After the sales of Black Friday and the online shopping boom on Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday is an opportunity to come together to show the world why it’s good to give.’ Surely that’s what Black Friday is all about! An opportunity to give better presents than I would have done otherwise. But I suppose the poor and needy shouldn’t be left out; I’ll chuck a little their way, if I’ve anything left by Tuesday. After all, it is Christmas.