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.

Is George Osborne killing off the National Curriculum so the rich can inherit the earth?

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

This is Jamie. He’s holding the Chancellor’s famous red briefcase. This was in 2010, when Jamie won our Chance to be Chancellor Competition.

Chance to be Chancellor was a unique opportunity for school students to learn about the economy in a way that was fun and absorbing. And, importantly, it was part of his school lessons, in structured citizenship curriculum time.

Today, George Osborne announced that all schools will be turned into academies, outside local authority control. In effect, this signals the end of National Curriculum (the one Jamie’s school did so that he learnt about the Budget), because academies do not have to follow it.

‘Citizenship Studies’, the curriculum subject that teaches students about public finances, is statutory on the National Curriculum, but schools will no longer have to teach it. So, its ‘statutory’ status is exactly not that, because the National Curriculum is now a token gesture, a ghost ship that gives the illusion that schools are cruising in the same direction, but merely a phantom. The connection between what schools will teach and the supposed ‘National Curriculum’ has been decoupled.

And, if recent history reflects an ongoing trend, many schools drop citizenship to focus on pushing students through exams and into work when given the chance. They can’t see beyond feeding the workplace. But democracies need more than just money.

A National Curriculum ensures that the priorities of our society are reflected in education; that education is about more than just churning out cogs for the economic wheel. Citizenship education is an important element of that. Without such an element, education becomes about little more than personal financial progress; civic society can go hang; the rich can inherit the earth.

Jamie was a shining example of citizenship education at its best: a young person encouraged to show an interest in the world that governs them and to learn how he can affect it. It’s a shame that George seems to have forgotten all about him.

Use Your Vote: ‘a new front gate to the secret garden of politics’. Interview with Dr Tony Breslin

25 February, 2016
I wrote this for work. It was published first on Michael Grimes – Citizenship Foundation blog.

On Tuesday, Use Your Vote launches in London with the ambitious aim to become as big a brand as any you know.

Dr Tony Breslin

Dr Tony Breslin: ‘Use Your Vote; this really matters’.

The campaign’s creator, Dr Tony Breslin, believes that access to democratic participation needs to be much easier than it is. The Use Your Vote brand will, he hopes, help to do that.

Tony wants Use Your Vote to become a meme; or, at least, a phrase so ubiquitous that it’s very hard not to notice it hanging around, lurking at the bottom of every email and every website; heck, Tony wants it graffitied onto buildings, incorporated into street vernacular, overused on the radio – whatever it takes to make it so common that we feed it into Google unthinkingly whenever we look for anything vaguely voting-related, and so simple and catchy that we might search for it merely out of curiosity.

Why? Because, Tony believes, it will lower the barrier to participation. ‘Strength of democracy depends on strength of participation,’ he says. ‘At best, we can say that a third of the population does not take part in voting. So, even if low – and declining – voter turnout is only a small part of the story, it’s still one big barrier to a strong democracy.’

But Tony also believes that voting is a more important aspect of democratic participation than some may think.

He puts it in terms of ‘elected power’ versus ‘unelected power’. Unelected power lies in the hands of big corporations, who move assets at will and with little public accountability except to shareholders. So, says Tony, elected power becomes even more important: ‘without it, how do we speak up; how do we change our world? The “crises around voting” is a proxy and a metaphor for all kinds of concerns about participation in society’.

‘There’s an awful lot of good stuff in this field’, he says, but often little reason for people to find it: ‘that often requires a level of political literacy in the first place,’ he says. He uses the Electoral Commission as an example: ‘they produce some excellent resources, but how would you know about their existence if you weren’t already a little bit interested in politics in the first place? With “Use Your Vote” we’re making a much more direct and unashamedly populist appeal’.

So, Tony wants to nudge people to go looking in the first place. He wants Use Your Vote – the phrase and the logo – to become so common that it lodges in people’s heads; and when they eventually google it, they will land on useyourvote.com. There, he says, visitors will find links to all those places they might not have thought to visit, simple explanations of key processes, and lots of other resources, all put into context.

Tony isn’t trying to compete with anyone; on the contrary, he says: he wants to give everyone else in this field more exposure, to be a new front gate to what remains, for many, ‘the secret garden of politics’.

He wants to lower the barrier that stops people wanting to understand more about their democracy. And he wants to re-open access to what he sees as ‘a professionalised politics overly-detached from everyday life’, in which ‘the “spadocracy”‘ (his collective term for spin doctors, think tankers and policy wonks) ‘has little connection with anybody outside the Westminster village’.

‘Every voter, of every persuasion, needs this simple, low-barrier access-point to democracy,’ says Tony. ‘I spent the best part of a year canvassing (unsuccessfully) for a seat in the last general election, and at every doorstep I was reminded that this really matters; this really matters if people are to be confident in having their say, demanding of their politicians and effective in their democratic participation.’

Use Your Vote launches at the House of Commons on Tuesday. If you’d like to attend, you can register for free on Eventbrite.

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.