My Column – The New GCSE Mathematics Syllabus: What’s Wrong

From 2017, the new GCSE Mathematics syllabus will be examined. There’s much to admire about the principle – more problem solving, a little more rigour for the strongest candidates, and because of the importance of Maths it will be given extra weighting in school league tables from now on (specifically it is now double weighted in Progress 8). The new system, though, simply exchanges one set of flaws for a different set. It’s yet another example of overcompensation; where the 1997-2010 Labour governments went wrong in one direction, the current Conservative government seems intent on going wrong in the opposite direction. Every time, teachers must get used to a massive change in the subject they teach. That’s why in my view, small incremental change is better than sudden transformation – but once again, sudden transformation is what we’ll have.

So what’s wrong with the current changes? To understand the problem, it’s first necessary to understand the nature of examination candidates and what our education system should seek to achieve. In my experience from teaching Mathematics, there are three distinct categories:

1. Those students who have the capacity to continue their study to A level and possibly beyond.

I’m referring here broadly to candidates who will obtain an A or A* at GCSE, or possibly those at the top end of a B grade.

For them, a GCSE examination needs to be challenging and intellectually rigorous. It needs a high level of problem-solving and for concepts like mathematical proof to be understood. The purpose of a GCSE syllabus for them is to lay a foundation; it should provide a platform for higher future study. There are a huge number of jobs which will require these skills, particularly given the highly technological nature of our modern economy.

2. Those students who will not have the level of abstract mathematical ability required to consider higher concepts.

I refer here, perhaps, to those who currently are expected to obtain grades E, F or G at GCSE. Their mathematical requirements in later life are likely to be functional in nature. What should we be teaching them?

I want to see them develop their numerical skills. When will they ever use a quadratic equation in later life, or even linear algebra for that matter? Instead, wouldn’t it be better for them to be competent with percentages, to come out with an understanding of how interest rates work and the skills needed to know whether you’re being offered a good or bad deal by a credit card company? Shouldn’t they have a good basic mental arithmetic, particularly given that many will end up doing jobs in the retail sector, and the ability to estimate so that they can broadly spot when an amount is a long way away from what it should be? How about the ability to compare different deals and offers, calculating percentage discounts? Or calculation of areas (imagine a decorator or landscape gardener needing to work out how much carpet or paving to buy in order to quote for a job)? These skills are taught already, but I would rather see a much higher level of competence in these rather than teaching unnecessarily complex algebra which will be of no use to them in later life.

3. Those students who fall somewhere between the two categories above. In my experience somewhere between half and two-thirds of all students are here.

It’s important to teach mathematical concepts; I can think of many B or C grade candidates who I’ve taught who have found need of their mathematical ability in later life. They may have had to work very hard at Maths at school, often asking the question ‘when will I ever need to know this after I leave school?’. They may be right of course, but equally they may be wrong. Nor can you ever know which part of the syllabus is important. There’s still an importance in focusing on the functional parts of the syllabus, but algebra and trigonometry are also important as part of developing a skill set which could prove to be useful in later life.

Back to the GCSE syllabus, some fifteen years ago it was split into three tiers: Higher, Intermediate and Foundation. It was broadly aimed at the three groups I’ve identified. The system was flawed, but aimed at the correct people. When the Intermediate tier was abolished, Foundation became more difficult and Higher easier, ensuring that the new examination and syllabus really didn’t suit the vast majority of candidates.

Fast-forward to today, and the Gove reforms are coming in. He correctly recognises that more rigour is required to test the top candidates. Maths will now be graded on a 9-point scale with the bottom of a grade 4 being the equivalent of the bottom of a C grade and the bottom of a 7 being the bottom of an A. The Higher tier will become more challenging, as will the Foundation tier – which will have a top grade equivalent to a low B. There is a ‘Functional Skills’ mathematics course, but its status is being taken away. Schools will try to put everyone through the new GCSE, because it’s in their best league table interests to do so. There’s even less incentive now for the functional course. That may be indicated by the AQA June 2015 examination entries; just 1974 students attempted the Level 2 examination, with a pass rate of just 38.6% – indicating that nationally, just 762 people gained that qualification with the country’s largest examination board. Take away its status, and even fewer people will attempt it. The level 1 course had 2079 entries, for comparison.

The annoying thing is how easy it would be to tweak the new system to meet the needs of all candidates. Keep the new Higher course, relabel the new Foundation as Intermediate. Revamp and soup up the Level 2 certificate in ‘Functional Skills’ mathematics, add a greater emphasis on percentages and estimation (for example), rebrand it as a new Foundation Level GCSE with a maximum grade D or possibly C in today’s grades, and then at least the system would actually reflect what it’s supposed to. The various entry-level qualifications (and possibly the Level 1 certificate) could be kept in pretty much their current form for anyone who would struggle to sit any GCSE examination.

With these straightforward amendments, the system would not be perfect – but it would be far better than the system which the government is introducing. There would be an appropriate, challenging examination available for every student. We would have a system which would be robust enough not to require constant structural change, and the residual problems could be dealt with through minor tweaks to the syllabus.

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post website.  You can view it here.

My Column – The coming months are about project fear versus project hope!

Three weeks ago, I spoke at a public meeting to around a thousand people in Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre.

I’ve spoken alongside Nigel Farage many times before around the country, but what has been truly inspirational recently is the way that campaigners for Brexit, spanning all political divides, have been able to come together. Brendan Chilton, secretary of Labour Leave, agreed to speak as Kate Hoey MP was unavailable – and he wowed the audience. There were Conservatives, Trade Unionists and an even more politically varied audience. The UKIP members I spoke to afterwards were delighted by the Labour speakers. A Green Party member came up to me afterwards for a chat, as did many others – including a lovely couple who had been Labour for decades but couldn’t abide their Party campaigning to stay in the European Union.

I’ve never seen such agreement between people of different political parties. Nigel Farage maybe mentioned immigration a little more than the Trade Unionists did, whilst the Labour speaker mentioned it more than I did. But the focus of the message of freedom from the European Union was the same.

The whole event reminded me of the national campaign in miniature. There’s an incredible degree of togetherness and camaraderie across party political divides. It’s about so much more than ‘UKIP wants to leave the European Union’. The RMT and Aslef trade unions, over 140 Conservative MPs, a Green Party peer, a number of Labour MPs, the old Liberal Party, the DUP and TUV in Northern Ireland, a former Lib Dem MP, the Director-General of the British Chamber of Commerce suspended for daring to back Brexit, the founder of the SDP, entrepreneurs like James Dyson, businesses like Tate & Lyle, JCB, Legal & General and the manager of the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund. There’s top economists, Nobel prize-winning scientists, founders/co-founders of Superdrug, Littlewoods, Moonpig, Wetherspoons, the boss of Lloyds, the CEO of Next and many more.

The ‘IN’ campaign make much of security, but a former head of Interpol described Schengen as ‘like a sign welcoming terrorists to Europe’. There’s a former head of counter-terrorism at New Scotland Yard, a former Commander of the SAS, an ex-Major General of the Royal Marines, and even one of the names on the pro-EU document supposedly signed by Army chiefs at Downing Street’s request turns out to actually back Brexit.

Whilst the American President is publicly campaigning for the UK to stay in the European Union (I wonder if he’d accept a pan-American union where the USA had to subsidise smaller nations, where the USA didn’t have the power to write its own laws, where ‘gas’ prices more than doubled overnight, where they had to accept unlimited immigration from Mexico and where they had to ask other countries’ permission to set their own foreign policy), his political opponents – who may well be in power come November – take a very different view. Switzerland has just dropped its application to join the EU by a huge majority, with the MP sponsoring the bill saying that they are ‘calling Switzerland Britzerland’ in solidarity with the British people wanting to join them in freedom from the European Union. Like Iceland’s recent overtures, it seems that the European countries outside the EU want to show us that the grass can really be greener on the other side.

Those campaigning to stay in the European Union would have you believe that big business, science, economists, the military, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the Trade Unions and half of the Conservative Party are pitted against UKIP and the other half of the Conservative Party.

It’s not working, partly because it’s untrue and partly because people no longer care for being bounced into things by the political establishment. So, they turn to Project Fear instead: before the derby they were claiming that the Premier League would suffer if we left the EU (really? Non-EU footballers ply their trade here – why can Lithuanian footballers come here no questions asked whilst Brazilians have a tough entry system?). They claim we’d be worse off (actually we’d save our membership fee AND rebuild industries like fishing that have been decimated by the EU). They claim we would still have to allow unlimited immigration after Brexit (odd, then, that Liechtenstein doesn’t).

That’s why I say the coming months are about fear versus hope: the conjuring tricks of those trying to terrify us into voting to Remain versus the hope of a prosperous self-governing nation if we Leave.

 

This article was originally published in The Journal.  You can view it online here.

My Column – Where’s Our Moral Compass?

Just as a powerful magnet can confuse a compass, so is political correctness confounding our society’s moral compass. What is right, what is wrong; what merits anger and what merits kindness; what should be lauded and what should be condemned.

Last week in Brussels we saw horrific terrorist attacks. The cruel callousness of those who would attack our way of life merits a robust response. The ideology which gives birth to the perpetration of such atrocities must be fiercely opposed.

When it is the job of political representatives to talk about how best to keep us safe from further attacks, Nigel Farage and my colleague Mike Hookem had dared to point out the elephant in the room – that the existence of the Schengen area adds to the difficulty of maintaining security.

Which of the two events I’ve referred to should elicit moral outrage from left-wing politicians? The butchering of innocent civilians, the devastation of communities, the pressure on emergency services and the all-round inhumanity of these barbaric attacks is what we should be condemning in my view, but instead the Left chose to gang up upon Nigel Farage. To them, that was the real outrage.

I saw an example of the same kind of nonsense myself on Sunday. One of my Labour colleagues tweeted her utter disgust at the protests which had taken place in Brussels over the attacks. From labelling them hooligans and fascists to saying ‘not in my name’ via ‘shocking’ and ‘disrespect’, in just 140 characters the scale of her anger at protestors was made known.

Now, I’m not saying that I disagree with the main point of opposition here: a protest march in Brussels just days after an attack isn’t exactly a sensible way to proceed. What I am saying is that there’s something spectacularly off-beam about using that kind of anger and language to condemn those who protest the attacks, who kill no-one, whilst studiously avoiding the same language to describe the vermin who seek to destroy our way of life by planting explosives in public places to kill and maim innocent people.

It’s human nature that people are frightened by terrorist attacks, and the threat of more. It’s human nature that some people will misunderstand the nature of that threat. Some seem to criticise all Muslims for the actions of Islamic State. It’s wrong to do so. Others seem to put their hands over their eyes and blindly imply that there are no problems which need to be addressed within any mosques in the United Kingdom.

We actually need a sensible, well thought out, considered response to the threat of terrorism. Sadly, that is impossible in the culture of intolerance caused by those who put political correctness above our national security. It’s time that the Left stopped demonising those who take a different view to them. Frankly, they have themselves become as intolerant as the ‘intolerance’ they claim to condemn.

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post website.  You can view it here.

My Column – The idea goes that the EU would punish us for leaving is nonsense

As the Brexit debate hots up, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told a ‘divorce’ from the European Union would be messy.

The idea goes that the EU would punish us for leaving, like someone unhappy at the break-up of their marriage.

It’s one of the biggest pieces of nonsense I’ve ever heard. I mean, seriously. Pull the other one. You’ve only got to look at the treaties. Article 8 of the Lisbon Treaty is perfectly clear: “The Union shall develop a special relationship with neighbouring countries, aiming to establish an area of prosperity and good neighbourliness.”

That sounds nothing like a vindictive ex trying to hurt us. Frankly, if the EU were going to be that nasty, petty and vindictive, it would prove my point: if our continental neighbours did treat us with that level of contempt we’d be best to run a mile and get out whilst we can.

The European Union doesn’t want to cut off its own nose to spite its face. The big car manufacturers in Germany wouldn’t let it, nor would all the other big exporters who sell far more to the UK than we sell to them. Yes, three million British jobs depend on EU trade. But five million EU jobs depend on trade with the UK They don’t want to lose five million jobs, we don’t want to lose three million, and that’s that. Sometimes when you’re not arguing with your ex on a daily basis over nonsense, you might get on with them better after a divorce.

EU apologists just love to tell us that the North East is the only region which exports more to the EU than we import, as though that proves their point. It doesn’t; it puts the North East in a uniquely good position – our deal with the EU isn’t going to be negotiated by the North East. It’s long to be negotiated by the UK, the EU’s best customer. Because five million is more than three million we can negotiate a great deal. The North East, whose figures are the other way around, will benefit.

Of course, the North East is a net exporter to non-EU countries too – but you don’t hear so much about that. You also don’t hear much about the fact that the figures are distorted more here than anywhere else by the ‘Rotterdam effect’. This is where goods are shipped via EU ports (usually Rotterdam) to non-EU countries like the United States, but for official figures it’s recorded as trade with Holland. That impacts the trade figures by a few percent – no-one can say exactly how much.

Twice in debate recently, I’ve been told that the North East exports more to Ireland than it does to India and China put together, as if that’s an argument for staying in the European Union.

Actually it’s completely the opposite: India and China are emerging markets, which we should be tapping into. Together they account for one-third of the world’s population. We’re not trading much with them at the moment? Then there’s far, far more to be gained from a British trade deal with them.

Iceland – yes, Iceland, with a population similar to that of Newcastle – has a free trade deal with China. We don’t. We’re throwing away masses of untapped potential, and then the Europhiles try to tell us that our failure to tap it whilst shackled to the EU is a reason to stay in the EU.

Don’t tell me that Norway and Switzerland have bad deals either. Their people consistently vote against the EU in referendums, and 70%+ according to opinion polls in Norway don’t want to join.

Why do we think they’re happier outside despite such a poor deal? Wouldn’t Britain, the world’s fifth largest economy, have much more clout to negotiate a better one?

I’m fed up of hearing political opponents talking down the United Kingdom and talking down the North East. They just don’t believe we, with all our advantages, are capable of standing on our own two feet. Going back to the divorce analogy, I’m sure many people stay in a terrible marriage because they lack the confidence to leave.

In one way though, the marriage analogy breaks down: a marriage is a solemn promise to someone intended for the rest of your life; our political relationship with the EU held no such promise. In 2016 we don’t need to be locked in a 1950s solution to a 1950s problem.

This article was originally published in The Journal.  You can view it online here.

My Column – No, Brexit Isn’t a Risk to the City

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, has just backed Brexit. Much of the debate will now switch to arguments that the City will lose out if Britain leaves the European Union, that businesses would relocate to Paris or Frankfurt.

I don’t see any risk of any significant move from the UK in the event of Brexit. And surely, in any event, there is a risk associated with staying in: there are serious moves afoot towards harmonisation – the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) is a real issue. This would cause the UK to lose its competitive advantage over other countries, and would cause an outflow of capital and jobs from the UK, probably to non-EU countries. This doesn’t matter so much to the EU nations with smaller financial sectors, because their increased tax revenue from an FTT would outweigh the costs. Nations with smaller financial sectors are likely to be more focused on domestic transactions than on international ones, so an FTT would genuinely create income for them. The UK might be able to stay outside an FTT, but we don’t have to just trust our current Conservative government on that. We have to be able to trust any future Labour government too.

One of the pro-EU arguments is that ‘it’s okay, we have to agree to changes’. Yes, and no. On some issues we do, on others we can be outvoted. The problem is what we mean by ‘we’. If an unpopular government votes in a bad law in Westminster, our next government can repeal it. But if it hands a power to Brussels, the next government can’t bring it back.

So what could cause the City problems in the event of a Brexit? There’s no realistic threat of tariffs being imposed between the UK and the EU. Why? Because in the absence of any deal at all, we’d be subject to the Common External Tariff – which provides for tariffs for goods but not for services. The Common External Tariff would be a nonsensical position (for the EU), and for many reasons we would have a better deal than that: there’s a legal argument to suggest that we have a right to EEA membership and conditions. There’s a self-interest argument from other countries, and there’s WTO rules preventing punitive tariffs. There’s pressure from EU businesses. Then there is the Lisbon Treaty: Articles 8 and 50 spell out the conditions on which negotiation would be based: a ‘special relationship’ aiming to establish an area of ‘prosperity’. Does that sound like a tariff war to you? Yet that’s what’s written in the Treaty in the event of Brexit. So I think we can safely rule out the possibility of tariffs.

Next, would any bank really want to move financial services away from the UK? Of course, businesses which want to stay in will make empty threats to leave. We know that; Nissan used this tactic in the 1990s to try to force us into the euro. When we didn’t join the euro, they did an about-turn and expanded their business in the UK rather than leaving. We’re now seeing HSBC doing the same. But the financial services sector is split in any event: note that the hedge funds are generally pretty anti-EU (and have backed this up through campaign donations – which hints that they care somewhat more about the issue than other companies, which have not). A successful financial services sector requires expertise and experience. Neither Frankfurt nor Paris will be offering anything substantially cheaper than what the UK has to offer, Switzerland even less, and even if the talent pool exists they would have to find it. There is a gamble in staff recruitment, especially in that sector. The human cost of relocation is greater than in other industries for this reason.

Outside the EU, the UK would have to seek to be a low-tax economy for financial services. Generate business, generate employment, generate taxation revenue. We would be far less hampered in this respect as EU members. Consider the possibility: the UK tries to attract investment through low taxation and a regulatory system designed to prevent the worst excesses of the sector’s problems of the last decade – but otherwise to interfere as little as possible. At the same time, the EU is adding to the regulatory burden through the FTT. The Common Corporate Consolidated Tax Base is currently in the pipeline in the EU; would the UK not be again seeking a competitive edge? The advantage of English as a global language being factored in, isn’t it possible that actually the movement would be in the other direction? That firms would be moving from EU countries to the UK, to avoid the FTT and to take advantage of our reputation in the field.

Finally, ask yourself where the future of the UK’s financial services industry lies. Is it with the European Union, whose share of world GDP continues to decline? Or is it with the emerging markets? I believe that we need to expand in order to survive, to look wider than we are doing at the moment. But whilst in the EU, such bilateral deals are not permitted. We can’t, for example, look towards what will become a highly lucrative Asian market. On trade deals whilst we’re in the EU, we have to negotiate our negotiating position. The French will want our negotiating position to be different to the one that we want; the Germans’ requests are different still. The upshot of all this is that we might well sign trade deals whilst in the EU which do nothing to help our financial services industry. Outside the EU, we can guarantee that is precisely what the deals will do.

As for the question of foreign exchange markets, I don’t suspect that this is a problem either. Look at trade in dollars, for example. Twice as much trade in dollars is done in London as in the USA, for example. We don’t have to be governed by the USA for that to happen. London is the largest foreign exchange trading market in the world. The strength of our position here isn’t relevant to the EU debate: we trade more euros in the UK than the whole eurozone combined. If you said in the 1990s that London’s financial dominance was at risk if we didn’t join the euro, you’d have been wrong but the argument would have made some sense. Today’s debate isn’t about the euro, it’s about political structures and changes which could only make it easier to do business in the UK.

I understand that the ‘in’ campaign feels the need to scaremonger on these issues; after all, it is their primary tactic on the economy. Is there any substance to their claims? I don’t see it.

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post website.  You can view it here.

My Column – As a Ukip MEP, I’m Disgusted by Government Cynicism Over Migration

If any government openly stated it intended to pick upon the weak, the vulnerable, the ill, those dealing with tragedy and anyone unable to speak up for themselves, there would be uproar.

This government does it cynically to throw red meat to those who have concerns over mass immigration, and to distract from the fact that we’re doing absolutely nothing about the true issues. It’s as disgusting a strategy as it is simple: pick upon people who can’t defend themselves and show a severe lack of compassion and simple crass intolerance. Kick a few people out of the UK who should obviously be allowed to stay, and hope that people don’t notice that overall immigration figures are at record levelsbecause our government has been too impotent to do anything about it. Make an example of the innocent, and hope that we won’t notice the failure to deport those who have abused our hospitality and committed serious crimes – or that we can’t because of ‘human rights’ legislation.

So we have the 92-year-old woman from South Africa, whose family are all in the UK, who has nowhere to go and no-one to care for her if she’s sent back to South Africa. That case was taken to court to force her deportation. If it weren’t for the public outcry then the government wouldn’t have had to back down (and in a case that’s dragged on for months, the climbdown actually occurred whilst I was in the middle of writing this article).

Or what about the Nigerian student who the government wants to get rid of, so that he can die of Hepatitis B in Nigeria rather than survive in the UK – despite the fact that he’s contributed massively to the UK whilst here? This vendetta can only be described as pure nastiness.

How about the Canadian woman who cared for and married a motor neurone disease sufferer, who is looking after his three children after his death, who faces deportation? Apart from the obvious trauma it’ll cost to the kids, are we really so clueless as to the economic cost of unnecessarily taking three children into foster care? It’s hard to imagine a more unthinking decision.

There is absolutely no justification for this – or for a raft of other cases which I could mention. But it’s a great dog-whistle way for an exploitative government to try to distract us from what’s really going on.

We’ve had killers given the right to stay in the UK, Abu Hamza’s daughter-in-lawfighting extradition to face justice in Morocco, a Zimbabwean robber and drug dealerfreed to roam the streets and a rapist fighting deportation given extra taxpayers’ money because he’d spent his current allocation on cigarettes.

There are many more of these appalling decisions. Murderers, IRA gunmen and terrorists are being allowed to stay in the UK thanks to the European Convention on Human Rights. We’re now being sued by those who aren’t even in the United Kingdom, who’ve crossed safe country after safe country but want to seek asylum in England instead.

Why doesn’t Cameron do something about it? Because he knows that in order to be in the European Union, you have to accept the Convention. And he’s hell-bent on remaining in the EU, come what may. For the same reason, he won’t speak out about mass immigration. He promised before he became PM that he’d bring net immigration down to the tens of thousands; from the European Union alone we’ve had 183,000 more coming to the UK than leaving in the last year.

The Conservatives’ immigration policy is a disaster. But Cameron persists in using dehumanising language about immigrants. The government continues treating people who deserve to be allowed to stay in the UK like dirt. Do they seriously think the British people won’t see through their squalid actions? Have they no shame?

Sadly, I think they don’t. Uncontrolled mass immigration will continue. It will continue to drive down workers’ wages in the UK. They’ll continue to try to prove that we’re an uncaring, immoral, inhumane nation by exploiting the vulnerable.

There’s a better way, a way that involves protecting the innocent and targeting the guilty. A way that involves being humane but protecting our borders and getting immigration under control. A way that involves ending the discrimination between EU and non-EU workers, and having a fair points-based system for all to make sure our economy gets the skills that it needs. The only catch? Cameron can’t go for it: he’s committed to staying in the European Union at any cost.

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post website.  You can view it here.

My Column – Soccer Scaremongering: The New Political Football

They were bound to have a go, sooner or later. The campaign to stay in the European Union has resorted to fear and scaremongering on almost everything else, and in my experience there are a lot of staunchly anti-EU football fans, so a ‘Brexit would hurt football’ follows as surely as the playoffs follow the regular season.

The argument, such as it is, is that ‘if we leave the EU two-thirds of EU footballers playing in British leagues will have to leave the UK’. Firstly, that’s self-evident nonsense: those already living and working in the UK will, post-Brexit, still have the right to live and work in the UK. What the pro-EU campaign actually means to say (but won’t say, because it doesn’t sound scary enough) is that they fear new footballers coming to the UK might find it harder to get a work permit.

Footballers like Oscar, Pereira, Aguero, Zabaleta, Falcao and Coutinho are able to ply their trade in the Premier League, despite hailing from Argentina, Brazil and Colombia. We don’t have to be governed by Argentina, Brazil or Colombia in order to allow footballers from those countries to play in the Premier League. In fact, the Premier League is one of the most cosmopolitan in the world; players from over 100 countries have played in it. The real question is whether all footballers from other European Union countries, irrespective of ability, should have the automatic right to play in the UK.

To me, that’s not a level playing field. Why should any Latvian footballer be able to play in League 2 if they want, but a Brazilian might not get a work permit to play in the Championship? That’s the system that those who want us to stay in the European Union are defending. They’re defending a free-for-all from some countries, whilst insisting on tough work permits from others.

This matters because more foreign footballers want to come and play in the English leagues than there are English footballers wanting to play abroad. It’s partly the prestige of the Premier League, but also probably in part the fact that across the world, English is taught as a foreign language in most schools. Looking to move elsewhere to play? It’s quite important to be able to communicate with your new teammates. Because there’s a disparity in numbers, there are advantages and disadvantages to English football of foreign players in our leagues. The advantage is best seen in the Premier League, where the overall standard is much higher than it would otherwise be. The disadvantage is that it’s that much harder for English footballers to get the game time that they need. Scouting networks across the world become as important to clubs as developing talent locally in England, and the knock-on effect is that our own youth players find it harder to develop and gain experience. In the lower leagues, That said, having top foreign players in the Premier League can provide some benefit; those young players who do shine through have the opportunity to test themselves against the best in the world before they ever get chance to pull on an England shirt.

Wouldn’t it be better if we could control this a little better than we do; for the FA to negotiate with the government a work permit policy which allow in the right number of foreign players to develop the game (irrespective of which country they come from), whilst maintaining a semblance of control that is badly lacking. To see that this is a genuine problem, look no further than Greg Dyke, the Chairman of the FA, who said “my fear for the future of English football is the Premier League ends up being owned by foreigners, managed by foreigners and played by foreigners.” In fact, over 150 times a Premier League starting 11 hasn’t included a single British footballer.

The Bosman ruling is another example of how forcing a single system upon the UK can cause problems. It had an enormous impact upon British clubs, leaving lower-league clubs in financial difficulties. As Sir Alex Ferguson described it, “Once the European Court of Justice ruled that clubs no longer had to pay transfer fees after the expiration of a player’s contract, all hell broke loose. Suddenly it was a free-for-all.”

Prior to the Bosman ruling, the Bosman situation could not have occurred in English football. Jean-Marc Bosman played for Belgian side Liege. His contract expired, and French outfit Dunkirk offered him an improved deal. Liege demanded a huge transfer fee which Dunkirk couldn’t pay, then cut Bosman’s wages by three quarters. This injustice couldn’t have happened in the UK; at the time, there was already some protection at the end of a contract.

Bosman won his case in the European Court of Justice, but it led to the pendulum swinging in the other direction. Bosman himself described what followed: “Now the 25 or so richest clubs transfer players for astronomical sums and smaller clubs cannot afford to buy at those prices. So the 25 pull further and further away from the rest, deepening the gap between big and small. That was not the aim of the Bosman ruling.” Inside the European Union, the Bosman ruling is a fact of life. Outside the European Union, we would have three choices: Keep the Bosman ruling as it is, scrap the Bosman ruling, or come up with our own system that’s fair to everyone.

With both foreign footballers and the Bosman case, there is a common theme. Stay in the European Union, and we are forced to keep the current system; whether that’s discriminating between EU and non-EU footballers or the Bosman ruling. Leave the European Union, and we’re not forced into anything. We can choose whatever system actually works for us, rather than having to fit into the EU one-size-fits-all straitjacket.

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post website.  You can view it here.

My Column – Make up your own mind about the EU referendum – it is the most important decision we’ll make for a generation

The Labour Party is busy. In amongst the rifts and the factionalism, the Blairites versus the Corbynistas, the left versus the far-left, another fight is developing. This time, it’s about squashing dissent on the European Union. A small but growing band of Labour MPs have dared to put their careers on the line to speak out and stand up for an old Labour tradition of Euroscepticism; they say that Britain would be better off by leaving the European Union. In the days of Clement Atlee or Tony Benn – Hugh Gaitskell even – these dyed-in-the-wool Labour Party giants stood up against the forerunner of today’s European Union.

Today that same charge is led by Kate Hoey, who I respect more than any other Labour MP. There’s Frank Field, the solid Northern MP for Birkenhead. Gisela Stuart MP was pro-European Union until she assisted in drafting the European Constitution [now Lisbon Treaty], and what she saw put her off the EU for good. Then there’s Khalid Mahmood, an MP from the Birmingham area who wants to leave the EU to help his local business community. Kelvin Hopkins wants to leave to boost workers’ rights, and to give the power to renationalise railways and postal services. I might add Graham Stringer, Roger Godsiff or closer to home, Ronnie Campbell – MP for Blyth Valley. Labour’s biggest private donor, John Mills, is putting his money where his mouth is to join the campaign. At the periphery, there’s a former Defence minister in Lewis Moonie.

It’s a pretty solid base considering the vitriol aimed at them by their own supporters. I’ve spoken to senior people in the various Leave campaigns; their experience is that a large number of Labour councillors will privately support EU withdrawal. But very few, if any, dare to go on the record. They’re tearing their hair out with frustration at all the untapped support. I’ve heard words along the lines of “I used to be a Labour councillor. I don’t agree with UKIP on much, but we need to be out of the European Union” many times, often through chance encounters when campaigning. Labour councillors have often turned up to UKIP events, usually because they’re interested in leaving the EU.

But don’t expect them to admit to it. Kate Hoey is branded a ‘serial maverick’ by the deputy leader of Labour’s MEPs. I would have thought that David Lammy MP’s comment that “A million Indians died fighting for us, they fought for the European project” should be considered more maverick not least because he rewrites history and forgets that the EU didn’t exist in any form until a long time after World War 2.

Then one of the North East Labour MEPs attacks the Labour Leave website. As I understand it, the Labour Leave – like Conservative Leave and so on – are all umbrella organisations of Vote Leave. The Labour Leave website was set up by some of the top people in Vote Leave. Cue faux outrage and an absurd leap of logic, the Labour mavericks must be in cahoots with Tories! Spin aside, it’s no more than pro-EU Labour MPs are in cahoots with David Cameron.

Top Labour donor John Mills hits the nail on the head: ‘There are many Labour MPs who do want out of Europe but won’t say so’. He’s right, even if he does confuse the wonderful continent of Europe with the appalling European Union. Indeed, even Jeremy Corbyn was for decades a staunch Eurosceptic. He wouldn’t rule out campaigning to leave the EU until he realised that he might be deposed by his own MPs if he did.

But for now the number of Labour MPs prepared to speak out against the European Union remains small. It’s the tyranny of the majority; rebellion would not be treated kindly. The Labour Party is broadly pro-EU, but it is not united. It’s telling that when Mills called for Shadow Cabinet members to have the freedom to campaign for a ‘Leave’ vote if they wish, no movement was forthcoming. If such a policy applied to the Shadow Cabinet, then other MPs and councillors might follow suit rather than lying low. Ultimately what certain elements of the Labour Party don’t want you to know is that it’s okay to be Labour and to want our freedom back from the European Union. I could say the same incidentally about the Greens; Jenny Jones, former Deputy Mayor of London and one of the Green Party’s three members of the House of Lords, is vocal in the anti-EU campaign.

Why does any of this matter? Why am I, as a UKIP MEP, writing about the Labour Party? Because the forthcoming referendum is the most important decision we’ll make for a generation. I’d urge everyone to look at the issues for themselves and make up their own minds, rather than unthinkingly vote according to what they perceive as the Party line.

This article was originally published in The Journal.

My Column – Taking Up the Challenge: Why We Must Leave the EU

One of the other North East MEPs, Labour’s Jude Kirton-Darling, has written a defence of the European Union in the Huffington Post. For today’s column, I thought it might make sense to take up the challenge, examine some of the arguments used – and see whether they stand up to scrutiny. She believes that the referendum will take place as early as June – just 6 months from now. I beg to differ; June just 5 months away. It would in any event be an incredibly tight timescale and Cameron would run into some logistical problems. But I digress. Let’s look at the key arguments:

“Decisions made by elected MEPs or national ministers are turned into ‘diktats from Brussels’ in the UK mainstream media or the annual reports of the Court of Auditors on the EU accounts are ignored in favour of the ongoing lie that the EU’s accounts have not been signed off.”

The phrase ‘diktats from Brussels’ relate to the fact that, almost every time, the driving force behind new legislation is the unelected Commission. Elected MEPs end up being little more than a rubber-stamping chamber. There is no ‘government’ and ‘opposition’ in the European Parliament, meaning that it’s much harder for a bad piece of legislation to be blocked. That’s why, for example, new VAT rules are costing British jobs right here, right now.

What about the European Union accounts? Well, it’s splitting hairs to argue that they have ‘been signed off’. The Court of Auditors said this about the accounts: “Payments for 2014 are materially affected by error. We therefore give an adverse opinion on their legality and regularity”. Straightforward and simple enough? We’re talking about €6 billion of taxpayers’ money affected by either error, or fraud. Hence for example the very accurate headline in the Times saying ‘Billions spent by Brussels is irregular and possibly illegal‘.

The next complaint is as follows: “Every grievance is given its European scapegoat, most recently shown with attempts to blame the floods on the EU, rather than budget cuts and climate change…False claims need to be challenged and exposed.”
Sadly, dredging of rivers is genuinely harder with the European Water Framework Directive. That increases the risk of flooding.

And under the Common Agricultural Policy, trees are unnecessarily chopped down so that farmers receive subsidy. Yet trees retain water 67 times better than grass. If the water isn’t retained, it floods. Don’t believe it from me, because I’m UKIP? How aboutMonbiot in the Guardian?

The next claim, I actually agree with. “Poorer regions of the UK are more dependent on exports to the EU than richer ones. Exports to the EU account for 15% of private sector output in the North East of England supporting around 170,000 jobs in the region”

But as trade with the EU would continue outside the EU, this is a complete irrelevance to the debate on whether we should be members of the European Union. In fact, jobs are being lost today through our EU membership. Does anyone seriously think that, had we not been bound by the European Union’s rules, we would still have been incapable of saving the steel industry in Redcar?

“Moreover, the North East is the largest net beneficiary of EU membership of the English regions – vital investment into our infrastructure, business development and skills.”

We spend £55 million every day on our membership of the European Union. Just over half of that is returned to us, with strings attached. It’s not spent as efficiently as it should be, and far too much of the money is wasted on bureaucracy. The parochial attempt to hypothecate different amounts of money for different regions, and claim that the North East ‘is a net beneficiary’, is shaky at best statistically and economically. The obvious point is that by leaving the EU we could replace every penny of that spending, make sure it’s spent far more efficiently, and the Treasury would have an extra £10 billion per year or so. Quite useful at a time of austerity, no?

The best defence Labour have to offer? ‘Oh but the Tories would never do that’. The last defence of Labour: blame the Conservatives. But which Party is in government today shouldn’t determine the next few decades of our future. The argument is a house of cards which falls down when examined.

“EU rules have cleaned our air, beaches and waterways, delivered equal pay for men and women and rights to paid holiday for all workers, and ensured redress for consumers.”

I’ve already destroyed this claim in much more detail in a previous article. But this is another example of the kind of historic revisionism that the European Union loves. I’ve covered much of this before but I’ll give just one example. We joined the EU (or its forerunner) in 1973. The Equal Pay Act was passed in the UK in 1970. So unless the European Union is capable of time travel, it did not deliver equal pay for men and women.

The case for the European Union is wafer-thin. It collapses almost immediately on closer examination. And don’t forget, there are some brave Labour MPs – like Kate Hoey, Khalid Mahmood, Frank Field, Graham Stringer, Ronnie Campbell and Kelvin Hopkins – who recognise that the EU is against the interests of the Left wing of British politics as well as the Right. Fortunately, Jude Kirton-Darling’s views are not universal in the Labour Party!

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post website. You can view it here.

My Column – Right for All the Wrong Reasons: Times Tables by Age 11

We’re living in a technology-driven world. Calculations can be done in an instant; you no longer even need to reach for your calculator. A tablet, ipad, laptop or mobile telephone will almost certainly have a calculator function – you’re never far away from something that will help you to deal with basic arithmetic if you can’t do it for yourself.

Why, then, is learning times tables in any way relevant in a modern classroom? You’d be forgiven for thinking that Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has got it wrong, yet again, when she suggests that all children should know their times tables up to 12 x 12 by the age of 11. Yet as a former Maths teacher I’m convinced that knowledge of such essential arithmetic by the end of primary school is vital. I have a sneaky suspicion though that she may be correct by accident; right for completely wrong reasons. The unions have now come out and opposed Morgan, for the puerile and overly-simplistic reason that ‘everyone has a calculator now’. I speak from personal experience when I say that this spectacularly misses the point. Shouldn’t the teaching unions be talking to the maths teachers they represent?

There’s a tendency in the Conservative Party to hark back to the ‘good old days’, to suggest that education has lost something in recent decades as trendy teaching methods have replaced the traditional, that a certain amount of learning by rote can be a useful academic exercise and develop concentration. As a former teacher, I think that’s an over-simplistic approach which has the occasional grain of truth. Different children learn in different ways. The modern approach encourages children to develop skills of problem-solving, which in some ways offers a significant advantage. But it also risks leaving other children behind. Depending on the subject, or even the topic, factual learning is vital.

When I learned Spanish at school, there was an emphasis on vocabulary and verbs. If you don’t learn the words you need to know, or learn patterns of regular and irregular verbs, you won’t be able to speak the language. As teaching of modern foreign languages has lessened its emphasis on such learning, I’ve noticed a decline in the ability of students to speak correctly in the target language. Recently, on one of the Spanish islands, I was discussing an image with a graphic designer. He made a change which I hadn’t requested, and it didn’t look right. “No, the one you had before”, I said. He undid the change, then said “When English people speak Spanish they always get the verbs mixed up. But you use them perfectly”. In Spanish (as in English) there are many past tenses. All I’d done was choose the correct one. Learn a couple of phrases which use the tenses correctly, drop them into an exam – and hey presto, you’ve fooled an examiner into believing that you know the tense. Great for picking up a decent exam grade, but unhelpful for actually using the language.

Here’s the point: factual learning should never be done for the sake of it, harking back to some halcyon days that probably never even existed in the first place. When there’s a genuine educational need, that’s a different matter altogether. There is such a need for learning times tables, but I haven’t heard it come from Nicky Morgan’s mouth.

When I was teaching Mathematics, I always found it far easier to teach a range of topics, from algebra to geometry, from trigonometry to Pythagoras, to those who already had a basic arithmetic knowledge. The difference became more striking to me when teaching older children; at age 15 or 16 it became more important than at age 11. Questions might require, say, five steps of working out. At different stages, there will be a need to perform a simple arithmetic calculation. Those who did not know the answer would either have to work it out, or (if a calculator was allowed on that examination paper) input the numbers into a calculator. The thought process was broken; in having to take time to deal with basic arithmetic they would forget some of the detail of the question. From there, mistakes would creep in. The student who knew their times tables (and was proficient in adding and subtracting quickly) was in a position to continue and solve the problem uninterrupted. Those who possessed basic arithmetic proficiency would consistently outperform those who did not. If we want to improve mathematical standards in our secondary schools, then it is important to make sure that we first improve standards of numeracy in our primary schools.

To take a more advanced example, as a personal point of professional awareness whilst teaching I made sure that I knew all of my square numbers up to 50 x 50. If you know that 10 x 10 = 100, then 11 x 9 is one less than 100, which is 99. Know that 12 x 12 = 144? Then it follows that 13 x 11 = 143. Using that simple trick, and because I knew 23 x 23, I could work out instantly that 24 x 22 = 528. After learning a few more similar tricks, two-digit multiplications became very easy for me – though no doubt politics has dulled some of my sharpness by now.

At age 11, knowing your times tables up to 12 x 12 is hugely beneficial. It doesn’t need to be done by government diktat with league tables created to show how well one school is performing against another. It doesn’t need to be a cause of stress for teachers worried about how a poor performance from their class will reflect upon them. All that is needed is for a renewed focus and emphasis on times tables in primary education. This is the point that the unions should have focused on: introducing a battery of new tests ready to be rolled out across the country is a bureaucratic waste of time and money. Morgan misses the point here once again, but at least she was correct – albeit for the wrong reasons – on the issue of times tables.

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post website. You can view it here.