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I have always been pretty indifferent to Carol Vorderman. I liked the number bits on Countdown better than the letter bits as I was better at it, and it was fun to wonder if she had a sneaky calculator back there or whether she really did have an abnormal aptitude for mental arithmetic. It was annoying that even though she was ‘brainy’ she also had to be a ‘dolly bird’ whereas Richard Whitely didn’t have to be either, but this was the 80’s and daytime TV wasn’t very enlightened.

But nothing much changes, eh? Our Carol is now advising Cameron on maths teaching. And spouting Tory talking points on Question Time, apparently channelling Sarah Palin in the process [check it out on iplayer; its both a joy and a horror to watch].

I can’t believe for a minute that there aren’t more qualified people (even women!) out there for both these jobs. People who not only know about arithmetic, but mathematics. People who not only know about mathematics, but about how to actually teach it. People who can not only appear as ‘The Daily Mail in human form’ (kudos to someone on twitter) on Question Time but can actually articulate rational and informed argument.

But the Tories instead have chosen to go the populist route and it appears that, as Gaby Hinsliff writes in the Observer today, ‘anything in a skirt will do’. Is Carol Vorderman really the best person they could get to advise on maths education? Or is she just the ‘acceptable’ face of intelligent women/people, with all those less attractive brains doing the work behind the scenes? The whole thing makes me quite agitated I must say. Pretty much the same reaction I had to seeing Rachel Riley, Carol’s replacement on Countdown, on the recent Channel 4 documentary ‘Kids Don’t Count’ as she breezed into a struggling primary school to sort out their failing maths scores. Just because you are good at sums doesn’t mean you know anything about teaching maths!!

Aaand…..breathe.

[As an aside, Cameron says all prospective teachers must have at least a 2:2 and as such Ms Vorderman wouldn’t qualify. Just saying.]

And just because you have a pretty face, an engineering degree and a career in television doesn’t mean you have what it takes to help shape education policy. Just so you are aware though, there are rumours that Carol Vorderman will be offered a peerage and offered a position as a schools minister. I really hope they are not true.

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What Should We Believe?

Did you hear about ‘tangerine gate’? Twitter is all a giggle about how a hoax call to a LBC radio show by Robert Popper, in which a factory worker recalls seeing  Gordon Brown throwing a tangerine into a laminating machine during a visit, was reported as serious news in the mainstream press (e.g. Daily Telegraph, The Sun). It was even, oh irony of ironies, mentioned (as fact) on the BBC news quiz ‘The Bubble’ in which the panel tries to figure out if news items are true or completely made up.

The call itself is hilarious and well worth a listen. And it is always amusing to see journalists with caught out in this way. I understand how these things happen, especially in this instant 24hr news culture where stories develop quickly and articles appear online within minutes of events happening. But come on! Journalists failed to check basic facts about the story, like when it happened and whether the Prime Minister ever visited the factory in question (which factory?!). the newspapers failed to mention that the information came from a phone in show. The Daily Telegraph even quotes its source as The Sun, just to cover its own backside. So yes, it’s lazy journalism and we can point and laugh at their stupidity.

But what alarms me is the tendency to just roll our eyes and say ‘well you can’t believe anything you read in the papers’ and move on. Why are we so resigned to being treated like this? Why is it acceptable to print misleading lies? The Daily Telegraph really takes the biscuit in this case for saying ‘one factory worker told The Sun….’ Er, no he didn’t. Even The Sun didn’t claim to have talked to anyone directly about the story. So it’s OK for The Telegraph journalist to just make that bit up to make his story sound more convincing?! It might seem a small thing, but how do we know what to believe? What about the other incidents of Gordon Brown’s bad behaviour? I complained in my earlier article about this of the impossibility of finding out the truth once spin doctors and journalists start in on a story and this just goes to show what lies the press feeds us. And this is the one we know about.

Of course, we must also worry about the truthiness of twitter and the interwebs. How do we know it was really a hoax? I haven’t seen any reports of tangerinegate on the news sites this weekend. Maybe journalists are busy carefully checking all sources before offering a retraction. Regardless, I doubt any of them are going to apologise to Gordon Brown. Or to tangerines.

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The International Monetary Fund yesterday said that our economy is too fragile to cut public spending.  Quite significant news, I believe, given that the economy is the central issue in this election campaign.  I’ve read about it only in the Guardian and the Mirror.  It seems the Daily Mail think maternity leave is more important, the BBC are running yet another day of bullying coverage and seem to have ignored this.  I’ve complained to the BBC about the easy ride they are giving Cameron – because this shoots his plans to pieces – and whatever your political persuasion, you deserve to know the facts.  What do you think?

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The last few days have seen lots of political activity. Brown the Bully. A future fair for all (complete with carousel??). Give labour a second chance. James Purnell standing down. It may well be a couple of months until the election – but the campaigns are all up and running, posters are being parodied, and the political machine is running in top gear.

But what of substance is happening? There have been the efforts of labour and the lib dems to solve the problems of social care for the elderly – hampered by the conservatives and their castigation of the ‘death tax’ – but very little else. Is this election going to be driven by personalities? I hope not, as neither Nick Clegg, David Cameron or Gordon Brown have much personality!

I want to know who is going to stop meddling in schools. Who is going to pull us out of Afghanistan. Who is going to stop funding homeopathy on the NHS. Who is going to increase funding in higher education. Who is going to improve the lot of my family, and who is going to tax us to the high heavens.

So enough of the posturing, the tears, the softly softly interviews, the accusations. Can we have something of substance to debate please?

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Janet Street Porter doesn’t like mumsnet, apparently (‘The daily discussions are usually pretty childish, and there’s a fair amount of bullying. There seems to be a received way of thinking, and woe betide anyone who disagrees.’ ) She hates Boden too. She’s a bit of a misery isn’t she? But alongside the usual bile she makes some valid points. Well documented by laptopmums and elsewhere are the political parties’ efforts to target the ‘Mum vote’ by advertising on, and generally engaging with, the mumsnet community. But as JSP points out ‘Mumsnet … represents a very narrow group of women.’ She suggests that single over 40s ‘hold the key to the election, not a bunch of middle-class, Boden-wearing yummy mummies.’ I think she mischaracterises mumsnet users, which I imagine to be a pretty diverse bunch (I don’t know for sure, I haven’t looked), but I take her point that there are many female voters out there who have no interest in so called ‘mummy issues’ (urgh!).

However, why should one group of women hold more sway than any others? I would suggest that politicians who want to court the female vote should understand that women are as diverse a bunch as men with as many facets and opinions. Not all female voters are mums and yes, amazing though it may seem, not all mums think the same either. Mumsrock wrote an interesting blog post this morning on attempts to pigeonhole mums: ‘Nobody should have to belong to a gang to have a voice, and no matter how well-intentioned Mumsnet is in it’s urge to politicise it’s members (and actually it’s sort of a good idea isn’t it?), having a herd mentality is never a good thing.’ Exactly. Just because we are all mums, doesn’t mean we share a brain or a conscience. I am starting to get really miffed at the media and politicians treating mums like an amorphous blob. We are individuals, just like men! Imagine that ;)

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Being Human

Thanks a lot Gordon Brown, you made me sit through an hour of Piers Morgan. That’s one black mark against you for a start! Still, I felt that I should probably watch in case I felt the need to comment. After all the hype, I found the whole thing a bit of a let down. His talking about his children was moving (although rumours that he openly wept were unfounded it turned out) but at times I found Morgan’s slimy insistence that GB reveal more than he clearly felt comfortable doing unsettling. I kept thinking ‘leave him alone you moron!’ Yes, our PM seemed more ‘human’ than we have been led to believe, but does it really matter? Do we want to know what is in his head or his heart?

Back when I lived in the USA I remember eagerly sitting down to watch the Olympics on NBC in 1996. During the early going, I sat stunned as the coverage of the gymnastics was interrupted (I mean actually during routines) with ‘human interest stories’ on Romanian orphanages and as cameras cut away during track races to show a face to face interview with the athletes. I was even more horrified, not to say insulted, when I found out that this kind of approach was a deliberate attempt to attract female viewers. Yes, apparently NBC believed that women don’t actually want to watch a complete uninterrupted sporting event (even if it lasts only a few minutes) unless it is punctuated by sob stories about the participants.

I kind of felt the same way watching PM and PM last night. We know politicians are all drooling over the prospect of bagging the women’s vote, but I hope they don’t think that this is all it takes.

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I was quite impressed with Nick Clegg’s showing on Woman’s Hour this lunchtime (listen on iplayer here). [Full disclosure: I am a life long Labour supporter, although they have been trying my patience for some time now, and have also failed to pay a whole lot of attention to party politics for the past few years.] Is he just telling me what I want to hear though? I am such a cynic.

Of interest to me as a primary school teacher, was the plan to divert monies from the Child Trust Fund (which gives every newborn £250 to invest until they are 18 ) to what the Lib Dems are calling the ‘pupil premium’ which would allow class sizes in infants school to be reduced to 20 (and possibly later to 15) or to increase the levels of 1:1 tuition. I think he is entirely correct when he says that the earliest years of a child’s education are the most crucial in determining their later success, both in terms of developing their basic skills but also their sense of self worth and confidence within school. As he says, ‘If you get [their early education] wrong, then you spend a lot of time trying to pick up the pieces later’.

Another part of his spiel was the Lib Dems’ declaration that they wish to change parental leave so that it may be shared by both parents, something that we were discussing on Laptop Mums here. It makes so much more sense that parents be able to choose which of them would take time off during the first 12 months of a child’s life and it pleased me greatly to hear him talking about this. He raised an interesting point that I had not considered which was that if it was the norm for parents of either gender to take portions of parental leave, it would lead to an erosion of the ‘stain of prejudice’ against working women by employers regarding their dual roles as parent and employee. It would certainly give families more flexibility to make childcare arrangements based on their individual circumstances without regard to gender. I do wish one of the parties would suggest tax breaks (or some other financial incentives) for parents who wish to quit working to stay home with their kids instead of forcing us back into the work place, but obviously asking too much there.

On a personal level, I liked Nick Clegg. I didn’t know much about him really although he did endear himself to me a few weeks ago by speaking out against Gina Ford’s childcare methods. In this interview he seemed eminently sensible and I liked the way he dealt with the usual badgering by the interviewer [How can you comment on state education when you were privately educated? Would you deny your own children a private education since you are so enamoured with the state system? FFS!]. How politicians don’t end up telling stupid journos to F off never ceases to amaze me.

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