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So far as is possible, the majority of my creative work is licensed under various Creative Commons licences and can be reproduced under the conditions provided by those licenses.

Some of my writings can be found at the website of the Traditional Britain Group. I have also blogged for the former Libertarian Alliance.

Posted in Uncategorized

Traditional Britain Group Conference 2018

What has gone wrong with our education system? These days more than ever there are profound concerns among the public as to what pupils and students are being taught, and as to the influence of particular political and other ideologies upon both the nature of their studies and the manner in which schools and universities deliver them. In my talk today, I am going to deal with some of these problems and explain some of their roots. In doing so, I will point out some potential solutions. Before any of this, I want to be clear that the reason why these matters are of such concern is because education, above almost anything else, is of crucial importance in establishing our society’s values and in setting the tone for the culture of our nation. We ignore it at our peril. It is one of the most difficult nettles for politicians to grasp, but it is of crucial importance that they do so.

Let us start with the political dimension. Our education system is not run by the government, but primarily by the teaching unions. The prospect of a Secretary of State for Education who is prepared to oppose the teaching unions, to tell them that their comfortable Guardian-reading left-wing shibboleths are harming their charges and selling their pupils short, makes the average teacher’s blood run cold. The only Education Secretary in recent years who dared to take on such a mission was Michael Gove, and I believe the reason he did so was because his own background was one where he had risen from poverty. It was not necessary to explain to him how much education mattered or what difference it made to the life chances of those who received it. He knew those things at first hand, and he also knew that he was facing a wall of left-wing opposition in an attempt to introduce reform and to correct some of the worst excesses of the school system. He called that opposition, consisting of the teaching unions, university education departments, council education officers and myriad more left-wing institutions, “the blob”. Under his tenure, the blob was pushed back and despite its boiling resentment, and voodoo dolls of Michael Gove – made in Brighton – selling like hot cakes, it was contained. Gove’s most important analysis of the problem was when he said that left-wing ideology meant that schools “shouldn’t be doing anything so old-fashioned as passing on knowledge, requiring children to work hard, or immersing them in anything like dates in history or times tables in mathematics. These ideologues may have been inspired by generous ideals but the result of their approach has been countless children condemned to a prison house of ignorance.” His plans were radical and rigorous. At one point, they included the abandonment of the GCSE exam and its replacement by a new version of its more rigorous predecessor, the O level, alongside less academic qualifications for less able students, the scrapping of the National Curriculum and the creation of a single exam board in place of the various competing bodies that currently exist.

But politicians are limited by the constraints of the practical. A small but reliable majority in the House of Commons is enough to enable some degree of authority to be wielded. A shrinking and then non-existent majority is a mandate for nothing but the drift of presiding over the status quo. What we have now, in respect of education, is a government that is nominally in charge, but in reality has very limited power. It has withdrawn from the blob, and has let the blob have its own way. Gove could not survive after two of the main teaching unions had passed votes of no confidence in him, 100 academics had signed a letter criticising him for placing too much emphasis on the memorisation of facts and rules, and another 200 prominent figures had issued a further letter criticising his reforms as posing enormous and negative risks to children.

A stronger government, and a stronger Prime Minister, would have backed him, but the political cost had become too high. Gove had become isolated, and it seems to me that he was also being undermined by his own civil servants. His family were receiving death threats from Leftists which his wife described as “vicious and aggressive”. This was the price of a reform that could, if successful, have transformed our education system for a generation. We should salute the considerable courage needed to advance a vision for education that almost nobody actually working in education agreed with. But above all, Gove’s achievement was to say that education did not belong to those who work in it. Rather, it belongs to the pupils who are being educated and whose futures are being decided in consequence. It is their interests which are neglected at the expense of appeasing the education lobby.

Governments with small majorities cannot go to war with the teaching unions. More than that, the Conservative Party knows that if it is to win a majority at the next election it will not do so by appealing to those of us on the Right. We do not meet sufficiently the demographic or numerical targets they need to achieve. In order for them to win, they must persuade people who currently vote Labour to vote Conservative, and the only way they can do that is to appear to be sufficiently soft on areas that Labour traditionally regards as its own – education being a prime example. If the Conservative Party is seen to be opposed to the majority of teachers, it will not only lose their votes but those of many other Labour voters for whom education is a key issue and for whom teachers are put on a pedestal in the same way as those who work in the NHS.

This is why we have seen, particularly over the last few years during which we have had a minority Conservative administration, a veritable tide of damaging nonsense in our schools and universities. We have seen the erosion of their traditional commitment to free speech, with “no platform” policies and crude, intolerant protest silencing voices that do not conform to Leftist orthodoxy. We have seen the rise of grievance studies and the balkanization that results from minority groups being encouraged to seek not merely equality, but dominance. We have seen, in short, the Left in its own ideological bubble, secure on its home turf, playing fast and loose with our young people’s futures and seeking to bring its own ideology to bear not least because traditional education and traditional values have now become the preserve, as the Left would see it, of the “nasty party”. But above all, the issues are these: Trump and Brexit have been two of the most damaging blows the mainstream Left has ever received in recent generations. They have responded to these reversals by uniting and becoming better organized. The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn certainly does not appeal to Blairites but it does have a huge appeal to grass roots left-wing Labour supporters who will give him money, time and energy. This is why education, which is seen by the Left as its own territory, has become emboldened in its embrace of lunatic Marxism. They are dealing with a government too weak to oppose them and they are preparing for a time that they believe will come quickly when the Labour Party will be in power again. Against this, the Right is in disarray and the intellectual Right is largely absent. These are things our enemies note and take advantage of.

Let us now consider some of these matters in practice. Until 1990, homosexuality was classified as a mental illness by the World Health Organization in its International Standard Classification of Diseases and Related Problems. That reclassification is, broadly speaking, the point at which attitudes towards homosexuality in respect of British public life began to change profoundly. Now consider that the same organization declassified gender dysphoria, including transsexualism, in March this year. The classification or declassification decisions are not made on an empirical basis, as they would be if we were, for example, discussing human disease. They are made on the basis of a consensus view from psychiatrists, particularly American psychiatrists, and the declassification decisions have also taken into account the lobbying efforts of groups representing homosexuals and individuals with gender dysphoria who object to the classification of their traits as mental conditions and wish them instead to be seen as entirely normal. There is too high an element of subjectivity in these decisions for them to be free from political and other biases, and yet such is the deference to expert culture and such is the decline in educational standards in our age, that people with a very legitimate say in how these traits should be regarded in and by society – in other words the general public – are not consulted and their views are unheard, the political consensus across all the major parties being simply to accept expert opinion unquestioningly. To take a Gove-like stand – to reject expert opinion and instead take a wider view with the good of our young people at the forefront – is seen as far too costly a move.

Between 1988 and 2003 in England and Wales, Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1986, applying to all maintained schools, provided that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.” The intention behind this legislation was not to persecute homosexuals, but rather to emphasise the following aspects: that childhood and young adulthood are times when pupils should be free from any form of promotion of homosexuality, and that homosexual relationships are inferior to heterosexual relationships in respect of the upbringing of a family. The background to the legislation was the result of a number of Labour councils, notably the GLC, giving substantial public funding to a number of gay and lesbian groups. Perhaps some of us will remember a book that was reported in 1986 as being in use in a school library called Jenny lives with Eric and Martin, which depicted a young girl living with her father and his homosexual partner and which was held by a number of newspapers to be a work of homosexual propaganda.

Against this background, the Labour Party, at that point strongly controlled by the unions which had formed an alliance with a number of homosexual groups, had passed a resolution at the 1985 conference that would criminalize discrimination against homosexual and bisexual people. During the 1987 election campaign, according to the Conservative Party, Labour wanted a number of books that not only promoted homosexuality but described, in a manner to be understood by young children, the mechanics of homosexual activity, to be used in schools. Dame Jill Knight of the Conservative Party and the Monday Club, one of the leading lights behind Section 28, said “I was contacted by parents who strongly objected to their children at school being encouraged into homosexuality and being taught that a normal family with mummy and daddy was outdated. To add insult to their injury, they were infuriated that it was their money, paid over as council tax, which was being used for this. This all happened after pressure from the Gay Liberation Front. At that time I took the trouble to refer to their manifesto, which clearly stated: “We fight for something more than reform. We must aim for the abolition of the family”.

So here we are in 2018 and it would appear that the problems of thirty years ago have come back with a vengeance. Of course the tone was set by then-leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron in 2009 when, as reported by The Independent, he apologised for Section 28 and hoped that the Conservatives would give Britain its first gay Prime Minister. Now, we are told that forty secondary schools have banned girls from wearing skirts lest this offend pupils who identify as transgender. Toilets have become either unisex or open to pupils to choose whichever gender they identify with. The government’s former mental health tsar has told headteachers they should only use gender-neutral language when addressing pupils, and at least one school, Altrincham Grammar School for Girls, has, despite its name, made this compulsory for its staff. “Drag queen story hour” is now a thing in primary schools. Indeed, since 2011, lesson plans have been available from the Training and Development Agency for Schools in maths, science, geography and design and technology to encourage teaching about homosexuality and transsexualism to children as young as four as part of  “LGBT History Month”. And parents  are being told that if they object to their children identifying as another gender, then they will be reported to Social Services! Truly the movement for the abolition of the family is well advanced.

All of this points to one thing: the calculated and intentional sexualization of our children. A traditional view was that matters of sexuality and gender dysphoria certainly affected young people of school age, and that those young people needed to be treated with understanding and support, but that it was not until a good way into adult life that one could arrive at a maturity of judgement necessary to know oneself and one’s nature fully, and to reconcile that knowledge with one’s chosen moral and cultural framework in terms of how that knowledge would find expression. It is generally forgotten in these debates that people may have instincts and deep emotions which they choose for whatever reason not to act upon, and people may not wish to identify with any particular label or cultural movement that deems itself their spokesperson. The prevailing culture of the aggressive promotion of minority rights is allied to a view that these are not private matters for the home and bedroom and for friends and confidants, but that they are matters of public and political discourse in which any repression is unhealthy and any expression of identification with the trendy cause is to be celebrated and acted upon, even when those actions have unwanted, and in the case of surgery for transsexuals, severe medical consequences. I must say the prospect of gender reassignment for children, even for those before puberty, is of great concern. Nothing makes these people happier, it seems, than when a young person makes a declaration of allegiance to their cause. We may speculate, of course, as to why these particular causes would put so much energy into promoting themselves to children.

If we look back to some examples from the last century, same-sex relationships, often platonic, sometimes not, were commonly reported among young people being educated in single-sex environments, as well as intense emotional feelings towards teachers of the same sex. Consider Evelyn Waugh, who had several homosexual relationships while at Oxford, but in adult life, and according to his biographers entirely as a result of his choice and inclination, married twice and had seven children. People are complex and childhood and young adulthood are times of transition and discovery. People who have homosexual experiences do not always choose to repeat them, and may come to the conclusion that they are not, in fact, to be a part of their mature sexual identity. We should never force our young people into making decisions about their identity and preferences that they may subsequently regret, and that may lead them to much greater anguish and distress than if we were to use that saying from my time, “it’s probably just a phase he’s going through”. Whether or not it actually turns out to be a phase, the point is that it should be allowed to be a phase and not something that defines them permanently in their own view or in the view of others. Once that definition of one’s identity has occurred, something will be lost if it is abandoned. The aim of politicised minority groups is to create a culture whereby those who put themselves outside them, particularly those who might come to oppose them, have a lot to lose as a result.

Of course within the Left’s adoption of postmodernism, such fixed ideas about personal identity are cast aside. The traditionalist understands personal identity to be rooted in one’s racial heritage, genetic stock and a culture which perpetuates enduring values discovered anew by each generation. Traditionalism teaches that childhood and adulthood are different, and that adulthood is characterized by maturity, duty and purpose. Postmodernism, on the other hand, holds that identity is essentially a construct to be adopted or discarded at will. Nothing in the postmodern view of identity endures, and nothing is necessarily preferable to anything else. You may, and some people do, say you are a woman for five days of the week and a man for the other two. And if the Left are in power, they will take you seriously. Because of this weakness concerning identity, this view relegates adults to perpetual children. It teaches that there is no need to grow up, to take responsibility or to assume any form of duty towards others. If one wishes to change one’s identity or cast off responsibility then the state will take up the slack.

We should be clear that what is going on in our schools is effectively the promotion of minority sexual and gender positions, and that this is being done not through any explicit legislation but through a creeping political correctness; a commitment to equality and diversity that actually means that the majority is deliberately hindered and inconvenienced for the sake of the minority. This of course is explicitly Marxist; the majority is held to be the oppressor and the minority cause justified because of its perceived victim status. Even when the apparent victim is deliberately advanced by being given special treatment, that does not mean they can ever stop being seen as the victim or being oppressed. This in turn is allied to the creation of a myth surrounding the supposed utopia of equality and diversity that is being created; that it is under constant threat, and that it can only survive if a safe space is created whereby any expressions of dissent or criticism are censored and designated as “hate speech”. The reality is that the threat is of a rather different nature – it is the threat that the shibboleths of equality and diversity will be shown to be absurd and counter-productive if subjected to rigorous critique. Truly, the emperor has no clothes.

This Marxist viewpoint in turn gives rise to the poison of identity politics and to what has been referred to as grievance studies. It originates in our universities and it runs riot in the humanities and in education. The recent expose by three academics shows this for exactly what it is. They created fake, but achingly trendy, research papers and submitted these to leading peer-reviewed academic journals in the humanities. At the point where the hoax was revealed, they had had seven papers accepted and several further papers likely to be accepted. Among those published were papers suggesting that men should be trained in the same manner as dogs, that white male college students should be punished for historical slavery by asking them to sit in silence in the floor in chains during class and to be expected to learn from the discomfort, and that superintelligent artificial intelligence should be programmed with feminist and leftist nonsense before being permitted to rule the world. Each paper was chosen to be deliberately absurd, and yet its absurdity was merely an exaggeration of a genuine leftist concept.

In their essay explaining their hoax, the three academics make some trenchant comments. I was particularly taken by this, “This problem is most easily summarized as an overarching…belief that many common features of experience and society are socially constructed. These constructions are seen as being nearly entirely dependent upon power dynamics between groups of people, often dictated by sex, race, or sexual or gender identification. All kinds of things accepted as having a basis in reality due to evidence are instead believed to have been created by the intentional and unintentional machinations of powerful groups in order to maintain power over marginalized ones. This worldview produces a moral imperative to dismantle these constructions. Common “social constructions” viewed as intrinsically “problematic” and thus claimed to be in need of dismantling include (amongst others) the understanding that there are cognitive and psychological differences between men and women which could explain, at least partially, why they make different choices in relation to things like work, sex, and family life, and that Western liberal cultural norms which grant women and the LGBT equal rights are ethically superior in this regard to non-Western religious or cultural ones that do not.”

In brief, what they point out is that what is now going on in the humanities is an attempt to replace scientific theory with critical theory in the name of so-called “social justice”. It is an attempt to smear science and the scientific method as sexist and racist and to abandon any impartial pursuit of truth in favour of grievance-based identity politics. Likewise, the Western philosophical tradition is rejected because this also emphasises rigour and reason over solipsism and superstition. We might very well see in this the opposition to Michael Gove’s emphasis on facts and rules over what his opponents wanted instead – “understanding”. Of course what is meant by “understanding” is something much more easily manipulated to political ends than facts and rules. But what is for sure is that this movement against science and rational thought is deeply dishonest. It is concerned with setting up imagined conflict in society that is then used to fire others up with the powerful emotions caused by believing that they are not themselves responsible for their misfortunes but that they can blame them on their sex, gender, race or other protected characteristic. In turn, this is then exploited to take advantage of middle-class liberal guilt, and there is little that is more easily manipulated than that. The peer review system in academia has long been defended as a means of ensuring reliability in research, but at least in the humanities it was always in danger of becoming an echo-chamber filled with ideological conformity.

This is not a problem, however, that is confined to academia. It has a direct influence on society as a whole, because these ideas inevitably leak out and gain wider currency, which is exactly what academics intend them to do – they are, after all, charged with educating the next generation. When we look at television advertising at the moment we might believe that the government had issued the advertising industry with a directive that every advertisement must contain at least one member of an ethnic minority, preferably a couple of mixed race, or a homosexual couple, or people with a visible disability. No such directive exists. Nor has this been in response to particular campaigns by minority groups, or particular complaints about given advertising campaigns.

What has happened is that corporations have realised that their audience is one that is led by these trends that have begun in academia, then been extended through the media, and that now require promotion as politically correct social norms. They are terrified that deviation from those norms will lead to them being accused of being homophobic, racist, transphobic or whatever other made-up term is current with the Left today. They are, indeed, so terrified of this that they will prioritise the avoidance of any perceived bigotry even over appeal to their target audience, thus defeating the prime objective of advertising in the first place. We are told that when surveyed by The Times, half of the advertisers said they were no longer using white people in their adverts because they “no longer represented modern society”. What has happened to the advertisers is the same as what these academics want to do to our young people. They are not responding to actual racism but to “perceived” racism. In other words, they are promoting ideology, not responding to fact. And in doing so, they are perpetuating a monstrous and grievously offensive falsehood, which is that to be white, to be male or female, and to be heterosexual, must be irrevocably racist, homophobic and transphobic, and, while those people must forever do penance for the fact, they can never atone for it.

There is a further aspect to this that might give us all pause for thought. Our schools no longer allow transgressions to be forgotten, as they were in my day, or dismissed as the excesses of youth. Nowadays, every punishment and every failure is recorded permanently in a form that travels with the pupil from childhood through to their university years. This is Orwellian, but moreover it is likely to be a precursor for something much more sinister. Communist China is already introducing a computerised Social Credit System, and this has nothing to do with Major C.H. Douglas or distributist economics. China’s social credit means that every citizen has a computerized publicly-available reputation score based on their credit score and so-called trustworthiness, which is generated from their social behaviour. The Chinese government says violations of the social order will be punished by a lower score. This score is then used, at present, to determine whether a person is allowed access to such things as good school places for their children, travel outside the country, access to credit and even fast internet speeds. One important criterion for China is ideological conformity. If you challenge the prevailing orthodoxy, you lose points on your credit score. What China wants, and I do not think it is so different from the Left over here, is for all of the behaviour of its citizens, online and offline, to be monitored and controlled so that people compete with each other according to indices of virtue. In literal terms, the more you conform to the politically correct ideal, the higher your social credit score becomes, and it is your score that will determine access to almost everything you need in life. In the kind of society that leftist academia in Britain is promoting, violation of the safe space and opposition to social justice will make one into a technologically updated version of the Soviet non-person. This is what the future holds.

What can then be done? The weakness of opposition to these matters is above all seen in a lack of intellectual firepower among those in power and their lack of the necessary courage to challenge so-called experts whose expertise has been gained within an ideological bubble. The humanities and the social sciences have become rotten to the core with this ideological cant. Anyone who speaks out against it is no-platformed and it has become, as Sir Roger Scruton has long pointed out, impossible to pursue a career as a conservative intellectual in this country. The only reason why it has remained a possibility in the United States, incidentally, is because of the strength of traditional Christian institutions within their education system. If we look to the churches to exert a similar influence in this country we will look in vain.

If we are to combat this movement in our schools nothing short of radical action will suffice. It may, indeed, take a boycott of the maintained school system before government takes notice. In the meantime, concerted parental pressure must be applied to ensure that our children are educated in a fit and proper manner, and not subjected to Leftist indoctrination when they are at a formative age. If the headteacher’s day is spent dealing with correspondence and angry representations from parents, and the governors and local education authority with complaints about the school’s lack of action, this will create a problem that will need to be addressed. The only reason this is being imposed upon our schools in this way, is that those imposing it believe they can get away with it. But a school can only work on the basis of consent. It covenants with its pupils and with its parents and it must learn that a necessary part of that covenant is treating their views with respect even when those views are not the same as those of the teaching staff or leadership team. And above all, the political bias in our education system must be countered. Already, we have all but driven men out of primary teaching for fear that they be labelled paedophiles for wanting to work with young children. An all-female school is not a healthy environment for young boys to be educated in. More significantly, it is now near-impossible for people of conservative political views to become teachers or lecturers. There is an ideological conformity imposed not just in training but in practice, and it has already done great damage to the culture of our nation. Unless we have the will and the means to fight it, it will soon be too late.

Posted in Education, Talks, Traditional Britain Group

Honorary Fellowship of the Guild of Musicians and Singers

 

With other Honorary Fellows at the ceremony at All Hallows-by-the-Tower, London.

The presentation ceremony

Posted in Recitals

Review of 2017 Chingford recital

(Click to enlarge the images)

(from Fanfare, the magazine of the Guild of Musicians and Singersno. 6, March 2018.

Posted in Recitals

Arnold Harris Mathew and the Old Catholic Movement in England 1908-52

This is the most recent edition of my book on A.H. Mathew.

Posted in European-American University Press

Joseph-Rene Vilatte (1854-1929): Some aspects of his life, work and succession

This is the fourth edition of my work on Vilatte, updated with several additions and corrections. Please note that this edition is more recent than the print edition available via Lulu which will be updated in due course.

Posted in European-American University Press

Piano recital in Chingford

Comments from members of the audience:

“The D minor sonata was so beautifully played and in particular the crucial bars 143 – 148 and 153 – 158 in the first movement, which present much difficulty for we mere mortals in trying to convey the ghostly and spiritually contemplative atmosphere intended by the composer, were hauntingly beautiful. I have always felt the difficulty with these passages is more to do with the artist’s ability to empathise perfectly with Beethoven’s emotions than with technique; I felt your communion with Beethoven was at its height in those bars. You told me it was this sonata which set you on the road – at the age of nine, I think; certainly your special connection and affinity with it shone through. Your performance of the Hammerklavier was a tour-de force and your control, especially in the last movement, was astonishing. What a work that is! And what a challenge! Again, I’ve not heard this sonata played better than I did yesterday. We could not stop talking about it on the way home.”

“I was mesmerised by your magnificent playing on Saturday afternoon at Chingford.. I leaned closer to the keyboard because I could hardly believe what was happening! What a stupendous mind Beethoven must have had to write that fugue in the last Movement of the Hammerklavier and what a formidable technique and musical understanding you John must have to play it! Bravo and congratulations. I so enjoyed all three sonatas and  was especially captivated by the last lyrical and beautiful movement of the Tempest.”

Image | Posted on by

Central School of Religion Reunion

Photo credit: © Mike Faherty (cc-by-sa/2.0)

At St Jude’s Free Church of England, Balham, on 23 September 2017, before an invited audience of members of the Central School of Religion, I performed Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata.

Posted in Romantic Discoveries Recordings

Private universities in Costa Rica – some observations on legal status and international comparability

According to a newspaper article published in 2012, “Costa Rica’s educational system is continually highlighted as one of the best in Latin America and it continues to produce quality graduates that are rapidly absorbed by private companies and state institutions.” (Tom Rosenberger, “A look at Costa Rica’s University, College, and School System“, Costa Rica Star, 2 May 2012)

Costa Rica is one of a number of Central American countries to have established a relatively large private university sector. As of 2017, the Ministerio de Educación Pública (MEP) included 54 private universities in its list of officially recognized institutions. This compares with a total number of universities in Costa Rica of 64, including 5 public universities and 5 international private universities. It can therefore be seen that the overwhelming majority of Costa Rican universities are private, although the public universities are all large institutions and some of the private universities are small. Since 2000, around 50% of Costa Rican students attend private universities and 50% attend public universities (Source: OECD, “Reviews of National Policies for Education: Education in Costa Rica”, 2017, p.5). Since at least the end of the last century, Costa Rican private universities have also sought to recruit students abroad, targeting both the Hispanic community in the USA and, increasingly, English speaking students seeking to study via distance learning.

All Costa Rican universities, both public and private, that currently hold government approval are listed in the International Association of Universities/UNESCO World Higher Education Database (WHED).

Universities in Costa Rica enjoy a high level of autonomy under the Constitution, and this autonomy is more generous for public universities. The public universities are self-governing under the umbrella of the National Council of Rectors (CONARE), which is the principal higher education representative body in Costa Rica. 38 out of the 54 private universities are members of CONARE.

The proposal to permit the official functioning and approval of private universities in Costa Rica was brought forward by CONARE, and given effect by CONARE at its Session on 31 October 1979. By Law No. 6693 of November 27, 1981, published in the Official Gazette, No. 243, dated December 21, 1981, the Consejo Nacional de Enseñanza Superior Universitaria Privada (National Council of Private Higher Education) (CONESUP) was created. Therefore under this law, CONESUP became the statutory government body in charge of regulating and supervising private universities. It is illegal for a private university to operate or enrol students without first having received CONESUP approval. CONESUP’s council includes the Minister of Public Education, and representatives from CONARE, private universities and community colleges, and the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Policy.

The approval process of a new private university in Costa Rica includes a review of the proposed institution’s facilities, faculty, programmes and establishment, in which the Organic Law of the university (the statutes and regulations by which it exercises its functions) is an important component. CONESUP inspects private universities to ensure that basic standards are maintained. Institutional approval by CONESUP can be suspended or revoked altogether in the event of infringement of its protocols. CONESUP approval is available both to traditional campus-based universities and also to universities that offer education via correspondence or distance learning online. All programmes that are to be offered by a private university in Costa Rica must undergo programmatic approval by CONESUP.

Notwithstanding this, and the strengthening of CONESUP’s authority in 2000 and 2005 respectively, the degree of autonomy extended to private universities in Law No. 6693-81 is still high. Article 8 of that law establishes that “once its operation has been authorized, the private university shall have total liberty to develop its academic activities and curriculum as well as its study plans and programs…” Article 9 of the same body of law determines that “within the terms of this law, the private universities as institutions of superior education shall enjoy total liberty with regard to the curriculum, scientific research and the diffusion of culture…” [Source: Official translation of document from Spanish to English by Dora O. De Guillén, Official Translator of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Costa Rica, authenticated by stamp of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs].

In 1999, Costa Rica established the Sistema Nacional de Acreditación de la Educación Superior (National System of Accreditation) (SINAES). SINAES is a voluntary accreditation body for both public and private university degree programmes. SINAES accredits only programmes, not institutions. As of 2015, only 12% (140 out of 1,165) of the degree programmes that are offered legally in Costa Rica have been accredited by SINAES, with 9% of private university and 15% of public university programmes being so accredited. In the Costa Rican civil service, preferential treatment is given to holders of SINAES-accredited degrees. Elsewhere, the value of SINAES accreditation is determined by the market, and its low take-up suggests that for the majority of Costa Rican universities and their students, it is not seen as significant.

The degrees that a private university may grant are established in principle under its Organic Law and Regulations which are part of its foundation documents. For example, the Organic Law and Regulations of the Universidad Empresarial de Costa Rica, a private university approved by CONESUP since 5 November 1997, states in its first chapter:

“Article 45: The University shall grant the degrees Bachelor, Graduate Degree (Licenciatura), Master, Professional Specialization and Doctor. Article 46: In order to obtain the academic degree of Bachelor, it is required to have passed a minimum of 120 credits and a maximum of 144, for the Graduate Degree 30 to 36 additional credits of those required for the Bachelor’s degree need to have been passed when the career includes such degree. Otherwise, the student must pass a minimum of 150 and a maximum of 180 credits. For the Master’s degree, a minimum of 180 and a maximum of 192 or 60 to 72 additional credits of those required for the Bachelor’s degree must have been passed. For the Doctor’s degree, a minimum of 100 credits and a maximum of 120 additional credits of those required for the Bachelor’s degree need to have been passed. For the Professional Specialization, the necessary credits are not defined but ¡t is required to possess the academic Graduate Degree (Licenciatura).” [Source: Official translation of document from Spanish to English by Dora O. De Guillén, Official Translator of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Costa Rica, authenticated by stamp of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs].

It is important to clarify that CONESUP’s approval of degree programmes extends only to those programmes which are offered in Costa Rica itself. The question of internationally-offered programmes and those offered in collaboration between private Costa Rican universities and overseas universities was dealt with by CONESUP in its official Circular Number 270-98-CONESUP of April 28, 1998. In that document, CONESUP states “In cases where the academic offer is being developed outside of the national territory CONESUP does not have any authority whatsoever.” [Source: Official translation of document from Spanish to English by Dora O. De Guillén, Official Translator of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Costa Rica, authenticated by stamp of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs]. Therefore such programmes are not eligible for CONESUP programmatic approval. The degrees that result from them are still, however, issued in Costa Rica under the legal authority bestowed on the universities by virtue of their foundation and the law on the granting of degrees.

Comparability considerations

In the majority of countries of the world, government agencies are responsible for the accreditation and approval processes of private higher education providers. Costa Rica conforms to this pattern. The unusual features in the Costa Rican system are firstly that the numerical majority of universities are private rather than public, and secondly that the regulatory system allows a high degree of freedom to all universities, mandating basic standards as compulsory under the law, and offering a further voluntary programmatic accreditation scheme for those who wish to participate in it.

The low take-up of the SINAES scheme even among the public universities means that while a SINAES-accredited degree can be taken to be accredited under a quality scheme that meets international standards, a non-SINAES-accredited degree cannot be dismissed out of hand without dismissing the vast majority of Costa Rican degrees, both public and private. Nor would it be reasonable to refer to non-SINAES-accredited degrees as “unaccredited” in a general sense, since such degrees not only are part of a governmental regulatory framework but are issued in full accordance with Costa Rican law and have full validity as such within that country.

In determining the comparability of such awards, it is necessary to have reference to reliable and established international sources that deal with the recognition of international credentials. One of the most useful of these sources is the European Area of Recognition Manual, published by a consortium consisting of a number of national recognition bodies from European Union member states.

The first question to ask is whether a private Costa Rican university can meet the definition of a recognized institution established by the Manual. This definition is set out as follows:

“Recognition refers to the official status granted by national legislation. Higher education is governed by national legislation in most countries. Laws on higher education lay down the framework for the system as a whole, stipulate general criteria that have to be met, define policies and procedures that should be in place and bestow official, degree-granting authority on institutions, both public and private. Institutions that fulfil the requirements set in national legislation and have official degree-granting authority are considered to be recognised, though a different term may be used.” (p.21)

In Costa Rica, private universities are granted official status by national legislation. CONESUP as a mandated government body under such national legislation approves private universities and bestows official degree-granting authority through this act of approval. Therefore, a private Costa Rican university meets the definition of a recognized institution.

Next, we should consider the more complex matter of whether such institutions can be considered both recognized and accredited. Here the Manual states the following:

Recognition/accreditation of an institution and recognition/accreditation of a programme.

Generally qualifications awarded by recognised institutions are considered to be recognised. However, in some countries recognition/accreditation of a programme is separate from the recognition/accreditation of an institution. In other words, it is possible for recognised institutions to offer programmes that are not officially recognised and for non-recognised institutions to offer recognised programmes.” (ibid.)

We have established that Costa Rican private universities are recognized institutions, and therefore the presumption in the first sentence above applies, that “qualifications awarded by recognised institutions are considered to be recognised”. Notwithstanding this, we should also consider the rest of the paragraph. It is not possible for institutions that are not officially recognized to offer recognized programmes in Costa Rica, and therefore this provision does not apply. But programmatic accreditation does exist in Costa Rica. In the case of private university programmes offered within Costa Rican territory, this takes the form of compulsory approval by CONESUP either with or without additional voluntary accreditation by SINAES. For such programmes offered outside Costa Rican territory, the option of programmatic approval/accreditation is not available.

In order to interpret this correctly, we should consider the matter in context. The legal status of the degree awarded is exactly the same, whether it is accredited by SINAES or not, and whether (for private institutions) the programme is internally delivered and thus CONESUP-approved, or externally delivered and thus ineligible for CONESUP approval. All are Costa Rican degrees issued by government-recognized universities.

Moreover, degrees issued by Costa Rican public universities that are not accredited by SINAES are routinely considered to be equivalent to accredited degrees from other countries; indeed, as the article quoted in our opening paragraph maintains, Costa Rica’s system of education is “continually highlighted as one of the best in Latin America”. And the Manual states, “No distinction should be made between qualifications or periods of study earned at private versus public institutions, as long as the private institution is recognised and/or accredited by competent authorities.” (p. 22).

The Manual offers an example of how to treat a degree from an institution that is recognized but where there is no accreditation system implemented. Note that while SINAES is extant in Costa Rica, its purely voluntary nature means that it is not “implemented” in the sense the Manual uses that term, since it defines accreditation as effectively a compulsory process (p. 21).

Example 2

An applicant seeks recognition of his master degree in law. This qualification was awarded by a recognised higher education institution listed on the website of the Ministry of Education. Since an accreditation system was not implemented in the country where the degree was obtained, neither the institution nor the programme was accredited. Both the institution and the programme were established in line with the national legislation on higher education. In this case the competent recognition authority should trust that the awarded qualification represents an accepted level of education and recognise it accordingly.” (p. 22)

Therefore, the basis of recognition in this case should be the recognized status of the university, where both institutions and programmes are established in line with the national legislation on higher education. That will be the case with all Costa Rican university degrees, both public and private, that are awarded by recognized universities.

Having established that such awards are recognized, the exact equivalency of any award will then depend upon a precise analysis, and the comparison of its requirements and contents to recognized awards in the system of education to which comparability is sought.

Key Sources

Posted in Education

Traditional Britain Group Conference 2015

Education: reasserting our culture and values.

One of the curious things about education is that, having experienced it at first hand, everyone believes themselves to be an expert on it. This is particularly damaging in the case of politicians, whose record of interference in education during the post-war era has offered a prime example of the dead hand of the state going where it has no business to be. Meanwhile, those who supposedly are the experts – those who teach – have effectively presided over the decline of their profession through decades of mistaken ideology and a belief that their profession continues to offer the last resting place for the Marxist spirit of 1968.

It is difficult for us to imagine now, but there was a time not so long ago when our education system was largely independent of government. The universities, in particular, were held to be self-governing communities of scholars, which is the model of the university we inherited from medieval times. At Oxford, there was not even any formal government instrument that permitted the University to grant degrees; simply the acknowledgement that it had done so since time immemorial and should continue in a similar manner. The history of our schools begins with the grammar schools, established by the Church, and from these our great independent schools developed from collegiate foundations – Eton, Winchester, Radley – which were both closely allied to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and, because they were boarding schools, could accept their pupils without geographical restriction.

Grammar schools have been much in the news recently and it is worth analysing some of the motives behind the debate on them and its wider context within our education system. I must declare a personal interest here: I was myself educated at what was at that time the top co-educational grammar school in the country. It was an academically highly selective school that was tremendously successful and which gave its pupils an outstanding education.

The history of state intervention in the grammar schools begins in 1869 under Gladstone, with the Endowed Schools Act. This Act followed upon the Public Schools Act of the previous year and proposed to restructure the endowments of the grammar schools so that they were more evenly distributed around the country and so that there was better provision for girls’ education. The Act changed many of the grammar schools which had been endowed to offer free classical education to boys into independent co-educational schools teaching a broader curriculum. The 1907 Education (Administrative Provisions) Act then introduced a requirement that all schools aided by government grant must reserve 25% of their places as free scholarships for students from the public elementary schools. This reform effectively brought about the grammar school in its twentieth-century guise.

It is with the 1944 Education Act that we see a designated role for the grammar schools as part of the tripartite system proposed, under which they would educate the top 25% of pupils. At this point there were around 1,200 state funded grammar schools, including not only those of ancient foundation but many which had been founded in the Victorian era, with its strong emphasis on self-improvement. In addition, there were 179 direct grant grammar schools, at which between 25 and 50% of pupils were educated free of charge and the remainder paid fees. All these became the maintained sector’s response to the independent schools; academic powerhouses dedicated to the needs of the most able.

We should now consider this system in its wider context. The tripartite system – divided between grammar schools, secondary moderns and technical schools – was designed to ensure that educational resources were distributed according to the ability of pupils to benefit from them and the state to provide for them. It was predicated upon the assumption that academically selective education produced the best results in terms of educating future leaders of the country in all areas, and above all upon the assumption that a university education should place academic excellence at the forefront of its priorities and should be reserved for those who stood to benefit most from it. It was academically competitive and there were consequences for failure at any level of the process. If, for example, you failed the eleven plus examination, you were unlikely to go to university.

Until 1965, this resulted in a situation where the universities were almost entirely filled by the products of independent and grammar schools. Their reputation was extremely high and their independence in academic terms was unquestioned. In a 1969 contribution to the educational “Black Papers”, Professor Richard Lynn wrote, “British education has been designed primarily to produce an intellectual elite. This is nothing to be ashamed of. Indeed, such an elite is necessary to keep going the intellectual and cultural tradition of European civilisation.” There was no suggestion in those days that the universities existed merely to train students for a career. Rather, they provided an academic education and existed for the purpose of propagating academic virtues, of which scholarship for its own sake and teaching were chief. Their graduates were, of course, in high demand by employers, but outside the specific professions, this was as much because of their intellectual calibre and qualities of character as it was because of any specific knowledge they possessed. In those days, the attitude persisted within independent and grammar school teaching that if someone was of the intellectual calibre to have graduated from Oxford or Cambridge they were capable of mastering and teaching any subject required at school level within reason. There were many examples of classicists who taught English Literature, or physicists who taught mathematics, and of course many academic staff also coached sport and music to a high level. Indeed, such breadth was viewed as a positive attribute.

We cannot pin the blame for the decline in our education entirely upon the Labour Party. It is quite true that many in the Labour Party have seen opposition to selective and fee-paying education as a cornerstone of their egalitarianism. But the Conservative Party has throughout the past fifty years signally failed to show support for academically selective education and as a result has been as willing a participant in our decline as its political rivals. The expansion of the universities during the 1960s took place under a Conservative government, which accepted the recommendations of the Robbins Report. The major expansion which followed during the 1990s and which is still ongoing has likewise been initiated by Conservatives. While the Conservatives introduced the Assisted Places scheme at independent schools in 1980, they have so far done nothing to bring it back since Tony Blair, himself an alumnus of Fettes, abolished it in 1997.

And yet, while our politicians can all trumpet that they have got more people into university education, what they cannot address is the fact that when you convert a selective education system into a mass education system you inevitably devalue the end product. In the 1960s it was extremely rare to see graduates working in non-graduate jobs because there was no graduate employment available to them. Nowadays it is commonplace. This transition has involved the creation of a deliberate untruth and its maintenance by an elaborate and costly bureaucracy. The untruth is that a British degree, wherever it is from, is a product of universal value. There is no end of quangos and interest groups – the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, the Higher Education Academy, Universities UK, GuildHE – all of which are dedicated to maintaining that premise of “quality assurance”, to continually expanding higher education seemingly without limitation, and ultimately to what amounts to a universal higher education system whereby all who go to school can be admitted to a university.

It is interesting to note that the funding of education has told the truth far more than have the pronouncements from the powers that be. Until the 1990s, it was generally true that if you were successful in winning a university place, you would not have to pay for your education and you could access a grant that would cover your living expenses. With the rapid expansion in higher education and the conversion of the former polytechnics into universities came student loans to replace grants. Now, as the university sector expands even further, students in England and Wales must pay tuition fees in addition to the debts they incur for their maintenance.

Higher education has changed from an experience that was due to our brightest as of right to a commodity which is now available to all if they wish to pay for it, and particularly to foreign students who will pay even more than domestic ones. It is hardly surprising that if higher education is presented as a product within a marketplace – albeit a marketplace that consists entirely of a state monopoly – that the public will assess its value shrewdly and in many cases will decide that it is not worth the price being charged for it. That, however, cannot conceal the fact that for those who can benefit from academically selective higher education, that kind of education is increasingly subordinate to the mass higher education system, in which the scholarly ideal has been replaced by that of the Research Assessment Exercise and the demand for research to result in tangible product. Moreover any higher education is now increasingly out of reach for those without significant financial means or who are unwilling to incur significant debt against an uncertain return.

Education is the visible casualty of these changes, but it is not the only part of the picture. One very practical reason why governments have embraced mass higher education is because our society no longer has a large number of unskilled or semi-skilled jobs available. Where they are available, there is an increasing expectation that they will be filled by cheap immigrant labour. This leaves the unskilled native population to exist on benefits and occasional appearances on Channel Five. The government takes the view that the answer to this is to subject all to more education, hence its raising of the school leaving age. But this ignores the plain fact that of our population, a large number are not capable nor temperamentally suited to continuing their education. What they need is jobs, not an artificial means of keeping them off the unemployment statistics.

One curious characteristic of the decline of British education has been the willingness of those who have benefitted from its excellence to implement measures that have effectively denied the next generation the opportunity to benefit from the same opportunities as them. The losers in this are the academically able but financially impecunious. Social mobility is not something that should be the preserve of socialist politicians. During the 1980s there was much talk of Britain as a meritocracy, and yet the opportunities for those born in poverty to rise through the education system nowadays are fewer than they ever have been. Our politics, law, media and even the Olympics are now dominated by former pupils of independent schools. Since the effective abolition of the grammar schools the number of state school entrants to Oxford and Cambridge has fallen. This is not merely because pupils are not reaching the required academic standard but also because their teachers in too many cases believe that the top universities are elitist and that pupils should instead go to their local university much as they do their local school. In believing this, they condemn their pupils to fail.

An expectation has developed that those who are successful in our society will either pay for their children to be educated at independent schools, or will, usually for ideological reasons where they oppose selective education, send them to take their chances at the local comprehensive. The former option is becoming more difficult, because independent school fees are now pitched at a level that attracts the children of foreign oligarchs, and increasingly international students are taking more and more of the independent school places in this country at the expense of those from our own population who could benefit from such an education if only it were more reasonably priced.

The way in which properties are now sold according to the catchment areas of good schools tells us another fundamental truth; the education system may have abolished selection officially, but another kind of selection – one far less fair and far less transparent – is going on behind the scenes. We should not forget that the grammar schools had no catchment areas; they took everyone who passed the entrance exam regardless of where they lived. If you decide school admissions on the basis of property prices, you will create schools that are segregated by class and you will ensure that the poorest areas have the worst-performing schools.

League tables and OFSTED inspections are the government’s chosen means of reassuring us about the standards of our schools, but they are selective in the story they tell. Some examinations count for more than others, and schools have effectively played the system by entering pupils for them accordingly. On the other hand, weaker candidates have been withdrawn from subjects lest their results should reflect badly on the school’s standing.

And this brings us back to the grammar schools. When the Labour government abolished the tripartite system in 1965, it largely forced the maintained grammar schools to become comprehensives. Only in a few local authorities – just imagine today, local authorities defying central government! – did the grammar schools remain. In 1975, Labour ended the direct grant system and forced direct grant grammar schools to become comprehensives or independent schools if they wanted to continue. This left what remains today: 169 grammar schools in England and Wales and 69 in Northern Ireland.

We should ask why seventeen years of Conservative government between 1979 and 1997 did not see a renaissance for selective education, and indeed why further grammar schools closed or ceased to be selective during that period. The answer is that by this point, our education system had become one of the firmest bastions of the Left in the country. Its official endorsement of comprehensive education has been unwavering despite the eminently visible problems that have resulted from it. Any measure of reform or any challenge to the comprehensive system has been shouted down by the teaching unions, the university departments of education and the quangos – a group which Michael Gove used to refer to as “the blob”. He has said that these people believe that schools “shouldn’t be doing anything so old-fashioned as passing on knowledge, requiring children to work hard, or immersing them in anything like dates in history or times tables in mathematics…the result of their approach has been countless children condemned to a prison house of ignorance.” When I was at school, my teachers were drawn from all parts of the political spectrum. When I became a teacher myself, that was far less the case. My belief is that the comprehensive system exists to benefit one sector of society solely, and that is the teachers who find it ideologically to their liking.

By the end of my time in teaching it was axiomatic that whatever your politics, if you wished to teach, you would accept the Leftist orthodoxy that the profession had imposed and that you would not challenge it. That orthodoxy says, in essence, that all must have prizes and that the excellent are the enemy of the good. It sees education not as an academic pursuit but instead as a means of social engineering and vocational training, and as a means of reducing crime and social disorder. Over the years it has provided a happy home for all manner of Marxist nonsense and has enshrined teaching methods, particularly in basic English, that fail to achieve the same results as the traditional methods they replaced. It is not difficult to see the decline in the standard of written English in public life today compared to that of fifty years ago, and we have those teachers who promoted free expression ahead of spelling and grammar to thank for that.

Any education system will produce winners and losers. If we say that all must have prizes, then we must reconcile ourselves to the fact that those prizes will be of limited value. We cannot create their value merely by attaching government branding to them, for no-one believes that something is good simply because the government endorses it. Indeed, we had a situation in this country for many years where the products of the state monopoly, notably those of British Leyland, were regarded as markedly inferior to those of the private sector. The state can only win in education by deliberately retarding any perceived or actual competition. It does so through legislation – the Education Reform Act of 1988 effectively banned private sector universities – and for those entities that are private or independent in theory, it has devised a web of regulation and bureaucracy that in practice curtails their independence. OFSTED is one manifestation of this. Another is the devaluation that has characterized our exam system.

For many years, O and A level examinations were regarded as a gold standard. They were difficult to obtain and represented a high standard of achievement. They were unashamedly academic and required a high degree of factual recall. They could be taught in a way that stretched the most able and allowed for considerable extension activity. They were tested predominantly through timed examinations and not through coursework or continuous assessment. This was also the model of educational assessment maintained by the universities who were in turn responsible for the examination boards. While the CSE examination taken in secondary modern schools was not regarded as prestigious there is no question that it was a rigorous and well respected credential, as indeed were the awards of the former polytechnics. The fact that those awards were not degrees or were not O and A levels did not diminish their fitness for purpose, but it fostered a belief among egalitarians that they were second-tier qualifications and that they deserved the same titles as would be awarded to the more academically inclined. Unfortunately, this academic inflation has proved very costly. Because we no longer teach woodwork and metalwork in our schools, we end up importing our joiners and plumbers from Poland, and those who want to learn a skilled trade are unlikely to do so during their school years. The truth is that not everyone needs, wants or will benefit from an academic education, and when subjected to one against their will, it is unsurprising that many teenagers become disruptive and unco-operative.

It is interesting to note that while we have moved away from the academically selective model and from traditional modes of teaching and assessment, other former British possessions, notably India, have kept it and benefitted strongly as a result. The government determined to take the examination boards out of university control, to privatize them and to introduce competition. The result has been a race to the lowest denominator. The examinations are not invariably easier, but they have become increasingly turgid and reductive, with an emphasis on turning everything into something that can be easily and transparently assessed in simple terms. The GCSE examination, brainchild of Sir Keith Joseph and strongly opposed at the time by Baroness Thatcher, has been a misguided attempt to merge academic and vocational education, and the fact that a number of selective schools have turned to international examinations to replace it in recent years testifies to its limitations. It is also notable that many academically demanding schools now prefer the International Baccalaureate to A levels.

I believe that Michael Gove will come to be seen as the only Education Secretary of the past fifty years to have genuinely understood some of these problems and tried, in the face of overwhelming opposition from “the blob”, to address them. I hasten to add that this is not a general endorsement of Gove’s views or policy solutions, many of which I disagree with. He has, however, endeavoured to return rigour to our exam system and it may well be that he has, at least in some respects, succeeded. How lasting that success will be remains to be seen. Gove, after all, was replaced as Education Secretary because, so it is said, his approach was seen to be too confrontational; the opposition he had aroused included two votes of no confidence from three teaching unions, voodoo pincushions, anti-Gove T-shirts and an entire Twitter feed devoted to hating him. But the fact remains that we must confront the education establishment and we must win that confrontation if we are to achieve anything at all. The path of least resistance is to go along with the blob and do their bidding. The difficulty with that is that it fails those who lack a voice in this debate but whose interests need to be right at its heart: our next generation of pupils. Perhaps Gove, who was born far from privilege and won a scholarship to an independent school, understood this more than many of his colleagues.

I want to close by noting some aspects of the ethos of the grammar school. For all that academies and free schools may have some elements of it, they are still a long way away. The good grammar school is a highly structured and disciplined institution where academic values are at the heart of the life of the school and these are allied to an institutional endorsement of Christian principle irrespective of pupils’ own religious beliefs. It is formal in its rituals, encouraging teachers to wear academic dress, having a house system that is both pastoral and competitive, and maintaining high standards of uniform and behaviour. Often the school has an extensive history and distinctive, occasionally eccentric, traditions. What it teaches should be what the top selective universities demand. I well remember that my school did not teach certain subjects because those universities did not take them seriously at entrance, and that it disdained vocational studies altogether. Unlike the comprehensives, it is not a school where all are forced to study the same curriculum regardless of ability. Above all, it is a place where to excel academically is the norm and where to aim high is natural, with the expectation that the vast majority of pupils would go on to places at university and the best would go on to those which were rated most highly. If the grammar school is an elite, then it is not in my experience a complacent elite, but rather one where elite status must be earned anew by each generation of pupils and teachers. When such schools work, they offer a beacon of opportunity for those who, on merit, win a place at them. We need more of them. In 1997, John Major promised us a grammar school in every town, a phrase which has since been echoed by UKIP. It is time to restore our culture and values to our education system, and a strong grammar school system is the best way to do this.

Posted in Uncategorized

Traditional Britain Group Dinner 2015

With the writer on music Stuart Millson before the dinner

John Kersey was the invited speaker at the Traditional Britain Group Annual Dinner at the Royal Over-Seas League on 12 September 2015. Here is the speech given on that occasion:

My Lords, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for inviting me to address you tonight. I am going to address a few words on the current immigration crisis.

Let me begin with some considerations of principle. Freedom and civilisation are based upon a simple premise: that land should be privately owned. If we build a society based on the private ownership of land then there is no limit to our endeavour. For centuries, this was the foundation of the West; land was owned and managed by landowners who had a direct interest in its prosperity and an equally direct interest in the welfare of those who worked that land. If we seek the roots of the England we know and love, we find it most clearly in the private ownership of land.

In our time, this freedom has been challenged. Under socialism, and regrettably under governments that call themselves conservative, we have seen measures that have been designed to break the link between landowner and land, and instead to introduce a very different concept. This is the idea that sovereignty consists not in land but in the person. If the person is sovereign, then we will build a very different kind of society; indeed, we are unlikely to build a society at all, because individualism will cause that society to atomize into multiple and ever-changing identity groups.

Here, then, is the root of the immigration crisis. If we say that land is sovereign, then it follows that someone must exercise control over it. There are still substantial private landowners in Britain today, especially so in Scotland. But for our purposes, we should see land as it really is. There is no terra nullis in Britain today. Even that which is owned privately is subordinate to the Crown, and the Crown is effectively a surrogate for the people in its ownership and management of that land which is deemed to be held in common by the nation. I am not talking here of those private estates, such as the Duchy of Cornwall, which belong to the Crown, but instead of the vast mass of common land that we encounter every day of our lives and that is subject to the management of those who are, ultimately, servants of the Crown, whether as politicians, civil servants or local council workers. This is our land, and we are right to care about what happens to it.

This, then, is why as a propertarian, I find the immigration crisis so vexed by unclear thought. Land belongs to someone. If land belongs to the Crown, the Crown has a duty to manage that land in the best interests of the people of Britain, because it is on behalf of the people of Britain that the Crown holds that land in the first place. And that duty cannot be construed otherwise than to the people of Britain as they stand now. It cannot be a duty to foreigners or their governments, for how could that be in our national interest? Therefore we are faced with the prospect that the Crown and its servants believe that in permitting mass immigration to this country, they are actually acting in the best interests of the people of Britain. I believe they are quite wrong in this.

Let us now look more closely at what is going on at the moment. I believe that Janice Atkinson MEP has summed the situation up very well. Here is what she had to say,

“Let’s be clear about another thing: despite what the human rights industry and the massed ranks of taxpayer-funded charities and lobby-groups repeat, this is not a refugee crisis but a massive crisis of illegal immigration which must be resisted for what it is. A man who leaves Syria may be a refugee at the start of the journey. When he is illegally living in Calais and illegally attempting to enter Britain, he is an economic migrant and an illegal immigrant. The humanitarian consequences of the Syrian crisis are for the countries of the Middle East to manage. Not for Britain, not for France, not for Austria, not for Italy, not for the Netherlands, not for Poland, not for Romania. That cannot be said too often. Oil-rich, cash-rich petro-monarchies of the region must act. They claim to be our allies. Instead, some fund Islamic terrorism and allow hundreds of thousands to come to our countries against the wishes of our people.”

It seems to me that we have, since at least 1997, suffered a concerted political attack on our immigration system. The driving force behind that attack seems to be the belief that the person is sovereign; that anyone who wishes should be able to come to Britain regardless of the skills or abilities they would bring to our country or their cultural compatibility with it, and that the settled population of these islands should simply put up with it. We do not need to look far to find the cause of this. The Labour Party saw that immigrants and their descendants were among their core supporters. They believed that the more they opened our doors to immigrants the more they would create a Labour client state and effectively pack Britain with Labour voters. Others, influenced by the ideology of multiculturalism, saw mass immigration in the same way as theorists such as the Frankfurt School as a means of destabilising opposition to socialism and making the lot of conservatives a miserable one. In an interview in 2013, Lord Mandelson said “In 2004 when as a Labour government, we were not only welcoming people to come into this country to work, we were sending out search parties for people and encouraging them, in some cases, to take up work in this country.”

Now we are seeing the distinction between legal and illegal immigration further weakened. Having encouraged mass immigration, we cannot then profess ourselves surprised when people from countries where life chances are extremely poor decide that any chance to get across our borders is worth taking. We are told that if we send millions of pounds in international aid, and indeed if we intervene militarily in foreign wars, that we will help these people stay where they are and stabilise their countries. Don’t believe it. Those who are coming to Europe believe that the standard of living that their countries provide is inadequate by comparison with that of the West. They do not want mere safety, which is why they do not want to stay in Hungary. Rather, they see the prosperity that Britain and Germany represent, and they want to experience it for themselves.

What is happening to our immigration system is an erosion of its natural boundaries. Time after time, the Prime Minister assures us that we will get an immigration system that is tougher. When he says tougher, what he actually means is fairer; that is to say, fairer both to the immigrants and to those who are already here. And yet the changes made do not have the effect that is claimed for them, nor do they succeed in substantially lowering the numbers who enter Britain each year. I hear constant statistic-based arguments from both sides about whether immigration is economically beneficial. I do not believe that it is, because it artificially distorts our labour market. I certainly do not believe it is in anyone’s interest that we should have a class of super-rich international jet-setters employing an underclass of disenfranchised immigrants to do menial work that the existing population of this country is supposedly unwilling to do. But this is what happens when an aristocracy of land is replaced by an aristocracy of money. We should not think that Tony Blair and his colleagues are motivated by noblesse oblige or care for our society and our environment. Their motivation seems, by contrast, to speak all too plainly of short-term, materialistic, self-interested greed and tribalism in favour of their family and friends. Their interest is not so much in New Labour as in cheap labour. These are not the values we should have at the heart of our society and they are not values that have had any significant place in the Britain of the past.

But it is not the economic arguments that have the greatest impact on me, it is the cultural arguments. These are arguments that go largely unheard in the House of Commons. It is left to Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, to voice them. He says “Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims. This is an important question, because Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity. Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian? There is no alternative, and we have no option but to defend our borders.” His is not the only country to say that it cannot accept more Muslim migrants.

Is it not sobering that our own Prime Minister cannot mount a robust defence of the Christian heritage of our country in this way? It must be admitted that were he to do so, he would not get a lot of support from the Church of England. But this is the crux of the matter. We cannot allow mass immigration by people, whatever their personal merits and humanitarian need, whose cultural commitment is to values which are profoundly different from our own, without a heavy price being paid. And the countries where those values are naturally at home – Saudi Arabia chief among them – are noticeable by their reluctance to assist in the present crisis, even though it is they who should be bearing the heaviest burden. As those rich Arab countries look at Europe, they must be reminding themselves of the old saying, “never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake”.

A further argument which is extremely important is that we must learn the lessons of the past when it comes to immigration. The character of Britain depends in large part on the fact that our country is relatively underpopulated. Even our cities, which have always been cosmopolitan in nature, are having to bear a burden that is far greater than they were designed for. The NHS, the transport system and local services cannot be stretched beyond their limit without breaking. We are seeing property prices being inflated by an artificial scarcity, and new housing being built not only on brownfield sites but often as infill development on greenfield sites as well.

As our towns and cities become more packed, our quality of life suffers. It also suffers from the failure to assimilate migrants by enforcing our cultural values. It should be the norm that the English language is spoken on our streets, for example, and it should also be used in commerce, so that we do not have shop frontages entirely in a foreign language. Immigrants should learn English, and we should monitor their progress until they can communicate clearly in the language. We should have the courage to ban the burka and thereby defend the rights and freedoms of women which were hard-fought in this country. We must ensure that immigrants do not jump the queue for council housing or other public services at the expense of our settled population, but that they wait their turn like everyone else. We should also ensure that British values are taught in our schools and that Muslim propaganda has no place there. One aspect of this that I came across recently is that music – singing or playing an instrument – is regarded as haram, or forbidden, by most Muslims. We should be clear that every child should be allowed the experience of singing and the opportunity to learn a musical instrument during their time at school, regardless of their religious beliefs. And we should not hesitate to deport from this country those who use our hospitality to argue against Western values and to encourage terrorism and armed jihad. That has no place whatsoever in this country. If people want to go to Syria to fight with ISIS, they should not be allowed back and should be treated as undesirable aliens. As recent experience has shown, it is very easy for the Home Office to keep people out of this country.

In short, where our cultural values and those of foreign migrants clash, ours should prevail and our national systems should enforce them. We cannot be equivocal about this. If we give in to cultural relativism, we are effectively signing our death warrant as a people and as a culture. We need to understand that the support of our culture requires its positive reinforcement at every level. It cannot simply be absorbed by osmosis,  and certainly not if we allow ghettoes to form.

I do not want to deny or diminish the human cost of immigration from the migrants’ point of view. We would not be human if we were not moved by the plight of dead children or desperate people. Those scenes rightly evoke an emotional response in us. But political policy cannot be subject to emotion; it must be made with a cool head and in a climate of calm and reasoned judgement. The decisions we make about immigration, whatever they may be, will always have a cost to pay. My belief, though, is that the balance of those decisions must always be firmly towards the settled population of this country, who look to their government to defend their interests. We cannot accept everyone who wants to come here, and if we do, we will have acted to destroy this country, not enrich it. We must have the maturity and the courage to say, as Hungary has said, that there are good reasons to say no.

Posted in Traditional Britain Group