Latitude 2015: Thursday 16th - Sunday 19th July
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Latitude Festival

Latitude Festival announces 2015 theme: For Richer, For Poorer, For Better, For Worse

For the second year, the New Statesman is media partner to Latitude, the music and arts festival in Henham Park, Suffolk.

For the second year, the New Statesman is media partner to Latitude, the music and arts festival in Henham Park, Suffolk. Last year the NS hosted events on surveillance and privacy, dystopian fiction and videogames, featuring Jimmy Wales, Meg Rosoff, Laurie Penny, Helen Lewis and Toby Litt. The music bill was headlined by Damon Albarn.

The 2014 festival theme was Secrets and Lies. The NS can exclusively announce that the 2015 theme will be For Richer, For Poorer, For Better, For Worse.

Taking its cue from the traditional marriage vow, Latitude’s literature and arts programming will explore how individuals and communities conduct our public, private, personal and – especially pertinent after May’s election – political relationships.

Tania Harrison, arts programmer for Latitude Festival said:

“Whether it’s clicking ‘yes’ to Google’s terms of service, saying ‘I do’ in a marriage ceremony, or putting an X in a political party’s box at the general election, the agreements we make affect the lives of everyone around us. Yet at the same time, there’s a tension between the world in which we’re told we’re ‘all in this together’ and our society itself, with its growing extremes of rich and poor, social media oversharing and increasingly secretive state security agencies.

"This space between a promise and its fulfillment, participation and exclusion is incredibly rich territory for the people who make art and ideas. We’re working with an array of theatre companies, writers, performers and speakers to bring the theme to life at Latitude.”

Performances and events from organisations such as Forest Fringe, Theatre Uncut, The Roundhouse and Clean Break will look at the marriage between government and the electorate as well as last year’s near-uncoupling of England and Scotland. A new piece by Action Hero called Wrecking Ball “uses Terry Richardson and Miley Cyrus’s collaboration on a music video to examine how the nature of modern celebrity, mediated as it is by online and social media, means that many of us feel we have very intimate relationships with people we’ll never really meet.”

Harrison says the programme promises to address “whether we’re happy staying married to the status quo to, or whether - in the words of many a Facebook profile – it’s complicated”.

The New Statesman will host a satellite event in London in advance of the festival. 

 

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I worked as a teacher – so I can tell you how regressive grammar schools are

The grammars and "comprehensives" of Kent make for an unequal system. So why does Theresa May consider the county a model for the future?

In 1959 my parents moved me from a Roman Catholic primary school to the junior branch of King Henry VIII, Coventry’s most high-profile grammar. The head teacher berated my mother for betraying the one true faith, but although she was born in Galway, my mum was as relaxed about her religion as she was about her native roots. Any strong feelings about the English Reformation had disappeared around the same time as her Irish accent. Her voice gave no clue to where she was from and – as a result of a wartime commission – the same was true of my father. Together, Mrs and Mr Smith embodied postwar Britain’s first-generation upwardly mobile middle class.

Their aspiration and ambition were so strong that my mother saw no problem in paying for me to attend a Protestant school. Why, you may ask, did my dad, a middle manager and by no means well off, agree to pay the fees? Quite simply, my parents were keen that I pass the eleven-plus.

King Henry VIII School benefited from the direct grant scheme, introduced after the Education Act 1944. In Coventry, the two direct grant schools were centuries old and were paid a fee by the government to educate the fifth or so of boys who passed the eleven-plus. When secondary education in Coventry became comprehensive in the mid-1970s, King Henry VIII went fully independent; today, it charges fees of more than £10,000 per year.

A few years ago, I returned to my old school for a memorial service. As I left, I saw a small group of smartly dressed men in their late seventies. They had strong Coventry accents and intended to “go down the club” after the service. It occurred to me that they represented the small number of working-class lads who, in the years immediately after the Second World War, were lucky enough to pass the eleven-plus and (no doubt with their parents making huge sacrifices) attend “the grammar”. But by the time I moved up to King Henry VIII’s senior school in 1963 there appeared to be no one in my A-stream class from a working-class background.

From the early 1950s, many of the newly affluent middle classes used their financial power to give their children an advantage in terms of selection. My parents paid for a privileged education that placed top importance on preparation for the eleven-plus. In my class, only one boy failed the life-determining test. Today, no less than 13 per cent of entrants to the 163 grammar schools still in the state system are privately educated. No wonder preparatory schools have responded enthusiastically to Theresa May’s plans to reverse the educational orthodoxy of the past five decades.

Nowhere has the rebranding of secondary moderns as “comprehensives” been more shameless than in Kent, where the Conservative-controlled council has zealously protected educational selection. Each secondary modern in east Kent, where I taught in the 1970s, has since been named and renamed in a fruitless attempt to convince students that failing to secure a place at grammar school makes no difference to their educational experience and prospects. That is a hard message to sell to the two-thirds of ten-year-olds who fail the Kent test.

Investment and academy status have transformed the teaching environment, which a generation ago was disgraceful (I recall the lower school of a secondary modern in Canterbury as almost literally Edwardian). Ofsted inspections confirm that teachers in non-grammar schools do an amazing job, against all the odds. Nevertheless, selection reinforces social deprivation and limited aspiration in the poorest parts of the south-east of England, notably Thanet and the north Kent coastline.

A third of children in Thanet live in poverty. According to local sources (including a cross-party report of Kent councillors in 2014), disadvantaged children make up less than 9 per cent of pupils in grammar schools but 30 per cent at secondary moderns. University admissions tutors confirm the low number of applications from areas such as Thanet relative to the UK average. Though many of Kent’s secondary moderns exceed expectations, the county has the most underperforming schools in the UK.

When I began my teaching career, I was appallingly ignorant of the harsh realities of a secondary education for children who are told at the age of 11 that they are failures. Spending the years from seven to 17 at King Henry VIII School had cocooned me. More than 40 years later, I can see how little has changed in Kent – and yet, perversely, the Prime Minister perceives the county’s education system as a model for the future.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times