"Students and schools are just collateral damage in party political squabbles"

An open letter on the government's decision to limit schools' ability to enter students early for GCSEs.

Dear Parents/Carers,

Without any notice and with immediate effect, the government has taken steps to limited schools' ability to enter students early for GCSEs - after we had already planned entries for the year. Early entry can serve many good purposes, including vital preparation for later exams. At Priory we will continue with our policy for this year as we firmly believe this to be in the best interests of our students. However, the school will be judged on the early entry results rather than those achieved by the end of Year 11. This is a political tool to try to influence educational practice, furthermore it ignores what the school believes to be in the best interest of our students.

It seems that barely a term goes by without another sudden change to GCSE examinations. Worst of all, these changes are often made in the middle of students' courses of study, making it near on impossible to plan properly or to focus on learning rather than constant administrative change. In the last two years we have experienced changed grade boundaries between exam sittings; the dropping the vital skills of speaking and listening from English mid-course; and now this latest announcement.

These changes are often timed to coincide with party conferences or similar events, leading us to fear that students and schools are just collateral damage in party political squabbles.

I believe all teachers are ambitious for every student and work hard to help students maximise their opportunities to achieve the best possible outcomes. As a school we agree that our education must constantly improve; we have worked hard to ensure we constantly improve! We see no reason, other than the date of the next election, why change needs to be rushed without consultation or planning. Ultimately it is the students who suffer.

I wanted to explain to you our position on these reforms: we believe they are disrupting student's education and undermining their hard work. This latest announcement seems vindictive as the regulations for early entry change after this year. I wanted to let you know that we will continue to help students navigate the system as best we can. I would like to encourage you to contact your local MP and let him/her know how the changes are affecting you and your family. Ministers are distant from the front line and the realities of teaching. They cannot see the confusion and chaos being created; nor do they have any respect for the views of the profession. They may listen to you.

Yours faithfully,
Tony Smith

Headmaster, the Priory School, Lewes

 

It seems that barely a term goes by without another sudden change to GCSE examinations. Photo: Getty
HEINZ BAUMANN/GALLERY STOCK
Show Hide image

With the BBC Food’s collection under threat, here's how to make the most of online recipes

Do a bit of digging, trust your instincts – and always read the comments.

I don’t think John Humphrys is much of a chef. Recently, as his Today co-presenter Mishal Husain was discussing the implications of the BBC’s decision to axe its Food website (since commuted to transportation to the Good Food platform, run by its commercial arm), sharp-eared listeners heard the Humph claim that fewer recipes on the web could only be a good thing. “It would make it easier!” he bellowed in the background. “We wouldn’t have to choose between so many!”

Husain also seemed puzzled as to why anyone would need more than one recipe for spaghetti bolognese – but, as any keen cook knows, you can never have too many different takes on a dish. Just as you wouldn’t want to get all your news from a single source, it would be a sad thing to eat the same bolognese for the rest of your life. Sometimes only a molto autentico version, as laid down by a fierce Italian donna, rich with tradition and chopped liver, will do – and sometimes, though you would never admit it in a national magazine, you crave the comfort of your mum’s spag bol with grated cheddar.

The world wouldn’t starve without BBC Food’s collection but, given that an online search for “spaghetti bolognese recipe” turns up about a million results, it would have been sad to have lost one of the internet’s more trustworthy sources of information. As someone who spends a large part of each week researching and testing recipes, I can assure you that genuinely reliable ones are rarer than decent chips after closing time. But although it is certainly the only place you’ll find the Most Haunted host Yvette Fielding’s kedgeree alongside Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge, the BBC website is not the only one that is worth your time.

The good thing about newspaper, magazine and other commercial platforms is that most still have just enough budget to ensure that their recipes will have been made at least twice – once by the writer and once for the accompanying photographs – though sadly the days when everyone employed an independent recipe tester are long gone. Such sites also often have sufficient traffic to generate a useful volume of comments. I never make a recipe without scrolling down to see what other people have said about it. Get past the “Can’t wait to make this!” brigade; ignore the annoying people who swap baked beans for lentils and then complain, “This is nothing like dhal”; and there’s usually some sensible advice in there, too.

But what about when you leave the safety of the big boys and venture into the no man’s land of the personal blog? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find a recipe that actually works? You can often tell how much work a writer has put in by the level of detail they go into: if they have indicated how many people it serves, or where to find unusual ingredients, suggested possible tweaks and credited their original sources, they have probably made the dish more than once. The photography is another handy clue. You don’t have to be Annie Leibovitz to provide a good idea of what the finished dish ought to look like.

Do a bit of digging as part of your prep. If you like the look of the rest of the site, the author’s tastes will probably chime with your own. And always, always, wherever the recipe is from, read it all the way through, even before you order the shopping. There is nothing more annoying than getting halfway through and then realising that you need a hand blender to finish the dish, just as the first guest arrives.

Above all, trust your instincts. If the cooking time seems far too short, or the salt content ridiculously high, it probably is, so keep an eye on that oven, check that casserole, keep tasting that sauce. As someone who once published a magic mince pie recipe without any sugar, I’m living proof that, occasionally, even the very best of us make mistakes. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad