Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Investigative journalism - why have you forsaken us?

I’m unsure at what specific point in time investigative journalism was given its P-45. For the likes of the Daily Mail, I’m not sure such a concept has ever existed, but since the advent of 24-hour news television, the print media seems to have become more shallow and vacuous in content, as pressures in meeting deadlines and delivering an exclusive has resulted in a greater reliance on the re-iteration of a press release than developing a fully informed news article. Or they’ve simply replaced journalists with ‘commentators’ who, more often than not, are self-aggrandising, po-faced, twunts. Take the following story from Friday’s Daily Express, for instance:

Whilst we should all probably be joyous that the Express has decided to focus on something other than the death of Diana (for once), you can’t help but wish the article was better informed with the use of easily accessible, publicly available evidence. For all of Chris Roycroft-Davis’ musings about the pressure of having so many non-English speakers impacting on the quality of schools, he hasn’t actually looked at the outcomes for such a group, which would help advocate if this is a bullshit line of enquiry, or not. Surely an investigative journalist would corroborate ones opinion against such evidence, to validate its robust authority?

So a quick trawl of the Key Stage 2 and GCSE data published on the Department for Education’s website reveals that: attainment in English and mathematics at Key Stage 2 has been slightly lower for pupils with English as an additional language (EAL) compared to other pupils for the last five years; however, by the end of Key Stage 4 attainment at GCSE is generally in line with that for other students nationally. In addition, compared to other supposed groups of disadvantaged children and young people (those eligible for free school meals, children in care, and the group Roycroft-Davis probably doesn’t want to see here, white working class boys), those with EAL are easily out-performing such groups.

So, what does this mean? Well, the problems of failing schools are less likely to lie with a high-proportion of children on roll who have EAL, because their outcomes are generally in-line with the national cohort. If such a group were having a major impact on the declining quality of schools, they would not be reaching the level of attainment recognised. Social and economic deprivation is, clearly, a greater indicator of concern. This evidence also identifies that as pupils with EAL progress through the school system, the attainment gap narrows. Perhaps being bilingual is a pretty useful benefit for such children, even if they struggle at the beginning of their educational journey. Furthermore, perhaps the teaching of this group of children is already well-embedded in most schools, contrary to what the article presumes, allowing for them to flourish in such a way that is not currently benefiting other low attaining groups. After all, this is a fairly appropriate hypothesis to make, based on the data showing the lack of an attainment gap in GCSE outcomes for EAL pupils...

All fairly obvious stuff, you would think, for the lay investigator. Not Roycroft-Davis, though, who persists in his own definition of the data to make a laboured point about the state of immigration in England. Chiefy, he identifies such children as non-English speakers, and here is a fundamental flaw. Data from the annual school census is not categorised in such a way or by the level of English spoken, but only by the EAL grouping. Yet Roycroft-Davis presumes that those simply labelled EAL have a poor grasp of English language and literacy; a fallacy, as being EAL is not an indicator that a child will be unable to speak English alongside their home language (see the attainment of said group already discussed). In particular, the EAL grouping is something of a misnomer for the GCSE dataset. Most of these children at the end of compulsory schooling would likely be speaking English just as well as their contemporaries (only a very small number of asylum seeking children of this age would prove a difference to the rule).

Perhaps the Government has, therefore, used this evidence and wisely decided to remove the ring-fenced funding to improve the literacy of children and young people with English as an additional language as successful school-based interventions have already been well established. You would hope that this funding has not just disappeared into a black hole, but is instead now being used to develop and support better arrangements for more underachieving groups when it comes to attainment in English - those eligible for free school meals, children in care and white working class boys.

So, when you next advocate that Tower Hamlets should be renamed ‘Tower of Babel’ it would help if you buried the Ofsted report of Marion Richardson Primary School somewhere out of public view (along with the many others that counters Chris’ insight). For there’s no conceivable way a school where nine-out-ten of its pupils are identified with English as an additional language could possibly hope of being outstanding, right? Oh. Just because 54 different home languages might be spoken by the pupil cohort, doesn't mean they all fail to understand or speak the universal language used in the classroom. No doubt the inspection system is broken in this instance, in the Express’ anecdotal world-view… twunts!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Green Lantern - Fun B-movie bobbins!

On Wednesday night I caught the ‘special’ screening of the Green Lantern in Leicester Square. Warner Brother’s weren’t doing a UK premiere, a worryingly ominous sign, but when you have a mate, who often cuts the hair of movie industry big-wigs, it’s kind of rude to pass up on the offer of free tickets, even when the red carpet isn’t dished out. Still, who wants to fucking touch me?

I actually owe this particular mate many a favour (the premiere’s of Alexander, King Kong and Lady in the Water to be specific), which worries me slightly. You see he’s Italian, or more precisely Sicilian, and if you’ve seen plenty of movies involving Sicilian’s then I really need to watch out that I don’t get in too deep (or get a sense of perspective). I’m expecting a call any day now where these favours are all cashed in at once and the next thing you know I’m in the middle of ‘saloon wars’. It’s midnight at my mates place of work and I’m charged with making the body of another local hairdresser ‘cutting’ in on his business disappear. Car boots and a large hole in the middle of Epping Forest compulsory! It’s either that or a tenner a month to keep him company on DC Universe Online…

So, the Green Hornet! I went in with fairly low expectations thinking it was likely to be a complete disaster. The trailers looked fairly ‘meh’ which was only confirmed by the fact this was to be a special screening. Memories of sitting painfully through Mission to Mars resurfaced, which almost made me scream for mercy and leg it, except the cinema gave us free beer, a good thing seeing as such a bonus encapsulated my motto (‘I like beer’), meaning my get out clause had been vanquished. I’d have to stay for the whole shindig. Luckily, it was actually kinda fun, albeit in a thoroughly forgetful way. I haven’t had the time to re-watch under non-beer induced conditions to see if this played a significant factor in my decision-making abilities, so you’ll just have to go with me on this one.

Sure the film has numerous, obvious flaws as exposed by the trailer – the bird from Gossip Girl is woefully miscast (a fighter pilot, really?) and completely wooden, the score is total shite, some of the CGI is spectacularly wanky (the scene with the helicopter - oh deary, dear) and the big bad is a little bit wafty (albeit pretty scary for a 12A). Yet it's saved by Reynolds being Reynolds (y’know slightly goofy, but semi-serious), a few good chuckles to be had along the way, Mark Strong really getting it, Tim Robbins hamming it up a good 'un, some decent action (albeit infrequent and spectacularly short) and a universe that is rather compelling (I'm new to the Green Lantern so the backstory of their order was pretty intriguing).

It was certainly watchable and fun, in a poorly made bobbins that somehow just works kind of way and it’s not an awful movie by any stretch. But a B-movie superhero that edges towards a magnificently bad sci-fi flick is not what Warner Bros were, presumably, aiming for either, particularly when placed against the pantheon of other superhero flicks doing the rounds. Against the likes of Daredevil and Elektra (seriously shit movie-making) it stands out, but other than that it just doesn’t have the originality, style or action credentials to bother the likes of Nolan’s Batman, Spidey, Ironman, etc. With the conversion success rate Marvel seem to be having, it’s just building to the body of evidence that explains why Marvel are made of win and success compared to DC being composed of suck and fail (Krypto the Wonder Dog, anybody?) Indeed, considering the amount of money Warner Brothers have thrown the Green Lantern’s way, perhaps ‘watchable’, ‘fun’ and ‘B-movie’ isn’t quite the justification they require…

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Danger, Danger. High Voltage!

The regular evening walk home across Waterloo Bridge is a fairly mundane experience. It is certainly picturesque, but there’s only so long you can admire the view of St Paul's and Big Ben before your eyes start screaming for blood. And whilst you do get to navigate your way through a shuffling horde of erratic zombies every day, you can’t help thinking it would be so much more fun if you had the opportunity to rip the morons in half with a chainsaw than dodge seamlessly between their plodding, awkward steps. No, instead we plough on in a haze, through the unsmiling dreary masses of office nobodies, with only the tunes of our MP3 players preventing us from committing some carnal bridge-based massacre. Wouldn’t it be more interesting if the number 59 swerved into pedestrians, over the side of the bridge and into the Thames on just one occasion? Or thoroughly exciting if a UFO inexplicably crash landed smashing the bridge to Lego brick styled smithereens? At least it would give us something to talk about.

Well, something did kind of happen yesterday to that affect. A proper diversion, so to speak, to grab the attention away from our soulless bridge-walking existence. The roof of Marconi House on the Aldwych was on fire. Smoke limped down the Kingsway. Fire-fighters tackled the blaze at a snails pace. Tourists looked on proper bemused. Woo, planet excitement here we come! Some media headlines today would have you believe it was the start of the next great fire of London. ‘London’s Burning’ claimed some dickheads! It really, really wasn’t. It was about as distressing as watching an episode of Rainbow and not all that much fun as a spectacle. Particularly as building work on Marconi House (which has been fully knocked down and rebuilt in the last few years) seems to have ceased for what seems like a good year now, rendering a well-known landmark of London somewhat obsolete, unfurnished and well, a bit shit.

No, the real story of yesterday’s event is that people actually looked up from the pavement they were accustomed and glanced at the faces of the people around them. Strangers smiled for once, at one another no less, as the detour to Waterloo Bridge turned into an off-road adventure past the Savoy Hotel and down to the Victoria Embankment. Now, it wasn’t exactly a carnival atmosphere, but the fact something, no matter how small and insignificant, actually happened on the way home, awoke people from their permanent, autopilot slumber. The shackles of our zombiefied nature had been loosened a little as walking in the road down towards the IMAX provided a great sense of freedom from the man and his minions (particularly Gove - what a tit), albeit for a short while at least. Cars had been told to fuck off, and for one evening only, pedestrians ruled the roads! The lively hustle and bustle of bemused yet happy people will certainly remain one of the more memorable walks home for the next few years. It's unlikely anything more substantial will happen on the A4 at 6:00pm on a Tuesday evening, unless a Big Issue seller suddenly cracks, goes mental and starts shoving tourists into the Thames. 

Alas, today was a return to the norm. I really must remember to take my baseball bat with me next week to teach the slowest of walkers and those twonks who refuse to walk in a straight line a perfectly reasonable lesson. There's an evens chance that will at least put the smile on my fellow bridge-walker's faces…!