Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The looming crisis

According to reports in several newspapers, there is a looming crisis in the British education system created by an acute shortage of teachers.

Numbers of pupils in secondary schools are expected to spike by more than 500,000 to 3.3 million by 2025. Set that figure against the fact that the overall number of full-time teachers in secondary schools fell by 10,000 between 2010 and 2015 and you can sense the problem.

A YouGov poll found that 53 per cent of teachers were considering leaving teaching and it wasn’t just experienced senior staff. 11,000 young teachers actually leave in training, an exodus that has tripled in the last six years and points to a terrible loss of energy and new talent into teaching.

Shortages lead schools to spend £733million on supply teachers from agencies. Apart from the stress on school's budgets that are being constantly cut, a supply teacher can often be just a "bum in the classroom" because they are  used to fill in for subjects that they have no specialisation in.

Why do so many teachers want to leave?

A regime of inspections by OFSTED which seeks to destroy rather than support teachers has not helped. An increasing workload has not helped either. Teachers are weary and feel undervalued by governments that  constantly criticise them and pick faults in their work. When did you ever read a report by government that said teachers were doing a great job? Instead of praising the good work that many do, it is easier to find fault with the few who fail.

During term times, many teachers work late into the night marking and preparing for their lessons. And those long holidays that people complain about are often cut into by visits to the school just to keep up with classroom management.

There is also a problem for teachers who, too often face low level disruption in their classrooms. Exclusion units that helped in these cases became unfashionable as teachers were told that inclusion was the right of every pupil. You could sense the logic when you saw the same children spending much of their time outside their normal classroom. Exclusion units tended to offer simple repetitive tasks to occupy the children rather than any actual teaching.

Of more concern than minor disruption, in an increasing number of cases, teachers have also had to suffer abuse, either mental or physical, from their empowered pupils. Going to work only to be bruised in this way is no fun. Often, the teachers are told that it is their fault, the abuse is a result of their failing.

Teachers, perhaps more than most other workers, need support and guidance to make the most of their pupil's abilities. Sadly, it is easier to dismiss failing teachers than it is to support them. All those adverts about a rewarding and worthwhile career must seem to be a joke to many in British classrooms today.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A change of heart

When I was at school as a pupil,  teachers could touch a child without being accused of all sorts of nastiness. At times, it may have been to discipline them, at other times to offer praise or comfort. It was normal and expected.

Then the whole business of physical contact became an issue as children and their parents chose to wreck teacher's careers by making all sorts of accusations. In some cases, there may have been a foundation to the claims but mostly they were just malicious attempts to get back at a teacher who the children did not like.

Teachers, quite rightly, became cautious and their unions advised them against any sort of physical contact. As an Assistant Headteacher, that posed a problem for me because there were times when I had to break up a fight and the only way was to drag one of the pupils off the other.

In the case of two boys fighting that was less of a problem than where the scrapping pair were girls. When boys fight, they generally stand apart and throw punches; girls, on the other hand, get stuck in and pull hair or anything else they can grab. You have to literally pull them apart to stop the fight.  

Now, experts claim that teachers who avoid physical contact with children in the classroom are guilty of child abuse - really!

Members of the British Psychological Society (BPS) say that teachers who do not touch children when they are happy, upset or worried could in fact cause harm and hinder pupils’ development.

“What’s missing is a recognition of how important touch is,” child psychologist Sean Cameron told the Times Educational Supplement, “And that withholding touch is, in itself, a form of psychological abuse.”

So, it is a case of dammed if you do and dammed if you don't.

Medio ano Festero

Top marks go the La Pedrera Association for the Disabled who led the parade yesterday morning. They were the only group to actually perform for us. Dressed as planets, they circled around as they passed down the street.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Not guilty

From El Pais.

Cristina de Borbón, sister of Spanish King Felipe VI, has been acquitted of tax fraud complicity in a high-profile corruption trial known as the Nóos case.

Her husband Iñaki Urdangarin, considered one of the masterminds behind a scheme that obtained no-bid contracts from regional governments, has been sentenced to six years and three months in prison.

He has been found guilty of embezzlement, fraud, influence peddling and tax crimes. The court has also demanded that he pay a €512,000 fine.

Although Cristina de Borbón has been cleared of the criminal charges against her, she will have to pay a fine of €265,088 for her role in the scheme. The royal was never charged by either public prosecutors or tax authorities, but rather on the basis of a private prosecution.

Urdangarin and his former business partner Diego Torres were behind the scheme that secured over €6 million in public contracts won for organising sports and tourism events. 

The contracts were obtained through no-bid awards that favoured a non-profit foundation called Instituto Nóos, run by the partners. Urdangarin allegedly leveraged his position as a member of the royal family to open doors within regional government structures.

Cristina allegedly used an Aizoon credit card to make personal purchases – including dance lessons and children’s clothing – then claimed tax deductions on her 2007 and 2008 filings.

The charges against the king’s sister were not brought by state prosecutors or by tax authorities, but by a private prosecution by a far-right anti-corruption group called Manos Limpias (Clean Hands), which has since been dismantled after its leader Miguel Bernad was arrested. Investigators found that Bernad had tried to extort the royal’s defense lawyers for a €3 million payment in exchange for dropping the charges against her.

The case further damaged the royal family's image and is thought to be partly the cause of Juan Carlos' decision to abdicate the throne in June 2014 in flavor of his son Felipe.

The Nóos case, while large in itself, is merely an offshoot of a much wider probe into the construction of a sports arena in Palma de Mallorca that has already resulted in a criminal conviction for Jaume Matas.

The Palma Arena case, which put the spotlight on political corruption in the popular Mediterranean island archipelago, has been broken down into 28 separate sections, of which Nóos is the 25th.

The story of graft and patronage in the Balearics feeds into other high-profile corruption cases in Spain, among them Gürtel, whose leaders were recently sent to prison for bribing officials in Valencia in exchange for government contracts.

So, even the people who brought the charges against the Princess were guilty of corruption. It makes you wonder if there is anybody of authority in Spain who is not corrupt.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

We felt that!

Yesterday, we had a short thunderstorm during which lightening struck down to land nearby.

At first, many thought it might have been an earthquake but there is no report of any incidences in this area.

There were actually two lightening strikes, one positively charged and the other negatively charged,  two kilometres northeast of Rafal at 16:01.

Saturday, February 11, 2017


The history of this region has been deeply linked to the occurrence of earthquakes - note the darker colour on the map.

We live in a geologically active area, in constant evolution, the result of the collision between the Eurasian and African plates.

Although the first historical records of seismic activity in the Iberian Peninsula dated back to about a thousand years before our era, it was not until 1048 that the first major earthquake was recorded,

With an estimated intensity of VIII and its epicentre in Orihuela, that earthquake destroyed the major mosque in the city, as well as some buildings of Arab origin in Guardamar and whose ruins are still visible today.

The best known earthquake though was on March 21, 1829.  With its epicentre in Torrevieja that one left almost a thousand  people dead and destroyed thousands of houses.

Friday, February 10, 2017


From El Pais in English

Three leading figures in the Gürtel case, a major political corruption scheme affecting Spain’s ruling Popular Party (PP), have been sentenced to 13 years in prison each by the Valencia region’s High Court.

Francisco Correa, considered the mastermind behind the bribes-for-kickbacks network, and his aides Pablo Crespo and Álvaro Pérez, aka El Bigotes (the Mustache), were found guilty in connection with a section of the Gürtel case known as Fitur, involving embezzlement, influence peddling, bribery of public officials and conspiracy in the Valencia region.

Judges have handed down a total of 11 convictions, according to legal sources familiar with the case. Milagrosa Martínez, a former Valencia government official under then-premier Francisco Camps, has been sentenced to nine years, while Rafael Betoret, the former head of the tourism department, received a six-year sentence.

The court reached its decision after examining five years’ worth of organizational activities for the Valencia pavilion at Fitur, Spain’s premier tourism fair, and at lesser events. The government contracts to organize these events were all awarded to Orange Market, a company that is part of the Gürtel network of businesses that paid officials in return for favours.

The sprawling Gürtel case involves a corrupt business network that operated across six Spanish regions between 1999 and 2005. It was allegedly run by Correa (whose surname loosely translates as belt, or gürtel in German), a businessman who cultivated relationships with PP officials, allegedly offering them gifts in exchange for government contracts in public works and event organization. At the height of his power, Correa went by the nickname of Don Vito, after the character in The Godfather.

With nearly 200 official suspects, it became the largest pre-trial probe in modern Spanish history and was broken up into sections to facilitate the investigation. The main trial began on October 4 at the Audiencia Nacional, Spain’s high court, with 37 people on the dock.

One of the ramifications of the case involves the possibility of illegal party financing by the PP. Secret accounts kept by former treasurer Luis Bárcenas suggest the existence of a slush fund within the conservative party.

In addition to his prison sentence, Correa was fined 3,918,500 Euros , Crespo - 3,913,650 Euros and  Pérez -3,920,400 Euros.

This in not over, there is more to come. In particular, the "B" account of the PP, which Bárcenas kept, showed payments to many high ranking members of the ruling PP including  the President, Mariano Rajoy.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Time to draw the line?

The beach side houses at Babylon beach in Guardamar del Segura have been a contentious issue for awhile now. The pathway in front is dangerous in parts and some of the houses are an eyesore.

The storms this winter brought tides up to 4m in height causing further destruction. Many of the old houses are now in ruin.

Two of the political groups in the town, Queremos Guardamar and Círculo Podemos, want the situation resolved. The houses only remain due to a concession in the Coastal Law which the Territorial Service of Coasts of Alicante believes should now be revoked.

The trouble is that nobody wants to say that the houses should be demolished so does that mean that they will remain?

We're not done yet

Yesterday was blustery. I'd put the covers back on the furniture outdoors only to find them blown off again.

Today it is calm out there so, yet again, I can cover the furniture.

Looking at the forecast from Meteo Orihuela, it might be a good idea because rain is forecast for Saturday and then again on Monday. Judging by other forecasts though, it will not be the heavy and persistent rain we had weeks ago.