Archive | February, 2014

Fiori Pizzeria – Leicester square

24 Feb

Place

This cafe and pizzeria is on the busy corner of Leicester square.  The service was very quick but impersonal.  Hardly a surprise given the turnover of customers and footfall traffic that runs through the place.  Still I didn’t feel rushed while eating and the location was ideal enough given we were waiting for a show in the Prince of Wales theatre just up the road.

The Carrot Cake

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I have to admit this was one of the best, if not the best, carrot cake I’ve reviewed thus far on the blog.  Starting from the frosting, which is always the hero of the cake for me.  It was cool and firm just like I enjoy.  What is more there was a triple layer of frosting.  You cannot argue with that!  On top there was a decorative carrot made from marzipan which added another flavour dimension.

The cake itself had a strong but not overpowering cinnamon flavour.  There was an abundance of ingredients in the cake which gave it a lot of texture and it was moist throughout.

All in all this was a real winner and well worth being the cake to celebrate a year of the blog.

The Hot Chocolate

I didn’t have one from here but they were presented well from the ones I saw other patrons having.

The Rest

We were waiting to see the Book of Mormon musical.  A Christmas present to me from my good wife.  It was amazing. Brilliantly sung and very funny.  It is a tad close to the bone so if you are easily offended, or a Mormon, perhaps it is not for you.  If you are an easily offended Mormon then definitely do not go and see it.  Otherwise I would highly recommend it.

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Restorative justice in schools

20 Feb

This interesting story looking at restorative justice in schools has been running on BBC radio and online over the past couple of days.

I’ve always felt that restorative justice is a hugely important and often overlooked means of tackling crime and, in the case of schools, bad behaviour.  I’ve never been someone who thinks that locking someone up and marginalizing them from society works.  People are not beyond help and I genuinely believe that simple incarceration does little to help the victim of crime or the perpetrator.  Data shows that restorative justice is cost-effective; reduces reoffending rates and helps victims come to terms and move on from crime.

But anyway, back to schools.  The restorative justice approach in schools shouldn’t be fully or directly compared to criminal activity of course.  I wouldn’t want to criminalize children for bad behaviour.  However, in many ways the principle and impact is the same.  The stats, admittedly from a small snapshot of just a few schools, are none the less impressive.  At Fitzalan High School in Cardiff for example the number of days lost to pupil exclusions fell from 1,000 three years ago to 112 days this year after they introduced the system.  That is a significant shift and will make a major difference to any schools standards.

That is not to say that school’s should not legitimately use expulsions where they are necessary or appropriate but that, with expulsions or not, it is important that the reasons behind the bad behaviour are uncovered.  Restorative justice is not only a potentially cathartic tool for victims of bad behaviour but can help uncover often hidden drivers behind why pupils act out.  Tackling them through a restorative justice approach has the potential to radically change the life chances of an individual, stopping their path towards marginalization at a very early stage.

We know that disruptive behaviour not only impacts on the teacher and pupil behind it but also the learning environment of other well-behaved pupils.  Tackling the core reasons why a pupil may be misbehaving through restorative justice, including making pupils face up to the reality of their actions, can help revitalise their engagement in education as well as creating a long-term reduction in bad behaviour.

A further benefit of course is the bonds that such action creates.  It fosters a sense of community between pupils who are accountable as a collective for their actions as well as between schools and families.  We know that schools that succeed have a commitment from parents and families that helps focus engagement within pupils.  This is one of the reasons that I have previously issued concerns that truancy fines will actually hinder the ability of schools to improve attendance.

In regards to attendance and behaviour in schools in our communities people need to feel part of the process, in this case part of the solution, and not just recipients of the punishment.

Happy Birthday

18 Feb

Today the blog is one year old!

While recently the posts haven’t been as regular as I would have liked overall I’m really pleased how the first year has gone.  I honestly started this just to write about hot chocolate and carrot cake with a few very irregular posts about education.  It has developed into an education blog punctuated with the odd cake review when I am having a diet and training crash.

I’ve been able to do some good thinking around education issues through the blog which has helped my own development and understanding a lot.  There is a lot of focus on education in Wales and some brilliant people reporting on it, but often, simply because of the 24/7 news cycle, there’s not a lot of time to really have a debate.  Hopefully in part this blog has encouraged some of that to take place.  I’ve had some really good feedback and although still in its infancy I am aspiring to see it continue to grow.

I’m particularly pleased that I started the audio blogs and I think they have provided another level of depth to some of the education discussions this blog has prompted.  With that a massive thanks to Simon Thomas AM, Aled Roberts AM, Angela Jardine, Gary Brace and Sian Powell who did audio blogs with me over the past 12 months.  I have a few more I want to pursue but please let me know if there are any names you think I should reach out to.

Sadly I’m not planning on leaving the office today but I am off to London with my good wife on the weekend.  I will make sure I review a piece of  birthday blog carrot cake to mark this occasion.

Why the NUT are taking strike action – Article for the Daily Post

12 Feb

Below is the article I wrote for the Daily Post Education Supplement following the announcement of NUT strike action to take place in March.  Bit of a squeeze getting the points across in 500 words.  Perhaps I’ll do a more detailed blog in the future.

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Make no mistake, no wants to be on strike and losing a day’s pay on March 26th.  Industrial action, especially when there is an impact on pupils and parents, is always a last resort.  However, the simple fact is teachers across Wales cannot sit back and accept the current attacks on the profession, and by extension, on education in Wales.

So why strike?   The changes to pay and pensions that are being forced on teachers by Michael Gove and the Westminster Government are making it more and more difficult to attract and retain graduates to the sector.  A YouGov opinion poll in January found that morale in the teaching profession continues to fall and almost three quarters (74%) of teachers say their morale has declined since the last general election.  52% of teachers are less likely to stay in the profession as a result of changes to teachers’ pay and pensions, while 57% are less likely to stay as a result of changes to teacher’s conditions.  The Government are demanding that teachers pay more into their pensions, receive less and have to work until at least 68; an age at which many in the profession fear they will not be able to provide the current standards they expect of themselves for their students.  Changes to pay, which international studies show will not improve standards, will create divisive working conditions that have a detrimental impact on education provisions.

We shouldn’t forget also that the NUT has done everything that it possible could to avoid any further strikes taking place.  National strike action was cancelled in November.  Strike action scheduled for February was postponed and while other regional strikes were taking place throughout the UK at the end of last year, as a result of progress in engaging with the Welsh Government, strike action here in Wales was avoided.

It has been 17 weeks since the NUT and NASUWT met with government officials.  While teachers have been trying to find a way forward the Westminster Education Secretary has put obstacle after obstacle in the way of talks, showing no serious attempt to resolve – or even to discuss – the matters in dispute.  Michael Gove is refusing to discuss the substance of our dispute which deals with the reality of teachers concerns. As regrettable as the situation is, this has forced the NUT into announcing a strike, which is not just justified but necessary, to take place in March.

The strike action can of course be called off. The power to avoid this disruption is in the hands of the Secretary of State.  If he provides reassurances that he will not go ahead with any changes which worsen teachers’ working conditions and commit to serious and substantive talks on the other elements of the dispute, including on pay and pensions, he can stop the strike from taking place.

The responsibility for this situation lies fairly and squarely at the door of this intransigent Education Secretary. It is time he changed his attitude and listened to the genuine concerns of teachers.

I’ll post a link to the article on the Daily Post website if and when it appears.  I am assuming that it did go in yesterday but sadly the Daily Post doesn’t reach us in Cardiff anymore so I’m not 100% sure.