Marcus Stead

Journalist Marcus Stead

Archive for August 2019

Twenty Minute Topic Episode 10: Man-Made Climate Change Debunked

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By MARCUS STEAD

 

Marcus Stead 2019

Marcus Stead

This week, Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins debunk the theory of man-made climate change.

Climate change in itself is undeniable, it’s been going on for as long as the earth has existed, but to say mankind is responsible is to rely on VERY wobbly science. The reality is that the green lobby and the oil giants are on the same side – this is a multi-billion dollar industry!

 

Greg Lance-Watkins 1

Greg Lance-Watkins

They also discuss how vulnerable teenager Greta Thunberg is being exploited and manipulated by people to further this toxic agenda.

The podcast can also be heard via the Talk Podcasts website and on iTunes.

Written by Marcus Stead

August 25, 2019 at 2:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

WJEC exams branded ‘nearly impossible to fail’ entered by schools across England in bid to inflate grades

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By MARCUS STEAD

IN THE WEEK thousands of 16-year-olds received their GCSE results, concern is growing that the true value of the grades is being affected by schools entering pupils for tests set by exam boards whose papers are perceived as easier.

More than 3,000 exam centres in England, many of which are schools, enter students for papers set by Welsh exam body WJEC.

WJEC logoOne recent university graduate, who sat his GCSEs in Norwich five years ago, revealed: “My school used WJEC in the subjects they didn’t think the year group were good enough in so they could maintain great GCSE grades. I think quite a few English schools do it, especially ones that need to maintain their appearance as an outstanding-rated school.

“We mainly used them for languages, as no-one wanted to put in effort to get a good grade so the school had to sort of help us along. They gave us WJEC and it’s near on impossible to fail. I got a C and quite literally probably did a couple of hours’ work per month.”

The 21-year-old revealed that this practice is still going on, as his younger siblings have also been sitting WJEC papers in the same school during the last few years.

He added that sixth-forms also entered students for WJEC exams for the same reasons: “I remember hearing one school using them for maths A Level and it was just ‘GCSE hard mode’ rather than an actual A Level maths.”

At a seminar nearly eight years ago for another exam board, a teacher attending said she believed the WJEC had helped students. Asked by a reporter from the Daily Telegraph what she thought of the board, the teacher from a school in Buckinghamshire replied: “I love them.”

She added: “I found Edexcel really hard and the kids found it very hard, and the grades weren’t very good.”

At a WJEC English seminar in Preston on November 22 that year, a teacher from Bolton described how at his previous school the A-C grades had ‘doubled’ when they moved to WJEC.

Another teacher present revealed that he had persuaded his school to change from AQA to the WJEC. He said: “Our exam results last year were 46% with AQA, and I’d been there and I’d said to them we need to change the exam board…go to the WJEC.”

The teacher said that ‘even your weaker kids can do really well’ because some of the questions required them to write lists.

The educational syllabuses of England and Wales have diverged hugely in recent years as a result of education policy being devolved to the National Assembly for Wales. But the WJEC, keen to maintain its presence in England, launched a subsidiary brand, Eduqas in 2014 for new Ofqual-accredited qualifications, while retaining the WJEC name for Welsh Government-regulated qualifications.

Kirsty Williams

Kirsty Williams, Wales’s Education Minister

Concerns have grown about the quality of education in Welsh state schools in recent years. In June 2017, Education Minister Kirsty Williams announced she was withdrawing Wales from the internationally-recognised PISA tests, after the 2016 results revealed that Wales had done worse than any of the other UK nations for the fourth time.

The PISA tests – a major study of educational performance, are taken by 15-year-olds in 72 countries every three years, and are tested on maths, reading and science.

Ms Williams’s decision to withdraw Wales from PISA came at a time when it was becoming increasingly difficult to compare data between the attainment levels of England and Wales.

In Wales, changes coming in from 2022 will see traditional subject areas disappear and be replaced with five ‘areas of learning and expertise’ (AoLEs). Qualifications Wales associate director Emyr George said this could ultimately lead to an end to GCSEs in the long-term and more reforms in the short-term.

In the summer of 2018, new-style WJEC GCSE exams for the Welsh curriculum were held for the first time in 15 subject areas, including the three sciences. The previous year, another six new WJEC GCSE exams were rolled out: English language, English literature, maths, mathematics numeracy, Welsh language and Welsh literature.

In England, GCSEs have recently been reformed with a new numerical grading system from 9 to 1, with all exams taken at the end of the course, whereas in Wales some exams are taken on a modular basis.

There have been growing calls for GCSEs to be scrapped altogether in England, with Education Select Committee chairman Robert Halfon branding them ‘pointless’, while Lord Baker, who introduced the exams as Education Secretary in the 1980s said, “The days of the GCSE are numbered.”

The differences between the English and Welsh system at A-level are more subtle, but the Welsh approach has led to claims of grade inflation.

When A-level results were released last week, statistics showed that Wales outperformed all regions of England and Northern Ireland at A*, with the proportion obtaining the top grade at its highest level since it was introduced in 2010.

By contrast, the level obtaining the top grade in England was at its lowest level for a decade.

While content requirements are broadly similar for most subjects in England and Wales, there are important differences between the way A-levels are obtained.

AS-levels, usually taken by students in the lower sixth form, contain approximately half the content of a full A-level.

New A-level syllabuses were phased into schools in England from 2015, and the first new-style exams were in 2017.

The changes resulted in less coursework and AS-levels became an entirely separate qualification that no longer counted towards A-levels.

Recent years have seen a drastic reduction in the number of AS-level entries in England, from 659,880 in 2017 to 117,595 in 2019.

The aim of the changes was to make A-levels tougher and for England to keep pace with the highest-performing countries.

By contrast, in Wales, AS-levels still contribute 40% of the total marks of the full A-level.

In England, students must retake all of their exams when retaking the qualification, whereas in Wales, they can retake unit exams once.

Written by Marcus Stead

August 24, 2019 at 4:01 am

Posted in Politics

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Darts Special: Shayne Burgess

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By MARCUS STEAD

 

Shayne Burgess Book CoverShayne ‘Bulldog’ Burgess is one of darts’s most colourful characters, and he’s a man with a story to tell.

To mark the publication of his autobiography, ‘Everybody Gets Fifteen Quid’, Shayne, from Hastings in Sussex, gave an in-depth interview to Marcus Stead where he discussed his life on and away from the oche.

Shayne, 55, was at his peak in the 1990s and early 2000s. Darts was in a very different place back then.

The early-mid 1990s were tumultuous years for darts. TV broadcasters had scaled back their coverage, and players found it impossible to make a living from the game. Something had to be done.

Most of the world’s best players broke away from the sport’s governing body to form the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC), and the foundations were laid for the multi-million pound sport darts is today. Shayne made the switch to the PDC not long after it was formed.

Shayne Burgess 1

Shayne Burgess

Shayne’s story is full of ups and downs. He reached three major PDC finals, but in each of them he came up against Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor, the greatest player of all time. By the time big money arrived in the mid-2000s, Shayne’s game was in decline.

But Shayne’s book is no sob story. It’s packed with hilarious anecdotes from the local darts scene in Sussex and Kent, and the professional darts tour of the 1990s and early 2000s.

There are also laugh out loud tales of adventures in his campervan and brushes with the law.

‘Everybody Gets Fifteen Quid’, ghost written by Tony Horne, is available on Amazon, and is published by Wild Wolf Publishing.

The podcast can be heard by clicking on the audio link above, and can also be heard on iTunes.

Written by Marcus Stead

August 23, 2019 at 11:50 pm

Posted in Sport

Tagged with ,

Twenty Minute Topic Episode 9: Groupthink

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By MARCUS STEAD

 

The term ‘Groupthink’ has its origins in George Orwell’s 1984, but it has gained new prominence with the advent of social media.

Marcus Stead 2019

Marcus Stead

Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins discuss ‘groupthink’ and the impact of social media. Far from encouraging healthy debate and exposing people to new ideas, social media appears to be encouraging people to engage with echo chambers, namely people who share the same views as them.

This, in turn, insulates people from hearing viewpoints that go against theirs, and leaves them dangerously unaware of the views of wider society.

 

The podcast is also available on the Talk Podcasts website, by clicking the SoundCloud link below, and on iTunes.

Written by Marcus Stead

August 18, 2019 at 2:01 am

Posted in Opinion, Politics, Review

Twenty Minute Topic Episode 8: Neville Chamberlain – National Hero?

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By MARCUS STEAD

 

Neville Chamberlain

Neville Chamberlain

Few moments in British history have been looked back on as more humiliating than when, in September 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain flew back from Munich having supposedly been duped by Hitler into thinking that he had secured ‘peace for our time’.

Conventional wisdom has regarded Chamberlain’s act as one of foolish appeasement. But we should look again.

In this podcast, I am joined by Greg Lance-Watkins, who tells a story about how, as a 19-year-old soldier, he had a chance meeting with former Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas Home on a train.

They discussed Chamberlain and the Munich Agreement. Sir Alec revealed to Greg that far from being an act of appeasement, Chamberlain knew war was coming. However, by pretending to have been duped by Hitler, he had bought Britain vital time to rearm and prepare for war.

Sir Alec left Greg in no doubt that Chamberlain had handled the situation brilliantly, and that history has judged him harshly.

The podcast is also available via the Talk Podcasts website and on iTunes.

Written by Marcus Stead

August 11, 2019 at 1:38 am

Posted in Opinion, Politics, Review

Radio Sputnik Interview

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By MARCUS STEAD

On Friday, I gave an interview to Radio Sputnik about the current state of play with regards to Brexit.

I assess the likelihood of a ‘no confidence’ motion against Boris Johnson’s Government being passed when Parliament returns from its summer recess on 3 September.

I look into the various permutations that could follow, including a General Election just days before the UK is due to leave the EU on October 31.

I also made some scathing comments about the BBC’s use of the term ‘National Unity Government’ to describe the possibility of a pro-Remain coalition being formed in Parliament. It would be anything but a ‘National Unity Government’!

You can listen to the interview by clicking below.

Written by Marcus Stead

August 10, 2019 at 10:30 pm

Posted in Comment, Law, Opinion, Politics

Why Welsh nationalists fear a successful Brexit

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By MARCUS STEAD

TO THE untrained eye, months of chaos and confusion at Westminster appear to have resulted in raised levels of interest in Welsh independence.

Crowds in the low thousands have attended ‘independence’ marches in Cardiff and Caernarfon. Labour’s Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford and his predecessor Carwyn Jones have made noises that a badly-handled Brexit could lead to the breakup of the union.

But a closer look beyond the sympathetic reporting from an almost entirely anti-Brexit Welsh media, and it quickly becomes clear that these are the dying screams of a finished cause. Plaid Cymru and the wider Welsh nationalist movement fear a successful Brexit, because they know it will kill their movement stone dead.

Welsh nationalism has always been something of a niche cause. Opinion polls have for many years shown levels of support fluctuating between 9-15%. Plaid Cymru has around 8,000 members, compared to 125,000 for its Scottish equivalent, the SNP. The ‘Yes Cymru’ movement, while very noisy and aggressive on social media, only has around 1,200 members.

If Brexit goes ahead on October 31, or at any time in the months ahead, their vision of an ‘independent’ Wales within the European Union will quickly be exposed as absurd and completely unfeasible. There are four main reasons why this is the case.

First of all, an independent Wales would have to go through the process of joining the EU. This, in itself, would take many years, quite possibly a decade or more. How would an independent Wales manage in the meantime?

Wales would almost certainly fail the EU’s membership criteria, particularly with regards to the existence of a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the EU.

Tŷ_Admiral,_Cardiff

Tŷ Admiral, Cardiff. Picture by Seth Whales.

Wales has a lack of entrepreneurial zeal. It is heavily reliant on the public sector for employment and there is little in the way of a skilled private sector.  Just one of the FTSE top 100 companies is based in Wales (vehicle insurance firm Admiral), and even that was founded by an American.

Figures released last month by the Office for National Statistics showed public spending in Wales was £13.7 billion more than the total amount collected in taxes, which works out at a deficit of £4,376 per person.

At present, around 80% of the Welsh Government’s funding comes directly from Westminster (ie the English taxpayer) in the form of a block grant. Making up that shortfall in a post-independence Wales seems beyond comprehension in itself, but the problem is far worse than that.

In an independent Wales, the Welsh Government would have to assume responsibility for, and therefore fund, areas of policy that are not currently devolved, including foreign policy, defence, law and order, work and pensions, and broadcasting.

According to the Welsh Government, Wales currently receives £680 million per year in EU funds. In an independent Wales, with the Westminster block grant withdrawn, an EU already struggling to balance its books would have to plug the huge hole, a burden it’s hard to imagine Brussels bureaucrats being been on shouldering.

If an independent Wales could somehow overcome these hurdles (and it’s hard to see how), point two would present another tough obstacle – the country would be forced to adopt the euro, as all new EU members are. This would be a very hard sell to the people of Wales.

Nearly two decades after the euro launched, it is becoming increasingly clear that one currency, with one interest rate, and 19 finance ministers is not working out well.

The inability of the 19 member states to adjust interest rates to suit their circumstances, along with the fiscal spending rules, has led to mass unemployment, especially among young people, in vast swathes of southern Europe (currently an eye-watering 32% in Greece). It’s easy to imagine how an independent Wales inside the euro could well end up in a similar position.

Point three is the issue of the border with England. If you think the Northern Ireland border and the issue of the backstop is an enormous headache, you ain’t seen nothing yet! The border between England and Wales runs for a whopping 160 miles from the Dee estuary in the north to the Severn estuary in the south.

Severn Bridge Old.jpg

The older Severn Bridge, which opened in September 1966, seen from Aust Beach.

There are two well-known Severn bridges linking Wales with the South West, where vehicle tolls were removed in late 2018, more than 52 years after they were imposed when the first bridge opened. In addition, thousands of vehicles cross daily and seamlessly each day along the A48 between South Wales and the Midlands.

Then there is the situation in north east Wales. The reality is that a very large number of people in Denbighshire and Flintshire don’t think in terms of being in England or Wales. They are aligned economically and culturally to Cheshire, Merseyside and Lancashire. They use the many roads crossing between the two countries for work, leisure and recreation.

Then there are the numerous smaller road crossings between England and Wales along Offa’s Dyke, plus railway lines and footpaths. Managing a hard border between the two countries would prove logistically impossible, and would undoubtedly cause a farcical amount of inconvenience for commuters.

The fourth and final point relates to the huge amount of cross-border integration that exists between England and Wales, and the necessity for new bodies to be created after separation.

This takes many forms. For example, Welsh patients with serious liver problems are frequently treated at the Liver and HPB unit in Birmingham.

DVLA Swansea

The DVLA building in Swansea. Picture by Zweifel.

The DVLA’s base for the whole of the UK is in Swansea, and is one of the city’s largest employers, with more than 5,000 staff. After separation, this would have to be relocated elsewhere, and a separate body for vehicle registration created for Wales, at the Welsh taxpayer’s expense.

A similar situation would apply to Companies House, whose headquarters in Cardiff and Nantgarw employs more than 1,000 staff.

Welsh nationalism has always been a minority cause, but Brexit will render it beyond absurd and expose it as totally impractical.

Written by Marcus Stead

August 7, 2019 at 8:02 pm

Twenty Minute Topic Episode 7: Personal Responsibilty (Part 2)

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Marcus Stead and Greg Lance-Watkins address some tough issues with regards to personal responsibility and welfare dependency. Is the welfare state in its current form sustainable? Will people have to make their own provisions for old age? Are those who cover their bodies in hideous tattoos to blame for making themselves unemployable? And do we need to ‘press the reset button’ to redefine where the state’s role ends and the individual/family’s role begins?

You can listen by pressing ‘play’ on the button below, by visiting the Talk Podcasts website, or by searching for it on iTunes.

 

Written by Marcus Stead

August 4, 2019 at 5:09 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Welsh-only announcement causes bewilderment at by-election declaration

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By MARCUS STEAD

THE RETURNING Officer at the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election caused widespread confusion by announcing the result only in Welsh.

David Lloyd Peate, the High Sheriff of Powys, made the announcement at the Royal Welsh Showground in Bulith Wells, where Liberal Democrat Jane Dodds won a narrow victory over Tory incumbent Chris Davies, who was forced to contest a by-election following a recall petition after being convicted of expenses irregularities.

At election counts in Wales, results are normally announced bilingually, in either English or Welsh first depending on the primary language of the constituency.

The rural constituency is predominantly English-speaking, and the 2011 Census revealed that 81% of people in Powys were unable to speak Welsh.

Mr Peate, a former primary school teacher and chief executive of Mid Wales Tourism, announced the result in Welsh only at shortly after 2am, which caused bewilderment in the hall and to the assembled media.

Sky News and the BBC News Channel, who had special overnight programmes to cover the count, took several minutes to put up screen captions as staff scrambled to find Welsh speakers who were able to translate the result.

Steve Allen, who presents an early morning show on LBC radio said during his programme: “I didn’t understand a word he was saying. You’d think somebody would’ve said to them, ‘this is going out over the whole country’. Not that many people listening to LBC, I’m guessing, would be understanding Welsh Wales.”

Written by Marcus Stead

August 4, 2019 at 12:32 am

Posted in Law, Politics, Uncategorized

Twenty Minute Topic Episode 6: Will Boris Johnson Deliver Brexit?

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By MARCUS STEAD

 

Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson is the UK’s new Prime Minister. Me and Greg Lance-Watkins assess the likelihood of Brexit being delivered by the October 31 deadline. Can a new deal be negotiated with the EU? Can Parliament block a ‘no deal’ Brexit? And how likely is a General Election before the Brexit deadline?

You can listen by pressing ‘play’ below, via the Talk Podcasts website here, or by searching for the podcast on iTunes.

Written by Marcus Stead

August 4, 2019 at 12:11 am