Monthly Archives: October 2011

Is teaching ‘better at school than university’?

So today an article has been published by BBC News Education Reporter Hannah Richardson that points toward pupils / students believing that ‘teaching’ was better when they were at school as opposed to when they were at University. The statistics come from a study of a thousand final year university students commissioned by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), so immediately we can ascertain that being not independently commissioned already casts doubt over the legitimacy of the results and / or agenda behind the study.

As usual, the general rule with these studies is that what is reported is almost purely quantitative information. I would like to point out some fairly simply facts that I learned whilst studying at postgraduate level the subject of research methods. Quite simply – quantitative research tells you only about the existence of a phenomena in anything remotely sociological in nature. To ascertain the reason for the existence of that phenomena you absolutely require either a mixed methodology or the use of qualitative research, where people are required to qualify the answers they give to questions. This way, answers given on irrelevant grounds, misunderstanding of the question or in response to emotive motivation etc. can be weeded out more easily.

In other words, the facts and figures discussed in the BBC article actually tell you very little at all that is actually useful. As such, in my opinion the only completely useful information is contained at the end of the article when Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK said that comparing teaching at school to teaching at university is “nonsensical”. She went on to say:

“Higher education is about students interacting with tutors, lecturers, researchers and their peers and being encouraged to think independently. Teaching excellence at all UK universities is what makes them so attractive not just to UK students, but to students from around the world.

“We agree that high quality teaching in schools can have a profound effect on whether a young person enters higher education. Nonetheless, the different but complementary roles played by the schools and universities do need to be recognised.” (Richardson, H; Teaching ‘better at school than university’ – survey, 4th October 2011,

This is the reality. The rationale behind teaching at university is completely different from the base level up at univerisity, hence the fact that there are different teaching qualifications for school teachers than there are for lecturers. The main role of University teaching is in my opinion to gradually develop and foster independent thought and opinion based on underpinning theory and facts relating to any given issue. The ability to be self disciplined, to learn how to study more effectively and to actually synthesise information. It is a step up from school teaching whereby teaching is to equip pupils with basic knowledge and understanding, and general problem solving skills. There is a gradual move away from the ‘teacher’ giving all of the information to the pupil then read back to them through class tests and exams, towards the student taking more responsibility and ownership of their studies, preparing them for the real world beyond education.

As such, I personally believe the two areas are utterly incomparable, and studies like the one cited by the BBC of little relevance or usefulness to either educational sector (School or University).

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Posted by on October 4, 2011 in Uncategorized


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EU Law Updates

There are two areas relating to EU Law that I’d like to mention today. The first of these is relating again (as with the Alcohol Bill) to competition laws. Karen Murphy, a landlady of an English pub has won her most recent case hearing in the ECJ relating to the legality of using a foreign (importantly other EU State, Greek) decoder in order to view and display English Premier League football games. A decent summary of the case can be found at:

What is crucial for all of you to understand is that the landlady was not ‘stealing’ anything, and was not getting the games for free. She was in fact paying an annual subscription to the provider to display the games. It just so happens that the subscription was substantially cheaper than a commercial subscription in the UK is for either Sky or ESPN. Sky, ESPN and the Premier League were trying to claim that by using a foreign transmitter, Mrs Murphy was breaching copyright laws (due to the contract the broadcasters have in place for UK broadcast rights), however the ECJ has ruled that a game of football cannot be considered to be intellectual property for the purposes of broadcasting. The only elements that copyright can apply to are broadcaster logos, programme introductions, interviews conducted by broadcaster personnel, highlight packages that have been created by the broadcasters etc. but not the live game itself. Also, of course one of the most fundamental principles within the EU is for free trade of goods and services. It is the ECJ’s interpretation that being restricted in your own EU member state from acquiring a service (in this case a transmitter / decoder card for television) legally from another member state, is an illegal restriction on competition by that state.

Of course this case is likely far from finished, this is just the latest round in the ongoing saga, however should the result be that the UK courts are forced to adhere to the ECJ ruling, it could spell the end for exclusive monopoly deals within individual member states for television rights for live sporting events. It could be that in the future we may see EU wide tendering for broadcast rights, which would only in my opinion be a good thing for competition laws, and EU citizens on the whole.

The second area I want to mention in brief is another article from the BBC with David Cameron discussing his own position relating to the ongoing war of words relating to the UK’s position as an EU Member State.

Of course many of his own Conservative traditionalist backbenchers are making ongoing calls to the effect that the UK should withdraw completely from the EU. (This in my opinion displays a breathtaking naivety of how ingrained EU law is to our own domestic law now and how difficult it would be to withdraw, and also a huge ignorance as to the benefits the UK actually receive due to free trade and movement agreements – simply put, the UK would be MUCH worse off were it to leave the EU in literally every single area of industry without exception).

On the other hand, the other half of the coalition, the Liberal Democrats are about as pro EU as it gets and have said that there is no way that they will allow whilst part of the coalition, for any moves to be made in the direction of pulling out of the EU.

All of this places David Cameron in a tricky situation of course in terms of both appeasing his backbenchers, and maintaining a harmonious relationship within the coalition.

Speaking in response to the Greek economic crisis, Mr Cameron has been quoted by the BBC as saying:

“As eurozone countries move to co-ordinate more, as I believe they should, those outside the eurozone will need certain safeguards to make sure that what the eurozone countries are agreeing separately does not affect the single market…. The eurozone crisis is holding back the whole world economy, Britain included….. Clearly the Greek situation needs to be resolved one way or another and extremely quickly….. I don’t think the choice the country really wants to address is ‘in or out’, I think the choice people would like is ‘actually can we stay in this organisation because it is vital for our trade and economic future but can we change it?….. Most people’s view on Europe, I think, is pretty close to my own which we have to be in there for trade and co-operation. We have always been a trading nation and to cut ourselves off from this market would be a mistake.”

I would like to point out that I am not a Conservaitve in my political outlook, however in relation to most of the above (apart from the need to change the UK relationship with the EU), I agree with Mr Cameron’s sentiments almost entirely.

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Posted by on October 4, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Follow up to Scottish Alcohol Bill

I’ve been asked the question relating to the Alcohol Bill, something I posted about yesterday, ‘how can Scotland introduce minimum pricing, isn’t that a breach of EU law?’. So I thought this is something I would address in brief.

The issue is discussed in the British Medical Journal this month by Bryan Christie (Scotland will set minimum price for a unit of alcohol, BMJ 2011; 343:d5869) where he mentions;

Although the measure will be approved in Scotland, it may still be blocked under European Union competition laws. Rules on free trade generally do not allow price fixing, which is seen as anticompetitive. In 1978 the European Court of Justice rejected minimum pricing of spirits, and the European Commission has also opposed minimum pricing on tobacco.”

However in creating the legislation, the Scottish Government has obviously taken advice from various sources and in the Q&A section on their website the following is stated;

Isn’t imposing a minimum price illegal? The Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament has issued a certificate of legislative competence for the Alcohol Bill which includes minimum pricing. This means that he considers the Bill to be within the powers of the Scottish Parliament.” (Minimum Pricing – Questions Answered, Scottish Government,

So the Scottish Government clearly believe that the legislation and implications of it are legal. Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) have addressed this issue and were involved in the consultation process. Their official policy is that;

In the UK and at an EU level, rules on free trade generally do not allow price fixing on the grounds that it is deemed ‘anti-competitive’ and, it is argued, leads to inefficiency in the market. However, it is important to note that the law allows exceptions to these rules. Intervention in the operation of a market can legally be justified in certain circumstances on the grounds of the protection of public health.” (Legal framework for minimum pricing for alcohol, SHAAP,,Legal_framework.html)

Now is the problem. What SHAAP are saying is indeed correct. EU law does indeed allow a margin of appreciation for Member States to derogate from certain legal principles on grounds of public health. The real question is whether it can actually justify the derogation if challenged in the European Courts. The problem here is that they are trying to invoke the right to derogate from EU law on grounds of public health for what is in reality a completely legal activity – consuming alcohol.

In my opinion we won’t actually find out the true legal position until / if such a legal challenge is mounted.

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Posted by on October 1, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Compulsory retirement at 65 in the UK ends

As of today, the option for employers in the UK to invoke compulsory retirement for anybody that has reached the age of 65 has been taken away. Although The Employment Equality (Repeal of Retirement Age Provisions) Regulations 2011 ( came into force on 6th April this year, employers still had the option to invoke compulsory retirement on giving six months notice to any employee that would have been 65 prior to 1st October (today). With this date now passing, workers can no longer be forced to retire on grounds of age alone.  In fact, for those seeking guidance, for an employer to even approach an older worker and offer them retirement based on their age could potentially be classed as discrimination on grounds of age – it’s a bit of a ‘grey’ area….

This is especially good news for UWS, as our department Professor, Angus McAllister is beyond 65, and for the past few years there was a worry (he himself was concerned) that he may be asked to retire. For the development of our forthcoming LLB degree this would have been a disaster and potentially rendered the task impossible. With his place at UWS guaranteed for as long as he decides to stay, it is a real positive for the law department.

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Posted by on October 1, 2011 in Uncategorized


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