Author: Mick Fletcher

Mick Fletcher worked in the Further Education sector for over 40 years, initially as a lecturer and then as a local authority officer, before becoming a researcher and policy analyst at a national level. For the last twelve years he has been a freelance writer, researcher and consultant specialising in vocational education and skills policy.

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‘Keep the rubbish courses for the Brits’

Mick Fletcher

We have become resigned to the fact that many of the policies pursued by the present administration are inhumane, whether they relate to desperate people seeking asylum or poor children denied free school meals. We have also become accustomed to administrative incompetence – there is no need to think further than the Truss-Kwarteng budget for […]

I saw the monster but couldn’t see the point

Mick Fletcher

On a cold, dull and windy day I went to Weston to see the monster. At a distance it looked disappointingly small, dwarfed by miles of empty sand and sea, but as I walked along the beach it grew until its full scale was apparent. So, too, was its oddity. The monster – a repurposed […]

Fysh swims against the tide

Mick Fletcher

Yeovil MP Marcus Fysh is clearly not afraid of adopting controversial positions. Last Christmas, for example, he was widely criticised for comparing the idea of vaccine passports to living in Nazi Germany. In June 2020 he was ordered to apologise for “patronising conduct” towards the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner. Now, in comments that say more about […]

The miracle of cider

Mick Fletcher

We didn’t plant the orchard just for fruit. In some ways the wildlife interest and impact on the landscape were more important. We wanted proper trees, full standards on non-dwarfing rootstock. We wanted trees that would outlive us and probably our children as well, growing tall and hanging heavy with mistletoe, becoming crusted with lichen […]

The mysterious glow

Mick Fletcher

At around 9.30pm, on a warm summer evening in late July, some 40 residents of Westbury-sub-Mendip converged on the centre of the village and waited for it to get dark. They were taking part in the annual glow-worm count that has been carried out at about this time for the last 17 years. A small […]

Heappey sabotages a green funding bid with his own ‘imaginative’ idea for levelling-up

Mick Fletcher

James Heappey MP seems guilty of stabbing his constituents in the back after a last-minute intervention which threatens to derail a £20m bid for levelling-up funds. The plan, put together by Conservative-controlled Sedgemoor Council and LibDem-led Mendip, proposes substantial investment in a green transport corridor connecting communities from Wells in the east to Highbridge on […]

Education in crisis, and it can only get worse

Mick Fletcher

In any sane context the car crash that is Conservative education policy would be enough to bring down a government by itself.  The schools bill before Parliament has been so savaged in the House of Lords that ministers have stripped out 18 of the key clauses, leaving it bereft of its original purpose, yet doing […]

Wildlife, wilderness and the English landscape

Mick Fletcher

The contrast was dramatic and instructive. Only a day after walking around the deer park at Petworth House, I took a footpath through the grounds of Knepp Castle, a pioneering ‘rewilding’ project in the heart of Sussex. The two estates are less than half an hour apart by car, but a world apart in terms […]

Miss Snuffy is right about social mobility!

Mick Fletcher

To my surprise, I find myself agreeing with Katharine Birbalsingh, who tweets under the slightly eccentric name of “Miss Snuffy”. Birbalsingh is regularly referred to in the less serious type of newspaper as “Britain’s strictest headmistress” and her views go down well with the Conservative rank and file. I suspect that it is her strong […]

Lib Dem landslide in Somerset – a sign of things to come?

Mick Fletcher

One fact shows the sheer scale of the Conservative defeat in the elections for the new Somerset County Council. The 61 Liberal Democrat councillors elected to the new unitary authority will form the largest group from that party on any elected assembly in the UK. Only the House of Lords – not of course an […]

The man behind Operation Mincemeat

Mick Fletcher

The film ‘Operation Mincemeat’ released over the Easter weekend, tells the exciting story of a key event in the second World War. The Germans were tricked into thinking that an attack on Europe from North Africa would start in Greece rather than the more obvious route through Sicily. Historian Hugh Trevor-Roper called it “The most […]

Thanks a million, Eton

Mick Fletcher
Eton by Canaletto

If further proof were needed that ‘levelling up’ is a soundbite rather than a strategy, the proposal for a new cadre of elite sixth forms provides it. Mick Fletcher explains. Trailed as one of the key measures in a programme to address 55 ‘education cold spots’, the aim is apparently “to ensure talented children from […]

Brexit, meritocracy and the retreat from reason

Mick Fletcher
Private Eye cover Leave special

Chris Grey, who blogs about Brexit and related matters, is someone well worth following. A recent post explored the fascinating links between the ‘partygate’ scandals currently engulfing the Johnson administration and the ideas and individuals that drove Vote Leave. It raised again a central paradox of current politics – that while Brexit and populism as […]

Elite sixth forms: a class idea?

Mick Fletcher
sixth formers in parliament

In a desperate attempt to divert attention from the mess in Downing Street, the government recently announced a flurry of ill-considered ’new’ policies. One was a proposal to develop a cadre of “elite sixth forms” which would “ensure talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to the highest standard of education this country offers.” I […]

Raise your voice!

Mick Fletcher

At West Country Voices we like to tell the stories that others in the media don’t. Often, these stories concern issues that the powerful and well-connected are keen to suppress; they involve holding policymakers to account or exposing abuse of office. Recent stories have focused on the threats to our democratic rights and freedoms. They […]

The property price boom that helps the few, not the many

Mick Fletcher
Stags estate agent sign

In 2021 the average price of houses in Taunton increased by 21 per cent: the highest rate of increase in the country. It is a sign of how utterly dysfunctional our housing market has become that this was announced as good news. According to the Daily Mail, for example, “while it was good news for […]

Small victories matter

Mick Fletcher

One of our aims at West Country Voices is to stand up for the rights of citizens against the abuse of power, whether by government or private interests. In recent weeks we have sought to spell out the threats to democracy enshrined in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, highlighted the demonisation of migrants […]

Will our MPs stand up for the lifeboats?

Mick Fletcher

If any organisation embodies the best of British values it is the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).   It is funded by donations and almost entirely staffed by volunteers.  It is a charity independent of government, wholly dedicated to saving lives at sea.  Its volunteers are ready to risk their own life to help others, 24 […]

A dangerous dowry for the new Somerset unitary authority

Mick Fletcher

The prospects for the new unitary authority recently imposed on Somerset are not good. Like local government everywhere, the county is having to cope with a dysfunctional funding system and a decade of austerity. It will soon have to cope with the extra costs of reorganisation, estimated at over £16m. On top of this, however, […]

All credit to credit unions

Mick Fletcher
Credit Union sign on building

Credit unions represent the quiet approach to community action. While some groups, like Greenpeace or Extinction Rebellion, seek to bring about change by hitting the headlines, credit unions are rarely in the news and not well understood. Yet figures published by the Bank of England show that they serve some two million members in the […]

Johnson’s high-wage hype: a fake plan for a real crisis

Mick Fletcher
shot of HGV from a bridge

It is really hard to believe they are serious. A predictable shortage of labour because of Brexit, dismissed in the referendum campaign as ‘project fear’, has suddenly become part of the plan all along. Loyal Tories have apparently swallowed Johnson’s claim that crises in the supply chain show we are moving to a high-skill, high-wage […]

Employers are in the driving seat, but they don’t train drivers

Mick Fletcher

In an attempt to pose as doing something to help tackle the shortage of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers the government has announced that the Department for Education (DfE) will be spending £10 million to train an estimated 3,000 drivers.  Set aside for the moment that this is a drop in the ocean compared with […]

A plan that wasn’t a plan and a promise that wasn’t a promise

Mick Fletcher

If you are thinking of laying bets on winners and losers in the next reshuffle James Heappey, MP for Wells, may be one to watch.  He is desperately loyal, not associated too closely with a current scandal, and, unlike some of his colleagues, can speak his lines clearly.  Most importantly, he can repeat official nonsense […]

Lack of learning from Somerset’s failure

Mick Fletcher

Somerset residents face the prospect of a serious cut in the adult education provision available in the county next year, and substantial staffing reductions in their major adult education provider. Somerset Skills and Learning (SSL) is having to turn hundreds of students away and make teaching staff redundant this summer after failing to win a […]