Category Archives: POLITICAL



Almost certainly not according to the experts


‘Schools now have a legal duty to secure independent careers guidance for all 12-to-18 year-old pupils. They can choose the type of careers advice they offer: for whom and by whom, whether by telephone, through a web portal, or face to face. All this is in line with the government’s drive to make schools, and their decision-making, more autonomous.

The only problem is, it isn’t working: rather than getting careers advice more appropriate to their local job market, many pupils are now forced to make do with advice that’s barely up to scratch. In early March, business secretary Vince Cable triggered a row when he said that teachers weren’t even in a position to give good careers advice. The teaching unions reacted angrily to his suggestion that their members were unfamiliar with the world of work – but few seem to have a response to suggestions that they can’t do the job the government has handed them.

The range of providers from which schools are now buying services includes local authorities, private careers guidance companies, sole traders and new social enterprises. Elsewhere in the market you’ll find education business partnerships, which offer schools integrated careers guidance or work-related learning support services, as well as FE colleges and universities, all selling careers guidance services to schools.

At present, though, relatively few schools are buying in face-to-face careers guidance from an external specialist careers provider. Even those which are commissioning services are buying fewer days than they had received before.This matters, because schools’ own efforts don’t seem to be up to scratch. A 2012 Careers England survey found that there was a postcode lottery in both the quality and the scope of careers guidance on offer to pupils. Overall, what’s more, provision was deteriorating.

A range of other organisations have also expressed concerns about the quality of schools careers guidance. Ofsted has found that three out of every four schools they had visited had not been delivering an adequate service. The CBI’s John Cridland has said that “careers advice is on life support in many areas”. As for Parliament, the Education Select Committee said in 2013, “We have concerns about the consistency, quality, independence and impartiality of careers guidance now being offered to young people.” In February, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced that schools were to receive new statutory guidance on what was expected from them in providing careers advice – hardly a ringing endorsement of the status quo.

None of this has surprised the guidance profession. Its members had warned ministers from the outset that, with no additional funding allocated to schools to pay for this new duty, many were likely to pick the cheapest, rather than best, option for their pupils. There were no prescribed quality standards, nor even a recommended professional guidance qualification; and the accountability framework was weak to non-existent. In short, schools do not need to account for the quality of careers advice they offer their pupils. The result is a growing perception that the government is marginalising careers professionals and careers education in schools.

In the past, there’s been an overarching consensus that young people need access to high quality, independent careers education and guidance: to make the right choices for them, to manage the transitions from one stage of their education to the next, and to ensure they have access to information on the local job market. There’s been a consensus, too, that all this is best delivered by an independent, qualified professional, and to come with embedded contributions from employers. Some experts have argued, plausibly, that the delivery of interlinked government policies – improving social mobility, reducing exclusion and NEET figures, filling the skills gaps or improving the opportunities and access for disadvantaged pupils – all stand a better chance of success if young people have easy access to good advice.

But not everyone agrees. Education secretary Michael Gove is on record as doubting the need for “a cadre of careers advisers”. He recently claimed that the new guidance, due out this month, is “all about cutting out the middle man and getting inspirational speakers in front of students to spark their ambitions”. The line seems to be that young people need inspiration, not just information. But does Gove really believe you can cut out the careers advisers in favour of employers? Few doubt the importance of employer engagement, but they and careers professionals have important complementary roles. Young people need access to both.

When the government introduced its overarching National Careers Service as part of the 2012 reforms, many hoped that this would be the organisation tasked with ensuring that no one fell through the guidance net. That, though, has turned out to be a re-branded careers service for adults. For those under 19, access is limited to its website and telephone advice service. NCS has no remit to provide face-to-face careers guidance to young people, no remit to work with schools, and no funding for services to young people beyond its online and telephone facilities.

The government has a number of possibilities open to it. Radically tightening up accountability measures with some additional funding targeted on careers guidance is one option. Bolstering the NCS, and extending it to providing face-to-face careers guidance in schools, possibly with regional contracts, is another. Or perhaps schools could be required to employ their own qualified careers advisers, responsible for providing face-to-face careers guidance to pupils, with teaching staff planning and delivering programmes of careers education.

But one thing is clear: carrying on as things are today is not an option.

(Published in Education Investor- March 2014 Edition)



Less than it seems?


Ken Clarke was summoned by the Speaker to make a statement this week on the so-called ‘ Bilderberg’ conference .The Bilderberg organisation exists for the purpose of holding meetings once a year in various countries to discuss  world affairs. Each year   around 140 decision makers and opinion formers —drawn from both sides of the Atlantic; from Europe including Turkey, and from the United States and Canada. (including the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank), attend.  The invitees  are drawn from the worlds of government, politics, academia, defence and journalism.  Nobody attends representing any particular organisation to which they might belong. Clarke complained that he had never previously answered a question in the House of Commons on behalf of a private organisation for which the Government have no responsibility. The Bilderberg conference is somewhat secretive and draws the attention of conspiracy theorists, who claim that key decisions are made at this conference that affect us all but there is no transparency involved.  Michael Meacher MP wondered why “the largest and most powerful lobbyists’ group in the western hemisphere—an anti-democratic cabal if ever there was one—should operate in conditions of utter blackout and complete secrecy”

Clarke was dismissive.  He pointed out that the Bilderberg meeting does not make any decisions, nor does it pass any resolutions.

And Meacher’s colleague, Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, also attended this year’s meeting, as did Lord Mandelson. So it embraces those who don’t have their hands on the levers of power too.

The Bilderberg group now publishes a list of all those who attend the meetings and the topics that are discussed.  The topics on the agenda this year included “Can the US and Europe grow faster and create jobs?”, “Africa’s challenges”, “Trends in medical research” and “Developments in the middle east”.

Less conspiracy, one feels, more a  mini-Davos, under Chatham House rules, that  doesn’t necessarily include   ‘has been’ politicians.



Be careful what you wish for


As Politicians trip over themselves in seeking the plaudits for the done deal to regulate the Press , not everyone is impressed. It transpires that the basic deal ie a Royal Charter and yes  with a bit of statutory backing  ( a  legislative clause  inserted  in the  Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill manages to  avoid any  reference to the press, or its regulator to be established through a Royal Charter. As the FT points out -’ this is either artful or downright disingenuous’) was  negotiated  in Ed Milibands office, with Nick Clegg present and  the pro Leveson ‘ Hacked Off ‘ group too  but no Press.  The Tories were represented by Oliver Letwin the Cabinet Office  minister   who appears to have been out gunned.

Hacked off is a  motley group of  individuals who are essentially self-appointed, have opaque governance structures and who wont come clean about who funds them . For a pressure group to have such privileged  access and leverage in the  final   discussions over such  a controversial issue, and   piece of legislation, is  unprecedented,  and  indeed sets a worrying precedent .  This is no way to manage such an important issue.Unsurprisingly,  it has infuriated the Press  who were excluded from this meeting ,even those who broadly accepted the approach of Miliband and Clegg. So far most of the Press has not backed the proposals and there  are complaints about  insufficient time to review the proposals. The FT, the Guardian and Independent, are less hostile to the proposals than other newspapers, but still have  significant concerns , while  accepting that self-regulations’ time is up. Indeed there are some  recent signs that the FTs editor is having second thoughts as the dust has cleared . The Spectator, Economist, Private Eye, News International , the Daily Mail and Daily Express are  openly hostile. The Foreign Press are having a field day in  pointing out that our  politicians are limiting press freedom.   Significantly, and worryingly , some claim  this could be the beginning of  state censorship of the blogosphere ,and micro-blogosphere too.

The Index of Censorship says that “In spite of David Cameron’s claims, there can be no doubt that what has been established is statutory underpinning the press regulator. This introduces a layer of political control that is extremely undesirable. On this sad day, Britain has abandoned a democratic principle. But beyond that, the Royal Charter’s loose definition of a ‘relevant publisher’ as a ‘website containing news-related material’ means blogs could be regulated under this new law as well. This will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on everyday people’s web use.

“Bloggers could find themselves subject to exemplary damages in court, due to the fact that they were not part of a regulator that was not intended for them in the first place. This mess of legislation has been thrown together with alarming haste: there’s little doubt we’ll repent for a while to come.”

Index on Censorship Chair Jonathan Dimbleby has issued the following statement on behalf of Index’s trustees:

“As Chair of Index on Censorship, I have to report that the Index board of trustees – who all occupy senior positions in roles both within and outside of the media — is dismayed at the course of developments that have been taken in establishing a new press regulator. The board has the gravest anxiety at the residual political powers the now expected outcome and system will give to politicians. The two-thirds block (ie parliamentary vote) on any changes to the royal charter could be abused in the future — not least when today’s emerging consensus shows that the parties can come together in both houses to agree on press regulation.”

There is little doubt  that self-regulation was not working. But there are potential dangers and pitfalls in the current approach and  how it will impact on freedom of speech  and investigative journalism (in particular holding those in power to account)  and indeed  concerns about  the   process that has  got us to  this point. Coming to hasty agreements with a Pressure group at 0200 in the morning on matters of such fundamental importance   to our freedoms  could not be described as good practice or good governance for that matter .  The word ‘ shambolic ‘springs easily  to mind along with the expression ‘pigs ear’.  The stipulation that a two thirds majority from both Houses will be required  for future changes in the Royal Charter introduces political involvement for the first time , and  for all time, into press regulation in the UK.It is pretty clear that our politicians, who have suffered at the hands of the Press, (often well deserved, as it happens) are focusing too on those who blog and tweet. In this feeding frenzy it is sometimes easy to forget that the phone hacking scandal and MPs cavalier approach to taxpayers money , in the form of  the expenses scandal, was exposed by a vigilant   press. It is equally true that existing laws , if properly  applied and enforced  can hold journalists, who break the law, to account,although it is also the case that  the police have been remarkably lax about using them to good effect.

Remember Northcliffe’s maxim that “news is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising”. More often than not it is those in power who have something to hide who seek to supress ‘the news’. This deal will give succour to them.

This ‘ remedy’  and the process that delivered it   is surely almost as bad as the criminality  irresponsibility and arrogance  it is designed to address.



Gove attacked for not bothering to convince stakeholders that his policies are right


Laura McInerney, a teacher, Fulbright scholar and Policy Development Partner at consultants LMKCO is concerned , as she sees it,about the Secretary of States unwillingness, or inability, to sell his education reforms to key stakeholders. McInerney has had an almost continuous dialogue on Twitter with Goves  respected special adviser, Sam Freedman , due to move to Teach First as head of research, around this and related  themes.

She says Gove can and should implement the policies he has long championed – free schools, the Ebacc, terminal exams – but through the correct processes.

She blogs ‘ In recent weeks Gove has stomped heavily on the processes of an informed democracy that hold politicians accountable once in power. If a Secretary of State steadfastly refuses to answer questions in the Education Select Committee about their latest reform, this matters for accountability (see Q11-36) . If in that same meeting the Secretary of State says they will ignore the independent regulator’s serious concerns about a GCSE reform, it matters for accountability (see Q46). When the Department for Education has one of the worst response rates to requests for Freedom of Information, it matters for accountability. When the civil service – bound by a code of political impartiality – sends out tweets about teacher strike action which feel to teachers to be heavily politicised, it diminishes an impartially informed democracy. And when significant education policies are announced through the pages of a newspaper that citizens can only access by paying the corporation (the Times) at the centre of 2012’s biggest media scandal, then –surely! – democracy and accountability aren’t just suffering, by now they are on the floor and weeping.’

A little strong, perhaps, but she concludes that Gove does not  have to change his policies simply because people don’t like them, but as part of an informed democracy he does need to convince people he is right.

Certainly Goves performance before the Select Committee recently raised some eyebrows as he refused to discuss with the Committee  Ofquals (well known) concerns about the timetable  for the introduction of the new EBC for reasons, that were not very clear (concerns shared, incidentally, by the exam boards). He must be careful not to allow the perception to be created that he lacks transparency or is being obstructive or ignoring process, as this suggests a lack of confidence in his own policies. It is very easy to become prickly and over defensive if attacked and Gove is, by nature, a courteous and confident debater and advocate.  He is more than capable of making a strong case for his own policies without leaving the impression that he is careless about the need for full transparency and accountability. It would also help in this respect  if his department improved its poor  record(  yes it does have  one of the worst  departmental records )  in responding quickly to requests for information  under the Freedom of Information Act  and in answering parliamentary questions (PQs are supposed to be answered within three days but can take up to six weeks) which junior minister Elizabeth  Truss was  challenged on recently in a Select Committee hearing.



New IPPR report delivers some interesting ideas about the eastward shift in power

But significant doubts remain over its conclusions


Professor Michael Barber has teamed up with the think tank the  IPPR to deliver a vision of the future.  Their   report Oceans of Innovation   says  ‘We face some truly fundamental challenges that need to be overcome  if the nine billion people living on Earth in 2050 are to lead fulfilled lives  – the nature of the economy, the health of the environment and the  avoidance of catastrophic conflict, to name just three. We also know that the pace of innovation will continue to accelerate in science and technology, posing all of us the challenge: can the search for social solutions – that seize the good from science and technology and  prevent the harm – keep up?’

Key to the future is the rise of China ,the Asian Tigers and Pacific rim  economies and the shift of political and economic influence eastward . But particularly China. The perceived dominance of China  though puts other Pacific countries in the shade.President Obama  has called China’s rise “a Sputnik moment”

The report says  ‘ All this is happening in a G-zero world in which a historic transition from  Atlantic global leadership to Pacific global leadership is evidently taking  place. Meanwhile, the nature of global leadership itself is changing as the problems we seek to solve become more complex and less amenable to the diplomatic means of the Cold War and before.’

And what about the impact on education ? The report states ‘What is clear…is that education – deeper, broader and more universal – has a significant part to play in enabling humanity to succeed in the next half century. We need to ensure that students everywhere leave school ready to continue to learn and adapt, ready to take responsibility for their own future learning and careers, ready to innovate with and for others, and to live in turbulent, diverse cities. We need perhaps the first truly global generation; a generation of individuals rooted in their own cultures but open to the world and confident of their ability to shape it.’ Meanwhile, the report continues  ‘ innovations which transform societies can and will happen anywhere. Leadership, in short, will be widely dispersed and will require increasing sophistication. The report concludes ‘ It is in these circumstances that the Pacific seems destined to become the focus of global leadership. The economic and educational achievements of the Pacific region in the past 50 years are spectacular – unprecedented in fact. They lay a foundation for the next 50 years – a much better foundation than exists in many Atlantic systems – but the mix of factors that brought those achievements will not be capable of meeting the challenge ahead. Among other things, an education revolution will be required. It will need to be based not just on the growing evidence of what works, but  on the capacity of the systems to innovate. It will need to unleash the leadership capacity that the next 50 years will demand. The Pacific  region’s future and its capacity to become an Ocean of innovation is being shaped today, tomorrow and every day in the classrooms of  Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne and Valparaiso, San Francisco  and Vancouver, Vladivostok and Shanghai, Hong Kong and Hanoi. On the success of those endeavours, all our futures depend.’

Heady stuff, indeed .The claim though  that this is   ‘unprecedented’ is debatable . If  this means massive  and rapid economic expansion and trade  in a relatively narrow time frame, this  clearly has happened before at various stages in History and  in different regions.

I yield to no man in my admiration of Professor Barber and what he has contributed to education thinking and reforms in the UK, if not productivity. Focusing on Asia and in  particular China,  it is pretty obvious to many economists and social scientists that much of   this extraordinary growth is  from a pretty low base  and many of these economies are simply catching up .It is also clear that  most are  highly centralised and ‘ extractive ‘  with both political and economic power  concentrated in a small elite   with little diffusion and considerable inequity.  There is also precious little evidence that the region or individual countries are either prepared or willing to deliver the kind of responsible global leadership that is being looked for.

There is   also evidence that they are less creative and innovative than perhaps  they should be, ( some including China have  anarchic attitudes to intellectual and physical property rights  and patents  which serves to obscure their deficiencies in innovation and creativity) and one has to ask why?.

There are of course reasons for this. Their economic and political institutions are  in economists   parlance  ‘ extractive’, rather than inclusive and plural. This means that, rather like the Soviet Union between the 1950’s to 1980s that they can  grow impressively for  a period   but then will struggle to sustain the growth . If you want to know the reasons for this I   strongly recommend a book Why nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James A Robinson. Far from seeing China as the clue to spreading prosperity (and innovation for that matter), Acemoglu and Robinson see it as yet another instance of a society rushing into a dead end. China is not, on their analysis, on course to dominate the world and become a hegemon (which seems to be the proposition underpinning Barbers analysis). Their argument is that the modern level of prosperity rests upon political and economic institutions and the relationship between them. Prosperity is generated by investment and innovation, and creative destruction (ie old industries being allowed to wither as new ones replace them to drive growth) but these are acts of faith: investors and innovators must have credible reasons to think that, if successful, they will not be plundered by the powerful. Incentives must be in place. If you believe that your property or profits are not secure because of the possible actions, or indeed inaction in certain circumstances, of government, you are not going to innovate or invest.  In the Western Enlightenment, the whole logic of democratic law-making and  ‘the rule of law’  was to stop laws from being applied selectively, to one groups advantage at the cost of others,  so that kings couldn’t create different rules for you and for me. The Enlightenment killed off absolutism. Arbitrary action from local or national governments kills prosperity, innovation and investment, over the longer term.  And in China, for example, laws are selectively applied. If you set up an enterprise perceived to be in competition with some local party boss..  or the party more generally you had better beware.

For the state to provide reassurance, two conditions have to hold: power has to be centralised and the institutions of power have to be inclusive and plural in nature. Without centralised power, there is disorder, which is anathema to investment.

China most certainly has centralised power and order in spades. But China resoundingly fails to tick the box of inclusive institutions. Acemoglu and Robinson quote a summary of the structure of Chinese political power: “The party controls the armed forces; the party controls cadres; and the party controls the news.”  The party also controls the free movement of labour and more general access to information (look at their control over the internet) . Even basic information on its economy and the way it manages its currency lacks transparency. The Yuan is non-convertible. If you want to invest in China property is about the only option, and there is a property bubble.  Its system of justice lacks transparency too,  with show trials  not uncommon, in which you know the verdict before the trial  even begins. In education  academic freedom and free speech  is limited and there is a party office on each campus. There is no freedom of information. And the  Communist Party of China has, from its very inception,  actively  encouraged strong anti-foreign sentiment.  As one commentator put it recently ‘Fevered nationalism is one of its cornerstones’.  If you dont think this is true take a look at what is happening  in the dispute with Japan over some small islands, technically owned as it happens , by a Japanese businessman.

Acemoglu and Robinsons argument is that order without inclusive institutions may enable an economy to escape poverty, but will not permit the full ascent to sustained modern prosperity. They also point out that there is no natural process whereby rising prosperity in an autocracy evolves into inclusion. Rather, it is only in the interest of the self-serving  elite to cede power to inclusive institutions if confronted by something even worse, namely the prospect of revolution.

I would suggest their analysis is sound. I see evidence that much of China is not sharing in its economic miracle and that growing inequities combined with rising aspirations and a highly centralised and high- handed political system is fundamentally unstable.  Growth looks, in any case, to be slowing down. Look at the growing unrest too  in rural areas, often concerning property disputes and heavy handed party officials.  Nor do I see any evidence that China is prepared, any time soon,  to provide the kind of  responsible leadership  on global issues that a power of its size and clout  should already have been  providing . So the chances of China becoming part of the ‘ Ocean of innovation’ and leadership over the coming years is at best an outside bet.. As for the other countries in the region- Malaysia and Indonesia look unlikely to fill the void, and South Korea is too pre-occupied with North Korea (and tied to the US-as is Japan). Singapore, is  too small but is  frequently cited as having a brilliant world class education system. Here is what one teacher who taught in Singapores system wrote in this week’s Times Education Supplement  :’The intense desire to win is summed up by a Singapore word “kiasu”. Translated from Chinese Hokkien dialect, it means “fear of losing”. In this race for riches, Singaporean parents invest huge sums in private tuition to give their children a head start. This, not the state-funded system, is one of the main reasons for the country’s high performances in international league tables. The official school starting age is 6, but for many children, tuition kicks in well before then. Tuition after school hours is the norm and takes precedence over play’.   Small wonder, then, that Singapore is worried about the lack of creativity in its students. Vietnam is making progress but is also too small and   a late developer anyway (also relying heavily as it happens on after school private tuition).

Many Asian countries are also deeply suspicious of China and its growing   territorial claims and sabre rattling, fuelled by its need for raw materials and energy, and so will probably be  reluctant to accept its leadership. And as already stated the Communist party is deeply and historically anti-foreigners.

As for education, do not be fooled that Shanghai’s recent stellar performance in PISA tests represents Chinas whole education system. It doesn’t.

Certainly great strides have been made in education in Asia over the last generation but hot- housing and the need for out of school private tuition to meet the necessary standards suggests significant structural problems.  Many, probably most,  students are diligent and hardworking   but too many also  lack creativity, flair, a capacity for  independent thought and some of the non-cognitive skills required to compete in the global employment market. It would be wrong to adopt a deterministic view about the inevitability of a shift in leadership and innovation eastwards. One also wonders where  the cross cutting  regional institutions  are to help provide this  coherent strategic leadership?

Certainly the East has been on the rise but its rise has to be placed firmly in perspective,  with  its sustainability  by no means  guaranteed. And crucially  there is no obvious cross cutting  institutional framework to  enable such  leadership to develop.



Crisis looms due to funding shortage

A Freedom of Information request revealed that from May 2007, government projections showed a rapidly increasing primary school population in each year from 2009 to 2015.

Despite this, in 2007, Ed Balls then Education Secretary  told councils to remove surplus primary places or risk losing capital funding. Mr Balls issued guidance telling them: ‘The Department has made clear its view that maintaining surplus places represents a poor use of resources – resources that can be used more effectively to support schools in raising standards’. The guidance went on: ‘The Department expects local authorities to make the removal of surplus places a priority’. Local authorities were told they would not receive capital funding if they failed to cut surplus primary school places. ‘Strategies that fail to commit to addressing surplus capacity at local authority or individual school level will not be approved’. The big problem is the baby boom. In 2010, there were four million children in English primary schools; by 2018, there’ll be 4.5 million.  So if Ed Balls blundered, has the Coalition got this covered? No, not really. Although some elements of the education budget were protected, which produced encouraging headlines, there have been swingeing cuts to the capital available for new schools-new schools will be needed to cope with the demand as expanding existing schools is often not possible. And indeed some of the new Free schools are proving to be relatively expensive which also means that this initiative will not have the funding to expand in the way the government would wish (ie there is not enough capital available to fund the demand for Free schools-so bids are being rejected not because they fail to satisfy the criteria-the official stance-  but because there is no money available).  As Jonn Elledge has pointed out in the Guardian the biggest story in education won’t be about academies, or grade inflation, or international league tables: it’ll be about parents petrified they can’t find a school place for their child. The Department for Education’s core resources budget had, of course,  been protected, although there have been allegations that perceived funding shortfalls mean that Heads and governors are dipping in to the Pupil Premium to make up shortfalls . (funding that is supposed to go to disadvantaged pupils).  But its capital budget – the bit that pays for buildings and so forth –  is to fall by 60% over four years. Gove squeezed another £1.2bn out of the Treasury last autumn but nobody thinks that this will be enough to cover the additional Primary places that will be required over the medium term.  The Government may be forced to turn to the private sector for capital , but that is the more expensive option.


Don’t be misled by the rhetoric

The arguments over the use of the private sector to deliver public services were rehearsed again in the wake of GS 4 very public failure to provide adequate security staff for the Olympics. The fact is this coalition government has,   from the outset, sent out contradictory messages about the private sector and the profit motive . Ministers appear more comfortable  waxing eloquent about the merits of the third sector, social enterprises and community based organisations than the private sector. Their ideal model for the private sector appears to be some form of John Lewis styled partnership.

A couple of weeks ago, Sir Merrick Cockell, the head of the Local Government Association, made some interesting comments about how the government provides public services. In an interview with the FT, he warned ministers not to assume that the private sector was necessarily best. He said there had been a period when “public bad, private good” had “almost been a mantra”, accompanied by a belief that “the right way for local authorities to do things was to outsource everything”. He added: I hope we’ve moved beyond that, because there are very good cases for outsourcing. There are even stronger cases for testing a service properly to see whether it’s the right service to outsource, to see whether there’s a mature market out there that may be suitable to tender against it and then properly to reach a conclusion that there is, or there isn’t. It seems a similar strain of thinking is going on at the top of government too. Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, gave a very frank interview to the Independent recently in which he said: ‘I came into the MoD with a prejudice that we have to look at the way the private sector does things to know how we should do things in Government. But the story of G4S and the military rescue is quite informative. I’m learning that the application of the lean commercial model does have relevance in areas of the MoD but, equally, you can’t look at a warship and say, ‘How can I bring a lean management model to this?’ – because it’s doing different things with different levels of resilience that are not generally required in the private sector. It is somewhat ironic, given these comments, that Hammond heads a department of state widely regarded as the most inefficient and dysfunctional ,in an area where competition is keen.

Three weeks ago, Bernard Gray, the senior civil servant in charge of defence procurement, wrote a plea for change entitled “The MoD badly needs some private expertise”. He warned that the department simply does not have the specialist and commercial skills common in the private sector. Do these ministers really mean that they can do without the private sector and might stop buying from the private sector? Almost certainly not. Indeed investors don’t believe it either. The share prices of three of the government’s largest suppliers (G4S, Serco and Capita) remain in rude health (though Mouchels recent  demise reminds us that  success in   public service contracting  is by no means guaranteed). Ministers, nonetheless, never knowingly let a bandwagon pass by  without jumping on it,   and clearly  believe that there is some political mileage to be had in knocking the private sector, while relying heavily on the private sector to continue to  deliver a range of public services. This is likely to continue.


The Rumour Mill starts


David Cameron must now be reflecting on his options for a reshuffle, probably in September.

Ed Miliband, after an initial rocky period, just after the leadership elections, has consolidated Labours lead in the opinion polls at 9-10%. The Coalition having peered over the abyss had been  trying to breathe new life into  the government in the wake of a  poorly received Budget , which managed to alienate most stakeholders ,while resulting in a number of U-turns which made the Coalition look weak and accident- prone. George Osborne’s  reputation has suffered  but he  will probably stay put.

The  Coalition re-launch has suffered a severe set -back. Tim Montgomerie, the influential Tory blogger,  reminds us (Daily Mail/ R4) that the decision to redraw constituency boundaries was part of the Coalition’s agreement to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600. As the price for agreeing to this, the Lib Dems demanded a referendum on Clegg’s pet project of changing the electoral system from first-past-the-post to the so-called Alternative Vote (AV), which the public rejected. Montgomerie points out  that it is  Clegg who has broken the ‘rules’ of the Coalition Agreement. For it was the referendum on electoral reform — not a shake-up of the Lords — which was linked to the boundary changes in the Coalition Agreement. On Lords reform, it bound the Government only to set up a committee to suggest changes, which it did.What’s more, says Montgomerie,  Clegg said earlier this year that Lords and boundary reform were not connected. He was asked four times if there was a link and each time he said ‘no’. Is this important? Yes, very. On two counts. Tories from  the grassroots upwards feel that it is Clegg who has done the betraying and their anger is visceral. Secondly, from a practical point of view, the review of constituency boundaries is more important, and a failure to address this issue will make their task even harder at the next election.

There are rumours flying that  the education secretary Michael Gove will be moved,  in a re-shuffle -possibly to the Home Office- although that is unlikely to help his career over the longer term. Reputations are seldom made and often   lost in that most dysfunctional of departments of state. (so ,one has to ask, why would he  want to move there?) Elizabeth Truss, a bright new Tory rising star, and former think tanker (Reform)  is being touted  as a possible replacement to Gove.  State educated and an Oxford graduate, her profile fits and she has made big efforts to be noticed as a significant contributor to education debates (main strengths curriculum and exams). Recently Truss called for maths to made compulsory, post 16( we don’t have enough high quality maths teachers- to make this work, by the way).She also   launched the Free Enterprise Group of MPs — a pro-free market faction which wants deregulation and lower taxes.  But Truss has no Ministerial experience,so  it would be a high risk gambit, despite her obvious talent and Goveian zeal. Truss certainly knows her education policy and impressed while at Reform. She  has a flinty edge, is  intense and adversarial in her style, and her managerial skills are untested and so unknown.  (mind you the same could have been said of Gove before he became Secretary of State).  The curriculum and qualifications changes,  though, it could be said,  are  to her  familiar, well trodden  territory.  And the DFE has now almost  been knocked into shape (notwithstanding occasional damaging leaks) . My guess is that she might come in as a junior education Minister. Gove will probably be offered a move-but may want to stay due to unfinished business.  Few other Ministers stand out in this government, though the same might be said of the shadow spokesmen.

Stephen Twigg, the shadow education secretary, after various flip flops on Free schools which made him look opportunistic and a tad confused, (he tends to think out loud which gets him into trouble) showed a deft touch in backing military style schools, a policy championed by ResPublica (and to some extent the Centre for Policy Studies) which was close to Cameron, certainly on matters related to the Big Society.  Cameron’s problems with his own backbenchers are simmering as they want him to make a principled stand on something, though Cameron loyalists fume that the imperatives of coalition government tie his hands. Possibly true, but critics suggest that that Cameron was hard to fathom before the election in terms of his core beliefs and values. Defining Camerons political narrative has always been something of a challenge.  The issue of boundary changes affecting all MPs will not go away-and if this is not resolved it will probably, as things stand, seal the fate of the Tories and Liberal Democrats in the next election (ie they will  be pretty pushed to stay in office-its estimated that the Tories for example need a 10% lead in the polls to secure a sound majority).

At some point Tories realise that they will have to create distance, or clear blue water, between themselves and the Liberal Democrats in preparation for an election.

David Laws a talented politician, caught out by an error of judgement, might well re-join Ministerial ranks as part of any future reshuffle. Liberal Democrat ranks are, as it happens, not overburdened with potential ministers.

These are fascinating times and the Opposition, as things stand can simply observe from the  sidelines, as the Coalition suffers internecine strife ,and consolidate its lead in the polls. So much political capital and goodwill has been used up on Lords reform that one wonders whether the Coalition has actually lost touch with what  really matters to the electorate  and on what they will be judged at the next election-their stewardship of the economy.

Hot Tip-Baroness Warsi will be moved and there will be some pretty fundamental re jigging  at the top of the Tory party.


Ofsted to look at how Premium being used in schools

More funds for literacy support for those dropping behind


Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, said in his speech on the Pupil Premium on 14 May, that the Liberal Democrats are ‘not going to miss our chance to make Britain a better, fairer place too. For me, nothing illustrates that better than our Pupil Premium: Extra money for the most disadvantaged children in our schools.’

The Pupil Premium is ‘to equip every school to support pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.’

And   it is ‘To help us build a more socially mobile Britain:  Where ability trumps privilege;Where effort trumps connections; Where sharp elbows don’t automatically get you to the front. He said  ‘for me, the Pupil Premium remains the most important lever we have – and it’s in your hands.’

Last year the Pupil Premium was worth an extra £488 for pupils on Free School Meals and looked after children.  This year it’s increased to £600… And been extended to children who have been eligible for Free School Meals at any time in the last six years. Despite an unprecedented squeeze on public spending… This year the Pupil Premium will be worth £1.25bn in total… Doubling to £2.5bn by the end of the Parliament.’ We’ll prove that teachers do best when Whitehall steps out of the way.’

Clegg makes a direct appeal to teachers in his speech  ‘ I want to strike a deal between the Coalition government and our schools and teachers: We’ll give you the cash; we’ll give you the freedom; we’ll reward and celebrate your success.  But in return, we want you to redouble your efforts to close the gap between your poorer pupils and everyone else. We won’t be telling you what to do, but we will be watching what you achieve.’


Parental involvement to be encouraged

Clegg said ‘All the evidence shows that, when parents play a part in their children’s learning…Those children do better.  When mothers and fathers understand how to support what happens in the classroom.  When they can pass their insights onto the professionals too. Many of the best schools already create this kind of partnership.t, where it doesn’t ,happen, the Pupil Premium creates a new way to bring parents in… To start a meaningful conversation that can last for that child’s entire school life.’


Extra Funds for Reading and Literacy

Clegg confirms that the Education Endowment Foundation will shortly be inviting groups of local schools most affected by poor literacy and reading  ‘To bid for extra funds for struggling Year 7s, from deprived homes… To help them get their reading and writing up to scratch: Extra “catch up cash”, if you like. The support will be for pupil premium pupils who leave primary school without Level 4 literacy – the expected level.

And we envisage that schools will want to use it for small catch up classes, or one-to-one tuition, or vouchers for literacy tuition that parents can spend.’


Ofsted will look at how Pupil Premium is being spent

In a key passage of the speech Clegg says that schools will be held accountable for the way they use the pupil Premium . He said ‘But schools need to know that, in assessing their performance… OFSTED will be looking forensically at how well their Pupil Premium pupils do.  Inspectors are already being instructed to look closely at how schools are spending the money… And to what effect… With plans to publish a survey early next year. And, because OFSTED understands the priority I attach to this issue…

It will be providing me with regular reports… Detailing the progress schools are making in closing the attainment gap.’


Prizes for narrowing attainment gap

The government will also In partnership with the Times Educational Supplement…  from next year, ‘ be introducing awards for the top-50 schools…  Who have done the most to boost the performance of their poorest pupils… And to narrow the gap with their better off peers.  That success will be up in lights in the performance tables. They’ll win publicity, acclaim and cash too – cash prizes of up to £10,000 for the best of the best.’


Clegg’s comments come just weeks after a survey of 2,000 schools leaders, conducted for the Press Association by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), found that more than four-fifths say the premium has either equalled or not made up for financial losses elsewhere.

NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby said: “NAHT has always supported the idea of a pupil premium and is perfectly comfortable with being judged on the performance of the most vulnerable pupils – this is, in any case, already happening. The Government needs to be frank, however, that the pupil premium is not extra funding – it merely substitutes for cuts elsewhere. It is a redistribution of funds within the system, not additional funding.”




For 2011-12, the Pupil Premium funding is: £488 per pupil in respect of pupils known to be eligible for Free School Meals (FSM), and for children in care who have been continuously looked after for at least six months; and £200 per pupil for those whose parents are serving in the armed forces. In 2012-13, the Pupil Premium rises to £600 per pupil in respect of pupils known to have been eligible for FSM at any point within the last six years, and for children in care who have been continuously looked after for at least six months. The Pupil Premium for children whose parents are in the armed services will rise to £250 per pupil.



Goes for the soft target-but what exactly is he doing to narrow the gap?


Michael Gove said in his speech at Brighton College that the dominance of the public schoolboy in every prominent role in British society is “morally indefensible”. “More than almost any developed nation, ours is a country in which your parentage dictates your progress,” he said. “Those who are born poor are more likely to stay poor and those who inherit privilege are more likely to pass on privilege in England than in any comparable country. For those of us who believe in social justice, this stratification and segregation are morally indefensible.” Gove was certainly not calling  though for the abolition of  private schools to remedy the problem.  What he meant was that state schools needed to improve to private school standards, and not that private schools should be abolished.

Clearly it is impossible to justify such inequity although when politicians start talking about morality they are, as a rule, on dangerous ground –so its worth taking a much closer look. We are certainly an unequal society in terms of outcomes. But it is too simplistic to blame the 7% of people who are educated here in private schools for such inequity and crucially  the lack of social mobility. Social mobility has stalled in our country, for sure. The problem is, though, deeply ingrained. Anthony Sampson in his  seminal book ‘Anatomy of Britain’ first published in 1962, with later revisions , highlighted that the establishment and business was dominated by the privately educated. The Sutton Trust has helpfully up-dated Sampson’s analysis and findings but  in truth  have told us not much that is new in this respect.   The reasons for the lack of social mobility are many and varied. What happens in the home up to the age of three  and parental support and education  are   regarded as very important  indeed,  in influencing  social mobility. The Jesuits maxim “Give me the child for seven years, and I will give you the man” is  probably only half correct in that a child’s trajectory  may be largely determined even earlier, at least according to some experts and recent research (although there is a danger of being too deterministic about this).

Politicians (educated in both state and private schools) in successive administrations   have largely failed to grasp the nettle to identify the nature of the problem ,let alone the policy levers that might help   alleviate it , and these levers  are not by any means all  related to education. Certainly its true that  if you fail to get good GCSEs at school your chances of doing well   in the world of work are severely circumscribed.  Bashing private schools though, even for a Tory Minister, it seems, pays political dividends.  They are the soft target.

Too many stubbornly underperforming state schools are at the heart of the problem, and it’s a difficult challenge to address. It is mainly about addressing  the long tail of our significant underachievers in school, perhaps as much as  20% of the school population. The next biggest  problem is  the way we treat  our  brightest and most able  pupils  , those who have the potential to succeed but who are not being given  either the personalised support  or  guidance in schools  to  enable them  to reach their  full potential. Depending on how you measure and define this group it could  range from 5%-20%. of pupils.This is bad for them, and us.

But lets be clear there is nothing immoral about choosing the type of education you want for your child, a right  that happens to be enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and those with money have every right to choose how they spend it subject  only to the law. For those like George Monbiot (privately educated) who naively call for the abolition of private schools the message is clear -it wont happen.  The Government would rightly be held to account for such an illiberal act under Human Rights law. His other solution is to remove charity status for these schools-which will marginally decrease their numbers, mainly the smaller ones, on the tightest of margins, but also serve to   make the sector more elitist ,less inclusive  and less prone, probably, to helping  the state sector.  It would also mean that tens of thousands of pupils end up looking for places in an already hard pressed state system .And if they lose their charity status, there will follow a major cull of thousands of other charities  which provide less public benefit than many private schools.

Looking at the advantages provided by an independent school education, they are perceived to be many.  Which is why surveys suggest that most parents, if they had the  means, would choose a private education for their child. Of course, class sizes tend to be much smaller. Some say the teaching is better although this is difficult to prove . But many parents are drawn to these schools because of the pastoral support, extra-curricular activities (arts music, drama), sport and facilities.   Also importantly these schools tend to  support character development,  values, self-sufficiency, self-discipline, resilience, leadership skills, teamwork, sporting prowess and nurture , too, creative talent , and ultimately  more rounded and socially- confident individuals.

Rather than abolish these schools the state sector should be learning from them. Lord Adonis talked about transferring the independent sectors DNA into state schools. And it is in the area of supporting character development, positive thinking and resilience where the state system has much to learn and where there are huge possibilities.

It is not absolutely clear though how this governments reforms will help support the development of these characteristics and attributes among our state school pupils,  and so  help  close the gap between state and private schools and promote equity. Indeed, it could be argued, and has been by Professor Tony Watts, that Gove has been personally responsible for pulling out the state-school funding for sport, music and the other performing arts (where the disparities with public schools are now particularly significant). Also the programmes for raising aspirations and improving social mobility (career guidance, AimHigher) have been halted.  How exactly are state school pupils, particularly the most disadvantaged, going to be more socially mobile if they are not  given  access to high quality, professional,   face to face advice in school  about their options and  pathways into further, higher education, training  and employment?

The Government is, of course, introducing significant reforms. The structural reforms – making schools more autonomous and giving them more freedom may well  help, providing they use this to improve educational outcomes, (some seem to have converted simply for the extra funding) . But few believe that they are sufficient in themselves to deliver significantly improved outcomes. In short, the changes are necessary but insufficient.  But the other side of this coin is what happens in the classroom, at the chalk face. There need to be improvements there in the quality of teaching. Evidence shows that improving the quality of teaching is essential to driving up standards in schools. Pupils taught by good teachers score nearly half a GCSE point more per subject than pupils taught by poor teachers. But its also, crucially, about  what children are taught , so that teachers are supporting the provision of a rounded education, and not just teaching to the test.(critics believe that exams are now the master not servant of education) .The delayed curriculum reforms and introduction of the Ebacc, might have a positive  effect. But, overall are  these  ‘ game-changers’ likely to  measurably  close the  attainment gap, to tackle the long tail of underachievement  and the widening divide between the state and independent sectors? Even after the Blair governments reforms,  Professor Barbers ‘deliverology’ and  significant new investment, the attainment gap  between the sectors actually grew (and productivity in state  education fell).  So what else is on offer? The Pupil Premium targeted at the most disadvantaged? –a possibility but unions claim that this money is being used to fill gaps arising from other cuts in school funding. Even if not, the sums involved are relatively modest and there is no guarantee that schools will use the ‘extra’ money effectively. The government has not ring-fenced Pupil Premium cash, but it will – via Ofsted and league tables – hold schools accountable for how it is spent. Unless we learn from what schools do with the premium, the money may well be wasted, and hence do nothing to narrow the achievement gap. So, what else is going to narrow the gap and improve equity? Gove deserves credit for pushing through reforms, often overcoming resistance even from within his own Department, and one would be hard pressed to name a Minister who has achieved more or performed better, certainly in the eyes of his own leader Tory MPs and  electors.  But, in terms of transforming the system, to make it fit for the 21st Century, we are probably edging towards the end of the beginning, rather than the beginning of the end.  And attacks on private schools tend to deflect attention away from other areas that require urgent attention and the sustained  investment of   political capital.