Category Archives: politicians and education

STATE OF THE COALITION-A RESHUFFLE IN SEPTEMBER?

The Rumour Mill starts

Comment

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.

THE OLYMPICS, SCHOOL PLAYING FIELDS, HUMBUG AND HYPOCRISY

 THE OLYMPICS,  SCHOOL PLAYING FIELDS,  HUMBUG AND HYPOCRISY

What are the facts?

Comment

There has been an inevitable debate during the Olympics over sport in schools and how we secure a lasting legacy.

Politicians never knowingly fail to jump on a passing bandwagon. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that this carping, sniping and whingeing detracts from the feel good factor being generated by these games, which we should  all  simply breathe in and  appreciate, while it lasts.

Ironically the unprecedented success of our Olympians has sparked much soul -searching about where the next generation of elite sportsman will come from. The Guardian aimed to portray the Government as hypocritical, praising the success of Britain’s Olympians, while undermining our future medal chances by selling off school playing fields. The newspaper reported:  “Ministers have approved proposals to sell off a London school’s playing fields, including six tennis courts and a football pitch, despite mounting criticism of the coalition’s planning for an Olympic legacy. The land at Elliott school in Putney, south London, is being sold off to pay for a major refurbishment. It brings the number of school playing field sell-offs approved by the coalition to 22. The Guardian revealed government figures on Monday which show that the sale of school sports fields continues even though ministers declared in the coalition agreement that they would seek to protect them.”  The DFE responded,  unsurprisingly, by disputing the figures. The Department says that of the 21 (not 22) playing fields the Government has approved for disposal, 14 belonged to schools that have closed, and four were part of sites that became surplus when existing schools amalgamated. Of the other three:

One was surplus marginal grassland on the school site, the sale of which allowed investment in the school library and sports changing facilities.

One was leased to a company to redevelop and improve a playing field for the school’s use that had poor drainage and was under-used. As a result of the development, the school’s playing fields now include four 5-a-side pitches, two 7-a-side pitches, a full sized football and hockey pitch and a six-court indoor tennis facility. The school also profited from private hire of facilities outside school hours.

One was due to be leased to an athletics club to improve sporting provision for both the club and the school, although the project did not go ahead in the end.

A spokesman from the Department commented:

“We will only agree to the sale of school playing fields if the sports and curriculum needs of schools and their neighbouring schools can continue to be met. Sale proceeds must be used to improve sports or education facilities and any new sports facilities must be sustainable for at least 10 years.”

So what happened under the  the last Labour government in terms of  yearly sell-offs  given the oppositions  attacks on the Coalition for recklessly selling off sports fields, so depriving our youth of sporting opportunities ? Well, here are the figures for sell-offs for each year since 1999.

1999: 42;

2000: 31;

2001: 21;

2002: 24;

2003: 16;

2004: 13;

2005: 11;

2006: 8;

2007: 19;

2008: 11;

2009: 16;

Jan 2010 to April 2010: 1;

So its pretty safe to conclude that  the last Government was not exactly blameless if you measure commitment to  school sport   by the number of   school sports fields being sold-off . They probably deserve a bronze medal, at least, in hypocrisy.(see Note)

The issue is a bit more complex and nuanced than the headlines suggest.  .

It would seem that, although school fields have  been sold, the impact on sport is probably  rather limited. It is arguable  that, in some cases, sporting opportunities have actually increased with money freed up from redundant land to be invested more productively  elsewhere.

Anyway, getting back to the Games,  we should all feel pretty proud of what has been achieved and the  credit  for it cuts across political barriers.

Notes:

No politicians are blameless on this score .It is estimated   that around  10,000  sports playing fields  were lost between 1979 and 1997.

The proportion of pupils playing competitive sports increased from 58 per cent to 78 per cent between 2006-07 and 2009-10, according to the Department for Education.

GOVES ATTACK ON PRIVATE SCHOOLS AND THEIR EFFECTS-A SOFT TARGET

GOVES ATTACK ON PRIVATE SCHOOLS AND THEIR EFFECTS

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

Comment

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.

ALL PARTY PARLIAMENTARY SOCIAL MOBILITY GROUP-SEVEN TRUTHS ABOUT, AND POLICY RESPONSES TO SUPPORT, SOCIAL MOBILITY

 Parliamentarians report publishes a guide to help policymakers support social mobility

Comment

The All-Party group on Social Mobility was formed to “discuss and promote the cause of social mobility;  to raise issues of concern and help inform policy makers and opinion formers”. Social mobility in the UK has, we know, stalled, as the Sutton Trust confirms  in its  research. The Coalition government is committed to improving social mobility. The All Party Parliamentary group  has just published an interim report, which flags up some truths about social mobility and some possible  policy responses and options. Although much of what it concludes might seem obvious its seventh truth ‘ Personal resilience and emotional well-being are the missing link in the chain’ is striking and reinforces the case being put by reformers that better  support for  character development , positive thinking and resilience among pupils is both  possible and desirable.

The Chairman of the Group is Damian Hinds MP, and one of the Vice-Chairs is Baroness Morris of Yardley, the former Education Secretary.

The Seven Truths and the Policy responses according required:

Truth

1.The point of greatest leverage for social   mobility is what happens between ages

0 and 3, primarily in the home

Policy Challenge

A massive premium on ‘parenting’ skills

Truth

2. You can also break the cycle through education…

Policy Challenge

Children must be able to access learning (school readiness; reading ability)

Truth

3. …the most important controllable factor being the quality of your teaching

Policy Challenge

Focus first on quality of teachers & teaching

Truth

4. But it’s also about what happens after the school bell rings

Policy Challenge

Find ways to level the playing field on out-of school opportunities, and participation

Truth

5. University is the top determinant of later opportunities – so pre-18 attainment is key

Policy Challenge

Reinforces importance of school years – but also raises questions about university admissions

Truth

6. But later pathways to mobility are possible, given the will and support

Policy Challenge

Find the exemplar programmes, analyse and demonstrate impact

Truth

7. Personal resilience and emotional well-being are the missing link in the chain

Policy Challenge

Recognise that social/emotional ‘skills’ underpin academic and other success – and can be taught

Link to All Party Group Report

TWIGG, DEVOLUTION AND SCHOOLS

 

TWIGG, DEVOLUTION AND SCHOOLS

Consultation- part of Labours policy review-how to ensure accountability, while promoting autonomy of schools

Comment

As part of Labour’s Policy Review, Stephen Twigg MP, the Shadow Education Secretary, has launched a consultation to ask how Labour might devolve more power from central government, as a means for improving education standards.  Twigg believes that the current Government has overseen a huge programme of centralisation in our school system. He says that it is neither desirable, nor practical for so many schools to be directly accountable to no one, but Central Government.

The consultation document sets out the rationale behind the process and calls for ideas for devolving more power locally.  It states ‘This consultation aims to examine how we can reform our education system to ensure both the freedom to innovate and manage schools to drive up attainment and success- for all children- and necessary local accountability. That means involving parents, communities, and local government in ensuring that schools play a positive role in local areas, delivering high standards and innovation. Labour will be consulting on the best way to ensure local accountability in education, while promoting autonomy for schools.’

The outcomes of this work will ultimately be fed into the Education and Skills Policy Commission, which considers these areas of policy as part of Labour’s Partnership into Power policy development process

You can respond to this consultation by completing the downloadable form found at this link and e-mailing your response to stephen.twigg.mp@parliament.uk. Additionally you can post your form to School Devolution Consultation, Office of Stephen Twigg MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA

Devolving Power in Education: School Freedom and Accountability

Click here to download the consultation document

http://www.fresh-ideas.org.uk/devolving-power-in-education

INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS SUPPORT FOR STATE SCHOOLS-WHAT’S THE FUTURE?

Independent schools and support for state schools

The Government wants the independent sector to support Academies

But the mood music needs changing

Comment

A leading think tank hosted a lunch seminar this week on the developing relationship between independent schools and state schools against the backdrop of David Cameron’s  recent very public encouragement for independent schools to support state schools through the academies scheme . Indeed there was a Downing street meeting recently on this very issue. Lord Adonis the architect of the academies scheme has long championed greater support from the independent sector for the academies scheme and used  emotive language to get the point across-referencing the Berlin Wall, apartheid and so on. He even claims that independent schools have a moral obligation to offer such support. Adonis in a 2011 speech said ” Successful private schools ought to be prominent among the sponsors for the next  wave of academies. Everything about academies is in the DNA of the successful  private school: independence, excellence, innovation, social mission. And the benefit  is not only to the wider community, it is also to the private schools themselves,  whose mission is enlarged, whose relative isolation is ended, and whose social  engagement, beyond the families of the better-off, is transformed.”

Given that the seminar operated under Chatham house rules I cannot give the source of the following comments and observations but the seminar attracted some leading heads  from both independent schools and  state schools, including Academies  .

What is clear is that there are divisions in the independent sector over what, if anything, to do to support the state sector. Many schools already have extensive links with neighbouring state schools and around thirty independent schools provide some form of support for an Academy. What has caused resentment is the hectoring tone of politicians telling independent schools and the governors and trustees what to do. It is after all their decision as to how they will deliver public benefit. Support for Academies  is certainly one option but there are a range of others –bursaries, specialist teaching support, access to equipment and facilities, advice on  governance, curriculum advice and support , exam method, summer schools, pupil swaps, community support  etc.     The feeling was that the tone of the debate and perceived hostility from most political quarters towards the independent sector hardly establishes a context within which  a constructive debate can take place, rather it encourages a siege mentality (particularly given the additional antics of the Charity Commission.)   One point rammed home at the meeting was that one of the key reasons for the independent sectors success was its independence, and , specifically, independent governance. So called ‘ autonomous’ and ‘ free schools’ are not actually free in the same way as independent schools are   and are still subject to  significant bureaucratic restrictions , constraints and stipulations in their funding agreements.  However, it was also pointed out that governance was a key area where independent schools really might help  ‘autonomous ‘ state schools-ie how to use their autonomy effectively and what it could mean in practice  so harnessing  the aspirational ethos of the independent sector . There could also be more exchanges between governing boards, so independents have state school Heads on  their governing bodies and vice-versa.

But it was also clear that most independent schools are keen to have greater meaningful contact  with state schools and there can be demonstrable shared benefits  from such contacts. Every independent school that has an arrangement with an Academy agreed that this relationship brought mutual benefits. And state schools can offer expertise and know- how in particular areas-not least in adapting to big resource challenges, encouraging leadership at every level-adding value and getting the best out of challenging pupils and so on. Indeed, one independent Head said that much of the really innovative thinking going on was happening in the state sector, suggesting perhaps, some complacency in the independent sector

There seemed to be agreement that the real problem with our education system is not the fact that a relatively small percentage of pupils are educated privately but in the long tail of significant underachievers in the state sector, ie  the bottom 20-25% cohort. They are the big challenge and  a drag on the system and there seems to be an assumption that Academies are the answer to addressing this problem, although evidence is not yet clear on this.

It was also remarked that rather too much is expected of the independent sector based on wrong assumptions. It educates just 7% of the school population and most schools operate on tight margins, with small surpluses. Large endowments are limited to a few.  So the idea of supporting an academy just on practical grounds with limited resources  is daunting and hard to sell to fee paying parents.  There was a suggestion that those organisations responsible for representing the sector ISC,HMC etc  might  provide centralised support  to schools wanting to get involved with Academies but it is clear that thinking in this area is undeveloped and these organisations  have ,as yet, shown no indication that they would want to get involved. (joint approaches and action from these bodies is rare).

It was agreed ,though, that the aim for any academy engagement must be for it to be cash neutral. You cant ask hard pressed fee paying  parents to fork out additional money  to support engagement with the state sector, whatever its perceived merits. Raise funds separately so  that  the support operation is ring- fenced.  And ,of course, don’t rule out pro-bono support because, it was agreed, some of the simplest most straightforward advice can pay the biggest dividends in return.

My view is that most independent schools want to knock down perceived barriers between the sectors and agree that there are mutual benefits at stake but this is a view that is not always reciprocated in the state sector. Support for Academies is certainly one  mutually rewarding  route and maximises public benefit in a way that bursaries clearly don’t. (indeed by removing the brightest from a state school you can damage that school) But Academy engagement carries some risks, reputational and otherwise, and is by no means the only way that schools can fulfil their public benefit requirement. Academy engagement will suit some schools but not others. If the government seriously wants more independent schools involved it should help them  more in practical ways, for example by providing a matchmaking service,  rather than  hectoring them claiming that there is a moral imperative involved, which is entirely counter-productive and  just bad politics.

THE REASON FOR RIOTS IN ENGLAND 2011- IS GINI TO BLAME?

REASONS FOR RIOTS

Is Gini to blame?

Comment

The German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche -claimed that there was no such thing as an objective judgement ie one informed purely by empirical evidence and the application of  reason. Individuals (including philosophers)  unknowingly allow their own prejudices and cultural background to influence their judgement and one is reminded of this when reading the various explanations given for the recent riots in our major cities. These reasons include,  but are not limited to,  gang culture, black rap culture, immigration,  criminality, greed,  drugs, police tactics , stop and search, Police corruption, the Labour Government, the Coalition Government,(the Thatcher Government?) government cuts, tuition fees, August, poor education, youth unemployment, the NEET cohort,  economic deprivation,  poor parenting , broken homes, absent fathers, the judicial system, weak sentencing, the declining influence of religion and church leadership, the Gramacian Counter Culture  (don’t ask) , the concentration of wealth in the few, bankers excess  and so on. But maybe its  partly Ginis fault!

The Gini coefficient is a measure of statistical dispersion developed by the Italian statistician and sociologist Corrado Gini and published in his 1912 paper “Variability and Mutability” .This is the most commonly used measure of inequality. The coefficient varies between 0, which reflects complete equality and 1, which indicates complete inequality (one person has all the income or consumption, all others have none).

Using this method, the measure of overall income inequality in the United Kingdom now happens to be higher than at any previous time in the last thirty years.  The Gini Coefficient of the UK is the second highest in Europe (0.34 or so) and one of the worst in the industrialised world.  The overall message when it comes to the UK is simple: income inequalities have been increasing, both recently and over longer time periods.  These inequalities have been increasing at both ends of the spectrum.  In other words, the poorest have fallen further behind the average, and the richest have moved further ahead. Inner London is deeply divided: it has by far the highest proportion of people on a low income (29% in the poorest fifth) but also a high proportion of people on a high income (28% in the richest fifth). In South East England the figures are respectively 17% and 27%.In short the gap between rich and poor is increasing. Add to this volatile mix the perception that some of those with huge amounts of money haven’t been behaving very well, of late, and indeed appear to have caused, or at the very least, exacerbated our financial and economic problems, and it could explain at least one aspect of why communities are fracturing from the bottom up.

What is also interesting and should  presumably be put in the mix  is that ,despite the greater inequality in the USA, according to a Sutton Trust report,  almost 70% of the people surveyed there  believe they can do better in the future (class mobility), whereas in the UK less than 40% believe they will rise out of poverty.  We also know that social mobility has stalled in the UK and that the education system is not seen as a leveller.

None of this, of course, goes any way to remotely  excusing the malicious , nihilistic violence, looting and arson that we have witnessed over the last week. But maybe these are issues that  should be looked at as part of the overall  mix in the post mortem into the possible causes.

One other interesting footnote -David Willetts, the Higher Education Minister,  in his book the Pinch wrote ‘  Even in sober law-abiding Britain we saw the turmoil that resulted when the baby boomers were coming to adulthood. The two most violent riots in post-War London were the Grosvenor Square riots of 1968 and the Brixton and Broadwater Farm riots of 1985. They occurred around twenty years after each of the post-War baby boom peaks. (p129 of the paperback edition)’

Stuart Bonar points this out on his blog and adds ‘ Well, the third postwar peak in births (lower than the other two at 706,140, but still a peak with a trough either side) occurred in 1990. Yes, that’s right: 21 years ago this year.’

In the meantime, in the aftermath, our communities are making impressive strides in fighting back   and are trying to rebuild themselves and re-establish their  confidence, identities and mutual support networks.

http://www.poverty.org.uk/09/index.shtml