Tag Archives: Labour

Sex Ed at Seven?

The wonderful area of the curriculum known as sex education, or to give it it’s full title ‘sex and relationships education’, the topic that receives much debate over when we should start teaching our children.

Well the Liberal Democrats have recently spoken out that all children in England’s state schools should receive lessons on this topic from the age of 7 years old, so basically Year 3. The idea behind this is that so long as the lessons are age-appropriate, it is all part of the government’s idea of building a ‘curriculum for life’ which will also include Citizenship and money management. The idea is backed by Labour although they suggest that the Lib Dems have not delivered it so far.

Under the Lib Dem plans, which will be included in the party’s manifesto for next year’s general election, schools would be required to offer lessons on sex and relationships in Key Stage 2 – which includes children aged seven to 11. The party also plans to make all state-run secondary schools offer the lessons, which form part of the wider area known as personal, social and health education (PSHE).

At present, state secondary schools run by local authorities must offer sex and relationships education, but free schools and academies are not required to do so. Lib Dem schools minister David Laws said: “It is vitally important that children learn all the life skills they need when they are at school, and Liberal Democrats believe that this should include learning financial literacy, citizenship and age-appropriate sex and relationship education. We have long made the case, both inside and outside government, for updated sex and relationship education to be taught in all schools, including academies and free schools, but it is not something the Conservatives are open to. We believe that by educating children about sex and relationships in an appropriate way, we can help them to make informed choices in their personal lives.”

The Labour Party said it had been calling for the move for years and that the Lib Dems had voted against a similar proposal when the opposition tabled it in the House of Lords earlier this year.

“Violence in young relationships is a huge issue as is preventing violence in future relationships,” said shadow Home Office minister Seema Malhotra. “Only through ideas like compulsory sex and relationship education can we tackle the root causes of domestic abuse and give young people the tools and support they need to make informed decisions about their lives. It is welcome that the Lib Dems have finally caught onto this agenda but they have had four years in government to take some action and have failed.”

The Department for Education said sex and relationships education was an “important part of preparing young people for life in modern Britain”. “Sex and relationship education is compulsory in all maintained secondary schools and many primary schools also teach it in an age appropriate manner,” a spokeswoman said. “We also expect academies and free schools to deliver relationship education as part of their provision of a broad and balanced curriculum. We have also made financial literacy compulsory for the first time ever for 11-to-16 year olds, which will cover the importance of budgeting, sound money management and how different financial services work.”

The row over the Head of Ofsted role

One story that has gripped the national headlines of late has been the dispute over the non-renewal of Labour Baroness Morgan’s role as Head of Ofsted by Michael Gove.

It is not yet known who will take over the role, but nonetheless a row has still broken out.

Baroness Morgan claims that she was a victim of a ‘determined effort from Number 10’ to appoint more Tories into the top political jobs. From the outside, this may not seem so surprising, given that we have a Liberal-conservative coalition government at this present time.

Another argument that has arisen from this comes from David Laws. He argues that actually, the inspectorate shouldn’t in fact be political at all, as it is supposed to be an independent organisation. He too argues that Baroness Morgan’s removal was politically minded. A source close to him said: “The decision to get rid of Sally Morgan had absolutely nothing to do with her abilities, or even education policy, and everything to do with Michael Gove’s desire to get his own people on board. David Laws is absolutely determined not to let Michael Gove undermine the independence of this vital part of the education system.”

Of course, Michael Gove is desperate now to try and defend his decision. He argues that the decision to remove Baroness Morgan was entirely his and had absolutely nothing to do with Number 10. He told the Andrew Marr Show: “I think she’s done a really good job. I think that she and the chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw are a fantastic team. But one of the things I feel – and across government – is that from time to time you need to refresh the person who is in charge of an organisation.”

On top of that, he adds that Baroness Morgan had come to the end of her three-year term as Ofsted chairwoman and it was good corporate practice not to automatically reappoint people – a different person could come in with a “new perspective” and make sure there were “tough questions asked”.

Mr Gove pointed out that he had appointed Baroness Morgan in the first place, knowing she was Labour, adding: “It’s also the case that we’ve recently appointed a former Labour special advisor Simon Stevens to head the NHS. Now when we come to appoint the new head of Ofsted I will appoint, and we will appoint, on merit.”

Here is something that I reckon he’s hoping that we will not notice. One thing he did not do was rule out the possibility of Tory donor Theodore Agnew as the next in line for the job. Of course it would be wrong to rule out a suitable candidate based on their political allegiances, but it does look suspect when a Tory is the only real reported candidate to replace Baroness Morgan. I bet Gove’s hoping that another candidate who isn’t a Tory announces themselves as a candidate to take over.

So what Mr Gove that a former labour special advisor is now the head of the NHS? What about the non-tories who were removed from bodies such as the Arts Council and Charity Commission and replaced with … you guessed it … tories? There is no way of avoiding the fact that it does look very suspect from the outside.

Harriet Harman takes the argument even further. Ms Harman claims that there was a trend that women in senior authoritative posts were losing their positions and being replaced by men. Gove hit back by saying the Tories have had a female prime minister, and had appointed these women to senior positions in the first place, including Baroness Morgan.

I’m all for the idea of Ofsted not being political at all, in fact I think education as a whole should not be political at all. Stories like this for me really provide clear arguments why. Why should a politician decide what the needs for our children are?

Labour failed to improve literacy rates

Given the title of this you might think this is another effort by Gove and the DfE to slam Labour for the Governments own issues, but you would be very wrong.

Professor Michael Barber, who was put in charge of raising standards as chief adviser to former Education Secretary David Blunkett and later transferred to Tony Blair’s policy unit, said: “We had a really good run for a while but we didn’t sufficiently see it through.” The former Education Secretary’s adviser is admitting he failed. I’m as shocked as everyone else I think …

For the first four years of the national literacy hour in schools, standards rose dramatically (from 57 per cent of 11-year-olds reaching the required standard to 75 per cent). It was the first rise in reading standards for nearly 50 years, according to the National Foundation for Education. However, they plateaued in 2001 – and stubbornly refused to rise thereafter.

His comments are likely to be seized upon in the run-up to the general election by Education Secretary Michael Gove as evidence that the Labour government lacked the drive to see the job through.

Professor Barber singled out several reasons for the stagnation – including a watering down of the focus on literacy. There were pressures to introduce other national strategies – such as on behaviour, ICT and science.

In addition, the national literacy hour was followed by “flexibility rather than precision”. Instead of building on the achievements of the literacy hour, teachers just sighed with relief that they no longer had to do it.

Asked about the recent findings from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development which showed that the UK was alone in the western world in having its 16 to 25-year-olds achieving lower literacy standards than their grandparents’ generation, Professor Barber said one of the reasons could be that secondary schools had not built sufficiently on the improvements in primary schools.

“Somebody had the idea of abolishing the Key Stage Three tests (national curriculum tests for 14-year-olds),” he said. “I’m not saying it was a bad idea but I wouldn’t have done it.” The tests were axed by Ed Balls when he was Education Secretary.

Professor Barber, who is now Chief Education Adviser to Pearson, said the time was ripe for a renewed drive to improve literacy. “We have to prioritise literacy,” he said. “We are not where we want to be. We really need to do better. It is the underpinning of so many important things in our society.”

Any new drive, he argued, should include looking at effective pre-school provision – echoing the thoughts on Monday of Baroness Sally Morgan, who chairs education standards watchdog Ofsted and said “the next big, bold, brace move” in education should including setting up a network of academies taking in children from the age of three to 18.

Professor Barber argued that the UK could be proud of its record on provision for three and four-year-olds. “Britain went from being one of the worst performers in Europe to one of the best between 1995 and 2005,” he added. However, more needed to be done to make provision effective.

The drive, he added, should also include a sharp focus on phonics – and effective use of the latest technology. He cited the example of one school in the United States where teachers looked at the data on pupils’ progress at the end of each day before plotting their individual goals for the next day.

Labour Cabinet Reshuffle! Stephen Twigg sacked!

Michael Gove’s opposite number, Stephen Twigg, has reportedly become one of the most high-profile casualties of Labour’s shadow Cabinet reshuffle this afternoon having lost his seat on the front bench today.

Mr Twigg was appointed as Labour’s education spokesperson back in October 2011 taking over from a short and relatively fruitless 12 month stint by Andy Burnham.

The MP for Liverpool and West Derby enjoys one of the safest seats in the country, but has struggled to make his mark against Mr Gove. Despite having worked as schools minister under Tony Blair, Mr Twiggf has faced mounting criticism for his inability to land a sizeable hit on Mr Gove, who will now face his fourth Labour education spokesman in less than three and a half years.

Mr Twigg was even the subject of a continuing twitter campaign called #GoTwiggGo, which effectively called on the politician to resign and which was led, on the whole, by NUT members. One user called The Govertaker ‏tweeted on hearing rumours that Mr Twigg was in line to lose his position in the shadow Cabinet said: “Very pleased to hear that Twigg could be sacked from the Shadow cabinet he has failed to oppose Gove at every opportunity #GoTwiggGo”.

The 46-year-old had spent the majority of his tenure as shadow education secretary working on vocational education, focusing on what he described as the “forgotten 50 per cent” of young people who do not go to university.

Current Shadow Schools Minister Tristram Hunt is the man announced to replace Mr Twigg. As to what can be expected from Mr Hunt time will tell …

Meanwhile, one of the most eye-catching announcements from the coalition’s reshuffle did not involve a politician at all, but instead centred around the news that Dominic Cummings, Mr Gove’s special adviser and closest political confidante, was leaving his role in January. It is understood Mr Cummings is considering a number of different options, including being involved in setting up a free school.

Free childcare! The New Labour election ploy …

Working parents of three and four-year-olds in England would get 25 hours of free childcare a week if Labour wins the next general election. Shadow chancellor Ed Balls plans to raise the banking levy by £800m a year to fund the move.

Three and four-year-olds currently receive 15 hours of free care a week, but Mr Balls wants to increase this.

Meanwhile, he has asked the government’s spending watchdog to review his party’s economic plans. Money would be provided for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but it would be up to the governments there to decide whether to spend it in the same way as England.

The extra 10 hours of free childcare proposed by Mr Balls would be made available to households where all parents are in work – whether single parents or couples. At the Labour Party conference the shadow chancellor claimed families had lost £1,500 a year in childcare support under the current government.

In other Labour conference developments:

Mr Balls cast doubt on a future Labour government’s backing for the high speed 2 rail project, asking if it was the best way to spend £50bn

Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander said the coalition had “weakened” the UK’s international standing

Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy said Labour wants to make attacking a member of the armed forces a “specific criminal offence”

Mr Miliband announced plans to make large companies train a new apprentice for each skilled worker they hire from outside the EU

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said Labour will overturn any decision to scrap AS levels

Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne urged the government to sack Atos – the firm which carries out “fitness for work tests” on disabled people – over its “disgraceful” performance and failure to meet people’s needs

Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh says Labour would force water companies to offer lower prices to poorer families

Ahead of his speech to the party faithful Mr Balls told the BBC the policy would be “a huge change and really welcome for families getting out to work”. “That’s a clear and costed commitment showing that even in tough times, when there’s going to be less money around, we will make a difference,” he added.

He said that “for the first time” parents would be able to work part-time “without having to worry about the cost of childcare”. “Childcare is a vital part of our economic infrastructure that, alongside family support and flexible working, should give parents the choice to stay at home with their children when they are very small and to balance work and family as they grow older. But for many families, high childcare costs mean that it doesn’t even add up to go to work. So to make work pay for families, we must act.”

In his speech in Brighton Mr Balls also claimed the government’s banking levy had raised £1.6bn less than expected.

He said: “At a time when resources are tight and families are under pressure, that cannot be right. So I can announce today the next Labour government will increase the bank levy rate to raise an extra £800m a year.”

In June 2010, Chancellor George Osborne announced that banks operating in the UK would be subject to a levy – an annual tax on their balance sheets – in a joint move between the UK, France and Germany. The idea was to raise more than £8bn for the Treasury over four years, and Mr Osborne it was “fair and right” that banks should contribute to the economic recovery given that the financial crisis began in banking.

Labour’s policy pledge comes shortly after the government announced that all pupils at infant schools in England will get free school lunches from next September.

Labour has already promised all parents of primary school children will be able to get “wraparound” childcare – meaning children can be left at school from 8am to 6pm – if it wins the 2015 election.

On Saturday, Ed Miliband said he would “legislate for a primary school guarantee that every school is an 8am to 6pm school”, although party officials said schools could band together to offer the opening hours between them. They said the scheme would be paid for from existing schools budgets, which Labour said had already been raised for the purpose by the last government.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Balls reiterated his pledge not to increase borrowing to fund day-to-day government spending. But asked about so-called capital spending – on building and infrastructure projects – he said: “We won’t make that decision until we see where we are on the economy in a year and a half’s time.”

In a separate move, Mr Balls said on Sunday that he had written to the Office for Budget Responsibility to ask it to review his pledges for the economy – although it would have to have its remit changed to be able to do so. Andrew Tyrie, Conservative chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, said such a review could “improve the quality of public debate” but Treasury minister Sajid Javid called Labour’s request a “stunt”.

As you can probably imagine, an election is on it’s way, hence big pledges are rife, particularly as it’s Labour Conference time. I actually quite like the idea of an increase in free childcare, particularly as the huge costs of childcare is hitting a lot of families very hard at this present time. I also like the idea of legislating so schools become ‘8am to 6pm schools’ as described by Mr Miliband. My concern is the labour required to take it on. With more hours means more hours of work for staff, meaning more wages, which will then lead to a decrease in budget available for other areas of the school’s needs. All this isn’t to mention the equipment needed for activities to do in those extra hours. I would love to know if wages will be on the rise as well under a Labour government because of the increased pressure on costs of living under this current government.

There is one other question we need to answer: Is this childcare really free? The answer to this is very simple, most probably not. The first rule of thumb of any offer of free childcare in England is that it is seldom totally gratis at the point of use – despite protestations to the contrary. Unless you are lucky enough to live close to a state-maintained nursery, attached to a school or children’s centre, you are more than likely going to be asked to pay an unofficial top-up fee.

A straight extra hourly fee is not strictly legal, as nurseries are not allowed to charge parents who take up the free entitlement any extra for doing so. But, as with many cases in the legal system, there are loopholes for nurseries to get around this. The most common technique is requiring parents to take more than the set number of free hours, and charging a set fee for the extra time. This extra time can be as little as 15 minutes on top of a three-hour session. One nursery in south-west London requires parents of three- and four-year-olds to pay £28 per three-and-a-half hour morning or afternoon session. So that’s £28 for the extra half an hour’s care each day. At five mornings a week that’s a weekly total of £140. There are also registration fees and one-off administration charges. It all seems a bit unfair, until you realise that the average value of the hourly Nursery Education Grant is only about £3.75 an hour. That’s less than the minimum wage for Pete’s sake, in fact it’s just over half the minimum wage. It’s because of this that nurseries in the independent and voluntary sectors are being put in the position where they need to subsidise a little bit to parents to make up the difference in costs.

This would always be the problem with free entitlements. Chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association Purnima Tanuku points out that since the “free” entitlement for three- and four-year-olds was introduced in the mid-2000s, the hourly average has not increased. “It was inadequate when it came in and it was not even linked to inflation,” she says, adding: “We are still fighting these battles even now. This has been the biggest problem with the free entitlement, and the more hours they then extend it to, the more difficult it will be to provide.”

She adds: “While parents will welcome the extra help with childcare it is vitally important the funding for these extended hours is thought through properly. Childcare providers are already working with a system which is not fit for purpose and leaves the majority making a loss of £700 per child, per year on funded places for three- and four-year-olds. It is these inherent problems which are pushing down pay for childcare workers and making the sector unsustainable for childcare providers.”

It would seem to me the childcare issue will always be a theory vs practice battle, and we’ve seen many of those in the past haven’t we?

Primary places shortfall not being dealt with, says Labour

Labour has accused the government of not doing enough to combat a shortfall in primary school places in England predicted for September.

Despite increases in school capacity there will be 120,000 fewer places than there are pupils, according to the party’s analysis of government figures.

Thousands of parents “face a summer of worry” said shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg.

The government said Labour’s calculation was “simplistic”.

Labour’s analysis compares the figure of more than 230,000 extra primary places which the National Audit Office has said will be needed by September with the 110,000 places which the government has said will have been created by local authorities.

This leaves a shortfall of 120,000 says Labour which will mean many parents “will have to scramble for a place”.

“When schools start again in September, parents will see more overcrowded classes and temporary classrooms on playgrounds,” said Mr Twigg.

“In some cases even the school library and music room may have shut to create new classrooms.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “The claim that there will be a shortfall of 120,000 places is based on a simplistic and totally flawed calculation that does not take into account existing surplus places.

“In fact, our latest survey shows that there are around 400,000 surplus primary school places across the country and we expect a further 110,000 extra places to be created by September.”

The spokeswoman said the government would spend £5bn by 2015 on new school places, “more than double the amount spent by the previous government in the same time frame.

“In addition nine out of 10 primary free schools approved last month are in areas of basic need, and last week we announced a further £820m to create 74,000 extra places where they are most needed.”

Labour said the government’s free schools programme was failing to provide places in areas of shortage.

“Labour would sort out this mess by ensuring primary schools are built where they’re needed, instead of wasting hundreds of millions building free schools in areas where there are already enough places”, said Mr Twigg.

Natalie Evans of the New Schools Network, which represents free schools, said: “Nearly 70% of all open or approved free schools have been set up in areas where there is a need for places.

“At this rate by 2015 free schools will have created an additional 250,000 places, an important contribution to tackling the current shortfall in school places.”

The squeeze on primary places stems from a rising birth-rate and increased immigration.

In March, the National Audit Office said in excess of 230,000 primary places would be needed in time for the next academic year, with one in five primaries full or near capacity amid signs of “real strain” on places.

The report also warned that although all regions would need more primary places, the shortage was not evenly spread. The greatest pressure is in London which accounts for a third of the places needed, it said.

Labour has a good point here I think. What the government don’t realise is the fact that the alleged ‘existing surplus places’ will be in areas that are more likely to be highly populated, meaning smaller towns and villages etc won’t necessarily have access to their local school. This means that it is important, as Labour suggest, to make sure these schools that have millions of pounds invested in them are built in these lesser areas to give smaller areas a local school to attend. The last thing we want as primary teachers is for our classes to be overcrowded and unmanageable.

Schools -To be free or not to be free – Labour’s policy

In the news today, Labour announced there would be no more free schools opened by a future Labour government, but existing free schools could stay open, says the party’s education spokesman, Stephen Twigg. The shadow education secretary also wants all state schools in England to have the rights given to academies. Mr Twigg says he wants to end a “fragmented, divisive” school system.

In a major policy speech on Monday, Mr Twigg has taken a significant step towards setting out the opposition’s schools policy. Free schools, set up by parents and other groups, would no longer be created under Labour. The more than 80 free schools already open and those in the pipeline would continue to be funded, says Mr Twigg, but beyond that point new schools would have to be created as academies.

Under his blueprint, academies and local authority schools would have similar levels of autonomy. Mr Twigg described the plans using a phrase associated with Tony Blair’s early years in office: “Standards not structures.” Mr Twigg argues against an “incoherent” and “bureaucratic” system in which different types of school have different levels of flexibility.

“We know that giving schools more freedom over how they teach and how they run and organise their schools can help to raise standards,” the shadow education secretary told his audience at the RSA in London.

“So why should we deny those freedoms to thousands of schools? All schools should have them, not just academies and free schools. A school should not have to change its structure just to gain freedoms.”

Since Labour left office in 2010, more than half of secondary schools in England have become self-governing academies, and rather than reversing this tide, Mr Twigg says that all schools should share similar degrees of autonomy. Academies, state-funded schools which operate outside of local authority control, can set their own curriculum and decide their own school terms and the length of school days. They also have greater financial independence and can buy in services such as technology. Rather than turn back from the model of school autonomy, a Labour government would accelerate more schools in that direction.

Pay limits are also referred to in today’s speech. Academies are able to set their own pay and conditions for their teaching staff, a power that has been controversial with the teachers’ unions. Labour is not proposing that this power should be extended to all schools, arguing that the current national pay framework should not be broken up. There would also be a more significant role for local authorities, with Mr Twigg arguing they should be able to intervene in academies and free schools, as well as local authority schools, when there are concerns about standards.

Would you believe who dismisses this idea? Who else but Michael Gove, probably the most hated person in Britain right now. He goes as far to say that, “Labour’s policy on free schools is so tortured they should send in the UN to end the suffering,” I think we can all get a deep sense of hypocritical comment here.

A Department for Education source also dismissed Labour’s policy. It states that, “Labour policy on free schools is still confused. On the one hand Twigg says he will end the free school programme, but on the other he says he would set up ‘parent-led and teacher-led academies’ – free schools under a different name.”
The government source also accused Labour of confusion over what powers should be devolved to schools.

What do you think about these free schools? Are they having a positive impact? Should we have more or less of them?