A Timely Reform by Ian Ridley

Blog & web site of Ian Ridley

Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

That Pensions Statement

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Why has the coalition gone public today with details of public sector pension changes?

The coalition say it is to stop details of their position leaking out and being misrepresented.

Some unions have said this is a desperate attempt to bypass union leaders and appeal directly to public sector workers.

More than likely the truth is a mixture of things. We know that the ATL and NUT chose to undermine the negotiations and balloted for strike action.

The negotiations may now be stalling although they were recently reported as being near to a deal.

I suspect that the talks have gone as far as they can and more unions have indicated they will ballot to strike. So the coalition have pre-empted this with today’s statement.

The most telling move was Labour’s silence on the policy itself. I thought the unions would be demanding more in return for getting Ed Miliband his job.

Petition: Lib Dems against a rise in Tuition Fees

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

LDs against feesLib Dem blogger Neil Woollcott has set up a petition for Lib Dem supporters (and anyone else) who want to let senior Liberal Democrat ministers know their opposition to an increase in Tuition Fees.

I encourage everyone to sign this.

I oppose the rise for two reasons;

1) If our opposition to an increase in fees was going to be negotiable in forming a coalition, why did so many of our MPs sign the NUS pledge to oppose an increase during the 2010 General Election campaign? I realise that some policy has to be up in the give-and-take of coalition talks. So why make such a clear atand prior to an election when the policy was going to be put up for horse-trading and a few months later some Lib Dem MPs would be voting to support increases in fees?

2) The whole Higher Education sector is a mess. It has no strategic direction as to what it is for and how big it should be. Every year thousands of students get into a lot of debt in the mistaken belief (heldover from the 1980s) that a degree always  leads a better salaried job. Many degrees take far longer to study for than they need to, wasting the students’ time and money.

The increase in fees is justified by the coalition as part of reducing the deficit and a need to protect university spending. In fact it is just an ad hoc solution to the hole that will be left by  spending cuts, whilst maintaining current student numbers.

The questions about what Higher Education is for, how many graduates England needs and how do we ensure equal access regardless of a student’s income background have not been answered.

Funding-wise a Graduate Tax might be more equitable but it has been rejected in the short-term because the scheme would require start-up Treasury funding. I would feel more comfortable if Vince Cable had announced that fee increases were a short-term measure until the economy improved and that they would be replaced by a Graduate Tax scheme when funds allowed. That would be a far from ideal policy but one that I could live with.

I have not seen mention of the knock-on effect that the polciy will have on postgraduate numbers. I believe that fees have already had a big impact on this area. Graduates with £20,000 debts are not attracted by starting 3 years of PhD research. During this time students continue to live on a very basic income and can get into more debt, whilst their student loans accrue more interest. The new policy will just make postgraduate study even less of an option, restricting the range of people entering academic and other research.

The Pupil Premium must not be used to paper over education cuts

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

School signSarah Teather (Lib Dem Minister of State for Children ad Families) is rightly publicising the “Pupil Premium” policy of the coalition government. The policy is a Lib Dem manifesto commitment that forms part of the coalition agreement.

The premium is a (as yet unspecified) sum of money that will be attached to individual pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. These funds will be allocated to the school where each pupil is taught and the Headteacher will be able to decide how best to spend the money to help the pupil’s education.

Sarah Teather has stressed that the funding for this policy will come from outside the schools budget. So it should be additional money for schools with pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Pupil Premium has the extra refinement of being attached to the pupil wherever they go to school.

However there are several initiatives already in place that direct money towards these and other pupils struggling in school. Examples include “One to One” tuition for pupils that need extra help with English and Maths and the more broad-brush allocation of funds to local authorities based on deprivation.

The “One to One” funding has not been guaranteed beyond March 2011 and other budget cuts are already beginning to be felt. For example, in Leicester there will be £50,000 less in the Educational Psychologist budget this year.

It is likely that Head Teachers will have full discretion on how the Pupil Premium is spent. So it very probable that any extra funds that schools get this way will be used to make up for cuts elsewhere.

There is a real danger that the Pupil Preimum will not improve the lot (relative to the pre-election situation) of the children it is targeted at. Instead it will be used to paper over the cuts across the school budget.