Category Archives: Education

Cameron-Osborne’s vendetta against the young could prove their downfall

Osborne really has got it in for young people – unless of course they are poised to inherit their grandparents’ £1 million home or will benefit from a higher inheritance tax threshold.   It will be young people who cop it from changes to universal credit that will deduct benefits faster as they earn more.   That will cost 3 million families an average of £1,000 a year according to the IFS.   Altogether some 13 million families, over half the population, will lose an average of £5 a week as a result of extending the freeze in working-age benefits, tax credits and local housing allowance, until 2020.

Then there’s unemployment.   The largest increase between 2008-13 was among 18-24 year olds, with 210,000 more out of work.   The latest figures show nearly half a million 16-24 year olds jobless, an unemployment rate of 13.7%, more than double the national average of 5.5%.   Even if they can find a job, Osborne’s over-hyped ‘national living wage’ won’t apply to those below 25 years of age.    The rate for 18-20 year olds will be a miserly £5.30 an hour, whilst for 16-17 year olds it will be slave rates of £3.87 an hour and and even £3.30 an hour for apprentices.

University fees are ending up putting poorer students into permanent debt.    When fees tripled to £9,000 a year, the maintenance loan was means-tested to target students from poorer families.   More than half a million students in England received the £3,387 maintenance grant last year, costing £1.6bn.   Now this grant is being turned by Osborne’s latest budget into another loan, of up to £8,200 a year.   So student debt will now rise to £51,000 after 3 years.   Unsurprisingly a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has recently found that the largest increases in poverty in the last decade has been among younger adults of working age.

As for housing, anyone aged 18-21 will no longer be automatically able to claim housing benefit under the new rules.   The exclusion of young renters from any State support comes as young earners are increasingly locked out of home ownership as a result of soaring prices.   The average age of a first-time buyer has rocketed from 29 to 38 over the last decade.   Nor is further education a way out.   Further education colleges face some of the biggest cuts in the comprehensive spending review due in the autumn.   Indeed the further education sector, which provides the bulk of the UK’s post-secondary training, faces possible collapse and the loss of the invaluable source of technicians and mechanics.

What have young people done to deserve these successive kicks in the teeth?   In today’s volatile political climate this Tory campaign against the young will surely boomerang against its perpetrators.


Why is Labour so timid over education, especially free schools?

Cameron announces that, in addition to the 240 so-called free schools already operating in 2014-15, a re-elected Tory government will open a further 153.   Why is the Labour party so timid in responding to this?   The official riposte was: “Instead of focusing on the need for more primary school places, David Cameron’s government has spent £241m on free schools in areas that already have enough school places.   The result is a 200% increase in the number of infants taught in classes of more than 30”.   The impression given is that what is wrong with free schools is merely that they’re being set up in the wrong places: if they were set up in places where there’s a shortage of primary school places, that would be fine.   Except it wouldn’t be fine at all.    Why doesn’t Labour make the real charge against free schools?
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10 objectives for Labour for 2015

As the election comes into sight, what should be the 10 pledges that Labour should make to maximize its vote for 7 May 2015?   Here are some proposals which should certainly be included:

1  End austerity because the policy of endless spending cuts is clearly not working – deficit reduction (the ostensible purpose of the whole exercise) has ground to a halt and the deficit may even rise this year.   Adopt the obvious alternative policy, which would cut the deficit far more quickly, by expanding the economy, creating hundreds of thousands of real jobs, raising household incomes, and using the higher tax take to pay down the deficit faster.

2  Make the revival of British manufacturing industry the key objective of domestic economic policy as the only way to pay our way in the world and reverse the disastrous slide to the biggest balance of payments deficits in British history.

3  Make full employment equally a central objective of economic policy when  there are still today 2 million persons jobless and up to a further 5 million in short-term insecure jobs often dependent on zero hours contracts.
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Why does Labour follow the Tory path of punishing the victim over work benefits?

The idea of giving young people aged 18-21 guaranteed access to education or training or help to find work is obviously a good one, but why spoil it by proposing that such persons should receive a means-tested ‘youth allowance’ at a rate perhaps even lower that the current job seeker’s allowance (JSA)?   The latter is already paid at the extremely low level of £72.40 a week (£10.34 a day) for adults aged over 25 – almost the lowest rate of unemployment benefit anywhere in Europe – and for those aged below 25 the rate actually falls to no more than £57.35 a week (£8.19 a day).   It is now proposed in the IPPR report published yesterday that they will only get this princely bauble if they already had the skills to secure a job or were in vocational training.

A successful training policy depends on three principles.   One is an economic policy that favours growth over continued downward pressure on economic demand (i.e. prologed austerity) so that there widespread opportunities for well-paid, high-skilled, high-productivity jobs.   Today there are still 2.3 million people unemployed who can’t find such jobs since they are scarcely available.   Of the 1.5 million jobs the government boasts it has created, two-thirds are in self-employment on a pittance income and the overwhelming majority of the remainder are in low-paid, insecure or zero hours contracts jobs.   The second requirement is good-quality trainers, not the likes of A4E or Serco who cherry-pick the most able or motivated young people to get the government’s bounty, but focus much less on others who thereby lose not only job opportunities by work benefits as well.   And the third requirement is a positive programme that fires up young people’s enthusiasm, not one super-charged with sanctions.
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Gove’s ‘reforms’ meet their Waterloo

One can be forgiven a degree of Schadenfreude that Gove’s ideological zealotry, which has thrown the UK educational system into deep disarray, has now at last turned to consume himself.   The charge sheet against Gove is clear.   His sensitive touch in dealing with alleged extremism was expressed with his characteristic restraint as “not waiting till the crocodiles get near the boat, but draining the swamp”.    That then led to his appointing a former head of the Met’s counter-terrorism unit to investigate the Birmingham allegations, a completely over-the-top and wildly inappropriate response.   As he breathed fire and brimstone, it then emerged that the DfE had all along known about the Birmingham goings-on since 2010, but had done nothing about it.   And the whole current episode has shown Gove is the last person to be suited to dealing with Islamic influence in schools since he wrote a book called ‘Celsius 7/7’ in 2007 which is an excoriating diatribe against Islam, the results of which we now see.   Like Blair, whom Gove much admired, he has a Manichaean, utterly polarised view of good and evil, in this case between Western liberalism and Islamic fundamentalism.   But the Birmingham problems – and there are serious issues there which need to be addressed – will not be properly addressed in such lurid terms.
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By their outbursts shall ye know them

The boisterous pantomime that is Boris Johnson may well have taken a step too far in his irrepressible flair for self-publicity.   To observe that “as many as 16% of our species have an IQ below 85, while about 2% have an IQ above 130” in order to justify ‘shaking the pack harder so it will be easier for some cornflakes to get to the top’ says a great deal, not only about Johnson himself, but about the Bullingdon Club mentality which so strongly infuses the menagerie of characters around the Tory leadership.   This was an unabashed assertion that the super-rich deserve all that they have ‘because they’re worth it’, even though he expressed the forlorn hope that the “Gordon Gekkos of London are conspicuous not just for their greed as for what they give and do for the rest of the population” – fat chance of that.   And harking back to classic Thatcherism he added that “I hope there is no return to the spirit of loadsamoney heartlessness – figuratively rifling banknotes under the noses of the homeless”.   He doesn’t seem to have noticed that this is already happening ever more starkly.
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So Cameron’s shocked at private school grip on top jobs! – pull the other one

Cameron’s admission he must ‘do far more’ to increase social mobility is surely a prize irony, even by his standards.   His close friend Gove’s obsessive drive to promote free schools and ‘converter’ academies must be one of the prime engines for embedding social immobility for the next generation, because they will reinforce social segregation.   Whilst Labour’s academies had fewer disadvantaged pupils than the schools they replaced (the generally accepted proxy for disadvantage being a much lower percentage of free school meals, FSM, children), this process has been taken a great deal further by Gove’s ‘converter’ schools which now operate quite separately from local authorities.   As a consequence, for Cameron to say he is shocked that social mobility is stagnant or even becoming even more entrenched is pure hypocrisy when his own government’s policies will make the prospects for social mobility worse, and are even designed to do so.   This is arguably the most privilege-ridden UK government since the war three-quarters of a century ago, and by layering further social selection on top of existing deep inequality, the result must be, and is intended to be, a more class-differentiated society.
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What on earth is happening in the Labour Party?

You might have thought from the Tory tabloid screams at Ed’s conference speech plus the sidelining of the three older Blairites in the reshuffle that the Labour Party was taking a sharp turn to the left.   Nothing could be further from the truth: plus ca change, plus la meme chose.   The Left has been dropped or shunted out of sight, whilst the Right is everywhere dominant both in the shadow cabinet and in the Leader’s office.   If this were a plausible plan for restoring a demoralised party or for winning an election, there might be a case for this.   But it isn’t.   The new incumbent at DWP loses no time at all in repeating the mantra of her predecessor, which had made him so unpopular within the party, that ‘Labour will be tougher than the Tories on benefits’.   Her new colleague at education, equally untried, has immediately cosied up to a version of Gove’s free schools and has said Labour will put ‘rocket boosters’ under parent-led academies.   With Labour still stuck to the Tories’ expenditure cuts and presenting no clear alternative to austerity, this is clearly a consolidated shift to the Right.
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Gove takes education back to the 1970s

Gove, the epitome of undisguised reaction, is driven by three aims for the UK education system: to privatise every bit of it he can via academies and free schools, to put English traditionalism at the heart of it (symbolised for example by sending every school a copy of the old encrusted King James’ Bible), and to ensure that ‘more intelligent children’ (code for the better-off classes) were not held back by any truck with egalitarianism.   Even he has excelled himself by trying to replace the universal GCSEs by the highly divisive O levels and CSE.   As he told the Daily Mail this summer (without bothering with Parliament), “less intelligent pupils…were to…sit simpler exams, similar to the old CSE”.   Once again the sheep and the goats were to be introduced into English education from which even Tory education Ministers had retreated in the 1980s.
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