Author Archives: Nigel Jones

Poverty and Education: do schools need more support?

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On 24th March 2020, the Education Endowment Foundation said the attainment gap for children from the poorest homes will widen while they are not in school. So here is a short version of the speech I was to make at a fringe conference meeting.

It has long been known that early years care and education is extremely important for people’s education for life. So why is spending per pupil on this down at the bottom?  The expansion of free childcare with inadequate funding for staff, reduces the quality of provision. Our Spring 2018 conference paper identified that.

This January an Education Policy Institute (EPI) report “Early Years Workforce Development” agreed that this is affecting the disadvantaged. There are staff in early years work with great knowledge and skill, but Early Education, an organisation representing them, is very critical of government, saying that the proposal to introduce baseline testing of children when they enter the Reception Class is fundamentally flawed. The Education Endowment Foundation expressed doubts that new government Early Learning Goals will better prepare children for schooling.

It is Lib-Dem policy to triple the pupil premium for that age group and radically change the testing regime.

The gap in progress from disadvantaged backgrounds widens with age. The EPI annual report in July 2019 says that young people aged 16 to 19 from poor homes are disproportionately on lower level, lower quality courses. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) in April last year (Family Matters and NEETS) says these young people are 50% more likely to be not in Education, Employment or Training. In September last, we passed a motion stating that a young person’s premium at 16+ be introduced.

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General Election 2019 – campaign positives and negatives

Here are what I think were some positives and negatives about our campaign messages and strategy. They are based largely on the points made to me as a candidate by voters or members and other party activists have endorsed the points I make. They are not in any particular order of priority. Some of the negatives were to some extent beyond our control, but they are matters we need to face better in future.

Positives

  1. We said correctly that we are by far the strongest party for Remain.
  2. Our manifesto was full of excellent proposals and was the only credibly costed

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We must put the case for Remain and do it repeatedly in the public domain

I sent our local newspaper a letter giving ten points for Remain; they published it on 1st October with the heading “Ten reasons for us to have a new vote”. That is because I prefaced it by saying “Let me express my joy should there be a public vote to remain.” My reasons were affected by my responding to Brexiteers’ previous letters expressing joy at leaving. I am showing this here because I think we need to be saying much more of this. So many people are unfortunately no longer interested in what goes on in Parliament but their reaction …

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The speeches that got away: Investing in further education and learning throughout life 

The Education motion at conference stated  “The UK faces a serious skills deficit”. 

That is an understatement. Take for example what happens when young people fail GCSE Maths and English and move on to sixth form or college. 

When I taught at a general FE College, I remember a group of 17year old girls, who aspired to be nurses. I had to spend time, for example, teaching them quadratic equations when they really needed much more time improving their understanding and application of decimals, percentages, and ratio relevant to their career. 

Force-feeding young people to resit GCSE Maths and English which they have just failed and hated is bad education. Statistically, results show it does not work. On average 25% pass; in Maths this year only 20% passed and can we claim that even these have sufficiently improved, with a pass mark around 20 out of 100, so was it relevant to their career? 

This approach can even be dangerous; on more than one occasion in my lifetime a baby has died because the decimal point in a drug prescription was in the wrong place. 

Our party motion makes clear that young people need to develop their Maths and English in a free course that is suited to their needs.  Functional skills qualifications have this year been improved, so there is no excuse. Colleges at the moment are constrained by strict funding rules. We will give colleges the freedom and resources to judge the best way to improve basic skills for everyone at age 16+. 

In this country skills and ‘vocational’ learning have  not been given the attention they need for decades. Note these points. 

First, the department for Education Skills Index, shows since 2012 the contribution of skills to the nation’s productivity declined by 27%. Second, we have now the lowest on record of adults pursuing any form of education. Third, the new T-level courses due to start in September 2020 look like being under-resourced.  Fourth, the new apprenticeships while welcome are failing at the lower levels; companies who pay the levy have reduced their other training provision. 

So, with all these recent failures to deal with the skills deficit, what does Boris Johnson do ?  He removes the post of Skills Minister. 

This follows a period when Michael Gove distorted the whole Education curriculum by his obsession with academic learning and theoretical testing. Under the veneer of improved exam results, many feel the harmful consequences of that and those at the lower end are not catching up.

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Our message to the nation following the EU Election results

What a great night it was for those who want us to remain in the EU, working for a better Britain, a better Europe and a better world.

The result presents a challenging opportunity for us. Are we up to it?

It will be a challenge to convert the Stop Brexit voters into our true supporters and activists.

It’s a challenge to outdo the Conservatives in taking on the Brexit party’s claim to represent the nation, constantly reminding people that the total vote share for remain (40.4%) was greater than Leave (around 34.9%). We need to repeatedly remind people that the Brexit Party started not from nothing, but from a large UKIP platform, with its discriminatory elements and empty promises based sorely on anger at an unfair system.

It’s a challenge to out-do the Labour party in its claim to represent ordinary workers, whose best deal is within the EU and developing our people’s skills in a less centralised UK.

The opportunity is there to state more clearly the case for remain, for improvements to the EU, for stepping up the use of our power within the EU, for our power and influence in the world for justice and peace, for dealing with inequality and migration in the UK and the world and for dealing with huge world economic entities and the environmental crisis.

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Young people and grammar schools

 

This is the slightly edited text of the speech to party conference on Sunday 18th September, moving the motion with the same title. The text of the motion can be seen here.

We believe in social mobility, but social mobility is more than simply plucking a few from disadvantaged backgrounds, by unreliable assessment and unfair procedures, at the age of 11.

In any case, all-embracing division at age 11 sends a damaging message about how we value each young person.

Actually, we believe in more than social mobility; we want even people who choose to stay in particular social groups to be better educated and better off. Not only is that good for them, it is necessary for our economy.

Gone are the days when unqualified youngsters from secondary modern schools could walk into a good job.

Gone, we hope are the days when an educated elite takes charge of everything and the rest are merely simple-minded servants.

Likewise we need more education for our society and our democracy; local and national governments and voluntary organisations have more complicated decisions to make, requiring greater understanding and participation on the part of all our people.

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What the EU Referendum has taught me

The referendum campaign has reminded or taught us many things about the relationship between us and the public. I am deliberately writing this before the result. There are matters that need a good hard examination. Among them are these:

1.Since tuition fees, we have been all too aware of people’s lack of trust in us; this is now the view held by even more people about all politicians. So when Sadiq Khan rightly points out the untruths in a leaflet, someone who was chosen as an undecided simply said on camera that he is trained to lie.

2.Large numbers of people no longer want to listen not only to us and other politicians, but even to experts; this should worry us greatly.

3. Views are affected by educational experience and level, not just age. I have met less-well-off young people who blame the EU and immigrants for their troubles. (Recent reports about the relative lack of achievement of white boys in our schools from lower backgrounds is worrying for the future.)

4. Education is supposed to broaden people’s outlook, but it needs to do more of this, since good democracy depends on that; narrowly-focussed academic or technical knowledge and skills is not enough.

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Is education at the centre of Lib Dem philosophy?

The preamble to our constitution says no-one should be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. These three go together. So, when we put Education among our top priorities, we must get it right.

Thus, poverty can prevent some people from getting the benefits of a good education, while conformity to a backward-looking community can inhibit an individual’s educational development. In September 2013, RISE (Research and Information on State Education) concluded that 80% of the difference in performance of school pupils was due to factors outside the school. Our schools and colleges cannot on their own, solve the ills of society.

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