Author Archives: Niklas Smith

Opinion: Are hyper-injunctions compatible with the Human Rights Act?

“Justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.” That famous aphorism is commonly quoted, though perhaps not in the courts that hand down hyper-injunctions whose very existence is kept secret on the pain of imprisonment. This incredible situation was exposed in Parliament by John Hemming MP, whose work deserves to be widely read.

When you read a hyper-injunction what strikes you is the sheer sweeping arrogance of the way they make themselves almost totally secret. One of the many questions raised these injunctions is how they can be compatible with …

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Opinion: Why Lib Dems should support free schools

The news that a motion criticising free schools was to be debated at the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference caused a rush of excitement among journalists looking for their next “coalition splits” angle. This lazy interpretation ignores the strong tradition within the Liberal Democrats of having open debate and grassroots influence on policy. Although I disagree with the motion, I welcome the chance for our party to debate the pros and cons of free schools.

So far too much of the public debate on free schools has been uninformed by the high-quality evidence that exists on the effects of free schools. In the document at the end of this post I show that the common criticisms of free schools (including those made by the authors of the motion) are not supported by the evidence. Indeed, free schools have benefited pupils overall where they have already been operating and there is no reason to think that England would be different. I hope that as many delegates as possible will read the evidence before the conference debate.

There are many reasons for the Lib Dems to support free schools but I will focus on one particularly good reason here (others can be found in the document below).

The current school system perpetuates inequality. Richer families have a much better chance of getting their children a good education than poorer families. Admissions to most state schools are based on proximity, which results in house price premiums of up to 26 percent. It also means that existing residential segregation is reflected in many state schools.

Free schools are likely to broaden choice for poor families in particular, partly because at least half of the groups interested in setting up free schools want to work with poor children. A lot of the criticism of school choice is based on the fear that poorer families will not be able to navigate the system. But there is no reason that the system has to be as complicated as it currently is in England: ballot-based or first come, first served admissions work very well in the USA and Sweden and are easy to understand. It is already Lib Dem policy to stop schools cherry-picking pupils, and this should apply to free schools too.

The experience of school choice in other countries does not support the idea that poor families can’t take advantage of it. On the contrary, when catchment areas were abolished in New Zealand low-income families were more likely to send their children to a school outside their old catchment area than middle- or high-income families. And in Edmonton, Canada, more than half of pupils go to a school other than their nearest one.

I am drafting an amendment to make the motion in favour of free schools, provided that Local Authorities have strategic oversight of schooling (though no veto on free schools); that free schools cannot cherry-pick pupils; and that the funding system is fair and does not increase the burden on already cash-strapped Local Authorities. I would welcome comments on the draft as well as signatories so that it can be debated at Conference. I can be contacted at n.c.w.smithgmailcom.

Niklas Smith is half-Swedish and has followed the development of free schools with interest. He was Junior Treasurer of Cambridge Student Liberal Democrats 2009-10.

Free schools: an evidence check

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Opinion: A Swedish lesson for Gordon Brown

So far in British political debates the word “Swedish” is usually bandied about in support of “free schools” by the Conservatives. But you won’t see anything about schools in this post – instead I will highlight a different political lesson from Sweden.

In 2006 the centre-right Alliance for Sweden (which includes our sister party) ended twelve years of Social Democratic government; this was only the third time that the centre-right has defeated a Social Democratic government since the Second World War. An important factor in the victory was …

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Opinion: Attack YouGov if you want to – but at least say who you are

Last week’s Daily Telegraph article attacking YouGov’s polling raises some disturbing issues about the quality of political debate as we fast approach the general election.

Firstly, the article’s authors seem to have no understanding about how polls should be conducted. They complain that the raw data in one large aggregated survey “were…‘weighted’ using an undisclosed YouGov formula which reduced the lead to sex per cent .” But all reputable pollsters know that their sample will not usually be representative of the population, for example by having too few women or too many Guardian

Posted in Op-eds and Polls | Tagged , , , and | 4 Comments

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