Clegg: Lib Dems ‘misunderstand’ schools policy

That’s the Channel 4 News headline tonight, and it seems a fair reflection of Nick Clegg’s interview with Jon Snow this evening:

As I tried to explain in my speech yesterday, some of the misgivings expressed in the conference hall I genuinely think slightly misunderstand what the government policy is going to do. I think there is a misunderstanding bluntly between what the free schools proposal is alleged to be trying to do and what it will actually do. It won’t be taking resources and people and attention away from other schools… and crucially, as I stressed in my speech yesterday, it won’t do what would be genuinely divisive. It won’t be introducing selection through the back door, which I’m staunchly opposed to.”

You can see Nick’s interview here:


(Also available to watch here.)

This can be seen as either brave or stubborn stuff from Nick.

The Lib Dem leadership was overwhelmingly defeated by conference delegates in the free schools debate yesterday, and though it will not affect the Coalition agreement it was certainly a setback for those at the top of the party who want to see local authority control of education passed on to parents and independent groups.

Nick could have dropped any reference to free schools from his conference speech: he very consciously did not. He did, however, reach out to highlight the agreement between the Coalition and those Lib Dems opposed to free schools on the most totemic issue of them all: no return to selection.

On Radio 5 Live yesterday, I repeated my belief that Nick’s speech was mainly about reassuring both party members and the wider public. Interestingly, Jon Pienaar took a very different view: that this was Nick challenging the Lib Dems, leading from the front — even standing up to — the party in a way no-one had had the authority to try since Paddy Ashdown. I’m still not wholly convinced that’s what Nick’s trying to do: after all, he is now responsible for two sets of policy these days… Coalition policy and Lib Dem policy, and sometimes in that order.

Read more by or more about , or .
This entry was posted in Conference.
Advert

35 Comments

  • I can’t help but think of this article: http://www.economist.com/blogs/bagehot/2010/09/liberal_democrat_party_conference_0

    ” But more importantly, the party’s local councillors and municipal bigwigs are not just figures of authority, they are insiders and incumbents. And when the party’s local government forces band together, the overall tone is neither radical nor idealistic. As a force, local government Lib Dems can come across as amazingly conservative, with a small “c”….In short, this room was packed with people who are (I am sure) brimming with the milk of human kindness, but who simultaneously seem to believe that individuals are wicked and selfish if they are not constrained by collective, communitarian oversight. I must admit, this is a brand of liberalism I had not come across before. It was also novel to find myself surrounded by people who think Britain’s current education system is such a howling success that it should be preserved from serious reform.”

  • Arrogance and yet more evidence of the patronising contempt Nick has for anyone who doesn’t see things through his Cameroonian tinted spectacles. No doubt Cameron persuaded him why he’s right and Nick’s own Party is wrong in one of their delightful shared D.I.Y. sessions at number 10.
    What larks!
    Never mind.
    Nick gets to run off to the U.N. and feel important now, rather than explain in detail why everyone is wrong but him and Cameron. After all, isn’t THAT what matters most of all these days ?

  • Labour spent billions extra on education with little effect on standards and yet we wish to make no changes at all, because of a terror that middle class parents will use free schools to get better education for their children.

    It was clear that some of the speakers would rather standards stayed where they were, rather than schools in middle class areas get better. Shockingly conservative.

  • People who have spent real time researching the Swedish model disagree with Nick:

    Rebecca Allen, from the Institute of Education, part of the University of London, said evidence showed a “moderately positive” impact of free schools on academic performance when pupils were 15 and 16, but she added: “The biggest beneficiaries are children from highly educated families; the impact on low educated families and immigrants is close to zero … The researchers also find that the advantages that children educated in areas with free schools have by age 16 do not translate into greater educational success in later life.”

    The Swedish version of Ofsted disagrees with Nick:

    “Skolverket, the National Education Agency, said that Sweden’s “free schools” were an inefficient use of funds that drove up the overall cost of education, when they are supposed to achieve the opposite.”

    The Director General of Schools in Sweden disagrees with Nick:

    “This competition between schools that was one of the reasons for introducing the new schools has not led to better results. The lesson is that it’s not easy to find a way to continue school improvement. The students in the new schools have, in general, better standards, but it has to do with their parents and backgrounds. They come from well-educated families.”

    David Laws disagrres with Nick:

    “The Tories’ schools plans are deeply flawed both in terms of money and on the curriculum. Michael Gove’s plan to cut the education budget means his ability to establish new schools will inevitably depend on raiding the budgets of existing schools.

    Even Nick disagrees with Nick:

    “Nick Clegg, described the Tory flagship free schools policy as a “disaster for standards”.

    Surely they can’t all be wrong.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 21st Sep '10 - 9:39pm

    “Even Nick disagrees with Nick”

    But how can you tell when he’s disagreeing with himself, and when he’s just plain lying?

  • But Nigel, you forget that Gove himself was making confident predictions of 700 free schools. The take up of 16 means it is already a roaring success. Particularly given that of the 16 one free school is offering training in etiquette and fine dining in Bradford and another compulsory Latin in London.

    Surely no-one can now say these are an expensive waste of money and an idealogical sop to the right ?

  • I have to say – even as an avowed opponent of the way Clegg + his team have taken us so far to the Right – even I am shocked with this latest statement. Let’s plot this story arc:
    – We debate Free Schools
    – We ask questions
    – We vote
    – We pass the motion to oppose them, democratically
    – Danny Alexander briefs within minutes that it matters not
    – We are told, as a party, by our leader, that we just don’t understand.

    This cab no longer be ignored. It is not leadership. It is dictatorship.

  • In other words, you don’t get it little people. He was trying to shift responsibilty for job losses on to local councils on the BBC News tonight. We’ll have look at pensions and pay freezes but its up to councils to decide how they want to manage things. This guy is your Tony Blair. For Middle East Peace envoy read European Commission 2015. Mind you, you’ll have plenty of company down at the dole office.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Sep '10 - 10:28pm

    ad

    But more importantly, the party’s local councillors and municipal bigwigs are not just figures of authority, they are insiders and incumbents.

    Oh, what a load of crap. Here we go again, it’s Teapot Party stuff – where somehow big global corporations and bankers with their multi-billion earnings are somehow revolutionary figures on the side of the people, while those who are actually elected by the people and are generally fairly ordinary people themselves are “insiders and encumbents”. This madness supposes that when I was a borough councillor I was so much more important and powerful a figure, what with my £10,000 allowance, than the bankers and chief executives in the City.

    Of course, anyone who knew how these things worked would know actually councillors don’t run schools. During the 12 years I was a councillor, I never had any say on what went on in the Borough schools. That was done by the school heads and the governors, with many of the governors being parents. So what this “free school” idea claims it is about is what ALREADY exists – schools run by local voluntary effort.

    Overwhelmingly I have heard from people who work in education and health despair at how clueless the Tories are, and how anyone who knows what really happens can see why their ideas won’t work.


    It was also novel to find myself surrounded by people who think Britain’s current education system is such a howling success that it should be preserved from serious reform.

    No-one is saying that. However, it should be recalled that Britain’s current education system is the one the Tories gave us last time they had control of it. That time they said the problem was all these evil local councillors, so they would take it away from councils and put it instead under the control of their National Curriculum. Despite taking it away from councillors, they are still so prejudiced against local democracy that they still want to blame councillors for its problems, so they suppose taking away the control they actually took away before anyway will solve the problems.

    The real problem with schools is the anti-intellectual shit poured on our kids by the entertainment industry and the likes of Rupert Murdoch, and the dog-eat-dog posturing which feeds down from the City boys lording it over us and behaving in that way, to kids on the streets thinking that’s the way to live. But don’t expect the Tories who are paid by these people to admit that.

  • “He did, however, reach out to highlight the agreement between the Coalition and those Lib Dems opposed to free schools on the most totemic issue of them all: no return to selection. ”

    That, I think, is the biggest disappointment of all. If people in our party genuinely wanted to do more to improve social mobility, they would be clamouring for the reintroduction of the one education reform that genuinely produced it: grammar schools. It was grammar schools that raised the aspirations and attainment of so many people, and introduced them to things that hitherto they had been unaware of.

  • Terry Gilbert 22nd Sep '10 - 7:59am

    @Tabman – I don’t think Grammar schools ‘raised the …. attainment of so many people’. They merely segregated those of ‘attainment’ from the rest. I speak as someone who almost went to a Grammar at 11, but changed my mind at the last moment and went to my neighbourhood comprehensive (mainly travel reasons). I later found myself in the next room at Cambridge to someone who would have been in my class had I gone to the Grammar.

  • Terry Gilbert 22nd Sep '10 - 8:03am

    Incidentally, If Clegg thinks Monday’s vote was down to a ‘misunderstanding’ he is whistling in the wind. I sat through the debate and I think only the Govt payroll spoke against the boycott of free schools. The majority of Councillors, former Parliamentarians and other members seem to me to be fundamentally opposed to the break up of LEA oversight and support services in education.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Sep '10 - 8:36am

    Tabman

    If people in our party genuinely wanted to do more to improve social mobility, they would be clamouring for the reintroduction of the one education reform that genuinely produced it: grammar schools.

    Did it? Your proof? Well, you don’t need to go far to find a proof, because there are parts of England which still have the grammar/secondary-modern divide, they include the whole county of Kent. So there you are, if what you say has any truth in it, Kent would be a wonderful example of social mobility, and the upper reaches of society would be full of Kentish men and women from poor backgrounds. Are they?

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Sep '10 - 8:48am

    Where I grew up, the grammar school was in a nice leafy posh part of town, and the secondary modern was on a council estate. That made it VERY clear which one you were meant to go to.

    The grammar/secondary-modern divide was meant for an economy which required 20% brain workers and 80% brawn workers. We don’t live in a country which works like that any more. The idea that “social mobility” means snatching a tiny number of very bright kids from poor backgrounds and training them to be posh, while condemning all the rest from those backgrounds to an inferior education, is insulting. It is piped out again and again by the ignorant who believe the lies of the Tory press, and by those who want such a division for the real reasons – to keep their kids from mixing with the plebs.

    But it is THEIR politics which have caused these plebs to become what they are, their socially divisive polices which are opening up the divisions. If you want kids from poor backgrounds to succeed, make sure they’ve got decent homes to live in, because who can study if you’re squeezed into overcrowded accommodation thanks to the Tory housing polices carried out by all governments here since the 1980? Make sure there are plentiful public libraries, full of intelligent stuff, because letting loose a bright kid in one of those is the best way to educate him or her. But under this coalition there are already massive cuts being planned in public libraries. And most of all cut out the crap mind-rotting television which is pumped to our kids these days.

  • LiberalHammer 22nd Sep '10 - 8:57am

    @Matthew Huuntbach
    “So what this “free school” idea claims it is about is what ALREADY exists – schools run by local voluntary effort.”

    The school that I have been a governor off is forever being stifled by the school diverting management time away from the classrooms onto pointless DCSF initiatives such as Community Cohesion. The Head’s ability to focus on what she thinks is priority is restricted thanks to incessant Whitehall meddling.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Sep '10 - 10:21am

    LiberalHammer

    The school that I have been a governor off is forever being stifled by the school diverting management time away from the classrooms onto pointless DCSF initiatives such as Community Cohesion. The Head’s ability to focus on what she thinks is priority is restricted thanks to incessant Whitehall meddling

    Indeed, so doesn’t this suggest there’s a cheaper and more effective way in which Michael Gove could remedy this problem than writing blank cheques for these “free” schools? I.e. just have a word with whoever’s heading DCSF to tell them to stop this wasteful sort of thing. He’s in control now, he can do that, er …

  • Matthew Huntbach. Many children don’t get the education they deserve, not because the school is particularly bad (although it will tend to focus itself elsewhere from their needs), but because of the environment they live in where educational success is denigrated – by wider society, by their peers, and by their families.

    The sad fact is that children tend to gravitate towards the predominate social norm – in selective schooling that norm is towards academic attainment and it encourages children to strive towards this. In too many comprehensives (and I know because I went to one) the prevailing norm is in the opposite direction. It takes a strong character and very supportive parents to overcome this; where those conditions are lacking, which is exactly where the help is needed most, those children are left to fail.

    And you support this …. ???

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Sep '10 - 11:06am

    Tabman, when you ask me what I support, what actually are you asking?

    I quite agree with you that the problem is not the schools themselves, but the kids who go to them. That is why I am so much in disagreement with much of the talk about school quality these days, including that on this “free schools” idea, since the basis of it is that it is the schools which are the problem. So we have all this marketing-men stuff saying we will solve it all by competition which will “drive up quality”. But if it isn’t the schools which are intrinsically bad, this won’t work. Anyone who actually knows their stuff can see that. The “it’s all the fault of bad schools line” is nutty, because if that was the problem there would be no correlation between “good” and “bad” schools and nature of school intake, but there is – a massive one.

    I don’t think snatching a few kids from the poor people’s schools and sending them to the rich people’s schools does anything to solve the deeper problem here. That’s my point.

  • The Blue Tories agenda for schools was always to remove them from local authority and state control and privatise them. As far as the Blue Tories are concerned the only good school is a public school, a private school or a grammar school. So called “Free Schools” are just a cover for moving the goal posts as grant maintained schools were in the eighties and nineties. Can anyone give me a justification why we need these free schools when there is perfectly good state provision and even extra capacity in many areas? It is pure ideology. The Orange Tories at their conference have seen through it and Clegg’s patronising response is that the membership simply don’t understand the arguments in favour of Gove’s divisive initiative. No wonder you are at 13% in the latest poll and Labour is at 39%. Neck and neck now with the asset strippers.

  • MH there is a big problem with societyn I think we agree. But which is the quicker fix – change society, or have selective schools?

  • We can argue the details till the cows come home but the fact of the matter is that ‘free schools’ was overwhelmingly defeated by democratic process, but how does Nick Clegg react? he effectively said the party just doesn’t understand and he’ll press ahead regardless. Combine this with his opinion that some sections of the party (the left) aren’t welcome any more makes me wonder if it’s not Nick Clegg that’s in the wrong party.

  • I was just waiting for someone to come along and defend selective grammar schools. This has always been an issue dear to the hearts of Tories. Yes, comprehensive schools are a nasty conspiracy by Marxists to do down the middle-class. And maybe they are. But we never heard them complain that secondary moderns were a nasty conspiracy to do down the working-class. Which they assuredly were.

  • @Matthew Huntbach wrote: “The grammar/secondary-modern divide was meant for an economy which required 20% brain workers and 80% brawn workers. We don’t live in a country which works like that any more.”

    Here, here!!!

  • Why are Free Schools the reward for schools succeeding under state intervention? If you believe in market forces, why not advocate ALL schools to be free to set their own curricula, staffing, legal, etc without selection? David Laws argued as much when he was shadowing Schools. The only reason I can think of is that the Tories are obsessed with schools as a means of stratification. Why? Why not educate everyone to the best of our resources and let the outcomes, rather than school access decide where they land socio-economically speaking?

    This policy just baffles me.

  • Sesenco – Comprehensives are a conspiracy to do down the able working class; the “thick” middle class quite like them because you can achieve selection on ability to pay (via house prices).

    I note that pretty much everyone on this thread is quite prepared to see the life chances of bright but poor kids go down the pan, sacrificed on the altar of their prejudices.

  • I’m sorry but all discussion on which is the better schooling system or which delivers greater social mobility is completely besides the point, the point being is that Nick Clegg has decided to ignore a democratically passed motion to oppose free schools, something that should worry ALL in the party no matter your personal views or which side of the debate you fall on.

  • Mathew:

    So what this “free school” idea claims it is about is what ALREADY exists – schools run by local voluntary effort.

    If that is true, you have no reason to complain. So complaining makes you appear to be either foolish or dishonest.

    I cannot help but think of the 1980s when Labour denounced right-to-buy, ballots for strike action and privatisations where the existing employees got to buy cut-price shares; and were surprised to discover that the council house tenants, union members and public sector workers they told each other they were defending, turned out to quite like those ideas.

    There is a lesson there.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Sep '10 - 11:24pm

    ad

    If that is true, you have no reason to complain. So complaining makes you appear to be either foolish or dishonest

    Why? The complaint is that this is spending money when we are in a time of austerity and doing so merely because the minister responsible hasn’t a clue on the thing is he is responsible for and so doesn’t actually know that councils don’t run schools any more. Anyone who wants to run a school can do so – there’s a great shortage of people willing to be LEA school governors. If you want a school to have fancy uniforms and teach Latin, you can do so – just be a school governor and get the school you are governor of to bring it in. Easy-peasy and MUCH cheaper than this “free schools” thing.


    I cannot help but think of the 1980s when Labour denounced right-to-buy.

    Well, yes, giving things away, or selling at well below cost price is obviosuly greatly appreciated by those who get them. Trouble is, it is not a trick you can repeat when you have a finite supply of things to gove away. Right-to-buy was obviously good for those who were tenants and bought their houses, or bought granny’s house and flogged it off and pocketed big profits when she kicked the bucket a few years later (coffin watching of elderly tenant relatives became an art when r-t-b came in), or were going to move anyway so got in the sharks who were lending for this to split the profits but it did depend on there being plentiful council housing and it was for the benefit of those lucky enough to have it. But now it means there isn’t plentiful council housing, so the next generation get nothing whatsoever, not even somewhere to live. Or, they have to go into private renting, which costs twice or more as council housinm, never mind it’s only taxpayers money that pays the extra in housing benefit, and there’s plenty more where that comes from …


    There is a lesson there.

    Yup – Tory ideological policies hits MY pocket in the tax I have to pay for them and their consequences.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 23rd Sep '10 - 12:12am

    “I note that pretty much everyone on this thread is quite prepared to see the life chances of bright but poor kids go down the pan, sacrificed on the altar of their prejudices.”

    What on earth makes you think that the “life chances” of anyone are best served by selection? You need to produce some data in favour of your case, and not just accuse the other side of “prejudice.”

  • “What on earth makes you think that the “life chances” of anyone are best served by selection?”

    Oh, only the countless thousands of bright kids who’ve had their lives made misery by being “too keen”. Who then face the choice of conform to the norm of not caring about academic work, or being bullied. Who will most likely choose option 1 (and even if they choose option 2), and will then not perform to the levels of which they are capable. Who, if they had been able to go to a school where an academic ethos was paramount, would have flourished.

    I am not arguing for a return to the pre-70s grammar system (which had its faults as well as its merits) – but that there is a complete failure to recognise that for some pupils, separate schooling selected on the basis of academic ability is the best and most appropriate way for them to receive an education.

    Children with outstanding sports abilitiy get sent to specialist sports academies; children with outstanding muiscal abilities get sent to specialist music academies; why shouldn’t children with exceptional academic abilities get sent to specialist academies?

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Sep '10 - 2:55pm

    Tabman

    Oh, only the countless thousands of bright kids who’ve had their lives made misery by being “too keen”. Who then face the choice of conform to the norm of not caring about academic work, or being bullied.

    I am fully aware of this issue, but the solution you propose does nothing to tackle its underlying causes. All you want to do is snatch away a few of the victims of this bullying, while leaving the bullying to happen otherwise.

    Why is it that this bullying seems to have grown more and more in recent years? What is it that we our doing to our kids to encourage it? The more “anti-bullying” policies we have, the worse it seems to become.

    We want a society where ALL shall prosper, and none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. You propose just snatching a tiny number away from such enslavement, while leaving the rest deep in it.

  • MH – a man walking along a beach came across a boy throwing fish back into the sea. The fish had just been washed ashore by a freak wave and were floundering on the beach. “Why are you bothering?” asked the man “there’s so many fish and just one of you throwing them back. It makes no difference.” “Made a difference to that one” said the boy, as he picked up and threw back another fish. “And that one” as he picked up another.

    You’re taking the position of the man on the beach, I’m taking the position of the boy. You state: “I am fully aware of this issue, but the solution you propose does nothing to tackle its underlying causes. All you want to do is snatch away a few of the victims of this bullying, while leaving the bullying to happen otherwise.

    Why is it that this bullying seems to have grown more and more in recent years? What is it that we our doing to our kids to encourage it? The more “anti-bullying” policies we have, the worse it seems to become. ”

    I note that you propose no solution to this problem – you just state its there and that selection isn’t the answer. Sure – it’s not the whole answer, but its a start. I’m proposing a solution that will at least benefit some people whilst the much larger problem can be worked on; indeed, if some of the children currently doomed to failure are rescued from it, perhaps we’ll have a bigger pool of people applying themselves to the solution in the future. Meanwhile, the well off rescue themselves by house-price apartheid.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • Matt (Bristol)
    i don't count myself as a Lib Dem any more, but talk of coalition or confidence-and-supply is unwise baloney. You need to concentrate on building up seats up in...
  • Steve Trevethan
    Thank you for your thoughtful piece. Attached are some questions Mr. Davey might help our society by asking Mr. Starmer before coming to a possible coalition...
  • Peter Davies
    "In 2019 we aimed at increasing our national appeal and look where that got us!" We targeted reasonably well going into 2019. The problem was not that we aimed...
  • Marco
    In 2005 as I recall we didn't really talk about Iraq until the last week or two of the campaign so hopefully something similar might happen with Brexit this tim...
  • Mary ReidMary Reid
    @Graham Jeffs - yes, I am fortunate to be living in a target seat, although I was campaigning for about 20 years before we won it. It's a long game. My point...