David Laws MP writes…Higher expectations for schools – with more money to meet them

All over the country, thousands of 11 year olds are preparing to make the big step up to secondary school.  Some will be excited and raring to go, while others will be anxious about the new challenge that lies ahead.  Every parent knows that this is a crucial time for a child.  To go from the safety of your primary school into a new and unknown world can be daunting for many children.

The experience is even more difficult if you start at an immediate disadvantage.  A child who has failed to grasp the basics of English and Maths in primary school will struggle to access the rest of the secondary curriculum, and will quickly become frustrated and de-motivated as their peers soar ahead.  Sadly, the evidence suggests that a child who starts behind, stays behind.

At the moment, too many children find themselves in this situation.  Liberal Democrats cannot be content with the system we inherited from Labour.  A primary school can carry on with no questions asked even if four in every ten of their pupils fail to meet a basic level, and where even those reaching that level often aren’t properly prepared for secondary school.

So we are going to ask more of primary schools.  We want 85% of 11 year olds to leave at a level where they are ready to succeed at secondary school.  This represents a huge increase in our ambitions, for more young people.

Some schools are already doing this – proving what can be achieved if we believe in the potential of every child.  All children should be in schools like this.

Crucially, we will not leave schools to go it alone.  We may be asking primary schools to aim higher, but we are giving them the funds to do it.  Nick Clegg has today announced the largest ever increase in the pupil premium for primary schools, from £900 to £1,300 in 2014/15 for every disadvantaged child, when the pupil premium reaches the full £2.5billion as promised on the front page of the Liberal Democrat manifesto.  For the first time, primary schools pupils will attract a higher pupil premium – because Liberal Democrats know that making a difference early has the greatest impact on a child’s life.

And we will judge schools fairly.  Liberal Democrats have long argued that schools should be judged based on the progress children make throughout the school – and that is what we are proposing to do.  A school that has a hugely challenging intake, but does amazing work to progress its pupils against the odds, will no longer be judged as failing.  Parents will get extra information on how their child is performing: out with the confusing jargon that ranks children by levels, and in with meaningful, easily understandable information that will give parents a full and detailed picture of their child’s achievements.

Schools and teachers have made huge progress in recent years, so the time is right to ask them to be even more ambitious for their pupils.  That is the deal we are proposing – extra money for schools, but with higher expectations of what children can and should achieve.

* David Laws is Liberal Democrat Minister for Schools.

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14 Comments

  • So is this really extra money, or is it being taken from elsewhere in the education budget? If so, where? Does anyone know?

  • Eddie Sammon 17th Jul '13 - 1:33pm

    It is absolutely right for children to be ranked nationally. A few months ago I was even telling my younger niece and nephew how they are not just competing with the children in their class or school, but the whole world.

    Some people of the left won’t like this, but it’s a fact of life and one I wish I understood when I was younger.

  • Good stuff!

  • Bill le Breton 17th Jul '13 - 6:42pm

    David,

    Like you, I’m not an expert on this. But a thought: could each community draw up a list of capabilities that its citizens hope children will develop – social as well as academic – as they progress through their early lives?

    Could schools (not exclusively) keep a track of progress in their acquirement by individual children. Different children will acquire them at different ages/times in their early lives. Could teachers be recognized as good people to identify how these capabilities are developing and also professionally skilled to put in place programmes/resources to help individual children on their paths to collecting these capabilities? Could teachers be valued as skilled in this process?

    No big test – 3/4hr life changing test. No one-size fits all. No ‘dunces’. No elite. No exclusion.

    Communities around schools (including not just parents, but future parents, and past pupils, local employers) could individually and freely prioritise these capabilities. A school premium could perhaps follow those schools in which their young pupils appear to be disadvantaged in the acquisition of capabilities.

    What is being proposed is necessarily going to be linked to a Gove list of capabilities, rather than a set of community valued capabilities.

  • I’m a strong supporter of the principle of the pupil premium but I’d prefer to see it in the form it was intended; as a supplement to well funded education not as a counter weight to balance out cuts in per pupil funding.
    http://www.ifs.org.uk/bns/bn121.pdf
    The IFS report shows a decline in real terms funding both for education as a whole in terms of a percent of GDP aswell as a cut in per pupil funding.

    You statement “That is the deal we are proposing – extra money for schools, but with higher expectations of what children can and should achieve.” is plain disingenuous. You are not prosing extra money for schools. You are providing extra money for some schools and cuts for many many more.

  • Tom Lawrence 17th Jul '13 - 7:39pm

    All primary schools *want* to do the best for their pupils and help them get on in life. We don’t need to ask them to do anything. We just need to support them to do want they yearn to do. And very often, this is simply about getting out of their way. Successive governments, Secretaries of State and ministers, including the current ones, keep making the mistake of trying to be seen to be doing a lot. By interfering, they make the situation worse. Let’s please avoid repeating this.

    Helping schools to get information about what other schools are doing is also a positive step – let’s make the DfE the servant of our schools and educational establishments, with a role in disseminating best practice.

  • Julian Critchley 18th Jul '13 - 12:58am

    Another education policy dreamed up by people who spent their whole school career at the top of the ability range, and whose own children are at the top of the ability range, telling everyone just how important it is that the people at the top of the ability range are praised by everyone else.

    Most children, by definition, are not at the top. Half of all children, by definition, are below average ability/achievement. But they’re not likely to be the children of the political classes, or the media pundits, or even the sharp-elbowed middle-classes. So who gives a monkeys about whether this will humiliate them and their parents or not ?

    Most education policy – especially the frankly evil stuff coming out of this Government – can be clearly understood if one takes as one’s starting point that the people inventing it are high-achievers either so lacking in empathy that they simply cannot imagine what it might be like to be non-academic, or so lacking in humanity that they simply don’t care about labelling hundreds of thousands of small children “failures”.

    The LibDems helping Gove to take a torch to our education system is as good a reason as any to vote against the party in every future election. My spiral of disillusionment has been a long one since 2010. It took me a whole year to leave the party, and another year before I could bring myself to vote for someone else. I was still telling myself that I might be able to vote yellow under the right circumstances even earlier this year. But this, more than anything else, actually managed to help me realise that I now actively want to see the LibDems wiped out at the next election. The party I was a member of for more than 20 years would never have consented to this evidence-free, child-hating, nasty right-wing nonsense.

  • “In an answer to a question in the House yesterday, David Laws stated that it would be new money.”

    The question is what exactly that means. He also said “The fact that we have built this programme on a protected schools budget is fantastic news for schools”, which would be a very strange thing to say if the announcement represented a real-terms increase in the schools budget.

    The point that was very thoroughly aired in 2010 is that – unlike the Lib Dem manifesto policy – this government’s pupil premium does not represent additional spending on schools. The original estimate was that total schools spending, including the pupil premium, would rise by 0.1% a year in real terms. Since then the IFS has estimated that total spending on schools would actually fall in real terms. And that takes into account the fact that the pupil premium would eventually rise to £2.5bn. That final rise is what David Laws says this £400 increase represents.

    Whatever David Laws meant by describing this money as “new” or “additional”, the bottom line seems to be that the schools budget will remain unchanged in real terms.

  • National ranking is utter nonsense. Ranking any data set, will ALWAYS mean some data falls into the bottom percentile and some in the top percentile. It does not show how great or how small the difference between the data (in this case pupils). Ranking will, more likely than not, be misrepresented to the detriment of pupils and schools. “School x is an excellent school because it is in the 95th percentile ” or “child y is underachieving because he is in the 10th percentile”. In reality there may be very little difference between them.

    Neither does ranking take any account of a pupil’s starting point. To believe all children start primary school at exactly the same place educationally is so naive it is laughable. Some are already accomplished readers and good with numbers while others are not fully toilet trained (I do not exaggerate). Therefore a child moving from the 5th to the 25th percentile has made more progress than one moving from the 85th to the 95th. However to be told you are ranked in the bottom quarter of test ‘scores’, despite working really hard, is not a fair reflection of that pupil’s achievement.

    We will never get to the position where every pupil is ‘above average’; it is neither educationally nor mathematically possible so let’s stop pretending we can. Whoever dreamt up this nonsense would, rightly, fail their maths GCSE.

  • A Social Liberal 18th Jul '13 - 11:16pm

    I agree entirely with Simon, but would go further. Rather than the pupil premium being spent on whatever the headmaster decides, I would have it targeted at the student it was granted to. This would mean that in my town a child from a low income family would be able to receive tutelage so that they might have a chance to go to grammar school. That bright but poor kids could get a computer at home so they can compete with those from more affluent families and that they can go to the clubs and associations that their poverty prevetns them from attending at the moment.

  • Helen Tedcastle 20th Jul '13 - 4:31pm

    Ah, the old carrot and big stick approach – nice one David Laws.

    I’m with Julian Critchley – this takes absolutely no account of the ability levels in front of the teacher.

    I find it hilarious to the point of sinister in the way that Government Education Ministers chant mantras for teachers to be ‘more ambitious’ practically every year – and build in financial incentives to ‘make this happen.’

    It is almost as if they think that teachers ‘want’ their children to be average or indeed fail, though with a a pot of extra money, they have the incentive to pull their collective fingers out. Of course, we know Gove thinks this already – but now it’s the Lib Dem Leadership.

    The idea of national rankings is great if I’m the parent of an able child (a little David Laws or Michael Gove) but if I was the parent of a lower ability child or a special needs child, I would be dreading the school report and the sight of a national ranking, which simply confirms that my child is weak, not just in class but compared with others across the entire country.

    What will stop a future Secretary of State with the zeal of a Michael Gove, actually publishing the data compiled by this ‘initiative’ in the media…’in order to drive up standards’…?

    This is going to be another badge of failure for these children. The loss of hope this will engender, will have to be dealt with by secondary schools for years to come.

    What a legacy for this Government, of which Liberal Democrats are a part.

  • Peter Watson 20th Jul '13 - 9:34pm

    @Helen Tedcastle “What will stop a future Secretary of State with the zeal of a Michael Gove, actually publishing the data compiled by this ‘initiative’ in the media”
    What will stop a future Secretary of State from using the data as the entrance exam for a new generation of selective secondary schools?

  • Helen Tedcastle 21st Jul '13 - 11:58am

    @ Peter Watson: Indeed.

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