Nick Clegg gives an extra £400 to disadvantaged kids – so why is this turning into a story about ranking pupils?

Nick Clegg in a London schoolYou have to feel for Nick Clegg. He’s doing the media rounds this morning with some really good news. Primary schools are going to get an extra £400 in Pupil Premium, bringing the total per child per year to £1300. Impressive, surely?

It makes sense that the money is directed so that if a child is struggling in primary school, they get the help that they need then. Early intervention has to be the name of the game. The last thing you would ever want is for them to go from a primary school of a few hundred kids, in a smallish, stable class to go to a much bigger environment, to study a wider range of subjects,  if they are not able to read, write or do basic numeracy. They are clearly going to be at a huge disadvantage in that diverse and fast moving environment if they haven’t got these basic skills. They are likely to go backwards from that point.

The extra money comes with conditions for the schools to meet. I know I come from Scotland where we have a different education system, but it stunned me to hear that it was deemed as ok for 4 out of 10 children to leave primary school without these basic skills. Intervention measures would only be taken if a school had fewer than 60% of its pupils not meeting that standard – and the Labour Party were fine with that. That was not something Nick Clegg was prepared to accept.

Nick is now saying that he wants 85% of pupils to be able to read, write and use numbers before they go to secondary school. That is a huge leap in performance. It’s a necessary challenge for schools. There will be a second measure taken, too, of the progress that each child has made in primary school. It stands to reason that you then have to assess kids at an early age and then again as they are about to leave primary school. I had initially misunderstood and thought that they were going to pile a huge load of extra, external tests on 5 and 11 year olds, but that’s not the case at all. Only if a school fails to meet the 85% AND fails to show that the children are progressing will they be put on special measures.

Children are assessed, generally without their knowledge, when they first go to school anyway. I remember going for my daughter’s first parents’ evening and being given huge amounts of detail about her that the teachers had gleaned in an entirely unstressful way. Similarly, good tracking and monitoring enabled the school to give us a detailed report of her abilities when she finished primary school. What’s different up here is that the assessment process has child input into it. They are expected to say, on a traffic light system, how they feel they are doing in each subject, as well as a report from the teacher. I felt that that report was much more informative and useful because it helped me guage how confident my daughter felt about what she was doing.

At the moment, parents are told which level their child has achieved when they leave primary school. All that’s being suggested in the consultation is that they should be told where their child is compared to others across the country.  It’s not as if this information is going to be made public – it’s shared between school and parent, nobody else. It helps to make sure that standards are being applied consistently across the country. It is, however, not an intrinsic part of the policy of driving up standards and giving the extra money. If parents didn’t like the idea, I’m fairly certain the ranking could be quietly ditched without affecting either the extra money or higher standards required.

There’s a lot being made of children losing confidence if they’re told they’re in the bottom 20%. How is this going to be a surprise to them? If they can’t follow lessons because they can’t read, they are already going to feel confused, disorientated, unmotivated, anxious and they’re unlikely to be brimming with self confidence.

I do wonder, though, if enough is being done to make the transition process from primary to secondary as easy as it could be. I know the Pupil Premium pays in some instances for Summer schools, but in Scotland, the emphasis is on making the transition as easy and as seamless as possible. There is close working between secondaries and feeder primaries and there’s a huge emphasis on preparing the children for the changes. When I went to secondary a million years ago, we were taken to Wick High for a morning and we went for a walk. My daughter had a 3 day transition festival and had met many of her high school teachers when they’d visited her primary.

Have a read of the consultation document here and make sure you make your voice heard.

This is a story about a Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister giving extra money to disadvantaged kids and ensuring that standards in primary schools improve so that those kids are better prepared to enjoy the challenges of secondary school. It’s a critical part of enabling everyone to get on in life, which is, for me anyway, the most important part of what Liberal Democrats do.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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37 Comments

  • Would it be rude to ask where this £400 is coming from? From another part of the education budget, I assume. Have we been told what cuts are going to be made to fund it?

    Also, why is this article headlined “Nick Clegg gives an extra £400 …”? Is Nick Clegg now an education minister? What it means, presumably, is that Nick Clegg has been allowed to make an announcement about education funding in order to try to shore up his personal popularity.

  • Tony Greaves 17th Jul '13 - 12:16pm

    The answer to the question in the headline is “the usual incompetent presentation and PR”. Why are the two issues linked?

    Tony Greaves

  • Peter Watson 17th Jul '13 - 12:39pm

    I started reading Nick’s document, got cross, so will have to return to it later.
    It looks to be all about targets (I thought we slated Gordon Brown’s lot for that approach) and assessments.
    How will the improvements be realised? How will teachers be helped? How will kids’ education be improved? And it seems like a pretty small step after Clegg’s changes to use the information for selective schooling at 11+.
    My initial reaction is frustration and disappointment, but after 3 years of this coalition, not surprise.

  • Callum Morton 17th Jul '13 - 2:03pm

    The problem is that ranking won’t just be disclosed between parent and school. Pupils will be told if they are not performing by their parents. And if they are, parents will give them a pat on the back. They’ll then try and judge where others in the class are, branding some of the ‘stupid’ for not being near the top.

    I remember when I was at a Grammar School my Geography teacher, after a mock GCSE test, put up a list of all the people in the year who had done that same test, ranking from 1-140. I got an A in that test, so I was pretty confident I’d be near the top. To me that was what I could achieve if I tried my hardest, to others it might be a C. But even with an A I was 100th. It made me feel worthless, that no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t be as good as some others in the year. I decided a week later that I wasn’t going to stay at that school to do sixth form but go to a college instead. It turned out okay for me in the end, but I learnt the hard way. I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone else.

    In my eyes the ranking is an extremely dangerous precedent. If you rank at the start and the end, why not in the middle to identify issues early? Then school just becomes a ranking exercise rather than letting teachers get on with what they know best.

  • mike cobley 17th Jul '13 - 3:26pm

    Uh huh – shall I join the dots for you? Okay – thus far, it is reckoned that Coalition cuts have resulted in the loss of about 600 thousand public sector jobs. Many of those will have families, many with school-age children, so at one end the Coalition govt is pitching all these people and their kids into uncertainty, lower standards of living, possible loss of homes and/or car, perhaps even resulting in domestic strife, divorce, and several other behaviours which people under stress typically resort when there seems to be no way out. So I cant help wonder – is Clegg giving £400 quid to schools teaching the kids of parents whose lives he helped turn into horse manure?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 17th Jul '13 - 4:52pm

    I’m not sure it’s entirely useful to know as a parent where my daughter fits into national rankings. I wanted to know that she had the skills to thrive in secondary and I wanted her to be happy there.

    If people have strong feelings about the ranking, they need to fill in the consultation. As I said, it is not integral to the rest of the stuff.

    The target of 60% of children at the standard was one we inherited and I have to say my reaction is the same as Nick Clegg’s to saying that we can just not bother about 4/10 kids. Putting the extra resources in early is really important.

    And the rankings thing is actually a small, side issue. It’s the extra premium that is the point of this whole announcement.

  • Peter Watson 17th Jul '13 - 5:36pm

    @Caron Lindsay “It’s the extra premium that is the point of this whole announcement.”
    You only have to look at the DoE’s press statement (http://www.gov.uk/government/news/raising-ambitions-and-standards-for-primary-schools) to see that this statement is incorrect: the pupil premium is not Clegg’s biggest priority in this announcement. Besides which, is the extra £400 even news? Back in 2010 we were told that the pupil premium would result in a total of £2.5 billion extra for schools by 2014/15.

  • “Besides which, is the extra £400 even news? Back in 2010 we were told that the pupil premium would result in a total of £2.5 billion extra for schools by 2014/15.”

    But is it really extra money for schools? Where is the money coming from?

    The Guardian has this to say:
    “Over the next three years, schools face a cut in their main budget on one hand and an increase in their pupil premium funding on the other. When these two things are taken into account, it becomes clear that majority of schools face a real-terms cut in their funding.”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2013/jul/16/getting-most-pupil-premium-primary-schools

  • Bill le Breton 17th Jul '13 - 6:52pm

    On the thread started by David Laws, I have written him a message. Here it is:

    “David, Like you I am not an expert on this, but a thought: could we have a list of capabilities that we 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.

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

    “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 going to be linked to a Gove list of capabilities, rather than a set of community valued capabilities. ”

    And answering Caron’s question Why are these two initiatives linked in presentation?

    The Coalition is practicing wedge issue campaigning. We see that in its campaigning on welfare, on immigration, on the NHS, on the economy and now on education.

    This means that stances on issues are more about how they relate to positioning Labour than on what is actually good for children, for patients, for the disadvantaged, for the vulnerable, for British industry, for the economy.

    Liberal Democrats are complicit. In a phrase: it’s old politics.

  • David Wilkinson 18th Jul '13 - 6:33am

    I have the comments above and the sad thing is that most have taken the chance to put Clegg down because it suits personal agendas, but only Caron has said it is unacceptable that 40% of children cannot read or write when they leave primary school.
    When they arrive in secondary school for many their education stops, one only needs to look at the prisons and the the numbers in NEETS where education has failed these young people.

    Not one word of the failure of the education establishment, the unions,the politicans etc who thought it was ok for 4 out of 10 to fail, is this some developing country or England in the 21 st century.

    The other sad thing is that it as taken three years of this government to say 85% is good enough, the figure should 100% ,we are talking children’s futures, not some political game.

  • A wise school inspector summarised it years ago when he quoted a famer “You don’t make a pig fatter by keep on weighing it” . It is also insulting to the professionalism of primary teachers who know the progress of their pupils because it’s their job! Nick C also demonstrated his naivety by saying that the rating of individual children won’t be shared with them. The kids are fully aware of the pecking order in their class anyway so what purpose does this serve? Will this information spur disinterested parent to encourage their children all of a sudden? I think not.
    But 3 cheers for the pupil premium increase well done indeed.

  • David Wilkinson Your comment seems to imply that you agree that what Bill Le B above you has described as “wedge campaigning” is good on this issue, And, it would seem, that the fact that some children do not achieve, at every stage, what others do, is somehow just the fault of teachers, the educational establishment, or a bunch of politicians you don’t like. Let me say, this Tory-lite campaigning does not befit Liberal Democrats, many of whom are involved in education in a myriad ways.

    Those who are (I have been a Primary School Governor for some years) know that there are many societal factors which influence school performance as well as the quality of school management, teaching etc. We would do well to look much more carefully at the inequalities in society and propose changes there. But, David Laws and Nick Clegg are not that sort of Lib Dem are they? And I suppose the Tories wouldn’t really like that approach. Come to think of it, Michael Gove would not occupy the post he does if we were intending to look wider to the way society works these days. Pupil premium is very well, and like Brian D I support it, and the increased levels. As many others here have said, however, much of that money, if not all of it, is being taken out of the rest of the Schools budget.

  • Julian Critchley 18th Jul '13 - 8:32am

    “only Caron has said it is unacceptable that 40% of children cannot read or write when they leave primary school.”

    This is nonsense. By which I mean, it’s an easily disprovable lie. Education policy debate in this country is disgustingly ill-informed at best, and malevolently misleading at worst. But how about the LibDems don’t join in by making statements which are utter cobblers. It is simply untrue to state that 40% of students cannot read or write when they leave primary school. Don’t do Gove’s work for him.

  • David Wilkinson 18th Jul '13 - 8:38am

    Tim 13
    You are wrong I do not support ‘wedge camapigning’ and the division of people no matter what their background is.
    In your comment you make no real mention of the 40 % rate of failing to read and write, is that acceptable?

    I have been a school govenor of many years in the past, both in primary and secodary and I am well aware of the social issues faced by children and I have dealt with the those on govening bodies who wish to divide children into neat little groups.
    Issues in the wider society need to dealt with, however a 40% failure rate in reading and writing is not acceptable and if Clegg’s proposals mean an end of that,then good.
    In the 21st century if a child cannot read or write what chance do they have. I also want to see that children have a full and round education, not just a list of dates like Gove.

  • A Social Liberal 18th Jul '13 - 9:11am

    Where are these 40% of pupils who are unable to read or write?. Can someone show me a link to the evidence (and I don’t mean by that a rant in the Daily Mail or the Times) because this is a new figure that I haven’t ever heard before.

  • Thankyou, David for your reply. We have to be careful how we handle the description of statistics your “40% failure rate in reading and writing” (cavalier words for the situation being described) have now become “40% of pupils unable to read or write” in the hands of Social Liberal. No-one has asserted this at all as far as I can see. But you can see, David, that it is very easy to be used as a tool in the hands of the Goveians, unless you are very careful. Schools across the land are trying exceptionally hard to improve their attainment stats – I think we risk a return to the 1860s 3Rs style unbalanced education unless we are careful. I think that the Clegg / Laws attack line was totally unnecessary, out of date, and probably dedicated to “wedge campaigning”. Frankly, they have brought the criticism on themselves by presenting things in this divisive manner, and bearing in mind the “Government of Millionaires” tag, they have been very unwise in that presentation.

  • Julian Critchley 18th Jul '13 - 10:12am

    “In your comment you make no real mention of the 40 % rate of failing to read and write, is that acceptable?”

    This is a lie

    “a 40% failure rate in reading and writing is not acceptable ”

    You’re right. It wouldn’t be acceptable. However, as it’s also a complete fantasy. Or a lie, if I’m less generous, then it’s an irrelevant point.

    I am frankly appalled that you claim to be a school governor – someone with responsibility for students – if you are willing to repeat, three times in one thread, a whopping lie.

  • “… just to confirm, David Laws specifically stated in the Commons yesterday that it was new money.”

    I’ve just looked at Hansard and I’m afraid I can’t see this statement.

    This seems to be the relevant part of his speech:
    “So that all children, whatever their circumstances, can arrive in secondary school ready to succeed, we are giving significantly more money to primary school pupils eligible for the pupil premium. That will support the step change in ambition we are announcing today.
    We introduced the pupil premium in 2011 to help schools close the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils. In 2014-15, total funding through the pupil premium will increase by £625 million to the total of £2.5 billion pledged by the coalition in 2010. We will use the extra funding in the year ahead to increase significantly the level of the pupil premium for primary schools to £1,300 per pupil, compared with £900 in the current year. This 44% rise in the pupil premium next year is the largest cash rise so far. That should enable more targeted interventions to support disadvantaged pupils to be secondary ready and achieve our ambitious expectations for what pupils should know and be able to do by the end of their primary education. Early intervention is crucial: the more disadvantaged pupils who leave primary school with strong literacy and numeracy, the greater their chances of achieving good GCSEs. We will fix the level of the secondary pupil premium in the autumn, but it will rise further, by at least the level of inflation next year.”
    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm130717/debtext/130717-0001.htm#13071772001589

    As I understand it, so far the pupil premium has come from elsewhere within the education budget. Obviously he is saying that total funding through the pupil premium, but what I’m asking is where that money is coming from – from elsewhere within the education budget, or even elsewhere within the schools budget?

  • David Wilkinson 18th Jul '13 - 11:14am

    Julian Citchley, I assume you are teacher.

    Today’s BBC

    Almost two-fifths (39%) of recruits to the Army have the reading ability of an 11-year-old or lower, MPs have warned.

  • Davd Wlknsn, I assume you no are teacher.

    Today’s BBC

    Story about Army recruits.

    Let’s take the figure about recruits t the Army, and let’s gaily assume that the same figure must be applicable to the nation as a whole. Hey presto, scare story proved! Insofar as it matters where politicostatistics come from. Careful analysis, back of a fag packet, blue skies, it’s all the same. The only thing that matters is to take a frightening figure, shout it from the rooftops, say it again and again, and then enough people will believe it for you to win the next election.

  • David Wilkinson 18th Jul '13 - 11:39am

    PS Julian

    You seemed not to have read my post and made some false claims.
    I am a past school govenor and I only mentioned the 40% twice not three times, I do hope you have retired from teaching with mistakes like that.

  • David Wilkinson – why don’t you just apologise for the mistakes you have made, rather than going into attack mode. Remember the parable of the mote and beam!

  • Steve Griffiths 18th Jul '13 - 12:35pm

    David Wilkinson

    “I am a past school govenor and I only mentioned the 40% twice not three times”.

    You refer to 40% and “four out of ten” (i.e.40%) in your 6.33am blog and 40% twice in your 8.38am blog. I make that three or possibly four times.

  • David Wilkinson 18th Jul '13 - 1:09pm

    I see that Tim, Julian and Steve cannot apologise for the failing so many children when they leave primary and cannot read or write.
    What a glorious example from adults, are you all teachers?

  • We are saying you should recognise that the bald statement you have made “40% of children leaving primary school cannot read or write”. That statement is plain wrong, and you need to admit that.

  • David Allen 18th Jul '13 - 1:16pm

    This thread has degenerated into a snark hunt. It was Lewis Carroll who presciently coined the phrase “What I tell you three times is true!”

    http://www.literature.org/authors/carroll-lewis/the-hunting-of-the-snark/chapter-01.html

    I don’t think Carroll was in favour of the repetitive lie as a means of advancing the human condition, or a political ideal. It really beggars belief that we should have to discuss it here.

    Now then Chris, back at 10.26 you made a serious point. Shall we give you your thread back, please?

  • Julian Critchley 18th Jul '13 - 4:42pm

    I’ve been asked to be extra polite, as my last post was censored, so this will be extra polite.

    40% of children do not leave primary school unable to read and write. That is a fact. There are a range of outcomes at the end of primary school in terms of how well/badly children read. However, in terms of those who “cannot read and write”, to quote a contribution to this thread, that is a very small percentage indeed, which is reflected in an adult literacy rate which is approaching 100%. Obviously one can argue that it would be nice if all pupils were reading Tolstoy by age 11, but I’m not here to debate where the standard should be, merely to note that it is simply untrue to state that 40% of children cannot read or write at the end of primary school, and to additionally note that wherever you set any expected standard, then there will always be a proportion of students above it, and below it. One has to be careful not to get into Alastair Campbell territory when he famously declared that he wanted all children to obtain above average results.

    If I seem a mite prickly about this, it is because the nature of the education debate in this country is shaped by some outrageously misleading “statistics” or anecdotes which are bandied about the usually Conservative press. In some cases, including Michael Gove and his infamous SPADs, such misleading statements are deliberately crafted to create an erroneously negative picture of an education system which is actually doing well both by comparison to its own history, and also in comparison to other countries’ systems. These statements are usually accepted uncritically by a media and political establishment to whom the state education system is like a monster under the bed : they know it’s there, and they’re sure it’s nasty, although they and their children have never actually experienced it. This negative picture does help to create a justification for the dismantling of the state education system and its gift to Conservative Party donors such as Harris, of course. But that’s another story.

    More personally, it denigrates the very real achievements of the children currently in schools, and the teachers who work rather hard to help them meet their potential, such as it is, and within the bounds of external factors which shape outcomes. The reason this is not off-topic, and is central to this thread, is that when launching the policy, Laws chose to focus his message on the tediously predictable Govian line that this was intended to “raise standards”, with the unspoken note that standards must, therefore, be too low. He also used the even more misleading phrase of “demanding higher expectations”, which of course allows him to paint himself as a champion of children fighting against those pesky teachers who clearly don’t expect very much from the children they’ve dedicated their professional career to helping, while Mr Laws chose to enter Parliament, rather than a classroom.

    Now of course, as Caron wrote, it’s possible that Laws sought to promote this policy as aiding students and teachers with extra assistance and resources. But it was presented universally in the media as another big stick coming down on failing teachers and failing kids in a failing education system. And he’s a smart enough guy to know to choose his words more carefully if he didn’t want it to be presented that way. So can I make a plea that people choose their words more carefully here : 40% of children DO NOT leave primary school unable to read and write. It isn’t true. Perhaps if we start trying to be accurate and truthful on message boards, it will gradually spread to the media, and finally politicians. You never know. 🙂

    I hope that was polite.

  • Peter Watson 18th Jul '13 - 5:36pm

    Our leaders are announcing lots of targets for schools, redeclaring expenditure and playing fast and loose with the words “new” and “extra”. It’s Gordon Brown all over again, and not a new kind of politics. Perhaps our next electoral catch-phrase should be plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Jul '13 - 6:41pm

    The answer to the question originally posed is that if you make a habit of using language in a dodgy and misleading way, people will stop believing you and look for the worst possible interpretation. The “all is rosy” ad-man’s language about what the coalition is doing coming out from Liberal Democrat central office is dodgy and misleading, not surprising people aren’t impressed by it.

    Now we have here “Nick is now saying that he wants 85% of pupils to be able to read, write and use numbers before they go to secondary school. That is a huge leap in performance. It’s a necessary challenge for schools”. Well, who would NOT want 85% or more of our pupils to be able to read, write and use numbers before they go to secondary school? Others have questioned quite what is meant by this, and quite rightly.

    So far as I can see, what’s actually being said here is extra money for pupils deemed to be from a disadvantaged background – not very clear in what Caron originally wrote, someone who didn’t know what the terms meant might have thought it was extra money for all pupils – at the cost of a stricter assessment regime for pupils and for teachers.

    I hope that simply throwing money at the problem can solve it, because this seems to be the assumption. I didn’t see anything else about how exactly teachers are to make this improvement. Otherwise what – wave a big threatening stick over teachers and they will do better with getting pupils through these tests? Does it really work this way?

    The problem with all this sort of rigid assessment and regime of threats is that it ends up with people doing whatever is necessary to get the figures right regardless of what they are really meant to measure. It also end up in dog-eat-dog competition as those threatened try to pass on the threats to others and so save their skins. No school is going to want to take on a pupil who might pull their figures down and so endanger them, so we get a pass-the-parcel game with the child, ending in some unfortunate school which was at the bottom of the desirability pecking order being forced to take him/her on, and thus being dragged down further and so closed down. Then the game begins again.

    I think it would be nice to start with the assumption that teachers want their pupils to do well and will do whatever is needed for that. But underneath these fine words, what I see here is the assumption that pupil failure is all down to teachers who couldn’t care, and waving a big stick and threatening their employment prospects will make them care. I don’t think it works like that. My experience is that the main effect of waving big sticks is poor performance, low morale, bullying and back-stabbing.

  • “So far as I can see, what’s actually being said here is extra money for pupils deemed to be from a disadvantaged background …”

    Well, so far as I can see, it’s not extra money, in the sense that it doesn’t involve a real-terms increase in the schools budget.

  • Julian Critchley 18th Jul '13 - 7:46pm

    @MatthewHuntbach

    I can’t tell you how joyous it is when just a single person from outside education writes something which demonstrates an accurate understanding of how schools, teachers and students work, and how policy is shaped and delivered. Thank you, Matthew.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Jul '13 - 8:46pm

    Julian Critchley

    @MatthewHuntbach
    I can’t tell you how joyous it is when just a single person from outside education writes something which demonstrates an accurate understanding of how schools, teachers and students work, and how policy is shaped and delivered.

    Not entirely outside. I am a university lecturer. I was on the Education Committee of a London Borough for 12 years. My wife was Chair of Governors of a London Borough primary school for 6 years (during which time it rose from being close to special measures to being top of the Borough league table). What I say is influenced by all of these.

  • david thorpe 20th Jul '13 - 12:10pm

    to answer the quezxtion posed by the article’s headline-

    because the lib dems are incopotent at media management aznd announced them at the same time?

    This party needs to wake up to this incompoetnce-my efforts to make it happen have been laregly ifgnored and scorned in favour of the lets have mroe lealfets that’ll teach em approach…

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