Tag Archives: education

Kirsty Williams – the only Liberal Democrat delivering in government

In Wales we have the only Liberal Democrat Minister in the United Kingdom, delivering Welsh Liberal Democrat policies on education for our children and young people. Kirsty is now in her third year as the Education Minister. Since May 2016, she has forged ahead with innovative programmes to enhance education and learning for children and young people in Wales, embedded in the Liberal value of opportunity for all. As Kirsty says, it is no coincidence that the Welsh word for a ladder is the same as it is for school – “Ysgol”.

  • So a quick gallop of just some of the things the Party has done over the last two and a half years:
    Expanded and enhanced the Welsh Pupil Premium, or Pupil Development Grant. This policy has been supporting pupils from more disadvantaged backgrounds for most of this decade and has been taken further in government;
  • Delivered the most progressive student finance policy in the UK, that is unique in Europe. Students are supported with living costs and receive the equivalent of the national living wage. Support for part-time and postgraduate learners has been increased and figures released last month showed these applications have increased;
  • Made progress on reducing infant class sizes through a £36million fund. Schools are benefitting from more classrooms, teachers and teaching assistants. This was a key campaign priority at the last election, and now it is being implemented in government;
  • Published Wales’ first-ever plan to support rural schools. This includes a presumption against the closure of schools, and £2.5million per year grant scheme, and steps to make better use of technology;
  • Announced record investment in Wales’ teaching workforce, and developed financial incentives to attract graduates into teaching;
  • Taken steps to increase the focus on the mental health of children and young people. A pilot project is linking schools with specialist mental health support, and work is ongoing to develop a ‘whole school’ approach to mental health. As Kirsty has said, this is the foundation of successful education experience.
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Education, education, education

I think we all remember who came out with this well-known phrase?  Tony Blair made a speech outlining his three priorities for Government in 2001, explaining that each of them was in fact education!

The Liberal Democrats have long claimed to be the party for education, with some justification.  If you ask a Liberal Democrat member who has been around in the party for at least 24 years what they think the party’s best policy has been, the chances are they will sweep you back to Paddy Ashdown’s day with “a penny on income tax for education”.

Back then raising the standard rate of income tax by one penny to fund more spending was a radical and distinctive policy, both in its tax-raising element and in its direct hypothecation of the money for education. It helped carve out a strong point for the party on education.  

Similarly, the Pupil Premium policy, enacted during the coalition era was a fabulous Lib Dem education policy, and is yielding some positive results in terms of offering disadvantaged children more opportunities during their education.

So what next?  The Lib Dem Education Association (LDEA) continues to innovate on education policy and offer fresh perspectives and policy ideas to the Federal Policy Committee and the leadership of the Lib Dem party.  Every year the LDEA holds an annual conference (in conjunction with the LGA), for Lib Dem members and others with a strong interest or affiliation to the world of education to come together to share ideas and discuss “what next for education?”

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28 January 2019 – today’s press releases

Never let it be said that we’re not public spirited here at Liberal Democrat Voice. So, for those of you who haven’t filed your Self Assessment tax return for the year ended 5 April 2018, the deadline is just seventy-two hours away. Don’t delay, don’t let it peck away at you!

Meanwhile, back on Planet Zog…

  • Lib Dems: Culture in our schools system is toxic
  • Lib Dems reject Tory Immigration Bill
  • Ed Davey: Labour abstention on Immigration Bill “pathetic” (see here)
  • Govt defeat in Lords shows backstop tinkering will not work
  • Lib Dems: Britain deserves a better opposition as Labour U-turn on Immigration Bill
  • Swinson: Proxy

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Looking beyond Brexit

The sense of things going horribly wrong is likely to get much worse as 2019 gets under way and #BrexitShambles becomes #BrexitFarce.

In the probable chaos of the coming months the country needs us to articulate our hope for the future.

Putting some flesh on those bones, in no particular order:

  • Improve Benefits. Universal Credit could have been a good idea, but under-funding has hit it hard and people are suffering. Improving the funding is a good place to start. We also need to go further. It is a scandal to have people needing to use food banks or losing the roof over their head because of the way the system works. I’ve spoken with people struggling to live on benefits, who voted Leave in the desperate hope that things would improve.
  • Wealth inequality. Back in the autumn, Vince Cable put forward a raft of tax reforms to make the system fairer, especially around inheritance and investment income and pensions. Univeral Basic Income has been on the edge of discussions for a long time. It is time to take it seriously — it can’t be done overnight, but it is time to start the conversation as a way to pick up where we are, and fears around the way in which technology is reshaping the world.
  • Brexit has pushed climate change from the top of the agenda. People have every reason to be worried. That means is that it is high time to turn that worry into action — around renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, nuclear power, zero carbon housing, improved public transport, and more.
  • The Blair government had some good ideas on devolution, with elected regional assemblies and pulling government offices and development to the same boundaries. The imbalances around devolution to Wales, Northern Ireland and particularly to Scotland would look very different if there was meaningful devolution in England.
  • It’s time to talk openly about federalism. Too often it’s a dirty word in British (or at least, English) politics. It’s time to dispatch the myth that it is about centralising power and put the case for doing centrally only what needs to be done there and pushing decisions as close as possible to the people they affect. That applies as much to devolving power from Westminster as it does devolving it from Brussels.
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Digging deeper into No. 1 of Paddy’s Dangerous Ideas

I think the time has come for us to do a lot more with No. 1 of Paddy’s Dangerous Ideas.

We persist in the medieval practice of taking students to medieval ivy-covered buildings, to receive their education in the medieval manner from minds, too many of which, when it comes to delivering education, are stuck in the middle ages. Yet distance learning was pioneered in Britain at the Open University when communicating with your tutor meant stuffing your academic paper in an envelope, licking it, sticking a stamp on it and putting it in the local post-box.

Today the whole planet is into distance learning. Many of our own Universities make tons of money providing distance learning degree courses to students all over the world. But none of them are in Britain! If we were to convert at least part of our tertiary education syllabus to distance learning we might reduce the cost of degrees without diminishing their quality, give students more flexibility, force lecturers into the modern age, widen access and create a superb platform for adult education all at the same time.

Why, beloved Lib Dems, do we allow medieval vested interests to preserve our ivy-covered tertiary education system exactly as it is, loading more and more debt on students and preventing us from doing what much of the rest of the world is doing already? Just asking?

This idea has come back to me in North Devon. A local councillor in South Molton, not realising that it was one of Paddy’s Dangerous Ideas, spoke to me at length about how wonderful the Open University was. How in places like North Devon, where there are no universities, and a real lack of opportunity to advance skills, one can still access the Open University and get a degree. He asked me, how can we build on this model and enable everyone in North Devon to upskill and train?

I am suggesting that one of our best ways of honouring Paddy is to bring some of his Dangerous Ideas into fruition.

Let’s champion life-long learning, as Vince has promoted, by building online learning platforms so that people, whether they live in North Devon or in Shetland, can achieve the same level of accreditation and training as those who live in cities. Let’s put in place 21st-century methods of education, and not be stuck in the medieval model of tutorials and physical lectures.

We have a real opportunity to lead here and I think it is a fantastic opportunity for us. Promoting virtual education is education-for-all, not just those who can take time off for university or afford three years of tuition without working at the same time.

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12 December 2018 – today’s press releases

So, another day when much has happened, but little has obviously changed. It’s a bit like ‘Waiting for Godot’, in that Brexit is supposedly coming, but never actually seems to turn up…

  • Cable: Conservative spat won’t resolve deepening divisions
  • Agreement Reached Between new First Minister and Kirsty Williams
  • Lamb: Labour’s abstention on cannabis vote ‘deeply depressing’

Cable: Conservative spat won’t resolve deepening divisions

Responding to the reports that the Prime Minister will face a vote of confidence in her leadership, Leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable said:

Theresa May’s deal is a total mess and is the latest backdrop for yet another Conservative meltdown over

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William Wallace writes…A way to bring our national community together

I am a man of the people. You are part of the metropolitan liberal elite. They are enemies of the people, citizens of nowhere.

That’s the populist self-characterization that more and more right-wing politicians are now making. It’s an easy appeal to the ‘ordinary’ person against the sophisticated, over-educated and privileged. It works very well even when wielded by old Etonian Oxbridge graduates like Boris Johnson, or former city traders like Nigel Farage. The terms ‘elite’ and ‘establishment’ are elided, and blended with ‘liberal’, into a hostile image of people who claim superiority because of their expertise and knowledge, against those who prefer instinct and ‘common sense’.

There was a wonderful example of the genre in the Daily Telegraph of November 23rd, a letter under the headline “This ‘No Brexit deal’ by the political elite treats the majority who voted Leave with disdain” – signed by 15 Conservative peers, eight of them hereditary, three of them with peerages dating from the 17th century or earlier. If these are men of the people, I’m the king of Scotland. There was another in the Sun on Sunday, on November 25th, from Lord Digby Jones, one of the most self-important members of the House of Lords: ‘the British people – as if they needed further confirmation after what has gone on over the past few months – have been let down by the political class and the establishment elite.’ We should ridicule such claims whenever we see them.

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The rest of us can learn from what the Welsh are doing with education….

Two recent press releases have caught my eye. As PPC for North Devon, a rural economy where, on average, schools get £300 less per pupil than in the rest of England, I am keen on education reform. Key to that is ensuring good teaching and supporting our teachers.

So I was pleased to see that Welsh Lib Dem Education Secretary Kirsty Williams has announced the single biggest investment in Wales’ teachers since devolution. This is through a groundbreaking £24m package to help teachers deliver Wales’ new curriculum. Kirsty says,

This major investment shows how highly we value teachers’ professional learning. It is an investment in excellence and we are aiming for nothing less than a wholesale reform of how teachers learn; a process that starts from the moment they begin initial teacher education and goes right the way through their career.

The National Approach to Professional Learning (NAPL) will focus on flexible ways of learning that don’t disrupt the school day. A much more accessible blend of learning will be available through Wales’ regions and universities. This will encompass learning outside the classroom, online learning, classroom learning and coaching.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds commented,

This announcement is yet another example of the transformational reforms the Welsh Lib Dems are implementing in our national mission to raise standards, reduce the attainment gap and deliver an education system that is a source of national pride and public confidence.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are committed to creating a Wales where every child has the opportunity to achieve their potential and determine their own destiny. This funding will help us realise this vision.

Not only are the Welsh investing in teachers, but they are also protecting rural schools.  Kirsty Williams introduced a new, stronger code last week which includes a presumption against the closure of rural schools. This is part of a wider Rural Education Plan which also includes a Small and Rural Schools Grant.

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12 November 2018 – today’s press releases

This feature is now back on UK time, and so, here’s what we’ve got for you this evening…

  • Welsh Lib Dems Investing in Teachers
  • Brexit can be stopped but Corbyn must get out of the way
  • Ed Davey: Hostile environment must be completely scrapped
  • Brake: Corbyn must listen to Brown

Welsh Lib Dems Investing in Teachers

Welsh Liberal Democrat Education Secretary Kirsty Williams has announced the single biggest investment in support for Wales’ teachers since devolution through a groundbreaking £24m package to help teachers deliver Wales’ new curriculum.

The National Approach to Professional Learning (NAPL), announced today by the Education Secretary, will focus on professional learning and …

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Let’s scrap external exams

When it comes to education policy, we need blue sky thinking. And I think that scrapping external exams would be a fantastic example of this.

Let’s remind ourselves of some of the negative consequences of our exam system:

  1. Stress – Student wellbeing is considered collateral damage. Having yearly exams which have such a huge impact on your life is incredibly stressful, and I doubt that adults would cope any better than teenagers do. We are sacrificing our young people to a system which we know is harming their mental health, but which we

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Demand Better: Liberal Democrat Priorities for a Better Britain

For as long as I’ve been active in politics people have complained they don’t know what we stand for. We may have a reasonable profile for our position on Brexit, but the fact that we’re only the fourth party in terms of MPs makes it even more difficult than usual to gain media attention.

On top of that, the party has more than doubled in size over the last two and a half years, so we have a large number of new or newish members who aren’t as familiar as many of us with the details of party policy or our key priorities for action.

So over the last six months the Federal Policy Committee has worked to produce the paper Demand Better: Liberal Democrat Priorities for a Better Britain, which is available here and will be debated at our autumn conference at Brighton.

We’ve written the paper in close cooperation with the party’s campaigns and communications committees and staff, and we’re using the party’s new slogan as the paper’s title. Demand Better summarises the Liberal Democrat approach to politics in 2018 and highlights our key policy priorities. Should a general election take place in the next year or so, it will provide the core of the Liberal Democrat election manifesto.

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LibLink: Layla Moran: The lessons that need learning so teachers are less stressed

Teachers in England are in the middle of their Summer holiday as the Scottish schools prepare to go back next week.

Former teacher and Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Layla Moran has written for the Yorkshire Post about how to alleviate the stress that teachers are facing in their jobs:

She knows that being a teacher is absorbing and that you are often required to go above and beyond to excel at your job. However, there are extra stresses in the system that shouldn’t be there:

But it is something else altogether when the reasons you find yourself working later and later every night, arriving at work earlier each morning or coming in regularly during your holiday, has nothing to do with genuinely supporting pupils learning. When your work life balance is becoming more and more distorted, you start to have trouble sleeping (which many teachers report) and to top it all off, the public sector pay freeze means you have seen your wages effectively being cut year after year. Is it any wonder that more and more dedicated professionals are being pushed to breaking point, and that we have a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention?

So what would Layla do about it?

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In praise of being a by-election candidate

It’s 18 months since Jamie Reed resigned as the MP for Copeland, forcing a very unexpected by-election.

I’d never intended standing for parliament.  I was very content running my own business and being a local (lowest level – unpaid) Councillor, campaigning on a local issue I was passionate about (keeping our maternity services).

Copeland was not a winnable seat (we had no Lib Dem councillors there and all the Lib Dems were in Stoke fighting Nuttall) but by-elections command a lot of party and media attention, so being the candidate gave me the chance to do many things I couldn’t have done in an unwinnable seat in a general election for example:

– Copeland contains Sellafield – the hub of the nuclear industry.  Our nuclear experts were very worried about the consequences of the UK pulling out of the Euratom agreement as part of Brexit.  Lord Teverson and Baroness Featherstone helped me get this issue rapidly on the Westminster agenda.  Because I was raising it in Copeland, the main party candidates had to know about it so their parties had to help them and this issue quickly gained cross party attention.

– I was also very concerned about a particularly toxic academy issue we faced.  The other candidates didn’t properly understand it but by raising it again and again and explaining it in depth at hustings I was able to make sure they did.  To her credit, Trudy Harrison (the elected Conservative MP) has got herself onto the Education Select Committee and is working hard on this issue.

– I was able to drive forward my work on our maternity issues with the help of Norman Lamb, Baroness Brinton and the local media.

 – I was able to be a role model for the kind of evidence-based inclusive democracy I believe in, for example I was able to set up hustings in areas that felt neglected.

I got high level training on working with the media and plenty of experience.  I got the support of very experienced politicians and my fantastic agent Andy Sanger and so was able to learn a great deal very quickly.

The credibility I gained during the by-election meant that I was elected to Cumbria County Council last May.  From there I’ve been able to continue to protect maternity services and I’ve been able to have a positive impact on more issues than I can count.  

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WATCH: Kirsty on introducing inclusive sex education in Wales

Kirsty Williams is the Lib Dem representative in the world of Government at the moment and she’s doing great liberal things. This week, she announced that Welsh schoolchildren will receive inclusive sex and relationship education from the time they start school.

From Walesonline

The new version – which will see the topic become relationships and sexuality education (RSE) – places an emphasis on “forming and maintaining healthy, happy and fulfilling relationships”.

Announcing the change the Welsh Government added: “Learners will also be given a much broader understanding of sexuality that is fully inclusive of LGBTQI+ learners and includes wider issues such as consent, domestic abuse, and respecting diversity.

“The decision to change the focus of this area of study to relationships and sexuality, as well as the decision to make it statutory, reflects its immense importance in terms of how learners understand themselves, each other, their community and society.”

Watch Kirsty talking about it below:

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The ‘Education battlefield’

It wasn’t always Tory v Labour, and it doesn’t have to be again!

State education, particularly at secondary level, is like the proverbial curate’s egg, thanks largely to mistakes made by politicians of all parties over the past sixty years – and I include the 2010-2015 coalition as well. However, much of the mess was already in place by the beginning of this decade so I suppose that we could call it a joint affair between Tories and Labour. However, much of the success of state education is down to Liberals, as were the ideas behind the Welfare State, which emerged from the 1942 Beveridge Report.

State education, that is to say, the education of the many not the few, really began with the 1870 Elementary Education Act, and drafted by Liberal MP William Forester, which established through democratically elected School Boards, voluntary elementary education for children from 5 to 13 (raised to 14 in the 1918 Fisher Act). What Forster wanted to achieve was to retain Britain’s competitive edge in world trade. To do that, he needed an educated workforce (where have we heard that before?). This was achieved in spite of massive opposition from certain quarters, who saw no reason to educate the working classes above a certain rudimentary level. The 1901 Balfour Act, opposed largely by the Liberal Party and non conformists, replaced local School Boards with Local Education Authorities and succeeded in allowing the C of E and Catholic Churches to get on board and possibly was the main reason why the Tories were virtually annihilated at the 1906 General Election.

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Layla Moran: We shouldn’t be punishing children for taking part in dance and music

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Back in the day, I used to get permission to be away from school to take part in the local arts festivals. It was good for me to broaden my experience and skills and good for the school to see its pupils win awards and present themselves well.

So I was pretty annoyed to see that the Royal Academy of Dance had complained that the Government’s rules on term time absence from school prevented children from taking their dance exams. From the BBC:

According to RAD exams director Andrew McBirnie, before 2013 ballet exams could be run “during the school day and the student was able to leave a class at say 10 o’clock, do their exam and be back by lunchtime – and that seemed to be a perfectly legitimate activity that the student might be doing as part of their all-round education.

“Increasingly over the last few years… there have been more and more schools saying: ‘No we can’t allow this any more because of this issue with unauthorised absence.'”

Just this week, a study showed the beneficial effects of structured music education on cognitive ability and academic performance:

Structured music lessons significantly enhance children’s cognitive abilities — including language-based reasoning, short-term memory, planning and inhibition — which lead to improved academic performance. Published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, the research is the first large-scale, longitudinal study to be adapted into the regular school curriculum. Visual arts lessons were also found to significantly improve children’s visual and spatial memory.

Just like when I was at school in the 80s, a Conservative Government squeezes school budgets and music specialist education is the first to go, as a report in the Guardian highlighted last week.

The director of the Royal College of Music has criticised the “steady decline” of music provision in UK state schools.

Prof Colin Lawson used a speech celebrating Prince Charles’s 25-year association with the school to add his voice to a situation that Andrew Lloyd Webber has called a “national scandal”.

Lawson praised work that has been done to analyse the effect of arts and culture on public health.

The Liberal Democrats have long opposed the limits to term time holidays anyway, but Layla Moran had this to say about today’s reports:

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Bercow, Ten Years On – the #SLCN campaign

I CAN, the children’s communication charity, and The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists have launched Bercow: Ten Years On. This report delves into the support, or lack of support, children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) receive in England.

Over 2,500 people were consulted about speech and language therapy provision for children and young people. Only 15% thought that adequate speech and language therapy is provided.

Why is this a liberal issue? Well, we advocate free speech, in its many forms, one of which is oral. If we do not help children and young people with speech and language difficulties, they face a lifetime of communication hindrance.

We, as Lib Dems, also want to give children the best start in life. We are behind free school meals, the Pupil Premium and shared parental leave, so we should also get behind the call to improve speech and language services so that these children can better engage with education, more easily make friends and have communication skills for life.

Only 50% of children and young people with speech and language communication difficulties are identified. So one of the calls in this report is for early diagnosis and early intervention.

I was surprised to learn that 60% of young offenders in England have been found to have speech and language communication needs. With early intervention, many of these young people would not have communication difficulties.

Some of the recommendations of what must be done to improve the situation at a local and national level address social mobility:

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WATCH: Layla Moran attack Tory and DUP on cuts to free school meals

Back in the 70s, Margaret Thatcher was dubbed Thatcher the Milk Snatcher as she introduced cuts to free school milk. Nearly 50 years on, it’s another Tory Government, in cahoots with the DUP, who are trying to restrict free school meals, which were introduced due to Lib Dem pressure during the coalition years.

Watch Layla Moran speak in favour of extending free school meals, not cutting them back and urging the government not to close the childcare vouchers scheme:

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Willie Rennie’s Christmas Message: Scottish Lib Dems stand up for better mental health, education and police services

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Here is Willie Rennie’s Christmas Message:

May I wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

2017 was the year the Liberal Democrats turned the corner. We started winning elections again with more MPs and in charge of more councils. I believe that winning is not just good for the Liberal Democrats but is also good for the country.

It means that we have moderate, outward looking, optimistic voices making the case for change and challenging authority and government.

It means that we can shout louder for people who need mental health services. The services are inadequate and must change.

It means we can challenge with greater impact the government and police chiefs on the running of Police Scotland. Without the Liberal Democrats many of the problems of Police Scotland would have gone untested and unchallenged.

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Corbyn is wrong to state that education is not about personal advancement

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Governments should empower individuals to lead fulfilling lives. This principle is a cornerstone of liberal ideology and nowhere is it more important than in education policy. Whilst in government, The Liberal Democrats empowered disadvantaged pupils by providing schools with extra money to give these individuals the same life chances as their more advantaged peers. We empowered skilled young people by expanding apprenticeships- a move which recognised the rich diversity of talent and ambition we have in our society. Our policies for empowering individuals through education continue to be one of our greatest strengths. But not everyone agrees that the purpose of education is to empower people.

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Layla Moran talks education and inequality

Layla Moran has given an interview to the Oxford Student about her life and political priorities.

She talked about her early life and the influence it had on her:

Layla, having been born to a British father and a Palestinian mother, spoke of some of complications connected to coming from a multicultural background. “We had to move around a lot when I was younger so when all my peers would say ‘I grew up in this village’, I could never really say that I had”. But it is exactly this, combined with Layla’s career as a maths and physics teacher, that has

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Layla to May: Sack “witch-hunt” whip

It’s not surprising that an MP for a university town is horrified at the actions of a Government whip in writing to universities demanding to know who is teaching what about Brexit on their campuses.

It was reported today that Chris Heaton-Harris, a leading eurosceptic MP and a senior government whip, wrote to vice-chancellors at the start of this month asking for the names of any professors involved in teaching on Brexit and the content of their lectures.

Layla who is also Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson said:

This chilling letter could have come straight out of a dystopian novel.

Conservative Brexiteers know

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The Love of Learning

What are we doing to our young people? Testing them until the joy is out of learning and school is just one tick box after another. The head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, said

The regular taking of test papers does little to increase a child’s ability to comprehend.

We have completely the wrong approach to learning. We need holistic education for our young people, encompassing the widest range of subjects, building character and instilling the love of learning.

This includes the arts. When I was 11, we moved to Missouri. I started at a new junior high school (years 6-7 in the English system) which had a school band. Up to that stage I had played a bit of piano and sung in the church choir. The music teacher asked if I’d like to learn the clarinet as he needed more players in his band. Within three months I was sitting 2nd chair in the clarinet section. I would never have learned an instrument if it hadn’t been for the opportunity at this state school. I remember my parents, who were on a tight budget, scraping money together for some private lessons later that year, costing $4 a lesson.

Years later, I’m a professional musician, wondering where the next generation of musicians is coming from. We need music, and all the arts, as an integral part of our schools. The economic argument is obvious – the creative industries contribute £87.4 billion per year to the economy. We would be denuded as a society without the undergirding of the arts which permeate and enrich our lives.

But I wish to make the moral argument, bringing me back to the opening point of school being too much about testing. Having an arts-inclusive curriculum builds a well-rounded intellect. The brain, when it has to marry the left and right halves in analysing and performing a piece of music, develops physiologically. Attention spans are lengthened when one learns to concentrate on playing your part in a band. Aesthetic awareness is broadened, that life is not about ticking boxes but about beauty, relationships and creativity. Learning to sing together builds community and teaches young people to work together. We learn that coming together produces something more wonderful than striving alone.

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A lifelong “learning account”. Liberal, radical, just the way the party needs to go.

From free school meals in 1906 and 2014 to the Pupil Premium, Liberals have a proud and positive history in terms of reforming education in the UK. Despite this, Vince Cable’s idea of a “learning account” might be the most radical yet. The policy seems to be in its infancy at the moment with Vince Cable asking to “develop” the policy with the party. It would see all young people given a learning account, that they could use at any point in life for education purposes. As Mr Cable argued this is “fundamentally a liberal idea” and it is astonishing how little attention it has received.

The possible positives from this scheme seem remarkable; it would encourage social mobility as those from lower income households could make most use of the money. There are also deeper impacts in culture and sport, the power of education to inspire should not be forgotten. Giving people the freedom to choose exactly what to do with their education throughout adult life will give people an opportunity to pursue talents and careers they would previously only dreamed of.

There are of course some complaints. This of course would be an expensive policy and Vince Cable’s reply of taxing wealth certainly needs to be expanded upon. Yet here Vince Cable’s economic clout comes to the fold. In a recent speech to the Resolution Foundation on inequality he outlined how taxes can be improved. Specifically stopping loopholes in capital gains and inheritance tax as well as raising proposing tax on property value rather than council tax among other suggestions. Therefore, such a scheme would not be as hard to implement. 

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LibLink Layla Moran: Public school exam cheating row shows just how unlevel the playing field is

Oxford West and Abingdon MP Layla Moran has been writing for Times Red Box about the exam cheating scandal and why it matters.

These are not victimless crimes. I feel especially sorry for those students whose grades were nullified. They were only doing what their teacher said and their future has now been compromised. The teachers involved should feel ashamed. There is also a wider societal impact. More people than expected gaining high grades can ultimately lead to grade inflation and then a re-banding of passes, making it harder for other pupils to gain a good result.

But there is a broader question of unfairness here. Pupils from state schools are already massively pushing up hill on that famous playing field (assuming, of course, their playing field has not been sold off to balance the books by a cash-strapped education authority).

Layla has some suggestions for action:

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Is failure to use technology to enhance learning failing school pupils?

The format of education hasn’t really changed since Victorian times. Students are still packed into a classroom with a teacher who spends most of their time doing some variation of lecturing to the students, before they then apply whatever they’ve just heard to some real examples. This system treats everyone equally by treating pretty much everyone the same, using the same techniques and the same curriculum for everyone, regardless of their differences. Liberal Democrats tend to challenge traditional policies, and should challenge the current educational system too. We also tend to look solely to teachers for educational policy but it is also worth listening to the perspective of students.

Technology promised a revolution in classrooms, with very little change in the techniques in the publicly funded and conservative education sector. Technology has changed the way in which the teacher delivers the information to the class, allowing a little more interactivity but keeping the key parts of the teacher lecturing to the students on masse. Technology could, and should, be causing a more revolutionary change to education, like a number of charter schools are in the United States.

One charter school chain, called Summit Public Schools, has used technology to revolutionise their teaching. Students mainly learn from online courses and doing project work, supported by a teacher who moves from more authoritarian current role to a mentor, supporting students in their learning and explaining more difficult concepts. These schools save teachers a significant amount of time on marking, allowing teachers to support their students more and removing a significant source of stress. The school still requires students to cover a broad curriculum using a personal learning plan, though they are free to learn at their own pace and choose their topic at the time. 

Posted in News | 15 Comments

Solving the school places crisis without building a single classroom

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In the London Borough of Bromley, as in many places across the country, we are facing a massive projected shortfall in school places over the next few years. Councillors and activists from all parties are busy scrutinising planning applications for new schools of all shapes and sizes. But is it really necessary?

Imagine a school, let’s call it the Tweddle Academy (though pupils and staff just call it Tweds). Tweds was once a medium sized comprehensive with 1200 children on roll. Now it is an establishment providing all-through education for 2400 kids aged 6 to 18.

The school day at Tweds begins at 7.30am when children aged 6 to 12 arrive. They attend lessons until 10.20am, have a 20 minute break, then it’s back to the classroom. At 1.30pm they head to the school canteen for lunch before being dismissed for the day an hour later.

At 1.15pm while the younger pupils come to the end of lessons, teachers wait by the school gate to register the senior cohort. At 1.30pm, after the younger children have moved to the canteen, the 13 to 18 year olds begin their lessons. Their school day runs from 1.30pm to 7.30pm, with a 20 minute break.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 39 Comments

LibLink: Paddy Ashdown: Tories’ Royal Marine cut plays fast and loose with UK defence

It makes sense that Paddy should write for the Plymouth Herald on defence given the city’s strategic importance.

He took the Government to task for cutting the Marines – about which he knows more than most people:

For more than three centuries – from Gibraltar and Trafalgar to Normandy and Afghanistan – the Royal Marines have epitomised those qualities. They have fought in more theatres and won more battles than any other British unit. In our nation’s hours of danger, they have been, as Lord St Vincent predicted in 1802, “the country’s sheet anchor”.

So the news that the Government is cutting 200 Royal Marine posts – at such a volatile time in world affairs – should concern us all. They are committing this folly in response to a crisis of their own making.

The cost of Conservative foolishness doesn’t end with the Royal Marines. They’ve cut personnel numbers, breaking their manifesto promise not to reduce the Army below 82,000. Troops on the frontline are deprived of basic equipment and combat training has been slashed, putting soldiers’ lives in greater peril. Warships sit idle at quaysides. No wonder top generals have accused the Government of “deception” over defence.

The Tories are very practised at talking tough on defence in elections. But look at the history: it’s always Tories who cut most on defence in government. It’s now clear that Mrs May will get back in because of the hopelessness of the Labour Party. But it would be very dangerous to give her a big enough majority to ignore us again.

Posted in LibLink | Also tagged , , and | 2 Comments

Let’s make the Lib Dems the party of education, education, education

Education is going through a difficult time, with many schools declaring teachers redundant, increasing class sizes, cutting out subjects and asking parents for money. The Government claims education has never been better funded. It takes no account that this is mainly due to an increase in pupil numbers, or that additional costs are being placed on schools. Nor do they mention the unfunded increase in National Insurance. They are prepared to waste money on Grammar Schools. As Liberal Democrats we should take a different view, scrap the Grammar Schools and start funding education with a fully costed proposal, part funded by savings from staying in the Single Market.

When we have sorted out the finance and stopped wasting money on Grammar and Free Schools it is time to break down the National Education System (which Labour appear to support), and remove the Regional Schools Commissioners. The tasks currently carried nationally and regionally should be devolved locally, through revamped LEAs. That is not returning to the old LEA structure, but LEA school support was very valuable and in many cases achieved more than a ticking off from Ofstead. League tables should go, and be replaced by a report of strengths and weaknesses, with proposed improvement actions. 

Posted in Op-eds | 27 Comments

Why things need to change in education

At no other time during a 10 year teaching career has the horizon appeared so dark and bleak over the educational landscape.  Retention is low and recruitment equally as poor within the sector, begging the question “Why is it so hard to find teachers?”  Even now as I type, I find myself questioning if this is what I want for my future.

The truth is that the profession is built on people with a passion for their career, people who believe in the importance and the worth of educating and guiding future generations.  And it is the good will and convictions of their beliefs that has held it together thus far, but with ever increasing frequency more and more have had this good will stretched to breaking point.

Teachers have become the puppets of a system that helps the few at the expense of the many.  A child’s education should not be determined by how rich they are or their faith, but yet this is the system we find ourselves in.

With the Conservatives in government we have suffered through an educational leader, Michael Gove,  who openly decried experts, who had a complete lack of experience or expertise in an educational environment.  Though he has since moved on, each passing Education Secretary has had equally little experience or desire to listen to experts.  Even now Mrs May plans to force Grammar Schools into the system without and evidence that they work, at the expense of schools that are already operating.

Posted in News | 41 Comments
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