Liz Truss: At the heart of the spending review will be popular, free market conservatism

I’m travelling around the country asking the public what their priorities really are. This review should be the People’s review.

Liz Truss is Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and is MP for South West Norfolk.

2019 is a big year for British politics. As we leave the European Union, we have an opportunity to set out a new economic agenda, leaving the era of post-crash consolidation and recovery behind and entering a new era of growth and opportunity for Britain.

This year, the Treasury will conduct the Spending Review, setting budgets from 2020 through to 2023. It is an opportunity, not just for us to decide on our spending priorities, but to make a real and lasting impact on the British economy and the lives of people across the country. We will have the power to modernise the state and make it sleeker, more effective and better value for the people it serves.

At the heart of the Spending Review will be popular free market conservativism guided by three principles.

First, we’ll focus on what matters to real people, not vested interests. I start from the principle that every pound in the Exchequer is money that somebody has worked hard to earn. That means we have a responsibility to make sure that public money is spent on public priorities.

What do I mean by vested interests? It’s not obvious to those who don’t spend every waking hour in Westminster, but there is a growing blob of lobbyists, corporations, quangos and professional bodies who ask again and again for Government favours – arguing that they are the exception, that their cause deserves special treatment.

This makes me deeply uncomfortable. Some have good ideas which are worth pursuing. But if we only listen to these people, it would squeeze out other priorities of those without big lobbying teams. And should they be taking money from those on relatively low earnings who could be spending the money on a new car, a holiday or a treat for their kids?

I want to make sure that the Spending Review works for people across our country, from Plymouth to Perth and Darlington to Dereham – people that go to work every day and don’t have the time or money or inclination to hang around Whitehall. It should be the People’s Spending Review.

That’s why I’m travelling around the country asking the public what their priorities really are. So far, I’ve been in Felixstowe, Walsall and Tadcaster, and people have told me they want money focussed on core public services – the police, education, roads, defence and the NHS – rather than the waste and bureaucracy of the type which ballooned under Labour.

The public have little truck with the nanny state. They don’t want their hard-earned cash spent on announcements designed purely to get column inches or on billboards that brag about the Government’s generosity. They don’t want to hear that their money is used for corporate subsidies. Or to prop up zombie industries. Or to be told exactly how much to eat and how much to exercise.

After 13 years of Labour government and initiative-itis, we ended up with a horrendously complicated landscape. We have reduced the number of quangos from 561 in 2013 to 305 in 2017. But the administration cost of these budgets is still £2.5 billion, and the various support pots for business including tax credits cost around £18 billion. Too many hard-working public servants and businesspeople are spending their time filling in forms and applying for grants.

At the Spending Review, we’ll take a leaf out of our international competitors’ books – like South Korea and Japan – and show that it is perfectly possible to fund the services that have a real impact on people’s lives while keeping taxes low.

One way we’ll do that is through the zero-based capital review, meaning we’ll take a fresh look at all the major projects we’re investing in and ask whether they are really working for us. We need to make sure we are focusing on projects like local transport around our cities and counties – which generally have the greatest impact on growth.

They may not be glitzy, but fixing the local junction or improving the train service have a big impact on people’s lives, and are some of the top priorities for people I met. By focusing on the core services that matter to the public, we can boost growth – both personal and economic – while keeping taxes low so people have more to spend on their own priorities, and more of a stake in their own future.

That takes me to our second priority for Spending Review – opening up opportunities for people across Britain and ensuring everyone has a shot at success.

I came into politics because I want Britain to be a success story, and that means everyone in the country being a success story. A fully-functioning free market depends on new entrants generating new ideas, so we have to crack down on any entrenched privileges that stop talented people coming through.

Take housing. It’s still the case that – because of our restrictive planning system – people are paying a greater proportion of their income in housing than ever before. In 1947, people were paying less than an eighth of their total spending on housing – now it’s over a quarter. And people who rent in London are spending half their income on rent. And we are all paying the price. Next year, we will spend £34 billion on housing support. If we don’t deal with these entrenched barriers, it will undermine people’s faith in our economic model and lead them on the road to socialism.

We know Labour’s answer to this is further eye-watering public spending. Their latest idea is for a Universal Basic Income, a flat payment given to everyone with no strings attached. There’s a big problem with this: it doesn’t work. Finland carried out a trial in 2017, and found people receiving UBI were no more likely to find a job. What’s more, in order to expand the programme across the country they would have needed to increase income tax by nearly 30 per cent.

What people need is not handouts or Universal Basic Income, but the Universal Basic Infrastructure of life – the foundations of living a full life in a modern free enterprise country, without arbitrary and unfair barriers to success. By that I mean access to good education, a good home with fast internet, and good transport links to get to a good job.

At the Spending Review we’re going to look at every bit of spending and make sure it is delivering for everyone regardless of their background. Unlike Labour, we know one person’s success is not another person’s loss. One person’s success improves all our lives through the jobs they provide and the new goods and services they invent. If we get the conditions right, success is there for everyone to grasp.

In doing so however, we must not be blind to those who aren’t yet able to take those opportunities. There are some people – perhaps who are struggling with health conditions, or have missed out on basic education, or been the victims of crime – who will not yet be capable of taking the opportunities available. Our third priority should be to help those on the margins move to a position where they can take control of their lives, and to stop any more people getting into that position in the first place.

Too often, these people haven’t had the best start in life that’s so crucial to success. Indeed, the academic evidence shows that when it comes to intervention, the earlier the better. This requires us to be patient. Take the successful phonics programme championed by Nick Gibb that has seen our 9-year olds shoot up the European literacy league tables. The benefits will be felt most in 10-20 years’ time, when these children are entering the world of work and starting their own families. In the future, we’ll have more independent adults able to succeed.

For the first time in many years, because of the choices we have made in Government, we have the power to make positive decisions. We can use this to reduce taxes and focus on core services that the public care about. As we throw off the constraints of the post-financial crash world and the European Union, we’ll focus on the public’s biggest priorities, ensuring everyone has the Universal Basic Infrastructure to succeed and targeting support for the most vulnerable in our society so everyone has a fair shot.

This article is based on a speech delivered to Onward earlier this week.

Damian Hinds: Raise the quality of technical education, and parity of esteem will naturally follow

It is utterly confusing to provide 12,000 course options at Level 3 or below. The system must be reformed.

Damian Hinds is Education Secretary and MP for East Hampshire.

You know how it goes. A politician starts talking about technical education and the clichés start – for too long we haven’t taken technical skills seriously enough… we’ve prioritised academic education over technical education… the problem is that there is an in-built snobbery in our education system that says thinking with your brain is good, but working with your hands isn’t.

Well – clichés are often clichés for a reason.

As Education Secretary, my ambition is to provide a world class education for every child, whatever their route, whatever their background. Whilst our young people have an excellent and clear academic route to follow – A Levels and then university – our vocational, technical routes tell another story.

There is not a simple path for young people choosing technical study at 16.

We are unique as a country by providing a confusing landscape of over 12,000 courses to young people at Level 3 – the equivalent of A Levels – and below, with multiple qualifications in the same subject areas available.

If a 16 year old wants to study history, they know they can take a History A Level which is understood and trusted by parents, universities and employers. But if a student wants to study an engineering qualification after GCSEs there are over 300 different options to choose from – leaving them at a loss as to which ones will give them the best chance of getting the skills they need and employers often with little clue as to which qualifications they should be looking for.

So – as part of our ongoing improvements to technical education which have seen the reform of apprenticeships to put quality at their heart and the development of T Levels, as the rigorous technical equivalent to A Levels – today we are launching a review of those technical qualifications that are Level 3 or below, to simplify the landscape and improve quality of what’s on offer to young people.

There are going to be some tough decisions as we think carefully about what we take away from the system. But I think we’d all agree – better to see young people with a smaller number of high quality choices rather than a plethora of often mediocre ones.

This is the next step in a long and necessary road of improving technical and vocational education. It follows Professor Alison Wolf’s review of vocational education in 2011 and Lord Sainsbury’s review of the quality of technical education in 2015. Both reviews had the question of quality at their heart and both have led to improvements in the system, including the development of new, tougher criteria for qualifications included in performance tables and the introduction of new gold standard T Levels from 2020.

We have already made great strides forward increasing the quality level of apprenticeships, with more of them at a higher level, longer and more intensive. T Levels are a major upgrade to the technical qualifications that will be available after GCSEs. They will give young people the opportunity to gain the skills they need to get a great job, go on to do a higher level apprenticeship or further study.

You can’t legislate for parity of esteem between academic and technical routes post-16. Quality has to come first. Get that right and esteem will follow. In order for technical education not simply to be something for “other people’s children”, it has to be something you want your child to do as well. That means it’s high quality and leads to a well-paid, rewarding skilled job.

The importance of getting technical education right does not just lie in making sure that every child, whatever their talent, has a high quality educational route – crucial though this is. The quality of skills is also vital for our productivity as a country. The productivity gap is the great unsolved issue of the last 50 years. We know that matching German productivity would mean significantly higher wages and allow government to spend tens of billions of pounds a year more on our public services – and skills underpins this.

I have previously spoken of the hourglass of skills in the country. At the top of the hourglass, we have a large number of well-educated people, often with degrees from good universities- they tend to be in the high skilled, high paid jobs.

But at the bottom of the hourglass, we have a large number of people who either never progressed beyond GCSEs or gained low level vocational qualifications. They are too often ending up in low skilled, low wage jobs.

If we’re ever going to close the productivity gap then we need more people getting into the top half of the hourglass, and ultimately we need to change the shape of the hourglass so it bulges out in the middle with more skilled jobs for people doing high quality training when they finish school.

To do this we need to make sure that the technical route in education is as clear and as high quality as the academic route. This goes beyond what happens at 16 and we are also looking at how to improve higher technical qualifications, Level 4 and 5, but it’s all connected and today’s consultation plays a part in that. A clear quality technical path to a skilled job. More young people gaining higher skills. A more productive economy.

In a decade’s time I want us to have a completely different perspective on technical education in this country. We should be able to look back on all the reforms we’ve made, and be able to say, yes, our young people now have the same – or ideally better – training opportunities than they do in Germany, or Holland, or Switzerland, or other leading systems.

Nadhim Zahawi: How we can do more to support care leavers at university

Our new Covenant establishes a set of principles to guide private, public, and third-sector organisations who want to help.

Nadhim Zahawi is Minister for Children and Families and is the MP for Stratford-on-Avon.

Imagine going to university, or remember back to it. It’s a big deal, one that is greeted with a mixture of excitement and trepidation by any student.

Now imagine that you’re doing it without the financial support of the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’, when every book you buy, every gig you go to, you’ll have to pay for yourself.

It’s a big change, learning how to live away from home, manage your own finances, and adapt to higher level of study than you’ve experienced before. The support of a family can be a huge part of helping you to overcome those challenges.

Now imagine arriving for your first day in a totally new and alien environment – alone – with no friendly face to drop you off, help you settle in and wish you luck before sending you off with a big hug and as you’re settling in, no one to ring for support if you’re feeling low, and no haven to retreat to in the holidays.

More likely than not, this is the reality for any care leaver who wants to go to university.

It isn’t too surprising, then, that the proportion of care leavers going to university is far lower than that of their peers – and even lower than those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

And when those young people who have been raised in care triumph over the obstacles that stand in the way, it is sadly all too often the case that the pressures of university life are too great. We know that care leavers who do make it to university are nearly twice as likely to drop out than non-care leavers.

I believe passionately that there should be no limit on opportunity and it is our responsibility as a society to help them, regardless of their background.

That is one of the guiding principles of the Care Leavers Covenant – a promise to help care leavers aged 16 to 25 to live more independently and unlock any limits on their potential. It’s a wide-ranging promise and we want private, public, and voluntary sector organisations to get behind it – including universities.

But I want them to go further. There are amazing things happening across the higher education sector but we need to raise the bar and make sure that good practice becomes the norm.

That is why we are publishing a set of principles to guide universities in thinking about how they can support care leavers.

These principles are designed to help universities to first, increase the number of students in care who apply and go to higher education; and second, ensure that when they get there, care leavers are given the support they need to succeed.

That support could actually be really simple things like offering every new care leaver student a personal welcome. They do this at Nottingham University. Care leavers there are helped to settle in, given a ‘welcome goodie bag’, shown to their accommodation, and taken on their first supermarket shop. A small gesture but at a time of first-day nerves, it could be invaluable.

Financial support – such as bursaries covering all-year-round accommodation costs, and associated study costs – is great and universities should do more of this. However in many ways emotional support can be just as important.

For students who lack the parental support that so many of us take for granted, it is vital they have someone in the institution they can trust and whom they can turn to in times of difficulty – to provide them with good advice and a shoulder to lean on.

That support doesn’t have to start when students set foot on campus though. Universities can play a crucial role in helping any disadvantaged young person, but particularly care leavers, realise that going to university isn’t ‘something that other people do’.

For example, St Mary’s University have been running a fantastic series of summer schools for looked-after children under the auspices of the ‘First Star’ programme. These schools can help with a whole range of personal and emotional issues, and help them to realise there is no limit to their potential.

So far 15 universities have signed up to the Care Leavers Covenant and I want more to follow their lead. This covenant and the principles we have published today are not just about providing another box for institutions to tick. They are a commitment, a real commitment to improve the lives of thousands of young people. Why wouldn’t you sign up?

John Bald: Mixed ability teaching is still stopping our children learn languages

Vacuous proposals for a “national strategy” are made – with no reference to standards or teaching methods. Wishful thinking won’t fix the system.

John Bald is a former Ofsted inspector and has written two books on the history of writing and spelling. He is Chairman of the Conservative Education Society.

Readers of this column will know that I have been worried about the decline of language learning for many years, and have been doing my best to help the government tackle it. At a DfE seminar in 2010, some of our critics, including several drawing six-figure salaries from quangos, argued that I was wrong to say that we were facing a national disaster. Sitting beside me was the head of languages at Mossbourne Community Academy, whose department had just achieved 24 A* grades in German, and 28 A* grades in Spanish, by the simple method of grouping pupils according to their needs and abilities, teaching them well, and ensuring that they worked hard and behaved themselves.

Correcting the errors of these quangos, and their friends in teacher training, is a long, hard task. Wholesale cheating in examinations was only removed last year, and the position is still not secure in speaking tests. The errors began with the late Professor Eric Hawkins, who advocated “tolerance” of pupils’ errors – leading to no progress at all for many – and continued with the work of a series of overlapping and expensive organisations that put all of their efforts into exposing children to language, with no attention to the results. Mixed ability teaching was the hidden agenda, and research efforts kept well away from it, because it was obvious that there was a price to be paid in terms of the achievements of the most able pupils. The zealots in charge of the quangos were prepared to pay this price, though they could not afford to do so openly.

Through the efforts of Michael Gove and Nick Gibb, their quangos have been closed down, but their legacy and continuing influence are clear in reports issued by the British Academy on behalf of four others – including the Royal Society – and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Languages. The first report proposes a “national strategy”, reminiscent of Blair’s solution to every problem. It makes no reference to standards or teaching methods, and proposes a link to similar strategies in Scotland and Wales, neither of which has shown any evidence of improved standards. In Wales, under 20 per cent of pupils took a GCSE in a language other than Welsh in 2017, which indicates that they have a problem rather than a solution.

The BA report cites an estimate from Cardiff Business School that failure to learn languages is costing us £48bn a year, but does not mention the report’s admission that it contains “a wide margin of error.” It’s hard to see the Royal Society accepting this in any other area of its work, and highlighting the estimate without the qualification is more suited to propaganda than to science. Much more reliable is a comment by Richard Hardie, former Chairman of UBS, to the All-Party Parliamentary group, that what was needed was linguists with the levels of linguistic skill and fluency needed to design and negotiate contracts and understand regulations. The Cardiff recommendation of high-level business placements, including MBAs, is in line with this view.

The All-Party group is something of a misnomer, as a large number of Conservative MPs are members, but never attend its meetings. Its “National Recovery Programme” makes the important point that the decline in languages has damaged the supply of teachers, a phenomenon that has resulted in one civil servant receiving a decoration from the French government for providing work for French nationals who couldn’t find any in France. Otherwise the report is very similar to that of the British Academy, an uncosted wishlist with no mention of the issue of standards, which is at the heart of the decline in A level, or indeed of the steps the government is taking to address the issue.

The first of these, the Mandarin Excellence Project, is leading to higher standards in the learning of Chinese than we have ever had in the UK, and has turned round a situation in which millions of pounds, and the goodwill of the Chinese government, were squandered through lack of consistency and support. It was mortifying to see some of the best teaching anywhere wasted because no-one provided any consolidation between lessons, leaving the visiting teacher to start from scratch each time. Now, pupils are given an intensive course that ensures that they really understand how spoken and written Mandarin work, and have the satisfaction of knowing that they are making real progress, as the All-Party group has seen. A similar, though less intensive, approach is to be developed through the national system of Language Hubs, based at York University and led by Dr Rachel Hawkes, a former president of the Association for Language Learning, and Professor Emma Marsden.

Unlike the British Academy and APPG proposals, these initiatives have a clear emphasis on standards and outcomes, which is the only long-term way to address the concerns of Richard Hardie, and of the APPG itself in relation to the supply of teachers. For these two organisations to take no notice of them at all would be disappointing, if it were not for the ever-present elephant in the room, mixed ability teaching, which remains a matter of principle for our opponents, whether it enables children to learn effectively or not. The pupils I see are being failed by the system. They need better teaching, not wishful thinking.

PS. The Select Committee has reported on the nursing degree apprenticeship, and the government replied on Monday.

“Making those dreams come true: that should be our calling as Conservatives.” Raab’s speech to Onward – full text

“People need the opportunity to benefit from their ability, their determination, and their hard-work.”

On Monday 11 March, Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP gave a speech for Onward on Unleashing the Great British Underdog: A vision for the Opportunity Society.

Good morning. I’d like to thank Havas Media for hosting us, and Will Tanner and the team at Onward for the vision, ideas and optimism they are bringing to our political debate.

Isn’t it great to be talking about something other than Brexit?

When I was appointed Brexit Secretary, some of you might’ve thought it was my dream job. I get that.
But that’s not my dream subject.

Brexit’s a big deal, and it dominates debate. But I got into politics to talk about something else. It’s something I feel very strongly about. And that’s what I want to talk you about today.

It’s hard get it down to a soundbite. You can say: ‘social mobility’ but that doesn’t really capture the full meaning, emotionally…morally … of encouraging and supporting young people to rise up, realise their potential, and fulfil their dreams.

I got into politics because I love this country, and I want every child… every child… to get their chance to make the best of their potential, and to be a success in life.

My father was a refugee to Britain. He arrived aged 6 with no English… but he made the best of his abilities and became a food marketing manager at M&S. There he met a clothes buyer, my Mum. They married and had my sister and me. This country gave my father a second chance. Maybe, that’s why he was one of the proudest Brits I knew.

Sadly, he died when I was 12. Just before he passed away, he did something that changed my life.

We lived near a great grammar school, Dr Challoners in Amersham, and I applied to go there.

There were three 12+ tests. I passed two … but on the day of the third, my sister was in a bad car crash that put her in hospital for several months. I went to school that day, and I sat the exam anyway. But I was thinking about my sister. I did so badly in the test that it brought my average down and I didn’t get in.

When my Dad found out what had happened, he appealed. He asked the school to take the average from the first two papers, and the appeal was successful.

Now, thankfully, my sister recovered. Sadly, just a month before my first day at Dr Challoners, my Dad passed away. But I can still remember… how proud he was that I was getting ready to go to school there.

His effort was worth it. That school changed his son’s life. I could not have had a better education, and not just in academic terms. The whole ethos of the school prepared the kids to fulfil their potential – and not just in work but in life.”

Building a Fairer Society

“I guess it’s natural that my family history has coloured my outlook, and my politics. My Dad was Jewish, Mum raised us Church of England and I married a Catholic.

I never expected that we’d still see the kind of racism my Dad suffered in twenty-first century Britain, that we’re now seeing in the anti-semitism plaguing the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. And I know there are many Labour MPs who are as disgusted as I am about that.

The first principle of a fair society is that is doesn’t discriminate on grounds of race, religion, gender or sexuality. That’s essential, but it’s not enough.

I want to see all our kids, everywhere, have the chance that my Dad had, that I had, to make a success of themselves – based on their abilities and hard-graft.

My experience taught me that no one-off meritocratic process will ever be perfect, so we need to build layer upon layer of opportunity, I’m talking about a ‘second chance society’, for those who miss out on their shot, whether that’s because of bad luck, a bad day, or they just happen to blossom later in life. We’ve got to make sure that our young people get a genuine opportunity to fulfil their potential.

But that’s not what’s happening in Britain today. Think about this: social mobility has actually declined in this country since the Second World War. And it’s not getting any better. It is one of the few things the Left and Right agree on in British politics … albeit with different explanations for the problem and what we should do about it.

We know the socialist or egalitarian answer, which is equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity. But I don’t think that’s right.

People need the opportunity to benefit from their ability, their determination, and their hard-work.

If you make policies designed to deliver a society with equality of outcome… for every individual, regardless of how much they put in, it would drain our economic competitiveness, because you take away incentives for people to strive. And that kills aspiration.

So we’ve got a two-part challenge: one – we need to build a fairer society that strengthens the enterprise economy, rather than weakens it.

And two, we’ve got to make our country fairer… by expanding opportunity, not suffocating it as many on the Left would have us do.”

Build on what we got right – the Gove reforms

“But let’s just take a moment to recognise what we’ve been getting right.

The Gove revolution with its focus on phonics, numeracy and literacy, academic rigour, and greater freedom for head-teachers to pioneer new ways of running schools has been a huge success.

I know from my own experience, with two boys 4 and 6, how important phonics is. I’ve read to both boys every morning since they were six weeks old. And I’ve loved watching how phonics equipped them to feed their own curiosity, from the sun and stars to stories like the Gruffalo.

For us as parents too, we get a precious opportunity to bond with our kids, away from tablets and tv screens.

Because of Michael Gove’s reforms, we’ve seen literacy standards rise by 40% since 2012, when we introduced phonics. More broadly, we have 1.9 million more children in schools deemed good or outstanding.

Now, I’m not saying academic scores are the only thing that matter. Far from it. We need to be looking at our children in a much more rounded way. And that includes appreciating the value of sport, music, drama and art in building up self-confidence and self-esteem … particularly for young people from tough neighbourhoods, or difficult family circumstances.

I remember when my Dad died, I went up the hill to grammar school in Amersham, and down the hill on my BMX down to Slough Karate Club. I trained there for 20 years, made 3rd Dan, won two British Southern Region titles, and spent a year on the British squad.

Looking back, I understand it was about much more than the sport. There were strong role models, a cracking camaraderie, and an ethos of respect.

After the earthquake my family had been through, it certainly helped restore my confidence, and that hugely benefited my attitude to school and life.

There are lots of talented kids out there for whom sport and other non-academic pursuits are the catalyst to the self-belief they need … to turn the flicker of ambition into the flame of success.

At the same time, I know that some of the Conservative school reforms have been unpopular with teachers.
One concern I’m sympathetic to… is the charge of constant revolution. We need to allow the changes in curriculum, the introduction of the EBACC, and the new reforms to Ofsted inspections… to bed down, and give our teachers time, and the space to implement them.

If there’s one change I’d like to see, having sat on the Education Select Committee between 2013 and 2014, it’s to pay teachers more… for teaching in our tougher schools. That would make it an important part of career progression for the best in the profession. And think about it: what better way to give children from the hardest backgrounds exposure to the very best teachers?

What’s vital…is to allow these reforms the time and space to drive up standards across the board. Let’s not forget that improving standards of learning …across the whole state education system is the most important building block for improving social mobility.”

Widen Choice, Unleash the Aspirational Underdog

“But what we also know from Free Schools and Academies is that… one size doesn’t fit all.

We need to challenge our own assumptions and keep looking for new ways to set up ladders of opportunity for the bright kid of modest means.

Of course, you all know…everyone in this room with children knows… each one is different, unique, and they’re all the more precious for it. They have different aptitudes and passions.

One of the risks I’m conscious of… and try to guard against, as a Dad, is limiting my children’s horizons by my own experiences. I certainly don’t hanker for them to become politicians.

But, there’s a broader social challenge here. We’ve created a culture in this country that prizes academic attainment above all else, funnelling more and more young people through university regardless of the benefits or the costs.

And, anyway, when did we make it a condition of being a success in life that you had to go to university? Neither of my parents did, but I always admired the success they made of their lives. There’s an in-built snobbery that we have acquired in this country … and it is holding our young people back.

We need more ladders of opportunity for the bright, but not necessarily bookish kids who want to reach their full potential.

Let me give you an example: Tony Blair introduced Young Apprenticeships for 14 to 16 year olds, but they started to be phased out under Gordon Brown and then the Coalition. I think that was a mistake. 14 to 16 is the age when truancy rates spike, and if you lose those children from the classroom, it’s hard to get them back.

Young Apprenticeships were hugely successful. The kids who’d been falling behind the most, before they joined the scheme, gained the most from it. Instead of shutting down vocational opportunities, let’s revive Young Apprenticeships, at least as a choice, for this age group.

But, we can’t stop there. If we’re serious about offering our children a credible vocational alternative that leads to a good job, then we need to see it through consistently, and that means beyond school.

We should build on T Levels, by expanding and promoting degree apprenticeships, like the flagship one offered by Jaguar Land Rover partnered with Warwick University.

Degree Apprenticeships allow young people to combine working with acquiring a vocational degree, but without the fifty-thousand pounds of debt the average student racks up after a normal degree.

That’s one great scheme… but how can we stick rocket boosters under Degree Apprenticeships, to scale them up and expand access?

To start with, Degree Apprenticeships should be given greater access to the Apprenticeship Levy. They should be mandated as a top priority for the Institute for Apprenticeships. And they should be fully integrated as part of the UCAS application process for every young person. That would give them the same status as normal degrees, and offer a genuine high-quality technical alternative for the next generation of school leavers.

Let’s offer young people a choice with all of the opportunity university has to offer … but none of the debt.

That’s just one area ripe for reform. There are plenty of other areas where we must smash through the glass ceilings holding our children back.

I remember my first day as a trainee at Linklaters, the law firm. A partner said to me: ‘You can forget all that stuff you studied, it won’t help you in the real world. Your training starts now’.

I got a terrific training there, and I understood what he meant. I just couldn’t help thinking it was a hell of a waste of money … not to mention 5 years studying.
With tuition fees at their level today, that’s no joke for aspiring young lawyers.

So, since 2010, I’ve been championing non-graduate routes to becoming a solicitor. And they’ve flourished. Now we need to expand those non-graduate routes into other professions which are starting to catch on, like accountancy.

Likewise, we need to encourage young people, who’ve got some entrepreneurial spirit, to think about setting up a business. A few years back, I was involved in a review by the Royal Society of Arts into attitudes to setting up a business. It found that many parents and teachers didn’t take the idea seriously… they treated it like a gap year before university. That’s such a shame, when you think of the self-made entrepreneurs this country has turned out, from Alan Sugar to Tony Pidgley in my constituency.

We can’t lose that. We’ve got to rekindle that buccaneering entrepreneurial spirit for the next generation. And there are some brilliant initiatives out there. Take ‘Entrepreneur First’. Started by Angel Investors, it takes talented students, but there aren’t any formal academic requirements. They spend the first 6 months developing business ideas with mentoring and networking. Then, they spend the second 6 months turning their bright idea into a start-up business, with Entrepreneur First providing office space, living costs and seed capital.

It’s a terrific scheme. Let’s scale it up, so the next generation of budding entrepreneurs get their chance to start their own business from scratch.

The government could boost Entrepreneur First by allowing participants to take out the maintenance loan element of the student loan for the year, to promote access for poorer young people.

Next, we should consider increasing income tax relief for investors through the Enterprise Investment Scheme from 30% to 50% to attract more entrepreneurs to back it with their time and know-how.

The beauty of Entrepreneur First is that it boosts the enterprise economy and the opportunity society.

Let’s encourage our young people to find that great idea. To believe they can turn it into a great business. To believe there’s no limit to what they can achieve.”

Widen Access to some of the Best Schools

“And, finally, what about our brilliant independent school sector? Rather than bashing or abolishing, as some on the Left argue for, I want to open it up so more kids from poorer backgrounds actually benefit.

I’ve been arguing since 2012 that the government should adopt the Sutton Trust’s Open Access scheme.

At no extra cost to the taxpayer, that initiative would open up 90 leading independent schools to entry on meritocratic basis, with means-tested fee support.

When Open Access was piloted at Belvedere School in Liverpool, 70% of pupils received fee support, and a third were eligible for free school meals.

Ultimately, I’d love to see the Sutton Trust scheme as a first step to opening up all independent schools on a means-tested and meritocratic basis.

Of course, the Labour party will scream elitism. But many of the Labour frontbench benefited from a grammar school or private school, or sent their kids to one.

We shouldn’t let the Labour party’s hypocrisy stop us from expanding opportunities, giving those of modest means their chance to go to some of the best schools.

Just think what it would mean for the children growing up in the urban sink estate… or the rural backwater, to get the opportunity to go to schools their parents never dreamed they could attend.

Creating those opportunities, making those dreams come true: that should be our calling as Conservatives.”

Conclusion

“So, as I said to you at the start, I was lucky enough to get my shot in life. But today… too many young people don’t get theirs.

I want to see a radical program of Conservative reform … that’s the political passion I was talking about. We’ve got to break through the glass ceilings, raise more ladders of opportunity for every child, everywhere.

I want us to build an opportunity society… that empowers the aspirational underdog… to reach his or her full potential, however they started out in life.

Opportunity. That should be our lodestar. And that should be the driving mission for the Conservatives in post-Brexit Britain.”

8 March 2019 – yesterday’s press releases

Govt decision on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe a step in the right direction Responding to news that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been offered diplomatic protection, Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesperson Jo Swinson said: This is a promising step in the right direction. I welcome this action by the Government, which contrasts the reckless incompetence displayed by the previous […]

Govt decision on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe a step in the right direction

Responding to news that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been offered diplomatic protection, Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesperson Jo Swinson said:

This is a promising step in the right direction.

I welcome this action by the Government, which contrasts the reckless incompetence displayed by the previous Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson.

Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s plight should give us all pause for thought. We must all do what we can to bring her home as soon as possible.

Moran: Fox wastes £2.6m on another vanity project

A Parliamentary Question from Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran has revealed that the Department for International Trade’s ‘Exporting is GREAT’ campaign cost the taxpayer £2.6m last year.

£1.9m was spent on online digital advertising and a further £0.72m was spent on advertising via physical formats.

The latest figures from 2017 show that up to 130,000 businesses took unquantifiable ‘steps’ towards exporting because of the campaign.

Commenting on the spending by Liam Fox’s department, Layla Moran said:

Liam Fox has spent £2.6m of taxpayer’s money on this campaign when he should be securing trade deals, the sole purpose of his job.

His department is the least effective on Whitehall and is throwing money at an advertising campaign, when what businesses really need is support and instruction whilst they attempt to navigate their way through the uncertainty Brexit is causing them.

It is also ridiculous that the Government are spending so much on ‘advice’ when it is clear that no body in the Cabinet has a clue what is going on.

Lib Dems: School funding crisis should shame the Govt

Responding to The Guardian investigation which has found teachers are cleaning and paying for books and pens to plug the gaps in school funding, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Layla Moran said:

We are clearly in the midst of a crisis over school funding and these revelations must result in direct action by the Conservatives. This investigation should shame the Tory Government.

With teachers covering for cleaners and parents donating money for essential services there is no way Conservative Ministers can deny there is a lack of funding for our schools.

The Secretary of State must begin an urgent listening exercise with frontline staff and reverse the budget cuts pursued after coalition, otherwise this crisis will only get worse. To fail to act is to leave both teachers and children in the midst of what is clearly a crisis.

Rachel Wolf: How even the perception of a knife crime crisis will make good schools no go zones once again

In general, it is right that schools should remove children that are a danger to others and who are preventing other children from learning.

Rachel Wolf is a partner in Public First. She was an education and innovation adviser at Number 10 during David Cameron’s premiership, and was founding director of the New Schools Network.

I live three streets from where I grew up in London.  I walk past my old primary school every day. Physical proximity to childhood offers a daily reminder of what we have achieved in education over the last generation (at least in London).

The nearest secondary school to me when I was a child was – like many in the central part of the capital – a no-go area. It was rife with violence, which often spilled out into the streets. Kids from other schools and adults were mugged. Middle class parents were desperate to avoid sending their children there – often moving out of the area as soon as those children approached eleven. I remember vividly our end of year primary school concert ,which was held at that school: boys would stand at the windows of the hall, stubbing cigarettes out on the window while powerless and cowed teachers looked on.

This wasn’t that long ago. A time when Britain was – as now – a rich and developed country. And yet that school, like so many others, is now transformed. Closed down and turned into an “outstanding” academy, it is now a desirable destination for the wealthier parents in the area, as well as those from nearby social housing.

It really matters that schools are not only good, but environments where parents of all backgrounds are willing to send their children. One of the most, in my view, nonsensical criticisms I used to get about new Free Schools was that they didn’t have a high enough percentage of children on free school meals. My argument was always that if these schools were truly mixed – that parents who had previously fled the area were now willing to send their children there – this was a cause for celebration, not sorrow.

I am now very worried about the future of these new, transformed schools. Not because of education policy, or because the heads and teachers are any less remarkable, but because the violence that has erupted in London – and that is so dominated by teenager-on-teenager knife crime – is going to make them no-go zones once again.

To be honest, until recently attention to knife crime has been limited. It has sometimes felt that this is because it is happening to ‘other people’s children.

That won’t hold. Already, I hear whispering from worried parents. Children are being checked outside the school grounds for knives. Some are in gangs. Do I want my kids in this environment? What if something goes wrong?

We spend a lot of time in education at the moment debating such matters las mental health, character, sex education. If our schools stop being safe – or even stop being perceived as safe – all of that will be completely irrelevant. We often take for granted that the state will operate effectively as a ‘monopoly of force’. But if the minute that fails, then the rest of our public services fail too.

As is often the case, both the blame and the solution for knife crime has been lain at schools’ door. The reason this has happened, it is argued, is because schools have ‘excluded’ (temporarily or permanently removed them from school) children for bad behaviour.

I’m sure it’s true that there are some schools that have been overzealous in removing kids. But in general, it is wholly acceptable and right that schools should remove children that are a danger to others and who are preventing other children from learning. And anyone who has talked to a teacher who has had an exclusion decision overturned, and had to try and cope with a pupil who knows that teachers’ power to stop their behaviour is zero, would be sympathetic to exclusions.

And at the same time, the evidence that this is leading to knife crime is highly dubious. Research by the Ministry of Justice has found that only “a very small proportion [of pupils] committed the knife possession offence shortly after being excluded”. Many were excluded after they were found to have knives. Others committed a knife offence several months after an exclusion. It’s difficult to show that it was the act of exclusion itself in either of these types of cases which caused the pupil to commit the act.

Nor is the solution to add something else to the schools’ curriculum. This is always the lazy proposal for every policy problem – get schools to teach about it! The campaign Parents and Teachers for Excellence has found 34 articles with different calls on the curriculum this year alone.

The much harder – but better – policy solution is to improve where such excluded children end up. Each local authority has a responsibility to educate every excluded child, either by placing them in another school, or by putting them in what is called “alternative provision” – essentially much smaller institutions which work with pupils who for whatever reason can’t engage in mainstream education. These schools, despite dealing with some of the most challenging children in society, vary enormously in quality and are often bottom of the priority list. This should change.

At heart, we also need to recognise that this problem is not an educational one: our schools are much, much better than they used to be. They are all under terrible threat because of violence that is happening outside some of their gates – and if it isn’t sorted it will destroy the hard work of the last two decades.

5 March 2019 – yesterday’s press releases

We’re running a bit late today, mainly because a number of these releases were embargoed until after midnight… Tory cuts are forcing schools to beg and borrow from communities – Moran Lib Dems: Tories failing to fund adult social care Tory cuts driving down quality of care homes Govt must act to prevent another Windrush […]

We’re running a bit late today, mainly because a number of these releases were embargoed until after midnight…

  • Tory cuts are forcing schools to beg and borrow from communities – Moran
  • Lib Dems: Tories failing to fund adult social care
  • Tory cuts driving down quality of care homes
  • Govt must act to prevent another Windrush
  • Make school uniforms gender neutral – Lib Dems
  • Davey: End ‘right to rent’ checks and Hostile Environment
  • Swinson: PM’s guarantees to protect workers’ rights not worth the paper they’re written on

Tory cuts are forcing schools to beg and borrow from communities – Moran

Responding to reports that parents are being asked to pay for staff wages and books by schools, Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson Layla Moran said:

These stories are becoming all to common.

Schools are having to beg and borrow from their communities to make ends meet. But some schools especially in poorer areas don’t have a parent body who can afford to help plug the gaps.

This is the raw reality of this Government’s failure to engage on the school funding issues. It’s time we funded our schools properly.

Lib Dems: Tories failing to fund adult social care

Responding to the reports from the LGA that council tax rises in 2019/20 will not bring in enough money to prevent the need for further cutbacks to adult social care, Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Judith Jolly said:

The current way the Tories are running the care system is unsustainable. As it becomes more and more difficult for people in the UK to get the help they need, it becomes clear something needs to change, and it needs to happen now.

For months the Liberal Democrats have been calling on the Conservative Government to publish the Social Care Green Paper so that we can begin to address this crisis. But instead the Tories have delayed and delayed this since the summer of 2017 as they fail to address the ballooning funding gap for adult social care.

The Liberal Democrats are ready and willing to challenge the problem in social care. We will transform the care older people receive and reduce the inequality in provision. We will put a penny in the pound on income tax to directly invest in social care as a first step to address the funding problems.

Tory cuts driving down quality of care homes

Responding to the report from Independent Age stating that the quality of care homes has worsened in the last year in more than a third of local authorities (37%), Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Judith Jolly said:

We are now seeing the serious consequences the Tories’ cuts are having on the care older people receive. It is unacceptable that older people and families are having to choose between one poorly-performing care home and another poorly-performing care home.

The Tories’ sustained cuts to local government funding is contributing to the fall in standards of care, as is their failure to publish the Social Care Green Paper.

The Liberal Democrats are ready and willing to challenge the problems in social care. We will transform the care older people receive and reduce the inequality in provision. We will put a penny in the pound on income tax to directly invest in social care to reverse the deterioration in care.

Govt must act to prevent another Windrush

Responding to the Public Accounts Committee’s Report on the Windrush Generation and the Home Office, Liberal Democrat MP and member of the Public Accounts Committee, Layla Moran said:

The Windrush Scandal demonstrated the extent of the Home Office’s indifference to the human impact of its hostile environment policies. The Conservative Government’s continued failure to put things right for the victims of this scandal is shameful.

The Government must meet the urgent housing requirements of members of the Windrush Generation, as well as providing them with proper compensation.

We must ensure that this scandal never happens again, but the Settled Status scheme for EU citizens risks leaving many thousands of them facing the same problems as the Windrush Generation after Brexit. The only way to prevent it is to end the hostile environment completely and take responsibility for immigration away from the Home Office and its toxic culture.

Make school uniforms gender neutral – Lib Dems

Today (6th March), Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Layla Moran will introduce a Bill on gender neutral school uniforms to mark International Women’s Day.

Commenting on her Presentation Bill, Ms Moran said:

The Conservative Government must take a step into the twenty-first century. It is harmful that in some cases schools are still dictating what children can and cannot wear just because of their gender.

This is not about forcing girls to wear trousers or boys to wear skirts. We must support all children to feel happy in what they wear to school. It is also important that transgender and non-binary pupils feel they can dress comfortably.

Liberal Democrats demand better. It’s high time that all children were given the option of which school uniform they want to wear. We must create a culture of acceptance in our schools where all students are confident and comfortable no matter what they choose to wear.

Davey: End ‘right to rent’ checks and Hostile Environment

Responding to the Immigration Minister’s written statement on the Right to Rent Scheme, published today, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Ed Davey said:

What will it take for the Tories to reverse their nasty, discriminatory Hostile Environment policies?

The Windrush Scandal should have been enough. Last week’s High Court judgement that the ‘right to rent’ checks breach human rights should have been more than enough.

But still Tory Ministers refuse to budge. Worse, they are now wasting taxpayers’ money on a legal appeal to keep their pointless, discriminatory ‘right to rent’ checks.

The Liberal Democrats demand better. We demand an end to the Hostile Environment and an effective, compassionate fix to the immigration system.

Swinson: PM’s guarantees to protect workers’ rights not worth the paper they’re written on

Responding to the Government’s announcement that Parliament will be given a vote on adopting future EU rules on workers’ rights, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats and former Employment Relations Minister Jo Swinson said:

This is yet another desperate attempt by the Prime Minister to save her deal by bribing Labour MPs.

Her so-called guarantees to protect workers’ rights are not worth the paper they are written on. There is nothing stopping a future Conservative government from ripping them to shreds.

The PM claims credit for shared parental leave but I was the one fighting Conservative Minister after Conservative Minister so we could make shared parental leave a reality for families.

Trusting the Conservatives to protect workers’ rights would be like trusting a fox to guard the hen house. The only way to protect the millions of workers in the UK is to stay in the European Union.

James Frayne: The public’s views on sex and relationships education are more nuanced than you might imagine

If it is framed through the prism of tolerance and anti-bullying, most people support it. But there are still political pitfalls.

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

The Government’s announcement of changes to sex and relationships education has generated a mini storm of controversy. The changes are broad and many are non-contentious – for example, teaching children about the importance of maintaining their mental health. But controversy surrounds three issues: that primary school children will be taught about relationships, which some worry means exposing children to adult themes too early; that in updating and expanding teaching on sex and relationships, politicians will be making moral judgements on issues some believe should be left to parents; and that the Government will be making it harder for parents to withdraw their children from such lessons, raising concerns about parental freedom. Conservative columnists Charles Moore and Peter Hitchens both raised concerns about these changes in last weekend’s media. But what do voters think about all this?

On all these issues, evidence is patchy but there’s enough of it to draw some tentative conclusions. The first of these, mostly informed by the qualitative research on education I’ve conducted down the years, is that parents of children of all ages are obsessed with bullying; they fear their children might be bullied in the playground or online; and they rate their children’s school on how quickly and effectively they deal with problems as they arise. (There is some quantitative research on this issue too, backing up the same conclusions.) Parents – and indeed most of the public – are also desperate to be inclusive, respectful and polite, and for their children to be so, too. This all means they are highly sympathetic to suggestions that children should be actively taught that every child should be treated with kindness and respect, regardless of their background and beliefs.

The second conclusion is that most parents are generally extremely liberal about what schools teach in secondary schools – and that includes the clear teaching that different lifestyles are perfectly acceptable. A reasonably extensive YouGov poll from November showed that, by massive majorities, the public believe in teaching about things like safe sex, building safe and healthy relationships, STDs and consent. (There is surprisingly little difference across age groups on these issues.) Furthermore, by a large margin (69-18), the public also supports teaching, in the words of the questionnaire, “that homosexuality is ok”. By a smaller, but still clear, margin (51-29), the public supports teaching, again in the words of the questionnaire, “that transgenderism is ok”.

The third conclusion is that, while most people are either very liberal because they’re self-consciously so, or because their lack of interest in the issue makes them so, significant minorities worry about aspects of sex and relationships education. The two biggest sceptical groups are Conservatives and a minority of culturally conservative parents (mostly of primary school-age children). The YouGov poll referenced above showed, by 40-37, with the rest saying “don’t know”, Conservative supporters believe that it should not be taught in schools “that transgenderism is ok”; unsurprisingly, over 65’s are also narrowly opposed. (Incidentally, a recent ComRes poll, also from November, asked whether people thought “it should be compulsory for schools to teach children about LGBTQ relationships”, people were divided, with 43 per cent saying yes and 39 per cent saying no.) At this point, it’s worth pointing out that these Conservatives are not saying that it should be taught that “transgenderism is not ok”.

On the issue of primary school teaching, we saw that a group of parents of primary school age children recently protested against the teaching of LGBT rights in their school – arguing it was all too early to begin such education (the school in question has abandoned the project). Having conducted qualitative research on education issues in recent times, I’ve seen this come up regularly amongst conservative and religious parents; there are extremely passionate, vocal minorities of people that will not accept highly liberal or progressive (in the American sense of the terms) sex and relationships education in primary schools – and many of these are nervous about this being taught in secondary schools, too. (By the way, I can’t find any research on the issue of parents withdrawing their children from sex education lessons, but my guess is that most people would be opposed to this practice.)

What should the Government learn from all this? Probably the following: (a) that it will carry almost all of the public with it if sex and relationships education are framed mostly through the prism of anti-bullying, respect and consent, and the specifics of safe sex; (b) that it must tread extremely carefully on any and all relationships education in primary schools – but particularly if it strays away from the straightforward anti-bullying line; (c) that it is going to be extremely difficult to avoid a battle with many of its own supporters on transgender issues (they should probably look at what happened to the GOP on this issue and prepare for the same sorts of conversations); and (d) that, regardless of their guidelines, culturally conservative parents are going to continue to remove their children from lessons they don’t agree with; the Government should be prepared either to prosecute or back down – with backing down being the only realistic option.

Some thoughts on education

I  left school nearly forty years ago in 1980 aged 16 since then I have come across countless numbers of people who express surprise that I didn’t go into further education and obtain a degree. My response is usually that I have been to the ‘University of Life.’ I am of course far from alone, […]

I  left school nearly forty years ago in 1980 aged 16 since then I have come across countless numbers of people who express surprise that I didn’t go into further education and obtain a degree.

My response is usually that I have been to the ‘University of Life.’

I am of course far from alone, sent to a poor quality comprehensive in an area where my contemporaries with parents who had the necessary means went to the private school nearby. I was put through a ‘sausage machine’ designed to push me out at the end fit only for low paid work.

I received no individual attention, nothing unusual there nor did any of my fellow students. At 13 I was required to choose 8 subjects, only half which really interested me. When it came time to leave any careers advice or guidance was non existent.

I have never gone back to that school and have no desire to.

Wind forward to the present day and we have an Education set up that is still failing millions. A system where overwhelmingly those from a higher social strata get to go to the top universities and then onto the top jobs.

Our parliament, civil service and judiciary isn’t even close to being representative of the wider population.

Some on the left advocate the abolition of the private schools, others suggest measures like the ending of their charitable status and the levying of VAT on fees. However the answer as far as I am concerned is to look at fundamentally improving the state system.

State schools need to be given more freedom through greater local control, class sizes have to be a lot smaller and teachers encouraged to deliver individually centred tuition. 

Entry to the profession should be opened up and recruitment widened to encourage those with expertise in a particular area to take up a role in teaching. This already happens in the FE sector.

The role of the regulator Ofsted needs to be examined closely and its remit changed to ensure schools are judged on a variety of measures including those mentioned above.

All of this of course needs money and we should advocate the increased spending needed to provide a first class state education so that in future no child is left behind.

* David is a member of Horsham and Crawley Liberal Democrats