The best way to broaden access at grammar schools is to build more of them

Artificial restrictions have created huge competitive pressure on places, but lowering standards is not the answer.

Yesterday’s Times carried a story about a campaign by Birmingham parents against proposals to lower admission standards to local grammar schools.

The King Edward VI Academy Trust, which apparently runs six selective schools in the city, has unveiled proposals to give “priority to disadvantaged and local children”, rather than selecting purely on academic merit.

Such initiatives have the Government’s support. When ministers announced that existing selective schools would be allowed to expand, one of the conditions attached to the £50 million per annum fund was that they take steps to, in the Times’ words, “admit more pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds”. This is presumably intended to appease those who argue that, on current evidence, grammar schools aren’t the engines for social mobility they’re often portrayed as.

However, this simply highlights the fact that the Government has misunderstood the argument for expanding grammar schools.

Until very recently, places at grammar schools were severely restricted – but, of course, highly sought after. Just as in any other market where supply is unable to expand to meet demand, competition for the scarce commodity rose and kept rising. This gave a big advantage to those parents who could afford to provide their children with extra tuition for the entrance exams. It also meant that the remaining grammars received applications from a much broader radius than ordinary schools, increasing the competitive pressure still further.

As a result, today’s grammars can look as if they simply amplify middle-class advantage. But it is a poor argument against grammar schools which can be resolved by building more of them. Expanding existing selective schools, and opening new ones, would ease competitive pressures and help “bright children living on the doorstep of the school” gain admission without cutting standards.

One of the unfortunate side-effects of Brexit has been that the energy seems to have gone out of the Government’s education agenda. Making any move on grammars was a bold choice, but as I wrote a few years ago the case to be made for them today is very different to the original ‘tripartite’ model of the 1950s. Where once children were sorted into ‘academic’, ‘technical’, and ‘miscellaneous’, modern selective schools can find their place in a diverse spectrum of specialist schools which cater to a much broader range of learning styles.

The way to solve the challenges posed by academic selection is to make sure that there are sufficient places for those that need them, and first-rate alternatives (such as the new T-Level) for those who don’t. Not to lower standards.

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 […]

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 Europe.

The Leave campaign’s promises clearly cannot and will not be delivered, and the Conservatives are now engaging in a self-indulgent internal spat which won’t resolve their deepening divisions.

Theresa May should now show real leadership in calling a People’s Vote, to break the deadlock, with an option to remain in the EU. It is the way forward out of this mess.

Agreement Reached Between new First Minister and Kirsty Williams

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have announced that an agreement has been reached between Education Secretary Kirsty Williams and new First Minister Mark Drakeford.

The agreement affirms both parties’ commitment to the 2016 Progressive Agreement and its shared priorities. Alongside noting the significant progress made since Kirsty Williams became Education Secretary, the agreement also unveils new education policies and reforms that will be implemented over the coming years.

The agreement recognises the distinct identities and policies of each party, while allowing each party to on occasion express different positions on reserved matters. This has previously happened on certain occasions regarding UK/EU relations.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds said:

The Welsh Liberal Democrats and I are proud of the work Kirsty is doing within the Welsh Government to implement Welsh Lib Dem policies and improve the lives of people across Wales.

Kirsty has already delivered many of the transformational policies contained in the first progressive agreement, including increasing funding for disadvantaged pupils, increasing the supply of affordable housing and delivering the most generous and progressive student finance system in the UK.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have a proud tradition of delivering for our communities and this agreement does just that.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Education Secretary Kirsty Williams commented:

I am pleased to reach this agreement with the new First Minister today. This agreement allows us to build on our achievements over the last two years and to continue on our national mission of raising standards, reducing the attainment gap, and delivering an education system that is a source of national pride and public confidence.

Lamb: Labour’s abstention on cannabis vote ‘deeply depressing’

Responding to the narrow defeat of his Cannabis (Legalisation and Regulation) Bill yesterday, in which Labour MPs were whipped against supporting the legislation, former Health Minister Norman Lamb said:

While it was sadly predictable that the Conservatives would block reform of our harmful and outdated drugs laws, it was deeply depressing to see the vast majority of Labour MPs sit on their hands and abstain.

It underlines the hypocrisy of Labour’s claim to offer a radical, progressive alternative to the Conservatives. The truth is that Labour remains a deeply small-c conservative party in many respects, driven by tough rhetoric and a tendency to ban what it doesn’t like rather than following the evidence. I applaud those MPs who voted in support of the Bill and strongly encourage others to reconsider.

The war on drugs has been an unmitigated failure, leaving young people vulnerable to dangerous strains of cannabis sold by dealers who have absolutely no interest in their welfare.

The Liberal Democrats are the only party calling for a pragmatic, evidence-based approach to cannabis which focuses on protecting public health. Only by legalising and regulating cannabis can we minimise the harms of this drug and protect the well-being of our children and young people.

Rachel Maclean: We must address the role of life-long learning in the future of work

The oft-maligned ‘gig economy’ is delivering flexibility, innovation, choice, and value to millions. But for it to keep doing so, we must adapt.

Rachel Maclean is the Conservative MP for Redditch.

Fancy a pizza? Need to get home late after the work Christmas party? Most of us think nothing about turning to our phone, and opening one of those sharing economy apps that Liz Truss has referred to on Twitter as the ‘staples of my life’.

This week’s Deliveroo High Court decision, however – in which a previous ruling was upheld that its riders are self employed rather than workers or employees – reminds us of some of the big questions around the future of work.

Within self-employment, the ‘gig economy’ is a small but growing part of daily life. Peer-to-peer companies like Uber, Deliveroo, and TaskRabbit have become everyday solutions, offering cheap and reliable goods and services, quickly.

The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy estimated earlier this year that 4.4 per cent of the population of Great Britain, or 2.8 million people, participated in this form of work over the past twelve months. Working this way offers many people more freedom, a better work-life balance, and greater flexibility. Businesses – and small businesses, in particular – can benefit from a more mobile and flexible pool of readily accessible labour. These benefits are also passed on to consumers, who enjoy increased choice, better experiences, and decreased expense.

New entrants to the market drive up standards and drive down costs, as innovation meets demand and drives growth. Meanwhile, more traditional business models are forced to update, becoming disrupted and newly open to competition, as they lose monopolistic control. There is much to be celebrated, here.

However, the gig economy is often painted by its critics as a framework that systematically exploits vulnerable low-skilled workers, and it is important to acknowledge that this can sometimes happen. But reforms and protections, including the banning of exclusive zero-hour contracts, have, thankfully, decreased instances of genuinely exploitative practices. These practices would be supported by few people with a true interest in the maximisation of freedom: I certainly don’t support them, and neither does the party I represent.

Moreover, common fears about economic insecurity and financial hardship related to participating in the gig economy often lack evidence. In a recent paper by Public First, for instance, it was reported that Deliveroo riders ‘can typically earn more than they would in the alternative work available to them’. And, while the CIPD’s 2017 report To gig or not to gig?’ emphasises that ‘49 per cent of gig economy participants report they are living comfortably or doing alright, in contrast to 56 per cent of other workers’, the percentage of gig economy participants who self-report as fitting in the most comfortable bracket (‘living comfortably’) is very slightly higher (17 per cent) than the percentage of other workers who do so (16 per cent).

Rather, the key sticking points in this debate focus on questions around employment status – as pointed up by the High Court case this week – and the place for further regulation.

My new FREER paper, out today, examines these questions in detail, and proposes sensible freedom-enhancing ways to address them. Moreover, it also emphasises the way in which it is not only the self employed who value and can greatly benefit from increased flexibility in their work. According to a recent YouGov survey, only six per cent of people now work a ‘normal 9-5 week’, and Timewise reported earlier this year that 87 per cent of employees want to work flexibly.

In this dynamic age, however, individuals must keep up to date with the new skills necessary to contribute and achieve fulfilment across a longer working life span. The future of work is unbreakably tied to learning and skills. Yet the frameworks of our education system have remained largely unchanged since the industrial revolution. It is time for a fundamental debate on the prevailing notion that, for most people, education finishes in their late teens or early adulthood.

My paper, therefore, also engages with the ‘lifelong learning’ discussion. The recent serious fall in the number of part-time and mature students should be of concern to us all. We must accept that the learner of the future will not be an 18-21-year-old on a full-time three-year university course, and recognise the benefits and challenges that this change will bring. This will be key, not least, for the country to meet the skills challenges ahead. Of equal importance, our current approach underplays the vast intrinsic value of good education to everyone, of any age.

We urgently need to reassess the critical yet complex roles that both work and education play in our society. My paper, which is the first of a FREER stream focused on the future of work, aims to kickstart an essential conversation.

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 […]

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.

But how do we respond to the populist appeal that’s swept across Britain and many other democratic countries – given that the disillusion with ‘conventional’ politics that is linked to populism makes voters less willing to listen to the reasoned arguments we would prefer to make? I suggest that we have to engage with issues of values, identity and citizenship, and we have to respond to their justified grievances – in order to allay some of the unjustified grievances that populist leaders have encouraged them to focus on.

There’s a rapidly-growing pile of studies on ‘the white working class’ and their sense of displacement by economic and technological change, social disruption, and – of course – immigration. The towns that voted most strongly for Brexit in Britain range from seaside resorts that have been displaced by foreign holidays to mill towns and mining villages where ‘the dignity of labour’ has given way to the indignities of casual work and shrinking benefits. There are real grievances here. Economic and regional inequality in Britain is wider than in any other European country (yes, the USA is worse). Public spending, on infrastructure, schools, housing, is lower in England’s north than its more prosperous south. The most recent figures show that Yorkshire and the North-East have suffered most from cuts in central support for local authorities. New OECD figures show that the UK and US spend less than 10% of what Denmark and Norway spend per head on training; FE colleges and apprenticeship schemes are struggling to keep going.

Any progressive party should therefore be setting out a long-term programme of public investment: in schools, in further education and training, in local regeneration, and in social housing. And we should be explicitly committed to reducing inequality, through progressive taxation and changes in corporate governance. And, as we fight to get ourselves heard above the cacophony of voices on Brexit, we should argue that it’s impossible to narrow the divisions that Brexit has exposed without spending more money to hold our national community together.

Popular confusion about whether referendums or parliamentary elections are a surer guide for good government reflects the failure of political education over several generations. The decline of local democracy has sharpened public perceptions that politics is a distant occupation played out in Westminster, rather than an activity in which citizens should share. We must make the case for education in citizenship, in all schools, and for devolution of power to local authorities to relate democratic decisions to voters’ concerns.

British history, and national identity, has been dominated since Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands war by a right-wing narrative of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism, of England as naturally free and continental Europe as naturally authoritarian. This is a subject for a lengthier article, and an intellectual campaign to combat the ‘Historians for Britain’ who were part of the Brexit campaign – but we can’t avoid tackling the gut issues of British identity, our place in the world, and our imperial legacy, if we are to remake the case for a liberal Britain.

Unless we are content to confine ourselves to winning the minority of seats that have high concentrations of university-educated professionals, we have to present well-articulated alternatives to voters in these areas that can persuade them that we deserve their support.

* Lord Wallace of Saltaire is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.

There has been a sharp increase in the number of pupils being home educated

This is a welcome trend. School standards have improved. But parents are to be commended for taking charge, when let down by “the system”.

Schools Week reports:

“The number of home educated pupils rose by 27 per cent this year, with many more likely to be “hidden from sight”, council children’s services chiefs have warned.

A survey of local authorities shows about 57,800 pupils were home-schooled in 2018, up from 45,500 last year and 37,500 in 2016.”

The research was undertaken by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services. Debbie Barnes, from the Association, says that while they “absolutely recognise that parents have the right to educate their children at home” they are concerned that the arrangement may be open to abuse. Firstly, that schools could be promoting the option as a way to exclude difficult children. Secondly, that parents might be using the arrangement to avoid attendance fines.

In one respect the trend might appear disappointing. There are an array of reasons for parents choosing to undertake home education for their children. But there have always been some that have resorted to it because the schools available in their area were poor. School standards at state schools have improved significantly since 2010. Yet home education has gone up. Incidentally, so has the number of pupils at independent schools – paying fees being the other escape route for losers in the postcode lottery. There are now a record 529,164 pupils at independent schools – it 2010 it was slightly lower at 511,886.

Perhaps while the number of failing schools has fallen, the willingness of parents to tolerate deficient standards has fallen even further. In any event, these escape route should be made easier to travel, rather than being blocked off. The answer to the objection that only the rich can afford school fees, should be to make it easier for others to do so. In this regard the efforts of James Tooley are to be applauded.

In the case of home-schooling, there will scepticism as to whether the push to increase bureaucratic burdens is really justified on child protection grounds. An alternative motive could be ideological – the control freakery of the education establishment.

When the Labour Government proposed greater interference, the Conservatives objected. Michael Gove, then the Shadow Education Secretary, said:

“I deeply regret the way statistics have been used to suggest somehow that children are intrinsically at greater risk if they are being home educated; I believe I am right in saying that not a single home-educated child has had to be taken into care as a result of a child protection plan, yet there are those who have sedulously spread the myth that somehow children are at greater risk through being home educated.”

I’m sure it is true that some children stop going to school because they are miserable due to being victims of bullying. Rather than exclude the bully, it is sometimes the victim that a school takes action against – this was an issue addressed by John Bald. Of course in such cases the school should manage better. But unless and until it does, the option of homeschooling would come naturally to any loving parent.

Or for that matter supposing your child was the bully, or being generally disruptive. Supposing he was not learning anything – and stopping others in his class learning. If the school (quite properly) excluded him, might not home education be better than some “Alternative Provision unit”? This is not the same as saying that parents should be pressured into becoming home educators. Still less is it to suggest that home education will always be right – whether for a bully, a victim of bullying, or anyone else.

Oxford Home Schooling, who provide courses for home educators, says:

“If your child is happy in school and you are happy that they are achieving their potential, then there is probably no reason to consider home education. Unfortunately, many children are bored or frustrated in school, and some struggle to understand what they are taught when the pace of teaching has to be determined by the needs of a large group. No group of 30 or more children is going to learn in the same way at the same rate, and a teacher’s job is a difficult one that leaves little time for individual pupil attention.

“It can also be the case that some sensitive children may have been badly hurt by teasing or made to feel incompetent in some way. In such cases, Oxford Home Schooling can provide a practical alternative to the classroom.”

What about the lack of socialisation? That could be a problem. Although one parent says her daughter make friends at the local riding stables. It must be completely a matter for each individual family – so prescriptive state officialdom should be held back.

What if the parents don’t have university degrees? A definite plus, according to Home Education UK:

“Research shows that children of parents without higher qualifications do at least as well as those whose parents have them.”

There is evidence from the United States that home educated pupils do much better, on average, in their test scores.

The law states that while education is compulsory for children, school is not. Parents that are home educating are required to provide a “suitable” education and the presumption is that they will do so. The state intervenes if there is a report that a child is not being educated – or if there is suspicion that home education is being used as a cover for radicalisation.

Home educators certainly show exceptional commitment. But far from being fanatics, they are taking a practical approach to the circumstances they find themselves in. The upshot is that they are taking up the challenge to educate their children. Often they are doing so reluctantly, where the “system” has let them down, in one way or another. Having already failed, the state should not compound its offence by making life harder for them.

John Bald: The effective teaching of multiplication tables is long overdue

Does the National Education Union want teenagers to count on their fingers? That’s the consequence if one severs mathematics education from its base in arithmetic.

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.

We like to think that information travels the world at the speed of light, but this is not the case with books. It took a personal visit and invitation by Dame Rachel De Sousa to make E.D. Hirsch’s work, originally in book form, widely known in the UK. Some key texts, notably Nobel laureate Eric Kandel’s In Search of Memory, are still little known here.

The latest example I’ve met is Dr Sally Shaywitz’ Overcoming Dyslexia, based on the work of the Yale Centre for the Study of Learning and Attention.

Yale pioneered the use of MRI scanning, and the evidence in Chapter 6 of this book explains why some highly intelligent people who have overcome dyslexia still read slowly – they rely on frontal areas of the brain, which are used for decoding, rather than on what Dr Shaywitz terms the “word form area”, a form of long-term memory, in which information about specific words – eg the difference between should and shoulder – is stored, allowing us to read words without working them out from scratch. Decoding, which is based on phonics, is the key to the early stages of learning to read. The word form area stores the knowledge of variations that enables us to build on this and develop fluent reading in English.

The issue of memory brings me to maths, and the controversy over the government’s new check on multiplication tables. The National Education Union has splashed on its website that this will be “of no educational benefit to children”,  a view that is not only mistaken, but deeply disturbing. HMI have pointed to serious gaps in children’s knowledge of maths, and I regularly have to teach tables, beginning with 2x, to pupils aged fourteen and fifteen, who need them for their GCSE courses. They’ve been taught to count in multiples instead, usually keeping track with their fingers, which means they can’t use their tables for other work, including division, algebra, and factors. They have similarly weak knowledge of basic number combinations, so that they have to work out simple addition (again, often with fingers) and can’t subtract accurately.

So, I do not use the term “disturbing” lightly. Does the NEU really want teenagers to be counting on their fingers? Because that is the consequence of the progressive attempt to cut mathematics education off from its base in arithmetic, which the union is now endorsing. I doubt whether most of its members would agree, but they, unlike one of its joint general secretaries, do not hold PhDs in ideology. Nick Gibb pointed out last week that the proportion of white working class pupils reaching the benchmark on the phonics check for six-year-olds – also opposed by the NUT prior to amalgamation – has risen from 58 per cent to 83 per cent. This is what progress looks like, and it does not include counting on our fingers.

Effective teaching of multiplication tables has received almost no attention from teacher trainers in universities, who see it as beneath their notice. My approach is downloadable for free here. I’m happy to help anyone who needs help with teaching them, as parent or teacher, pro bono.

Similar principles apply to all elements in GCSE – once you know how to carry out the procedures, and do so carefully, the test is not difficult. The HMI report linked above, however, says that Grade C prior to the current reforms did not show that candidates could do this, which is not surprising given the level of cheating that was taking place in school-based assessments.

Finally, a fair report from Ofqual on supposedly severe grading in languages at A level. For decades, ineffective teaching methods, based on mixed ability teaching and a lack of attention to grammar, have led to a helter-skelter of standards and GCSE grade boundaries chasing each other down the slippery slope. The effect has fed through to A level, and indeed to degree courses. It is high time it stopped, and Ofqual has decided not to relax boundaries any further. At the same time, it needs to manage the difficult task of ensuring rigour for the highest attaining pupils, and a fair test for all – a gentle slope at the beginning, in all types of test, is the best way to do this, and to minimise stress for all concerned.

Robert Halfon: Why are white working class boys underachieving in our schools?

Rather than obsess about lack of aspiration, it is the lack of social capital that we should be focusing on.

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

The educational prospects of white disadvantaged boys make for uncomfortable reading, and the first chapter begins in the early years. Some can barely string a sentence together by the time they start primary school. The proportion of Year 1 pupils meeting the expected standard of phonic decoding is 13 per cent lower than it is for black disadvantaged boys, and 23 per cent lower than it is for Asian disadvantaged girls.

As they continue to stumble through the rest of their education, any outline of promise diminishes further still. At GCSE level, all disadvantaged ethnic groups outperform their disadvantaged white peers. For example, the average Attainment 8 score per pupil is just 29.5 for white boys eligible for free school meals, compared to 40.5 for Asian disadvantaged males.

Life chances become bleaker at the point of higher education. Disadvantaged white pupils are 40 per cent less likely to go to higher education than disadvantaged black peers and disadvantaged Asian students are twice as likely to attend the most selective institutions than disadvantaged white students.

There are many reasons for the underachievement of disadvantaged white boys. Some people like to talk about a lack of aspiration. I disagree. It is not that white disadvantaged boys themselves do not want to succeed. Who doesn’t want to prosper in life? Ask any young man, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ and I am sure that they have an idea, even if they do not have the confidence to voice it aloud. In fact, studies show that aspiration is unfailingly high in all social groups.

So rather than obsess about lack of aspiration, it is the lack of social capital that we should be focusing on. White disadvantaged boys cannot even play the game that is the competitive jobs market, whilst their wealthier peers win every time. They do not have access to the same know-how, extracurricular opportunities and social networks to build soft skills and boost their prospects in the jobs market.

One way to level the playing field is to provide comprehensive careers advice and meaningful work experience. At the moment, we are way off the mark. Around one in five schools do not even meet any of the eight Gatsby benchmarks – international markers of sound careers advice. Careers advice must be transformed into careers and skills advice; a one-stop-shop – a National Skills Service, with a UCAS for Further Education and Apprenticeships.

It is also important to understand what is driving disengagement with education. Disadvantaged white communities do not always make the link between educational success and getting a good job.

Professor Green, an award-winning rapper (and an unlikely reference I’ll admit), explored the lives of six young white men from deprived backgrounds in his documentary, Working Class White Men. Among those interviewed was 18-year-old Lewis Croney. Despite having defied his odds to secure a place to study Maths at Trinity College, Cambridge, Croney explained that he still faced scepticism from home, saying: “I’ve had people asking me why I’m going to Cambridge, why am I putting myself through three years or more of higher education when I could go straight into a job,” said Croney. Once this perception is embedded, it undermines educational performance.

One need only look at London to see how investment in good schooling can be transformative. Previously riddled with underperforming schools, our capital now proudly boasts an education landscape that is turning around many disadvantaged children’s’ lives. White boys in London who are eligible for free school meals perform better than those in other parts of the country.

There are so many things that can be done to stem underperformance for white disadvantaged children. But to do so, we need a proper, focused government strategy and it should start with the early years.

From a very young age, white working-class children have poor educational outcomes. Good quality childcare can help enormously. Children who attend high-quality settings for two to three years are almost eight months ahead of children who attend none. But, many families struggle with the cost of childcare. How can we justify giving major concessions, in the form of 30 hours of free childcare to 3-4-year-olds and tax-free childcare, to couples earning as much as £200,000 a year? We should reduce the current thresholds for 30 hours/tax-free childcare and redirect funding to help disadvantaged parents.

All schools in disadvantaged areas should be good. But good schools need good teachers and schools in many deprived areas struggle to attract good, experienced teachers and leaders, who are so instrumental in driving up quality. Instead, more experienced teachers tend to gravitate towards less disadvantaged schools.

£72 million is spent on opportunity areas, although we don’t really know exactly what impact they are having. How about using this money on things that are proven to improve failing schools, like great teachers and great training?

Finally, it is crucial that all educational routes – not just the traditional academic ones – are top notch. All children, regardless of background, should have access to easily accessible technical routes that will lead to good job opportunities. In other advanced economies, technical routes are a well-respected, well-oiled part of the educational machinery that exists. In Switzerland, for example, around 70 per cent of students undertake apprenticeships.

When done well, apprenticeships change lives – they allow people to grow their skills, increasing employability and earning potential. Degree apprenticeships could be the crown jewel in a revamped technical offering. Students earn as they learn, they do not incur mountains of debt, and they get good quality jobs at the end. I hope that one day, half of all university students are doing them. The Government should incentivise their growth and they could do this by drawing down on the Apprenticeships Levy.

However, this is not just an issue of supply. Few families are aware of degree apprenticeships. Both the existence of apprenticeships and their value should be hard-wired into careers advice.

So a fairer distribution of funding to boost access to quality early years provision; spending money more wisely to bring great quality teaching to all schools; revolutionising careers support and putting rocket boosters on technical learning – these should be the core pillars of government strategy.

The plight of white disadvantaged boys is a stain on all our consciences. People must have a good education to climb the ladder of opportunity, and it is well within our collective ability to make sure this happens.

David Davis: There has long been an alternative to this discredited draft deal. It’s the Canada-style plan that Tusk and Barnier offered us.

If we need to leave with no deal and negotiate a free trade agreement during the transition period, so be it.

David Davis is MP for Haltemprice and Howden, and is a former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

The Spice Girls had it right when they said: ‘stop right now thank you very much’.

Yes, last week was another frenzied one in British politics. The Prime Minister’s proposed agreement with the EU has gone down like a lead balloon. I’m afraid it is a failure of nerve by the establishment. Their antics have led to the resignation of two Brexit Secretaries – myself and now Dominic Raab.

MPs, Party members and the British public are rightly dismayed. The consequence is that now there is speculation about the leadership of the Conservative Party.

This is not the Brexit they voted for. This proposal would keep the UK permanently trapped in EU institutions and under EU domination. This is not taking back control of borders, laws and money, which 17.4 million people voted for. It breaks our commitment to leave the Customs Union in the 2017 Conservative Manifesto. This proposed deal will never get through the Commons.

It really is time to stop right now, and say thank you very much.

So that’s where we are. But this is a time for calm heads. The crucial point is there is still time to save Brexit, still time to take control and still time to offer the British people a brighter future. This is the moment of truth. We can reject the proposed agreement and move on. We still have time because the key date in the calendar is 21st January, 2019. Only then does the Government need to make a statement within five days on what the United Kingdom plans to do, according to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act of 2018.

So, we can use the time until then productively. We know from past experience that the EU always leaves agreement to the final moment possible at the eleventh hour. Everybody in the UK wants the hope of a better deal – and trust me, we can do this. I spent countless hours negotiating with EU counterparts, and I know the great prize of a Canada-style free trade agreement is still possible. Indeed, it is very much still on. Both Michel Barnier and Donald Tusk have confirmed this.

Justin Trudeau said of his country’s free trade deal that it has created “good, well-paying jobs”, putting “food on the table for families”, helping to “grow and strengthen our communities” and ensuring that each generation is “better off” and has a “higher standard of living, than the one that preceded it.”

The question is how do we get there? It does not have to be like this. What we need now is leadership and the courage and confidence to deliver for the UK. We can deliver an honest and clean Brexit, leaving all the possibilities such as global free trade deals open for bright future. If we need to leave with no deal and negotiate a free trade agreement during the transition period, so be it. Let’s be clear and honest and tell the EU that’s what we are prepared to do.

As we leave the EU, our geography remains fixed. We remain an island maritime nation, outward-facing and trading across the globe. British goods and services are recognised as the best in the world, and are sought after by global customers. This cannot and will not change.

We can go back to the EU and say, if necessary, we are prepared to leave on world trade terms without a deal, but we would rather agree a positive way forward for all sides. We only need to be ready to trade under World Trade Organisation rules: international laws that regulate the trading relationships of 164 member states and around 98 per cent of global trade.

It in all our interests – the UK’s, the EU member states’ and most importantly the British people’s – that we start again and sort this our properly. Let us become, once again, a self-governing, free-trading nation. This is the best approach to unite the Conservative Party and address the huge concerns of MPs, members and activists.

Then we can stop being ‘always on the run’, look beyond Brexit – and provide the ‘human touch’ by focussing on issues like housing, education, health and crime that matter so much in the lives of families up and down our country.

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 […]

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.

Young people attending rural schools, whether in Wales or elsewhere in the UK, deserve the same level of education and support that learners in more urban areas receive. These rural schools are the heart of community life, with facilities often shared with the rest of the community. For example, when touring Chulmleigh Academy, North Devon, recently I was shown the new library and gym, both of which are used by the wider community as well.

Well done to the Welsh Lib Dems in leading the fight to champion rural education, and to support teachers more fully. Schools need more funding, not less, and our rural schools deserve better.

* Kirsten Johnson is the PPC for North Devon and Day Editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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 […]

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 flexible ways of learning that don’t disrupt the school day.

One of the most striking features of the NAPL will be an entirely new approach to how teachers learn. 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.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Education Secretary Kirsty Williams said:

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.

Brexit can be stopped but Corbyn must get out of the way

Responding to comments made by Keir Starmer that Brexit could be stopped Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake said:

It is disappointing that the Labour leader simply cannot bring himself to join the majority of his party and voters in opposing the Conservative Government on Brexit.

Brexit can still be stopped. But at the moment, disagreement at the top of the Labour party could lead to the UK stumbling into a catastrophic Brexit.

Corbyn must listen to the growing majority that the Conservatives are making a terrible mess of Brexit and only a People’s Vote, with an option for remain, can get us out of this shambles.

Ed Davey: Hostile environment must be completely scrapped

Responding to the news that NHS Digital has withdrawn from its immigration data-sharing arrangement with the Home Office, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson Ed Davey said:

The Home Office should never have been forcing NHS staff to supply patients’ data in the first place. Doctors and nurses’ time should be spent providing healthcare to those who need it, not acting as border guards in Theresa May’s hostile environment.

The Liberal Democrats demand better. We will completely scrap the Tories’ hostile environment and instead invest in an accountable, intelligence-led Border Force to prevent people entering the country illegally and quickly identify those who overstay their visas.

That way we can secure our borders and rebuild trust in the immigration system, while leaving NHS workers to focus on their jobs.

Brake: Corbyn must listen to Brown

Responding to Gordon Brown’s comments that the people should have the final say on the Brexit deal, Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake MP said:

Yet another key Labour figure has come out in favour of a People’s Vote. When will Corbyn wake up and smell the coffee? It’s time for Labour to provide an opposition, grow a backbone and support a People’s Vote.

Brown is right, the situation is vastly different than that of 2016. May’s deal will leave us in a weakened position. The UK is better off inside the EU.

It is now essential that people are given the final say on the deal with the option to remain. Liberal Democrats urge the Labour leadership to join us in fighting for a People’s Vote.