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9 Sep 2013 07:00:00

Sponsored Academies Week: Outwood Academies

The challenge of starting a new school with its own distinctive character has been met by some remarkable pioneering social entrepreneurs in the free school movement. Another 93 free schools opened last week.

However, it is also a great challenge, perhaps an even greater challenge, to take over a failing school and turn it around. Typically, such new management will be resisted by the unions, by the local council (especially if Labour-run), by many of the existing governors, and the staff usually including the incumbent head. They will shout and shake their fists. Thus these are forced takeovers; what in the corporate world would be caused "hostile takeovers".

At the time of the last election, 203 schools were sponsored academies. There are now 858 - including over a hunderd more from last week.

For secondary schools if fewer than 40 per cent of pupils are achieving five GCSEs of grade C or above in subjects including English and maths that is the trigger for a takeover. Next year the trigger will be 50 per cent. Under Labour it was 30 per cent.

Under Labour there were no sponsored academies in the primary sector. There was no threshold which meant they would be put under new management. Just carry on failing. Now a primary school with fewer than 60 per cent of pupils achieving the basic standard of level 4 in reading, writing and maths (that increases to 65 per cent next year), and fewer pupils than average making the expected levels of progress between KS1 and KS2 will be taken over.

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6 Sep 2013 12:29:35

Council by-election results from yesterday

Boston Borough - Fenside:

Ukip 162, C 87, Lib Dem 87, Lab 75. (May 2011 - Two seats English Democrats 231, 195, Boston By-pass Ind 182, 176, Lab 162, 159, Lib Dem 68, 51).

Ukip gain from English Democrats. Swing 9.7% Lab to Lib Dem.

Carlisle City - Yewdale:

Lab 716, C 453, Ukip 257, Lib Dem 31, Green 14. (May 2012 - Lab 1222, C730, Lib Dem 57, Green 55).

Lab hold. Swing 3.0% Lab to C.

Charnwood Borough - Loughborough Ashby:

Lab 375, Ukip 115, C 29. (May 2011 - Two seats Lab 834, 817, C 506, 504).

Lab hold. Swing 21.8% C to Lab.

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6 Sep 2013 07:00:00

Shelter backs subsidies for the rich over new homes for those in need

The housing "charity" Shelter does not provide shelter for anyone. It does not own a single home. It is a political lobbying outfit. That's bad enough. Still worse is that it lobbies against policies that would reduce homelessness.

A stark example is Shelter's response to the Government's decision to allow councils and housing associations to charge market rents to rich tenants. The numbers can be argued over but the impact of the Government's proposals can only be to increase the supply of housing for those who need it. If, when asked to pay a market rent, the wealthy tenant move out that frees up a property.  If they stay and pay a higher rent that means money is available for new building.

The Government says:

All additional income arising from the policy will be available for reinvestment in affordable housing.
We would generally expect providers to use it to help fund new affordable housing, helping to meet housing need.

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5 Sep 2013 07:00:00

Mike Hancock investigation cost Portsmouth council taxpayers £25,000

Portsmouth City Council has spent £25,000 hiring a QC to determine if Cllr Mike Hancock, a Lib Dem councillor, has broken the Council's code of conduct. Cllr Hancock is also an MP but has resigned the Lib Dem whip due to a civil court case where he faces allegations of sexual assault.

The principle of being innocent until proven guilty is important to remember in these cases. That still leaves the consideration of whether those in public office should expect to carry on as normal until the verdict. I don't think it is an easy one. Yet in Cllr Hancock's case the record of misconduct is considerable. Where is the logic in him being allowed to retain the Lib Dem whip in Portsmouth City Council but not in the House of Commons?

Not only that, but Cllr Hancock retains the portfolio of the Council's Cabinet Member for Planning, Regeneration and Economic Development.

Cllr Hancock has refused to answer questions from his own council's investigation on the grounds that a court case is pending. Surely under the circumstances there would be more suitable choices for Cabinet Member for Planning, Regeneration and Economic Development, at least until after the court case?

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4 Sep 2013 08:03:15

What Eric did over the summer holidays

PicklesThe Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has offered the following update to Parliament to cover his Department's work over recess:

Supporting local high streets

High streets are the hearts of our communities, hubs of local businesses and drivers of growth.

In order to remain so in the 21st century, high streets must become thriving centres of culture, entertainment and social activity: not just the place to shop but the place to be. They also have to be distinct to be successful and that character can only come from within the community.

This Government are determined to support those local efforts so businesses can flourish and communities prosper by creating the conditions for that to happen following some of the recommendations in the Portas review. Already we have increased the business rates discounts for small shops, introduced planning reforms for the high street; committed new Government investment and set up 350 town teams, which are seeing some great results. Since the summer recess we have taken a number of further steps.

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3 Sep 2013 07:00:00

Raising standards for school leavers in English and maths is crucial

BaldJohn Bald says a grade D in English is a "near miss" - Gove is right not to give up on the young but to make them persist

Three years on, we are moving from sorting out Labour's mess to building the foundations of Conservative success. The phonics check for six year olds, that attracted so much leftist hostility last year, has passed without much comment second time around. The new spelling and grammar test for eleven year olds has been prepared to an excellent standard, as set out in this technical paper, and the new provision for teaching multiplication tables by the age of eight, for most pupils as crucial to success in maths as phonics are to success in English, has not attracted the widespread criticism that our opponents expected.

The national curriculum for languages, which introduces a balanced approach, based on brain research, that uses all channels of communication to build learning, has had a very good professional reception.

The latest development is the commitment to raising standards for school leavers in English and maths, in response to the Wolf report that exposed fake vocational qualifications. Christine Blower of the NUT said that on Radio 4 that there was no hiding the importance of English and maths, but that there was also no point in "marching young people in and out of the examination room."

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2 Sep 2013 07:00:00

To shrink the state councillors must be held to account

DevenishCllr Tony Devenish, a Westminster City Councillor, says Conservative councillors who "go native" should face deselection

If I had a pound for every time  Con Home blame Cabinet Minister x or y for 'waste' after another Taxpayers Alliance study had been reported in the press and debated on Con Home I'd be rich!

But whilst we rightly decry Whitehall, EU and Quango waste stories, reader’s accountability must start at home with Local Government, still 25 % of all Government spending. Two 2013 examples: a CCA (Conservative Councillors Association) day and a selection meeting illustrate that our activists still need to get a grip on their own elected councillors to account for sloppy behaviour and slap down the propaganda of town hall Sir Humphries. Had Uncle Eric been in the room, the offenders may well have been literally sat upon (and deservedly so).

Offender A: a County Council Cabinet Member thought he would curry favour by attacking Eric for the '£20m alleged gap in his (£1.4 Billion) budget if he didn't put council tax up by 1.99%'. This so called Tory was adamant that his wealthy home county would starve (I scanned his CV to see when he worked for the BBC, but he claimed he was a businessman and banker).

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30 Aug 2013 11:15:54

Council by-election result from yesterday

South Lakeland District - Windermere Bowness North:

Lib Dem 431, C 248, Lab 29. (May 2011 - Lib Dem 608, C 280, Lab 47).

Lib Dem hold. Swing 4.6% Lib Dem to C.

30 Aug 2013 07:00:00

Cutting the spare room subsidy is working in Hartlepool

HartlepoolThis week there was an article in The Guardian by Cath Purdy, the chief executive of the Vela Group housing association which includes Housing Hartlepool.   The article attacked the spare room subsidy cut or "Bedroom Tax" as she called it (failing, of course, to explain just how the measure could be defined as a tax).

She wrote:

More than 1,150 of our tenants have been hit by the bedroom tax. So far only 90 of these households have been able to move to smaller properties to avoid paying the tax. There are some who are understandably reluctant to move, as their family and friends live near their current home and moving away to a smaller home would have a negative impact on their emotional wellbeing.

In addition, there is a shortage of one- and two-bedroom properties within Housing Hartlepool's property portfolio. At the rate these homes become available it would take many years for everyone who needs a smaller home to be able to downsize.

Miss Purdy says "only" 90 households out of 1,150 have so far downsized. That is about eight per cent. But it is still early days. This reform was only introduced in April. Last month the BBC ran a report that "only" 80 out of 3,000 affected in North Manchester had downsized. That was 2.7 per cent. Gradually the numbers will rise.

She adds that there is a shortage of smaller properties. Yet when I asked Housing Hartlepool how many of their tenants were in overcrowded properties they refused to comment. Extraordinary. Do they not know? Or are they refusing to say?

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29 Aug 2013 11:59:20

Hands off London Oratory School

One of the many fantastic schools in my borough of Hammersmith and Fulham is the London Oratory, a Roman Catholic boys secondary school. It has been much sought after, not just by local parents but those elsewhere. Nick Clegg's son starts there next month. Tony Blair, Harriet Harman, and Ruth Kelly are among the Labour politicians to have chosen it. If the school just selected the Roman Catholics living nearest to the school then Mr Clegg would not have had a hope of getting his son in.

Nor would Mr Blair who was living in Islington at the time his eldest son was awarded a place. His predecessor Lord Kinnock expressed some reservations, remarking to Alastair Campbell:

"How can Blair address education policy when he sent his own son to the SS Waffen Academy?"

Of course Lord Kinnock never managed to convince the British electorate that his judgement was sufficiently balanced to be entrusted as Prime Minister.

So far as the Roman Catholic parents I represent in the Ravenscourt Park Ward are concerned they would be pleased if preference was given to their sons for places at the school rather than being nabbed by Islington socialists.

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