Think Tanks

Children,Schools & Families

21 May 2012 15:30:28

The Centre for Social Justice attacks Coalition's record on family and voluntary sector, but praises progress on welfare and schools

By Tim Montgomerie
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One year ago the Centre for Social Justice graded the Coalition on what it regards as the key pathways out of poverty and towards prosperous, independent living (ConHome emphasises just three - family, school and work).

Screen Shot 2012-05-21 at 15.06.09

The CSJ has updated the scorecard now that the Coalition is celebrating two years in office. The grades are below (with last year's ratings in brackets):

  • Reforming welfare 8 out of 10 (8)
  • Education 7 out of 10 (6)
  • Drug addiction 7 out of 10 (7)
  • Tacklling debt 6 out of 10 (6)
  • Family policy 4 out of 10 (2)
  • Voluntary sector 2 out of 10 (no rating last year)

The CSJ blames Coalition tensions for the lack of progress on family policy. It says there has been no progress on introducing a married tax break or eliminating the couple penalty in the benefits system. It worries that in focusing on childcare and parental leave it has the same precoccupations as Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. Despite last week's announcement on parent classes it worries that there is a big gap between the Government's words and its wallet:

"The department for education (DFE) has committed to help encourage the take-up of relationship support by providing extra funds for innovative services. overall, however, funding to prevent relationship splits remains below a scant £4 million per year, despite family breakdown carrying an annual price tag of £44 billion."

The Coalition gets the lowest rating for progress on the charitable and voluntary sector. It describes the cap on charitable giving relief as "disastrous". Again the CSJ sees a funding problem; worrying at the impact of spending cuts on the voluntary sector:

"During this past year the Government has set out a vision of social action which is at the heart of mending the UK’s broken society [yet] the charities we need to deliver this agenda have faced unprecedented funding cuts at a local level. More should have been done to protect them in the short-term whilst helping to build their independence over the long-term.The £100 million Transition Fund set up by the Cabinet office is an example of a measure which recognised the sum of the problem and yet was insufficient to meet anywhere near the scale of the need (compare this to the estimated £553 million spent on security for the olympic Games)."

The full report card is here (PDF).

22 Feb 2012 14:30:12

Andrew Laird: The Government should pilot schools run by companies on a social enterprise model

Andrew Laird is a Director of Mutual Ventures, an organisation which supports social enterprise delivery of public services. He is lead author of Policy Exchange's new report - Social Enterprise Schools.

The schools system faces a perfect storm of rising demand and reducing resources. There is considerable rising demand (500,000 more primary school places are needed by 2018) and, for obvious reasons, public purse capital expenditure is being reduced (by 2014/15 this will be down 60% compared with 2010/11). Our new report from Policy Exchange looks at whether an element of for-profit provision in the schools system could provide some much needed investment and capacity to not only meet basic demand but to give pupils and parents a genuine choice.

We know that for-profit provision is already a fixture in other areas of public service such as health and welfare but what's particularly interesting is the for-profit provision that is already happening in and around schools themselves. Whilst most LAs don't know if a provider of school support services is not-for-profit or for-profit (interesting in itself) there are some good examples of how these service are provided. In Northumberland, 50% of Alternative provision for pupils is provided by for-profits. In Brent and Medway. over 30% of special school provision is provided by for profits and in Middlesbrough, nearly 90% of Nursery provision is provided by for-profits.

Statistics like these will surprise a lot of people, and they beg the question that if our youngest and most vulnerable children are receiving services from the private sector, then why is there such a cultural aversion to allowing a more mixed market within mainstream schooling?

Continue reading "Andrew Laird: The Government should pilot schools run by companies on a social enterprise model" »

15 Jan 2012 14:29:49

Thousands of children are needlessly dumped in prison, warns the Centre for Social Justice

By Matthew Barrett
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CSJThe Centre for Social Justice is today recommending an overhaul of Britain's youth justice system. The CSJ says the youth justice system is being treated as a “dumping ground” for problem youths and is currently expected to take on cases that other council services have failed to address.

A report by a team of experts, commissioned by the Centre for Social Justice, due to be released on Monday, says that Britain is failing to prevent youth crime, and that imprisonment of young people between the ages of 10 and 17 is far too frequent in England and Wales. This course of action should be limited to the “critical few” guilty of serious crimes and who represent a threat to the public.

The CSJ says too many children are being taken before the youth courts for trivial reasons. In one case cited in the report, a child was arrested for assault and attempted burglary, then held in a police cell over a weekend for throwing a bowl of Sugar Puffs at his care worker, then jumping out of the window and climbing back in again. The report stresses the need to return to a “common-sense” approach to minor incidents such as these and advises that parents and teachers use their own judgement to deal with problem children at a home or school level.

The report also advises against the widespread use of short sentences for young offenders, instead suggesting alternative non-custodial punishments, such as more rigorous community sentences and restorative justice schemes, not least because three out of four of those given a custodial sentence reoffend within a year. A further point made by the report is that schools, children’s social care teams, mental health services, communities and families should be playing a greater role in improving the behaviour of young offenders.

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3 Jan 2012 18:08:31

Cameron's former head of policy, James O'Shaughnessy, joins Policy Exchange to develop school federations

By Tim Montgomerie
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O'ShaughnessyQuite a coup for Policy Exchange (PX) today with the news that James O'Shaughnessy will be joining Neil O'Brien's team on a short-term basis to work on a project aimed at establishing school federations. James worked on supply-side policies for education and housing when he was PX's highly-respected Research Director before he then joined Conservative HQ and then Number 10 as Head of Policy.

In today's Times (£) James has written about his belief in the need to change expectations inside the education system:

"Vacancies in key positions offer the opportunity to expand the group of reformers around the Education Secretary. The appointment of Liz Sidwell, the former CEO of the Haberdashers’ Aske’s Federation, as Schools Commissioner and that outstanding head teacher Sir Michael Wilshaw as the new Chief Inspector of Schools are very welcome. The Prime Minister should now encourage Mr Gove to go farther and appoint a set of reform-minded outsiders to top education posts throughout the public sector. A demonstrable commitment to raising standards must trump time served in Whitehall as the main criterion for promotion."

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5 Sep 2011 17:29:34

The Institute of Economic Affairs argues the profit motive drives up standards in schools

By Matthew Barrett
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The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, gave a much-previewed speech on the Coalition's Free Schools today, essentially to try and assuage Liberal Democrat concerns about the policy. In one key passage of the speech, Clegg said:

"And, to anyone who is worried that, by expanding the mix of providers in our education system. We are inching towards inserting the profit motive into our school system. Again, let me reassure you: yes to greater diversity; yes to more choice for parents; But no to running schools for profit, not in our state-funded education sector."

IEAHowever, the Institute of Economic Affairs have come out arguing that the profit motive drives school standards up - especially for the poorest pupils. James Croft, an IEA Education Fellow, condemned Mr Clegg for "reactionary thinking". He said:

"Nick Clegg is totally wrong when it comes to running schools for profit. Evidence from Sweden shows that for-profit schools invest to ensure high-quality outcomes and that their impact tends to be greatest on those from low socio-economic backgrounds. Rather than being socially divisive – as Clegg states – evidence shows that giving schools greater freedom over curriculum and teaching priorities stimulates innovation and that increased competition drives up standards across the board. This kind of reactionary thinking is precisely what has kept our state education system in the mire for decades. Nick Clegg would do better to look at the actual facts rather than indulging in populist anti-capitalist rhetoric."

26 Aug 2011 06:04:15

Civitas: The EBacc may discriminate against poorer students

By Matthew Barrett
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CIVITAS Civitas has issued a note in light of yesterday's GCSE results, which suggests that because the new EBacc benchmark is to achieve A*-C grades in the five "core" academic subjects, some of the least advantaged students may not get the chance to study EBacc subjects at all.

This is based on the previous experience of schools trying to achieve A*-C grades, which showed schools discouraged students deemed unlikely to achieve a C from taking non-compulsory subjects.

Civitas' Director of Education, Anastasia de Waal said:

"The EBacc will not only fail to address this scenario, it could potentially exacerbate it by shifting the purpose of course entries entirely to securing the EBacc A*-Cs. A student judged to be unlikely to get a C risks both failing to add to the league tables and distracting teaching time away from the EBacc target."

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21 Aug 2011 08:06:42

Harriet Crawford: Using education to end the conveyor belt to crime

Harriet Crawford of the Centre for Social Justice writes about the role education can play in lifting young people off the conveyor belt to crime. As in all contributions to this series she suggests practical measures to improve education for the most disadvantaged.

Nothing raises the aspirations of children and young people like effective education.  If this Government is able to achieve its valuable promise of radical education reform, we will at last begin to slow Britain’s criminal conveyor belt.  Where there is abuse, dysfunction or neglect at home – a tragic reality for too many of tomorrow’s adults – where there is a lack of productivity in a community, and where life skills are absent, our schools should be engine rooms of social mobility.

Yet during last week’s riots we saw the involvement of children as young as seven years old. More broadly, we know that seven in ten young offenders describe their academic attainment as nil and that a third of the adult prison population was in care as a child.  For too many in the UK’s most deprived areas, our education system falls shamefully short.  As such, it consigns thousands to a purposeless future on society’s scrapheap.

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) published Breakthrough Britain, a report which examined this dangerous pattern of educational failure in the UK, and made recommendations for urgent action. For generation upon failed generation, little has been done through our schools to lift the achievements and broaden the horizons of the young people at the bottom of society’s ladder.  And as these riots have shown, educational failure has a huge social and economic price tag which we all pay.

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17 Aug 2011 07:15:00

Jill Kirby: Better parenting is the best way of preventing crime

This is the second part of ConservativeHome's series looking at the conveyor belt to crime and how to lift young people off it. Yesterday, Samantha Callan looked at the value of early intervention. Today Jill Kirby outlines ideas for strengthening the greatest crime prevention tool of them all - the family.


What kind of mother doesn't know where her 15-year old is at 3 o'clock in the morning? What kind of father doesn't turn up in court when his 14-year old is being tried for criminal damage? Magistrates dealing with the aftermath of the riots have expressed their dismay at the casual reaction of the young looters' parents. What remedies are available to change their behaviour?

The threat of losing council housing or benefits might shock them into action but will not be a lasting remedy, and there is a danger that other children in the family will suffer – not to mention the difficulty of enforcement. Parenting orders, requiring attendance at parenting education programmes, probation orders and curfews, are likely to be the most widespread punishments. These are important, but unlikely to transform attitudes amongst parents who have so far shown no interest in controlling their children. On Monday, David Cameron promised more support for intensive intervention programmes targeted on chaotic families. Such schemes also have a role to play, especially where one family is causing grief to an entire neighbourhood. But they are too expensive to be viable as a widespread or long-term solution. And they are about picking up the pieces, rather than stemming the causes, of the broken society. In that sense, they are more about restoring public order than rebuilding family life.

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6 Aug 2011 08:41:28

Gabriel Sahlgren: Seek and thou shall find - exposing the confirmation bias of British free school critics

GabrielSahlgren Gabriel H. Sahlgren was a Visiting Research Fellow with the Institute of Economic Affairs in the summer of 2010 and is the author of the paper Schooling for Money: Swedish Education Reform and the Role of the Profit Motive. He recently graduated from Cambridge University with Starred First Class Honours in Politics.

Various commentators aiming to undermine the government’s free school programme have argued that recent research in Sweden suggests a decline in standards and increased segregation. It is interesting that critics have suddenly started to cite such research given that the overwhelming majority of studies display that the Swedish free school system has led to improvements. It is a bit like a punter claiming to be a master at betting on the horses when, after having already lost thousands of pounds, he finally wins back a tenner on a lucky nag.

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13 Jul 2011 10:30:09

Neil O’Brien: Andy Burnham is failing to provide a serious challenge to the Coalition's schools policy

O'BRIEN-NEIL Neil O'Brien is Director of Policy Exchange.

Andy Burnham made first major policy speech yesterday.  While it told us a bit about the sort of issues he cares about, it doesn’t tell us much about Labour’s position on many of the most important issues in education.

Amazingly, he failed to reference academies or free schools once during his half an hour talk. There’s a good reason for this curious omission.  Though it is probably the central issue in the schools debate at present, Labour seems deeply uncertain about whether it supports or opposes the free schools policy.

In 2000, Tony Blair and Andrew Adonis launched an academies programme that provided Labour with the opportunity to lead the way in school reform. Those reforms slowed in 2007 when Ed Balls and Gordon Brown, supported by the trade unions, decided to pull back from the programme. Nevertheless, 200 odd academies had opened by the time the Coalition won the election last May.

Ed Miliband lost an opportunity to set the agenda on schooling by not moving quickly to build on Labour’s academies programme.  Initially, the new government focused on allowing good schools to convert to academy status.  Blairites would have liked to have outflanked the Government by proposing a policy more heavily based on replacing underperforming schools.  But this would have been controversial.  So instead the party said nothing. 

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