Think Tanks

Children,Schools & Families

4 Jul 2011 15:45:40

Tom Burkard: Diamonds into glass: why the Coalition proposals for universities risk destroying great English institutions


Tom Burkard undertakes Education research for the Centre for Policy Studies and is a member of the NAS/UWT and a Visiting Fellow at the University of Buckingham. He is currently working to start a free special school staffed exclusively by teachers with experience in the armed forces.

The new Higher Education White Paper is not without merit—no doubt it cost David Willetts a few bruised shins to convince his mandarins that good universities should be allowed to expand.  Likewise, one suspects that the proposal to allow private universities to compete on an equal footing was stoutly resisted by the statist mentality that prevails in Whitehall. 

Alas, all these benefits cannot possibly compensate for the Philistine message conveyed by the proposal to name and shame the 'dead-end courses' that don't lead to good jobs.  No doubt many of the offerings Willetts has in mind are pretty dreadful, but his announcement betrays some very fundamental—and destructive—misconceptions about higher education that have taken hold in the political nation.

A generation or two ago, it was assumed that learning was a good thing for its own sake.  There was a general understanding that the health of any civilisation depended upon the wisdom of its leaders, and that universities existed to preserve and nurture the cultural and intellectual life of the nation.  The excellence of our universities was assumed: academic freedom was taken for granted, and government regulation was unthinkable. 

Now, parents and students view higher education as a credentialing system—a passport to a professional salary. Vice-chancellors tell us that we need a highly-trained workforce to meet the challenges of the 21st century economy. Politicians from all parties view it as an instrument for social engineering.

Continue reading "Tom Burkard: Diamonds into glass: why the Coalition proposals for universities risk destroying great English institutions" »

10 May 2011 08:29:14

Gavin Poole: Courage, not concessions, will build a social recovery

Gavin Poole is Director of the Centre for Social Justice. He writes for ConservativeHome about his new report which ranks the Coalition's progress in helping people to follow what the CSJ calls "the five pathways out of poverty".


The Coalition will survive this first real test.  Cabinet fall outs and public spats aside, its leaders need each other and they know it.  Members of the Government understand better than anyone that they require a record to defend on general election day.  For the only thing worse than answering accusations of betrayal, is doing so with nothing to show for it.

Both sides have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build that record.  Balance the books yes, but there is a chance to do something more extraordinary for Britain, especially for those trapped in poverty.  For years successive governments have failed to define poverty or confront its root causes.  Instead, politicians have become obsessed with an arbitrary line that measures income inequality, set typically at 60 per cent national median income.  This has driven almost every poverty initiative.  Vast swathes of public money have been thrown at specific groups who live below this line in an attempt to lift them above it.  Accordingly, through tweaks to our perverse welfare system, this so-called poverty measure has meant that households living in poverty one day can wake free from it the next.  But ultimately this strategy has failed those who most need help.  A few extra pounds in the pocket are insufficient to break poverty’s suffocating culture of damage and despair.

Last May it appeared we finally had a Government that ‘got it’.  In particular we commended the Prime Minister for realising that if you look closer at poverty, it has five common causes and consequences.  The CSJ calls these the pathways to poverty, and we’ve found them time and again in Britain’s deprived communities.  They are family breakdown, educational failure, economic dependency and worklessness, serious personal debt, and addiction to drugs and alcohol.  Crucially, the pathways are interconnected and intergenerational.  Our research shows that a child who experiences family breakdown is more likely to fail at school.  Someone who fails at school is less likely to find work and more likely to rely on benefits.  Someone living on benefits is more likely to fall into debt.  And so the cycle continues.  They demand life-changing interventions, not just income adjustments.

Continue reading "Gavin Poole: Courage, not concessions, will build a social recovery" »

24 Feb 2011 06:24:31

Gove's free schools revolution must embrace profit-making businesses to succeed

Tim Montgomerie

Under James Crabtree the FT's Comment pages have become among the very best from Fleet Street. Today's pages are no exception and Julian Astle of the Centre Forum think tank has contributed an article challenging the Coalition to embrace profit-making schools.

Astle argues (£) that Michael Gove's free schools programme has not taken off and the lack of incentive for businesses to get involved is a primary reason:

"Last summer 700 groups registered an interest, but education secretary Michael Gove has since seen plans run into the sand. Although 250 applications were submitted, only 30 have been approved, and just eight will be ready to open in September... The avowedly social democratic Swedes allowed [profit-making] when they opened up their school system 20 years ago. Today almost three-quarters of their free schools are run on a for-profit basis. These companies succeed because they are entrepreneurial, and treat parents and pupils like valued customers. When faced with long waiting lists, they use their profits to set up new schools. And, crucially, because they meet their own start-up costs, the supply of places has expanded at almost no extra cost to the taxpayer."

ConservativeHome has long argued that the free schools revolution needs a profit-making dimension but chances were slim even before the election and Astle notes that the Liberal Democrat rank-and-file "hate" (his word) the idea of profit-making schools.

The New Schools Network would argue that there is reason for hope, however, and it carries a map on its website of the parent and teacher-led groups who have expressed an interest in setting up a new school:

Screen shot 2011-02-24 at 06.20.48

22 Nov 2010 16:13:47

Policy Exchange sets out plan to stop Britain's faith schools from being infiltrated by extremists

Tim Montgomerie

Screen shot 2010-11-22 at 16.02.02 A new report from Policy Exchange recommends reforms to faith schools to prevent infiltration from extremists.

It concludes that Britain’s education system, including OfSted and the Department for Education, is currently not equipped to meet such challenges. The report says:

  • "Current due diligence checks are piecemeal, partial and lack in-depth expertise;
  • The Coalition Government’s policy of opening up the education system to new academies and free schools programmes could be exploited unless urgent measures are taken to counter extremist influence;
  • Britain lags behind other liberal European democracies in addressing these problems in schools."

It recommends:

  • "Current, inadequate counter-extremism mechanisms and due diligence checks, especially on new schools providers and bodies, should be replaced by a centralised and dedicated Due Diligence Unit (DDU).
  • The DDU should be based within the Department for Education and be accountable directly to the Secretary of State. This would recruit staff with relevant skills from across the public sector and become a centre of expertise. The DDU should train Ofsted inspectors and other stakeholders in how to monitor schools.
  • Those seeking to set up new schools – including parents, charities, governors, companies and senior management – should be assessed both in the start up phase and thereafter.
  • New primary and secondary legislation should be passed to make it harder for extremists to engage in political indoctrination of children.  Existing legislation should be better enforced.
  • A commitment to core British values of democracy, tolerance and patriotism should be part of the ethos of every school and incorporated into new contracts for academies and free school providers.
  • Narrative British history should be a compulsory part the school curriculum.
  • The smaller independent inspectorates with an explicitly confessional mission should be rolled into Ofsted to ensure both quality and uniformity of provision.

Screen shot 2010-11-22 at 16.13.06 The Government should consider applying this regime to unregulated weekend schools. Today's Daily Mail splashes with news that Saudi-funded schools in Britain are radicalising young children:

"Children in Britain are being taught brutal Sharia law punishments, including how to hack off a criminal’s hand or foot. So-called ‘weekend schools’ for Muslim pupils as young as six also teach that the penalty for gay sex is execution and that ‘Zionists’ are plotting to take over the world for the Jews. One set textbook challenges youngsters to list the ‘reprehensible’ qualities of Jews."

The Mail report is a preview of a BBC Panorama programme due to be broadcast at 8.30pm tonight on BBC1.

16 Jul 2010 16:32:52

There's more to family policy than marriage, Relationships Foundation warns

Screen shot 2010-07-16 at 16.26.46By Paul Goodman

The Relationships Foundation is a Cambridge-based think-tank with a strongly Christian flavour.  It has a particular interest in trying to measure general well-being - a theme of David Cameron's in opposition while the economy was booming, but stressed less in government in finanically straightened times.

It warns today that Coalition disagreements over tax breaks for marriage - which the Guardian tried to stoke earlier this week - risk missing what it sees as the big picture – that "families affect everyone and they affect every part of life".  The Relationships Foundation has previously welcomed the Task Force for Childhood and Families.

Continue reading "There's more to family policy than marriage, Relationships Foundation warns" »

13 Jun 2010 07:00:00

The main beneficiaries of Labour's expensive Children's Plan are middle class parents

By Tom Burkard, Director of The Promethean Trust, and author of a new Centre for Policy Studies report, Cutting the Children's Plan.

The Children’s Plan was published by the DCSF in December 2007. It consists of over 60 programmes and, in the words of the DCSF, “is a vision for change to make England the best place in the world for children and young people to grow up.” Coming from a government that never managed to ‘deliver’ clean hospital wards, this is a pretty ambitious undertaking. Certainly, enough money has been spent: this year, the Children’s Plan will cost about £5 billion—enough to put an additional eight teachers in ever primary school in England. This would be money well spent if it actually improved the life-chances of children growing up on our sink estates. The economic and social costs of maintaining a huge underclass are huge. Unfortunately, the omens are not good.

At the Centre for Policy Studies, we have spent the last eight month studying the major elements of the Children’s Plan. Just putting a price tag on them was difficult enough—the ‘integrated delivery’ model used to implement programmes entails a complex web of quangos, charities, private companies and local authorities—few of whom were able to tell how much their activities cost.  For example, the Family Intervention Programme involves two government departments, 11 quangos, and countless private and public agencies in all 150 local authorities. It is a wonder that any money every trickles down to those it is meant to help.

Our most surprising finding was that the main beneficiaries of the Children’s Plan are middle-class parents.  Sure Start, which was originally intended to benefit the most vulnerable children, is now a universal entitlement. Reports by Hull University and the Common Health Committee have condemned the programme’s failure to reach marginalised social groups. The Food in Schools programme intended to ‘de-stigmatise’ free school meals by making them universal—a provision which the Coalition has wisely scrapped. Other elements, such as School Sports and Every Child A Reader, were intended as universal benefits from the start.

Although a few elements of the Children’s Plan are worthy of continued support from Whitehall—and there are others (such as the £315 million Early Years Foundation Stage) that should clearly be scrapped—we concluded that the most sensible option is to allow local authorities to implement and finance the ones that meet local needs.

Continue reading "The main beneficiaries of Labour's expensive Children's Plan are middle class parents" »

20 May 2010 08:41:16

'How will the coalition newly-weds address family policy?'

Screen shot 2010-05-18 at 20.11.05 The title of this entry is a pertinent question raised by the Cambridge-based Relationships Foundation.

Noting that the family wasn't even mentioned in the first coalition document - but a whole page was dedicated to the environment - the RF challenges Mr Cameron to substantiate his rhetoric on the family.

In a press statement it says:

"While there is merit in refocusing the former DCFS on its original role as the Department for Education, losing Family from any Cabinet minister’s primary responsibility is a strange act, given the Conservative manifesto pledge to make Britain the most family-friendly country in Europe. (The DfE website defines its role as ‘responsible for education and children’s services’, with the only formal responsibility for families disclosed so far delegated to junior ministers.) But there needs to be top-level leadership on the family and there is much to recommend the view that family policy should have a central role in government, based perhaps at the Cabinet Office, rather than with one of the spending departments."

David Willetts co-ordinated family policy in opposition but that responsibility has been passed to Liberal Democrat Sarah Teather in government.

The RF has argued that family policy cannot be the responsibility of one or even a few ministers. Instead, in a paper published in March the Relationships Foundation called for government to introduce a system of family impact statements across Whitehall so that every department considered how policy changes might weaken or strengthen family life.

26 Mar 2010 08:52:08

Report calls for all government policies to be examined for how they impact the family

A recent report from the Cambridge-based Relationships Foundation, 'Progressive Families, Progressive Britain', recommends a 'triple lock' on all policy ideas.  It argues that all policies should be 'family-proofed' as well as measured for their economic and environmental impact.

The report argues that family policy cannot be isolated in one or two Whitehall departments but policymakers need to recognise that nearly all government action impacts the family. David Cameron has promised to appoint Iain Duncan Smith to chair a Cabinet committee if he becomes Prime Minister. Mr Duncan Smith will be tasked with co-ordinating policies that fight poverty and impact the family.

The RF report contains this illustrative graphic:

Screen shot 2010-03-26 at 08.41.01 Crucially, the RF says, the flow is both ways. All government policy impacts family strength and family strength helps determine the success of all government policy.

RF's Executive Director and former Tory MP Michael Trend promises a second report in the next few weeks to analyse how Whitehall might practically deliver this 'triple lock'.

Here is a link to the full report.

7 Feb 2010 08:54:30

CSJ proposes that houses with new granny flats should be exempt from Capital Gains Tax

Within a report about caring for Britain's ageing population the Centre for Social Justice suggests that householders who build a 'granny flat' should be exempt from capital gains tax when they come to sell it.

The Sunday Telegraph reports:

"A family who bought a house for £200,000, built a granny flat for £50,000 and sold the property for £400,000 would normally have to pay CGT of about 18 per cent on a share of the profits, or about £10,000. They would be spared this under the CSJ plan. Mr Duncan Smith's group is also studying plans to exempt granny flats from additional council tax or VAT charges."

18 Jan 2010 12:50:18

CSJ recommends £600m transferable tax allowance for married couples with very young children

In a Green Paper on the Family, published today, the Centre for Social Justice has made the case (again) for a recognition of marriage in the tax system.

The report reminds readers why the two parent family is important:

Screen shot 2010-01-18 at 12.28.11 Towards the end of the paper the CSJ outlines the case for a transferable tax allowance and the various options:

"We believe that a transferrable tax allowance should be introduced in the UK. This would send a clear signal in support of marriage as an important institution. It would also have the practical benefit of supporting and recognising those spouses playing vital, unpaid caring roles. This could be achieved in a number of ways with differing costs – all of which are a fraction of the £20-24 billion annual cost of family breakdown. In the long-term we recommend the implementation of a transferable tax allowance for all married couples, but in the current financial climate we recommend a staggered implementation. We believe that as a priority, a transferrable tax allowance should be introduced for married couples with children aged 0-3, the formative years of a child’s life.

Different scenarios could include:

  • For all married couples: £3.2 billion
  • For married couples with dependent children or in receipt of Carers Allowance: £1.5bn
  • For married couples with children under 6: £0.9bn
  • For married couples with children aged 0-3, the most important years for a child’s development: £0.6bn

A transferable tax allowance of the full personal allowance amount would provide an additional £20 per week. We do not believe that this will incentivise marriage, nor should it, but it may encourage more couples to make the transition from co-habitation to marriage and thereby increase the stability of their relationship. Although a modest sum, £20 a week could make a significant difference to low income families. Importantly it will provide the symbolic recognition of the value of marriage."

Download a PDF of the full CSJ Green paper on the family.