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Toynbee vote? More like the NUT and UNISON votes!

Can anyone remember Sir Humphreys opinion of the education service?

Well, if Ming wins and gives those Orange LD modernisers their heads, we really could find they are the ones with the radical customer choice agenda in health and education.

Cos we sure ain't getting it from DC's Conservatives.

That would be Minging!

"Can anyone remember Sir Humphreys opinion of the education service?"

Comprehensives were introduced to give the Secondary Modern teachers of the NUT pay parity with their rival Grammar school masters from NASUWT.

"Well, if Ming wins and gives those Orange LD modernisers their heads, we really could find they are the ones with the radical customer choice agenda in health and education.

Cos we sure ain't getting it from DC's Conservatives."

People are usually afraid of change, Cameron knows this and gives no opportunity for labour to attack.

Now this is getting ridiculous Cameron is playing politics, not the book of conservatism.. He's appealing to be a moderate in politics to get to power.

Grammer schools make things open to attack by socialists. Cameron's strategy is clear, no risk, slightly right-of-centre, nothing labour can do about it.

The libdems are the bullshit party, theyve missed their go..if the minger becomes leader its hopeless for them to gain more than 10 seats at the next GE.

Yes, James:

Sir Humphrey: "I am saying that education will never get any better as long as its subject to all that tomfoolery in the town halls. I mean, just imagine what would happen if you put defence in the hands of the local authorities."
Jim Hacker: "Defence?"
Sir Humphrey: "Yes, give the local councils a hundred million each and ask them to defend themselves. We wouldn't have to worry about the Russians; we would have a civil war in three weeks."
Jim Hacker: "Math has become politicized: If it costs 5 billion pounds a year to maintain Britain's nuclear defences and 75 pounds a year to feed a starving African child, how many African children can be saved from starvation if the Ministry of Defence abandoned nuclear weapons?"
Sir Humphrey: "That's easy: none. They'd spend it all on conventional weapons."
Sir Humphrey: "You just don't leave important matters in the hand of those clowns [local councils]. And as you've left education to them, one must assume that until now you've attached little importance to it."
Jim Hacker: "I think it is extremely important. It could loose me the next election."
Sir Humphrey: "Ah!! In my naivety, I thought you were concerned about the future of our children."
Jim Hacker: "Yes, that too. For they get the vote at eighteen."
Sir Humphrey: "Hello Bernard, I hear the Prime Minister wants to see me?"
Bernard Woolley: "Yes, Sir Humphrey."
Sir Humphrey: "What's his problem?"
Bernard Woolley: "Education."
Sir Humphrey: "Well, it's a bit late to do anything about that now."

Jaz, as much as I'd like to see the Lib Dems just fade away and die: they won't. If you look back at previous opinion polls, the Lib Dems always have a rise in popularity when it comes nearer to an election.

The next General Election is years away, giving them plenty of time to rally the troops and all their "nice but dim" candidates and MP's. Writing them off at this point would be a mistake I assure you.

"Grammer schools make things open to attack by socialists. Cameron's strategy is clear, no risk, slightly right-of-centre, nothing labour can do about it."

In other words Cameron's strategy is to ensure that his party has no differences to Labour at all.

That way, if Labour tries to criticise, it will be criticising itself.

And you like this stategy, why?

I bet you failed that assignment, Frank! The correct response at Glasgow when accosted by the sellers of "SOCialist WORker" was either to wave a copy of the Telegraph in the face of the poor souls, as a fair swap, or (and this is so passe' I cringe as I write) to offer "I'm not a socialist, and you're not a worker".

I always found the best way to deal with Socialist Worker vendors was to congratulate them on their capitalist small business...

"And you like this stategy, why?"

Either he believes...

a) everything is okay, but a change of management will make it better

or

b) everything is part of a strategy designed to allow a radical government to be elected.

I think it's a)

The Editor dropped the ball on this one.

Mr. Cameron seemed most interested in, and knowledgeable about, education during his leadership campaign.

It's obviously a brief he mastered in the short period he was Shadow Ed Sec.

It is shocking and appalling to see how he's dumped, once again, sound conservative ideas (which are, moreover, rather well liked in the country, esp. among the aspiring middle-class) for some muddled semi-socialism.

It is an utter failure and an utter disappointing.

The press may continue to fawn but there will be a revolution among the grass roots before too long. Mr. Cameron has badly miscalculated.

And I say this as one of Cameron's backers and someone who was extremely positive about him--and indeed I still believe he can win elections (and have that win be meaningful!)

I'm sick to my stomach at his pathetic attempts at triangulation. It's a tactics for the Blairs and Bill Clintons (yuck!) of the world, because they could never get elected when the show themselves as the socialists that they are. Conservatives don't have to act like that. People like what they have to say....

I'm starting to hope that the May elections will turn out badly so that Cameron may correct his course and his interal critics, such as Davids, Fox and Hague, will strengthen their hand.

Yet, again on this blog, I find myself having to make the distinction between personal conviction and political expediency.

If you speak to many on the High Street about whether schools should be allowed to 'select on the basis of ability', the gut reaction of the majority is 'No'. If you speak to the teaching professionals, the vast majority say 'No', yes because they are left leaning, but the public are not, they are cautious of change and what the implications might be.

This signals that we need to proceed with caution. There is no point in pushing back against electoral will. Slowly slowly catchie monkey.

Aside from that, I never hear even a fraction of the vitriolic acidity on this blog directed towards Blair or Brown that is vented on Cameron, I find this trend disconcerting – who’s side are some of you on?


A very interesting post Oberon.

I think we need to consider very carefully a distinction between "pre-election policies" and "post election policies".

There is a particular need at the moment for the party to promote solutions that encourage the view that the party is reformed, compassionate and inclusive. Effectively making the statement "we are ready for government". It is important, as such, that pre-election policies reflect this need.

Post-election, if we are fortunate enough to have been trusted with government, there will be a demand to show how effective we are in confronting major social policy challenges. Here, those centre-right policies, which we know to work, will be more appropriate.

"Yet, again on this blog, I find myself having to make the distinction between personal conviction and political expediency"

And it's a false distinction. David Cameron does not have to rule anything out - he has the excuse of his polict reviews after all.

Political expediency is a bad excuse to drop policies if you believe they are right. It is obvious that any party must start with public opinion as it is in order to get a measure of the persuasive task it faces. But, having measured public opinion, the next question should be: ‘What do I need to do to win people over?’ .

"Aside from that, I never hear even a fraction of the vitriolic acidity on this blog directed towards Blair or Brown that is vented on Cameron

Possibly because this blog is discussing Conservative policy and Cameron's actions?

"I find this trend disconcerting – who’s side are some of you on?"

The country's.


I agree with you Oberon,but it is getting a little difficult even after a month.As a product and beneficiary of a Grammar School I'm very sorry that Cameron has already ruled out their re-introduction.
Having said that,there is nothing so pointless as opposition.

"who’s side are some of you on?"

I find this argument weak. We are part of the Tories therefore we give up our ability to criticise? Thats bs. If Cameron says the right things and proposes the right proposals, then Ill support him. I supported Oliver Letwin as part of the minority on this site over wealth redistribution and I think hes right over being tougher on big business (start woth Tesco's, Morrisons and Asda who are destroying small businesses). Hes just wrong over education, health and candidate selection. The list will probably grow.

The critisism is going overboard. There is a testosterone fuelled malaise in the Party which manifests itself something like this:

"I'm right. Furthermore, if you think something different, you're worse than wrong, you become in my eyes an object of derision and hate."

Its arrogant, narrow minded and absolutely not the attitude that voters like to see in a political party. That attitude carries a subliminal message to the electorate, 'Do not trust us'.

And in return, they will reward us with a 4th Election defeat in a row.

For those of you that think Camerons strategy is indeed loopy, can I ferer you to Philip Stephens article in the FT today. There is a shortened version in the comments section of todays 'newslinks'. Philip Stephens is a highly respected comentator - and he has seen the intelligence and courage David Cameron has shown in his first few weeks as leader. I just wish a few of our members did too.


The dynamics of how we conduct our politics are changing. Any party that doesn't respond to the new political age will be rejected by the electorate.

We are no longer talking to a captive audience of voters, who feel obliged both to listen and take an interest in the political process.

Modern voters feel no compunction to make themselves aware of politics or the political discussion of the day. Instead we, collectively, have sell politics as a process before we begin to promote our own party arguments.

This means conducting our affairs in a way that does not, to begin with, repel voters.

In the past there was possibly a sense of duty attached to voting and listening to the arguments. That is no longer the case and makes different demands on politicians and those engaged in politics.



Have read the article Oberon. It's excellent. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

Oberon,

The question is whether the baby is going out with the bathwater. I agree with much of your & Philip Stephens's analysis. The Party needed to change & the strategy has to be to get the change in early.

BUT, if the policy groups are genuinely going to be able to have a free hand to come up with new policy, their hands should not be too formally tied by early policy announcements ruling some things out. And whilst we should talk less and less acrimoniously about issues such as imigration and more about the environment, where is the evidence that our support for grammar schools caused any damage to us at all, or was anything other than the right policy?

BTW, on the vitriolic acidity front, I would love to have an outlet on this blog to express robust criticism of the government. I have suggested to the Editor that he run a daily "Minister of the Day" slot, in which we can nominate our choice for most hapless performer (and, in a constructive spirit, give praise if and when it's due). My choice for today would be Ruth Kelly:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/norfolk/4591850.stm
(How do you insert weblinks in this blog?)

Firstly, please forgive me for re-posting comments I made on a different thread yesterday, but they are far more relevant here, and I want to expand on them a little...

One part of the problem comes from presenting a selection system as a pass or fail, rather than a process of discovering aptitudes and interests.

If rather than using an academic test, a system of aptitude tests and dialogue were used to find out what the child and its family's ambitions and interests were, the whole system could be presented as tailoring education to suit individual needs, rather than a creaming off of the gifted with the rest left to hang. Primary heads could make a recommendation that a child take a particular path, but it would be a combination of parent choice and local school availability that would determine the child's future rather than a simple pass/fail exam mechanism. The fundamental problem with 11+ was that it had failures, rather than children with different educational aims and aspirations. Normally I'm dead against this sort of 'deferred success' type language, but in the case of determining the best type of education for a given child, failure is clearly not a word to be used.

I'm not a wooly-minded mollycoddler when it comes to success and failure. I would encourage competetive sport, and house competitions in all sorts of activities in schools. One would hope that the success and popularity of the Harry Potter stories would encourage schools to try and re-introduce the house system to give children competition and rivalry with their peers as a more immediate motivational tool than the far-off promise of a good job. This for many kids in poorer backgrounds with parents out of work can seem an empty promise anyway.

However, the problem with the 11+ idea is that it is a pass/fail test with 'failures' going one way and 'successes' going the other. It isn't that the child fails a particular task, can pick themself up and try again. It is that the child is branded a failure as a person, at 11 and has to live with that.

I think that the ideas I sketched above, with the whole system acting as a series of signposts toward giving children the education best suited to their abilities would be of great benefit to society.

However, the problem doesn't just lie in education. There IS a class problem, the problem is the section of the population that look down on skilled manual work, despite the fact that many skilled manual trades can be more lucrative and stimulating than being a junior desk monkey.

Until the country as a whole recognises that going into skilled manual work is a good worthwhile occupation, and that some office jobs are the modern equivalent of unskilled factory work, the economy will suffer and many young people who are not brilliant academically will be forced through unsuitable education so they can take on unrewarding jobs, avoiding some ridiculous social stigma of doing a job that gets your hands dirty.

There is a testosterone fuelled malaise in the Party which manifests itself something like this:

"I'm right. Furthermore, if you think something different, you're worse than wrong, you become in my eyes an object of derision and hate."

Its arrogant, narrow minded and absolutely not the attitude that voters like to see in a political party

Do they prefer to see Oberon's straw men then?

"Philip Stephens is a highly respected comentator - and he has seen the intelligence and courage David Cameron has shown in his first few weeks as leader."

Stephens is wrong and relies up logical fallacies and misrepresentation to make a case that supports Cameron's course of action.

It's true that the party's image needed to change, but as he admits many of the policies that party held were popular with the public (and incidentally didn't become unpopular through association, merely less popular). It therefore makes no sense at all to throw out the few good and popular things the party had in the name of popularising the party...

For instance, in recent months we'd been leading the government on education policy. Now the policies that we had which were popular there have been abandoned.

What's worse is that the means of abandonment has reinforced the perceived negatives. Cameron has repeatedly asserted that policies he was dropping were lifeboats that allowed a few people to escape the state system. Those are the same straw man arguments the left deploy - and he must know they are untrue.

So his process of change is actually abandoning good policies and ideas, associating them with leftist propaganda that he treats as true, and ruling out swathes of possibilities for the future, thus making the policy reviews a sham.

Simon - I appreciate the 'BUT' in your post, You are right, there is a balance to be struck in all this, and I appreciate that.

I think the "minister of the day" is a great idea. Ruth Kelly gets my vote for today.... but there is so much choice. I feel like an under achieving kid, playing truant in a sweetie shop!

We need to have on this blog a forum for open discussion but there is all to often a derisive tone to responses some boggers disagree with.

What we are seeing now fro DC (I hope ) is a clearing of the decks - moving to a positive tone in political discourse, re-positioning our platform so we aren't bound by past specific policies. I can understand what he is doing though I have concerns that he is putting limits on what policy forums will be able to propose.

On the Big Business issue - isn't it bad that Walkers have established monoloply supply of crisps in major supermarkets (OK there are own brands) so Golden Wonder (who's Cheese & Onion are better flavoured!) have been driven to bankcruptcy. Is it right that one company has a 45% plus share in this key market :-)


Yes, if they supply a product that the public prefer.

But is it preference or monopoly supply - I've not seen GW crisps in Tesco, Sainsbury or Waitrose (don't have another chain nearby to know if they offered a choice). Did Walkers achieve market dominance through agreements with the supermarkets or through consumer preference?


Well, Golden Wonder *were* once as dominant as Walkers now are, so I'd say it was probably preference.

"... there is all to often a derisive tone to responses some boggers disagree with."

Yes, and that tone is present in heavy doses from camp Cameron - it says "we're right and you're out of touch and *nasty*"

Cameron was right to ditch the pupils’ passport, which would have been correctly seen as a perk for the better off. Let’s say that every child gets a £5,000 voucher towards their education. This will create extra demand and, therefore, higher fees in the private sector*. So one of the beneficiaries of the funding would be the owners of private schools; an electoral no-no. For parents who can add to the voucher, this form of funding gives greater choice; an electoral yes-please. Children from poor families will end up in the schools that cost £5,000, segregated from their better-off peers and with the worst teachers and less resources; another no-no. In short, the ones who appear to benefit are private enterprise and better-off families.

There may be subtle reasons why the vouchers would actually improve the lot for the poor, but it’s hard to see how and those reasons certainly wouldn’t play out at election time.

(* Historical data for private school enrolment shows numbers are directly linked to the state of the economy and ability to pay.)

"On the Big Business issue - isn't it bad that Walkers have established monoloply supply of crisps in major supermarkets (OK there are own brands) so Golden Wonder (who's Cheese & Onion are better flavoured!) have been driven to bankcruptcy."

Yes, their product was clearly preferred (especially as there is no monopoly - every shop I've seen stocks several brands from their "own brand" to premium labels).


I'm amused to see that on one website, James, I'm regarded as a traitor because I've been willing to criticise the party leadership.

This is a good website because people who are both supportive and critical of the party leadership are (in the main) prepared to concede that their opponents do have the right to make their case.

"Cameron was right to ditch the pupils’ passport, which would have been correctly seen as a perk for the better off."

That's not true. The Passport proposed was not going to be redeeemable at feee paying schools that charged more than £5,000 per annum.

"This will create extra demand and, therefore, higher fees in the private sector"

It would lead to increased capacity in the private sector, especially as several companies have proposals on the table to provide private schooling at less than that amount.

"Children from poor families will end up in the schools that cost £5,000, segregated from their better-off peers and with the worst teachers and less resources; another no-no."

This is also completely untrue. What actually happens where such systems have been implemented is that standards in state schools are driven up. Schools which are identified as sub-standard in Florida, for example, have taken on extra staff and altered policies - and publicised that they are doing so - to discourage parents from withdrawing children.

"There may be subtle reasons why the vouchers would actually improve the lot for the poor, but it’s hard to see how and those reasons certainly wouldn’t play out at election time."

Not if our own side misrepresent the policy, no.

James
Pepsico (Walkers) seem to have established the monopoly supply for non premium branded crisps as against own brands - just wondered how it was that I haven't seen GW crisps (which I preferred) in any supermarket I've access to for years....
Of course we have Kettles etc in the premium brand ranges.

The answer of course would have been to get W H Smiths to put GW crisps next to the checkouts - free advertising from the Conservative Party

"I'm amused to see that on one website, James, I'm regarded as a traitor because I've been willing to criticise the party leadership"

What tolerant website's this?

I've seen a few of the Conservative yahoo groups have taken steps to silence dissenters (mainly by saying they have no right to express a contrary opinion), so I endorse your other comments.

That's not true. The Passport proposed was not going to be redeeemable at feee paying schools that charged more than £5,000 per annum.

In which case three points:

1. The Passport was very badly explained.

2. Where could you redeem them?

3. Was it intended that there be a price differential between schools? If so, better-off children would inevitably go to the more expensive shools.


To be fair, James, the webmaster had no problem with my comments. It was the other Conservatives who seemed to believe that thinking for oneself is a form of mutiny.

I abandoned Conservative Yahoo groups after the fuss kicked up by the far right when they forced out the moderate members by ranting their extreme racist views ad nausium. You'll have heard about this from Mike Smith last week. Theres no point in arguing with racists.

Ive got a funny feeling WH Smiths arent going to be supporting the Conservative Party. Nor will Terry's. In fact I would think that a number of sweet manufacturers wont be too happy about Camerons views about impulse buying at shops.

I didnt like the passport schemes for education or health so Im pleased its being abandoned. By the same token, Im not happy with the replacement ideas.

"1. The Passport was very badly explained."

It wasn't explained *at all* after Tim Yeo's initial policy launch in 2004. That's one of the failings of Howard's leadership: they launched policies and then abadoned them in favour of bad soundbites.

"2. Where could you redeem them?"

Any state school (all of which would now be independent and self-governing) or any fee paying that charged £5,000 or less.

"3. Was it intended that there be a price differential between schools?"

Not on the scheme proposed. What it did do was link a school's income stream directly to the number of pupils it attracted (the £5,000 replacing funding from the DES), and therefore motivating them to meet parents and pupils needs.

"If so, better-off children would inevitably go to the more expensive shools."

Where there are fee differentials in countries that have launched such a scheme, its tended to drive prices down to the voucher level.

The passport potentially gave parents control over which school their children went to - but this also transfers power to schools to select pupils as popular schools would be oversubscribed. With state education measured in terms of A & GCSE results this would mean schools going after the academic high achievers who would have real choice whereas the average or non achievers would find minimal choice.

Mike Christies analysis points to a more inclusive solution - more about how we deliver the best education to a child that fits their capabilities and aptitude. The means to deliver this have to be thought through but thats what we should be looking to.

I had a great advantage, in loco parentis, of selecting a private school for my youngest sister who was a high achiever so had a huge choice of schools. In each case the school interviewed me (and anyone with me, - friends, family etc) as well as my sister just as I interviewed them. That's what a Passport would involve - a negotiation between both parties, with in the case of popular schools the possibilty of rejection from your preferred school.

What it showed me though was just how much diversity there was in private education - eventually I selected a school which concentrated on the individual; it offered a range of exams, a range of courses, accepted pupils thrown out of other schools but it delivered the best education it could to each pupil. My sister went to Oxford, her best friend who didn't shime academically did however become a successful weaver. Thats what we should be aiming to bring to all our children, it shouldn't just be an option for the rich.

Cameron's betrayal of his very own election pledge on schools is just another nail in the man's own coffin.

I'm going to stay a member of the party in order to fight for principled Toryism but vote for this guy? Never!

Voting in a General Election means voting for him as Prime Minister...

"I'm going to stay a member of the party in order to fight for principled Toryism but vote for this guy? Never!"

Unless he's your constituency MP then you won't get a chance "not to."

Youre assuming he's still leader come next election.

I wouldnt put money on it

"but this also transfers power to schools to select pupils as popular schools would be oversubscribed."

Popular schools would find that he diminishing unit costs of extra pupils would mean they had extra revenue to play with. The extra capital funds proposed would also aid expansion.

"With state education measured in terms of A & GCSE results this would mean schools going after the academic high achievers who would have real choice whereas the average or non achievers would find minimal choice."

Outside of cities where the population density exists to support turning a comprehensive school into a grammar school, this simply could not happen. My local comprehensive couldn't find 1,200 pupils with A or A* star potenetial to fill its rosters if it tried!

In actuality, what would happen is that most parents would still use local schools. However, schools that were identified as having problems would be motivated to solve them and publicise those solutions to minimise the risk of lost revenues.

As schools would no longer be managed under the auspices of LEAS, the need for league tables and judgement on exam grades would also become a thing of the past.

"That's what a Passport would involve - a negotiation between both parties, with in the case of popular schools the possibilty of rejection from your preferred school."

Which is true in the private section. And while not everybody in the private sector can get into Eton, they can find a school that suits them. What a voucher scheme does in enable all schools to be independent and encourages that diversity in ethos.


Vouchers were the essence of true progressive Toryism. All decent Tories have been supporting parnt choice for years.

We've got a real about-face on our hands, We need a palace rvolution to get our policies back!!

Vouchers were the essence of true progressive Toryism. All decent Tories have been supporting parental choice for years.

We've got a real about-face on our hands, We need a palace revolution to get our policies back!!

Mike Christie made some fantastic points above, and I would like to say why I agree with him.

Too many people, when faced with the word selection, immediately default to thinking of the old intellectual apartheid system of grammars and secondary moderns. They are wrong to do this. What we need are the good parts of that system without the bad parts.

Grammar schools provide an unrivalled route up the ladder for able kids from working-class backgrounds. The chance to be taught with children of similar ability and therefore to be pushed further and made to excel is irreplaceable. Setting does not come close to matching the environment in grammar schools, with the pressure to excel, and applying to university being the accepted culture. Setting is useless if, at the end of the lesson, still in the school which has a catchment area and therefore selects by parental income, the able child comes out into the playground and back into the culture of low aspiration and social problems that surrounds him, with peers who will reject him if he shows signs of going off the path of underachivement which they now view as inevitable.

However, the old grammar school system did condemn some people to lives of failure at the age of 11. This is plainly wrong. It also failed to teach a lot of them anything useful if they failed the 11+. Separating by ability need not mean by *levels* of ability (intelligent/unintelligent) but by types of ability: academic / practical, book-smart / life-smart, or even excellence in a particular subject.

As Conservatives we should recognise that each individual has different individual talents, and each person needs a largely individualised education to make the most of them, and no talent has a divine right to be seen as superior to another talent. I, for example, have no problem with Wayne Rooney earning a hundred grand every week because he has an incredible and rare talent which took work to hone and brings joy to millions. It's not an intellectual talent, but who cares.

So what I advocate is not comprehensive education, nor the grammar/sec-modern apartheid. A system of choice where the money follows the pupil and schools can expand as much as they like, would, if done in the right way, lead to the creation of schools offering all types of individualised education.

Yes, schools for very intelligent kids (but do they have to be called grammar schools?). Schools for those with a particular skill that translates to a trade. Specialist schools for excellence in particular subjects. And if bad schools close, then good. If this forces children from disadvantaged areas into schools in better-off areas mixing with kids from different backgrounds, then great. The comprehensive system has replaced intellectual apartheid with class apartheid in educational achivement.

And why not some form of outsourcing? Say a child has an aptitude for maths, but the specialist maths college is too far away for a daily trek? He should be able to go to a school closer but, for maths lesson, be able to go to the specialist maths college, maybe one or two days a week.

What is important here is that children can move between different schools if abilities become apparent at a later age, and that primary school teachers are able to make recommendations based on a child's unique abilities, and this should include the judging of aptitude as well as of ability, which may not have developed at the time. Not a choice between select-to-succeed and select-to-fail, but select the right education that is right for the individual child, including the one that is there for non-academic kids to find their practical or vocational talent.

If David Cameron is simply stating that he does not intend to return to the old system of apartheid, then this is good. If at a later date he backs individualisation, then he has removed the link in people's minds between non-comprehensive education and intellectual apartheid. This must be good. His remarks leave enough room for a system to spring up where choice between different state schools (just not subsidy to go private) exists, including those who select, but are simply not called grammar schools and don't select by 11-plus (my grammar school used its own entrance exam), and where the system doesn't involve condemning less intellectual children to failure.

If, however, he has conceded to the comprehensive system, then he has played politics with the futures of many potentially able children from poor backgrounds whose opportunity to climb the ladder of social mobility he will now have taken away, ironically to avoid class warfare, and whom he will be prescribing more failure in their local failing comprehensive, more futures barren of qualifications and prospects, more wasted talent for Britain.

Repositioning of the Conservative Party should not be at the expense of doing what is right for the country's children.

James "However, schools that were identified as having problems would be motivated to solve them and publicise those solutions to minimise the risk of lost revenues."

James I thought state schools were rewarded presently based on the number of pupils they have. I also thought some failing schools then got lumbered with children other schools didn't want because they so desperately needed their pupil numbers up thus causing more decline and fewer local parents wanting to send their children there.

Then there are the local parents who can't afford bus fares (just above the cust of free transport, free meals etc) who then are forced to send their well behaved children to these sink schools.

"James I thought state schools were rewarded presently based on the number of pupils they have."

They are funded by the Treasury via the DES and are therefore answerable to the DES. This EXPLICITLY puts the funding in the hands of the parents, and frees them to take it to any school they like.

"I also thought some failing schools then got lumbered with children other schools didn't want because they so desperately needed their pupil numbers up thus causing more decline and fewer local parents wanting to send their children there."

It's truer to say that people who can afford to move into good school's catchment areas, or to go private, do so to escape bad schools, thus making them ghettos for the bad and disadvantaged. A voucher scheme empowers all parents and would bring the greatest improvements at these margins - a bad school HAS to change its ways or it will eventually lose pupils until it closes, simply because their parents now have the option and ability to go elsewhere.

"A voucher scheme empowers all parents and would bring the greatest improvements at these margins - a bad school HAS to change its ways or it will eventually lose pupils until it closes."

I understand your passion for these vouchers, and in an ideal world they would work but what really happens is that working families, who can't afford to move home and are trapped in their area by housing price differentials in better school districts, end up with NO CHOICE because they can't arrange transport to their school of choice - the more children they have the less choice they have. Not all parents have the time or inclination to be empowered and it's their children that need the most encouragement from the state education system because they get none at home. Sending them to a failing comprehensive that isn't streamed to stretch them in say History or Information Technology is failing them and giving their parents a voucher they can't use won't help them, that's how they slip through the net now.

a-tracy, in the real world vouchers do work, and work exactly as I have described them!

Go and check it out!

"Not all parents have the time or inclination to be empowered and it's their children that need the most encouragement from the state education system because they get none at home."

And the point is that not everyone needs to exercise choice to benefit from it. As the Friedman Foundation explains, simply giving parents the ability to withdraw their children and switch funding elsewhere - and thus possibly make the school fail - caused teachers to change paractices to improve schools. So those children at the school whose parents couldn't be bothered still benefitted from the inmprovements.

Danny Finkelstein put it well here:

"My wife, you see, is a maximiser, while I am a satisficer. I have a very limited amount of patience for shopping, and when it is exhausted I shove the first thing I see into my basket and head for the cash register. Nicky, on the other hand, is prepared to go to infinite trouble to make the perfect theatre booking or to select exactly the right brand of icing sugar.

"I argue, correctly, that I save a vast amount of time and anguish making selections that wouldn’t improve my happiness much. My wife argues, equally correctly, that I am purchasing inferior icing sugar.

"The distinction between maximisers and satisficers was first brought to my attention by the social theorist Barry Schwartz, whose book The Paradox of Choice was all the rage in New York last year. The professor thinks satisficers are happier (naturally, because he is one) and that the provision of too much choice makes people anxious. He gets suprisingly exercised about being offered too many different cuts of jeans and appears to find the number of varieties of biscuits in the supermarket oppressive.

"Now, I have to admit that what with all the other problems of the world, choice-of-biscuit overload has not caused me sleepless nights. But I still admire Professor Schwartz’s book. I think that while the book misses a critical point about choice, it also makes one.

"The point the book misses is that choice is needed in order to call icing sugar manufacturers to account. If it were not for maximisers, the quality of my icing sugar would gradually decline until even I noticed. The fact that making choices can be a nuisance is not, as the professor seems to think that it is, a conclusive argument against choice-based systems."

James I'm all for choice and exercise my choice presently to select the best school to suit my families needs, it doesn't mean that I'm not concerned about the children in the school I leave behind. It's just like the school I went to! not many children tick the local school as their first choice and it still survives (using the methods I explained above). The council stopped the school transport to other schools in the area just before the selection process last year so that people had to think twice about selecting their preferred school if they couldn't afford private transport or arrange car shares. The other schools are also getting over subscribed as the area has increased in size which reduces choice a bit like buying icing sugar you don't like because the best brand is sold out, except in this case you have to eat it for five years.

"I'm all for choice and exercise my choice presently to select the best school to suit my families needs, it doesn't mean that I'm not concerned about the children in the school I leave behind."

Your ability to remove your children from the school means that the school will lose their revenue. If it faces that from too many people it could close. It is therefore motivated to keep you by driving up standards so you don't have to leave.

The Friedman Foundation (whom I tried to linkm to above) cites the following examples from Florida following the introduction of a voucher scheme there:

"Yes. Public schools pay attention when school choice is on the table. For example, even in Florida, site of the country's newest voucher program, schools identified as failing are already publicizing their efforts to improve by hiring more teachers, increasing funds for after-school tutoring and lowering class sizes. One superintendent, Earl Lennard, even vowed publicly to take a five percent pay cut if any of his county's schools received a failing grade.

"Information gathered through the Freedom of Information Act showed that in Escambia County site of Florida's first two failing schools where vouchers were offered officials responded to school choice by providing tutoring on Saturday, hiring new teachers, and requiring parent teacher conferences each grading period.

"In Milwaukee, Cleveland, San Antonio and Albany, New York, school choice has had a similar positive impact on public schools. The Milwaukee Public School Board, in addition to closing six schools identified as failing, now guarantees that they will teach kids to read by the second grade or provide a tutor. In Albany, the introduction of private vouchers for every child in Geffen Elementary school led the school board to replace the principal, hire new teachers, and set aside $125,000 for books, equipment and teacher training. (Forbes, June 1997)"

So the local schools improved for everyone.

And I've already answered the capacity question - schools would find that the diminishing unit costs of extra pupils would mean they had extra revenue to play with. That's before the extra development funds thay were also proposed to allow surplus capacity in the system at the start of the scheme.

I'm afraid I find that all the arguments people make for why a voucher scheme won't work are rooted in how the current system fails, and not how voucher schemes have operated in practice.

"The council stopped the school transport to other schools in the area just before the selection process last year "

Surely independant, well-funded schools would be in a position to lay on their own transport. I know a private school in W. Yorkshire that runs buses from several towns in Yorkshire and Greater Manchester.

If schools wanted to ensure they could attract pupils from outside their own traditional catchment areas, then they would have to consider this as part of the 'package' they offer to prospective parents.

I work in a school, and I'm passionate about education reform. I see kids compelled to sit in traditional academic lessons which have little to no relevance to any of their ambitions. I have seen kids with bad reputations fired with enthusiasm when asked to help with manual tasks.

One example, a few weeks ago I was disposing of some old computer monitors, there was a year 11 lad (15-16) stood outside the Head's office on an after-school detention, one of the 'usual suspects'.

I got him to help me lug all the monitors downstairs, he was willing, enthusiastic and commented that it was the best detention he'd ever had.

Why can't our education system harness the enthusiasm and desire to prove themselves that almost all children have? Not only that, if children with a more practical set of aptitudes are given lessons in skills and subjects that enthuse them, it would lessen the frustration and disengagement in those areas where they will have to have academic lessons such as English and maths.

We need an education system that lets all children find what they are good at, and teaches them to succeed at it, rather than one that teaches many of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged kids simply what they aren't good at and stigmatising them for failing at it. In the process it also makes these kids equate learning with boredom, frustration and failure rather than excitement, pride and success.

I know how frustrated I get when I am compelled to do something I know I'm terrible at, fortunately as an adult it doesn't happen very often. For some kids it is happening 6 hours a day five days a week.

One of my work colleagues was recently in Belfast for business. She got talking to the doorman at her hotel and learned that he had a daughter who was doing very nicely at the Bar. Afterwards she reflected: would she find a hotel doorman in London with a child in the professions?

Northern Ireland has a negligible independent schools sector for several reasons, not least because academic selection has given a confidence in the state sector that does not exist elsewhere. (As a Good Thing, New Labour is just about to wreck it.) Thanks to grammar schools, people from modest backgrounds have been able to compete for university places equally with middle class kids. I know this from my own experience. It's startling that the quality of education that I received on the cheap in Northern Ireland would cost a bomb in England (so to speak).

Now, go along to Hackney or Walthamstow. If you, dear reader, was stuck in a failing state school, what would your prospects be like? Not too many potential Bullingdon-ites there.

That's what infuriates me about Cameron's latest capitulation to the Liberal-Left. He got a jolly nice education, thank you very much, thanks to Daddy's wallet. So did George, Olive and most of that Giggling Tendency. Yet he offers nothing more than "Blair Business As Usual" in education (just like everywhere else, it seems) and fails the very people that Conservatives should be fighting for.

I'm glad that John Clare is the latest pundit to put head above parapet. So Simon isn't alone after all. We haven't even reached the 100 day mark and yet we all see and hear things that would have gone down like broken-wind-in-a-lift if they had properly formed part of the leadership campaign.

Anyone else thinking of becoming an abstainer?

What is stopping Cameron's conservatives offering the same but without vouchers - we already know which schools are undersubscribed and the head teachers know the reasons why!

So in the future promise that schools identified as failing are to publicise their efforts to improve by hiring more teachers, increasing funds for after-school tutoring and lowering class sizes. Providing tutoring on Saturdays and summer schools, hiring new teachers (and getting shut of failing ones!), and requiring parent teacher conferences each grading period.

Mike - I completely agree with "We need an education system that lets all children find what they are good at, and teaches them to succeed at it, rather than one that teaches many of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged kids simply what they aren't good at and stigmatising them for failing at it".

We need to look at the reasons the Independent schools do push up the grades and achievements of academic students I suspect it is through a strict extra homework (with the work marked and sent back for improvement if required), clear information for parents on what extra help is needed and then the parents pay for extra lessons if needed. They also have some of the best teaching staff that sink state schools could only dream of, I can understand that it wears people down teaching to the lowest common denominator in each mixed ability class.

On the vocational focus; qualifications that transfer straight to the majority of workplaces that employers recognise as worthwhile e.g. food handling certificates, manual handling certificates, comprehensive first aid qualifications. If this compensation culture is to continue - health and safety qualifications including risk assessment! I would prefer my children to receive training in all of these life skills than 'boring' pse lessons. But then I respect vocational careers and respect people who perform these necessary jobs instead of running their jobs down in naff advertisements telling them to get trained on a computer to better themselves!

"What is stopping Cameron's conservatives offering the same but without vouchers - we already know which schools are undersubscribed and the head teachers know the reasons why!"

That's putting power into the hands of inspectors and ministers - if the money comes from the Treasury via the DES national politicians will always demand accountability to them. Vouchers make the schools accountable to the parents, and not to ministers!

"We've had 30 criminal justice acts since 1997; just nine in education."

This revealing statistic came in DC's piece in today's Guardian. 30 Criminal Justice Acts since 1997 is extraordinary. However, 9 Education Acts in the same period is still be one a year which is far too many. I hope we don't intend to emulate that.

I've read and re-read but am very unsure why vouchers are different to the existing system… doesn’t the money already follow the child? Whether the numbers are reported through vouchers or reporting the register is just semantics.

I’m all for local groups being allowed to set up LEA funded schools, but this doesn’t rely on a voucher scheme.

I'm also unsure whether economies of scale really do apply to schools. My gut instinct is that, like governments, schools have a maximum size, beyond which standards start to deteriorate.

Whether the numbers are reported through vouchers or reporting the register is just semantics

No it isn't! If the money comes from the Treasury it means that the recipients are accountable to the Treasury. National policians will feel accountable for schools and will try to exercise control. Vouchers place the spending power explicitly in the hands of the parents, and this means that they, and not the successors or Ruth Kelly, decide what constitutes a good school.

Unless the money explictly comes from the parent, politicians are in control. If you really do trust people, you know that they make better decisions about their money than some distant bureucrat.

Go and read the Friedman Foundation website.

"I'm also unsure whether economies of scale really do apply to schools."

They do. If a school has capacity for more than the number of pupils required to cover its facilities and staffing costs the it does have economies of scale.

Furthermore good schools should then be able to expand and take over failing schools, so that they can benefit from good management.

Mark,

It's a 2-way thing. With vouchers, money follows the child - and the parents have a (preferably unfettered) choice about where to spend the voucher. (You can impose fetters - for example that the voucher cannot be topped up, as per the parents passport). The point is that control is with the parents.

There is already something approaching a voucher scheme in nurseries. We enrolled our children in a local nursery school of our choice. The LEA pay part of the fees direct to the school. We pay (or top up) the rest.

If we can do it at nursery level, why not elsewhere?

"You can impose fetters - for example that the voucher cannot be topped up, as per the parents passport"

Indeed. And those limits were clearly put in place so the Labour party couldn't claim it was subsidising places at Eton for the rich. Sadly we never actually seemed to do anything beyond that first Yeo press launch...

I also suspect that one reason why the policy was misrepresented - for example in today's Sun - was that we called it a "Passport", which allowed it to be conflated with the Patient's Passport which was a subsidy in that manner.

Re: "With vouchers, money follows the child - and the parents have a (preferably unfettered) choice about where to spend the voucher. (You can impose fetters - for example that the voucher cannot be topped up, as per the parents passport). The point is that control is with the parents."

Simon - the children that cause many of these problems in sink schools, ruining them for the rest, will have a voucher. Will the power be in their parents hands or in the schools selection boards? If the sink schools close down as James implies and children with behavioural difficulties are suddenly using their vouchers to get into top of the league schools (and who is to stop them when the power is with the parent) how does the Head control them. Thanks to liberal decisions we have no punishment or deterent. Do you really want expelled children roaming the streets in large numbers in the daytime? If turnaround schools are the solution why not introduce them now?

When a young girl goes into school armed with a golf club and attacks three teachers what do we do with her? This problem is a lot bigger than just a finance issue. Surely the issue with a sink school is that presently you have one school like this in each County (or similar) and too many children with problems end up in it with no extra facilities, specialists or money - then if it is your most local the LEA want better behaved children to go there to some how bring up the behaviour of the others.

"If the sink schools close down as James implies..."

Or improve, which is the more likely scenario. And one of the areas doing so forces schools to address is discipline.

"Will the power be in their parents hands or in the schools selection boards?"

Both. As it's a transaction between the two, it's much easier for the school to impose terms and conditions (just as a private school does).

"When a young girl goes into school armed with a golf club and attacks three teachers what do we do with her?"

Prosecute and imprison her.

""When a young girl goes into school armed with a golf club and attacks three teachers what do we do with her?"

Prosecute and imprison her. "

Quite right. One of the reasons I hate ASBOs and similar measures is that they blur the line between inappropriate and annoying behaviour and criminal acts.

The sort or act outlined above is a serious criminal act, not a bit of school indiscipline. Throwing paper aeroplanes at a teacher is poor school discipline, throwing chairs at a teacher is assault. To lump all these acts together as poor school discipline is misleading the public and damaging to the morale of staff in education who end up being portrayed as authors of their own misfortune rather than victims of crime. Admittedly some poor teachers don't help themselves when it comes to dealing with pupils, but since when did being bad at one's job make it OK to be abused, spat at and assaulted?

Police, the CPS and the courts, together with schools should be very clear on treating serious criminal behaviour that occurs in school with the gravity it deserves.

All assaults on school staff should result in the police being called, along with any other serious criminal acts.

That needs to run alongside a more constructive approach to juvenile justice, punishment and rehabilitation.

Simply sticking young people from damaged families into prison will not solve anything in the long-term

The reason that passports would have worked is that accountability is transfered from a government minister to the consumers.

The simple fact of the matter is that standards will never be driven up if schools are merely accountable to government.

David Cameron has effectively condemned another generation of children (especially deprived children) to mediocre schooling.

The Friedman Foundation is a proponent of choice; vouchers are simply a mechanism. We all support choice, but I don’t see why vouchers provides any more choice than our existing system.

Where there are sufficient schools, parents already exercise choice, resulting in under- and over-subscribed schools and a degree of selection. And because money already follows the child, schools already have the financial incentive to manage themselves well.

If we want to add capacity and diversity by allowing the independent sector to provide free schooling, that is a matter of persuading the electorate that private-provision of state services can be a good thing. It doesn't rely on a voucher system.

If the intention is to reduce the power of the DfES, that is a matter of political will. I can’t see the DfES taking its nose out of a school’s business just because they no longer counter-sign the funding cheque.

"The Friedman Foundation is a proponent of choice; vouchers are simply a mechanism."

The mechanism is the means of obtaining the outcome. The point of "choice" is not that people get a range of options to pick from, it's that they are better placed to determine what worth spending their money on than some distant bureaucrat. The point of the voucher is that it puts that spending power in the parents' hands and this determines the relationship between people and schools.

"Where there are sufficient schools, parents already exercise choice"

Not really. They're tied to catchment areas. The only people who actually have a choice are those who can afford to go private or move close to a good school.

"It doesn't rely on a voucher system."

There are other mechanisms, but voucher schemes appear to be the best mechanism.


"I can’t see the DfES taking its nose out of a school’s business just because they no longer counter-sign the funding cheque."

As the DfES becomes irrelevant once the school is answerable to parents' aims rather than the latest initiative, the department would largely become redundant. It would also be politically more difficult to interfere, because parents would be aware that their preferences were bein overridden.

"The department would largely become redundant"

Yes, I spent an hour lying awake last night pondering the justification for the DfES. Axing it is a pipe-dream but, IMO, the DfES is £300 million we don't need to spend.

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