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"There would be Be A Credit To Your Child courses to help parents understand how they can help their child succeed at school."

I do not like the idea of the state telling parents how to be good parents.

We have too much nanny statism already.

Nonsense, Umbrella Man. The state, i.e. the taxpayer, has to pick up the pieces when parents fail. Early intervention makes sense on every level.

Hmm… It’s a good idea, and I like it, but I wonder whether it will be taken up – the Conservative Party has been talking a lot about involving parents in education and setting teachers and schools free, yet at a local level, the reality is quite the reverse.

One example, of many found around England, is where the Conservative run Suffolk County Council wants to close all middle schools and begin major construction in all upper schools so that Suffolk has the two-tier educational system as opposed to the current three-tier one…

Unfortunately they’re going ahead with the plans despite major opposition from teachers, parents, and pupils, and not only that, but this change will incur a cost of over £100 Million.

Surely, if the Conservative Party wanted to hand power to teachers and parents, then they wouldn’t go against their wishes and waste millions of the taxpayer’s money in “fixing” something which isn’t broken?

Thanks for your comment Umbrella man.

My worry is that some small government conservatives have become so anti-government that they cannot countenance any role for the state in tackling the root causes of increased demand for government services. Without stronger families the calls on state welfare are only likely to grow. The average lone parent family costs the taxpayer £100,000+ but a healthy marriage course may only cost a few hundred pounds – if that. The debt-to-depression-to-drugs-to-crime spiral has been well-observed and is hugely expensive. Wouldn’t a little debt education – or statutory regulation of lending practice – be a wise investment?

The kind of courses proposed by the SJPG - particularly if delivered by a diverse range of people so we can compare different models of delivery - are very much worth experimenting with.

My worry is that some small government conservatives have become so anti-government that they cannot countenance any role for the state in tackling the root causes of increased demand for government services.

A reasonable point, but we keep hearing about new things govt can do. We don't hear much about what a Conservative govt might actually stop doing.

I think the idea of Pioneer schools is extremely good. My mother-in-law runs a set of schools which run along similar lines in Russia (the state pays for the fabric of the school and basic teaching rates, she raises charitable funds to pay for admin and additional funds for teaching) and it seems to work well. In fact, it is quite embarassing to explain why a scheme such as this would not be easy to set up in the UK because of all the state interference ...

Thanks Alex - your point is clearly valid and could be the subject of its own thread... What will Conservatives cut?

All this tastes of nanny'ism as umbrella man rightly says.

Isn't the problem anyway lack of discipline in home and school? Neither school, nor parents are given much leeway in terms of enforcing discipline.

They really haven't caught on yet, have they?

Some parents don't give a damn about education - which is why truancy is such a persistent problem in some neighbourhoods:

"Truancy rates in England's secondary schools rose by over 10% last year, according to government figures. Despite £900m spent on anti-truancy initiatives, the annual figures show the highest truancy rates since 1994."

"The government's flagship Sure Start programme is setting back the behaviour and development of young children in the most alienated households, according to the first big national evaluation of the scheme. Though the £3bn programme is benefiting some poor families, the government commissioned study published yesterday concluded that children of teenage mothers and unemployed or lone parents did worse in Sure Start areas than those in similarly deprived communities elsewhere."

Britain has a lower stay-on rate in education at 16 than most other countries in our peer group:

"The schools minister Jacqui Smith admitted that the number of 16 year olds who stay on in education in the UK is lower than in other countries and asked them to consider studying A-levels or taking an apprenticeship."

That's because not much has changed in laddish values in some neighbourhoods since George Orwell wrote this in 1936:

"The time was when I used to lament over quite imaginary pictures of lads of fourteen dragged protesting from their lessons and set to work at dismal jobs. It seemed to me dreadful that the doom of a 'job' should descend upon anyone at fourteen. Of course I know now that there is not one working-class boy in a thousand who does not pine for the day when he will leave school. He wants to be doing real work, not wasting his time on ridiculous rubbish like history and geography. To the working class, the notion of staying at school till you are nearly grown-up seems merely contemptible and unmanly."

The latest news is that the gender gap in schools is still widening so it's not a simple issue of low incomes:

"The gender gap is widening into a chasm, a new report has found, with girls forging ahead in achievement at all levels of education."

"The government is concerned about a growing gender gap in higher education, after 22,500 more young women than men won places at university last year."

"Most of the persistent low achievers in England's schools are poor and white, and far more are boys than girls, a Joseph Rowntree Foundation study says."

firstly, i ,broadly, support these ideas.

However,im concerned that the course mentioned would be a uniform one, allowing for no variation.If the responsibilties the charters outlined were broad enough, it would, perhaps, ne possible for schools to form their own courses. these would aim to achieve the prescribed goals, but their delivery could vary as the individual school, saw fit. This would avoid the nanny state argument, and better adhere to localist priorities.

Apologies if i assumed wrongly that the course would be uniform, and for any striking advantages to a uniform system ive not realised.

"The average lone parent family costs the taxpayer £100,000+ but a healthy marriage course may only cost a few hundred pounds – if that."

Wow - is a healthy marriage course really all it takes to have a healthy marriage?

I know plenty of couples who've been married for decades - including my parents and both sets of grandparents - who *haven't* done any kind of marriage course.

Editor - are we really implying that marriage courses will help build stable families? Do we have any evidence for this before we try to sell it to the general public?

Talk about the nanny state....

Of course ToryJim most marriages in history haven't needed any marriage course but we haven't had the scale of family breakdown that has blighted Britain in the last 20, 30 to 40 years either. All of the evidence suggests that relationship breakdown is passed down the generations. People who haven't seen their own parents reconcile struggle to deal with conflict themselves. We need to find ways of helping break this cycle. Perhaps a course led by your own parents and grandparents may help a young couple to ask the questions that sometimes don't get asked and only lead to difficulty later? How is household income going to be shared in the relationship? Do the couple have the same expectations for kids? The early evidence from the USA's healthy marriage initiative is that couples are confronted with issues that they haven't thought about and sometimes marriages that should never start are never started! This may all sound like common sense but common sense, as we know, is not as common as we would like.


Is attending a Fine Art course all it takes to become a good sculptor? Indeed not. Did people in the past become good sculptors without ever attending a Fine Art course? Probably. Does it follow from either of these points that attending a Fine Art course is unlikely to help you to become a better sculptor. Certainly not.

As for evidence that marriage courses lead to healthier marriages, what kind of evidence were you after? Indeed, what are you suggesting - that marriage preparation courses, marriage health courses, Relate, and the like are not useful? That seems like a pretty radical claim, since presumably they exist and are used precisely because lots of people think they *are* useful.

"Nonsense, Umbrella Man. The state, i.e. the taxpayer, has to pick up the pieces when parents fail. Early intervention makes sense on every level."

Maybe it should stop picking up the pieces na dmake people face the consequences of their own actions?

"The gender gap is widening into a chasm, a new report has found, with girls forging ahead in achievement at all levels of education."

That is so obvious as to be laughable.

Course work, often marked by teacher....teach-to-test and mark accordingly.

Remove proper structured teaching of Physics, Chemistry, Maths etc from curriculum and boys' subjects are downgraded to "Science"....then put in lots of touchy-feely courses on "Civics" and "English Language" instead of Eng Lit....and you have the re-shaping of Education towards a feminised culture.

Introduce hard core Physics courses, proper teaching and watch boys revel in learning properly-taught subjects.

The whole education system has been re-engineered to produce outcomes where biys MUST fail...it is no accident

dmake people face the consequences of their own actions?

Nice thought - but The State created this lousy society with its bungling and legislation and obsessional control freakery trying to shape society as they wanted......bit hard after The State has robbed you blind and burned down your house to suddenly say.....it's all your fault, take care of yourself

TomTOm seems essentially right to me here. My guess is that in a truly "fair" test (if such a thing might be constructed, which I doubt) girls would do marginally better than boys on average, whilst the top and the bottom of the distribution were both over-populated with boys. But what has happened in recent years has not been a shift to my notional "fair" system. Rather, what happened was that it was noted that boys did better in certain kinds of setting - objective answers tested in an exam - so to try to avoid rigging the tests against girls, extensive use of girl-favouring systems were employed. The result, unsurprisingly, is that girls now do better. Presumably the next iteration will be for us to expand the boy-favouring activities again. I hope that this process converges, rather than simply running in a circle.

(Note, incidentally, that I'm not suggesting that a "fair" system would be ideal from a policy perspective, even if we could identify it.)

Turning to the main element in the thread - the suggestion of schools set up by parents but funded by the state to £5,500 - are we to permit parents to add to this level of funding out of their own resources? If so, how does that square with Osborne's saying that top-up systems were banned from discussion? If not, why not? What is the practical logic for such a restriction? I don't include among "practical logic" any argument along the lines of "Well, the public would say that was privatisation" or "The public would say that that favoured the rich" or any focus-group oriented froth. I want to know why, as a matter of practical principle, parents should be forbidden from adding to the resources the state offers so as to improve the education their children receive above the maximum level the state offers to fund?

"most [people] in history haven't needed [a] course but we haven't had the scale of [insert problem] that has blighted Britain in the last 20, 30 to 40 years either. All of the evidence suggests that [this problem] is passed down the generations. People who haven't seen [the problem] struggle to deal with [it] themselves. We need to find ways of helping break this cycle."

Removing the marriage specifics from this argument makes it sounds strangely like a left-wing policy, don't you think?

Too many people caught speeding? Let's introduce compulsory counselling *before* you become "a bad driver".

Too many people getting in to trouble in the housing market? Let's introduce compulsory counselling *before* you overstretch yourself with a mortgage.

What happened to personal responsibility?

Whether two people get married and whether those two people *stay* married doesn't really warrant state intrusion - why is cohabiting "worse" than marriage?

I've lived with my partner for almost a decade, we're very much together. My sister got married and it lasted less than 18 months, she's just divorced. Are we suggesting that she deserved a tax break for those 18 months?

Why give any benefits for a piece of paper that in all too many cases apparently has very little to do with the stability of the relationship?

"A new wave of 'Pioneer Schools' set up and run by parents and charities but funded by the taxpayer at £5,500 per pupil, per year"

What is the current average funding per pupil per year across the state sector?

If £5,500 represents an increase (which I'm guessing it does) then it wouldn't take a rocket scientist to deduce that if you increase the funding and remove restrictions then performance might improve.

Why do we need "a new wave of schools" to do this? Couldn't we deliver improved schools by increasing funding to the *existing* schools and removing existing restrictions which stop them from fixing the problems themselves?

"Maybe it should stop picking up the pieces na dmake people face the consequences of their own actions?"

Sorry everyone Richard has put his finger on the bottom line. There is a fair proportion who are not at all interested in living like we all would hope, educationally or any way. Think of any government initiative and it won't work with them and we will then find someone else thinking of more initiatives to cope with this minority. And so on. They know this, they know we are stuck with them and have to keep thinking of ways to look as if we care.

I would suggest we have a particular problem because, over many years, Labour and the left have inculcated a view in society (I know!) that it is not your fault if you are not successful, it is always someone elses fault and responsibility and people who say your life is your responsibility, like Tories, are nasty. Indeed to an extent this minority and their actions are cheered on, this being one reason, I suggest, boys are prone to being a problem. By the term "left" I would include churches and, of course, the BBC.

All a new Cameron/Conservative government can do in 4/5 years is cope with some of these problem people that are most conducive to help or intiatives. But even here there is the need to address the real problem if only to allow efforts to concentrate on those who really want to make progress. Even here without some clear indication that people face the concequences of their own actions few will be motivated by things like parental courses. I am sorry, but at the end of the day there is a need for sticks to go with all these carrots and I would guess the sticks would include limiting government benefits and tough policing.


"Whether two people get married and whether those two people *stay* married doesn't really warrant state intrusion - why is cohabiting "worse" than marriage?"

Those who cohabit are simply imprudently married, in my view (as indeed is the view of the government, with its latest proposals of extending marriage rights to cohabitees), so I shall simply employ the language of "married" rather than saying "married/cohabiting" etc..

State have always taken a close interest in whether two people should be married and whether they should stay married. It offers marriage contracts; stipulates conditions for divorce; restricts the numbers and nature of people one can marry; makes the level of welfare benefits and taxes dependent on whether or not one is married; regulates adoption of children according to marital status; makes inheritance after death dependent on marital status; adjusts its assessments of rape and violence dependent on marital status; and many other things.

Why? Many reasons. But I shall offer just five for the moment.

1) Marriage is something we do to each other, and typically involves asymmetric power relations that, if exploited, can be extremely destructive to the weaker party. Married people are not "minding their own business" - they are interacting with other people, and thus operating in exactly the sort of space in which the State takes an interest.

2) Sexual jealousy has, throughout history, been the major motive for murder.

3) Predatory adultery (taking away someone's spouse) is among the most destructive of crimes, especially when in involves children, in which case it typically combines betrayal, lies, theft, and child abuse.

4) Empirical evidence suggests that children have a better chance of becoming well-functioning members of society if they are reared by two parents than one.

5) The activities of marriage - cohabitation, sex, child-bearing, finance-pooling, etc., involve many implicit moral promises/duties that are extremely profound and powerful, and of which people will be only dimly aware unless they are set out explicitly. This is one of the great virtues of a marriage ceremony - in it we state the (highly profound) implications of our married involvement (which are there whether or not we undertake the ceremony), so that (a) we have the chance to learn from the wisdom of the generations that preceded us as to precisely what these duties are; and (b) we cannot later claim we did not know. (This last point is the reason that cohabitees are "imprudently" married - because they have not spelt out to one another, and before others for the avoidance of doubt, the promises they have made and duties undertaken by their deed of cohabitation, sex, child-bearing, finance-pooling, etc..)

Does the editor simply see this as a way of getting "charities" withy religious hidden agendas into schools so they can force distorted views of the family down the throats of poor children?

If you try and type "T a l i b a n T i m" without the spaces between the letters your comment will be blocked as Spam!

There is no uniform funding per student, it varies by age. At the moment it is around £1881 for a 7-year-old to £3293 for a 15-year-old.

These schools would be very well funded. In fact a 1250 student secondary school would get an extra £3,514,250 per year under this scheme - a rise of over 100%. If this new funding formula was applied to primary schools (who get much less per pupils) then the % rise would be much higher. These new school should be bloody good for that sort of money.

Overall this is an excellent idea. Schools need to be freed up from bureaucracy state control. I don't think we can ask for top up payments, because at that point the better schools will all end up with top up payments, and we end up with another two tier system, alienating the parents we are trying to engage.
Parenting lessons/ reminders about responsibilities (not just about rights) have been shown to work. However, there need to be concrete government policies that employ a stick as well as a carrot. I believe that is why Sure Start has not been as successful as it might - lots of advice and support, signposting to benefits and "rights" but less emphasis on duties and responsibilities alongside this. Welfare reform is urgently needed to go alongside these proposals or they will have limited impact.

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