Sunday, April 15, 2012

Nick Clegg's family policy: Whoever you vote for the Government gets in

A common critique of education and family policy during the Blair and Brown years was that it was too interventionist - too many targets, too many boxes to tick, academic at too early an age. But any hope that the Coalition would reverse this trend has long since died.

The review of the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum presided over by Sarah Teather, for instance, did see a reduction from 69 to 17 of the number of targets for five year olds. But a wide range of voices criticised its failure to address the "'schoolification' of early childhood, with its over-assessment and excessive monitoring". And that review also brought in new 'progress assessments' for two-year-olds.

I recently argued that the Pupil Premium has declined from being a radical scheme that would give popular schools an incentive to admit pupils from poor families to one which is intended to keep those pupils exactly where they but fund them a little more generously. You might say we have moved from locating the problem in poor schools to locating it in poor children.

Then a couple of days ago came news that Nick Clegg (in quite which capacity the Guardian does not make clear) is to set targets for schools to narrow the performance gap between disadvantaged children and other pupils.

Not only that:
Each school will also be expected, in its annual online report from September, to set out broadly how it is spending the pupil premium money, and what it intends to do with the money next year.
Until recently it seemed that Liberal Democrat and Conservative politicians shared the view that schools knew best how to themselves. Now the Pupil Premium is being used as a way of giving government more control. It seems the man in Whitehall knows best after all.

And today came Nick's interview in the Independent:
"Every parent wants their child to do better than they did, and every parent wants their child to fulfil their potential," he said. State intervention to teach children as young as two will form the centrepiece of his "obsession" which will see childcare made the coalition's highest priority social policy.
What strikes me most is the implication that doing the best for your children means allowing the state a greater role in their upbringing. As with Nick's enthusiasm for summer schools funded by the Pupil Premium, you don't get the feeling that poorer families are going to get much say in the matter.

To me the essence of Liberal radicalism is Thomas Rainsborough's observation "really I think that the poorest he that is in England has a life to live as the greatest he". Not so long ago, we radicals wanted the workers to run their own industries. Today we seem reluctant to trust them with their own children.

In this area of policy is seems, more and more, that whoever you vote for the Government gets in.

To end on a happier note, Rainsborough has a street named after him in Market Harborough.

1 comment:

Simon said...

What is so depressing about all this is that this is one of the Lib Dems flagship policies, and it is largely being implemented by Lib Dem ministers. More than any other aspect of government policy the pupil premium should be the area Lib Dems can do what we wanted to do, and this is what we are doing!

Or in other words, you can't even blame the Tories. Deeply, deeply depressing stuff.