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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Damian Hinds MP"

Universities have been in trouble for years. Ministers should seize the chance to reshape them.

In a move that shocked the world, Cambridge University has announced plans to move all its lectures online next year.

With the exception of “smaller teaching groups in person”, it means that the campus will essentially be shut for the foreseeable future.

The University of Manchester has acted similarly – deciding that lectures will be online-only for the Autumn term.

Most institutions moved their operations online as the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated – but if this continues for long, the consequences will be bleak for them.

Indeed, one report estimates £2.472 billion lost across the sector and 30,000 redundancies.

This is based on the expectation that 232,000 fewer students will enrol in 2020/21 compared to 2018/2019.

It’s no wonder many want to drop out; it’s ridiculous expecting youngsters to pay £9,250 for a Zoom-based education.

Cambridge’s decision is all the more troublesome when students have such a low risk for Covid-19.

Yes, older tutors have to be protected – but when primary schools are returning and able to introduce sensible steps, so should all academic institutions.

Unfortunately the Government doesn’t have much say in Cambridge’s direction, as universities are allowed to set their own roadmap in regards to the pandemic.

What it does have control over, however, is using this time as an opportunity to improve the system, as Conservatives promised they would do in their manifesto.

Yes, it’s unfortunate that Covid-19 has been the impetus for a new direction.

But the fact that university numbers are about to go down is no bad thing – for years this has been what’s actually needed.

There are many problems with universities, but the main one is that demand for courses vastly outpaces demand for graduates.

It all started when Tony Blair decided that 50 per cent of school pupils should attend these institutions, convinced that this would take them to dizzying heights of success.

This vision never, ever materialised, though – even having a reverse effect.

The consequences of the Blair years were laid bare in front of MPs in 2017 when parliamentarians were given a 50-page report on millennials.

It showed that 40 per cent of 25-34-year-olds have degrees, but 47 per cent work in a non-graduate job; this is a terrible waste.

Of course, university isn’t just a means to a job – learning should be for learning’s sake, and it’s also a time for young adults to have fun and meet new friends.

The trouble is that when everyone goes, it starts to have a big, negative effect on the economy.

It can also lead to a drop in standards for students. Artificial grade inflation has been one byproduct from oversubscribed institutions, and degrees start to devalue if everyone’s got one.

What’s particularly plagued the system is the numbers of people doing “low-value” degrees, such as creative arts and psychology, which our columnist, Neil O’Brien has been particularly vocal about.

Last year, he co-authored a report for Onward demonstrating just how damaging these can be. That’s because graduates with low value degrees tend not to earn enough to ever pay back their loans.

Shockingly, a tenth earn less than £25,000 a decade after graduating (the threshold for them to start paying them back).

Speaking to ConHome, O’Brien added that growing fees hadn’t changed the incentive for high-return courses, saying “the earning status suggests that [students] should go off and do maths, the hard sciences, medicine, maybe law or economics because they have big returns. But actually people are piling into creative arts, which has the worst returns and lowest earnings.”

As of last year, it was shown that the loan repayment threshold for creative arts not met five years after graduation stands at 40 per cent.

Worryingly, around 45 per cent of the value of outstanding post-2012 student loans are not expected to be repaid – and who has to come to the rescue? 

You! The taxpayer… 

Last year Damian Hinds, the then Education Secretary, warned these low value degrees are costing millions – in the hope this would be a “wake up call” (NB. It wasn’t).

This is why the crisis should be an opportunity to rethink our universities.

It has forced us to confront some big questions.

For one, if these institutions can move online so readily – what’s the justification for physical lectures? 

Do students even need to be on campus at all – paying large sums for halls?

Furthermore, if they can lecture online, why should courses cost £9,250 – particularly when competition in the online education marketplace has been growing (Coursera being one example)?

This pandemic should also encourage us to think about whether it’s sustainable to rely on foreign students so much, who can be charged as much as £58,600 and now cannot get back to classes.

A survey suggests 49 per cent of students from China will not enrol if it’s all online

It’s very hard to understand the rationale for some of these prices.

Part of this I say from a personal perspective; I graduated with psychology in 2010, having received two hours of lectures a week in my third year. Hardly value for money.

Given the astronomical economic upheavals the UK has gone through since 2010, it has always seemed to me madness that we have not addressed the university issue sooner.

There is a real desire to rehaul the system, and invest properly in technical education, entrepreneurship – and other routes to employment.

You simply don’t have to be “academic” to be a success – and that narrative has to properly end.

One suspects part of the preoccupation with universities is because they are thought of as the engine of social mobility.

And of course they still offer many people amazing opportunities.

We have some of the best in the world and should be incredibly proud.

But if we want to show true respect to them, as well as young people, we need to fix these enormous structural problems.

The time is now for change. Ministers should seize it.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

“There are kids who can read and write today because of Nick Gibb”

That’s what a Special Adviser says – and his are words to ponder on this second day of the reshuffle.

Nick Gibb has been reappointed to his job as an Education Minister, serving under Williamson.  By our count, that makes the latter the fifth Education Secretary that Gibb has served under.  We make it: Michael Gove, Nicky Morgan, Justine Greening, Damian Hinds, and now Williamson.

Gibb’s still there because he is legendarily committed to his work, and in particular to the teaching of sythetic phonics (see here for example, and look elsewhere too).  Secretaries of State have come and gone, and education fashion with them.  Consider for example the twists and turns of policy over the years on grammar schools.

All the while, Gibb has stuck to his cause; driven through change; refused to be distracted, sidelined or daunted.  So it is that he has been at the Education Department, with one break, since 2010.  Politicians get a kicking, sometimes deservedly, but if you want an example of committed public service, look no further than Gibb.

We’ve nothing against Robbie Gibb, his brother, having received a knighthood.  But the disparity should make one think hard about the vagaries of the honours system.  If R.Gibb can become a knight, shouldn’t N.Gibb, in due course, become a peer?

Let’s hear it again: “there are kids who can read and write today because of Nick Gibb”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Our survey. Gove is Minister of the Year.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-12-26-at-17.11.06 Our survey. Gove is Minister of the Year. ToryDiary Thérèse Coffey MP Theresa Villiers MP Theresa May MP The Cabinet Simon Hart MP Robert Jenrick MP Robert Buckland MP Priti Patel MP Philip Hammond MP Penny Mordaunt MP Nick Gibb MP Liam Fox MP Karen Bradley MP Jeremy Wright MP Jeremy Hunt MP James Cleverly MP James Brokenshire MP Highlights Greg Clark MP Grant Shapps MP Gavin Williamson MP Dominic Raab MP David Mundell MP David Lidington MP David Gauke MP Damian Hinds MP ConservativeHome Members' Panel Chris Grayling MP Brandon Lewis MP Boris Johnson MP Ben Wallace MP Andrea Leadsom MP Amber Rudd MP Alun Cairns MP Alok Sharma MP Alister Jack MP  At the beginning of the year, the following were not members of the Cabinet –

Boris Johnson; Dominic Raab; Priti Patel; Robert Buckland; Ben Wallace; Therese Coffey; Theresa Villiers; Robert Jenrick; Grant Shapps; Alister Jack; Simon Hart; Alok Sharma; James Cleverly.

(We leave aside for a moment those entitled to attend.)

And the following were members of the Cabinet –

Theresa May; David Lidington, Philip Hammond; Jeremy Hunt; Penny Mordaunt; David Gauke; Damian Hinds; Liam Fox; Greg Clark; Chris Grayling; James Brokenshire; David Mundell; Alun Cairns; Karen Bradley; Jeremy Wright; Amber Rudd; Brandon Lewis.

(Again, we leave for a moment those entitled to attend.)

One member of the present Cabinet, Gavin Williamson, was a member at the start of the year and at the end – but sacked in between.

Another, Andrea Leadsom, ends the year as a fully-fledged member, began with the right to attend…and resigned between the two.

All of which is a reminder of what a turbulent year this has been at the top of politics – as well as elsewhere.

This pace of change made it hard to select four candidates to put to the panel as Minister of the Year.  (And we might have looked beyond the top table – to Nick Gibb, say, at the Education Department.)

But in the end we settled on two energetic Cabinet ministers who served the year in the same roles throughout: Michael Gove and Matt Hancock.

And also chucked in Geoffrey Cox, who as Attorney General has had the right to attend throughout, and Liz Truss, originally entitled to attend as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and now Secretary of State for International Trade.

Gove’s creativity and media skills will always serve him well in surveys like these, and he is duly top once again with over half the vote.

Cox’s good showing suggests that our pro-Brexit panel will always take a shine to pro-Brexit Ministers.  It is sobering to reflect that Gove also tried and failed to become Conservative leader this year…

…And that though we’re confident he will survive the large-scale reshuffle due at the end of January (assuming he wants to stay), further large-scale change is sure to come.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Johnson’s shuffle. If one asks for decisiveness – for an end to drift – don’t complain when it’s delivered.

ConservativeHome offered Boris Johnson advice on his coming reshuffle over a month ago.  Whatever you do, we said, shuffle with purpose.  Every single member of your new Cabinet must be signed up to leaving the EU on October 31 – without a deal if necessary.  Do or die.  All together now.  Band of brothers (and sisters).  No more Theresa May-era mass resignations over Brexit policy, totting up in the end to over 50, even without taking into account the very last ones.

A question this morning is whether or not the new Prime Minister has followed that train of thought to the point where it crashes into the buffers – and drives uncontrollably through them, leaving a trail of wreckage and corpses in its wake.  For he not only fired those Cabinet members who couldn’t support the policy (those that were left, anyway), but went on to sack many of those who surely could have done, or would at least have made their peace with it.

Jeremy Hunt, Liam Fox, Penny Mordaunt, Damian Hinds, David Mundell, James Brokenshire, Karen Bradley, Jeremy Wright – all of these would presumably have rallied round the new leader.  Two of them, Fox and Mordaunt, were 2016 Brexiteers.  The latter was prominent within Vote Leave.  One of them, Brokenshire, was a Johnson voter in the leadership election.  Yet the new Prime Minister deliberately chose to bundle them up in no fewer than nine full Cabinet sackings.  Greg Clark hung on until the end, while Chris Grayling went of his own volition. That brings the total to ten.

This was the bloodiest Cabinet Walpurgisnacht in modern history – making Macmillan’s night of the long knives look like a day trip to Balamory (although technically the changes marked the start of a new Government, not a shuffle within the old one).  Add the ten to the departure of Theresa May, Philip Hammond, David Gauke, Rory Stewart and David Lidington, and one reaches 15.  And that’s before getting into the dismissal of MPs entitled to attend, such as Mel Stride and Clare Perry.  That’s ten Conservative MPs alienated and in some cases added, perhaps, to the core of perhaps 25 ultra-rebellious Tory Soft Brexiteers and Remainers.  And the Government’s majority soon looks to dwindle to one.

There are many ways of assessing the replacements for the departed 15 or so.  For a start, there is ethnicity.  To Sajid Javid is added Rishi Sunak, now to be Chief Secretary to the Treasury; Alok Sharma at International Development plus, above all, Priti Patel at the Home Office (and of those entitled to attend there is James Cleverly, the new Party Chairman, plus Kwasi Kwarteng).  Then there are women: to Patel, we can add Liz Truss at Trade, Andrea Leadsom at Business, Theresa Villiers at Environment, Nicky Morgan at Culture, Amber Rudd at Work and Pensions.  This is Johnson’s briefed-in-advance “Cabinet for modern Britain”.  May had only three female members of her full Cabinet: Rudd, Mordaunt, Bradley and herself.  Javid was the only ethnic minority member.

As for the changes themselves, they seem to us to be a mixed bag.  Sunak, Cleverly, Leadsom, Robert Buckland at Justice, Ben Wallace at Defence: these are good appointments.  Julian Smith will know the Northern Ireland scene well from his work as Chief Whip.  Alister Jack is presumably in because Johnson wants a Leaver at the Scottish Office.  Nicky Morgan at Culture can take as her motto the saying of Leo X: “God has given us the papacy – let us enjoy it”.  Robert Jenrick, with Sunak one of three authors of a pro-Johnson leadership endorsement, has a big promotion to housing.  Their co-signatory, Oliver Dowden, will be a Cabinet Office Minister “entitled to attend”.

He will be among a swelling group of people: no fewer than ten, including Jacob Rees-Mogg as Leader of the House.  The new Prime Minister is doing nothing to make the Cabinet more compact.  The site would have preferred to see Theresa Villiers back at Northern Ireland rather than pitched in to Michael Gove’s shoes at Environment.  The big experiment will be exposing Gavin Williamson to the electorally-sensitive world of teachers and parents.

But if you want to locate the key to this reshuffle, it isn’t ethnicity, or gender, or finding horses for courses.  Rather, it is support for Johnson himself – and for Brexit. Rudd is the only declared Hunt voter to survive.  Morgan plumped for Gove.  Everyone else voted either for Johnson, right from the start of this contest, or at least after elimination themselves (if we know what they did at all).  Furthermore, 15 out of the 32 people eligible to gather round the Cabinet table voted Leave in 2016, compared to seven out of 29 in May’s last Cabinet.

Dom Raab at the Foreign Office – First Secretary of State, to boot – plus Patel, and Michael Gove at the Cabinet Office, working hand in glove with Dominic Cummings, while Steve Barclay hangs on at DexEU.  These are all general election-ready, Vote Leave veterans.  One has the spooky sensation, looking at this Cabinet and leadership, that the year is somehow 2016 – and that we now have the Government that we should have had then, ready at last to counter the charge that Vote Leave scurried away from Brexit, rather than manning up to deliver it.

Yes, the slaugher is spectacular.  And yes, the demotion of Hunt was unwise – though perhaps not as much so as his own refusal to take responsibility in government for our armed forces.  But look at it all another way.  Johnson stood accused of being a soft touch – indecisive; yielding; vacant.  So one can scarcely complain when he wields – not least before those who look on from abroad – the power that the premiership still has.  Brexiteers are accused of not taking responsibility.  After this shuffle, they can’t be: Johnson and Patel and Raab and company are unmistakably, unmissably in charge.

Remainers and Leavers alike can converge on a shared point.  Vote Leave helped to create Brexit.  Let their leaders now own it.  If one asks for decisiveness – for an end to drift – one can scarcely complain when it’s delivered.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

ConHome’s Ministerial recommendations: how did we do and what did we learn?

Here is our recommended Cabinet list from June 21.

  • On the credit side, Boris Johnson’s appointments and our recommendations coincided in four cases.  Sajid Javid became Chancellor of the Exchequer; Robert Buckland (pictured), Justice Secretary; Nicky Morgan, Culture Secretary and James Cleverly, Party Chairman.
  • He also kept Matt Hancock as Health, as we advised, plus Natalie Evans as Leader of the Lords, Alun Cairns as Wales Secretary and Geoffrey Cox as Attorney-General.
  • We recommended the following new or returned Cabinet members. Dominic Raab as Brexit Secretary (he was appointed Foreign Secretary).  Alok Sharma, as Work and Pensions Secretary (he was made International Development Secretary).  Theresa Villiers, as Northern Ireland Secretary (she was appointed Environment Secretary).  Gavin Williamson as Transport Secretary (he was made Education Secretary). Andrea Leadsom, as Commons Leader (she was appointed Business Secretary).
  • That’s four successes and nine part-successes.

– – – – – – – – – –

  • On the debit side, the following Ministers who we recommended for promotion or retention were dismissed: Liam Fox, Penny Mordaunt, Damian Hinds and David Mundell.
  • And the following Ministers or backbenchers who we suggested be promoted to Cabinet were not: Steve Baker, Kit Malthouse, George Eustice and Greg Hands.
  • That’s eight failures.

– – – – – – – – – –

  • Of that final group, five of the eight were Leavers. But only one of them, Malthouse, voted for Johnson – and that after he himself expressed an interest in standing.  A reminder that the most reliable key to promotion in this shuffle wasn’t having backed Leave in the referendum – it was supporting Johnson in the leadership election.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

James Hockney: The Timpson Review shines a light on the “burning injustice” of school exclusions

Cllr James Hockney represents Bush Hill Park Ward on Enfield Council.

At last, a light has been shone on the injustice of some schools off-rolling students and misusing the practice of permanent and fixed period exclusions. As I wrote on Conservative Home previously, increasing numbers of pupils are being excluded from schools – with students with special education needs (SEN) being over six times more likely to be excluded.

For over a decade, many have been calling for action, yet with little progress and scant media coverage. The Timpson Review has ensured that this is no longer the case. When the ‘Pledge’ on Sky News discussed this topic as a problem; you know that the mainstream media, at long last, has woken up to the situation.

The Timpson Review was requested by the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds MP at the behest of the Prime Minister, Theresa May MP, to seek answers on why some groups of students are disproportionally excluded from schools.

A study of Primary Schools in 2016/17 found that 85 per cent of them did not exclude any pupils, but 0.2 per cent of schools excluded over ten children in just one year. Furthermore, the analysis shows that 78 per cent of permanent exclusions issued were to pupils who either had SEN, or were classified as in need or were eligible for free school meals.

The report interestingly upheld the contention of off-rolling. Many of us have campaigned on the issue and have seen first-hand unofficial exclusions leading to permanent off-rolling. Most often, these cases involved a ratchet approach by schools, making families feel that they were the problem, and their child was no longer welcome/suitable/educatable or just a failure.

The drivers for this approach fell into four themes: leadership; lack of resource; lack of safeguards and; no incentive(s) for the school.

The report also upheld the view that whilst there are good examples of Alternative Provision (AP), in the main provision, there is a geographic lottery with low attainment rates for children. For example, only 4.5 per cent of children in AP achieve good passes in English and Maths GCSEs compared with national statistics.

In the long term, excluded children who complete Stage 4 in AP had a 30 per cent chance of being NEET (neither in education, employment or training).

The Timpson report is substantial and runs to over 100 pages with 30 recommendations. The one that has drawn the most attention is that the school, from which the student is excluded, will be responsible for the on-going education and wellbeing of each excluded child. This recommendation alone is a real game-changer. Previously schools had the perverse incentive that to off-roll or exclude failing, poorly behaved or absent students enhanced their overall ranking. Now they have to find ways of either keeping these students in the building and finding appropriate education there or ensuring the AP provision they chose is up to standard and successful. This clearly changes the education landscape.

There are other accompanying recommendations in the Timpson Report. One is that the DFE seeks to keep track of children leaving mainstream education. This is a new initiative in itself. Another is that the DfE must review the reasons for the exclusion. Previously, schools had been able to state ‘other’ rather than define the issue for the exclusion (one in five cases fell into this category). Another recommendation is that Ofsted has been charged with inspecting the way in which schools manage the educational provision of students classified as ‘children in need’ and excluded.

One possible solution to these issues is to have a ‘Practice Improvement Fund’. This will be monies to help Local Authorities (LAs), mainstream schools, special schools and APs work together in identifying and supporting children in need – with the recommendation stating required funding of ‘sufficient value, longevity and reach’.

The ‘Teacher Omnibus’ survey found that 18 per cent of teachers do not feel able to meet the needs of a child with SEN with 30 per cent stating that there is insufficient training provided to support SEN students. To alleviate this problem Timpson recommends that schools will receive £10m in funding to train and share best practice.

Local authorities will be expected to act as advocates for vulnerable children. This is significant as often there is no neutral panel to whom parents can appeal, get help, advice or support. Currently parents have to navigate a warren of forms to fill in, bureaucracy, blind alleys, unhelpful staff, staff who want to help but don’t know how and have the odds stacked against them in this complex and complicated system. To date many parents have found fighting for an appropriate education for their excluded son or daughter to be an uphill battle. Having a person or an organisation set up who understands the system will be an enormous help.

For too long Alternative Provision has been a one-way street – an education of sorts, with little oversight by the authorities with no intention on the part of the AP or the excluding school to return the student into the mainstream system. The recommendations provide the opportunity for AP to become part of the mainstream education system, rather than an adjunct.

One of the recommendations is to give Ofsted a role in examining how schools deal with children in need and score accordingly. However, there is still an accountability gap. According to the latest National Audit Office report, 1,620 ‘Outstanding’ schools have not been inspected for over six years, of which 296 have not be inspected for over 10 years. Whilst it is fair to say that the enhanced role that the report recommends for the DfE and LAs, it is still a potential gap in overview and governance.

It is also unclear how schools with high exclusion rates will be addressed. The report provides for across-the-board-support for schools; however, there should be an intervention process for Ofsted in schools that have an exceptionally high exclusion rate.

The Timpson Review is a substantive, evidence-based investigation with significant recommendations. It is notable that the review undertook speaking to over a 100 individuals and organisations, in addition to 1,000 responses in the call for evidence.

In response the government has committed to accepting all 30 recommendations in ‘principle’. If this means the totality of the recommendations this could lead to a substantive change that many of us have been campaigning for over a decade on.

The review was at the behest of the Prime Minister on this burning injustice. This could be a very real legacy for which many of us will be grateful.

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Mordaunt leads the pack in our latest Cabinet League Table

Westlake Legal Group Cabinet-League-Table-May-19-1024x965 Mordaunt leads the pack in our latest Cabinet League Table ToryDiary Theresa May MP The Cabinet Steve Barclay MP Sajid Javid MP Ruth Davidson MSP Rory Stewart MP Philip Hammond MP Penny Mordaunt MP Paul Davies AM Natalie Evans (Baroness) Michael Gove MP Mel Stride MP Matthew Hancock MP Liz Truss MP Liam Fox MP Karen Bradley MP Julian Smith MP Jeremy Wright MP Jeremy Hunt MP James Brokenshire MP Highlights Greg Clark MP Geoffrey Cox MP David Mundell MP David Lidington MP David Gauke MP Damian Hinds MP ConservativeHome Members' Panel Chris Skidmore MP Chris Grayling MP Caroline Nokes MP Brandon Lewis MP Amber Rudd MP Alun Cairns MP

*Note: Theresa May scored -68.7, and Chris Grayling -72.4.

This month’s Cabinet League Table is very much a snapshot of the end of a regime. With the race to succeed Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party about to begin, there is very likely to be a substantial reshuffle in the near future.

A glance at the above chart suggests why one is needed: only eleven Cabinet ministers record positive scores from our panel, and even the top-rated minister has barely hit +50. Here are some takeaways:

  • Mordaunt tops the poll. Our last two surveys both had her in fourth, so the Defence Secretary’s leap to the top of the podium will do nothing, so soon after she wrote for us about the leadership, to cool speculation that she might be about to enter the competition herself.
  • Truss holds on to second place. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has endorsed Boris Johnson, so no leadership speculation here, but her energetic championing of small-state, pro-freedom Conservatism is clearly striking a chord with the grassroots.
  • Davidson is back. Ruth Davidson’s return to the front has been noted, and rewarded with a 16-point increase in her positive rating. Were she in the Cabinet, she would have taken the silver medal position from Truss.
  • In fact, all three podium slots are held by women. Mordaunt, Truss, and Davidson are the three most popular Conservative politicians with our panellists. At present not one is running for the leadership, but it nonetheless challenges lazy stereotypes about the Tory grassroots and should give those MPs in the leadership race food for thought.
  • Although May’s score remains Stygian. Although she is at least scoring better than Chris Grayling this month, this score is a sour note on which to depart Downing Street and will cast a shadow over those candidates trying to carry forward aspects of her legacy.
  • Gove, Hunt, and Javid have respectable scores… Of the leadership candidates running from the Cabinet, these three are clustered together near the top of the table. Ratings in the low-to-mid 20s would not ordinarily look like endorsements, but alas these are not ordinary times.
  • …whilst Hancock and Stewart struggle. The Health Secretary is at least in the black, with a score of 5.6. The International Development Secretary however is on -18, scarcely an auspicious jumping-off point for any leadership bid.

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WATCH: “What’s the alternative?” Hinds asks of May’s talks with Corbyn

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Punishing schools for excluding disruptive pupils is the wrong approach

Today sees the publication of the Timpson Review on School Exclusion. It was undertaken by Edward Timpson, a former Conservative MP and Education Minister. The upshot is that it wants schools to be penalised for excluding disruptive pupils – for instance by changing the funding arrangements and being marked down in their Ofsted reports. It is written in a predictably tortuous style. It proposes changes that will “recognise those who use exclusion appropriately” by “recognising schools in supporting all children, including those with additional needs, to remain positively engaged in mainstream in the context of a well-managed school.”

The Times this morning reports:

“Fewer pupils should be excluded from school, according to the education secretary, who said that a fall in the numbers would be the measure of success of a reformed system.

“Damian Hinds said that he would begin implementing the 30 recommendations made by Edward Timpson in his report into school exclusions, published in full today. They include measures to make sure that schools take into their academic rankings the exam results of pupils they exclude.”

There has been cross party pressure to discourage exclusions. Last month, Jeremy Corbyn gave a speech to the National Education Union and complained that “the increase in exclusions is being driven in part by austerity”. Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP and Chairman of the Education Select Committee, has written for this site, criticising schools for excluding pupils too readily.

According to the Timpson Review, there were 7,700 pupils expelled from schools in England in 2016-17. That is an average of 40 a day. We are meant to regard that as a high number – but there are over eight million pupils in Britain. So that is below 0.1 per cent. We read that “over 17,000 mainstream schools (85 per cent of all mainstream schools in England) issued no permanent exclusions in 2016/17”. There is an implication that they are to be commended. This seems to me a rather loaded way of looking at it. Did all those schools really manage effectively without any exclusions? The number of exclusions is up 40 per cent on three years ago – although it is lower than ten years ago. But why is is assumed that more pupils than necessary are being excluded now, rather than that some who should have been excluded three years ago were wrongly left in mainstream education?

One criteria that Ofsted seems to be pushing is that exclusion is wrong as it is “primarily in the interests of the school rather than in the best interests of the pupil”. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? If a pupil is persistently disruptive then it is in nobody interests for the situation to continue. I’m not sure whether it makes sense to argue about whether it’s “primarily” helping the disruptive pupil to be taken out of school to be given specialist help, or the rest of the class who then have a chance to learn something.

John Bald has written on this site:

“The point, though, is that the perpetrators of school violence and disruption inflict even more harm on the education of other pupils, and to the morale of teachers, than they do on themselves. School staff, from headteachers to assistants, have the right to work in safety, and children have the right to go to school, work and learn, without having their education disrupted – more often, wrecked – by other pupils.”

A return to “progressive” and “inclusive” education would mean a collapse in discipline and make schools frightening places where the bullies are in control. That is the system that Michael Gove moved away from when he gave head teachers much greater authority – including far greater power to exclude pupils. It is applying the Conservative principle to “trust the people”. There is accountability. If a school fails then it has a forced takeover as a “sponsored academy” with a new head and governing body. But it is only fair that heads should be given the power to succeed.

I visited a school in Shepherd’s Bush called Burlington Danes which had been in a terrible state but was rapidly turned round by a new head called Sally Coates. On her first day she held an Inset day and went through with the teachers her approach. On her second day as head, the first day of term came the shock and awe of a mass exclusion of 70 children – those with the worst behaviour based on their records. She told an assembly for each year group how they were expected to behave in future and told those being excluded to stay behind. She gave each of them a letter and said they weren’t to come back to school until she had had an appointment with their parents. Often the parents had been unaware of what had been happening and these meetings were often long and difficult but practically all the children were quickly allowed back by half term.

This is not to say that everything is fine at present. Timpson covers the practice of “off rolling”. This is an arrangement whereby a school gets rid of a pupil, not through exclusion, but by asking the child’s parents to move him or her to another school, in order to avoid exclusion. Of course this just means that the disruption is switched from a classroom in one school to a classroom in another. The problem isn’t solved. The causes of the bad behaviour are not properly investigated or addressed. But is it not blindingly obvious that punishing schools for undertaking exclusions will make “off-rolling” more likely? A school can virtuously claim to have zero exclusions – which will officially be true as it has relied on this dodge instead.

Another huge challenge at present is when pupils are excluded. They are put into Pupil Referral Units or “Alternative Provision” schools. But then often, after a couple of terms, they are put back in a mainstream school – (which has to accept them and is different from the one that excluded them). Often the same problems occur and the pupil is excluded again. Sometimes these Units fail to provide proper specialist help – those pupils with quite different problems are put in together. There might be those who have had some breakdown after experiencing bullying, mixed in with those excluded for bullying. It is not as if the money is not being spent. Class sizes are low. But greater innovation is needed. Greater priority should be given in the free schools programme to those offering excellence in alternative provision.

Under David Cameron, the Conservatives brought in bold and successful social reforms. The transformation of our schools stands out. Under Theresa May, radicalism has vanished, but at least the achievements have not been generally been lost. What is particularly dispiriting about the announcement from Hinds is that he is threatening the hard won improvement in educational standards. Head teachers who wish to maintain order are to be undermined. Instead they are to be told to once again put progressive ideology first. We will wait to find out what approach the next Prime Minister takes…

 

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Nabil Najjar and Luke Springthorpe: How Conservative Progress aims to revive the Tory grassroots

Nabil Najjar and Luke Springthorpe are the founders and directors of Conservative Progress.

If the Conservative Party is going to win the next election, it desperately needs to re-energise its grassroots.

Part of this is, of course, about numbers. It’s no secret that Labour now outnumber the Conservatives heavily in terms of paid up members by about 4 to 1 (c. 540,000 vs c. 124,000).

But it’s also about the existing membership feeling empowered and a part of a vibrant movement that listens to them, provides them with a platform for debate, and actually values them enough to invest in developing their skills through training.

If members don’t feel like they are an active part of the Conservative movement by having a chance to actively participate in the debate, it stands to reason that their enthusiasm to go out and campaign to help the party win will wane. What’s more, if we don’t continually train our activists and share best practice from our best campaigners, how are we going to stay one step ahead of our opponents?

Some of this can be done centrally, but it’s also clear that a lot of this needs a certain degree of freedom and absence of a filter that only a third-party organisation can bring. It’s also true that a smaller third-party organisation can be nimble and react to demand for training, as well as current affairs, in a quick and timely fashion.

Which is why we set up Conservative Progress.

It all started with a simple idea back towards the end of 2016: bridge the gap between the grassroots and the Parliamentary party and provide an open platform for Conservative grassroots to hear from the brightest and the best, as well as sharing their own ideas. We recognised an underlying urge to bring some vibrancy back to the Conservative movement and to build capacity within the grassroots through providing training in the areas where we were being left behind – specifically, digital campaigning.

But more than that, in order for Conservatism to progress as a movement, we need to have a vibrancy that facilitates an open debate of meaningful policy ideas – the big ideas that will shape the direction of the country as well as the party. There also needs to be a platform for members to step forward and get noticed, as well as to gain the skills they need to be successful if they want to go on to bigger things.

It was from this basic concept from which Conservative Progress was born. As the name suggests, we believe that Conservatism has the true claim to ‘progress’, and we believe that Conservatives should shout about our achievements from the rooftops rather than conceding that space to left-wing self proclaimed ‘progressives’, who actually leave the country in ruins whenever they get anywhere near the levers of power.

True to our mantra, the organisation has been led and guided by the grassroots. The concept of our first major events were discussed and organised in a pub with no major financial backing from a wealthy benefactor, bankrolled entirely from our own pockets and (thankfully!) recouped by the generosity of attendees and the goodwill of speakers who took a chance that our new organisation would deliver something that was worthwhile.

Two years ago, we hosted our first conference. We unpacked over a tonne of food and wine ourselves from a delivery truck as we prepared to host over two hundred guests to hear from the likes of Lord Michael Howard, Peter Lilley, Andrew Mitchell, James Cleverly, Scott Mann and Dr Ruth Lea, who presented a positive post-Brexit vision.

But we knew that what the conservative movement needed wasn’t just another event with a parade of speakers and members sitting back as passive attendees. We didn’t just want members to sit and be lectured at – there was enough of that already. Every speaker agreed to take questions from the audience, and a lively but good-hearted debate ensued after each speech. We also hosted a members debate where attendees took to the stage and presented their own thoughts, actively shaping the debate of the day.

Two years on, and our annual conference has grown spectacularly. This June we will be hosting Jeremy Hunt (our keynote speaker), Andrea Leadsom, Sajid Javid, Brandon Lewis, Priti Patel, Damian Hinds, and James Cleverly, with over 400 guests expected.

But despite the growth, we’re staying true to our original objective. Members will still get their chance to put their questions to the speakers, and we will have a Members Motion that will be specifically selected by members and chaired by Chris Philp MP, the Vice Chair for Policy.

We’ve also delivered on our promise to help train and upskill our activists. Since 2016, we have trained over 800 Conservative activists, not just in London, but also in Exeter, Plymouth and Birmingham. The Friday before our annual conference, we will be holding an activist training day, where we hope to reach even more activists.

Our Party is on the cusp of a major change, but some facts will always remain. We need to beat Labour at the next general election, and to do that, we need a team of passionate, well-trained activists who can carry our message, and we need a platform of positive policies we can campaign on.

At Conservative Progress, we are doing our part to make that happen.

The 2019 Conservative Progress Conference will be held in London on June 21-22. Tickets available here.

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