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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "free schools"

John Bald: Williamson is right. Pupils should sit in rows facing the teacher.

John Bald is a former Ofsted inspector and has written two books on the history of writing and spelling. He is Vice President of the Conservative Education Society.

Gavin Williamson’s statement that school pupils should sit in rows facing the teacher and pay attention, was predictably denounced by progressives as ill-informed, authoritarian, and near-fascist. Unfortunately for those who think he should be accountable to Twitter rather than Parliament, his view is correct, and supported not only by the results of schools such as West London Free, Michaela, and the best academies, but by the most recent evidence on the way the brain forms the neural networks that embody learning. His point about coronavirus spreading more easily if children sit facing each other is important in current circumstances, but the evidence on concentration and learning is permanent, and validates the reforms to teaching and learning made by headteachers and Conservative ministers since the opening of Mossbourne in 2005.

The most important source is the recent book How We Learn, by Professor Stanislas Dehaene, director of cognitive neuroimaging at the French national health and scientific research institute INSERM. Dehaene demonstrates by experiment that, from babyhood, we form working views and hypotheses about the world, which we modify when we encounter something that does not fit them. This continues throughout life, and is consistent with much scientific activity as discussed in Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. An example is Galileo’s discovery of the movement of Jupiter’s moons, which was inconsistent with the notion that the universe revolved round the earth. Dehaene sees the same process as the key to developing artificial intelligence, where computers are turned in on themselves to produce the same outcome, albeit less efficiently.

I’ve reviewed the book in detail here, and checked the review with the author. Salient points are his endorsement of phonics as the basis of teaching reading in French as well as English – to establish the alphabetic principle, which is then modified to take account of the respective variations in each language – and the effect of focus and concentration on the development of neural networks. We need, he says, to teach children to pay close attention to the teacher, not to restore the former “magisterial” style, where the teacher simply dictated and pupils copied, but to stimulate brain activity and hence learning. This is what the schools mentioned above set out to do, and the reason why their results have shot up. For the Secretary of State to recommend that others adopt this successful approach is not ideology, but common sense. The progressive “blob”, that still dominates teacher training in most – not quite all – universities does its best to ignore brain research, as it does not fit their goal of using education as a means of reshaping society, beginning with mixed-ability teaching. They would do better to put the evidence of brain research at the heart of their curriculum, and to investigate its application in each subject.

When this happens, the outcome is a happy and successful learning community in which issues of racism do not arise because the atmosphere of shared purpose and teamwork leaves no room for them.

As Katharine Birbalsingh put it on Any Questions:

“You should have seen my teachers on Monday. They were so thrilled. Everyone was beaming… One child who never smiles, and he beamed at me. We were all so excited to be back, and it is, it is lovely to be in school….”

Michaela staff had been working flat out during lockdown, with Zoom lessons – NEU please note – and other online content, but this was not an adequate substitute for school. “Children,” she said, “build a relationship with their teacher, that they have over the year, and that relationship is so important to that child, working hard and delivering for their teacher.”

This is also her solution to the issue of race. Britain, she says has perhaps only Canada as a competitor when it comes to “the best country in the world to live in with regard to race,” and this is one theme of her latest book, “The Power of Culture”. Children at Michaela sing patriotic songs and recite poems precisely to emphasise their full and active membership of society, in direct opposition to current campaigns that present them as victims. In the ten years since she stood up at our Conference and told the truth about the disintegration of education in London schools, Birbalsingh has endured marginalisation and insult – “Coconut” perhaps the most predictable – and has felt that she was swimming upstream. She is now so obviously correct that we may, to mix a metaphor, see the tide beginning to turn.

A footnote on the Huffington Post’s publication of a leaked draft of the DfE’s plans for September, including an apparent proposal to stop teaching some subjects. This is not the way to proceed. Focusing only on English, maths, and science will produce a boring grind, and not only for children whose interests lie in other directions. A better approach, as exemplified in Alex Quigley’s books, Closing the Vocabulary Gap and Closing the Reading Gap, is to build literacy and clear thinking into everything a school does, maximising brain activity and using school to build up the thinking power that highly educated parents develop in their children from birth. Schools that do this – see this 2005 report on Gateway School, Marylebone – close the gap. Those that don’t, perpetuate it.

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WATCH: “Frankly, I don’t know what Gavin Williamson has been doing for the last three months”, says Reeves

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Owen Paterson: The Coalition was formed ten years ago today. I served in Cameron’s first Cabinet – and we can take heart in its achievements.

Owen Paterson was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in David Cameron’s first Cabinet. He is MP for North Shropshire.

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Unity Howard: Fixing educational inequalities must be top of the Government’s agenda as it reopens schools

Unity Howard is Director of the New Schools Network.

With the Prime Minister signalling there will be news this week on the plan to re-open schools, this topic has very much become a lynchpin for the post-Coronavirus recovery.

On an almost daily basis journalists question politicians, medical officers and scientific experts on when schools will re-open in England.

But for those in education, ‘when’ is less of an issue than ‘how’ and, more controversially, ‘why’.

Today, these debates feel incredibly important.

But when it comes to the next decade, the reality is they are not.

The last general election focused on inequality of opportunity, the disadvantage gap, lack of consistency of ambition and a levelling up of opportunity across the country.

These issues are more important today as the impact of Coronavirus takes hold. We cannot take our foot off the pedal in driving this forward.

The Department for Education is grappling with the practical solutions posed by re-opening. Which year groups to bring back first; how to manage with continuing staff absences; what social distancing measures might be necessary.

Coffee shops, B&Q and (thank God) Greggs, are testing measures like this. But while the majority of businesses can operate with some social distancing, this is not the case in schools.

You cannot mandate teachers to keep children apart, ensuring a two metre distance in the classroom (unless we move to tiny numbers), corridor (unless we rebuild most of our schools), or sandbox (just impossible).

There is also a growing debate about the ‘why’, as policy wonks busy themselves with re-imagining education.

What is the role of external assessment or Ofsted? Should schools instil a love of learning, or just provide childcare so that parents can get back to work?

This can be intellectually stimulating, but asking ‘when’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ obscures more important questions about the long-term impact of Coronavirus and the risk of a lost generation of pupils.

There have been some exceptions – in the last few days, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman flagged that the attainment gap is only going to widen the longer schools stay closed, with the most deprived children facing greater challenges to their continued education.

The Education Endowment Foundation has warned even more starkly that progress made over the last decade to narrow the attainment gap by around 10 per cent could well be reversed by school closures, and that the annual loss of learning over the summer holidays will become cavernous for some communities.

So we should park the wearisome debates we are all used to in education. The concept of the school year running from September to July; minimum class sizes; set year groups and school terms; and fixed assessment points.

This is pre- not post-Coronavirus language; it’s old money not new.

In the wake of this crisis, schools have come up with some brilliantly innovative solutions to these challenges.

Take King’s Leadership Academy Warrington, where pupils are doing a full complement of lessons each day online with attendance that is higher than most schools’ dreams.

Or Oak National Academy – an online school that has been set up virtually overnight, and has taught over two million lessons in just one week.

These achievements deserve considerable praise. They were unimaginable just a few weeks’ ago.

But if we keep obsessing over when and how to open schools, understanding and improving the impact of initiatives like these won’t happen at the rate they need to.

This is not a theoretical debate about the purpose of education. In five years’ time, we won’t be measuring the process or the timing, or the idea of schooling.

With that in mind, there are three guiding principles that Government must keep its sights firmly fixed upon:

  • Achievement: Not necessarily measured by exam grades, but by children leaving school to move onto further education, high quality apprenticeships or fulfilling employment
  • Security: We need to ensure our young people can actively engage in their education, in a safe environment which prioritises their physical and emotional wellbeing
  • Equality: A child’s future should never be decided by their background – whether they come from an urban tower block or an isolated coastal town, equal life chances should be at the heart of any education strategy

All of these are exponentially more challenging to deliver in the circumstances we now face. But they should matter.

That might mean things that are hard to stomach, like postponing schools opening except for the educationally and socially disadvantaged, and vulnerable pupils, until next academic year.

Whenever the country decides to re-open schools, and however it is done, is less important than we might think from reading the news every day.

What we should care about is the societal and economic impact of every decision being taken right now.

Overcoming inequalities for this generation must be our number one focus.

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Building the Blue Wall: Stoke South

Today we consider Stoke South in our series about early success stories of building Conservative support in areas previously regarded as safe Labour territory. Jack Brereton gained the seat from Labour in the 2017 General Election with a majority of just 643. At the General Election last month Labour heavily targeted the seat. Busloads of Momentum activists arrived. Yet Brereton not only held the seat, but his majority sharply increased to 11,271. This is one of the lowest paid areas in the country.

Stoke South had never been Conservative before 2017. But the disillusionment with Labour had been growing for some time – certainly well before the Brexit vote. During the last Labour Government, both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown avoided the city, leaving the impression that it could taken for granted. Labour ran the Council until 2015 but came up with wasteful vanity projects which were out of touch with the priorities of residents. The City was left behind.

Brereton was elected a councillor in the City in 2011. He was one of only two Conservatives that won. But in 2015 the Conservatives made six gains,. The independents also made gains with the result that Labour lost control. Then last May, bucking the trend nationally, the Conservatives in Stoke made a further eight gains. The Council is now a Conservative-led coalition with independent councillors. Cllr Abi Brown, the Council Leader, and Cllr Dan Jellyman, the Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Infrastructure & Heritage, have written for us about the progress being made. As with other examples in our series this week, Conservative membership has increased exponentially. In 2010 there were 40 members, it is now over 250.

For some Stoke residents, voting for independents has been a transitional phase on a political journey. They started off being disillusioned with Labour – wanting to make a protest, to “send a message” – but could not quite contemplate voting Conservative. A few years on, many of those overcame that reluctance – as is apparent. Other former Labour voters took a detour to UKIP or the Brexit Party before reaching the Conservatives as their destination last month. However, to say “final destination” would be hubris. Brereton is keeping the pace up as a “campaigning MP” despite the more comfortable margin of victory.

Brereton’s previous experience as a councillor was useful to him in dealing with casework effectively and in working with councillors and encouraging new council candidates to come forward. Though he is a young MP, the age of the electorate is above average. So while he uses social media, he also maintains regular communications of pushing newsletters and surveys through letterboxes. Being proactive in that way gives a good sense of the issues the public care about. Otherwise, there is a risk of MPs being distracted by pressure groups.

Crime is a big concern. Brereton spends a lot of time with the police, including going on a raid. Education is another. There is currently a push to deliver a new free school in the constituency.

But perhaps the most important issue is economic revival. The wish is to see jobs created and new businesses start up. The ambition is that rather than being associated with decline, the City is regarded as a place where enterprise can flourish. An enterprise zone has seen derelict sites (both privately and council-owned) being revived. Business Rates are waived and planning restrictions eased. Brereton highlighted the issue in Parliament this week:

Jack Brereton: Ceramic Valley enterprise zone has transformed a number of brownfield sites and created thousands of jobs in Stoke-on-Trent. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State support our proposals to extend the zone, and its continuation in Stoke-on-Trent?

Nadhim Zahawi: Since it launched in April 2016, Ceramic Valley enterprise zone has been a fantastic success: it has attracted private sector investment and has already secured 1,000 new jobs in Stoke. The Government are prioritising levelling up, as the Prime Minister continuously reminds us. We will want to reflect on those things, such as Ceramic Valley enterprise zone, that have worked and see how we can support them further.

It is a good message for the Conservatives as it is something the Conservative MP, the Conservative Government, and the Conservative-led Council, have worked together to achieve. It is easy for an MP to have opinions. What counts for more with their constituents is when they can show they have delivered results.

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Unity Howard: New sponsors. Targeted investment. Building talent. The next steps for school reform.

Unity Howard is Director of the New Schools Network.

According to Deltapoll, education was the third most important issue in the recent general election campaign. The manifesto commitments of the main parties focussed on funding rather than detailed specifics on policy areas: so what should we expect for education reform?

The Conservative Party won this election by targeting seats in areas that had not voted Tory before. As the Prime Minister said, these communities have “lent him their vote”. To keep them he must deliver real change – education must be central to that.

The New Schools Network has analysed the 41 seats in England which switched party to the Conservatives. Thirty-one are in local authorities that have a negative progress score at GCSE level, while only 10 exceeded the national average at end-of-primary testing.

We know that Brexit was at the heart of so many votes, but it was by no means the only factor. Indeed, I see it as merely part of a wider motive – a desperate plea for change from communities who know their local schools are not good enough, and who have placed their trust in the Conservatives to improve their lot.

We need a new vision for this next decade: one with a lifespan that exceeds just one parliamentary cycle. And if that vision is to resonate with those who voted Conservative for the first time, then it must centre on social mobility.

As a first step, the Government should initiate a new wave of sponsors for academy trusts, particularly in the Midlands and the North. We need businesses, charities, and other organisations who can bring their own expertise, and give back to the communities they serve.

For example, the FTSE 100 captains of industry should become school sponsors to play a hands-on role developing their next generation of employees in England. And we saw recently, a private donation to Winchester and Dulwich College, targeted at white working class boys, was turned down on equality concerns. The state sector is crying out for support– and will gladly be the recipient if private schools continue to turn their noses up.

Bringing outside expertise into schools was once central to the academies movement, as organisations like Dixons, the Co-op, the Merchant Venturers, and others sponsored local schools. That is a hallmark of responsible capitalism, but a new generation needs to step into the academy world, and needs to be given enough support to hit the ground running. At NSN, we are well placed to support them as we already do with new school applicants.

However, it is crucial that collaboration is at the heart of this – working with the existing school sector to create a settlement that works for everyone and that will outlast the parliamentary term. This includes allowing local authorities to open up their own multi-academy trusts, paving the way to full academisation.

Next, the Government needs to prioritise targeted investment in initiatives for the most left behind communities. This shouldn’t reinvent the wheel on new programmes, but rather leveraging better incentives to take on struggling schools, thus avoiding the spectre of ‘orphan’ schools with no willing sponsor. This includes more support for new academy trusts in underserved areas based on successful models in the rest of England.

Third, the Government must invest in building talent. Higher starting salaries are always welcome, but practical support is needed to develop the next generation of leaders to reach their full potential – help that goes way beyond just the National Professional Qualification for Headship.

Highly successful trusts should be allowed to replicate the KIPP Fisher Fellowship model in the US to identify and support new leaders. NSN has launched a CEO mentoring scheme but we cannot do this alone – we need Government intervention for every layer of school leadership and, crucially, funding.

Fourth, Onward research during the election found that further education (FE) is another pressing concern for new Tory voters. More funding for this sector is a good first step, but will not be enough of itself. That’s why the Government should use the free school model to bring much-needed innovation into this sector.

Finally, of course, the new Government needs to put its shoulder to the wheel again on the free school programme. New schools are a proven success, particularly in areas broadly untouched by other educational reforms. We must re-animate the original model, allowing charities, community organisations and groups of teachers and parents to establish their own school in the areas of the country which most need them.

The Conservatives started the revolution in education reform in schools, empowering communities to come together in areas otherwise abandoned. Instead of being content with their work to date, we need the new Government to take this even further.

Boris Johnson’s Conservatives showed that they can win the confidence of the country. Now is the time to prove they are worthy of that confidence by driving through the vital reforms that are desperately needed to ensure by 2024 every child can access a good school place in England.

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Rachel Wolf: Where education reform has succeeded – and where it has failed

Rachel Wolf is a partner in Public First. She had co-charge of the 2019 Conservative Manifesto. She was an education and innovation adviser at Number 10 during David Cameron’s premiership and was founding director of the New Schools Network.

A while ago my company did two in-depth projects looking at the attitude and understanding of parents with children at primary and secondary school. Most of the people we talked to were “C1 C2 D” – in other words, the people who just voted Conservative. These terms can seem a bit meaningless (and the difference between a C1 and a D is very large) so here are a a few examples: one of the men was a joiner and another drove a van; quite a few of the women had part-time administration jobs in local small businesses and a couple worked in shops.

(If this sounds sexist it is not meant to – it is just a fact that women with children from these backgrounds tend to work part time and get jobs to fit.)

I have been very involved in school reform for the past decade – including founding and running the main Free School organisation, New Schools Network. The conversations were an eye-opening measure of where we had succeeded and where, to date, we had failed.

Three discussions summed it up.

The first was with a group of enraged parents in Yorkshire. Their school was in special measures and there were no local alternatives. They had been told their school was a failure, that their children’s futures were probably blighted, but that they could do nothing. No one else seemed to be fixing the problem either. This is exactly what the academy programme was designed to address – it has worked brilliantly in some parts of the country, but we still struggle to get enough people to take over schools and turn them round in others – primarily outside of the South East and our major cities.

This is why Ofsted has just published a report on ‘stuck schools’ (those that have remained poor despite continued interventions and new leadership) with a proposal to do more to support them. Academies have not, at least yet, worked everywhere.

But it was noticeable that many of those stuck schools blamed parental disengagement (Ofsted made clear they couldn’t verify if this were true). I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with a school leader where the parents weren’t considered inadequate in some way – either too disengaged or too nagging.

Of course some schools must cope with suffering children with very troubled families. But most parents are not troubled, and in the case of the Yorkshire school they were neither disaffected or disengaged. They were impotent.

The second group was in London. It was a different world. Many of the parents fell over themselves to talk enthusiastically about particular schools. London schools have moved from being among the worst in my childhood to being the best in the country. A huge proportion of the schools that consistently get kids from very disadvantaged backgrounds (often from ethnic minorities) into elite universities are in London.

Free Schools, the project I was involved in during the coalition years, are one reason for this triumph, indeed what was striking about the London groups was how many parents could name individual free schools. Many of the best schools in the country are now Free Schools. But a lot of those – probably too many – are in London.

The third discussion was in the East Midlands. The parents we spoke to didn’t have children at terrible schools. But they weren’t particularly good either. All the schools were quite similar in standards and approach.

Those parents weren’t miserable – they didn’t know anyone who sent their kids to schools that were markedly different (private schools are another, foreign, world for these groups and are irrelevant in their mind). The primary parents dutifully did all the homework the school suggested. They were competent and loving – like almost every parent in the country. But we knew, looking at the data, that the children at these schools could be doing much, much, better.

These are the parents we have, in my view, most consistently failed in the last decade, and where we continue to have the least to say. We’ve done some important things – the children in those schools, for example, will be taught to read using better and more effective methods than a decade ago. But we haven’t empowered the parents to demand more for their children. The NHS has been on a ten year drive to help people take charge of their own health – including developing their own exercise programmes and detailed nutrition guides for children. We need the same in education. What should your children know? How do you hold your school to account? What is happening to pupils in other parts of the country?

Nor have we given them alternatives. The very original plan for Free Schools – which was to deliver new schools and therefore offer real choice– was supposed to help these areas and these parents. Instead, they focused on areas with population growth (mostly London and the South East).

In this next five years, I really hope that this quiet majority of parents and pupils are the focus of our new Conservative government. As I said in my last column, we have to remember – as we so often fail to do in education – that most people are neither part of the elite nor in troubled families. We should measure our success in the next five years not only on whether we help the most disadvantaged, but on how much better things are for most families in most areas of the country and opportunities that all children have to succeed.

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John Bald: Education was once a source of pride in Scotland. It is now a serious embarrassment to the SNP.

John Bald is a former Ofsted inspector and has written two books on the history of writing and spelling. He is Chairman of the Conservative Education Society.

Ten out of ten to PISA, the OECD’s international testing organisation, for releasing its 2018 survey of 15-year-olds in the week before the election. It showed a six point improvement in reading scores, and nine points in maths, both subjects that are tested in primary schools, but a five point drop in science, which is not.

I won’t be the only one surprised to see Estonia, which spends 30 per cent below the OECD average, at the top of the leader board, though not to see the lowest-attaining pupils in some provinces in China achieving as much in maths as the most able in some other jurisdictions. Less encouraging is the finding that there has been no significant improvement in overall standards in the last ten years, despite a worldwide increase of 15 per cent in spending on education. Only one in ten of the huge sample was able to distinguish fact from opinion on the basis of the tests, and a tenth were five years below average in reading. We are not the only country with work to do.

Over recent months, the theme of these articles has been that Conservative Ministers have succeeded in restoring education to its proper purposes, while acknowledging errors and the work that remains to be done. A huge burden of government-imposed drudgery has been lifted from schools, not least in the examination system, where the non-qualification of AS has been abolished, and basic honesty restored. The threat to teachers’ integrity from pressure to cheat in coursework was a scandal that set a damaging example to young people, who could see that cheating paid. The best work, including from Michaela and the West London Free School, has been glorious, and the removal of the dead hand of local bureaucracy has allowed heads in Great Yarmouth, and even parts of Harlow, to open up genuine opportunities for their pupils and let them work in peace and safety.

Against this, our opponents are proceeding as if nothing positive had happened at all. Angela Rayner, the Shadow Education Secretary, riding on the admiration she has won for seizing her own second chance with both hands, wants to get rid of the testing that has begun to raise standards, and the independent inspection by Ofsted and Her Majesty’s Inspectors, whose purpose is to tell the truth, in contrast to the combination of spin and cover-up of local authority inspectors. Labour hated independent inspection, and forced the best inspector we’ve ever had, Sir Mike Tomlinson, to retire early in order to install a place-man who took personal control of the whole system and turned it into an ignorant and tyrannical political instrument.

Amanda Spielman and her senior colleagues have been working like trojans to put this right, and the improvement in her budget will enable her to inspect properly once again, and not just read the paperwork and walk round the school. One key point is bullying – a negative in our PISA report was a quarter of our fifteen year olds were suffering from it, and it is too often tolerated in the name of inclusion. Extra time will give inspectors at least some chance of finding out what is really happening and putting a stop to abuse. It’s not long since I heard a parent ask a school governor – one of ours – about bullying in an outstanding secondary school, to be told “I know the bullying policy” – as if what was written in a policy reflected the real experience of the pupils. Nobody in education approves of bullying any more than bishops approve of sin. The point is to do something about it, and the idea that bullying or violence in a school are the responsibility of the head needs to be enforced as well as understood.

I seriously doubt whether Rayner understands how inspection operates, or the gross unfairness that has resulted from its decline. She is simply inviting people to vote for her and everything will be put right. Improve opportunities at 16+? Chickenfeed. Six years paid study leave for whoever wants it, and all tuition fees removed at a stroke. She might recall Gordon Brown’s ridiculous education allowance, which was simply used as a massive tax dodge, as indeed might the Lib Dems with their £10k education allowance for every person. The Lib Dems in coalition did their best to obstruct nearly every reform, and were largely responsible for the points mean prizes attitude that has grown up at GCSE. They were also largely responsible, aided and abetted by Lord Willetts, for using university tuition fees as a graduate tax – a brains tax – in a way that has added considerably to the burdens suffered by the young people they were setting out to help. The programmes of both main opposition parties are designed to appeal to activists rather than parents, and this may well prove to be a mistake.

The Conservative alternative is equally important in Scotland and Wales. PISA tests are not the whole story, but, while Scotland did nearly as well as England in reading, it did far worse in maths and science, while Wales is the only home country to be below the OECD average in all three subjects. Education was once a source of pride in Scotland, if not always with justification, but is now a serious embarrassment to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, as it is failing to deliver improvement or to reduce inequality. Wales, alas, is attempting to address its own long term problems by importing its curriculum from Scotland. They would both do better to visit Michaela.

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Joe Shalam: A New Homes Network and a Boris Builds scheme. What a Conservative housing policy should look like.

Joe Shalam is Head of Financial Inclusion at the Centre for Social Justice.

Housing was described earlier this week as ‘the election issue yet to bark’. But with several housing policy announcements starting to come out from both main parties today, it seems this sleeping dog has finally awoken.

About time too, given that housing was one of the critical factors that swung voters during the last general election. Turnout increased significantly among private renters in 2017. Ipsos data shows the Labour Party’s lead among private renters more than doubling from 11 points to 23 points from 2015 to 2017. Indeed, the concentration of private renters in an area correlated even more strongly than age to falls in the Conservative vote.

A key reason for this swing – and one particularly dispiriting for the ‘party of homeownership’ – is that owner-occupancy rates remain at historic lows. Just 38 per cent of 25 to 34-year-olds own their home, compared to 67 per cent in 1991. Private renters today pay a much higher proportion of their income on housing costs, yet remain deprived of the financial, social and emotional benefits of building an asset in the process.

The Conservatives need an effective strategy to appeal to “generation rent”.

The first part of this is helping those who could probably afford to pay a mortgage but do not have the ‘wherewithal for a really big deposit.’ Demand-side policies, such as the new market for fixed rate, 95 per cent mortgages pledged today, will certainly help those who are already at the cusp of homeownership.

But the private renters most in need of support are those at the very lowest rungs of the housing ladder: low-earning tenants seeing ever more vast proportions of their income swallowed up by rent, families living in cramped “temporary” accommodation, and those sleeping rough.

Official figures show that there are currently 84,000 families living in temporary accommodation, including some 125,000 children. This is a 76 per cent increase since 2011. On any given night, the Ministry of Housing estimates that 4,700 people can be expected to be sleeping on the street, up 165 per cent in the same period.

One driver of this has been growth of the private rented sector and its relative insecurity compared to other tenures. The termination of private rental contracts is now the number one trigger for homelessness in England. Measures planned to improve security in the sector are therefore extremely welcome, and have been key recommendations of the CSJ’s Housing Commission, chaired by Lord Best.

But little will be done to ameliorate the situation of low-income renters and the homeless population without radically increasing the supply of new truly affordable housing – that is, homes set at ‘social rents’ which are tied to local incomes. Figures released this week showed that we built under 6,500 last year, compared to 40,000 a decade ago.

As we know from our work with 400 grassroots charities, a secure social home provides a critical part of the safety net for someone facing homelessness because of a relationship breakdown, for example, or an unexpected job loss. But at its best it should also be a spring board that helps people bounce back.

It makes fiscal sense to invest in low-cost rented housing over the long-term. As the number of people relying on support in the expensive PRS has grown, the housing benefit bill has ballooned to an eyewatering £22 billion, more than the entire police budget. Where local authorities lack social housing, they end up relying on costly emergency accommodation to the tune of £1 billion per year.

A generational programme of new truly affordable housing will bring down these costs over the longer term, while helping to transform the lives of people living in poverty. This could be paid for, at least in part, by capturing more of the astronomic rises in land value which occur when planning permissions are granted (as has been suggested by both Tony Pidgley, Chairman of Berkeley Homes, and Sajid Javid this week).

Moreover, as the Letwin review suggested last year, more social housing would also increase the ‘buildout’ rate of homes in the private market, benefitting prospective homeowners too.

The presence of new social homes will also allow the Government to roll out a National Housing First Programme, a homelessness reduction scheme put to great success in Finland and elsewhere internationally. This would bring us much closer to ending the plight of rough sleeping once and for all, providing the stable homes people need to address the wider issues holding them back.

But with any major social housebuilding programme, we must learn from the pitfalls of the past. As is evident in their manifesto, the Labour Party want to return to an era of unbridled statism and council control.

This should be avoided by the Conservatives, who should develop a ‘conservative vision for social housing’. One that uses the ingenuity behind other reforms to spur innovation and good practice.

Why can’t a New Schools Network-style body, for example, champion the greenest, most beautiful, and best social housing developments across the country, as it has done Free Schools? Local authorities should be allowed to keep more of their Right to Buy receipts to build if they sign up. Call the very best affordable homes ‘Boris Builds’ and you’re surely onto a winner.

And why shouldn’t we learn from the reforms to welfare to see social housing that is more dynamic, and empowering, offering support for skills, adult learning, job progression, saving and investment.

If the Conservatives can’t come up with good ideas in their manifesto, like 2017 this could be one area that comes back to bite them.

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John Bald: Labour’s threat to take schools back to the 1970s

John Bald is a former Ofsted inspector and has written two books on the history of writing and spelling. He is Chairman of the Conservative Education Society.

Angela Rayner’s short and punchy speech to Labour’s conference added to their list of public statements on education. No more Ofsted, tuition fees, or tax breaks to private schools. Sure Start Plus for all, “comprehensive universities”, and a price cap on school uniforms. Jeremy Corbyn had previously announced an end to all tests, and Rayner herself had said that Labour would “bring all publicly funded schools back into the mainstream public sector with a common rulebook and under local democratic control.” As the private sector would be either “integrated” with state schools, or subject to outright confiscation, the “common rulebook” would include them too.

We need hardly ask who would write the rulebook – “local democratic control” means Momentum and totalitarianism. As Rayner had stated that she would not tolerate a system in which children could fail and be excluded, it would remove the disciplinary procedures that have brought success to Michaela, West London Free School, their precursor, Mossbourne, and Great Yarmouth Charter Academy. From 1997 onwards, Labour – despite David Blunkett’s personal commitment to discipline – put constraints on schools that obliged them to tolerate disruption in the name of inclusion. This would return. Successful schools would have to toe the line or be subject to the attentions of the local democratic controllers. They could be destroyed without shutting them down, much as Momentum tried to silence Tom Watson by abolishing his position rather than removing him personally.

I said in my previous column that party conferences had revealed deep divisions over the purposes of education, and Rayner’s commitment to replace social mobility with social justice sums these up. The schools I’ve listed are giving pupils access to social mobility by enabling them to compete on more equal terms with the recipients of privilege. This does not imply a level playing field – they have larger classes and fewer facilities, so have to work harder – but it does give them a chance. Social justice, would demand as much, but what Labour means by social justice is equality rather than opportunity. The schism is as old as civilisation itself, and summed up by the Egyptian Scribe’s Letter to his Son. Work hard at school, and you’ll have an easy life. Don’t do so and you will suffer.

There is a grain of truth in it, and it is easy to understand Rayner’s appeal to Labour supporters. She was rescued from the bottom of the heap by Sure Start, Labour, and Tony Benn, and now wants to rescue others. So do we all. The lower depths described by Lynsey Handley (Respectable, an account of a Birmingham childhood), Jean-Paul Flintoff (Comp, drug dealing and violence at Holland Park), and in Katharine Birbalsingh’s original, uncensored internet postings on violence in South London, are a denial of human potential and a recipe for social disintegration.

The problem is that Rayner’s package is more straitjacket than lifeboat. Checks on phonics and multiplication tables identify problems at an early stage, so that they can be dealt with. When I started teaching under Wilson/Callaghan in the 1970s, we had children in secondary school who could not read at all, and had to start from scratch. This is now rare, largely due to tests that prevent the issue from being covered up.

A similar situation exists with basic skills in maths. I told our joint session with the National Education Union that I should not have to teach multiplication tables, sometimes even twos, to teenagers, and no-one contested it. So why not check at eight, and so reduce or eliminate the problem? Without literacy and number skills, pupils can’t do most of their schoolwork. Do Rayner and her colleagues really think they are helping children by leaving them in ignorance? Or by abolishing the inspection service that gives parents some chance of seeing schools as they are, and not as the authorities want them to be seen?

No-one involved in education thinks that the Conservative’s performance has been flawless. I take Clare Wagner’s concerns about the restriction on sixth form subjects very seriously, and am equally concerned about the continuing scandals in some academy chains, which are as bad as anything in Labour’s corrupt local authorities. We need a way forward that addresses these issues while maintaining the important principle of returning schools to their proper purpose, which is the promotion of teaching and learning in the context of good personal development, summed up in Michaela’s “Work hard, be kind.” Rayner’s combination of political authoritarianism and slash-and-burn anarchy will not provide it.

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