The Tory ‘Free Schools’ vanity project has been a complete disaster, with more than £51 million wasted on new schools that failed to meet inspectors’ standards or proposals for schools that were cancelled or withdrawn.
A report compiled by the Labour Party shows that £50m has been spent on free schools either declared inadequate by the education standards watchdog, Ofsted, or requiring improvement. A further £1.043m was spent on applications that were cancelled or withdrawn.
Of the 79 free schools opened in the first and second waves of the Michael Gove project, no less than one in three have been declared inadequate or requiring improvement by schools watchdog Ofsted. This compares with one in five schools overall – that’s including the institutions that ‘Free Schools’ were expected to outperform.
It is noteworthy that, according to shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, the number of “inadequate” schools is equal to the number employing, as teachers, people with no teaching qualifications – one in three.
Worse still, the government has been caught trying to “massage” the figures. The example provided to us by a report in The Independent shows that the Hartsbrook E-Act Free School in north London, declared inadequate by Ofsted, was given a new name and number. This means the school appears as closed, even though it is now operating under a different name (Brook House Primary School), with the same head teacher and pupils in the same location. The re-designation means it won’t be inspected again until four terms have passed.
That could be disastrous for pupils, who by then will have spent almost another quarter of their primary school career in an environment that has been declared substandard, simply to save the government from embarrassment.
It seems the pupils aren’t the only ones who need to learn how to grow up and act in a mature and responsible manner!
Overall, primary ‘Free Schools’ are underperforming in reading, writing and mathematics, in comparison with the rest of the state sector.
It gets worse: Of those free schools whose 2013 national-curriculum test results were published, all bar one underperformed compared with the rest in their local authority and the national average.
Is this the revolution announced so boldly in the Coalition Agreement?
“We … believe that the state should help parents, community groups and others come together to improve the education system by starting new schools,” it told us in 2010.
“We will promote the reform of schools in order to ensure that new providers can enter the state school system in response to parental demand; that all schools have greater freedom over the curriculum; and that all schools are held properly to account.
“We will give parents, teachers, charities and local communities the chance to set up new schools, as part of our plans to allow new providers to enter the state school system in response to parental demand.”
Which parents demanded this?
Free Schools also offered the opportunity to employ unqualified people as teachers. The Tory-run Education Department claimed this was a way of bringing in expertise that would not otherwise be available – now we know the facts.
‘Free Schools’ have been an expensive waste – not only of money, but of time and the potential of the school pupils they have failed.
Speaking with a forked tongue: The Education Secretary appears to have been exposed pushing double-standards into the school system. [Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire]
The Department for Education has been parading the success of “more demanding” rules for teacher trainees – less than 10 days after swearing blind that people did not need to have any qualifications at all.
The rules, introduced in September 2012, mean “only high-quality candidates with good levels of literacy and numeracy go on to train to be teachers. This will raise standards in schools,” a DfE spokesperson said.
The press release states that 98 per cent of candidates in the 2011-12 academic year passed skills tests in both literacy and numeracy, meaning they could progress to qualified teacher status – but after the new rules came in, the proportion of passes dropped to 88 per cent – and this after three attempts.
The remaining 12 per cent did not pass both skills tests, including almost three per cent who failed three times and may not progress to teacher training for at least two years.
This is, in fact very good news for school pupils. Yr Obdt Srvt is the son of a teacher and has been well aware of a drop in standards over the last 20 or 30 years – probably since Kenneth Baker was Education Secretary.
There was a big effort to get unemployed people to train as teachers and it was around that time that literacy went out the classroom window, with teachers being permitted to ignore spelling mistakes in pupils’ work (or at least, that’s how it seemed). Numeracy nosedived with an over-reliance on pocket calculators or other such mechanical devices, rather than exercising youngsters’ brains.
That’s not to say that all teachers gave up on their subjects, of course. Teaching is not just a job; for most of the profession it is a vocation – what they were born to do – and many of them carry out their duties with exceptional ability, passion and, let’s not beat around the bush, flair.
But we have also seen the results of lacklustre teaching. Running a blog, one tends to read an appalling amount of bad English in the comments that are submitted. They can’t all be ascribed to difficulties that are particular to the person writing the comment – some are certainly the result of indifferent schooling.
And we see it in the real world as well. People who are perfectly capable of expressing themselves verbally in clear, cogent ways collapse completely when asked to put it in writing.
So the announcement is to be welcomed.
The problem is that it comes hot on the heels of a huge controversy over the quality of teaching in Michael Gove’s pet project, the ‘Free Schools’ system.
Vox Political reported on October 20 that the Al-Madinah Free School, serving 400 Muslim pupils in Derby, received the lowest marks possible from inspectors – in every category. Inspectors railed against the fact that teachers were not trained. Two unqualified head teachers also quit jobs at other free schools after criticism.
Nick Clegg, climbing on the bandwagon as is his way, made a speech in which he said unqualified people should not be allowed to teach in state-funded schools: “Frankly it makes no sense to me to have qualified teacher status if only a few schools have to employ qualified teachers… I believe that we should have qualified teachers in all our schools.”
But the Department for Education hit back by claiming that head teachers of academies or Free Schools should have the freedom to employ untrained teachers, in the same way that private schools hire “the great linguists, scientists, engineers and other specialists they know can best teach and inspire their pupils”.
In the light of this statement, what are we to make of the latest announcement?
It seems that Mr Gove is trying to face in two directions at the same time. Doesn’t this make him two-faced? With Free Schools he seems determined to defend the employment of unqualified teachers, no matter how badly they wreck pupils’ education and future chances in life, but with the remaining state schools he seems equally determined to ensure that pupils have a higher standard of teacher, who has the qualification to prove it.
Or is it just that he wants to ensure that fewer people qualify to be teachers, leading to a shortage that would logically culminate in the employment of more unqualified people in the state sector?
Duplicity: The quality or state of being twofold or double.
Today, Vox Political hands over to Geoff Reynolds, a commenter who submitted this in response to the government’s announcement that it is putting a 5p charge on plastic bags in order to discourage their use.
Here in Wales, the Welsh Government levied a charge on plastic bags a long time ago; clearly the Tories and the Lib Dems have realised that this was successful and their scheme is a copycat strategy – but you probably won’t see them admitting it.
Here’s Geoff, who starts his comment with his habitual shout:
‘WHILST THE DEATHS OF THOSE WHO HAVE SUCCUMBED TO THE FALLOUT CAUSED BY THE TRULY EVIL CRIMES OF WELFARE REFORMS SPIRAL HOPELESSLY OUT OF CONTROL, THIS IS THE ANSWER FROM OUR GOVERNMENT:
‘“PLASTIC BAGS ARE TO COST 5 PENCE.”
‘WHAT F**KING WORLD DO THESE IMBECILES BELONG ON? IT CERTAINLY ISN’T THE ONE WHERE I LIVE!
‘PENSIONERS ARE DYING OF HYPOTHERMIA, PEOPLE ARE HAVING THEIR HOMES TAKEN, DISABLED ARE BEING STARVED TO DEATH AND MORE CHILDREN ARE BEING BORN INTO POVERTY THAN AT ANY TIME SINCE THE LAST WAR.
‘The only things that are booming are food banks, yet these gormless b*st*rds, who got more for attending a Parliament call-back for Thatcher’s death than I get to live on for a full year, have the impudence to place “a shilling tariff on plastic bags”, at the top of the agenda.
‘They chose to ridicule a report by a UNITED NATIONS inspector on the real plight of our nation, while they pass legislation on a bag!
‘The leaking of the bag tariff has taken the thunder from the Lib Dems’ conference… It has been revealed!
‘WAKE UP YOU DELUDED T*SSBAGS!
‘THERE MUST BE MORE BRAIN CELLS IN A DISCARDED SHOWER CAP THAN THE WHOLE OF OUR REPRESENTATIVES IN WESTMINSTER!
‘WORDS FAIL ME. WE MIGHT AS WELL HAVE A GOLDFISH ON A LEAD.’
Hugely unpopular: Thousands of people have demonstrated against the bedroom tax on the poor since it was first announced by our government of millionaires – this one was in Glasgow.
A United Nations inspector has arrived in the UK to investigate whether David Cameron’s Coalition government has reneged on international agreements giving everybody the right to adequate housing and shelter.
Special rapporteur Raquel Rolnik has been asked to assess whether bedroom tax-related eviction threats that are driving tenants to suicide mean the UK is refusing that right to its citizens – and you can help her with this by emailing your story to her on [email protected]
Come to that, there’s no reason for victims of the ESA assessment regime, for whom loss of the benefit involves a threat of eviction, not to provide their story as well. Is that you? [email protected]
Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises the right to housing as part of the right to an adequate standard of living: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
The article states that he described this country, in a speech to the UN last year, as “a country that keeps its promises to the poorest”.
It seems possible he will argue that under-occupation of social housing – having a ‘spare room’ as defined by his law – means people are getting more than they deserve.
But the government’s clear failure to provide enough social housing of a size and standard appropriate for the 660,000 affected households in the UK – some of the poorest in the country – is likely to weigh against him.
And then there is the fact that the policy has driven people to death.
And Greater Manchester Against the Bedroom Tax’s Mark Krantz told the Morning Star of an eviction in Oldham where bailiffs discovered the tenant had also hanged himself, and was dead.
These two deaths pale into insignificance, of course, when compared with the monumental death toll caused by the Department for Work and Pensions and its assessment regime for Employment and Support Allowance. The plan, which aims to knock as many sick and disabled people off-benefit as possible – for any reason at all – has led to thousands (possibly tens of thousands) of deaths as claimants’ health conditions have overtaken their bodies’ ability to cope, or the prospect of destitution or being a financial burden on friends and family has forced them into suicide. The DWP is currently refusing to issue figures on the number of deaths that have taken place, among those either claiming or appealing, since the start of 2012 – and it is believed that this can only be because the numbers are far greater than the already-appalling 73-a-week average that was revealed for 2011. No figures are known for the 70 per cent of claimants who have been marked “fit for work” and thrown off the benefit altogether, who have not appealed against the decision. The DWP does not monitor their well-being at all.
Ms Rolnik is expected to meet with government officials, non-government organisations, housing associations and individuals in a tour of England and Scotland.
But to get a full picture of the situation here, she needs to hear from real people who have become victims of the robber-government’s punitive policies. She needs to hear from you: [email protected]
Face of evil: Because of creatures like Lord Freud, Parliament should legislate against a new crime – abuse of power. (Picture by Black Triangle)
Lord David Fraud – sorry, Freud. That was a Freudian slip – the man who said “People who are poorer should be prepared to take the biggest risks; they’ve got least to lose”, has been at it again.
According to Inside Housing this man, whose principles allowed him to take Labour’s money and provide that government with his duff advice before running off to join the Tories as soon as it looked as though they would be in office after the 2010 election, wants to bully councils out of an entirely legal way to help their tenants avoid paying the punitive and unfair bedroom tax.
The tax, as we all should know by now, affects people living in social rented accommodation with more bedrooms – as defined by the rent agreement (if I recall correctly) – than the government last year arbitarily decided they need. The options are to give up 14 per cent of your housing benefit if you have one ‘extra’ bedroom, 25 per cent if you’ve got two – or move to smaller accommodation which does not, in the vast majority of cases, exist.
Out of 600,000 affected families, 582,000 have nowhere else to go. So this is a thinly-veiled robbery, from people who can do nothing to prevent it.
It is a tax that has offended many councillors in local authorities across the UK, and some came up with the novel idea that rooms within the properties they own may be reclassified as offices or ‘non-designated’ rooms, thereby avoiding the need to pay the tax. After all, a room is just an enclosed space within a building, right? If it doesn’t have a bed in it, why should it be classified as a bedroom?
Lord Fraud – sorry! Freud – doesn’t see it that way. He wants that cash and couldn’t care less that people in social housing need it to keep a roof over their heads. He has been spending the last month or so (since the councils started re-classifying) trying to put a stop to it and now, it seems, he thinks he has found a way.
In a letter to council chief executives yesterday (Thursday), he has said redesignating properties without reducing their rent to reflect the loss of a bedroom creates an inconsistency for housing benefit and rent purposes.
“Blanket redesignations without a clear and justifiable reason and without reductions in rent, are inappropriate and do not fall within the spirit of the policy,” his letter states [italics mine].
“If it is shown properties are being redesignated inappropriately this will be viewed very seriously.” Meaning: The DWP will commission an independent audit to “ascertain whether correct and appropriate procedures have been followed”. Redesignation without reducing rent would lead to incorrect housing benefit subsidy claims being submitted to the DWP, he stated, adding, “Where it is found that a local authority has redesignated properties without reasonable grounds and without reducing rents, my department would consider either restricting or not paying their housing benefit subsidy.”
The flaw, of course, is this: The size of these properties will have remained the same, therefore so should the rent. But a room without a bed in it is not a bedroom.
Let’s move on to another tax avoidance issue. Since we’re discussing actions that are “inappropriate and do not fall within the spirit of the policy“, what about tax avoidance schemes that are used by very rich individuals, in order to avoid paying the full amount they owe to the UK Treasury?
This has been going on for more years than any of us can remember and the total currently parked offshore, where the tax inspector can’t get at it, is estimated at £21 trillion (it might actually be dollars, but either way it’s a heckuva lot of money).
If the turncoat Lord Freud’s new Conservative friends had been quick off the mark in dealing with this aspect of tax avoidance, he might have been justified in his own hasty behaviour, but they haven’t. Even now, there is no guarantee that the Treasury will get anything back from the tax havens, despite all its posturing and sabre-rattling. There’s just no interest. And by the time anyone gets around to actually taking action, the offenders will have had plenty of opportunity to move their capital elsewhere.
But the actions of the individual taxpayers who have chosen to put their money out of HMRC’s reach is no closer to the spirit of UK tax policy than the actions of the councils who have chosen to protect their tenants.
The difference is that one set of individuals is acting in selfish self-interest, while the other is taking action to help others.
Freud, by his own actions, has shown us all exactly where his loyalties lie. He’s not against tax avoidance, as long as it’s his kind of people doing it. And he loves to bully the little people. He really gets a kick out of threatening them, and he’s not above bending – or changing – the law to do it.
That’s why I say any new government coming into office after 2015 needs to enact a law that criminalises abuse of power – being any legislation or act by a government member that unfairly punishes any named individual or group within British society.
So for example here, it could be applied because Freud wants to penalise hundreds of thousands of people with a tax they can’t pay, when there is no alternative because they have nowhere else to go (except to be thrown out onto the streets, and then the question to be asked is, who takes over the properties after they have gone?) – and is now threatening to punish any attempt legally to avoid paying that unfair tax with another unfair punishment, because others who also legally avoid paying a – fair – tax are being allowed to do so.
As a criminal offence it should involve the sternest penalties possible – stripping the guilty of any titles and privileges, and all property, alongside a lengthy prison sentence involving the hardest labour to which prisoners may be put. Anyone who is willing to deprive the defenceless of everything they own should be made to lose everything as well.
So Lord Freud, for example, would have to kiss goodbye to his luxury mansion in Kent, and everything in it. When he finally came out of clink, he’d be living in council accommodation – and if nowhere could be found that didn’t have more bedrooms than he needed, he’d have to pay his own bedroom tax which would be poetic justice.
I know. It will never happen. Politicians look after their own.
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