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Clegg: Social mobility ‘vital’ for UK economy

Clegg: Social mobility ‘vital’ for UK economy

BBC |May 22, 2012

The government is to publish an annual“snapshot” of social mobility, by measuring information such as educational achievement, access to professions and birth weights.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said being able to advance at work and in learning was a “vital ingredient” of the UK’s economic success.

Wasted talent was a “crime” which hurt society, he added.

But Labour said life chances were going “backwards” under the coalition.

Campaigners claim that social mobility in the UK has reduced since the 1960s. The government has commissioned former Labour Health Secretary Alan Milburn to investigate the issue.

At a conference organised by the Sutton Trust, which promotes educational opportunities for young people from underprivileged backgrounds, Mr Clegg called for “a more dynamic society: one where what matters most is the person you become, not the person you were born”.

‘Speaking up’He dismissed as a “myth” the idea that social mobility can increase only during times of economic prosperity, saying: “I strongly believe that opening up our society is a vital ingredient in our future productivity. Wasted talent is always a moral crime, but it is increasingly an economic crime too.

“The Sutton Trust’s own work has suggested that boosting poor educational attainment up to the UK average would increase GDP by £140bn by 2050, and increase long-run trend growth by 0.4 percentage points. Social mobility is a long-term growth strategy.”

He announced the annual publication of a set of 17 indicators to monitor “how well the government is doing in making society fairer”.

These include the proportion of children under five on free school meals achieving a “good level of development” compared with other children, attainment at age 16 of those eligible for free school meals and higher education enrolment by social background.

Birth weight will also be measured. Babies from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to be underweight and this has been associated with “a wide range of poor educational and health outcomes later in life”, the government says.

It adds that this will be the first time such information has been published by any government in the world.

Mr Clegg argued that life chances could not be evened out simply by reducing inequality, pointing to Australia and Canada as examples of countries with a similar gap between the rich and the poor as the UK but much better levels of social mobility.

He described suggestions that the government was trying to“socially engineer” as “nonsense”.

Mr Clegg, who attended a top public school, added: “I know some people will say I should keep quiet about social mobility, that my birth, my education, and my opportunities mean I have no right to speak up. I couldn’t disagree more.

“If people like me who have benefited from the system don’t speak up, we will never get anywhere.”

Speaking at the same conference on Monday, Labour leader Ed Miliband criticised the government’s record on social mobility.

He said: “Tackling social mobility is a huge mountain to climb and the last Labour government took some important steps.

“But this government seems to think we can let those at the top take whatever rewards they think fit and somehow everyone else can just play catch-up.”


Ofsted warns over early entry to maths GCSE

Ofsted warns over early entry to maths GCSE

BBC |May 21, 2012

By Hannah Richardson BBC News education reporter

Too many schools are entering pupils for maths GCSE early, says Ofsted in a major report that is critical of the way the subject is taught and tested.

This is preventing too many able pupils from fulfilling their potential, says chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw.

And many who get off to a poor start never catch up, he warns.

The report also says maths exams have become less demanding and that teaching standards vary unacceptably.

In the report: Mathematics Made to Measure, Sir Michael warns that “the extensive use of early GCSE entry puts too much emphasis on attaining a grade C”.

This is the benchmark grade used for schools’ headline league table measures.

Early entries

But the quest for this grade “is at the expense of adequate understanding and mastery of mathematics needed to succeed at A level and beyond,” he says.

The report claims there has been a vast increase in the number of pupils sitting GCSE early. With early entries rising from 5% in 2007 to 25% of all GCSEs in 2010.

And it warns the full extent of early entry to GCSE examinations is under-represented by these figures. Ofsted pledged to challenge such practices where it uncovered them.

Schools might use early entry to get some bright pupils’ GCSE exams out of the way, or to give greater focus to pupils they may feel are at risk of drifting out of education or being switched off.

The report adds that some schools are even entering pupils into GCSEs by two different exam boards “exploiting the flexibility of exam arrangements” in the hope that they might get a C in one of them.

The report says thousands of pupils who had reached Level 5 by the end of primary school – the standard expected of a 13-year-old – still did not go on to gain any better than a grade C at GCSE.

‘Never catch up’

Sir Michael adds: “Our failure to stretch some of our most able pupils threatens the future supply of well-qualified mathematicians, scientists and engineers.”

But he is also concerned about how well the least able are taught.

“Too many pupils who have a poor start or fall behind early in their mathematics education never catch up,” he says.

“The 10% who do not reach the expected standard at age seven doubles to 20% by age 11, and nearly doubles again by 16.

“Schools must focus on equipping all pupils, particularly those who fall behind or who find mathematics difficult, with the essential knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the next stage of their mathematics education.”

Inspectors visited 160 primary and 160 secondary schools and observed more than 470 primary and 1,200 secondary mathematics lessons between January 2008 and July 2011.


They judged that more than half the schools were outstanding or good in maths.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said given the importance of maths for the economy and for the individual student, he would be asking schools to be even more ambitious when it comes to maths attainment at every stage of a child’s education.

“It is vital that we reverse the decline that has seen us fall from 8th to 27th in maths internationally. This is what drives our commitment to reform our curriculum and qualifications to world class standards.

“We are also attracting the brightest maths graduates into teaching with the highest ever bursaries.”

Last year, the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education raised concerns about the number of schools using early and repeated entry to GCSE examinations.

“We are delighted that the Ofsted report has indicated that school inspections will challenge these practices,” it said in a statement.

But National Union of Teachers general secretary Christine Blower said: “The report stresses the fact that schools need time for long-term improvement in maths to occur, yet many schools feel under pressure to improve grades rapidly.

“What they do not go onto say is that this pressure comes directly from Ofsted.”

Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg said the report highlighted the variation in maths teaching even within schools.

“There is clearly a need to look at training and ongoing professional development for maths teachers.”

Downhills Primary School teachers strike over academy plans

Downhills Primary School teachers strike over academy plans

BBC |May 22, 2012

Teachers at a north London school resisting academy status have gone on strike, closing it for the day.

The National Union of Teachers said 20 members were taking action over the proposal by the government to make Downhills Primary a sponsored academy.

The school in Haringey was placed in special measures in February after an Ofsted report ordered by Education Secretary Michael Gove.

The Department for Education (DfE) said Downhills has been under-performing.

The Oftsed report, ordered by Mr Gove, declared the school inadequate.

Governors sackedThe DfE said the school, which was last placed in special measures in 2002, had struggled to reach the required standards and has told Downhills it must become an academy.

Since the latest Ofsted inspection, the head teacher, Leslie Church, has resigned, and the board of governors has been dismissed by Mr Gove and replaced.

A parent of a pupil at the school has begun legal action, challenging Mr Gove’s decision to sack the original board.

The school has claimed Mr Gove is illegally attempting to force academy status on it and that attainment records from an interim Ofsted report last September suggested standards were improving.

A spokesman for the union said: “The strike action being taken by NUT members is largely supported by the community and its purpose is to bring to the attention of the wider population in Haringey, the local authority and the government that this type of intervention has no place in the running of education.”

A spokeswoman for the DfE said it was disappointed by the“damaging” strike, adding: “Downhills has been under-performing for several years.

“Most recently Ofsted found that it is failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education and that those responsible for leading, managing and governing the school are not demonstrating the capacity to secure the necessary improvement.”

UK childcare needs to be more affordable – CentreForum

UK childcare needs to be more affordable – CentreForum

BBC |May 21, 2012

UK childcare needs to be overhauled to make it more affordable, a report for think tank Centreforum has suggested.

The average family spends more than a quarter (27%) of income on childcare, according to Elizabeth Truss’s report.

The Conservative MP argued regulation should be simplified and childminders allowed to care for more children at a time, to attract higher-paid staff.

Critics said this could put the quality of childcare at risk. The government said it had been cutting bureaucracy.

In her report, Ms Truss said recent studies had shown widespread problems with quality, price and availability.

The figure spent on childcare in the UK is higher than every country in the world except Switzerland, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Ms Truss, MP for South West Norfolk, said the number of nursery places had increased since 1996 but childminder places had dropped drastically in the same period to 245,000 in 2010.

‘Spiralling costs’This had led to price inflation and becoming a childminder was now fraught with red tape, her report said.

It called for childminders to be allowed to take on more children at one time.

Under current rules there has to be one minder for every three children aged five or younger, the report said.

This ratio should be changed to one adult for every five children aged five or under, it said.

Ms Truss argued this would attract higher-paid staff to the profession, improving the quality and availability of childcare, or making it more affordable, and making the UK comparable to other European nations.

Her report also called for a single funding system and for childminders to be able to register with a local agency, nursery or network which would take responsibility for inspection and training and be regulated by Ofsted.

“The coalition government has a great opportunity to simplify the provision of childcare and get better value for money for parents,” Ms Truss said.

“Reform could lead to an increase in availability of flexible childcare and an end to spiralling costs.”

Assuring qualityMs Truss told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that British childcare had the lowest ratio of children to adults in Europe.

“Childminders are getting an average income of £11,000 a year, so not many people want to go into the profession, therefore you have an issue about quality provision.”

But Daycare Trust chief executive Anand Shulka told Today he did not think Ms Truss’s proposals would do very much to address the cost of childcare.

“Looking at the question of ratios, I think, will do very little in terms of reducing the cost of childcare because the additional income that may come in by having more children would be offset by the higher salaries that you pay to childcarers.”

Mr Shulka said he doubted deregulation would lead to lower costs for parents and thought the model proposed by Ms Truss had “issues in relation to assuring quality”.

“If you look at the Netherlands they went down this road a few years ago and they’ve had to row back on it because they’ve been so worried about some of the effects in respect of quality. The cost to the exchequer went up by 50% as well,” he said.

The Department for Education acknowledged families were finding it hard to pay for childcare but said the government was addressing this by strengthening and investing in free early education.

“We’re already cutting bureaucracy and paperwork by slimming down the early years curriculum – to make sure that nurseries and childminders focus on what really matters in child development, such as speech and language,” a spokesperson said. “We’ll continue to scrutinise all the rules and regulations to make sure they are genuinely ensuring safety and driving up quality.”

‘Accessible, affordable quality’MP Harriet Harman was the architect of New Labour’s childcare policy.

She told the BBC “choice was at the essence” of the policy.“Accessible, affordable quality – that’s what we wanted,” she said.“Childminders themselves wanted to be more trained and more professionalised.”

But Deb Knowles, who runs Sheffield’s Hydra Tots private nursery, told the programme she knew of several local childminders who had left the profession because of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) compulsory curriculum.

“It has put some childminders off,” she said. “In the local vicinity there were quite a few childminders and I know of three that have left because of the stresses of the paperwork.

“They’re very good with children, they’re excellent with the families but they’re no good from an administrative point of view -they don’t have the training and other education themselves to be able to administer the Early Years Foundation Stage appropriately.”

Parents being asked to pay top-up fees to get free nursery care, say MPs

Parents being asked to pay top-up fees to get free nursery care, say MPs


  • Press Association
  • guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 22 May 2012 01.00 EDT
Nursery worker with small children

The report raiseS concerns that poorer families are the least likely to take advantage of free nursery education. Photograph: Photofusion Picture Library/Al/Alamy

Some families are being denied access to free nursery education unless they agree to pay compulsory “top-up fees” for extra hours, a cross-party group of MPs has suggested.

The practice risks excluding poorer families from nurseries, according to the Commons public accounts committee (PAC).

Under the current system, three- and four-year-olds are entitled to 15 hours of government-funded nursery education each week.

But in a report, the PAC raises concerns that some families are being told they are eligible only if they pay for additional hours.

“We are concerned that some providers may be excluding families which do not pay for additional hours,” the report says.

“In the [education] department’s own survey of parents, some parents stated that they could not receive the ‘free’ entitlement without buying additional hours. One witness suggested that compulsory top-up fees were commonplace in some nurseries and we have seen other evidence of parents being asked for further payments.

“Such practices risk excluding poorer families from nurseries.”

The committee called for the Department for Education (DfE) to be proactive in understanding and tackling the issue.

The report, examining free nursery education for pre-schoolers, commends the DfE for increasing early years education – more than 800,000 three- and four-year-olds get the free hours.

But it warns the DfE has a “limited understanding” of how the£1.9bn funding is spent, and says the government should collect and publish this information.

“While the department and local authorities have focused on ensuring places for children are available, there has been less attention on how value for money can be secured and improved,” the committee concludes.

“We are concerned that the department has, as yet, done very little to understand the costs and outcomes in different local authorities and has not properly monitored how taxpayers’ money has been spent.”

The report also raises concerns that poorer families are the least likely to take advantage of free nursery education, with a 9% gap in takeup between these families and others.

And it warns that evidence of the long-term benefits of nursery education is “questionable”.

Research shows “very strong effects” of being in nursery in the early years, the report says. “There is evidence of educational improvement at age five, but key stage 1 results at age seven have shown very little improvement since 2007.”

The finding is similar to a conclusion by the National Audit Office in February that free nursery places may not have a lasting impact on children’s education.

The PAC chair, Margaret Hodge, said: “High-quality early years education can have lasting benefits for children and results at age five have improved. But the department needs to get to grips with why there is little improvement at the age of seven and what happens between the ages of five and seven to lessen the effect.

“It is essential that all parents know exactly what their children are entitled to, and that it should be completely free. Too many families are missing out because parents are not being given the information they need. The department must take steps to ensure that all families receive their entitlement, and that parents are able to compare providers so that they can make informed choices about what is best for their child.

“It is unacceptable for any parent to be charged for what should be a free entitlement. It is also completely unacceptable that some parents cannot access the free education unless they agree to pay‘top-up’ fees for more hours. The department must take action to prevent this.”

A DfE spokeswoman said: “It’s simply not acceptable for parents to have to pay for their child’s free nursery place. We want to make it crystal clear that access to a free place must not be conditional on other payments – which is what we’re doing in the revised statutory guidance on its delivery.

“We will continue to investigate and pursue any cases where parents are required to pay for their child’s free nursery place with the local authority, who have a duty in law to make sure that places are free of charge.”

University graduates embark on earlier chase for jobs

University graduates embark on earlier chase for jobs

guardian.co.uk |by Jeevan Vasagar

  • Jeevan Vasagar, education editor
  • guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 22 May 2012 01.00 EDT
London School of Economics

Students at the London School of Economics have been most successful in clinching jobs. Photograph: James Barr for the Guardian

The graduate class of 2012 has made a record number of applications and begun looking for jobs earlier than ever, a survey of over 17,000 final-year students shows.

Applications for graduate jobs in investment banking have returned to their highest level since the start of the credit crunch in 2008, the High Fliers Research survey finds.

Desire to take time off or go for a gap year is at an all-time low – just 12% plan to do this. The survey, of students at 30 universities, estimates the volume of applications has risen by 40% in two years.

A record 42% of students made applications for a graduate job by the end of October in their final year, while 61% had applied by the end of February, compared with 59% last year.

More than a third of students started researching their career options in the first year of their studies.

Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research, said: “Three years ago, when the recession first took hold, many students felt there was little point in looking for a graduate job in such a tough employment market and instead opted to take time off, go travelling or enrol for further study at university. Today’s students aren’t necessarily much more confident about the graduate job market but have been fighting really hard to secure the jobs that are on offer from employers.”

The survey was based on face-to-face interviews with more than 17,700 final-year students, completed in March.

For the first time since 2002, marketing is the most popular destination for new graduates, ahead of teaching, the media, charity or voluntary work, and consulting. Applications for graduate jobs in investment banking have returned to their highest level since 2008. Nearly 12% of final year students are seeking jobs in finance.

Fewer students have applied for graduate positions in engineering, law and the armed forces, while the number of graduate job seekers keen to work in the public sector has now dropped by more than a fifth over the past two years.

Students at the London School of Economics, Oxford, Cambridge, Durham and Warwick had the highest success rates at securing job offers while still at university. At the LSE, 42% of applicants had been offered a job. Students at Liverpool had the lowest success rate – 5% – of the 30 universities covered in the survey.

Expected starting salaries have stalled at an average of£22,600, the same level recorded in the 2011 survey. After five years in work, today’s graduates expect to be earning an average of £39,900 and a sixth of this year’s university leavers believe their salary will be £100,000 or more by the age of 30.

London is again the preferred employment destination for finalists and nearly half of graduates hoped to work in the capital after university.

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