06 March 2008

Local News - Round Up.

The Tories have upset dog owners in Brighton and Hove - by planning to ban dogs from all beaches, rather than allow them on a couple of beaches, as at present. There was a march organised along the seafront this weekend that was supported by Hove Labour MP Celia Barlow and several local councillors. I always thought a Tory administration would be more friendly to dog owners, but apparently not.

The return of...
City News to Brighton came as a shock to many, as the Tories had a long history of opposition to it when Labour was in charge of the council, funny how when the Tories took over they quickly brought it back. Good to see partizan party politics is alive and well and looking to what is good for the party rather than the people. No wonder people are fed up of these machiavellian political games.

The local school lottery system put in place by the Labour administration last year, has been making the national news and the Argus and Daily Mail are doing their best to talk up local private schools and the disenchantment of the middle classes. Frankly, surely a lottery system has to be fairer than just allowing places to be decided solely by a bidding war for houses in the catchment areas of the schools with the best results.

Talking of the Daily Mail and Argus, the Tory press are still trying to make capital out of 24 hour opening. Somehow they never seem to explain how binge drinking has increased, when alcohol sales have fallen and opening times have lengthened. I ain't no mathematician, but shurely shome mistake? They make a lot of the increase in the small number of low level violent binge drinking incidents between 12am and 2am, but conveniently forget to mention incidents have fallen at every other time, particularly drastically at the old violence spike points of 11.30pm and 2.30am.

After the closure of Vernon Gardens Day Centre for adults with learning disabilities, the Tories continue to run down social services in Brighton and Hove. The Adult Social Care budgets and Children Services budgets in particular (children are assessed for need but no longer can get access to many services, 42% cuts in some units). While trying to blame these cuts on not enough central funding for the free pensioners bus travel (the government have provided over £500m nationally), the Tories proudly proclaim on the front of their new propaganda magazine City News 'Lowest Council Tax Rise Ever'. Surely funding these services should come a higher priority than holding down council tax by a small amount?

Thankfully no sign yet of the proposed underground carparks the Tories promised under Montpelier Crescent and Hove Lawns. Why do the Tories always claim that building more car parks and re-phasing traffic lights and traffic flow even more in the favour of car drivers, at the expense of pedestrians, is the answer to congestion? Surely rather than encourage even more cars into a clogged city centre, the Tories should be doing something to discourage cars? Brighton already has a high number of pedestrians and cyclists killed on our city's roads. Has anyone noticed how long pedestrians have to wait to cross Montpelier road by Waitrose, or trying to cross the interminable dual carriageway that spoils the seafront, the lights can take an eternity to let pedestrians across. Pedestrians are just not a priority at the moment, haven't we got this the wrong way round?

Finally, another nail in the coffin of local democracy looks like being rushed through by the Tories. For some unfathomable reason the Labour government is allowing local councils to abolish committees that are currently appointed in proportion to seats the parties hold, and allowing a cabinet system that will mean the main party dominating debate. The Tories don't have to implement this change until May 2009, but with undue haste (and sadly with the support of some Labour members) it is being hastily introduced.

15 comments:

  1. "surely a lottery system has to be fairer than just allowing places to be decided solely by a bidding war for houses in the catchment areas of the schools with the best results"

    I wondered when you'd get round to this nonsense.

    1. On a purely practical level, it makes more sense for kids to go to the nearest school.

    2. The average cost of a state pupil is now higher than the fees for the better value private schools, so money is clearly not the issue. It is discipline and Whitehall meddling (see what Estelle Morris said recently!). So leave good schools as they are and make other schools selective - so that hard working kids in poorer areas still get the opportunity to go to a good school near their homes as well - rather than tracking across town. And there is no helping the underclass any more - the government created them, not the average taxpayer.

    3. Yes, parents who can afford to pay more will (quite rightly) choose a house near a good school.

    4. Land Value Tax will sort this out - houses near good schools will pay more in LVT, so the Council has every motivation for improving all its schools, rather than being spiteful towards to people in the catchment area of a good school who are not getting what they thought they were paying for.

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  2. Mark, yes it makes sense for kids to go to their local school but it also makes sense to avoid wealth apartheid in our tax-payer funded state schools. It is not fair that your location determines your children's level of education.

    A point I didn't mention in the post, is that the only city centre secondary school in Brighton is religious, which is currently outside of the lottery system and has middle class atheists queueing up professing their religiosity and travelling from all over the county to get in. The catchment areas of some schools were getting ridiculously small - to within hundreds of metres - as rich parents bought up all the houses while other schools took children from many miles away. There are still catchment areas under the lottery system, but the lottery allows them to be a reasonable and equitable size.

    2. Can you provide figures for this please? As far as I know , private schools spend over £2,000 per pupil more.

    3. State schools are paid for by all parents, it shouldn't be who can afford the most expensive houses.

    4. Sadly there is no LVT, yet, so this point is irrelevant

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  3. Neil, quite probably true that the average private school fees are higher, that is not what I said - I said the 'best value' (i.e. cheapest), as to the maths see here, if you know a better figure then tell me.

    So why not give parents vouchers and even low income parents will have much the same 'buying power' as richer ones (OK, it'll never be the same, but it will certainly narrow the gap - and that's what Nulabour are always on about, isn't it?)

    (on a conceptual level, I am in favour of universal non means tested benefits - whether you call that CBI or schools vouchers, the logic is the same).

    'State schools are paid for by all parents', woah, woah, woah!, Rich people pay more tax than poor people, so that is not an argument, is it? Does paying tax give you an entitlement, or not paying tax deny your children that entitlement?

    My argument is quite simple, rather than class warfare and levelling everybody down, why not try to level everybody up, give the vast majority of kids, from whatever background, who are well behaved and motivated, to sit in a classroom with other such kids.

    Every council runs several schools, you can make three quarters of them 'selective' (by whatever criteria - being well behaved and turning up on time and not playing truant seem the most important to me ).

    Neil, accept the fact that the underclass that the government has created (and the previous Tory government started this trend, I'm not just blaming Nulabour) cannot be dragged up, they can only drag other children down!!!

    And so on.

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  4. If we are to have a centrally-funded and centrally-directed education system (which is more or less what we currently have - there's very little that LEAs or school governors can do to set policy) then a lottery is entirely reasonable. In a central command-driven education system, this might even produce the best outcomes.

    The elephant in the educational room is that the biggest factor that affects the quality of education in a school isn't the state of the buildings, or the number of computers it owns. It's not even the quality of the teachers - it's the quality of the pupils. That's why wealthy parents like the catchment area system - it lets them buy into good-quality but free schooling where their children won't have to battle for an education against the disruptive children of the underclass. Nobody will phrase it quite like that, but it's what they mean.

    With the closed command-economy education system that we have, you will always have better and poorer schools. This tends to be self-reinforcing: it's much easier to hire teachers for a "nice" school, so the school can be pickier. To the extent that parents have a choice (either by moving into the catchment area, or by appealing an admissions decision) they will try to get their children into a good school. The parents that do this successfully tend to be the nice middle-class ones with well-behaved children. Allocating places by a lottery will reduce the latter effect somewhat, but you won't improve the average much until you allow good schools to expand at the expense of poor ones.
    Vouchers, and a complete abandonment of central control, are the way to go.

    (Having moved to the US, the public (state) schools are organized on a strict boundary basis. If you live in this area, and want to use the public school system, you will attend elementary school X, middle school Y and high school Z. The boundaries of the school district are set in stone; every few years, the individual school boundaries are shuffled as the demographics change. Being in a good school district is a strong selling point for houses, but the school district is supported by local property taxes (within the school district boundary). It's close to an LVT, except that the tax is on the improved value of the property, but from the point of view of the school system, the differential between different school districts is the same.

    This seems to work quite well in the nice leafy suburbs, but is a complete disaster in the inner cities (with a high density of poor children and a small tax base.)

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  5. Mark, Although your figures are a bit rough and ready, I think you may have a bit of a point - though the average is what Brown was talking about, not the figures you are proposing. Saying that, can we also factor in the cost of training all the teachers that private schools pinch for free?

    When I mentioned tax payers - I think it is accepted that tax funded services need to be equitable for everyone. I don't think that is the case, the middle classes are getting better value for money.

    I think Sam gets to the crux of things. It is the quality of the pupils that make the real difference to someone's chances.

    Your selection and location solution will just entrench disadvantage, like it has in the US. Vouchers are irrelevant, the only way to give everyone value for money is to equalise intake by giving the best pupil at every state school an automatic place at Oxbridge. That way middle class parents will have an incentive for their children to attend and improve ALL schools. Contrary to your pessimistic analysis, the evidence shows that bright middle class pupils can do just as well at comprehensives as at grammar school, yet this attendence can improve the lot of their peers when they do.

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  6. "can we also factor in the cost of training all the teachers that private schools pinch for free?"

    Yes, if you have a figure for it.

    Sam gets to the crux of things. It is the quality of the pupils that make the real difference to someone's chances

    So we are all agreed then. My view is that 'a pinch of shit spoils a bucket of porridge'. Sending one ambitious kid to shit school is stupid. Expelling the worst pupils from a shit school makes a massive difference. As a tentative first step, that's what i am suggesting - selection by 'ability to behave in class and not bring knives to school'.

    Or to put it more simply, schools should have the power to expel thugs.

    Is that too much to ask?

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  7. Neil, what's wrong with wealth apartheid? I don't want to live next door to a workless family on benefits.

    Most people agree with me, otherwise people would not leave council estates as soon as they could afford to!

    "The middle classes are getting better value for money"!?! What planet do you live on!?! I get no value at all for my money!

    Youe evidence about middle class families doing well at poorly performing schools is flawed, the parents paid close attention to their children's performance and were also prepared to withdraw them at any time!!

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  8. snafu: "what's wrong with wealth apartheid? I don't want to live next door to a workless family on benefits".

    The more inequality, the worse a society is for everyone - poorer health, weaker economy, more crime. I am sure you don't want to live behind bars in your own home. I am sure you don't want millions in jail (at enormous cost). Unless we give everyone a fair crack of the whip, that is where we end up. What could be more fair than ensuring children are not disadvantaged just because of their dysfunctional parents. You just want to leave them to rot in crap schools and sod 'em all. This attitude will not even help your own family in the long run. Those better off have responsibilites as well. Responsibility to help those less fortunate than themselves. You right-wingers like to slag off the poor for their lack of morality, but are desperate to avoid facing up to your own responsibilities and lack of morality. It is difficult to ascertain what we all deserve in this society, but even you know deep down that paying people less than they can live on and giving their children no help in their education is wrong, even if you won't admit it.

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  9. can we also factor in the cost of training all the teachers that private schools pinch for free?


    People aren't property. Nobody is "pinching" them.

    If you want to ensure that the state system gets the benefit of the teachers that it trains, you'll need to charge for the training. Charge full whack for a PGCE (it's probably about 10,000 quid), roll it into a student loan, then write off the loan at 1,000 per year of work in a state school.

    If it's experienced teachers that you want to retain, then performance-driven pay increments are your bunny. Pay desirable teachers more money, and you get a double effect - they have an incentive to stay because they get more money, and they have an incentive because their final-salary pension will become correspondingly more valuable.


    Vouchers are irrelevant, the only way to give everyone value for money is to equalise intake by giving the best pupil at every state school an automatic place at Oxbridge.

    I don't think so. Firstly, most people aren't bright enough to benefit from an Oxbridge education. This idea would result in a small number of middle-class parents trying to game the system by enrolling their child in a "poor" school whilst paying for private tutoring on the side. People who expect their children to be smart, but not brilliant, would still be better served by sending their children to a good school, and then a good red-brick university.

    Secondly, sending students to Oxbridge who won't be able to keep up does them a disservice. Oxbridge is unashamedly elitist - it provides a first-class education, but only for people who are very able. It's no good at all at educating average students.

    Thirdly, of course vouchers aren't irrelevant. As long as you persist in the thinking that we have a certain set of schools, and have to distribute the pupils amongst them, you will always end up forcing some number of children to attend a bad school. Free schools from central control, and allow them to expand as they will, and good schools will expand to take more pupils. Bad schools will wither and die, as they should.

    Pupils from deprived backgrounds will be able to take their voucher to whichever school they prefer. If they behave, they will get the good education that will help them out of the welfare/poverty trap. If they are disruptive, they'll be expelled. Most children, when faced with an environment where working is the norm, will get on and work. The small number that will not are not suited to mainstream education.

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  10. Sam, Private schools do not pay for any teacher training, this is another subsidy to private schools on top of their tax free status. I take your point on incentives and charging.

    "Firstly, most people aren't bright enough to benefit from an Oxbridge education."

    True, but there are a hell of a lot of pupils out there that are bright enough but never given the chance. Taking the brightest pupil from each school should increase everyone's chances. We are talking about the brightest pupil in the school so they should be good enough to go to Oxbridge (there are 3500 state sixth forms and colleges, so there will still be plenty of places left at Oxbridge for others).

    Of course parents will use private tuition and other ways of getting round this, but at least every school and its pupils will have had the benefit of having bright pupils in it's classes. This will also give an incentive to these parents to see ALL schools improved and encourage teachers to teach at all schools.

    "[with vouchers and freedom] good schools will expand to take more pupils. Bad schools will wither and die, as they should".

    In practise this is no good, we need every school to be improved and not have lots of schools closing (with all the disorder this will cause to pupils who have to relocate) and others becoming so big they are unwieldy (and increasing the distance pupils have to travel).

    "The small number that will not are not suited to mainstream education".

    What should happen to this 'small number' of children?

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  11. Neil, if Labour created Grammar schools in exclusively poor, working class areas for those with the ability and the work ethic to study hard and achieve great acadmeic results. I'd be all for it!

    They don't, and whilst they (and to their eternal shame, the Conservatives) continue to oppose grammar schools for no reason other than stubborn political dogma over the evidence, I'm not prepared to "help" the poor!

    Comprehensives are the source of the problems you highlight rather than the solution!

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  12. I don't think so. Firstly, most people aren't bright enough to benefit from an Oxbridge education

    Really? As an eleven-plus falure who subsequently won an open scholarship to Oxford I beg to differ.

    Secondly, sending students to Oxbridge who won't be able to keep up does them a disservice. Oxbridge is unashamedly elitist - it provides a first-class education, but only for people who are very able. It's no good at all at educating average students

    You obviously haven't been to an Oxford college! The thickest person I have ever known lived in the room opposite to mine in my first year, a public school educated lawyer. There are some some very bright people at Oxford but really, once you get there, it's a piece of piss to avoid being thrown out.

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  13. "The small number that will not are not suited to mainstream education".

    What should happen to this 'small number' of children?

    Special schools, with strict discipline and a high staff to pupil ratio? Maybe special classes within mainstream schools, although that might not work.

    A small number of bad eggs are quite capable of spoiling a whole class. In a mainstream school, the intentionally disruptive pupil isn't going to learn anything, and nor are his classmates. If I remove the bad egg and lock him in a cupboard, his coaevals will do much better, and it's far from clear that he will do any worse.

    I suspect that we can do rather better for him than just giving up, though.

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  14. Really? As an eleven-plus falure who subsequently won an open scholarship to Oxford I beg to differ.


    What does failing the 11+ have to do with not being bright? There is some correlation between performance at age 11 and ability at university, but the correlation is far from perfect.


    There are some some very bright people at Oxford but really, once you get there, it's a piece of piss to avoid being thrown out.


    I won't entirely disagree. On the other hand, I do know someone who spent the whole three years of her degree struggling not to be thrown out. It was obvious that she wasn't good enough, but if you stay awake for 20 hours a day memorising textbooks, you can usually manage to scrape a passing grade on an exam. She took a year out in the middle to have a nervous breakdown, and in the end managed to scrape by with a third.

    Yes, she has her degree, and can now write MA (Oxon) after her name, but she would have been better educated in another place [;-P]
    I think she knew that too, but had been pushed into Oxford by her parents, and couldn't/wouldn't back down.

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  15. What does failing the 11+ have to do with not being bright?

    Nothing of course, but I was being deliberately provocative to counter the lazy view that some sorts of education, whether it is be Oxford or Cambridge or an academic 'grammar school' education, should be off limits to sections of our population. Not everyone might be able to derive benefit from a intensely academic education but that doesn't mean that we should be preventing those who think they can cope from having a go.

    I do know someone who spent the whole three years of her degree struggling not to be thrown out. It was obvious that she wasn't good enough, but if you stay awake for 20 hours a day memorising textbooks, you can usually manage to scrape a passing grade on an exam. She took a year out in the middle to have a nervous breakdown, and in the end managed to scrape by with a third

    Sounds like her problems might have been psychological as much as anything and would she have coped any better at a 'lesser' university? My original post was polemical and more of a riposte to the idea that Oxford is an academic hothouse par excellence. As someone who took his degree in mathematics there, did a DPhil and taught undergraduates there, I have a rather less exalted view of the place!

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