National Audit Office verdict on Pupil Premium: “potential to bring about a significant improvement in outcomes for disadvantaged pupils”

by Stephen Tall on June 30, 2015

school 11

Six months ago I wrote:

I think [the Pupil Premium is] one of this Coalition’s most progressive policies. But expecting its impact to be sudden and dramatic is to over-hype it. What I suspect it has done is focus schools’ attention on the attainment gap and to address it in ways that go beyond, and do not depend on, the value of the Pupil Premium itself.

Today sees the publication of an important report from the National Audit Office, Funding for disadvantaged pupils, which highlights both these points.

First, that any impact of the Pupil Premium will, inevitably, take time to feed into better outcomes for disadvantaged pupils:

The attainment gap has narrowed slowly since 2011 but the gap remains wide and it will take time for the Pupil Premium’s impact to become clear. Success in some schools indicates that the Pupil Premium has promise. However, the Department does not expect the full impact of funding to be felt until 2018 for primary schools and 2023 for secondary schools – the years, respectively, when eligible pupils will have been funded for their entire education. Changing exam standards make analysing the attainment gap difficult at this early stage. Between 2011 and 2014 the gap reduced by 4.7 percentage points in primary schools. In secondary schools, it reduced by 1.6 percentage points, although exam standards were measured differently in 2014. A clear trend has not yet been established and the gap remains wide – in 2014 some 63.5% of disadvantaged pupils failed to achieve five good GCSEs including English and Maths, compared with 36% of their peers

And secondly, that the Pupil Premium is only part of the picture — after all, it’s estimated that core funding local authorities allocate to schools on the
basis of deprivation totalled £2.4 billion in 2014-15 (that’s completely separate from the £2.5 billion of Pupil Premium schools received direct). What matters at least as much, then, is how schools prioritise the specific aim of the Pupil Premium — raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils — as core to their work. Here the NAO report is clearer about the policy’s impact:

Introducing the Pupil Premium has increased school leaders’ focus on improving outcomes for disadvantaged children. Of school leaders, 57% said they targeted support at disadvantaged pupils before the creation of the Pupil Premium, compared with 94% now

Here’s the report’s key (and measured) conclusion on the impact of the Pupil Premium:

It will take time for the full impact of the Pupil Premium to be known. While the attainment gap has narrowed since 2011, it remains wide and, at this stage, the significance of the improvements is unclear. More time and further evaluation will be needed to establish whether the Department has achieved its goals. However, the early signs are that many schools, supported by the Department’s investment in the EEF [Education Endowment Foundation], are using the Pupil Premium to help disadvantaged pupils in useful ways. If these schools’ early performance can be sustained and built upon, the Pupil Premium has the potential to bring about a significant improvement in outcomes for disadvantaged pupils and the value for money of school spending.

Full disclosure: I work for the Education Endowment Foundation, referenced throughout the National Audit Office’s report, and was one of those interviewed as part of the NAO’s evidence-gathering audit.

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Olly Grender & me on BBC Radio 4: Who will be the next Lib Dem leader?

by Stephen Tall on June 30, 2015

BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour took a look at the Lib Dem leadership contest this week. You can listen to the 9 minute discussion between Olly Grender (Team Norman Lamb) and me (Team Tim Farron) here:

Secret ballot? Whatevs.

by Stephen Tall on June 29, 2015


The “Orange Booker” case for supporting Tim Farron

by Stephen Tall on June 26, 2015

orange bookYes, you read that headline right.

I’ve already said why I’m supporting Tim Farron as next Lib Dem leader.

This is a brief coda addressed specifically to those party members, like me, who are quite happy still to be regarded by the divisive label “Orange Bookers” — which I’ve previously defined as being “at ease with the role of a competitive market and who believes also in social justice”.

Party members have a clear choice at this election as each candidate is from a defined wing of the party. Norman Lamb is a “Cleggite”, Tim an “SLF-er”.

(The “inverted commas” are deliberate as each term is of course a broadbrush descriptor — and, as I pointed out here, this contest has not been notable for Big Policy debate.)

Whichever of them wins will then have to work hard to unite the party, to deploy the talents of their opponent and those who supported him. That means either will have to find ways of tacking “right” — in Tim’s case — or “left” — in Norman’s — to bring folk together.

(Again the “inverted commas” are deliberate. Let me put it this way: Tim will need to show he understands solving social problems needs more than just more public money; while Norman will need to show that personal freedoms mean less to those living lives in or near poverty.)

So the small policy differences between them will likely become smaller still whichever is elected. Especially as the loser will, I assume, be given a plum role by the winner — for example, shadow chancellor and/or heading up the party manifesto-writing group.

In that situation, then, I think the ability to be a distinctive, passionate campaigner ranks higher up my priority list of what I want from the next leader.

That’s the basis on which I, as an “Orange Booker”, will be supporting Tim, while fully recognising that he’s further to the “left” than I am — and that there will almost certainly be times when we’re on opposite sides in specific policy debates.

My must-reads this week June 26, 2015

by Stephen Tall on June 26, 2015

You can read all the articles that have caught my attention this week here: Below are a selection…

The Lib Dem policy dilemma – and the 3 issues I think we need to make our own

by Stephen Tall on June 24, 2015

lib dem manifesto 2015One striking thing about the Lib Dem leadersip contest to date is the lack of debate about policy.

To some extent this is unsurprising. So devastating was the party’s defeat in May that there’s been more interest than usual in discussions about organisational structure – how to rebuild, how to involve new/existing members etc.

It’s also a reflection that few believe we lost because of the policies in our manifesto – rather it was because of the Coalition / failure to be sufficiently ‘proalition’ / tuition fees / Nick Clegg / the ‘split-the-difference’ messaging of “giving the Tories a heart and Labour a brain” / austerity / etc (delete according to taste).

It’s also because few think there’s some ‘silver bullet’ new policy which will fix our problems by 2020.

All that said, though, the debate about policy has been thin. So far I’ve heard way more about same-sex marriage, abortion and assisted suicide than I have about the economy, public services or taxation – yet it’s the latter three which will decide how the public votes in 2020.

Tim Farron has said that the party needs to be realistic about the amount of public attention we’ll get and focus on three policy areas to champion: “I think if I become leader a leader should lead, and to lead is to choose, and I’d choose three areas that really stand out to me.”

He’s identified housing, civil liberties and climate change. Perhaps this is the right approach. However, Tim’s 3 issues highlights the party’s dilemma.

Here’s the latest Ipsos MORI index of public concern about issues facing the UK.

You’ll notice only housing features in the top 10. The environment / pollution is ranked the most important issue by just 5% of the population. Civil liberties isn’t even included.

issues index

So we can make Tim’s 3 issues our distinctive USP within the increasingly crowded political market-place. And maybe that is the only way we can find a niche for ourselves, get media cut-through, given the lack of exposure we’ll get as a rump opposition party.

But it means we’re dedicating ourselves to campaigning on issues much of the public don’t rate as of great importance.

My personal choice of 3 would be: education, immigration and climate change.

* A liberal party which doesn’t make education one of its top three priorities strikes me as a little odd (especially with schools facing a real challenge in the next five years with rising pupil numbers, reduced funding and a likely recruitment crisis).

* A liberal party which doesn’t stick up for immigration vacates this territory to the Tories, Labour and Ukip who will continue to foment people’s fears.

* A liberal party which doesn’t take climate change seriously leaves it to the stop-the-world Greens who would prefer to see the global poor remain poor than see us work out how to manage sustainable growth.

Three big issues, the first two of which rank within the top four concerns of the British public.

Now I’d like to hear what the candidates have to say about them.

The Labour leadership contest – my outsider’s verdict so far…

by Stephen Tall on June 24, 2015

labour leader newsnightI’ve finally got round to watching BBC Newsnight’s Labour leadership hustings (available to watch here for another 24 days). Here’s my verdict…

There was no doubt in my mind who was the strongest performer: Islington left-winger Jeremy Corbyn. This isn’t a cute point by me to try and coax Labour members into actually voting for a 1983-throwback as their party leader. Obviously, they shouldn’t. He would be an election-losing disaster. But what impressed me was his fluency and his intellectual self-confidence (on which it’s well worth reading this piece by Jeremy Cliffe), including his willingness to stand up to the anti-immigrant feeling among some of the Labour considerers in the audience.

The two front-runners, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham, did okay. Yvette did a good job of presenting herself as the solid, pragmatic, sensible choice. Which is a polite way of also saying she was also a bit dull. However, I suspect she’s the candidate the Tories most fear — Labour’s version of Theresa May (tough, no-nonsense, non-visionary), and a leader who will be harder for Cameron and Osborne to attack without coming across as sexist bullies. Andy was more lively, did a good job of illuminating his answers with his back-story and constituency experiences — but he did nothing to dispel the view that he’s the comfort zone candidate for Labour, a “prettier Ed Miliband”.

And then there was Liz Kendall. Now I want to like Liz, was rooting for her to do well. I sometimes describe myself as a liberal Blairite and she seems the closest candidate to my persuasion. And given the Lib Dems aren’t going to be in government for at least a decade I’d like someone like that to have a chance to be the next Prime Minister. But I was disappointed. She sloganeered, with little seeming depth, and showed few signs of connecting with her audience. This wasn’t a one-off. She also did poorly when interviewed by Evan Davis. Indeed since she famously floored Andrew Neil I’m hard-pushed to recall a time when I’ve been impressed.

What still weighs in her favour in my mind is that she’s attracted the support of Labour people I respect, such as former LabourList editor Mark Ferguson and the always thoughtful blogger Hopi Sen. But based on the evidence to date I cannot help feeling they’re projecting what they want to see — a post-Blairite female leader with the smarts to take on the Tories and win — onto someone who just isn’t ready to take up that mantle. I still hope Liz proves me wrong, mind.

Tim Farron shows how dropping a policy can be a sign of strength

by Stephen Tall on June 22, 2015

Farron 1A month ago I endorsed Tim Farron for Lib Dem leader – but with a couple of caveats. For example:

That doesn’t mean I agree with Tim all the time. I don’t and I won’t. He’s more of a tax-and-spender than I’d be. For example, he supports the 50p top-rate of income tax whereas I think it’s an inconsequential economic irrelevance — a symbolic totem that raises very little revenue but limits the political space to tackle unearned wealth.

This was what he told me when I interviewed him in 2013: “Cutting the top-rate was a stupid thing to do. It probably raised up to £3bn a year. We should pledge to restore the 50p rate at the next election.”

However, Tim has changed his mind since then — at any rate, according to an interview in the International Business Times:

… Farron, who is up against Norman Lamb in the contest to replace Clegg as the party’s leader, has told IBTimes UK he would not support the reintroduction of the 50p rate.

“All taxation is temporary and to have any kind of ideological fixation on a percentage is just very foolish,” he said.

The 45-year-old explained he understood why the last government came down from 50p but argued it “sent out an unfortunate message”.

“As we were trying to encourage the country to make savings and tackle the appalling financial circumstance we inherited, it didn’t send out the best message,” Farron added.

Instead of resurrecting the threshold, the leadership contender said he wants to “shift the balance of taxation away from income and on to wealth”.

One of the things that impresses me about Tim is his willingness to change his mind and be quite open that he’s done so. It’s a risky political strategy, and one that can be over-done (do it too often and you look flaky or opportunistic, or both).

Not only do I think Tim is right on this issue, it highlights two more general points.

First, that (despite the accusation often levelled against him) Tim is willing to say things which won’t necessarily go down well with some of his natural constituency on the party’s liberal-left for whom the 50p rate has long been a populist yardstick by which to measure someone’s progressive credentials.

Secondly, Tim has a lot more political space in which to move than does Norman. Put it this way, Tim coming out in opposition to the 50p rate aggravates a handful of his hard-core supporters who’ll vote for him anyway; if Norman said the 50p rate “didn’t send out the best message” he’d face a whole lot more opposition from those already suspicious of his Coalition voting record. Because of the political capital he’s banked in the past five years, Tim is in a much better position to stake out fresh policy positions without any baggage. For a party starting at Ground Zero that’s going to come in handy.

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My must-reads this week June 19, 2015

by Stephen Tall on June 19, 2015

You can read all the articles that have caught my attention this week here: Below are a selection…

My must-reads this week June 12, 2015

by Stephen Tall on June 12, 2015

You can read all the articles that have caught my attention this week here: Below are a selection…

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