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How Labour should respond to the Gove Terror

June 21, 2012 5 comments

The benchmark for excellence in response to the leaked ‘O’ Level/CSE plans has been set by Christopher Cook at the FT, with his convincing use of the National Pupil Database to show that the poorest children will be hit hardest:

The most significant issues around this idea are related to social mobility: the CSE will tend to be an exam for poorer children. Consider who would take the CSE if schools could select the quarter of pupils with the lowest average grades with perfect foresight.
 Christopher’s analysis is spot on, but the big problem for Labour is Gove’s plans are still likely to be very popular, unless it can come up with a convincing and accessible case against.  
 
The Tories have largely won the argument about educational standards, not least because they and the Department for Education have lied about the statistics (latest example here from Tory MP Liz Truss), and because Labour has allowed them to get away with it. 
 
Now, ‘everyone knows’ that educational standards have fallen badly, and ‘everyone’ seems to be agreed that something must be done.  Gove offers that something, and it looks attractive to those without the time or inclination to see past the media’s happy compliance.
 
The answer to Labour’s problem comes in another section of Christopher’s analysis:
Every child from the 29th to 48th percentile gets an average grade of “D”.  If that were not hard enough, children are moving targets – particularly in the early teenage years. There is a lot of movement between standardised tests. One third of the bottom quarter of children at the age of 11 break out of that grouping by the age of 16.
 The top mark for the renewed CSE will equate to a D at ‘O’ level.  That is widely seen as a fail.  So 25% of children will be seen to fail, however well they do in the CSE, and (if the 75%/25% split is maintained) the bar will be raised if there are too many children doing well enough to do the ‘O’ level.   ‘Pour encourager lest autres’ I think it’s called.
 
 This knowledge, combined with the percentile stats provided by Christopher, creates a scary picture for parents.  For not only will the 25% be consigned to the scrap heap, there’s another 25% of so at significant risk of being consigned, because we know that a) right up to the 48% percentile we’re talking fail-grade, and that the mobility across the percentiles is large (where some go up, some must go down).
 
And the risk doesn’t stop at the 48% percentile. It may lessen off, but anywhere up to, say 70% of children may be at some risk of dipping into failure.
 
This should be Labour’s pitch:  
If we win in 2015, we won’t put the futures of 70% of children at risk. We’ll give everyone the opportunity to make the best of themselves.  We’re the party of legitimate aspiration.  We commit to stopping the two-tier exam system, and returning to policy based on respect for professionals and honesty with data.
Job done. Get to it, Twiggy, and stop arsing about talking procedure and waiting for detail.

Now the FT joins the literacy illiteracy

June 16, 2012 4 comments

Stephen Robinson, an ‘author and political commentator’ writing for the Financial Times today, is clearly a Michael Gove fan:

Michael Gove is surely on to something with his announcement this week of a long overdue shake-up of the curriculum. As successive secretaries of state have, year after year, hailed ever more implausible “improvements” in exam grades, Britain over the past decade has plummeted in the international rankings: from 4th to 16th in science; 7th to 25th in literacy; and 8th to 28th in maths.

Stephen Robinson, ‘author and political commentator’, is also utterly wrong, as is the sub-editor of a respectable newspaper for allowing this bilge through. 

The UK has simply not “plummeted in the international rankings”. Like ‘author and commentator’ Phillip Blond a couple of days ago, Robinson is quoting figures he’s picked up elsewhere, and clearly hasn’t bothered to look at the original OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, or at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NfER) summary of the OECD findings as they apply to England.

So once more with gusto……

The UK has NOT fallen from 7th to 25th in reading standards.  To say so is a lie.

The notion that UK is 25th  is the result of deliberate disinformation campaign by the Department for Education, subsequently repeated maliciously by the Head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, and picked up with jubilation by a popular press desperate to do down education and educators.

It is a lie because the DfE fails to tell you that:

1) Chinese Tapei and Denmark are placed above the UK in the international ‘league table’ in question because they start with an earlier letter in the alphabet. They have exactly the same score (495). This would put the UK joint 23rd.

2) Some 12 other countries, nominally above England in the 2009 tables, have statistically insignificant higher scores; statistically, the UK is not 23rd, but equal 13th, on this basis.  NfER makes this point explictly:

Because of the areas of uncertainty described above, interpretations of very small differences between two sets of results are often meaningless. Were they to be measured again, it could well be that the results would turn out the other way round (p.8)

3)  Shanghai and Signapore are above the UK in the 2009 tables but didn’t take part in the 2006 survey, so the UK can’t be said to have ‘fallen’ below them; in comparison with 2006, the UK might be said to be 11th.

4) In any event, the OECD’s warned explicitly (para 2) against comparing earlier PISA results with earlier data, because the very low response rate for earlier years created big concerns about sample validity. 

In keeping with this more sensible analysis, the NfER report in December 2010 said that:

England’s performance in 2009 does not differ greatly from that in the last PISA survey in 2006 (p.37).

This is decidedly not “plummeted in the international rankings:.

Space does not provide for a fuller review, but the picture is similar for maths and science. 

In science, the UK continues to do significantly better than the OECD PISA average,  and it is simply wrong to say the UK is in 28th place in maths, given the statistical insignificance and the introduction of new countries. Of maths, NfER says:

England’s performance in 2009 does not differ greatly from that in the last PISA survey, apart from a slight drop in the number of high-achieving pupils and a slight increase in the gender difference in favour of boys (p.30).

I hope both Robinson and Blond will be forced to apologise for their blatant peddling of  the DfE’s lies (Blond has so far not replied to the evidence I presented to him), but the buck has to stop with Gove. 

The deliberate use of misleading data for political gain – another ‘back to basics’ campaign as cover for government failure – should be a resignation matter. 

I do wonder why Labour’s education team has not picked up on this.

 

 

 

The simple alternatives to Osborne’s cretinous Plan C

June 15, 2012 1 comment

This was my less-than-measured immediate twitter-response to Osborne’s Mansion House announcements last night:

Osborne plan: start economic recovery via support for High Street bank lending? Utter fucking cretin. Does he not know the word ‘collateral’?
 
I suppose neither he nor his coterie have ever had much problem with collateral.

Final piece in the jigsaw of evidence that Osborne simply doesn’t grasp how the real economy works, how investment decisions are taken.

Peston comes to a fairly similar, though somewhat more polite, conclusion this morning, when he says of this £60bn Funding for Lending scheme (combined with the  ‘Extended Collateral Term Repo’ guarantee)

Bankers give me two reasons for their doubts about how far the schemes will revive our anaemic economy.

First, they say creditworthy businesses and households are reluctant to increase their debts in these uncertain times. Second, many of the companies and individuals desperate to borrow are those in some financial difficulties, so the banks don’t actually want to lend to them.

Here is the nub of the matter: the Treasury and Bank of England want the risks of lending to stay with the banks; but if that remains the case, the new credit almost certainly won’t get to those who most need it.

Precisely.  Well nearly precisely.

While Peston gets businesses’ and households’ reluctance to borrow as the key obstacle, he doesn’t quite get why this reluctance comes about.  The reluctance often stems not from amassing debt per se – people know e.g. from the Glasers’ purchase of Manchester United that having massive debts can be a pretty good way to get very rich – but from lack of collateral. 

Osborne’s a cretin, tinkering at the margins with a Plan C that might end up being even worse than Plan A, not least because of its propensity to create inflationary bubbles in the parts of the economy where people will and can still borrow e.g. property in the South East, asset stripping firms.

The real tragedy is that there are simple alternatives which would work.  

First and foremost, of course there’s taking the £140bn Osborne’s hoping to keep of balance sheet in a ridiculous bid to balance his books, and stick it in the real economy through public works schemes, both capital and revenue (e.g. developing that universal childcare scheme, which I’ll be blogging more on later). 

That’s called Plan B, of course, and doesn’t need complicated deals with Pension Funds to make it happen.

Second, if he still wants to go down the private lending line, there’s ordering taxpayer-owned banks to reduce their collateral demands when lending.  Of course this increases the default risk, but few ordinary people go bankrupt on purpose, and on balance it’s worth it for the overall growth you get. Just ask Grameen Bank, which have been providing collateral-free loans for 30-odd years with very low default rates.

Third, and related to the second, massively expand the finance available to mutuals, social enterprises, trades councils and other non-profit structures (inluding local authorities and Clinical Commissioning Groups), either by demanding that these same taxpayer-owned banks lend to them on the basis of a) their constitutional and legal commitments to their identified social good; b) simplified ‘Social Impact Bond’-style monitoring requirements, minus the investment return complexities which are making these vehicles so hard to get off the ground at anything like a game-changing scale.   

If the banks aren’t up to this – and it is likely that they won’t be – the loans should be fed through alternative financial intermediaries like Charity Bank and the Social Investment Business.  They’ve been managing these ‘social impact’ processes for years now.

None of this is rocket science. It just needs a Chancellor who understands how the rest of us live.  Ah, right……..

 

 
 
 

 

Categories: Terrible Tories

The continuing lie about the decline in UK literacy

June 14, 2012 4 comments

There are a couple of interesting tweets from Phillip Blond this morning:

Most worrying failure to prepare to work is the relative decline of the UK’s median educational levels – falling like a stone on PISA tables;

While A levels grades are rising UK now 23rd in the OECD for reading and writing – we are very poorly educated compared to our competitors.

PISA stands for the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment, the latest report for which appeared in 2009, and Phillip appears to have based his tweets on the comments about reading standards made recently by the Head of Ofsted:

It is a national concern and especially when you look at the international league tables which show that we’re down from 7th in the world 10 years ago to 23rd in the world and that countries are doing better than us…

This comment appears in turn to be taken from a Department for Education (DfE) press release:

England has tumbled down the international tables in the last nine years – from 7th to 25th in reading*; 8th to 28th in maths; and 4th to 16th in science

This would of course be most disturbing news, if it were true. 

But it’s not true, for three reasons:

1) DfE/Ofsted fail to note that, in the PISA report, some 12 other countries, nominally above England in the 2009 tables, have statistically insignificant higher scores; statistically, the UK is not 23rd, but equal 11th.

2) Moreover, DfE/Ofsted fail to note that two countries in the 2009 tables are there for the first time, and so skew the trend;

3) DfE/Ofsted have ignored the OECD’s explicit warning (para 2) against comparing earlier PISA results with earlier data, because the very low response rate for earlier years created big concerns about sample validity.

 Such basic failure of analysis would, I suspect, lead DfE/Ofsted to fail a maths GCSE, but then I also suspect this is less about about civil service incompetence, and more about political expedience.  It suits Gove and his colleagues just fine to do down the achievement of 15 year olds and their teacher through the malicious use of falsely interpreted data.

 * The discrepancy between the Ofsted (23rd) and the DfE figure (25th) can be reconciled by the fact that the original DfE coverage failed to notice that England was only behind Denmark and Chinese Taipei in the table because, though all three are on the same score, England starts with a later letter in the alphabet.

When Cameron thinks, he thinks for us

June 4, 2012 1 comment

David Cameron said a very revealing thing on the Marr show at the weekend. Defending his government in the light of the spate of u-turns, he said:

Nobody thinks this Government lacks resolve, strength and grit.

Now I don’t think the government lacks resolve – it’s just wrong –  but that’s not the point.

The point is that Cameron isn’t telling us what he’d like us to think about his government, or what we should think about it.  He’s telling us what we do think.

I suggest this one sentence may tell us quite a lot about the way Cameron thinks, and in consequence about the way his government operates.  It suggests that, in Cameron’s mind what the people of Britain think is indivisible from what he thinks; that he thinks for Britain; that, by virtue of his position, he is Britain.

This may sound an extreme interpretation of a single sentence, but it is in keeping with other evidence.  Take, for example his council housing gaffe:

I get people coming to my constituency surgery saying exactly that:  “We waited before we got married until we could afford it, we waited till we could afford to have children, we waited and then we managed to get a house and I see someone down the road do none of those responsible things and they get put up in a council house, they have as many children as they want.”

This isn’t just a gaffe because there is no council housing in his constituency. 

It’s an interesting gaffe because it (especially the use of direct speech to convey his ‘oneness’ with the invented constituents), reveals a tendency to invent people in situations which prove the point he’s seeking to make.  He’s probably not deliberately lying. Instead, because he sees himself as the embodiment of Britain, it has become second nature to ‘be’ the British people for a moment to illustrate his point.  

The same is probably true of his ‘black man in Plymouth’  gaffe (note again his use of direct speech employed to ‘embody’ the man) , and his more recent Cornish pasty-eating embellishment.

Alone, they are sillinesses. Together, they represent a fabulist trend, born of that very deep sense of Cameronian class-based entitlement.

And it is that deep sense of entitlement – shared with Osborne and his close coterie – which has created the operational code of Cameron Conservatism, in which facts and detail are less important than the overall statecraft of ‘high politics’, and as a consequence of which u-turns are less a sign of weakness than of governmental incompetence.

 

 

 

Categories: Terrible Tories

The real Lisbon Treaty: Tsipras, May and Eurogeddon realpolitik

May 26, 2012 7 comments

A short while ago, I mentioned the possibility of a Greek ‘fix’ involving artificial devaluation via (temporary) import duties and export subsidies, and noted:

Of course there is a reluctance even to think about tinkering with the fundamentals of the Single Market in this way, but as ‘eurogeddon’ approaches for both Greece and the rest of Europe, a temporary fix like this may start to seem an awful lot more attractive.

I was, as expected, pilloried for such left-field (borrowed) thinking , especially in the comments on the Liberal Conspiracy Sunny horror-edit, which failed to notice that I’d already acknowledged the issue, e.g.:

Providing subsidies for exports to the EU would be clearly illegal also as there’s no realistic prospect of it being approved by the EU Commission under the State Aid rules.

This is of course, true.  Up to a point…….

Article 30 of the Lisbon Treaty does indeed say:

Customs duties on imports and exports and charges having equivalent effect shall be prohibited between Member States. This prohibition shall also apply to customs duties of a fiscal nature.

But then Article 32 goes on to say:

In carrying out the tasks entrusted to it under this Chapter the Commission shall be guided by………(d) the need to avoid serious disturbances in the economies of Member States and to ensure rational development of production and an expansion of consumption within the Union.

This might easily enough be interpreted, if the political will is there, as meaning the Commission doesn’t have to enforce Article 30 if it’s going to create havoc, which then opens the door to precisely what I/Duncan have in mind.

 We’ll see.  It is only one option. 

In any event, the SYRZIA leader seems to be adopting a strategy of brinkmanship on pretty well exactly the same lines as I was supporting in that piece – refusing externally imposed austerity while at the same time refusing the option of leaving the Euro,  in the knowledge that both side have the ‘nuclear option’, and that it’s Merkel who will most likely blink first; that’s why IMF boss Lagarde has been sent in to play tough cop; SYRZIA will, I hope, see that as a demonstration of increasing desperation rather than one of bargaining strength. 

Cleverly, Alexis Tsipras also refers to the “structural reforms” that a SYRZIA-led government would undertake.  This might include some kind of unilateral export subsidy (import duties will of course be much harder to implement effectively, and a holidaymaker-focused sales tax may be another partial route). I suspect ‘structural reform’ is more code for reforming the tax system so that taxes from the wealthy are a) increased; b) actually collected.  The code may be about dampening capital flight for the time being.

Alongside this,  it’s interesting to see the Tories now in the UK making plans to restrict intra-EU immigration.  This is, like duties/subvention, apparently outside the spirit of the Single Market, as set out in Article 21 of the Lisbon Treaty, but open to exception:

Every citizen of the Union shall have the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States, subject to the limitations and conditions laid down in the Treaties and by the measures adopted to give them effect.

It will be interesting to see, if Sunny decides to hack this article up and post random excerpts of it at Liberal Conspiracy, whether those accusing me of crass stupidity in understanding the fundamentals of the Single Market also think Theresa May’s plans are beyond the pale.

For myself, I suspect Alexis Tsipiras and his comrades understand the real politik of the European crisis rather better than Theresa May, though I may be wrong – May might be on to an incredibly cunning way for the UK to leave the EU without the bother of a referendum, thus outflanking Labour from so far to the right that even Ed’s brilliant Euro-team won’t see it coming.

Wild speculation about eurozone is damaging, claim wildly speculating Tories

Tuesday 15th May:

Open speculation about whether Greece can remain a member of the eurozone is “damaging” for the whole of Europe, Chancellor George Osborne has said.

Weds 16th May:

Europe faces the potential break-up of the single currency unless it takes urgent action to deal with the euro crisis, Prime Minister David Cameron warned today.

You couldn’t make it up etc. etc.

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