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.
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.
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.
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.
Open speculation about whether Greece can remain a member of the eurozone is “damaging” for the whole of Europe, Chancellor George Osborne has said.
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.
As regular readers will know, TCF has followed the Regional Growth Fund (RGF) story from the start with revelations and analysis posted both here and by Sunny at Liberal Conspiracy.
From the first announcement in June 2010, the whole RGF thing smacked more of Cameronesque PR than real regeneration substance. It was through TCF’s and Liberal Conspiracy’s diggings (Labour HQ never acknowledges that kind of thing, but the Guardian did) that Ed Miliband first turned the heat on Cameron’s basic governmental competence, when he used an October 2011 PMQs to ask how many businesses had yet been funded (answer: two at that stage, versus 22 press releases).
This was the very first conscious use by Miliband of Labour’s now markedly successful ‘omnishambles’ narrative, which has largely replaced its (unsuccessful and incorrect) attempts to portray Cameron as Thatcher Mk II, rather than arrogant posh boy who sees basic governmental competence as beneath him.
The National Audit Office (NAO) today published its review of the first two rounds of the Regional Growth Fund (RGF). It reeks of the omnishambles odour now hanging heavily from the government, and I hope Miliband will refer to it at the next PMQs.*
Some of the more striking findings in the report** are follows:
1) The incoming government abolished Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), deriding them as “ineffective and inefficient”. The RDAs created jobs at an average cost of £28,000 each. by contrast, each RGF job is estimated to cost £33,000 each (fig 7, p. 24)***
2) As of March 16th 2012, only a third of all applicants had received a final offer letter. The report notes that the pace has improved since December 2011, as more staff have been brought to the task. Labour might well want to argue that it has improved only because they brought the dire situation to light in October (with my and Sunny’s help).
3) Similarly, in December 2011, the projected underspend on the £470m earmarked for the 2011-12 financial year was £366m, 77 % of the total. Unfortunately, the departments supposedly running the fund had failed to agree any financial year rollover provisions with the Treasury, so stood to lose all of that money.
They had in fact been able to reduce that underspend to £10m by March 2012, partly by piling in staff resources to do due diligence on outstanding bids – better late than never, I suppose - but also by “distributing some of the Fund via endowments managed by some of the programmes supported in the second bidding round” (para 3.15).
As I set out here in my top 10 RGF tips, and in more detail here this simply adds another layer of decision making about who actually gets the money in the end; it is not actually genuine expenditure of the fund.
4) “Work on agreeing terms and conditions with applicants progressed slowly. The Fund has no dedicated administration budget. Its small Secretariat struggled to manage the volume of work to conduct the appraisals for the second bidding round while also negotiating final project terms and conditions with companies offered funding in the first bidding round. Delays at this stage have a significant effect on the overall time taken to finalise offers, because due diligence cannot begin until the Secretariat and the bidder have agreed factors such as the precise activities that the Fund will support. The Secretariat was supported by up to 12 full-time-equivalent economists from other departments during the project appraisal phase, but all but one of these staff returned to their home departments, before the due diligence phase started.” (para 3.11)
Enough said. It is clear that the government wildly underestimated what needed doing, apparently intent on learning absolutely nothing from the RDAs’ experience. Vince Cable has already agreed to “making more administrative resources available“. This will, of course, increase the cost per job above the £33,000 currently estimated by NAO.
I look forward to PMQs on Wednesday.
*You can tell how nervous the government is about it already, from the fact that Vince Cable has been dragged out of hiding to defend it on the morning of its publication. Note also that it now longer appears to be a joint Pickles/Cable department programme – Cable has been left as the human shield.
** It is beyond the remit of the report to cover the major expense of abolishing RDAs, only to find that creating jobs was cheaper through them.
*** Oddly, the £33,000 per job figure doesn’t seem to follow from the £1.4bn expenditure divided by 41,000 jobs, which is actually £34,000 per job. I can’t explain why.
The Riots Communities & Victims Panel has reported on the August 2011 riots:
When people feel they have no reason to stay out of trouble the consequences can be devastating. We must give everyone a stake in society……
The Panel spoke to many individuals from deprived backgrounds who did not riot. They told us that they had a stake in society that they did not want to jeopardise.
Which is pretty well exactly what I said on the very first evening of the riots:
Most people from richer areas, who have jobs or who have a good chance of getting a good job, will not riot in the next day or few because their retaining their job or job chance through not getting a criminal record is greater than any of the other incentives I have listed above.
It’s as simple as that.
People from poorer, more deprived areas and backgrounds are rioting for different, shifting motivations, but they are doing so because they do not have enough invested in what the state can offer them to outweigh the benefits of that rioting.
Seven months on, there are less opportunities to invest in society than there were.
“Forget rising tax allowance. VAT hike, real terms cuts to tax credits, Child and Council Tax benefit mean poor getting poorer” tweets Owen Jones.
Owen is, I think, quite wrong. The personal allowance is the last thing we should be forgetting. This is the key to the Tories’ claim that this a fair budget, and it needs to be challenged for what it is.
The Labour leadership, and the Labour PR machine under its instruction, will almost certainly focus its fire on the lowering of the basic tax rate, and on the huge hit on pensioners’ tax allowances. This is classic squeezed middle territory (remember that we’re talking second, not state, pensions here).
Meanwhile, the Tory party and its press will focus its narrative on the decision to raise the personal allowance to £9,205.
As George Eaton identified this morning, the personal allowance hike may be bad policy but it’s great politics; the distributional effects may well be skewed to the upper earning centiles, but it’s easy to understand and voters are already in favour of it. In general, people are interested less in how the benefit might be distributed than in the idea that they might at least get some.
So while Labour is busy working out complicated ways to show how “average” hard working families and pensioners are hit (e.g. the claim that average families will end up £235 per year worse off), the Tories will be able to get on with their simple, effective message that it’s they who are the real party of the poor. It’s already happening, as this tweet indicates:
The Coalition Govt has now HALVED the income tax bill of a full-time employee on the minimum wage.
So what should Labour (and Owen) do differently?
The answer is to tackle the personal allowance issue head on, with examples that people can readily understand.
Here’s one I prepared earlier.
Take a single parent dad with two school age children, working full-time on just £12,000 per year (before deductions) as of April 2013, when the allowance announced today comes in.
The new personal tax allowance from 2013-14 will be £,9,205. This means that he’ll have (£12,000 – £9,205) £2,795 to pay tax on and a tax bill of (£2,795×20%) £559.
This compares with a tax bill for 2012-13, during which the personal allowance is £8,105 of ((£12,000 – £8,105) x20%) £779.
So the tax saved is £779 – £559 – a not massive £220.
This isn’t the whole story, though. To get a proper sense of how this family will fare, we need to take into account a) the three year freeze on child benefit effective from April 2011; b) the new freeze on working tax credit to which this family would be entitled.
Child benefit remains at £20.30 for the first child and £13.40 for the second (£33.70 total). If you calculate what the benefit rate would have been if it had been inflation rated from 2011-14 (at, say, 5%, 5% and 3% per year as inflation drops), you find that child benefit that would have been totalled £1,995.5 in 2014 actually totals £1,752.40. That’s a loss to the family of some £245 per year.
Then there’s the working tax credit freeze. You can put the information into this handy government calculator, and you find that without inflation rises in 2012 and 2013, the family ends up a further £29 out of pocket.
So for all Osborne’s fine words, a single parent family wioth two children surviving on £12,000 per year will be £274 per year worse off simply as a result of Osborne’s recent tax and benefit changes, and before any of the other factors like general cost of living increases, and VAT, are taken into account.
This is one angle in which we should be taking on the government when it talks about how it has lifted low earnersout of tax: it’s smoke and mirrors.
But the other way – to make the personal allowance hike relative to the 50p tax reduction for high earners – may be more effective.
The maths are simple. Someone who earns £1m per year will now pay £42, 500 less tax. The personal allowance rise means someone on £12,000 will pay £220 less tax if you leave the previous freezes out of the equation.
Someone earning a million earns 83 times as much as someone on £12,000, but will save 193 times as much in tax. A simple measure of how regressive this is simple: 83/193 = the rich are being treated at least (193/83) 2.3 times better than the poor by today’s budget.
Of course, this is the dull maths, and someone in the Labour team will need to make the points a good deal more snappily than I can. But the point remains that we shouldn’t just be letting the Tories get away with their lie that their personal allowance rise is doing anything at all for those on low incomes.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Schools and Head of Ofsted, was the object of some ridicule this morning for his failure to grasp a pretty basic mathematical concept (just like his boss Gove had done). Polly Curtis at the Guardian’s Fact Check covered that well, drawing out how this slip of the tongue reflects how averages have gradually become targets.
There is, though, a much more serious charge to be levelled at Wilshaw.
On BBC radio 5 this morning (from about 2mins 11secs) Wilshaw stated:
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 is out of keeping with the very Moving English Forward report he was on air to talk about. This report says (para 96):
The government has placed increasing emphasis on international comparisons which appear to show that England has fallen down the league table when it comes to performance in literacy. The White Paper [The Importance of Teaching, 2010] argues: “What really matters is how we’re doing compared with our international competitors. That is what will define our economic growth and our country‟s future. The truth is, at the moment we are standing still while others race past. In the most recent OECD PISA survey in 2006 we fell from… 7th to 17th in literacy.
What that 2010 White Paper actually says (para 4.36) is:
England fell in the PIRLS rankings from 3rd out of 35 in 2001 to 15th out of 40 in 2006. In the most recent PISA survey in 2006, England fell from 4th to 14th in science, 7th to 17th in literacy, and 8th to 24th in mathematics.
So neither the PISA (for 15 year old reading) or the PIRLS (for 11 year olds) data quoted show that England is in Wilshaw’s purported 23rd place.
The PIRLS data quoted in the White Paper is in fact correctly quoted there (see table 1.2 of this report), but this is not referred to in his own organisation’s report, even though it is for the age group (11 year olds) about whom he expresses most concern.
So not only has Wilshaw apparently referred to his own report incorrectly both in terms of international comparison, he’s also managed to sign off a report which quotes the wrong age group figures in the first place.
From where, then, does Wilshaw pluck this mysterious 23rd place, different from the one given in his own report? The answer may lie in an October 2011 Department for Education press release, which I examined at the time. This press release states:
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 25th is only 2 places away from Wilshaw’s claim, and the two can be reconciled by the fact that in 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.
But as I noted in my earlier post, that DfE press release contains a catalogue of other, more serious errors; it fails to note that some 12 other countries nominally above England have statistically insignificant higher scores; it fails to note that two countries in the new table are there for the first time and so skew the trend; and it fails to take account of the OECD’s utterly explicit warning (para 2) against comparing earlier PISA results with the 2006 data, because the response rate for the earlier years was so low as to raise big concerns about sample validity.
So what do we have, in summary?
We have a Chief Inspector - head of a supposedly independent organisation - operating in apparent collusion with a government department to give a deliberately false and negative impression of literacy standards and English teaching in England. Why else would he discard the information provided in his own report, which he’s been asked onto radio to talk about, in favour of other, more negative figures apparently dredged from a dodgy press release?
This is not only potentially scandalous in terms of Wilshaw’s own lack of integrity. It is also very bad news for teachers and children, because it reveals just how politicised literacy has become.
In fact the PIRLS data referred to in the 2010 White Paper (but left out of today’s Ofsted report) could be useful, not least because it shows up how much more unequal the distribution in achievement is between the upper and lowe percentiles compared with other countries (see Exhibit 1.1 in this PIRLS report). This could, if properly used, have provided a clue that the measures needed are around narrowing inequalities at the lower achieving.
Instead, Wilshaw prefers to ignore this kind of refined analysis and to bluster on in the press about the need to raise targets for everyone, even though there is no evidence that the actual target is the problem, and even though this is a 2010 White Paper announcement rather than something in the new report:
So one of the first questions we need to ask is whether the national end-of-primary-school target of level 4 is sufficiently high to provide an adequate foundation for success at secondary school.
In short, it’s hard to avoid the sense that Sir Michael Wilshaw is anything more than a Gove lapdog, happy to bash teachers and children for narrow political purpose, and to use manifestly incorrect data to do so.
In the current political environment, therefore, he’ll go far.
On Nov 25th 2011, the Department for Work and Pensions issued a press release about the new Youth Contract, announced with great fanfare by Nick Clegg. The press release included this statement:
An extra 250,000 Work Experience places over the next three years, taking the total to at least 100,000 a year. This will come with an offer of a Work Experience place for every 18 to 24 year-old who wants one, before they enter the Work Programme.
Further to my complaint to the BBC about its handling of this press release, I submitted a FOI request to DWP seeking details on how the supposed £1bn Youth Contract was made up. The request was made well before the latest revelations about “workfare”.
Yesterday I received my reply. This stated:
The Get Britain Working measures includes Work Experience, sector-based work academies and Mandatory Work Activity.
Nowhere in the November press release was Mandatory Work Activity mentioned. This suggests DWP were keen to keep its part in the Youth Contract secret.
More importantly, this means that the DWP’s claim that the scheme is “for every 18 to 24 year-old who wants one” must be a direct lie, since clients are forced into Mandatory Work Activity on the claim that they do not want to engage.
The text of the FOI reply is copied below:
Dear Mr Cotterill,
Thank you for your Freedom of Information request of 22 January 2012. You asked:
Please provide a full breakdown of the costs of the Youth Contract set out in your press release of 25th November 2011, and available online at http://www.dwp.gov.uk/newsroom/press-releases/2011/nov-2011/dwp132-11.shtml
The statement indicates in the first paragraph that the total value of the Youth contract is £1bn, and four of the five items set out in the press release have costs set against them. The final item (work experience) has no cost set against it. Please therefore provide a copy of any summary paper put together within the Department for Work and Pensions which give details on how the total value of £1bn is reached.
The Youth Contract is a package of measures covering several Government Departments worth almost £1bn and was announced on 25th November 2011 http://www.dpm.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/news/1-billion-package-tackle-youth-unemployment. The table below sets out the anticipated expenditure for each element of the Youth Contract. It covers the overall cost of the Youth Contract (£939m) of which the DWP element is £660m, with the remainder going to other Government Departments and the Devolved Administrations.
Net cost of wage incentive and Work Programme £391
JCP Support £169
Expansion of Get Britain Working measures £93
Sub-total for Employment support DWP £660
Northern Ireland consequentials @ 2.9% £19
Sub total for employment measures £679
Outreach & Skills
Sub total for outreach and skills £260
Total Cost £939
• Jobcentre Plus (JCP) support includes the cost of weekly face-to-face contact from five months and extra advisor support.
• The Get Britain Working measures line includes Work Experience, sector-based work academies and Mandatory Work Activity.
• Outreach and skills includes funding for Apprenticeships and support for 16 and 17 year olds.
• Departmental Expenditure Limit (DEL) refers to planned Departmental expenditure. More information on public spending planning can be found at: http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/psr_spend_plancontrol.htm
If you have any queries about this letter please contact me quoting the reference number above.
Labour Market Interventions Division