Skip to content

Read On. Get On. Let’s get all children reading well at age 11 – Chris Thoung

September 9, 2014

Reading is a critical foundational skill but, currently, one in four children in England leave primary school unable to read well. That amounts to some 130,000 children each year. This situation has changed little in the last five years and, without decisive action, it is likely to persist for years to come.

Not being able to read well has dire consequences for social mobility. Children from poorer backgrounds are more likely to leave primary school unable to read well and we know from research that low educational performance earlier in life is directly associated with worse outcomes later on, at secondary school and beyond.

Not being able to read well has helped to create a ‘tail’ of young people that society is leaving behind. The prospects for this tail are poor, in terms of employment, crime and health, and the costs to society are great, and growing. As a society, we are failing these children.

Last year, in The Tail, we put forward a ‘manifesto’ of proposals to address this challenge and CentreForum is delighted to be part of a new coalition that has come together to launch the Read On. Get On. campaign.

Read On. Get On. sets out a bold ambition for all children to be reading well at age 11, by 2025

CentreForum has played a key role in setting this goal with our new analysis that demonstrates just how achievable this goal could be.

Using official data on actual pupil performance in 2013 we have modelled the potential impact three policy interventions would have on increasing the number of children reading well at age 11. The first thing we looked at was the impact of supporting better those children who are making less progress in reading than their classmates.

Our analysis demonstrates that if these children had been able to achieve at least an average level of progress in their reading ability through primary school, more than 90% of all pupils would have left school that year reading well, compared to the 2013 figure of just 75% of pupils. For the children that would still be struggling to read well, our work went on to show how access to effective early years education together with targeted catch-up programmes has the potential to further raise this rate to at least 96%.

Additional interventions and targeted initiatives at early years, in primary schools, and in the homes and the wider community, are all recognised by the Read On. Get On. campaign as key factors in improving reading outcomes, and will ensure that by 2025 all children can be reading well by age 11.

This is not just an aspiration. As we have shown in this new research, published to coincide with the launch of the Read On. Get On. campaign, it is a demonstrably achievable ambition.

Click here for more information about the Read On. Get On. campaign and how you can get involved.

Chris Thoung is an economics researcher at CentreForum and author of ‘Reading well by 11: modelling for the potential for improvement’

Liberal Hero of the Week #74: The Independent front page

September 5, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf hero - indy front page

The Independent front page

UK newspaper
Reason: for reporting a terrorist murder without sensationalising it

You’re a newspaper editor and a big international story breaks: a US journalist is seemingly murdered by a British member of the terrorist organisation, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), and the gruesome video of the crime released.

You know it’s a front page story. Do you (a) splash a still photo of the murder on your front page for impact even though you know it gives his killers the victory they were looking for, or (b) report it without resorting to advertising the terrorists’ crimes for them?

If you answered (a) you’re qualified to run most of the UK’s national newspapers. Only The Independent (along with the Financial Times) had the courage to go with (b). Zach Green put it best:

Kudos, then, to The Independent and its editor Amol Rajan for showing it’s possible to publish a punchy, newsy front page that gives readers the facts without giving the terrorist what they want.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.

Liberal Hero of the Week #73: Mary Beard

August 29, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf hero - mary beard

Mary Beard

Professor of classics at the University of Cambridge
Reason: for taking a stand against Twitter ‘trolls’ and then giving them a second chance

This series has taken an unannounced summer break. Partly my inertia, mostly I’ve found myself scratching around these past few weeks searching for Liberal Heroes and drawing a blank amist what has been an unrelentingly depressing summer in international affairs.

That’s a little unfair: Sir John Major, for example, deserves a mention as a Conservative prepared to praise immigrants unambiguously as “people with guts and the drive to travel halfway across the world in many cases to better themselves and their families”. So, too, does another Conservative, Michael Fabricant for his work to lift the restrictions on gay men donating blood: “Against this background of huge social change in the cause of equality, it is still forbidden for a sexually active gay man to donate blood.”

But it was Mary Beard who prompted this column to come out of hibernation. This Guardian article explains why:

The Cambridge University professor, one of the country’s foremost classicists who has fought a very public battle about online etiquette after receiving a torrent of abuse on Twitter, said she has taken to befriending her vilifiers. They include the university student Oliver Rawlings, whom she publicly named and shamed in July last year after he sent her an abusive message. Speaking in an interview with the New Yorker magazine, Beard revealed the pair had remained in touch after he took her to lunch to apologise for sending her a tweet that read: “You filthy old slut” followed by a derogatory comment about her genitalia. Beard retweeted it to her 47,000 followers to out her abuser, but said she had now taken to writing job recommendations for Rawlings so he didn’t suffer in the long term for “one moment of idiocy”.

“He is going to find it hard to get a job, because as soon as you Google his name that is what comes up,” she said. “And although he was a very silly, injudicious, and at that moment not very pleasant young guy, I don’t actually think one tweet should ruin your job prospects.” She added: “In general, I am more concerned to be sure that people don’t use the internet in this way (or don’t do so again) than to seek ‘punishment’.” Beard’s tactic of naming-and-shaming also prompted Rawlings to make a public apology on his own Twitter account, writing: “I sincerely apologise for my trolling. I was wrong and very rude. Hope this can be forgotten and forgiven. I feel this had been a good lesson for me. Thanks 4 showing me the error of my ways.”

Not everyone will feel able to take on Professor Beard’s mantle, over-look the rudeness of a misogynist coward hiding behind a Twitter avatar, and attempt to engage him in mature debate; and by no means every ‘troll’ will respond in a way which makes such an attempt worthwhile. But for her willingness to educate (and his in learning) Mary Beard is this week’s Liberal Hero.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.

Liberal Hero of the Week #72: Vince Cable

July 12, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf hero vince cable

Vince Cable

Lib Dem Business Secretary
Reason: For sticking up for the right of workers to go on strike.

There are many reasons over the couple of years the Liberal Heroes series has been running that Vince Cable could have been nominated – most notably, his battle against Conservative cabinet colleagues’ panicky attempts to cut immigration even at the cost of damaging the British economy.

But he gets the nod this week for a completely different issue, though one on which (coincidentally, I’m sure) he’s also at odds with the Conservative party: defending the right of workers to go on strike.

On Thursday this week, between half-a-million (Government estimate) and more than a million (trade union estimate) public sector workers went on strike in protest against the Coalition’s policies on pay, pensions and spending cuts. This triggered calls by David Cameron to make it harder for the unions to call strikes, perhaps by imposing a minimum turnout threshold in any strike ballot. Vince, rightly, was having none of it:

“We disagree with the Tories’ assertion that a small turnout in strike-action ballots undermines the basic legitimacy of the strike. If they want to look at minimum turnout, this would have major implications for other democratic turnouts and elections. Many MPs have been elected by well under 50% of their electorate, let alone police commissioners or MEPs. Why have a threshold in a ballot but not make our elected politicians or shareholders face the same hurdle?”

He’s quite right. And as Steven Toft (AKA blogger ‘Flip Chart Rick’) pointed out:

There is one other way in which parliamentary, mayoral and council elections are different from strike ballots, though, and it’s a much more important one than the argument about majorities.

Political elections are binding on everyone. Unless you decide to emigrate, you have to abide by the laws the new government makes, regardless of how small its percentage of the vote was.

Strike ballots, on the other hand, are binding on absolutely nobody. If your union votes to strike, you are perfectly free to ignore it, as lots of public sector workers did on Thursday. There is nothing the union or anyone else can do about it. Unions are prevented by law from disciplining members who refuse to go on strike. Yes, there may be some peer pressure but if that extends to intimidation, the perpetrators could find themselves facing criminal charges.

All a strike ballot does is make it legal for those that want to go on strike to do so. That’s all. Everyone else can ignore it.

Putting the threshold up to 50 percent would mean that all abstentions would be counted as no votes. An apathetic majority could therefore stop a committed minority from exercising their right to strike.

Liberals believe in freedom. The free movement of people, freedom of association, and the freedom of workers to withdraw their labour. For sticking up for those freedoms of the individual against the state, Vince Cable is this week’s Liberal Hero.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.

Liberal Hero of the Week #71: The Financial Times

June 30, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf hero ft

Financial Times

Pink ‘un read by the people who own the country
Reason: For urging government adopt a more thoughtful approach to outsourcing.

Don’t tell me about the press. I know exactly who reads the papers: the Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by people who actually do run the country; the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country; the The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country; and The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.
(Jim Hacker, Yes Prime Minister)

One of the Thatcher / Major / Blair / Coalition governments’ great mistakes has been to assume that competition is the same as what the private sector does. Under the Conservatives nationalised monopolies were converted into private monopolies. Under Labour, and now the Coalition, outsourcing public services has become a way of life.

There are, of course, times when this makes sense. The Coalition’s privatisation of the Royal Mail and its sell-off of parts of the student loan book are two cases in point, controversial though both are in some quarters. But it isn’t always the case that ‘public = bad, private = good’, as this week’s Financial Times shrewdly pointed out:

The government must control its temptation to outsource on all fronts. The rush to outsource the probation service is a case in point.

In those areas where outsourcing is appropriate, government needs to be much smarter about monitoring and challenging poor performance. The growth of outsourcing has outstripped the capability of the civil service to keep providers on their toes. The government should equip officials with the skills commensurate to negotiate on equal terms with large providers and to hold them to account throughout the lifetime of the contracts. Elaborate monitoring systems dreamt up by consultants must be simplified.

Finally, trust needs to be restored to the entire outsourcing project. It must be shown as more than a ruse to push down wages and cut costs. Quality should be the clear aim – which will sometimes mean big is not best. Trust also requires more transparency, especially about performance against targets. Government needs to show there is sufficient competition during the tendering process and an ability to manage a change in provider, should the company be found to fall consistently short. Outsourcing has an important role to play, if implemented properly. A more thoughtful approach is needed.

The three conditions are simple enough (if complex to implement): 1) Competition during tendering, 2) Transparency and accountability of performance expectations, and 3) An available contract exit route. If all three conditions can be met, then outsourcing can and should be considered. If they can’t then approach with caution.

I believe in competition as a great driver-upper of standards. But we cannot simply assume competition and improved delivery will automatically result from awarding a public service contract to the private sector. Hopefully the people who do run the country will listen to the paper read by the people who own the country.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.

Liberal Hero of the Week #70: Lord (Alex) Carlile

June 23, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf hero - alex carlile

Lord (Alex) Carlile

Lib Dem peer
Reason: For proposing that children who have committed minor crimes, but have stopped breaking the law, should have their record cleared when they turn 18.

Lord Carlile – as plain Alex Carlile he was Lib Dem MP for Montgomeryshire before Lembit Opik turned it Tory – is not always the most popular peer among party activists.

As the independent reviewer of anti-terrorist laws from 2005-11 he often seemed more concerned with defending the Blair/Brown governments’ authoritarianism than he did British citizens liberties. And his hectoring defence of his friend Lord Rennard, recently forced to apologise following allegations of sexual impropriety against him by four women, did nothing to redeem his reputation.

Set against these transgressions, Lord Carlile has often been a liberal hero – for example, his opposition to some of the most egregious cuts to Legal Aid implemented by this Coalition Government. Worth noting, too, that he was the first elected British politician to campaign for the rights of transexual people, when in the mid-1990s he brought forward a Private Members’ Bill proposing a means to correct transsexual people’s birth certificates and status.

This week Lord Carlile acted the liberal hero again when – as chair of a review panel of a cross-party group of MPs and members of the House of Lords – he argued publicly that children who have committed minor crimes, but have stopped breaking the law, should have their record cleared when they turn 18:

“What we find is that people whose lives have been reformed – they’ve graduated, they’ve maybe become teachers or lawyers or accountants – are inhibited at obtaining work because CRB checks and other records checks show that they have committed an offence, for example robbery of a mobile phone, when they were 16 years old,” Lord Carlile told the BBC.

“And it’s held against them for a very long time. So we think that if people have been through a good criminal justice system, they should be able to wipe the slate clean when they become an adult.” However, he said a “decent time lapse” should be in place when under-18s commit serious offences.

Yes, the criminal justice system is there to punish those who do wrong. But, more importantly, it is there to rehabilitate – and when rehabilitation takes place, it should be recognised.

In a week when MPs from the Conservative and Labour benches united in support of mandatory jail terms for any adult convicted in England or Wales of a second offence involving a knife – leaving judges with no discretion, no matter what the extenuating circumstances – it is good to see liberal-minded politicians prepared to make a grown-up case for earned second chances.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.

Liberal Hero of the Week #69: Anna Lo

May 30, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf hero anna lo

Anna Lo

Alliance Party member for Belfast South in the Northern Ireland Assembly
Reason: For championing non-sectarian tolerance.

Now what we in the mainland euphemistically referred to as ‘The Troubles’ are over (ish), Northern Ireland rarely gets a look-in in UK politics. That changed this week, though, when Alliance Party MLA Anna Lo dramatically announced she was quitting politics – and possibly leaving the country she’s made her home for the past three decades – following comments made by First Minister Peter Robinson in support of a controversial pastor who denounced Islam.

Defending Pastor James McConnell of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in north Belfast, who described Islam as “heathen” and “satanic”, Robinson told the Irish News newspaper he would not trust Muslims involved in violence or who fully subscribed to Sharia law, but that he would “trust them to go to the shops” for him. Though seemingly oblivious to the condescension of his remark, Robinson has at least issued the traditional non-apology apology for any hurt caused: “if anyone interpreted them that way of course I would apologise.”

Anna Lo was unimpressed: “To support a lunatic who makes remarks like that is adding fuel to the flames in Northern Ireland. In the last few weeks there have been two to three racist incidents per day in Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland.”

She was almost one of those statistics, she told The Guardian, after being followed by a loyalist mob when leaving an east Belfast shopping centre during the European election campaign: “They started hurling abuse at me and I decided to get out of Connswater shopping centre as quickly as possible. About three or four individuals then followed me to the car park but I kept ahead of them walking as quickly as I could. Even when I got inside my car there was a young girl who climbed out of the wound-down window of a parked car and started shouting vile things at me. If I hadn’t decided to act quickly and get out of there I don’t know what would have happened to me.”

This is the price Anna Lo has paid for her championing of non-sectarian tolerance and respect in a country that has been riven by discord. Here, for example, is what she told her party’s conference last month:

I make no apologies for highlighting that Alliance is a party which champions and cherishes diversity. What saddens me is that the focus on my comments reflects that there are those, with their orange and green lenses, who are incapable of seeing beyond sectarianism. They either can’t grasp the concept of a cross-community party, or they won’t, because cross-community politics threatens their position. Tackling that narrow-mindedness is this party’s responsibility. But it is also our privilege – as a forward thinking and progressive party we will have the privilege of delivering Northern Ireland from the shadows of the past and showing the world all we have to be proud of.

For her courage and determination, in taking a positive stand by trying to unite people, Anna Lo is a Liberal Hero.

Honourable mentions…

I’m playing catch-up here, with some nominations I haven’t had chance to blog about but deserve recognition:

Theresa May (Home Secretary): for her courageous speech to the Police Federation bluntly setting out the reforms it needs to make in order to regain public trust.

Mark Carney (Bank of England governor): for warning of the dangers to the British economy of our failure to build enough houses and the likely need to scale back the Coalition’s Help to Buy scheme that’s further stoking the market.

Eric Schmidt (Google’s executive chairman): for highlighting the risks that the European Court of Justice’s ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling will harm the public’s right to know, with public figures seeking to restrict access to publicly available information.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,675 other followers