Nick Clegg in a thoughtful and well-organised speech has released some details about the intoduction of the long-covetted Lib Dem Pupil Premium. As stated the aim is to help disadvantaged pupils by providing 15 hours of teaching from the age of two and at various stages of their education. It is a worthy aim in itself but as we know the road to hell is paved with good intentions. As stated the policy might be expected to assist 20 percent of the 1.1 milion children who at the present time enjoy free school meals.
In his analysis Clegg makes a startling and misconceived identification of disadvantage with poverty. Is it true that all children whose families are poor are disadvantaged? Are all the disadvantaged poor? Do all poor children take free school meals? And would special teaching of the poor, as so defined, tackle the problem.
Clegg does not pose and answer these questions. So I will step in and help him. No not all poor children are disadvantaged. We can all think of good homes and successful children from homes with limited income. I come from just such a home. But my parents were aspirational and willing to work at the difficult art of encouraging children. Not all homes are like this and many with greater resources succeed in making a mess of family life and their children’s progress. Not all poor children take school meals. Many parents prefer to us their imagination and the money they have available to provide lunches for their children. Disadvantaged children come from any family breakdown you care to mention.
The evidence on the usefulness of pre-school education is mixed. I am inclined to think it a good thing or rather to give it the benefit of the doubt BUT it is easy to quote many studies that show the opposite. Again everything depends on the kind of family they come from and what they might be learning and experiencing if they were not at school.
Of course, limited resources makes things difficult for many families. If we accept that this is a deadweight on the shoulders of the poor the solution is to ensure that ALL these families have more resources after tax. If you believe that children should have nursery education from the age of two THEN the state should provide it for them. If you believe that disadvantaged children should be spotted early and helped then nurseries and schools should have the resources to teach in small classes and provide a high-quality pastoral care that reaches back to work with families in their homes.
If then you agree with the analysis what is needed? No cuts in educational provision, no scaling back on Sure Start, smaller classes, good teachers and organised pastoral care. What you do not want is Coaltion cuts in the education budget. Crocodile tears evoke no sympathy with me. Move over Cleggie and let the the misadventure of the Coalition grind to an end.