The Week, 18 March 2016

18 March 2016

This week the Government announced a radical programme of school reforms to address regional variation in pupil attainment. In the first education white paper of the Parliament, this week’s Reformer set out plans to give all schools more freedom to innovate in areas such as the curriculum and school day, and to encourage the spread of this innovation through academy chains.

Amy Finch, Senior Researcher

Reformer of the week

Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP, Secretary of State for Education, who on Thursday launched policy proposals to encourage excellent leaders and school groups to work in challenging areas of the country. A range of initiatives, including a growth fund for successful multi-academy trusts and an inspection-free ‘improvement period’ after takeover of underperforming schools, could help address the current regional variations in education quality.

Reactionary of the week

Chancellor, Rt Hon George Osborne MP, who on Wednesday confirmed he had missed his self-imposed target to reduce debt as a proportion of GDP this year. To protect fiscal policy, and thereby public services, from sudden changes in the global economic outlook, Reform’s report A framework for fiscal sustainability argued the Chancellor should abandon such short-lived fiscal rules in favour of a long-run debt target, stretching up to 50 years.

Good week for…

Gender inequality

On Monday, it was reported that women account for 94 per cent of childcare and 4 per cent of engineering places in the Government’s flagship apprenticeship programme, leading these women to receive 21 per cent lower hourly pay. The Government spent £1,434 million on apprenticeships last year, and has committed to creating 3 million new apprenticeship starts by 2020.

Joined-up criminal justice

On Wednesday, the Chancellor announced that Greater Manchester would receive new powers over offender management, education in prisons and victim support, enabling the region to join up these services.

School freedoms

On Thursday, the Education Secretary announced that all schools would be given the freedoms currently held by academies, such as over the curriculum, teachers’ terms and conditions and the length of the school day.

Bad week for…

Housing

On Monday, the National Audit Office reported that the number of new housing projects would have to increase five-fold to meet the Government’s target of replacing all the homes it sells through the Right to Buy policy.

Financial performance of NHS trusts

On Tuesday, the Public Accounts Committee reported that the financial performance of NHS trusts and foundation trusts had deteriorated “at a severe and rapid pace” over the last year from a total £91 million deficit in 2013-14 to £843 million deficit in 2014-15.

Productivity

On Wednesday, the Office for Budget Responsibility revised down its forecast for productivity growth over this Parliament on the basis of a sharp 1.2 per cent fall in the fourth quarter of 2015.

Quotes of the week

“MATs [Multi-Academy Trusts] will play a central role in the future school system. They differ from local authorities because they…prevent geographic monopolies with different MATs operating in a given area, increasing diversity of provision and giving parents more choice and competition. If performing well, MATs can scale their success nationwide, taking effective models from one part of the country to the toughest areas in a way that no high-performing local authority ever could.”

Department for Education, in its White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, published on Thursday

“Given the huge uncertainty, the OBR has made only a modest step in the direction of assuming the reduction in productivity growth is permanent. It could easily still be far too optimistic… So how should policymakers respond to these unpleasant uncertainties?… The first shift should be towards policies likely to raise productivity growth… The second shift must be towards asking how to manage the public finances if the economy does not return to pre-crisis productivity trends. That would evidently require still tighter control over current spending. But it is also likely to require raising taxes that do not distort the economy. The obvious candidates are higher taxation of public bads (congestion and pollution) and heavier taxation of rents, particularly of land.”

Martin Wolf, commenting in the Financial Times on Friday

Reform’s week

On Tuesday, Reform held a policy roundtable in partnership with Hewlett Packard Enterprise to explore how the successes of recent Ministry of Defence reforms can be built upon.

On Wednesday, Amy Finch, Senior Researcher at Reform, wrote a comment piece for Public Finance, arguing that the Budget should have taken a more consistent approach to value for money in public services, and therefore should not have put more money into schools.

Also on Wednesday, Andrew Haldenby, Director at Reform, wrote a comment piece for Prospect, arguing that the Budget has not changed the direction of the Government’s welfare reforms.

On Thursday, Andrew Haldenby was quoted in the Financial Times, describing the new efficiency target as “another step towards a smaller state”.

Also on Thursday, Charlotte Pickles, Senior Research Director at Reform, spoke in the opening plenary of an ERSA conference on health, disability and employment. She argued that the Work Programme has been more effective than often claimed, but that the benefits system itself is one of the biggest barriers to closing the disability employment gap.

On Friday, Charlotte Pickles appeared on Radio 4 PM to discuss the Government’s proposed changes to the disability benefit Personal Independence Payment.

The Reformer Blog

On Tuesday, Alexander Hitchcock, Researcher at Reform, wrote a blog outlining three areas where the Government can find further savings in public services.

Also on Tuesday, Ben Dobson, Research Assistant at Reform, wrote a blog arguing that further research is required to understand the relationship between proximity and collaboration within Multi-Academy Trusts.

On Friday, Hannah Titley, Researcher at Reform, wrote a blog arguing that the Government needs to strengthen the role of employers to improve employment outcomes for disabled people. Harnessing the potential of the Disability Confident campaign is one way to support employers to recruit and retain more people with a disability.

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