Regulating away Britain’s best teachers

The latest report from The Sutton Trust (pdf) looks at a topic it last visited in 2003: how the backgrounds of state school teachers compare to those of independent school teachers. Its finding is that there is still a significant difference between the proportion of teachers at state and independent schools that have studied at the UK’s best universities. Independent school teachers were also found to be the most likely to have a degree in the main subject that they teach.

Here is the percentage of all teachers who attended a Russel Group University, by post-A level qualification:

 

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Most people would expect this result. But what is more surprising, yet garners less attention, is that the heavily-regulated environment of state education hinders its flexibility to hire the same, or better, quality of teachers as independent schools.

There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that the lack of formal requirements for teachers entering the independent sector actually encourages, rather than discourages, applications from graduates of some of the UK’s leading universities, because top applicants wish to enter the teaching sector immediately, rather than pursuing further qualifications.

State schools in England and Wales (and Scotland for the meantime) are required to be registered with the General Teaching Councils for their respective education jurisdictions. Private schools are free of this requirement and can hire applicants with specialist subject knowledge that want to teach soon after they leave their field of expertise.

In independent schools, teachers are not required to have Qualified Teacher Status, which, according to Elliott Lockhart’s 2010 survey “has led some to portray teachers in the independent sector as unregulated, unaccountable and lacking the necessary professional preparation that would make them fit to teach.”

As we know from the report and our general experience of the private education market, this is far from the case and actually strengthens the choice of employees that independent schools benefit from. For Scotland, this is particularly concerning as we are about to enact a law (see a recent Telegraph article about it here) making independent schools subject to the same requirements as state schools. So we would practically have no schools not subject to these restrictions.

Right now Scottish independent schools, like is the case in all of the UK’s constituent parts, take advantage of teachers registered outside of Scotland and this legislation would prevent that. On top of this, the Scottish government also doesn’t engage with Teach First; a programme that is injecting fresh talent into schools in England and Wales and is one of the reasons, judging by the teacher background metric, that state schools have been catching up with independent schools in the last 12 years.

Scottish politicians should reject the Education (Scotland) Bill as private schools are the perfect testing ground for trying out what works and doesn’t work. Subjecting them to the same rules as state schools will impede progress and diminish their autonomy – they’re independent for a reason.

Kid’s Company seems to not quite get this idea we call “charity”

An amusing little tale from the third sector as we’re supposed to call these things these days:

The charity she founded, which specialises in therapeutic support for severely abused and traumatised children, is likely to halve in size, making £14m of cuts and sacking hundreds of staff in an attempt to survive a serious financial crisis.

On Thursday night, she said: “Some ugly games are being played. The facts are that the vulnerable children of this country remain largely unprotected. There’s no point in shooting the messenger if the message is uncomfortable. I am being silenced.”

Kids Company predicted that the proposed restructuring, which it said was triggered after the government signalled that it was to end £5m annual funding, will leave thousands of vulnerable youngsters without support.

That’s umm, interesting, isn’t it? A £5 million grant cut leads to a £14 million crisis? We can’t help but feel that there’s a little more, possibly even £9 million more, going on here that just the grant cut.

However, where the plot really seems to get lost is here:

Batmanghelidjh warned that without a regular source of state funding, Kids Company would be reliant on fundraising: “We are doing the most serious work [funded] by cupcake sales and cocktail parties, and I don’t think that is right or sustainable.”

As a result, the charity

Err, yes, that’s what charity means. Over here we have a series of things that both must be done and can only be done by government. It is righteous and just that the populace of the country chip in, perhaps in some portion related to their means, to pay for these things through taxation.

Then there’s another group of things over here. Which some to many of said populace would like to see done. Which require perhaps coordinated and collective action. But which do not require the power of government to achieve. And there’s many ways of organising those things. Corporations do some of them, mutuals others, charities yet another set. But the defining point about these forms of organisation is that they do not have the power of the State to demand, at gunpoint or threat of prison, the money to find them. They must be run in a manner able to persuade people to voluntarily cough up the cash. This is as true of Sainsbury’s trying to sell us a banana or two as it is of Ms. Batmanghelidjh suggesting that we might wish to aid deprived children.

This is one of the defining points of a charity, one of the things that differentiates it from said State. And if you’re running a charity and you’ve not quite grasped this point as yet then perhaps you should be doing something else?

If only Steve Hilton knew what he was talking about

It’s not looking good for the idea that Steve Hilton is well informed, is it?

My meeting with Luiz was arranged by Citizens UK, the brilliant community organisers who have been such a powerful force in campaigning for a living wage. But my real conversion to this cause was brought about years previously by an unlikely protagonist: Polly Toynbee.

Gaining your information from that source is never going to work out well, is it?

And yet he does get close, only to reject the correct solution:

Some might say that the minimum wage was deliberately set so low that it wouldn’t affect business very much. An increase to the living wage would be a completely different proposition. It is to counter this argument that in my book, More Human, I advocate what I describe as “business-friendly living wage” that requires companies to pay a living wage but cuts their employers’ national insurance by roughly the same amount to neutralise the overall impact. But to be honest, this is letting businesses off the hook. There are plenty that could perfectly well afford to pay the living wage. It’s a choice.

The actual answer is to, as we have been saying here for near a decade now, reduce the amount of tax charged to those on low incomes. We will have more on this later in the week but seriously, what is so difficult to understand about the following? If you want the working poor to have more cash then just stop taxing them so damn much.

The Treasury has lost on RBS whether or not it sells up

One bizarre argument that has come up on Twitter and amongst the media recently is that George Osborne, in his ruthless free market zeal, is determined to privatise RBS, selling off some of the government’s stock now, despite this meaning the government will have lost money by rescuing the bank. According to these critics Osborne fails to see the obvious correctness of their arguments and the obvious stupidity of this move because he is blinded by an ideological obsession with privatisation.

This line of attack is nuts. Firstly, you do not make a loss when you realise it; simply turning the equity into cash does not suddenly mean the government has lost out. By analogy: imagine I buy a house for £400,000, but I accidentally drive a bulldozer into half of it, meaning that it is now worth only a quarter of what I paid. When did I get worse off: when I drove the bulldozer into it, or when I sold it? Am I still worth £400,000 until I sell the house for its new value of £100,000?

Secondly, even if you did, there’s little to no reason to expect RBS shares to rise above any other asset in the future; the government could easily lose more than the notional £12bn less its 79% stake is worth than when it was bought. There may well be some market inefficiencies (or perhaps not) but even if there are, no one is seriously going to argue that the government is playing one of the super-sophisticated strategies to exploit those inefficiencies by holding onto a FTSE100 bank that it picked up as part of a bailout.

Thirdly, simply comparing price now to price then is ridiculous: the FTSE as a whole has something like doubled since 2008 and 2009 when RBS was bailed out. If the relevant counterfactual is ‘risky equities investment’ then the government could have made tens of billions of pounds; if the relevant counterfactual is ‘pay down debt’ it could have saved billions of pounds on debt interest. On a more relevant comparison, the state has lost a lot more than £12bn. But it lost that when it invested and when the price fell.

If it’s bad to sell off RBS, that’s because there’s some special reason why RBS will do better for itself and society if owned by the government. This is quite implausible; actually it seems more likely that owning RBS could twist governmental and RBS incentives, distorting the banking market and harming society overall. It is complete nonsense to say that by selling now Osborne is losing money for the Treasury—it’s already gone.

Just say no to the Swansea lagoon

Everybody obviously colours the argument for their pet scheme. But it’s rare to see something quite as transparent as the entirely fallacious arguments being put forward for the Swansea lagoon:

Plans to build the world’s first tidal lagoon power plant in Swansea Bay have now been granted development consent. At a time when the UK is struggling to rewire its electricity market to introduce more security, less carbon and less cost, here is a blueprint for an infrastructure solution that ticks each box and that will endure.

Reliable? Quite possibly, low carbon almost certainly yes. However, less cost it simply will not be. We can tell this because they’re asking for a contracts for difference price on the electricity to be generated of £168 per MWhr. Rather higher than even the most absurd of the nuclear plans and very much higher than a gas plant, or even wind turbines (and yes, higher than gas even taking carbon emissions into account).

We know this because this has all been extensively studied. Hundreds and hundreds of pages of analysis with this basic conclusion:

In the light of these findings the Government does not see a strategic case to bring forward a Severn tidal power scheme in the immediate term. The costs and risks for the taxpayer and energy consumer would be excessive compared to other low-carbon energy options. Furthermore, regulatory barriers create uncertainties that would add to the cost and risk of construction. The Government believes that other options, such as the expansion of wind energy, carbon capture and storage and nuclear power without public subsidy, represent a better deal for taxpayers and consumers at this time.

That was the report that killed off the idea of the government itself investing in it. Now Frankenstein’s Monster has risen again by claiming that it won’t get government subsidy. It’ll just pick all our pockets through the electricity price instead. Same people having to pay the same subsidy just via a different route.

That analysis really is damning too. The larger the lagoon, barrage, built, the more money is lost. It’s as if the cot com boom never happened: we lose money on every transaction and make it up in volume. It’s really not too strong to say that this is the rapine of the citizenry.

It’s also possible to identify where the original mistake was made: by Ed Miliband, yes it was. If there’s going to be a subsidy to renewables (we prefer a carbon tax but…) then that subsidy should be the same for all technologies. And thus we’ll end up building out the renewables that work best. However, the decision was made to vary that subsidy dependent upon the costs of each different technology. So it’s possible for people to wander in and claim they’ve got this great idea: but they’ll just need to sell their ‘leccie for 4 times the going rate to fund it. This is madness. And it’s exactly the problem that the imposition of a carbon tax avoids.

We absolutely know that this phantasmagorical plan just will not work, will not work in providing us with the energy that we desire at a price that we’re willing to pay for it. We really do need to tell these chancers and scheme promoters to take a long walk off that short pier that their lagoon will obliterate.