Peppa Pig isn’t shouting out for a Sure Start

Peppa Pig, the animated porcine was at the centre of one General Election story this week. 

The company which licenses Peppa Pig had been due, along with the Pig to attend the launch of the Labour Party’s manifesto for families.  But, Peppa, did not attend, withdrawing her attendance, and support at the last minute.  In a statement, the company said:

Peppa Pig is a well-known fan of Sure Start children’s centres but, in the interests of avoiding any controversy or misunderstanding, we have agreed she should not attend.”

It is the equivalent of saying that Peppa Pig is above politics, and wishes to remain impartial. 

Except, she isn’t.

Only a few weeks ago, Peppa Pig promoted Sure Start Centres at a ‘Shout Out for a Sure Start’ event.

This campaign asks you to ‘Shout Out for a Sure Start’ if you believe that Sure Start sets up a child for life, that every child deserves a sure start, and, if you believe that an investment in children is an investment in all our futures.  You cannot support these aims and objectives and then claim to remain impartial.

These ‘Shout out for a Sure Start’ statements are political, reflecting political beliefs, ideologies, hopes and aspirations.  Peppa  Pig has been happy to subscribe to these in the recent past, but all of sudden thinks that believing that giving children the best start in life, and  investing in children’s future for the benefit of wider society, might be controversial. 

Sure Start does not exist external to the Labour Party.  Sure Start Centres did not descend magically, overnight, as if from heaven.  They were created by a Labour Government which decided to do something about child poverty.  And their very existence, and that of thousands of the most vulnerable of our children and their families are under threat.

Peppa, you are political, be controversial, and Shout Out for a Sure Start.

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Washing-up the Education Bill

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown called a General Election for May 6th.  This means Parliament needs to be dissolved, and therefore the business that Parliament was going to consider between now and May 6th either gets abandoned, or ‘washed-up’, in other words rushed through Parliament.

The Children, School and Families Bill, sometimes referred to as the Education Bill was washed-up yesterday.  However, in order for the bill to get passed a number of amendments have had to be made.  This was because the bill could not get passed without approval, opposition parties, particularly the Conservatives would only give their approval to the bill if a number of elements were removed.  The following provisions will no longer be included:

  • The Pupil and Parent Guarantees – which guarantee core rights and entitlements for pupils and parents, including catch-up lessons, 1-2-1 tuition and small group support for pupils needing extra support.
  • Home School Agreements – the Bill strengthens Home School Agreements, making them more personalised for each pupil, and new and stronger powers to enforce parents’ responsibilities in supporting the school in maintaining good behaviour including the possibility of a court-imposed parenting order.
  • Reform of the primary curriculum – the reforms to the primary curriculum, following Sir Jim Rose’s extensive expert review, provide greater flexibility for schools to tailor teaching to the needs and interests of their children while also focusing on the basics of literacy, numeracy and ICT.
  • Introduction of compulsory Personal Social Health and Economic (PSHE) education – the PSHE provisions ensure that all children receive at least one year of compulsory sex and relationship education (SRE) by making PSHE compulsory, and lowering the age at which parents can withdraw their children from PSHE from 19 to 15 years old. Legal advice to the Secretary of State was that increasing the age of the PSHE opt-out to 16 would have made the bill non-compliant with the ECHR.
  • The new Licence to Practise for teachers – this licence, accompanied by a contractual entitlement to continuing professional development, will establish the professional standing of the workforce and provide teachers with the status they deserve.
  • Registration and monitoring of home education – following Graham Badman’s independent report into home education, these provisions put in place a valuable tool for local authorities in their work to safeguard all children.
  • School Improvement Partners (SIPs) – the powers of SIPs will be updated so headteachers receive peer support, and challenge.
  • Data for the school report card – the new school report card gives fairer and more accurate accountability for schools and gives parents even more information about the schools their children attend.
  • Schools eligible for intervention and schools causing concern – the Bill strengthens local authority powers to intervene in schools causing concern, and more powers for the Secretary of State to intervene where improvement is not good enough.
  • Youth Offending Teams – the Bill gives powers for the Secretary of State to intervene where an inspection or other evidence reveals a significant failing in a Youth Offending Team (YOT) which may be putting young people or the wider community at risk.
  • Parental satisfaction surveys – this duty on local authorities would require them proactively to seek parents’ views on the range and quality of secondary school places in their area and then act on their responses.

There are, therefore a number of key, and high-profile measures which will not now become law.  The recommendations arising from the Rose Review of the primary school curriculum, for one.  This was high-profile, and certainly controversial, but it did suggest that the primary school curriculum was going to change significantly.

Members of the current Government have attacked members of the opposition for their opposition to the intensive catch-up provision, and their refusal to back compulsory sex education for pupils aged 15 and over. 

Under the intensive catch-up, £169 million had been allocated, over the next three years to provide one-to-one tuition in maths and writing  for pupils who had not met expected targets at key stage 2.  Given that these basic skills are not only identified as essential, but are also a hot political issue, it might seem odd that the Conservatives have opposed this measure.  They are, after all keen to criticise Labour when children fail to meet expected standards in English and Maths. 

The Conservatives have argued that catch-up should be left to the discretion of head teachers, in other words ensuring that pupils meet minimum standards in English and Maths is not something that the Government should concern itself with, especially if it is going to cost £169 million.

Compulsory PSHE (Personal, social and health education) for pupils aged 15 and above has been dropped, this has disappointed several young people’s charities.  This element would also have seen PSHE on the curriculum from the age of 5 (though with parents having the right to withdraw their child). 

The plans to register home educators has been dropped, and although this may please home educators who feared interference it also, potentially puts some children and families at risk in cases where they not being educated appropriately.

A planned licence to practice for teachers has also gone.  This would have required teachers to engage in professional development and maintain their skills.  While the existence of schools full of  ‘bad’ teachers may be a media fuelled myth, this may have been one way of attempting to ensure that teachers remained skilled and competent.

The Conservatives opposed these measures, they claimed, because of the increased bureaucracy that is would bring, preferring de-regulation.  But, whether it is called bureaucracy or red tape, legislation serves to regulate, often for very good reasons.  Ideologies of individualism, which the Conservatives subscribe to are opposed to ‘red tape’ because it limits an individual’s freedom, and because it costs.  Other, collectivist ideologies argue that regulation is needed, precisely to limit an individual’s freedom, but for the collective good of society. 

However, one form of regulation, if not centralisation may remain, these are proposals which will allow Local Authorities and the Schools’ secretary to intervene where a school is failing to meet standards.  The Conservatives in the House of Lords may support this measure.  Strange, considering that when in Government they were keen to free up schools from Local Authority control.

Free School Meals

Recently the DCSF has announced plans to extend free school meal provision in primary schools in England.  Local Education Authorities will be able to apply to the DCSF to fund the provision of free school meals in primary schools, in a series of pilots designed to assist the collection of research evidence on the relationship between school meals and health and educational performance.

This latest announcement follows on from pilots in three LEAs; Durham and Newham which are piloting the provision of free school meals for all primary school children; and Wolverhampton which is trialling extended eligibility for free school meals.

On making this announcement, Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, said:

“We know good health is vital if children are going to enjoy their childhood and achieve their full potential.  Eating a nutritious meal at lunchtime from a young age can make eating well a healthy habit for life.”

So, this announcement appears to mark a positive and welcome move.  It demonstrates concern with social welfare and minimising the effects of poverty, with the school as a means of compensating for society.  It signals an attempt to provide all children with a level playing field, so that at least children will be nourished in school even if they don’t get this at home.

It could almost be seen as radical, a move towards accepting a collective responsibility for children’s welfare, and a recognition that this is important for the health and well being of all children.

Except, providing free school meals isn’t new.  Back in the nineteenth century, even before schooling was finally made free and compulsory, Manchester provided free school meals for its poor children.

In the twentieth century, free school meal provision was extended, and free milk was provided for all children in the 1920’s.

Under the 1944 Education Act, Local Authorities were required to provide school meals to all who wanted them, and by 1947, following the election of a Labour Goverment, the full cost of providing school meals was met by the Government.  Two years later, a nominal fee was introduced for those not entitled to free meals.  By 1977, over 61% of pupils had a school meal (in fact the numbers had been declining).

The decline in school meals came with the election of a Conservative Government in 1979.   School meals were identified as one area to bear the brunt in cuts in public spending.  The 1980 Education Act, introduced by the Conservatives allowed Local Authorities to scrap the school meals service altogether.  The only provision was a basic service to children whose parents received certain benefits.

Under this Act, in the context of ‘rolling back the state’, the nutritional standards for school meals were also scrapped,  (school meals no longer needed to be wholesome and nutritious…in case you were wondering why Turkey Twizzlers were ever allowed on school premises).

In 1986, changes in benefit rules meant that children whose parents received family credit now had the price of a school meal included in their benefit.  Again, see this in a context of freedom of choice.  The state was not going to ensure that children, particularly those from poor homes were fed well at school.  Parents did not have to use this money to feed their children.

By 1995 then, the numbers of children taking free school meals had dropped to 45%.

The Labour Government  (not Jamie Oliver) reinstated nutritional standards in 2001.

Now, we continue to read about school meals, junk food in schools, and unhealthy packed lunches.  See the Guardian’s section on School Meals for more news coverage.

So, the move to provide children with a nutritious meal in school isn’t new, it is a sign of a civilised society. Yes there is more to do, but decent school meals don’t just happen, like the destruction of the School Meal service and the scrapping of nutritional standards didn’t just happen in 80’s.

CPAG has a fact sheet on School Meals available here.

Click Clever, Click Safe

Zip It, Block It, Flag It could become the Green Cross Code of the Internet following the launch this week of the UK Child Internet Safety Strategy.

Alongside the launch of a new digital code for young people’s use of the Internet: Zip It, Block It, Flag It was the announcement that Internet Safety is to become part of the national curriculum for Primary school children (it is already part of the curriculum for Secondary schools) from September 2011.

This is in recognition that the Internet is an important part of young people’s lives inside and outside of education.  In education ICT has held a central place since the launch of the National Grid for Learning in 1998 with this recently reinforced by the Rose Review of the Primary school curriculum which further highlighted the importance of the educational uses of ICT to primary school children.

Outside of education most children have some level of access to ICT in the home and children are going ‘online’ at a younger age.  Both parents and children report safety concerns with using the Internet and recent research by the DCSF found that just over half of those children who experienced harmful or inappropriate content took some action. 

Fears about Internet Safety are frequently voiced in the media in relation to the use of the Internet in the grooming and sexual abuse of children.  The Strategy therefore also details plans to update the ‘cyber skills’ of those working with children and provide guidance to Internet providers on how to ensure that children do not access inappropriate content. The Zip It, Block It, Flag It motto is designed as a reminder to young people to keep themselves safe online, while the CEOP reporting button, through which people can report  any ‘abuse’ or inappropriate content they encounter online  is to be further developed.

Conference time – Labour

The Labour Party conference has just finished and here is Ed Balls’ speech.  He laid out the achievements of the Labour Government since it came to power in 1997.  These include:

  • Sure Start Centres
  • Free Nursery Care for 3 and 4 year olds
  • 4000 new or refurbished schools
  • 42, 000 new teachers
  • 183, 000 teaching assistants

Now in the face of national debt, cuts are suggested but here Balls appears to committed to no cuts in child benefit or Sure Start.