Improving basic skills levels in England

a conference

by Stacey Dingwall

At the end of last month, the OECD published its review of adult skills in England, Building Skills for All. The review was commissioned by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) after a 2013 Survey of Adult Skills in 24 OECD countries ranked England at 22nd and 21st in terms of young adults’ (aged 16-24) levels of literacy and numeracy respectively. For all adults (aged 16-65), the country was ranked in 11th position for literacy, and 17th for numeracy.

England’s skills levels reviewed

The latest review produced similar results, estimating that there are around nine million adults of working age in England with low levels of numeracy and/or literacy. This represents more than a quarter of adults aged 16-65 in the country. The lower levels of basic skills among young people are also noted again: while older adults (aged 55-65) in England have basic skills levels broadly similar to their peers in other OECD countries, the same cannot be said for younger adults. As the older generation reaches retirement age, this obviously raises concerns over the skills levels of the current and future workforce.

The findings prompted the OECD to recommend that as universities in England are “failing to develop quite basic skills” among their students, some students would be better suited to enrolling in further, as opposed to higher, education. If universities didn’t allow students to enrol without at least a GCSE C grade in maths, for example, or graduate without achieving a reasonable level of basic skills, the think tank believes that this would allow a rebalancing of the country’s education system, by targeting resources in areas where they are best suited.

Who or what is to blame?

Higher education bodies did not agree with this assessment of the current system, contending that the survey involved too small of a sample of students to support such a large reform. However, research conducted with employers on their experiences of recruiting young people has found evidence of a basic skills issue. Surveys carried out by the CIPD and Education and Training Foundation both heard from employers who were particularly concerned about young employees’ (current and potential) literacy and numeracy skills, as well as their ability to communicate in a professional manner, i.e. not in text speak.

Following the publication of the OECD’s 2013 report, the president of the International Council for Adult Education, Alan Tuckett, blamed England’s poor results on constant changes to the curriculum, arguing that this had distracted attention from adult education. He argued that there needed to be more investment in lifelong learning, highlighting that South Korea had achieved second place in the rankings, following such an investment. The country enacted its second Lifelong Education Act in 2007, defining lifelong learning as including “all types of systemic educational activities other than traditional school education”, including basic adult literacy.

Despite Tuckett’s criticism, the 2015 OECD review concludes that while it is still too early to evaluate the success of the government’s education reforms, including making maths and literacy courses a requirement in most 16-19 education, their objectives are the correct ones. In terms of funding for adults skills and education, however, recent news of a leaked memo suggesting that BIS agencies including the Skills Funding Agency are at risk of abolition due to further budget cuts is a cause for concern. It has already been confirmed that funding for the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) is being withdrawn in 2016-17; supposedly as part of the government’s commitment to protecting core adult skills participation budgets in cash terms.

Good practice: the Citizen’s Curriculum

In 2014/15, NIACE developed the Citizen’s Curriculum approach, with the aim of ensuring that everyone is equipped with a core set of skills required for the 21st century:

  • English;
  • maths;
  • English for speakers of other languages (ESOL); and
  • digital, civic, health and financial capabilities.

The approach was piloted in 13 areas, delivered by a range of organisations including local authorities, colleges and charities. This initial phase sought to understand adults’ motivation for learning, as well as ensuring that they are being provided with opportunities for learning that are suited to their particular needs. This co-production aspect of the approach is seen as key to its success. With a particular focus on disadvantaged groups, including the homeless and ex-offenders, the pilots provided insight into what works in engaging disadvantaged learners. For example, the pilot carried out by the homeless charity St. Mungo’s Broadway found that embedding skills such as maths and English within independent living skills was particularly important, and helped to adequately prepare learners for moving on and progressing in life.

Following an impact assessment that saw 92% of participants indicate that they were motivated to progress to further learning opportunities, the second phase of the pilots was launched in October 2015. This will see previous participating organisations returning to build on their work in the previous phase, alongside new pilots testing the approach in different settings, or with different sets of learners.


 

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Further reading: if you liked this blog post, you might also want to read our other article on STEM skills in the UK.

Supercouncils: questions raised about new powers for England’s combined authorities

town hall photo

Image: James Carson

Just over a year ago, Manchester began blazing a trail for devolution in England. Ten local authorities in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) signed a deal with George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for the transfer of powers in areas such as transport and skills from central to local government.

Since then, the English devolution bandwagon has picked up speed. After the general election in May, the newly-elected Conservative government introduced a Cities and Devolution Bill , creating a framework for the transfer of powers to the regions, and making provision for directly elected mayors.

During the summer, the Chancellor invited cities, towns and communities across the UK to submit their own devolution proposals, and by September 38 submissions had been received (including a number from Scotland and Wales).

Meanwhile, further deals have been announced, giving greater autonomy to local authorities in Sheffield, Cornwall, the North East of England and the Tees Valley. In November, two further deals were announced for the West Midlands and Liverpool.

As its momentum gathers pace, questions have arisen over the nature and implications of devolution for England’s cities and regions.

The devolution time frame

In October, a survey for Local Government Chronicle (LGC) highlighted concerns about the devolution timetable. 69% of the 45 chief executives and deputies responding to the survey indicated that the seven-week timeframe given to put a proposal together had been too tight. Of those councils which had not submitted a bid, 38% said they could not arrange a partnership with another authority, while 8% said they could not convince politicians in their area to agree.  However, the survey also indicated that 15% of councils were holding back on bids to see how other authorities fared first.

Accountability, transparency, public involvement

Some of the key governance issues surrounding devolution were considered in a report by the Centre for Public Scrutiny.

The report was critical of the secrecy of the deal-making process, noting that details were only being released when agreements had been reached:

“Local people – anyone, indeed, not involved in the negotiations – need to understand what devolution priorities are being arrived at and agreed on. Increased public exposure in this process will lead to a more informed local debate. At the very least, the broad shape and principles of a bid for more devolved powers should be opened up to the public eye.”

The report argued that governance arrangements for the work that combined authority areas will be doing in future need to satisfy three conditions:

  • Accountability: decision-makers must clearly take responsibility, and engage with those seeking to hold them to account (non-executives, the public, and others)
  • Transparency: it must be clear (to professionals, elected councillors and the public) who is making decisions, on what, when, why and how
  • Involvement: a commitment to public involvement should be seen as central to good governance.

Directly elected mayors

In 2012, plans to replace local council cabinets with directly elected mayors were rejected by voters in nine English cities, including Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and Leeds.

However, the government has insisted that devolving powers to English regions is now conditional on the inclusion of directly elected mayors. In May the chancellor explained why he thought this was so important:

“It’s right people have a single point of accountability; someone they elect, who takes the decisions and carries the can. So with these new powers for cities must come new city-wide elected mayors who work with local councils. I will not impose this model on anyone. But nor will I settle for less.”

George Jones, Emeritus Professor of Government at the London School of Economics, has asserted that the concentration of power in one person is undesirable:

“…the advantage of collective leadership is it enables exploration of policy from different perspectives. Colleagues can consider possible impacts of policy in a variety of contexts, spotting pitfalls ahead and the consequences for different people and groups. A single person is unlikely to represent the diverse complexities of a large urban, metropolitan or county region area better than can collective leadership.”

The journey to greater autonomy for England’s regions has only just begun, but it’s already clear that the path to devolution will not be straightforward.


Read more about English devolution in our previous blogs:

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Debating the cost of alcohol to society

“Society is paying the costs – alcohol-related harm is now estimated to cost society £21 billion annually.”

So said David Cameron, launching the UK government’s alcohol strategy in 2012.

The prime minister was echoing the widely held view that alcohol is a financial burden on taxpayers. The British Medical Association has put the costs of alcohol harm in Northern Ireland and Wales at £680m and £1bn respectively, while the Scottish Government believes the annual cost of excessive alcohol consumption to be £3.6bn (equivalent to £900 for every adult in Scotland).

An alternative view

But now the popular view of alcohol as a drain on taxpayers has been challenged. A new report from the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) claims that the net cost of alcohol to the state is minus £6.5 billion.

The report found that the direct costs of alcohol use to the government in England – including NHS, police, criminal justice and welfare costs – amount to just under £4 billion each year, whilst revenues from alcohol taxes amount to over £10 billion. And it claims that even if the government halved all forms of alcohol duty, it would still receive more money in tax than it spends dealing with alcohol-related problems.

Commenting on the findings, the report’s author, Christopher Snowden said it was time to stop regarding drinkers as a burden on taxpayers:

“Forty per cent of the EU’s entire alcohol tax bill is paid by drinkers in Britain and, as this new research shows, teetotallers in England are being subsidised by drinkers to the tune of at least six and a half billion pounds a year.”

The report received a hostile reception from Alcohol Concern. Deputy chief executive Emily Robinson told the Daily Telegraph:

“Non-drinkers suffer the consequences of alcohol related problems every day; whether that’s from drink driving accidents, being the victim of crime or anti-social behaviour, family breakdown, waiting in Accident and Emergency departments for their turn, even through to the costs of street cleaning town centres after a Friday night.

She went on to argue that policies, such as minimum unit pricing (MUP), were needed to tackle the harm caused by alcohol.

A setback for minimum unit pricing?

The IEA report appeared on the same day that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) advocate general advised that the Scottish Government’s policy on MUP breached EU competition and free trade laws.

The proposal to introduce minimum retail pricing for alcohol appeared in the Scottish Government’s 2009 alcohol framework, and in 2012 the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2 paved the way for the introduction of a minimum price of 50p per unit. The policy was challenged by the drinks industry, which believes that there are more effective ways of tackling harmful drinking.

While the advocate general’s advice may influence the ECJ’s final decision, The Scottish Government is standing by its policy. “While we must await the final outcome of this legal process,” said Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, “the Scottish Government remains certain that minimum unit pricing is the right measure for Scotland to reduce the harm that cheap, high-strength alcohol causes our communities.”

The devolved administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland have set out plans to introduce their own MUP legislation. In England, the 2012 alcohol strategy included a commitment to introduce an MUP for alcohol. However, in 2013 the coalition government decided not to proceed with this, and instead to impose a ban on the sale of alcohol below cost price.

Last year, a report from Sheffield University suggested that below cost price policy would have small effects on consumption and health harm, while an MUP set at  a level between 40p and 50p per unit, was estimated to have an approximately 40-50 times greater effect. The research appears to support evidence from Canada, the first country in the world to introduce MUP, indicating that MUP could bring significant health benefits.

With the IEA report introducing a provocative new perspective, and the final judgement on MUP awaited, it’s unlikely that ‘last orders’ will be called any time soon in the debate on alcohol’s impact on society.


 

Enjoyed this article? Read our recent blog posts on the night-time economy and on ten years of the Licensing Act.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.


Further reading*

Alcohol pricing and purchasing among heavy drinkers in Edinburgh and Glasgow: current trends and implications for pricing policies

Understanding the alcohol harm paradox in order to focus the development of interventions

Understanding the development of Minimum Unit Pricing of alcohol in Scotland: a qualitative study of the policy process

Alcohol’s harm to others

The cost of binge drinking in the UK

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service

Careers guidance: ready for the future?

16639990077_98567dbb4e_o

Image from Flickr user GotCredit, licensed under Creative Commons

By Stacey Dingwall

While there are many areas in which there are indications of recovery since the recession, the scale of youth unemployment is a persistent problem. According to the latest labour market figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), published on the 14th of October and covering the period July-August 2015, the unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds in the UK is currently 14.8%, compared to an overall unemployment rate of 5.4% for all 16-64 year olds who are eligible for work.

The youth (un)employment problem

Recent research has focused on the importance of improving the employability of young people in order to enhance their job prospects. Numerous employer surveys carried out by organisations including the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development (CIPD) and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) have indicated that employers are frequently unimpressed by the ‘work readiness’ of young people who apply for jobs with them. According to the UKCES, this can partly be attributed to the ‘death of the Saturday job’, and diminishing numbers of young people gaining valuable skills and experience for their future careers.

In its recent publications, Careers England has highlighted the important role of careers advice and education in tackling the youth unemployment rate. Their research highlights both the economic benefits of careers guidance, as well as those for the individual, including enhanced social capital.

Careers guidance, it is argued, “can play an important role in providing individuals with access to information and intelligence that is outside of their immediate social network, offsetting some of the disadvantages offered by inequalities in social capital”. Furthermore, it is suggested that those in receipt of careers guidance will be further aided by it as their working life continues, as it enables them to recognise the importance of networking to their career progression.

Good practice: Scotland

Over the summer, the Scottish Government announced a range of measures and initiatives to boost the employability prospects of the country’s young people. Alongside the announcement of over £5 million in funding for local government to help young people prepare for the world of work (as part of the Developing the Young Workforce youth employment strategy) came the promise of £1.5 million to support schools to provide careers advice to pupils from their first year of secondary school.

These announcements form part of the Scottish Government’s push to reduce youth employment in the country by 40% come 2021. Early indicators that this can be achieved look promising: figures released by the ONS in September covering the period May-July 2015 indicated that the youth unemployment rate in Scotland was at its lowest for this quarter since 2008, with the youth employment rate increasing by 25,000 to reach its highest level since the same period in 2005.

A particular careers guidance related programme that has been successful is My World of Work (MyWoW), an online careers service managed by Skills Development Scotland (SDS). A recent evaluation of the service by Education Scotland found that the value of the service is recognised by schools and colleges alike, with many FE support and teaching staff using it effectively and increasingly to engage learners in researching career options and exploring opportunities for further learning.

A key factor of the service is also its delivery online; as young people are used to engaging online, it is important that information is provided to them in their preferred format, as opposed to the traditional face-to-face interview with a careers advisor. Outside of the UK, countries including Finland have started to trial using social media in their delivery of career guidance.

An English ‘postcode lottery’?

In England, where responsibility for career guidance was devolved to schools in 2011, the landscape is currently a bit more fragmented. An evaluation of careers provision in schools and colleges published this year by Cascaid, a provider of careers information and guidance solutions, found that only 8% of schools/colleges have a systematic approach to integrating careers into the wider curriculum, while just over a third have a programme of activities with local universities and colleges.

English career guidance provision has also come under fire from the government: a 2013 inquiry into provision by the Commons Education Committee raised concerns over “the consistency, quality, independence and impartiality of careers guidance now being offered to young people”; and an Ofsted review following the devolution of responsibility to schools made criticisms including that provision was too “narrow” and not sufficiently coordinated so that all pupils were receiving appropriate guidance. Concerns about the inequity of career guidance have also been raised by the Sutton Trust, whose 2014 Advancing Ambitions report suggested that there was a ‘postcode lottery’ of provision in England.

The new Careers and Enterprise Company has been set up this year with £20 million of initial government funding, and it announced in September the nationwide roll-out of a network of Enterprise Advisers. These volunteers from employers will work directly with
school and college leaders to bridge the gap between the worlds of education and employment.

Future provision

Providing evidence to the Education Committee’s inquiry, the then Education Secretary Michael Gove suggested that careers advisors may not be an essential part of future careers guidance provision. Research has also indicated that pupils prefer to speak to someone they know, particularly subject teachers, with regards to their career ambitions. However, Ofsted’s review also found that the teachers in the schools they evaluated had not received sufficient training to provide information to pupils on the full range of options available to them. This is especially true of vocational education and career paths.

Considering the future of careers work in England, careers education and guidance consultant David Andrews proposes an option that could solve the problems raised above: schools employing resident careers development advisors with the responsibility of providing face-to-face guidance and working with teachers to deliver focused careers education programmes. Presumably this would include building links with local colleges and employers, something that has been identified as vital to increasing the youth employment rate, yet an area in which efforts have also been found to be lacking: per Ofsted, links between careers education and local employment opportunities in England remain “weak”.

Andrews also recommends the provision of an ‘all-age’ careers service in England. What is clear is that the careers education of the future must aspire to joined-up provision, involving clear communication between all parties. The provision of quality careers guidance is essential for not only the individual’s outcomes, but for the economy/society as a whole.


 

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on town centres and regeneration. To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Enjoy reading this? Read our other recent articles on related topics:

Can Housing Zones help the housing crisis?

By James Carson

The UK government believes that brownfield land has a crucial role in meeting the need for new homes. But development of brownfield sites has often been held back because of the need for high upfront capital and delays in obtaining planning permission.

Last year, a new programme of Housing Zones (HZs) was launched by the chancellor of the exchequer and the Mayor of London with the aim of breaking down the barriers to brownfield development.

What are Housing Zones?

HZs are areas where home building will be accelerated by partnerships between local authorities, land owners, investors and builders. The areas proposed by local authorities (which may include brownfield sites and town centres) will receive a share of government funding that will unlock vital components of the HZ scheme, such as infrastructure, site acquisition and leaseholder buyouts. In addition, planning restrictions will be removed, enabling rapid delivery of residential development.

Housing Zones in London

London’s HZ programme was launched in 2014 as part of the Mayor’s housing strategy. The aim is to build 50,000 new homes in 20 HZs across the capital by 2025. The £400m programme is also expected to create 100,000 new jobs.

The first 18 zones in London include:

  • Abbey Wood, Plumstead and Thamesmead (Greenwich)
  • Hounslow Town Centre (Hounslow)
  • New Bermondsey (Lewisham)
  • Tottenham (Haringey)
  • Wembley (Brent)

Most London’s boroughs have published their HZ plans. Examples include:

  • The Royal Borough of Greenwich has identified Abbey Wood Plumstead and Thamesmead as an HZ, with the aim of providing 1,512 homes. The borough sees the programme as an opportunity to improve public space and infrastructure in advance of the arrival of Crossrail in 2018.
  • Hounslow’s HZ will create three residential sites with 3,478 new homes by 2025. The HZ will also host relocated council offices, a flexible community space and a new primary school.
  • Tottenham’s HZ plans include 10,000 new homes. Supporting this growth, infrastructure development will comprise a revamped Tube, bus and rail station at Tottenham Hale, three Crossrail 2 stations and overground rail upgrades.

Housing Zones beyond London

In his March 2015 Budget speech, the chancellor of the exchequer confirmed the creation of 20 new HZs outside of London. Among the areas included are:

  • Guildford and East Hampshire
  • Bristol
  • Derby, Stoke and West Lindsey
  • Wakefield and York
  • Gateshead.
  • Preston.

The Treasury hopes that central government investment of £200 million will result in up to 45,000 new homes in these regional HZs.

HZs: the reaction

There has a been a range of responses to the HZ initiative.

Home Group, the UK’s fourth largest housing association has warmly welcomed the new HZs:

“Enterprise zones worked for business when implemented correctly and the concept will work to help housing providers deliver the homes which are so desperately needed.”

The National Housing Federation (NHF) also welcomed the linkage of planning, housing and infrastructure delivery. However the NHF indicated that the HZ programme lacks ambition:

“Housing Zones are currently relatively small-scale, and the principles should be applied at a larger scale to genuinely tackle the housing crisis.”

The HZs received a cautious response from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA):

“RIBA is wary of such a large release of public land on very tricky brownfield sites with lots of issues that require strategic planning at a local level. We await the detail on how the Government would support delivery of high quality infrastructure and ensure high standards of design in new development.

As host to one of the new regional HZs, Bristol City Council has welcomed the “much needed investment”. However, Hackney Council believes the HZ model is less appropriate for inner London boroughs because the challenges are more to do with making affordable housing viable than providing infrastructure.

The law firm Pinsent Masons has highlighted one possible unintended consequence of HZs.

“As Housing Zones pick up momentum, this may have the adverse effect of increasing surrounding land values and stimulating more right to buy, which may affect the viability of future phases.”

They may not match the 260,000 homes required to tackle England’s housing shortage, but the broadly positive welcome HZs been given suggests that they are a step in the right direction.


Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Read our other recent articles on housing:

How is health and social care integration being achieved in England?

By Steven McGinty

Since coming to power in 2010, the coalition government has introduced a series of major reforms to health and social care. They argue that these reforms are necessary for meeting the future needs of patients, as well as providing a more efficient public health service.  Central to these changes is the idea of integration, where services are delivered in a way that limits duplication, delivers more preventative care and targets resources more effectively. However, what has the government done to facilitate integration between health and social care?

In 2012, the Health and Social Care Bill was given royal assent and became an Act. The Act introduced a number of key changes to the way that healthcare is delivered, including:

  • the merging of a numbers of quangos, such as the Health Protection Agency and the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, into one national body, Public Health England (PHE);
  • the abolition of Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), and the introduction of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), which are GP led bodies responsible for the commissioning of local health services, as well as a greater responsibility for local authorities;
  • the extension of the remit of bodies, such as Health and Wellbeing Boards, giving them extra responsibilities, including the development of strategies across health and social care to meet local public health issues;
  • the introduction of a new organisation, Healthwatch England, an independent body set up to promote the interests of patients in health and social care services.

In 2013, the government introduced a new funding mechanism known as the ‘Better Care Fund (BCF)’. This was a £3.8 billion pool of money to support health and social care bodies through the process of integration. Health and Wellbeing Boards (HWBs) are expected to provide plans to access the funding. These plans are assessed using criteria that includes:

  • how well data is shared between health and social care bodies;
  • how well plans protects social care services;
  • how it protects seven day a week services;
  • how well it reduces admissions to hospitals at weekends.

According to the County Councils Network, plans will have to show how services will be delivered in an innovative way that meets the local needs of people over the long term, in order to ensure funding.

In 2014, the government introduced the Care Act, a piece of legislation based on the 2011 Dilnot report into the funding of adult social care. The Act has been described as the biggest transformation in the care system since 1948, and introduces a number of significant changes, including:

  • that those who receive care from a regulated care provider or local council will be covered by the Human Rights Act, although those paying for care are not covered;
  • introducing a new cap of £72,000 on the cost of care for those eligible under the Act;
  • introducing duties for local authorities to offer prevention services, including the right to receive accessible information and advice, to try and reduce the numbers of people needing to go into hospitals.

The current Minister of State for Care and Support, Norman Lamb MP, has stated that the government is committed to integrating health and social care by 2018. However, it will be very interesting to see if the health care system can be fully integrated by that deadline and whether it can deliver the sort of outcomes expected.


Idox are involved in an innovative partnership with Calderdale Council. The council has developed an innovative case management tool to support their day-to-day work, in areas such as child protection, looked after children, and fostering and adopting.

Calderdale have teamed up with Idox, a specialist in providing technology, content and funding solutions to government, and are now offering their system to other local authorities. The partnership has already proven to be successful, with Calderdale and Idox providing their solution to councils in the Isles of Scilly and Leeds.

We blogged recently about the benefits of the system for integrated working. We have also looked at the barriers to the uptake of digital technologies in health and social care.

Further reading:

Grey men dreaming of vibrant cities?

Image by Neil Howard under Creative Commons

Image of MediaCity, Manchester by Neil Howard under Creative Commons

By Morwen Johnson

They control combined budgets of over £10bn, deliver 24.4% of the combined economic output of England, Scotland and Wales, and are home to over 21 million people. What are they? The Core Cities of the UK – and as pre-election lobbying ramps up a gear they are at the forefront of the devolution debate.

Last week I attended the Core Cities Devolution Summit. This event, hosted in Glasgow, marked the launch of a modern charter for local freedom. It also gave those interested in the current cities agenda a chance to hear from the city leaders on the potential benefits of reform.

I won’t summarise the charter, or the main recommendations of a new report from ResPublica which argues for the fullest possible devolution of public spending and tax raising powers to the UK’s largest cities and city regions. Instead, here are a few reflections on the day.

Bespoke devolution

The hype over Manchester’s recent devolution agreement with the Treasury shouldn’t distract from the fact that devolution is not a one-size-fits-all model. The idea isn’t to try and mimic Manchester’s journey – what’s on the cards is an approach that takes account of local circumstances.

I’m not sure that the end result of this – potentially radically different priorities in revenue generation, service delivery and spending between neighbouring metropolitan areas – is being communicated in a transparent way. Ben Page from IpsosMori shared some interesting survey results which suggest that public opinion also lags behind the political agenda:

ipsos survey 1

ipsos survey 2Leadership not bureaucracy

Mention devolution and one of the immediate responses of naysayers is to complain it’s just yet another layer of governance – more costs, more staff, more vested interests. This was raised during Q&A and the panel responded by saying that what they are proposing doesn’t require massive reorganisation – it’s about effective leadership. The same pots of money are used but funds can be accessed in different ways for different purposes.

This was only half-convincing. Repeated reference to place-based decision-making (breaking down functional /organisational silos to ensure services are focused on outcomes and those residents with complex needs) didn’t really explain how you build the trust and political capacity that’s needed to roll out transformation across multiple agencies/workforces at the same speed and scale.

Equalities

Presenting a different perspective on the day was Professor Lesley Sawers, who highlighted the risks of unintended consequences from devolution in terms of social justice and inequalities. She argued that so far localism has led to an approach to investment that has not been particularly effective in tackling equalities issues.

Cities should be great agents of social reform but the rhetoric around growth has a tendency to focus on infrastructure and macroeconomics – ignoring social challenges such as skills, poverty and under-achievement. And it may seem an easy point to score, but running an event with only 3 female speakers out of 25, didn’t really send a great message to observers. Don’t even mention the lack of ethnic diversity on the platform.

What now?

The devolution agenda may be the ‘only show in town’ but whether the core cities can take advantage of this to benefit and engage their own populations remains to be seen.


The Idox Information Service has a wealth of research reports, articles and case studies on governance and city regions. Members receive regular briefings as well as access to our Ask a Researcher enquiry service.

Can the NPPF be used to encourage better design? A look at a recent High Court decision…

by Laura Dobie

A recent High Court decision has significant implications for interpreting the design policies in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the National Planning Policy Guidance (NPPG).

Handing down the decision in Horsham District Council v. Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (1), Barratt Southern Counties Limited (2) on 23rd January 2015, Mr Justice Lindblom stated “It is not a general principle in planning law that an acceptable proposal for development should be turned away because a better one might be put forward instead”, dismissing the notion that this principle had not persisted with the introduction of the NPPF.

The case revolved around the question of whether an inspector had failed to take account of whether a better designed scheme could be conceived for a development site.

The Court dismissed an application under section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 by Horsham District Council for an order to quash the decision of the inspector – appointed by the first defendant, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government –  to allow the appeal of the second defendant, Barratt Southern Counties Limited (“Barratt”), against refusal of planning permission for a development of 160 dwellings on land to the north of West End Lane in Henfield, West Sussex.

The Council had contested the grant of planning permission. During an inquiry the council submitted that the proposed development was a poor design which obscured views of the landscape, that a well-designed scheme should contain view corridors to retain these important views, and that it was fundamental to the principles in the NPPF regarding good design and the need to incorporate development into the character of the area, that such a scheme should preserve these views.

The inspector concluded that the likely “adverse environmental effects” of the proposed development were “limited” and did not outweigh “the considerable social and economic benefits” with respect to the early provision of new homes in circumstances of a local shortfall. He considered that policy in the NPPF did not indicate that the development should be restricted, and that the development would therefore be “sustainable”, and “the presumption in favour of such development should be applied”.

The Council argued that the inspector was not entitled to grant planning permission for Barratt’s proposal while it was still possible for a scheme to come forward in which long views from the site would be better protected, in light of policy set out in paragraph 64 of the NPPF that “permission should be refused for development of poor design that fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions.”

In his ruling, Mr Justice Lindblom stated that the NPPF does not say that a proposal which does not take every conceivable opportunity to enhance the character and quality of an area, or which does not deliver as well in this respect as a different proposal might have done, must therefore automatically be rejected.

He noted that the inspector focused on the policy in paragraph 64, as well as the wider policies on the design of development within which that paragraph is set, and that he exercised his own judgment on the issues relating to “good design” and “poor design” in light of these policies, concluded firmly that the proposal was not of “poor design”, and brought that conclusion into the comprehensive assessment of the planning merits on which he based his decision.

Referring to the decision in First Secretary of State and West End Green (Properties) Ltd. v Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd., Mr Justice Lindblom stated that in this case, the fact that an alternative approach could have been adopted in the design of the development, and that this could have maintained some views from the site which would have been obscured by Barratt’s development, did not mean that the design of the proposal the inspector was considering contravened government policy in the NPPF.

The judge went on to state that the inspector was entitled, and in fact, required, to exercise his own judgment on whether the scheme constituted poor design under the NPPF, and that he did so in an entirely lawful manner, applying NPPF policy appropriately. He noted that, “It may be that the council disagrees with him, but such disagreement is not ammunition for a legal challenge.”

The Court also reiterated the principle that an application under section 288 of the 1990 Act does not afford “an opportunity for a review of the planning merits” of an inspector’s decision.

This case indicates that an acceptable scheme cannot be rejected to encourage an improved scheme, given the design policies of the NPPF and the NPPG.

Full details of the final judgement are available here.

Improving attainment … what recent evaluations tell us

evaluation

Image from Flickr user Beth Kanter, licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons License

by Stacey Dingwall

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is an independent charity that works to break the link between family income and educational achievement, ensuring that children from all backgrounds can fulfil their potential and make the most of their talents. Funded by the Sutton Trust and Department of Education, the EEF aims to raise the attainment of children facing disadvantage by:

  • Identifying and funding promising educational innovations that address the needs of disadvantaged children in primary and secondary schools in England.
  • Evaluating these innovations to extend and secure the evidence on what works and can be made to work at scale.
  • Encouraging schools, government, charities, and others to apply evidence and adopt innovations found to be effective.

At the beginning of October, the EEF published reports outlining findings from seven of their projects. Writing on the EEF blog, Dr Kevan Collins explained that “we investigate the strategies schools use to improve their students’ attainment. We use independent evaluators to assess whether these methods really make a difference, with a focus on their impact on pupils eligible for free school meals”. On the National Foundation for Education Research’s (NFER) blog, Marian Sainsbury praised the work of the EEF in the area of evaluation, particularly their use of the randomised control trial (RCT) method of evaluation, a method which she argued is not used often enough in education.

One of the EEF’s evaluation reports received particular attention in the media: an evaluation of the ‘Increasing Pupil Motivation’ initiative, which aimed to improve attainment at GCSE level by providing incentives to Year 11 pupils in England. The initiative was largely targeted at relatively deprived schools, and offered pupils two incentives: one financial, in which the amount was reduced if they did not maintain standards in four measures of effort (attendance, behaviour, classwork and homework); and the other offered the incentive of a trip or event, under which pupils were allocated a certain number of tickets, to be reduced if they did not meet the four measures of effort.

Despite previous research indicating that the provision of incentives directly for test scores had a positive effect, the EEF evaluation of the provision of incentives specifically for effort found no significant positive impact of either type of incentive on GCSE attainment in English, maths or science. The findings did, however, suggest that the financial incentive had a significant positive impact on classwork effort in each of the three subjects, while both incentives had a positive impact on GCSE maths for pupils with low levels of prior attainment.

Findings from evaluations of another six initiatives were also published:

Continue reading

To regulate or not to regulate? Housing standards in the private rented sector

To Let housing signs

Image from Flickr user Locksley McPherson Jnr, licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons License

The Scottish Government published its ‘Consultation on a New Tenancy for the Private Sector’ on the 6 October 2014. The paper states that 333,231 homes are rented privately in Scotland and it puts forward proposals to modernise the sector including giving tenants greater security of tenure, including:

  • Landlords to offer tenancies of not less than 6 months.
  • A bar on repossession except in specific circumstances.
  • The introduction of a model tenancy agreement.

The consultation poses a series of questions relating to rent levels, in particular ‘what action, if any, should the Scottish Government take on rent levels in the private rented sector in Scotland?’ Clearly the focus of the consultation is on the affordable private rented sector, but the implications of legislative change are likely to be far broader and impact across the whole rental sector.

The consultation raises a number of big issues for a range of stakeholders including tenants, landlords, citizens’ advice bureaux, local authorities, and indeed for the broader social rented sector, because any changes may well have knock-on implications far beyond the private sector tenant/landlord relationship.

Continue reading