Friday, 2 June 2017

Who Gets What and Why? (2016)



I published a post on the blog site back on 7 September 2016 in which I questioned whether Scotland's investment of £12.6 billion in the teaching profession, via the McCrone Agreement, represented good value for money.

In as much as this vast sum (or a significant slice of it at least) may have been better spent on taking tens of thousands of Scottish parents out of low pay and poverty wages which, in turn, would have given their children improved living standards and better life chances since the year 2000. 

Now I've heard this very argument many times before in arguing about politics and I would say that lots of teachers agree that schools can't simply 'teach children out of poverty' - that parents and the home environment have the greatest impact on their child's life.

A major report from Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) suggests that I may well have a point because after the McCrone investment of £12.6 billion in teachers pay, Scotland has been slipping down the international rankings in a variety of important schools subjects over the past 10 years.

The Scotsman covers the Pisa report in detail (see link below) and quotes the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, as saying that the performance of Scotland's schools is "unacceptable".

I wonder how many children Scotland  would have benefited if the living standards of their low paid parents had been significantly improved back in 1999/2000 - instead of diverting most of the available resources to a controversial agreement which delivered an eye-watering 23.5%  pay increase to Scottish teachers in a single year?

   

http://www.scotsman.com/news/education/scotland-slips-down-world-education-rankings-in-key-subjects-1-4309849


Scotland slips down world education rankings in key subjects


Deputy First Minister John Swinney at the official opening of Bilston Primary School last month. Picture: PA



TOM PETERKIN
 - The Scotsman

The Scottish Government was accused of presiding over a “decade of failure” after a global study revealed Scotland has slipped down the ­international rankings in reading, maths and science.

Opposition parties said ministers should be “ashamed” of Scotland’s education record after the nation’s worst ever performance in a prestigious testing system used to evaluate the academic attainment of youngsters across the world.

The research conducted by the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) looked at half a million 15-year-olds in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries.

Published yesterday, the 2015 Pisa research identified a decline in key subjects which the SNP’s opponents described as a “shocking indictment” of the Scottish Government’s treatment of the education portfolio.

In a Holyrood statement, education secretary John Swinney admitted the results were “unacceptable” and vowed to turn round Scotland’s schools.

According to the Pisa results, Scotland was outperformed by 12 countries in science including England, Australia, Estonia, Finland and ­Slovenia.

In maths, Estonia, Finland and ­Slovenia again scored above Scotland, as did Norway, Belgium, the Republic of Ireland and Poland.

There were also 13 countries with higher scores in reading, including Estonia, Poland and Slovenia, as well as Ireland, Finland and Norway.

The results also showed a decline in the levels achieved in Scottish classrooms when compared with performance in previous years.

In the Pisa study of 2012, Scotland had been ranked above the OECD average for reading and science and average for maths. The most recent figures put Scotland at “average” in all three subjects.

Having ranked as the highest in the UK for reading and maths, Scotland now lags behind England and Northern Ireland for both subjects.

The OECD research surveyed about 540,000 students worldwide in 2015 and uses a points system to rank 72 countries against each other, also looking at countries such as Scotland which are part of larger states.

Against its own 2012 ratings, Scotland fell 13 points in reading, seven points in maths and 16 points in science.

For reading, Scotland scored 493 points, seven lower than England and four lower than Northern Ireland.

Scotland was just two points behind both countries for maths, at 491, while in science Scotland slipped further behind England with 497 points compared to 512.

When viewed over a longer period, Scotland’s OECD rank went from sixth in 2000 to 23rd in 2015 in reading. In mathematics Scotland has gone from ninth in 2003 to 24th in 2015 and in science Scotland is now 19th, compared to tenth in 2006.

According to yesterday’s statistics, Wales was the worst-performing UK country across all three subjects, the survey found.


Who Gets What and Why? (7 September 2016)




Over the past 16 years Scotland has put an extra £12.6 billion pounds in the pay of the country's school teachers, courtesy of the landmark McCrone Agreement which increased their basic pay by an eye-watering 23.5% in the year 2000. 

The implementation cost of this fully funded pay increase was £800 million a year and this huge sum of money is now part of the Scottish Government's base budget - a budget which virtually double between 1997-2007, as did the spending power of Scotland's 32 local councils.

A year earlier the Scottish council employers signed up to the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement which was designed to tackle low pay at the bottom end of the local government pay ladder and sweep away years of widespread pay discrimination against a wide range of very low paid, female dominated jobs.

The 1999 Single Status Agreement covered over 100,000 of the lowest paid council employee and included cleaners, catering staff, clerical workers, classroom assistants, home carers and so on.

The cost of 'single status' was estimated at £450 million at the time, but unlike McCrone the landmark equal pay agreement was not fully funded and relied upon future pay settlements and productivity gains to achieve its worthy goals.

So looking back all these years later the position is that 70,000 teachers have benefited to the tune of £800 million every year while more than 100,000 of the lowest paid council employees have had to fight tooth and nail for their right to equal pay.

Interestingly, a debate is now underway about the standard of teaching in Scotland's schools and one body of opinion is that the underlying problems are exacerbated by relative poverty and poor living standards amongst working class parents.

Now I don't grudge teachers a decent pay increase, but I think it is obscene that one group of council employees should be treated so much better than another which is, of course, exactly what happened over the McCrone and Single Status pay agreements.

The McCrone Agreement was struck by the Labour/Lib Dem coalition government which was in power in Holyrood at the time, but the deal and allocation of an extra £800 million every year was supported by all of the mainstream political parties including the SNP which now dominates the political scene north of the border.

So the big question is how do the people at the bottom of the pay ladder catch up and improve their circumstances, comparatively speaking, if those above them in the pay pecking order keep pulling ahead?

If you ask me, a far better and more socially just use of that £800 million a year of public money would have been to allocate a large chunk of it to the people at the bottom of the pay ladder.

But for this to happen, in future, the government of the day will need to stop using public money to bolster the interests of comparatively well paid groups in Scottish society who also benefit hugely and disproportionately from other areas of public policy such as free university tuition and the extension of free school meals.

  

Who Gets What and Why? (06/04/16)



I've been saying for a long time that in these tough economic times people living in rented accommodation have been getting a raw deal compared to their neighbours and friends who have a mortgage.

And that's because mortgage payers have seen their housing costs fall significantly over the past five years with interest rates being at artificially low levels - whereas the cost of rented accommodation keeps going up as this article from the BBC web site shows with a big increase of 7.63% in West Dunbartonshire Council, for example. 

Yet to add insult to injury the Scottish Government has announced extra spending on free school meals for a Primary 1-3 school pupils which is worth £114 million over two years or around £330 a year for each child - for families with children.

But not to the less well off families of course because their children already receive free school meals, so all these extra millions of pounds are going to support the better off - like Scotland's school teachers who enjoy much better than average pay.

Now Scotland's largest teaching union, the EIS, has been campaigning in support of these changes which is understandable as it is clearly in the interest of EIS members, but the bigger question is "Is such a policy fair and socially responsible?".  

I say "No" because in my view the money would be much better spent on targeting the the less well off instead of further cushioning the lives of the better paid, especially when you stop and think that the majority of teachers will have been benefiting from the mortgage situation over the past five years.

So if you ask me, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament has got this all wrong - the lower paid are the ones who deserve a break not people in already well paid jobs.  

West Dunbartonshire Council announces housing rent rise

Rents for council house tenants in West Dunbartonshire are to rise by 7.63% from 1 April, it has been announced.

The council said the increase would add an extra £4.67 each week to the average weekly rent over the year.

Housing convener, Cllr David McBride, said the rent rise was "needed to pay for the major improvements required to our properties".

He added: "Increasing rents is never an easy decision but I believe our tenants understand why we need to do this."


P1-3 pupils in Scotland to get free school meals

The Scottish government matched a plan being introduced in England

All Scottish P1-P3 pupils will get free school meals from January 2015, First Minister Alex Salmond has announced.

He said the move, affecting 165,000 youngsters, would boost health and was worth £330 a year for each child to families.

The move matches a plan being introduced in England, in September this year.

Opposition parties accused the Scottish government of playing catch-up, and taking credit for Westminster policies.

The first minister also told the Scottish Parliament that free childcare would be expanded to every two-year-old from a workless household in Scotland by August, affecting about 8,400 youngsters.

Mr Salmond said a further extension of the policy to reach 15,400 two-year-olds by August 2015 would see Scotland delivering 80 million hours of childcare to pre-school children, which he said was the greatest amount in the UK.

The free meals announcement came after UK ministers announced plans to offer pupils in the first three years of primary school in England a free cooked lunch.

Scottish ministers followed suit, partly by using extra money going to Scotland, through the Barnett Formula, as a consequence of the English plan.

Mr Salmond said the Scottish government announcements would bring improvements, but fell short of the childcare revolution which Scotland needed.

Ahead of the independence referendum on 18 September, the Scottish government said all three and four-year-olds, and vulnerable two-year-olds, would get 1,140 hours of childcare a year by the end of the first parliament, in the event of a "Yes" vote.

But opposition parties said SNP ministers had the devolved powers to realise their childcare plans now.

Mr Salmond told MSPs: "We need to create a tax welfare and childcare system that doesn't plunge children into poverty, as the UK government is doing, that puts us on a par with the best childcare systems in the world.

"That is why the future of Scotland's children is the future of Scotland, and why Scotland's future is an independent one."

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said the free school meals plan was promised by the SNP in 2007, but never delivered, adding: "Now it has been reprised, because the UK government has acted on it and provided the money."

She said of Mr Salmond's childcare vision: "What he had was an opportunity to show his new-found commitment to childcare was more than a referendum ploy and start delivering for working families and children now."

Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, added: "A cynic might say that the SNP, having promised the earth and failed to deliver for years, has only now re-discovered its commitment to free school meals because the coalition government is delivering it.

"Today, we have a Westminster policy delivered with Westminster money, and the SNP playing catch-up but trying to claim the credit."

From Democracy Live: Alex Salmond announced his plan in parliament

However, the free school meal and childcare expansion plan, being funded at a total cost of £114m over two years, was welcomed by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, a long-time campaigner on the issue.

"The best educational investment we can make is in two-year-olds, because that can change their life," he said.

"If we're going to break the inter-generational cycle of poverty we can make efforts at later stages - we can do stuff about youth unemployment, we can try and improve life chances through schools - but the best impact we can make is in doing it at the age of two."

John Dickie, head of the Child Poverty Action Group, told BBC Scotland the school meals announcement was long overdue, adding: "The pressures on families and their ability to support their children are extraordinary, so providing a free school lunch to children in primary one to primary three is a very immediate, direct and well-evidenced way of supporting families at a time of increasing pressures."

Analysis

BBC Political editor, Scotland

Alex Salmond's critics suggested his enthusiasm for free school meals was driven by external factors: the availability of cash from the Treasury as a consequence of the previous announcement of a comparable scheme for England; a desire to cosset parents - and especially mothers - with an eye to the referendum.

The first minister insisted he was persuaded by the advantages of the policy: it encouraged uptake including among those who were nominally eligible at present; it improved the health and wellbeing of youngsters and thus their educational attainment

Give to the Needy (29 December 2013)


In the run up to Christmas Scotland's largest teaching union, the EIS, burst into fairy-lights by demanding that Scotland's 'share' of the extra public spending announced recently by the Coalition Government at Westminster - should be used to provide free school meals to all children in primaries 1, 2 and 3.

Now this is serious money we're talking about - around £60 million a year, I think, because Scotland will expect to get 10% or so of the extra public spending announced by the Chancellor, George Osborne, in his autumn statement.

Which is of course a free handout of taxpayers money to people who earn above average incomes - because school meals are already free to people on low incomes and to those claiming benefits.

So, the big beneficiaries of the new policy in England and Wales are the better off - since the less well off gain absolutely nothing from extending free school meals to children whose working parents are perfectly well able to meet the cost themselves.   

In fact the policy benefits people exactly like EIS members, as I can't believe that any of Scotland's teachers currently qualify for free school meals - as things stand.

But if I had a Magic Wand, I would target this £60 million on the less well off and probably not just those with children - since that leaves out a great many people who have never had children or whose kids have grown up.

To my mind, £60 million spent on those most in need, would do far more good than spreading £60 million across the whole population - or in this case just people with children of a certain age.

Now some people say that social benefits should be 'universal' or available to everyone on the same basis - free NHS prescriptions in Scotland are a good example although they are not really free since the cost is met out of general taxation.

Yet this approach does not apply to the cost of housing and I've written before about the £20 billion windfall that mortgage payers have enjoyed in recent times which has not been shared with people who rent their homes or living on a fixed income.    

So why not use the extra money in a more meaningful and imaginative way, for example, by holding down rents in the social housing sector?

Because this particular group within the Scottish population has not benefited from the artificially low interest rates that Scotland's mortgage payers have experienced in the past 5 years - which means that since 2008 mortgage payers have effectively been receiving special treatment as far as their standard of living is concerned.  

A much better and fairer use of £60 million, if you ask me, as such a policy would put a significant amount of money in the pockets of those at the bottom of the income ladder - instead of subsidising members of the teaching profession and EIS (Educational Institute  of Scotland). 

The statistics tell their own tale - Scotland's share of the great £20 billion mortgage windfall is around £2 billion which makes £60 million look like chickenfeed.

So the argument about universality, about everyone being treated the same way, does not stand up to serious scrutiny.