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Rishi Sunak Criticised Over Maths Teaching Proposal And Plans To Drop Childcare Reforms – UK Politics Live

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NEU education union says Sunak’s maths pledge not credible because of shortage of teachersThe National Education Union says Rishi Sunak’s plan to require pupils to study some maths up to the age of 18 is not credible because not enough maths teachers are available. Kevin Courtney, the NEU’s joint general secretary, said:

The prime minister’s statement is baffling in its failure to notice the obstacles to his ambitions to extend maths education: schools and colleges lack the teachers to deliver it. His government’s policies for teacher recruitment are not bringing new teachers in sufficient numbers and have missed their target in every one of the last 12 years. The government have also cut their recruitment target for maths teachers by 39% since 2020. Low pay and the pressures of workload are creating a crisis of teacher retention as well. None of the government’s frequent announcements about curriculum change will be credible unless it addresses these basic problems.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have also made the same point. (See 9.19am.) Here is a chart from a Labour briefing showing the number of trainee maths teachers recruited every year in the past decade compared to the target for the number wanted. In every year the target was missed, even though the target was reduced by 27% for 2022-23.

Numbers of trainee maths teachers, compared to DfE target Photograph: Labour partyWhy politicians should be wary of making ‘vision’ speechesDowning Street says Rishi Sunak will use his speech this afternoon to give details of his “ambition for a better future for Britain”. As explained earlier (see 9.19am), he (and Keir Starmer) are both seen as figures who are better on dry detail than on uplifting vision (or better with prose than poetry, as Mario Cuomo would put it). Sunak’s speech is being written up in some quarters in advance as an attempt to fill the vision vaccum.

We’ll find out later whether it succeeds in the respect. But if this is the plan, then there are at least three reasons why this might be a problem. Sometimes too much vision can be a bad thing.

1) Political vision can be over-rated. Sunak, like other prime ministers in the past, has been criticised for focusing wholly on day-to-day topics dominating the headlines, and not setting out – or even having – a long-term vision of what he wants to achieve in politics. But when prime ministers do embark on “the vision thing” they get criticised (normally by the same people) for ignoring what matters to voters. Sunak will almost certainly get more questions from the media this afternoon on strikes and the state of the NHS than on education, or maths. Unfortunately in politics you rarely get to choose your own essay questions.

2) Voters don’t always find “political vision” convinicing. In the trail for his speech, Sunak says:

Every opportunity I’ve had in life began with the education I was so fortunate to receive. And it’s the single most important reason why I came into politics: to give every child the highest possible standard of education.

This is no doubt sincere; from the age of 13, he’s had a world-class education. But until recently people following his career would not have realised that education was his passion. He hardly mentioned it in his maiden speech as an MP and, when he stood for the Tory leadership in the summer, although he announced an education plan, it was never a major feature of the campaign. (The plan also did not include requiring pupils to study some maths up to the age of 18.)

3) Politicians who do set out a personal vision often fail to achieve it. David Cameron was passionate about building the “big society”, but it was never entirely clear what this meant and in policy terms very little of this survives. Theresa May said she wanted to tackle the “burning injustices” in society, but her premiership was consumed by Brexit and she achieved almost nothing in this area. Boris Johnson said levelling up was his big cause, but criticis claimed that was little more than a slogan and, although some policy has been implemented under this banner, it has not been transformative. Liz Truss was passionate about cutting taxes. She did get to implement her agenda. But it was so disastrous it was swiftly reversed, and she was forced out of office. You probably have to got back to Tony Blair to find a PM with a good claim to have realised his political vision. He said his priorities were “education, education, education” and schools improved considerably during his premiership. (Gordon Brown was passionate about reducting poverty, and he made real progress in this area too – but primarily as chancellor, not when he was PM.)

Nadine Dorries says it will be ‘impossible’ for voters to believe Tory promises at next election after repeated U-turnsNadine Dorries, who as culture secretary under Boris Johnson championed plans for Channel 4 privatisation, has responded to the news that her policy is being abandoned by unleashing a Twitter broadside against No 10. She says the government has now abandoned so many policies that it will be “impossible” for voters to believe the promises it makes at the next election.

Three years of a progressive Tory government being washed down the drain. Levelling up, dumped. Social care reform, dumped. Keeping young and vulnerable people safe online, watered down. A bonfire of EU leg, not happening. Sale of C4 giving back £2b reversed. Replaced with what?

— Nadine Dorries (@NadineDorries) January 4, 2023 A policy at some time in the future to teach maths for longer with teachers we don’t yet even have to do so.

Where is the mandate- who voted for this?

Will now be almost impossible to face the electorate at a GE and expect voters to believe or trust our manifesto commitments.

— Nadine Dorries (@NadineDorries) January 4, 2023 Nadine Dorries. Photograph: James Veysey/Rex/ShutterstockLucy Powell, the shadow culture secretary, has issued a statement welcoming the government’s proposal to abandon the privatisation of Channel (without actually putting it in those terms). She says the government should never have floated the plan in the first place, and that it has been a “total distraction” for the broadcaster. She says:

The Conservatives’ vendetta against Channel 4 was always wrong for Britain, growth in our creative economy, and a complete waste of everyone’s time.

Our broadcasting and creative industries lead the world, yet this government has hamstrung them for the last year with the total distraction of Channel 4 privatisation.

Labour opposed this sell-off, and took a strong stand against it. The government must now bring forward the media bill to protect and promote Britain’s broadcasters in the streaming age. Whilst the Conservatives crash our economy, we have a plan to nurture and grow our world-leading creative industries.

Lewis Goodall from the News Agents podcast says he thinks the government was planning to announce the shelving of Channel 4 privatisation this week.

My understanding is the govt wanted to announce this before the end of the week.

Intriguingly Donelan says she expects the plan “to be popular with a majority of Parliamentarians.” A majority certainly but not all. One of Donelan’s predecessors comes to mind…

— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) January 4, 2023 Culture secretary Michelle Donelan wants to scrap plans for Channel 4 privatisation, leaked letter revealsLewis Goodall from the News Agents podcast has a good scoop. On Twitter he has published a letter he has seen from Michelle Donelan, the culture secretary, to Downing Street asking for approval to announce plans relating to Channel 4.

Under Boris Johnson the government was planning to privatise Channel 4. But Donelan says she wants to ditch this idea. She says:

After reviewing the business case, I have concluded that pursuing a sale at this point is not the right decision and there are better ways to secure C4C’s [Channel 4 Corporation] sustainability and that of the UK indepedent production sector.

In the letter Donelan says she expects the announcement to be “popular with a majority of parliamentarians”.

She also says she wants to give Channel 4 more commercial flexibility, so that in future it can produce its own content. Currently its programmes are made by independent producers.

In the letter Donelan is asking for approval for what she is proposing from the cabinet’s domestic and economic affairs committee. That means cabinet has not yet signed off on what she is recommending. But the tone of the letter implies she expects cabinet colleagues to agree.

SCOOP: Letter from Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan to Rishi Sunak confirming her recommendation is that Channel 4 privatisation does NOT go ahead. Says there are “better ways to ensure C4’s sustainability.”

Direct opposite of what the Johnson government said.

— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) January 4, 2023 Michelle Donelan. Photograph: Tayfun Salcı/Zuma Press Wire/Rex/ShutterstockWhy and how No 10 wants to ensure pupils in England have to keep studying some maths up to 18In a briefing issued overnight, Downing Street says Rishi Sunak accepts his plan to requires pupils in England to keep learning maths up to the age of 18 won’t be fully implemented before the next election (which has to take place in January 2025 at the latest). Sunak wants to start work on implementing the plan before then, and finish it in the next parliament.

This is what No 10 says about why pupils should study some maths up to the age of 18.

Around 8 million adults in England have the numeracy skills of primary school children. Currently only around half of 16-19-year-olds study any maths at all and the problem is particularly acute for disadvantaged pupils, 60% of whom do not have basic maths skills at age 16.

Despite these poor standards, the UK remains one of the only countries in the world to not to require children to study some form of maths up to the age of 18. This includes the majority of OECD countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Finland, Japan, Norway and the USA …

Maths to 18 will equip young people with the quantitative and statistical skills that they will need for the jobs of today and the future. This includes having the right skills to feel confident with finances in later life, including finding the best mortgage deal or savings rate.

And this is what No 10 says about how the curriculum might be changed.

The government’s focus on literacy since 2010, including phonics, has led to significant improvements in standards. In 2012, only 58% of six-year-olds were able to read words fluently. By 2019, the figure had risen to 82%. Our renewed focus on numeracy will aim to match this achievement.

The government does not envisage making maths A-Level compulsory for all 16-year-olds. Further detail will be set out in due course but the government is exploring existing routes, such as the Core Maths qualifications and T-Levels, as well as more innovative options.

Although Liz Truss seems to be unhappy about Rishi Sunak’s childcare plans (see 11.05am), she probably approves of his plan to ensure that pupils have to keep studing some maths until the age of 18. Her father, John Truss, is a maths professor, and, according to a profile published in the summer in the Times, Truss herself rates officials according to their arithmetic skills. The report said:

She is fond of giving civil servants mental arithmetic as interview questions, being unwilling to appoint those who cannot promptly say, for example, what a seventh minus an eighth is.

Truss source says Sunak’s plan to ditch her childcare reforms ‘economically and politically counterproductive’Liz Truss seems to have made her first intervention in UK politics since she was forced to resign as PM. A “source close” to her has giving a briefing to the Times criticising Rishi Sunak for junking her plans to relax childcare regulations.

As reported here yesterday, Downing Street has failed to deny a report saying that Rishi Sunak is shelving the plans championed by Truss when she was PM for a radical overhaul of childcare.

Truss has been interested in this topic for at least a decade. She comes from the wing of the Conservative party that believes cutting regulation is the solution to most problems, and as a junior education minister in 2013 she gave a speech saying mandatory staff-child ratios for nurseries should be relaxed to cut the price of childcare for parents. Until she became PM, she had little success in persuading ministerial colleagues to support the idea, but when she was in Downing Street she was all set to press ahead with this as part of her growth agenda.

In a story for the Times, published after the No 10 briefing, George Grylls and Henry Zeffman say:

Truss herself is understood to disapprove of the prime minister’s reluctance to embrace significant reform.

A source close to Truss told The Times: “Excessive bureaucracy is making childcare in England increasingly unaffordable for many parents. The system needs to be reformed in order to boost growth and opportunity. Junking Liz’s plans for this critical policy area seems economically and politically counterproductive.”

In Westminster lobby journalism, ‘a source close to X’ is sometimes used to describe someone who knows X and is sounding off about what they think without their approval. But using the phrase this loosely is generally frowned upon by fellow journalists (it causes too much confusion) and the term normally means someone authorised to speak on behalf of X (a spin doctor, speaking on background), or X themselves.

The Times story starts “Liz Truss has warned Rishi Sunak not to scrap her childcare reforms”, and so it is safe to assume the “source close to” is fairly authoritative.

The problem for Truss is that there is a reason why for the last 10 years the government has avoided relaxing staff-child ratios in the manner she favours. On the Today programme this morning Robin Walker, the Conservative MP who chairs the Commons education committee, said that while he was in favour of childcare reform, changing ratios was “the one reform to childcare that parents are almost universally against”. He went on:

I don’t think it was the right way of pursuing this. I think we have to look at other mechanisms to better support the sector, better support parents with the cost of childcare.

Justine Roberts, head of the Mumsnet website, told the same programme that on Mumset “no one … agreed with [Truss’s] ratio reform as the answer”.

Sunak says people feel ‘lot of apprehension’ about 2023 and he’s working to change thatIn a tweet last night ahead of his speech this afternoon, Rishi Sunak said that people were feeling “a lot of apprehension” about 2023 and that he was working to change this.

New Year is a time for optimism, but I know there’s also a lot of apprehension.

I am working night and day to change that, and quickly.

In a speech tomorrow I will set out my priorities for the year ahead.

— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) January 3, 2023 Rosena Allin-Khan refuses to fully back Streeting over scale of NHS reform needed and case for using private sectorRosena Allin-Khan, the shadow mental health minister, was doing the morning media round for Labour today. With A&E waiting times still at crisis levels, and the issue still getting considerable media coverage (see below – the Guardian’s main overnight health story is here), this was an opportunity for a ‘free hit’ for Labour.

As a doctor who still does occasional shifts at her local hospital, Allin-Khan is particularly well qualified to hammer the government on this topic. And she duly delivered, criticising the current state of the NHS and highlighting Labour’s plan to recruite more healthcare staff. She told Sky News:

What I’m seeing is what my colleagues are echoing around the country, is that they feel, unfortunately, that this is the worst they have ever seen the NHS for patients and for staff …

We have had 12 years of political choices that have resulted in us already having an under-resourced NHS with no slack in the system.

Now we have a situation where people are having intimate examinations in cupboards, patients are waiting up to 99 hours in an ambulance in an A&E bay, unable to get a bed inside a hospital.

We’re having children sleeping on plastic chairs, patients lying on the floors, being examined on floors with sheets held up by nurses.

But when Allin-Khan was interviewed on the Today programme by Martha Kearney, she was asked if she agreed with Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary (and her boss), when he gave a speech to a Tory thinktank recently saying the NHS needed reform. Asked if she agreed with Streeting, Allin-Khan dodged the question and just delivered a spiel about the Labour plan announced at party conference. When Kearney tried again, and asked if she agreed with Streeting when he said he did not know why the BMA was so hostile to reform, Allin-Khan again avoided the question, and just said conditions in the NHS were the worst she had seen in her medical career.

Kearney tried a third time, saying she was finding it hard to understand why Allin-Khan would not say she agreed with her boss. Did Allin-Khan support Streeting’s call for reform? Allin-Khan said Labour had a plan to tackle the workforce issue (the one announced at party conference) and she said that was “what I stand by”.

Streeting has said he would like to see more use of the private sector to bring down waiting times. Kearney asked if Allin-Khan was in favour of that. And she implied that she wasn’t. After dodging the question completely the first time Kearney raised it, when she was pressed on this a second time, Allin-Khan replied:

I can tell you in my own brief, in mental health, we have use of the private sector which ultimately often lets patients down. This is about putting patient care first. Labour have a plan to grow the workforce.

A charitable interpretation of all this would be that Allin-Khan was just determined not to be sidetracked from delivering Labour’s key message. But it would not have been hard for her to say something supportive of Streeting, and it sounded like she was keen to distance herself from his Policy Exchange stance. She came second in Labour’s deputy leadership election in 2020 and still has her own ambitions and agenda.

Rosena Allin-Khan. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PACoordinated strikes ‘make absolute sense’, says TUC leaderPaul Nowak, the new general secretary of the TUC, has raised the prospect of stepping up industrial action this year, saying coordinated strikes “make absolute sense”. My colleague Aletha Adu has the story here.

Rishi Sunak’s plan to teach maths up to 18 dismissed by opposition parties as ‘empty pledge’ and ‘admission of failure’Good morning. Parliament is not sitting this week but over the next 36 hours the prime minister, and the person most likely to be prime minister after the next election, will both be making major speeches about their vision for Britain in 2023. It should provide a great “compare and contrast” opportunity for the political commentariat – although what the public at large will make of it all is, of course, another matter.

Rishi Sunak is speaking today, and according to the overnight preview from Downing Street, he will set out his “priorities for the year ahead and ambition for a better future”. Keir Starmer is speaking tomorrow and, according to a note sent out by Labour yesterday, he will “outline how his Labour government will ‘create change, and fuel hope’, by moving away from the sticking plaster, short-term mindset of the current government, and tackling the long-term challenge our country faces”.

Sunak and Starmer are both criticised as managerial politicians who are short on passion and vision, and it seems that Sunak at least will seek to counter this charge when he speaks this afternoon. So far most of his time as PM has been focused on headline problems, like small boat Channel crossings, which don’t seem to engage him a great deal personally. But, as Pippa Crerar reports in her preview, today he will say that education is “the single most important reason why I came into politics” and outline plans to ensure all pupils study maths in some form up to the age of 18.

Responding to the extracts from the speech released overnight, Munira Wilson, the Liberal Democrats’ education spokesperson, said this was “an admission of failure”. She said:

This is an admission of failure from the prime minister on behalf of a Conservative government that has neglected our children’s education so badly. Too many children are being left behind when it comes to maths, and that happens well before they reach 16.

The prime minister’s words mean nothing without the extra funding and staff to make it happen. You don’t need a maths A-Level to know it takes more teachers to teach maths to age 18 than to 16. But schools are already struggling with a shortage of maths teachers, and the Conservatives have no plan to turn that around.

And Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, said this was just an “empty pledge” without the promise of more funding. She said:

The prime minister needs to show his working: he cannot deliver this reheated, empty pledge without more maths teachers, yet the government has missed their target for new maths teachers year after year, with existing teachers leaving in their droves.

Now, maths attainment gaps are widening yet Rishi Sunak as chancellor said the country had ‘maxed out’ on Covid recovery support for our children.

Here is the agenda for the day.

11am: Richard Tice, leader of Reform UK, holds a press conference on “the challenges faced by the nation after 12 years of Tory failure”.

Lunchtime: Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, meets business groups to discuss his plans for how the energy support scheme for businesses will be scaled back from April.

2pm: Rishi Sunak delivers his speech setting out his priorities for the year.

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