“Coalition education reforms ‘fuelled inequality in schools’ “

“Sweeping education reforms appear to be fuelling inequality in the schools system, according to a major analysis that shows high-performing and improving schools are accepting fewer children from poor backgrounds.

In a stark assessment of the impact of controversial measures introduced since 2010, the study warns that an original pledge to set schools free and give them more power has actually led to a system that is causing high levels of stress among teachers.

It finds the system is now pushing schools and their heads to prioritise “the interests of the school over the interests of groups of, usually more vulnerable, children”. Some schools were found to be engaged in “aggressive marketing campaigns and ‘cream skimming’ aimed at recruiting particular types of students”. …

… It warns that the system in which the involvement of councils has been stripped back, with fellow schools encouraged to help their struggling counterparts, is actually seeing the creation of a market for advice – with schools charging for their expertise on how to improve.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Thanks to our reforms and the hard work of teachers, the vast majority of pupils are in a good or outstanding school, 1.9 million more than in 2010, and an increase from 66% to 86% over that time.

“And thanks to our reforms schools that aren’t delivering for young people are being turned around, with 65 per cent of schools made into a sponsored academy seeing improvement from inadequate to good or outstanding. But there is always more to do, which is why we are investing £23bn by 2020 to create more good school places and we are targeting £72m at the areas that need it most to help improve prospects and opportunities for some of the most disadvantaged young people.”

The findings form part of a state-of-the-nation study of England’s education system, drawn up by academics at the UCL Institute of Education over four years, which will be published on Tuesday. It includes the examination of Ofsted data over a decade, a statistical analysis of the impact of multi-academy trusts (MATs), 47 detailed school case studies and a survey of almost 700 school leaders.

The reforms were largely implemented under the coalition government and championed by Michael Gove as education secretary. A plan to force all English schools to become academies was abandoned in 2016 after a backlash among Tory MPs.

The study concludes that any new autonomy handed to schools had been “more than balanced” by testing and inspections that had ensured the state remains in control from a distance. The drive to turn schools into academies, the key part of reforms since 2010, is described as “uneven and often fraught”.

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/jun/30/coalition-education-reform-academies-fuelling-inequality

“MP back plan for ombudsman to resolve new homes disputes”

“The government is under pressure to set up an independent ombudsman with the power to order housebuilders to pay out up to £50,000 or even reverse a sale, following reports of new-home buyers lumbered with defective properties.

A group of MPs and peers has called on the government to make it mandatory for housebuilders to belong to the proposed scheme, which would be free for consumers and offer a quick resolution to disputes. The scheme would be funded by a levy on housebuilders, with larger ones such as Berkeley Group, Persimmon, Barratt, Galliford Try, Redrow and Bovis Homes, paying more than small and medium-sized firms.

A report, Better Redress for Home Buyers, by the all-party parliamentary group for excellence in the built environment, highlights the confusing landscape buyers face when trying to resolve building defects, not helped by a plethora of warranties, housebuilding codes and complaints procedures.

It says the proposed ombudsman should be able to order payouts of up to £50,000 so buyers are not left out of pocket. Disputes over larger sums might have to be settled in court, but the report adds: “In certain extreme situations the new homes ombudsman should be able to reverse the sale.”

People have no idea that when they buy a new home directly from the developer, they have no access to redress.

The recommendations come after a scandal over the poor quality of new homes built by Bovis, while other housebuilders have also faced similar complaints.

A recent survey by the Home Builders Federation and the main warranty provider, NHBC, showed that 98% of new-home buyers reported snags or bigger defects to their housebuilder after moving in.

The parliamentarians have proposed a snagging app that would enable buyers to photograph defects and send them to the builder, monitor the progress of complaints and go to the ombudsman if needed.

Dominic Raab, the housing minister, said this week that the “vice-like grip” of the big developers must be broken to boost the building of affordable homes.

Lord Best, vice-chair of the all-party group, says: “Buying a new home is stressful enough, but buying a defective one, as we heard from witnesses, can take a toll on people’s wellbeing as they wrestle with a Kafkaesque system seemingly designed to be unhelpful.”

The proposed scheme would be modelled on the property ombudsman, to which all estate agents must belong. If they are struck off, they can no longer trade.

Katrine Sporle, the property ombudsman, says: “New homes should be covered by an ombudsman. People have no idea that when they buy a new home directly from the developer, they have no access to redress.”

The proposed scheme would cover the first two years following a house purchase when housebuilders are liable for defects, while subsequent problems would be down to the warranty providers.

The report says: “Affected homebuyers are exasperated not so much by the existence of defects but by a builder’s failure or even refusal to put them right. Submissions we received described how buying a new home had been ‘the worst decision of their life’; how it was like ‘going through hell’ as the complaint passed between housebuilders and warranty providers; and how fighting for redress was taking a toll on their health.”

The proposals have been presented to the ministry of housing, communities and local government as part of its consultation on a single housing ombudsman.”

http://flip.it/716e6t

“Public sector bosses are on a ‘gilded staircase’ of huge pay rises they do not deserve, MPs warn”

“Public sector bosses are on a “gilded staircase” of huge pay rises they do not deserve, the chair of the public accounts committee has warned.

Labour MP Meg Hillier has written a damning statement about the “lack of oversight” that allows parts of the public sector to inflate its executives’ salaries – at the same time as cutting staff.

She highlighted the high pay received by some heads of academy schools, which her committee has been investigating.

“The lack of oversight is worrying,” Ms Hillier said in her annual report, adding: “The rapid expansion of academies and free schools raises questions about oversight of how these new schools are managed and how they are spending their budgets. …”

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2018/06/29/public-sector-bosses-gilded-staircase-huge-pay-rises-do-not/

Watch out Sidford: air pollution linked to Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, lung disease

Owl says: Time to get some baseline air pollution data in Sidford before the planned business park increases it? Evidence, evidence, evidence.

“While obesity, lack of exercise and genetic risk are major drivers for diabetes, studies have shown a link between the disease and pollution. Air pollution is thought to trigger inflammation and reduce the ability of the pancreas to manage insulin production. …

… Levels of air pollution well below what is considered safe by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization are causing an increased risk of diabetes worldwide, according to a study published Friday in the journal Lancet Planetary Health.

In 2016 alone, the study found that air pollution contributed to 3.2 million new diabetes cases –14% of the total — around the world. In the United States, air pollution was linked to 150,000 new cases of diabetes per year.

“There’s an undeniable relationship between diabetes and particle air pollution levels well below the current safe standards,” said senior study author Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, an assistant professor of medicine at Washington University. “Many industry lobbying groups argue that current levels are too stringent and should be relaxed. Evidence shows that current levels are still not sufficiently safe and need to be tightened.”

Particulate or particle air pollution is made up of microscopic pieces of dust, dirt, smoke and soot mixed with liquid droplets. The finest particles regulated by the EPA are 2.5 micrometers; to put that in perspective, a strand of human hair is 70 micrometers, or more than 30 times larger.

Anything less than 10 micrometers can not only enter the lungs, it can pass into the bloodstream, where it is carried to various organs and begins a chronic inflammatory reaction thought to lead to disease.

“Ten or 15 years ago, we thought that air pollution caused pneumonia, asthma and bronchitis and not much more than that,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, dean for global health at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, who was not involved in the study. “We now know that air pollution is a very important cause of heart disease and stroke and contributes to chronic lung disease, lung cancer and chronic kidney disease.” …

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/06/29/health/air-pollution-diabetes-study/index.html

More free cash machines in Parliament than in some towns

There Are More Free Cash Machines In Parliament Than On Some UK High Streets, MP Says:

“… in Parliament there are two free-to-use machines in one corridor and a further four just a couple of minutes’ walk away.

Which?’s list of areas with only fee-taking ATMs includes high streets in Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness, Birmingham, Newcastle, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Hull, Bristol, York, Coventry, Milton Keynes, London, Brighton, Belfast, Cardiff and Swansea.”

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/there-are-more-free-cash-machines-in-parliament-than-on-some-uk-high-streets-mp-says_uk_5b35f9cce4b08c3a8f694cb1

and

“300 Cash Machines Are Disappearing Every Month In The UK”

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/300-cash-machines-are-disappearing-every-month-in-the-uk_uk_5b3608abe4b007aa2f7f080e

One-third of “affordable homes” built by government agency in East Devon – are unaffordable!

“Nearly 30 per cent of the houses built in East Devon by a government body, responsible for improving the amount of affordable housing, were unaffordable.

Newly-released figures have revealed that Homes England, whose stated aim is ‘to deliver a sustained improvement in affordability’, built 262 homes in East Devon between April 2015 and March 2018.

Of those, just 71 per cent were defined as ‘affordable’ – including social housing and homes with rent capped at no more than 80 per cent of the local market average. Properties bought through a scheme such as Help to Buy or shared-ownership are also included.

It means 76 of the homes, built by private contractors with support from the Government, were sold or rented at market value.

The statistics have been released at the same time as data, from the Valuation Office Agency, which revealed the median cost of renting a home in East Devon was £675 a month. The figure is the median monthly rent for all houses in the area, between April 2017 and March 2018.

In the last four years the price has risen by 3.8 per cent – which is less than the average increase across England.

East Devon’s overall median rent is however lower than average for the South West, which is £700 a month.

The data also revealed that the median monthly cost of renting a one-bedroom property in East Devon was now £495 – 2.5 per cent more than in 2013/14.

Where as renting a three-bed family home the median cost was £795 a month – which has risen by six per cent in four years.

So far all of the 66 new builds, started by Homes England in the last year, have been designated as affordable.”

http://www.midweekherald.co.uk/news/nearly-100-unaffordable-homes-built-in-east-devon-by-affordable-housing-body-1-5582690

Homes England’s chief executive Nick Walkley said: “These official figures show that the overall number of homes being built continues to steadily increase, but we know there is more to do. Homes England will bring together our money, expertise, and planning and compulsory purchase powers to secure the delivery of new homes, where they are most needed, and improve affordability that can be sustained over time.

“We are investing over £3billion of affordable housing grant over the 2016-21 period to help housing associations, local councils and developers build affordable homes for communities across England, and are working closely with the sector to realise their ambitions for affordable housing.”

http://www.midweekherald.co.uk/news/nearly-100-unaffordable-homes-built-in-east-devon-by-affordable-housing-body-1-5582690

Two-thirds of (mainly Tory) county councils expect to be bankrupt by 2020

“… New research this week by the County Councils Network (CCN) shows that England’s largest, mainly Conservative-led, councils face a combined funding pressure of £3.2bn over the next two years; due to projected demand for services, inflation, and government cuts.

Even more worryingly, our research reveals that faced with these funding pressures, council leaders’ confidence in delivering balanced budgets – a legal requirement of councils – is dramatically falling.

Without a cash injection over the next two years, just one-third of respondents are confident of balancing their books in 2020.

Clearly, any scenario that sees a council unable to balance its budget in 2020 may seem a long way off, but it does not paint a reassuring picture for local councils nor bode well for the future of local services

In the short term, what does this all mean for local residents?

Essentially, the worst is yet to come in reductions to local services if county authorities are to balance their books over the next two years with no additional help from government.

The £3.2bn funding black hole will be filled, but substantial cutbacks will have to be made to residents’ local services.

With county authorities seeing their core government support grant reduced by 92 per cent by 2020, the room for manoeuvre is becoming increasingly small for our councils.

Having made savings in back-office, less visible, or non-essential services, our member councils tell us that they will have little choice but to now cut frontline services substantially.

Last month, our research pointed out that due to unavoidable reductions in home to school travel, some 20,000 less pupils receive free travel to local schools.

This week’s budget survey shows more of this is on the way, with at least £466m in savings being made to frontline areas – think adult social care, children’s social services, pothole filling, and bus services.

At the same time, they will have to introduce new charges for services, or significantly raise council tax to make up the shortfall.

While Liz Truss may not want ministers to make the case for extra cash now, a strong but considered voice round the cabinet table for local government – in the form of James Brokenshire – is desperately needed.

Counties want to work with government in a proactive, and constructive way; supporting the new communities secretary in his case to the Treasury for more resources for councils. Otherwise, we might see drastic changes to our local services over the next few years.”

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/local-councils-england-county-finances-chaos-uk-government-2020-a8421591.html