Nov 2007 29


We slump to 19th
According to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), English primary school pupils have slumped in the international league table of reading skills. The authoritative study of 40 countries showed them falling from third place in 2001 to 19th place in 2006.

Yesterday Ed Balls blamed parents for allowing their kids to play computer games:

“Across the country we should be getting our kids to play computer games a bit less and to read a bit more. Most of them have their own TVs and mobiles, and 37 per cent are playing computer games for three hours or more a day."

You can’t trust those parents with anything, can you. Thank goodness they’re not allowed school vouchers.

But there were some very interesting bits in the PIRLS report that never made the headlines.

To start with, when Balls goes on about computers, he overlooks the fact that it was his government that really pushed computers into schools. One result is that they are now widely used in teaching reading: PIRLS says 32% of English pupils now regularly use school computers for reading lessons, three times the international average of 11% (table 6.6). Many experienced teachers always reckoned that unfashionable traditional methods involving human beings were far more effective. But the Commissars knew better.

And also according to PIRLS, most of those hopeless parents actually seem to do a cracking job in preparing their children for school. In England, 56% of primary children attend schools where at least 75% of them enter with good basic literacy skills. That’s nearly three times the international average of 20%.

So how come they enter school with good literacy skills? Could it by any chance be down to the parents at home?

The big picture seems to be that most parents do a pretty good job with their kids up to school age. They then have to consign their heirs to schools which do a relatively worse job now than they did five years ago.

Brilliant.

Of course, there is another theory about why our schools are performing worse than they used to in teaching reading. And it’s a factor not mentioned in the PIRLS report, or the mainstream media coverage.

According to Schools Minister Jim Knight, there are now three-quarters of a million immigrant children in English schools. And many of them do not have English as a first language. Worse, in places like Slough, increasing numbers can’t even speak English when they first arrive in the classroom.

Which may go some way to explaining why PIRLS finds our rural schools performing so much better than our urban schools. A pattern which is the exact reverse of experience in other countries:

Of course, the mass immigration of the last ten years was also the result of government policy.

Ed Balls was quick to blame parents for the decline in reading achievement. The truth is that it’s his education system and his government’s policies that are the real culprits.

Nov 2007 29

MspyjamasAlready this year we’ve had Kiddie Kevlar stab-proof school jumpers and manufacturers considering adding tracking devices to school uniforms.  Now, the Telegraph reports that Marks and Spencers are marketing pyjamas that they say will protect you against hospital infections.  All of these are just the more egregious examples of people having to pay to protect themselves from the incompetences of the state.

Law and order isn’t effectively maintained so people hire private security and kit their kids out like a Securicor van.  Hospitals are full of infections so people go private, go abroad or – if they can’t afford to pay twice – buy protective pyjamas.  School standards are shockingly poor so people send their children to private schools or hire tutors.

We have to pay for schools,  police and hospitals.  Those – politician managed – services fail to deliver and then we have to pay again to actually get the security we need, the educational standards we expect for our children and treatment without the risk of leaving hospital in worse shape than you entered.  Isn’t it shockingly unfair that people are forced to pay for public services that are so bad they then need to spend more of their money to prevent or undo the damage?

Nov 2007 29

This post by Gracchi on the Liberal Conspiracy website attacking the Public Sector Rich List has plenty of phoney ‘gotcha’ moments.  Fortunately, none of them remotely stack up:

"Firstly its noticeable that on their website, they claim the need for this survey because these public sector workers are paid so much more than teachers, soldiers and policemen. The politics of envy resurfaces and is evident in many of the comments! Such an argument presupposes a commitment of some kind to equality- and acknowledges the injustice of directors of the Royal Mail sitting in plush offices earning millions whilst soldiers sit in Basra risking their lives earning thousands. I’m not sure how that sits with the reductions in taxation that the TPA advocates elsewhere- nor am I sure that the only inequalities are within the public sector."

Let’s look at the actual reasons why we said the Rich List was needed:

  • "Transparency.  People and organisations that receive large amounts of taxpayers’ money should be accountable to the public they serve.  Taxpayers should be able to judge for themselves whether the remuneration of senior officials represents good value for money.
  • Rewards for failure.  People in the public sector should be paid well for good performance.  But in far too many cases senior public sector officials are being paid over the odds for dreadfully poor performance, which in some cases would warrant a sacking in the private sector (see Table A1.2 for 10 examples)."

We did include the wages of soldiers, nurses and policemen in our report but as a comparison.  Some of the bigger salaries are so high that the numbers can almost become meaningless.  Just like the £101 billion of waste figure in the Bumper Book of Government Waste they need to be compared to something so that people can get their heads around them.

"Secondly they argue that the salaries of public officials should be justified- and they are right. Lets take Adam Crozier, chief executive of Royal Mail. He is paid a ridiculously vast amount of money, but he was recruited from being Chairman of the FA- and before that was a leading advertiser. If the TPA believe in the efficacy of private markets setting wages then Adam Crozier is probably being paid at about the market rate for a chief executive- and so are many others amongst these fat cats in the public sector. Ultimately the cause of the pay of the public sector fat cats is the pay of the private sector fat cats. If you want to get your hands on these types of people you have to pay these types of salaries. So if you want to take a look at public sector people being paid too much for these jobs, perhaps you have to either settle for rubbish directors (of which more in my third point) or you have to think about private sector pay scales."

Firstly, private sector Chief Executives often make far less than even the average in the Public Sector Rich List never mind Adam Crozier.  This was pointed out by Chris Dillow in his response to a Comment is Free piece making a similar point to Gracchi’s:

"The Institute of Directors reports (pdf) that the  average managing director of a firm with turnover below £5m gets a basic salary of just £65,000. One with a turnover of £50-500m gets £141,440. These are decent professional salaries, but not a fortune. And the survey also finds that public sector bosses are already paid more than private ones, at least outside financial companies (which are managed so much better, of course)."

Of course, the Royal Mail is a big company and Crozier doesn’t, necessarily, represent bad value.  However, the Royal Mail’s performance this year has been far from brilliant.  Gracchi doesn’t have the slightest clue whether he is being paid the right amount and the idea we should just trust the judgement of the Royal Mail’s Remuneration Committee to get it ‘right’ is palpably ludicrous.

In the private sector when a senior manager is paid too much shareholders should be up in arms.  The revolt over Jean Pierre Garnier’s deal at GSK is a classic example that should be emulated more often.  In the public sector the public need to fulfil that role.  They need to fight the temptation for public sector organisations to be run for the benefit of management instead of the public.  Our rich list allows them to do that.

"Thirdly, ah says my Taxpayers’ alliance friend- but the question is whether they have any impact on their organisations. But again that presents him with an ideological problem. Generally researchers for the TPA believe in hierarchy and hence in differentiated pay. There is lots of evidence, just have a look at Chris Dillow’s blog, that company directors don’t necessarily have an impact on their company stock’s performance- and its quite possible that the same thing applies in the public sector but again all the arguments in favour of or against hierarchy apply similarly in both sectors and hence all the arguments for and against large pay differentials and packets!"

The idea that because you believe some managers are good value you should believe all managers are good value is idiotic.

"The ultimate problem with this kind of Daily Mail politics is that in order to establish that well paid bosses don’t make the public sector any better off, the Taxpayers’ alliance would have to accept that well paid bosses don’t have any positive impact on any organisation. Otherwise they are arguing for poorer public services! (Or perhaps that equality is a moral good which trumps efficiency, but again is that a unique truth for the public sector!) All these arguments seem to me to rebound upon their owners."

This is full of non-sequiturs. Just because we think some public sector bosses offer poor value we don’t have to be opposed to well-paid bosses in general.  Equally, just because we find big pay packets in the public sector alarming doesn’t mean we have to in the private sector.  If a firm in the private sector pays its senior management way too much then they will be hurting their ability to compete in the market.  Public sector organisations, by contrast, are often monopolies and are paid for by money taken from a taxpayer who has little say in the matter.  They don’t face the threat of creative destruction if they prove inefficient.

"In a sense this isn’t important- the list they did didn’t really make the national media."

This is utter leftie hubris.  I’m afraid a little boasting will be necessary to refute it.

The report got excellent coverage in the national media.  It was initially an exclusive for the Sunday Times who put it on the front-page, gave it two pages inside the paper and wrote a leader on the subject.  It was then covered by Sky News, BBC News 24, the Mirror, the Express, the Scotsman, the Times, the Telegraph, the Financial Times and the Sun – in many cases quite prominently.  It’s hard to think of a recent thinktank publication that has had better national media coverage.

Finally, we had this in the comments:

"Of the top ten on the list, six cost the tax payer nothing at all.

Network Rail, Royal Mail, BNFL, and Channel 4 are not parts of the civil service. They are public owned market bodies. They earn their revenues from business activities, and they pay their from those revenues.

So what do they have to do with the tax payer’s alliance?"

These are organisations either owned or heavily subsidised and guaranteed by the taxpayer.  If they go belly up we will wind up with a hefty bill to pay.  Every penny the Royal Mail pays to Adam Crozier is a penny that will not contribute to the Royal Mail’s return on the taxpayers’ big investment in owning Royal Mail.

Gracchi’s article is a mish-mash of simplistic assumptions and clumsy logic that can’t stand up to the slighest scrutiny. 

Nov 2007 29

Reading

The latest Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) shows that English 10-year-olds have fallen from 3rd to 19th place since 2001. The study of 45 countries and provinces showed that only the results of Morocco and Romania fell more sharply.

Predictably, but shamefully, Education Secretary Ed Balls tried to pin the blame on parents, but few will be fooled. Spending on primary and pre-primary education has increased from £16.8 billion in 2001-02 to £23.6 billion in 2006-07. By any measure, these results are an extremely poor return on that extra spending.

These results also pose serious questions for Gordon Brown’s aspiration to increase state school funding per pupil to the level of private day schools. It simply isn’t going to work. Rather than throwing yet more taxpayers money down the drain, the government should look to the countries that perform better than the UK – Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark have all freed their schools from political management, handing control to parents and teachers. The same approach could work wonders over here.

Nov 2007 29

ClownsLiverpool’s taxpayers will be shocked to know they have to stump up a whopping £150,000 for…wait for it…a chess tournament. 

This tale of incompetence started with the Liverpool Culture Company (LCC), a semi-private body, agreeing to pay for the European Chess Tournament, but reneged on the £100,000 deal. 

Out of the blue, however, the North West Development Agency (NWDA), a taxpayer-funded quango, has emerged with £150,000 of taxpayers’ money to fund the tournament. What are they using, golden pawns? 

But alas if you look closely enough you find this is yet another story of government bureaucrats going along hand in glove with each other to squander yet more taxpayers’ money. 

Follow this trail if you will.  The Liverpool Culture Company was meant to have funded the European Chess Tournament in Liverpool.  The Chairman of the LCC is Bryan Gray.  The Chairman of the NWDA now funding the tournament is Bryan Gray.  The chief operating officer of the LCC is Bernice Law.  The deputy chief executive of the NWDA is Bernice Law.  Isn’t it odd that the same people are involved in spending your money on a chess tournament when a private body was meant to?  You draw your conclusions from those links, but it seems to us that taxpayers’ money is being used where it shouldn’t be and far too much is being used on a mere chess tournament.

Feel free to email Bernice Law to find out why the taxpayer should foot the bill.

We should strongly expose this to the local papers.  Send your letters to the Liverpool Daily Post:

Letters Editor
Liverpool Daily Post
PO Box 48,
Old Hall Street,
Liverpool,
L69 3EB,
United Kingdom
Email: [email protected]

And the Liverpool Echo:

Letters Editor
The Liverpool Echo
PO Box 48,
Old Hall Street,
Liverpool,
L69 3EB,
United Kingdom
email: [email protected]

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