Are summer schools the answer? Five questions for Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg is to announce that he will be spending £50m to set up summer schools for children on the verge of starting secondary school as a “compassionate response” to last month’s riots.

I’m all in favour of anything being provided for young people, who seem to be at the sharp end of a lot of current cuts.  But I do have some questions:

  1. This money seems to be being taken from the pupil premium fund designed to help schools to support children in most need (ie it doesn’t appear to be new money).  How does making schools spend their money in this particular way support the government’s notions of promoting freedom and school autonomy?
  2. Where’s the evidence that a fortnight’s voluntary summer school at 11 will have any impact on stopping young people “falling through the cracks” ?  Is the government already so clear about the causes of the riots that Ministers are prepared to spend a substantial sum (admittedly of someone else’s money) to put it right?  As Theresa May said earlier this month,  “it [is] not helpful for politicians to “suddenly speculate” over what happened. The causes would only be known once all the evidence had been analysed”.
  3. The summer schools are not, apparently, going to be compulsory.  Being realistic, how many of the target children, those seemingly at risk of falling through the cracks into rioting, criminality and beyond are likely to attend them? How will the impact of the scheme be measured?
  4. Assuming that the target children do turn out for the fortnight.  What is being planned to keep them on the straight and narrow afterwards?  Or is 14 days of the right kind of training going to be enough?
  5. How far would £50m go if it was put back into Connexions or some other form of careers advice for school leavers to “put them in touch with their own future” through  training or employment? (The Guardian reported recently that:  Under proposed reforms to careers guidance, a new national service is due to launch next April, which would see teenagers no longer entitled to any face-to-face careers guidance. Instead they will be pointed to a website or told to call a helpline. The duty to provide face-to-face advice will be transferred to schools, though they are to get none of the £203m central funding that pays for the existing service.)

And here are some more rhetorical questions:  Is this anything more than a media gimmick to give Clegg a soundbite for his conference speech?  What’s the betting that we will hear this wheeled out over the coming months as an example of how the Lib Dems are stamping their belief in fairness all over the Coalition? Is there any wonder that another speedy response to the riots concluded that lack of trust in politicians was a cause?  Could Ministers attend summer schools in practical policy making next year, instead of pandering to their conference audiences?  What do you think?

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