Empty rhetoric on class sizes

NO ONE can fail to be disturbed at the way in which class sizes have been steadily increasing over recent years, a fact which must be particularly galling to the Labour Party after the last government’s sterling efforts to cut class numbers.

This, however, is no excuse for the explosion of hot air masquerading as education policy which characterised yesterday’s debate in Parliament.

It is the Labour argument that the Government is directly responsible for the rise in class sizes through diverting money away from those areas most in need of more primary school provision in order to fund former Education Secretary Michael Gove’s key aim of expanding the number of free schools and academies.

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But while it is fair to say that the number of free schools has not been increasing sufficiently to keep pace with Britain’s rapidly expanding school population – a problem particularly noticeable in Yorkshire – this is not directly the fault of the Government. The previous Labour government made no provision for the predicted increase in pupils and neither the current Labour frontbench nor their Liberal Democrat counterparts have come up with any solution to the problem in spite of all their noisy remonstrations in Parliament yesterday.

Indeed, with no money available for the school building programme that is desperately needed and with the school-age population predicted to grow further – not least through the huge increase in European Union immigration which Labour itself sanctioned – it is hardly surprising that Labour has failed to come up with any response other than round after round of empty rhetoric.

In fact, while Ed Miliband’s team would never admit to it, they must know that the present policy of gradually rolling out free schools in response to parental demand is, for the moment at least, the only game in town.

Lib Dems’ U-turn hypocrisy

IN THEIR continual writhing over the so-called bedroom tax, the Liberal Democrats could scarcely be more transparent if they tried.

Far from being overcome with concern at the number of housing-benefit recipients going into arrears as they struggle to find smaller properties to move into, the Lib Dems are far more worried about their own political survival after next year’s General Election.

With polls suggesting that the Lib Dems face losing dozens of seats next May, the party is understandably desperate to differentiate itself from its Conservative partners and to develop policies to facilitate a coalition with Labour, should that option present itself.

This was the rationale behind the Lib Dems’ Private Member’s Bill which they joined forces with Labour to force through Parliament yesterday in an attempt, as they claim, to make the spare room subsidy fairer and more effective.

In reality, as Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander has admitted, the situation which this flagship Government policy is trying to remedy – one in which almost a quarter-of-a-million families are living in accommodation that is too small for them, while benefits are paid to smaller families in properties with more than 800,000 empty rooms – the situation is a “crazy” one.

But instead of sitting down with their coalition partners and trying to work out a way to make the legislation more effective, the Lib Dems would rather play political games which reveal far more about the present state of the coalition than they do about the Government’s welfare reforms.

The Yorkshire Post celebrates

THE 260 years of The Yorkshire Post’s existence have seen the newspaper bear witness to some of the great events of history and add its voice to the arguments that have shaped the modern world, while all the time reporting the unique mix of local, national and international news for which it has become renowned.

Now, to mark its anniversary, The Yorkshire Post is giving its readers the opportunity to participate in the celebrations by downloading front pages detailing some of the key events in history as well as the very first edition of the paper from July 2 1754.

In fact, with a series of supplements over the next few months displaying some of the best photography and reporting the paper has produced and chances for readers to supply their own memories of The Yorkshire Post as well as join in with the 260th Birthday Honours, this occasion has all the hallmarks of being yet another great landmark in the newspaper’s proud history.