Welcome to this week’s PA’s PA in a week which saw UKIP double the number of its MPs. Mark Reckless victory in the Rochester and Strood by-election, albeit not with the emphatic majority enjoyed by Douglas Carswell, gives UKIP much-needed momentum going into 2015 and a continued headache for David Cameron. It is also debateable how much longer the Lib Dems can justifiably claim to be one of the ‘three main parties’ given their fifth place and miserly 349 votes. However, Labour remain unable to capitalise on the problems facing the other parties, although in their case the damage is often self-inflicted. The latest? An ill-advised tweet poking fun at a voter which has cost Miliband a front bench spokesperson.
Schools Reform Minister of State Nick Gibb addressed the annual PA/BESA Education Conference Delivering Quality in Changing Times. Choosing to focus on textbooks, he made some welcoming comments pledging Government support to tackle any anti-textbook ethos in schools. He also noted that quality textbooks helped reduce teachers’ workloads, saving time and cost of photocopying worksheets and trying to devise their own materials. However, he also challenged the sector not just to “sell what you think what will sell” but also to have an eye on producing and selling what would raise educational attainment. He commended the textbooks of Singapore and Shanghai which focused on the core principles of a subject rather than preparing students for specific assessment levels. In a free flowing debate with the Minister which followed his remarks it was pointed out that UK education publishers’ text books were used in countries like Singapore; and that recent assessment of textbooks in use (of which more see below) was already out-of-date, and that new GCSE textbooks were still being produced. Despite the few negative remarks, the overall tone of the Minister of State’s remarks was positive (and echoes neatly the key message in our Publishing for Britain manifesto: quality education requires quality text books and resources). The PA and BESA will continue to engage closely with the Minister and his officials.
Timed to coincide with the conference education Policy Adviser Tim Oates, of Cambridge Assessment Group, published Why Textbooks Count which reports on that the neglect of textbooks in our education system and cites this as one of the reasons that England has been overtaken by other countries. While theory-based educationalists are blamed for abandoning textbooks in favour of worksheets, educational publishers also come in for strong criticism, charged with producing textbooks which “teach to the test”. This view, reported in The Bookseller, has been strongly rebutted by The PA and BESA (British Educational Suppliers Association) who commented: “We absolutely disagree that UK textbooks are not up to scratch. UK educational publishers create world-class teaching and learning materials for schools which are used all over the world, Singapore included, as evidenced by the fact that 40% of British publishers’ revenues come from overseas sales. We have greatly welcomed the flexibility this Government has introduced into the education environment and support the choice such flexibility brings. State approval of textbooks goes totally against this and would stifle the market in the UK. It would hinder development of a dynamic, innovative sector, would reduce choice for teachers and students and undermine one of Britain’s export success stories.”
The creation of a new ‘College of Teaching’ has received backing from Sue Freestone, the head of King’s Ely, who believes such a move is needed in order to ensure education doesn’t remain a political battleground. This theme of political interference is also raised in a piece in The Guardian by Laura McInerney who questions whether the latest round of A-level reform is being pushed though because of next year’s general election.
Labour creative industries policy
In a wide-ranging speech to the Nation and Regions Media Conference, Labour Deputy Leader and Shadow Culture Secretary Harriet Harman gave clear and unequivocal support for IP (promotion and protection) and the need for the UK government to fight in Europe for its content industries. She said that the Intellectual Property Office needed to be a bold champion of IP (which it isn’t at the moment – Ed) and acknowledged that while some feel progress is being made in the UK, there are concerns that this should not be undermined by anything that happens in Europe.
Happily, Harriet also pledged to keep the Creative Industries Council but noted it should broaden its work to include the regions; she also called for there to be more joined up working between UKTI, BIS, The FCO and The British Council to promote Britain's culture and creative industries, and announced that the review being carried out by John Woodward would report in the New Year. In conclusion she said: “We want to work closely with you - the creative industries need to command the same access and prominence within government that industries such as automotive and pharmaceuticals do. What you do brings great joy to people's lives, puts this country on the map, and provides money for the Treasury and jobs for the future. I look forward to working closely with you as we prepare our manifesto and hopefully, when we're in government.”
The National Audit Office has criticised the Government for failing to assess the impact of council cuts on services like libraries. In The Impact of Funding Reductions on Local Authorities, the NAO say that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport “did not attempt to quantify potential impacts on libraries or explicitly address their sustainability.
Publishing for Britain
The PA’s manifesto continues to be well-received. This week it was presented to the Shadow Labour Education Minister, Kevin Brennan MP. He was supportive of many of the policy areas identified and is keen to work with us on tweaking the proposed recommendations / solutions.
A Westminster Hall debate on public libraries got rather heated this week. Debate-initiator Lyn Brown went on the attack, accusing Libraries Minister Ed Vaizey of interaction and a lack of interest since coming into office. Statistics over library closures were fired back and forth – every example of a Tory authority closing a service quickly rebutted with an example from a Labour one. All participants did agree on the important role libraries play but the Minister was very firm in that he did not believe the service is in crisis. He commented: “Of course, there are incidents where the modernisation, adaptation or change of a library service causes extreme concern, but everybody acknowledges that closing a library does not necessarily mean that the library service is no longer comprehensive and efficient. When we talk about a closure, sometimes we are talking about a merger of two libraries. Also, we rarely talk about the number of libraries that are opening across the country.” Interestingly, he did make reference to the 1964, commenting that it is 50 years old which may provide an opening for a discussion on our manifesto recommendation for a parliamentary commission. The debate also exposed the absurdity of one government department being responsible for policy while another holds the purse strings – something which, again, is also raised in Publishing for Manifesto.
This week we have: chaired the annual PA/BESA Education Conference, met with EY to hear about the work they are doing as part of the British Council’s Triennial Review, met with Labour Education Spokesman Kevin Brennan, attended the BIC AGM and the Digital Publishing Forum, sat on the RCUK Independent Review Group and met with UK Music.
Next week we are: meeting with the Sherpa/FACT Advisory Group, meeting with Lord Wood, Adviser to Ed Miliband, attending the launch of the Creative Industries Federation and the Reading Agency’s Annual Lecture with Russell Brand, meeting with the Publishers Content Forum, attending the FEP General Assembly in Strasbourg as well as the annual Author/Publisher Dialogue (where PRH’s Joanna Prior will be ‘in dialogue’ with author Jonathan Coe), and attending the National Book Awards.