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Clegg goes mobile

14 May 2012

Just as David Cameron is trying to move on from a tough few weeks by returning to themes that worked for him earlier in his leadership, Nick Clegg
is also focusing on familiar territory. He’s given a speech
this morning on the pupil premium — which he made a key
of his Lib Dem leadership bid back in 2007. And today’s speech marks the start of a two-week push on a key Clegg concern: social mobility.

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It’s not as if Clegg’s been silent on the topic recently, but this is the first time it’s been at the top of his
agenda since he launched the government’s social mobility strategy last year.

In a way, Clegg’s speech was set up nicely by Michael Gove’s forceful words on Thursday. Both ministers railed against the inequality
in our school system — in Clegg’s words, ‘How can it be that in a modern, open society like ours a child’s destiny is still determined by their background?’ But their
focuses were slightly different. Whereas Gove’s emphasis was on the gulf between private and state education, Clegg’s was on the related gap between poor and rich kids.

Hence the pupil premium, which aims not just to improve state schools generally, but to deliver the greatest improvements for the poorest pupils. As Clegg put it in the Q&A session after his
speech, it’s about matching need and excellence — giving the best teachers the incentive to take on the biggest challenges.

In fact, the emphasis on social mobility isn’t the only thing that marks the pupil premium policy out as distinctly Cleggish. While he used the terms ‘fair’,
‘fairness’ ‘social mobility’ and ‘socially mobile’ once each in his speech, the Deputy Prime Minister also used ‘freedom’ six times. ‘The
coalition has no desire to micromanage schools,’ he said. ‘We all remember the worst excesses of that approach’. So the pupil premium cash won’t come with requirements on
how it is spent: ‘Use it as you see fit’, Clegg tells schools. But he’s clear that schools will be judged on how well they manage to close the gap between pupils on free school
meals and the other pupils, with extra cash for the best and extra Ofsted oversight for the worst. ‘There’s only one freedom we’re not giving to schools’, Clegg said.
‘The freedom to fail.’

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Show comments
  • Noa.

    “…a key Clegg concern: social mobility…”

    Or rather, the prevention of it, by this silver spooned third rater.

    Hence the tripling of university fees.

  • ssleddon

    Nick Clegg asks, ‘How can it be that in a modern, open society like ours a child’s destiny is still determined by their background?’

    Well Nick, that’s a tricky one… I wonder if it’s got anything to do with the education policies of Shirley Williams and others, meted out over the past few decades?

    Grammar schools provided the very definition of social mobility; now in their absence, we’ve got to pay for it. QED, surely?

  • martin alexander

    As Simon Heffer recently said, can Cameron give Clegg a train set and tell him to go away and play…I really do wish Clegg would not get involved in adult stuff..

  • Sylva

    No one will listen to fools like Cameron and Clegg. They have completely missed the plot.

    I will advice Cameron to keep up his loyalty to Rebekah Brooks so that Ed Milliband should stop making him to run.

    What a mess we have as a Prime Minister

  • Andy Carpark

    Demosthenes Clegg: Maker of speeches.

  • Miracoleman

    As long as a “gulf between private and state education” exists, such a thing as true social mobility will remain but a pipe dream. The blueprint for making it a reality – along with the best education system in the world – can be seen in Finland. Gove, Clegg, et al, take out your note papers, please:

  • Rhoda Klapp

    So, social mobility is where a kid who only went to Westminster school can rank almost side-by-side with kids who went to Eton? Don’t they know how ridiculous they are?

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