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Clegg on school vouchers - the evidence

Did Nick Clegg endorse school vouchers or didn't he? Well, the evidence that he did is rather strong. Not only Rachel Sylvester in the Telegraph on 29 October but also self-confessed Clegg fan Jasper Gerard, writing up an “exclusive interview” in the Observer on 21 October, state that he did.
Gerard writes, quoting Clegg: "'I want a sense of empowerment on a daily basis for people accessing health care and good education.' Well that's clear. But he differs from free marketeer Tories in that 'having lived in Europe and had children born in hospitals in Europe, they have a far greater sense of equity in health and education. It is not like a supermarket but the patient, pupil or parent has entitlements which the provider of services has to meet.' So according to his 'pupil premium', parents would be given a voucher to spend in their preferred school; but while a flaw in such schemes is often that the savvy middle class pack the best schools, Clegg would increase the value of the voucher for the needy - making the poorer child a more attractive proposition to good schools.”"
So there we have it. Unless Jasper Gerard and Rachel Sylvester were both wrong. which seems improbable, Nick Clegg expressed approval of school vouchers for parents. But the Lib Dem "pupil premium" concept is extra money that goes to schools for each pupil they take from a deprived background.
It seems pretty clear that Nick Clegg (1) did endorse school vouchers for parents and (2) either did not understand or did not like the "pupil premium" idea which is not Clegg's idea but that of the Federal Policy Committee's policy working party chaired by Baroness Barker. And a brilliant idea it was.
I find all this rather discouraging.


Charlotte Gore said…

Clegg himself has denied he's in favour of vouchers. He's denied it's a voucher scheme. Two journalists misreporting isn't evidence. His source material is identical to the source material we all have and that's not vouchers.
Toby Philpott said…
Jo, you are at it again even though I have already refuted your argument in the comments section.

Rather than look at the man in his own words you prefer the words of a Telegraph journalist.

Continually repeating the same line doesn't make it correct, it makes you look monomanical which I hope you are not.
jasper said…
Dear Jo
As one of the journalists who you mentioned perhaps I
can help. I used the "v" word, not Nick; I did so as
the general reader might struggle to understand the
finer points of the pupils premium.
To correct you on a small point: the policy was
actually Nick's idea as he wrote a pamphlet on this
highlighting the Dutch experience; this was what the
Fed Policy C used as the basis for the party policy.
Parents would have the right to convey a preference
for a school, just as at the moment. Obviously this
would be limited by supply, alas. But are you
seriously saying that is wrong? And those from poorer
backgrounds wd become more attractive to schools. What
Chris supporters need to explain is are they against
giving more money towards the education of poorer
pupils? Much as I like and respect Chris, his policy
for driving up standards seems to rest entirely on
localism, which is fine as far as it goes, but it is
frankly fanciful to think that will do the job on its
own. I'm genuinely puzzled how Liberals could oppose
empowering people - particularly the least advantaged
- to have some influence over the standards of their
child's education. That is nothing about Liberalism
and everything about blindly protecting the producer
interest, often at the expense of those most in need
of help.
Liz Barker said…
It is time this bogus point was put to rest. I know that Nick pushed for the pupil premium for years before it became party policy. He and Richard Grayson wrote a pamphlet on it in 2002. I've talked to him about this and there is absolutely no doubt that he supports the policy. He doesn't support vouchers. He's looked at the education system in Sheffield and seen how much a policy like pupil premium is needed for the benefit of individual pupils and schools.
Toby Philpott said…
Thank you Liz!

I've read the pamphlet just to check my position and I've given Jo the link to the pamphlet but she's just kept spinning the same line.
Joe Taylor said…
I was about to jump in with chapter and verse but the people who have already commented have said everything I was going to. ;-)

Clegg has been utterly unequivocal about this - the pupil premium is not school vouchers.
Charlotte Gore said…
I hope the comments from Jasper - the actually journalist you quoted - put this vouchers thing to bed now.
Tristan said…
*bangs head on wall*

What is illiberal about vouchers anyway?

You claim 'savvy middle class parents will pack the good schools' - so 'working class parents' are stupid? Are the poor poor because they're stupid? Isn't that the so-called meritocratic view I see Huhne supporters clambering over themselves to decry?

Look at what happens now, the middle classes can afford to move to areas where there are good schools, leading to the situation you claim will happen already happening.

Look at evidence and you see that it is the poorest who take most advantage of vouchers to get a better education for their children and poorly performing schools are forced to up their game or fail.

What is so bad about free markets? The Liberals used to be the party of free markets until Thatcher stole our clothes and claimed free markets whilst instituting nothing of the kind.
If its about freedom, its about free markets, not about state control.
Rob said…
Argh. Having worked as a member of staff on the working group that agreed this I'd like to point out that the pupil premium policy has been proposed by Chris Huhne a number of times. I know this because I've heard him say it was a good idea! So the idea that somehow Nick and Chris have different views on this policy is absolute rubbish.
Toby Philpott said…

You've missed the point entirely. It is not about whether Chris and Nick agree about the pupil premium, it is about claims that Nick supports vouchers which he does not.

Unfortunately, it's dog whistle politics that is the issue here not the policy.

If Chris agrees with Nick then why is he somehow trying to make out that Nick has a closet voucher agenda?
Jo Hayes said…
Charlotte, how do you know the two journalists were misreporting? You were not there. Both of them separately reported the same thing. Some coincidence! It seems more probable that before Nick Clegg realised the full implications, he talked of the pupil premium scheme as money going to parents which was an error that he has had to retract. That doesn't reflect well on his communication skills. As leader he would be under pressure all the time to get all our policies right.
Toby, let’s just stick to the evidence. I read the words of two journalists reporting the same thing in two separate reputable newspapers after two separate interviews. Jeremy Hargreaves’ posting incorrectly suggested that the voucher story was based on the Telegraph piece only – presumably he was unaware of the Observer piece.
The 2002 Clegg/Grayson paper is only historical background to what Clegg said last month. But, by the way, the paper concludes, inter alia: "In the long term, we recommend looking at ways to ensure that the school system does not entrench and exacerbate social and economic inequalities. This does not mean abolishing fee-paying schools, but rather lowering the high financial barriers that presently prevent a wider range of families from benefiting from their outstanding resources. The Danish system, where the government pays the majority of tuition fees at private schools, is a particularly interesting starting point for any such debate." That is far from ruling out a voucher system.
Jasper, in your Observer piece you wrote: "parents would be given a voucher to spend in their preferred schools". It is not the word "voucher" that is key but the word "parents" and the phrase "to spend in their preferred schools". Why did you write that? You went on to write that the scheme would make the poorer child a more attractive proposition to “good schools”. Why did you write that? It is describing a different system from the Dutch. The reason for the success of the Dutch system is that the pupil premium enables inner city schools (which are not generally “good" schools in the absence of a pupil premium) to become good schools by hiring more teachers and thus reducing their class sizes. But I think, Jasper, you correctly reported the gist of what Nick Clegg said in interview.
I heard Huhne say clearly on the radio last week that he supports the pupil premium policy. So the issue is not whether Huhne is in favour or not. The issue is whether last month Clegg made remarks that reasonable people interpreted as being in favour of a voucher system for parents. The answer is yes.
Toby Philpott said…
This has to be the worst case of cognitive dissonance I have seen in a Liberal Democrat.

How low will you go?

You are continuing to hold a discredited line in the face of overwhelming evidence that it is not Nick's position.

You are now starting to bring serious discredit to your candidate.
Jo Hayes said…
Look Toby, you haven't refuted a thing. Last month Nick Clegg gave TWO journalists to understand he was in favour of a vouchers system but it apparently wasn't what he meant. This month he isn't in favour of vouchers. That is fine by me; I am used to people changing their mind and indeed their story. I have not been a barrister for 27 years for nothing. I am also used to being verbally attacked for pointing out the obvious.
Chris Huhne is not my candidate, by the way. If Nick Clegg's campaign team come up with any serious evidence to show that Nick is the better potential leader I will happily vote for him. It's just that so far they haven't. And I very, very much dislike the election being manipulated by the centre, which is why I love my blog.
Toby Philpott said…
"And I very, very much dislike the election being manipulated by the centre, which is why I love my blog".

That's why I blog as well and why I restarted mine.

Jo, it has looked like you are an out and out Huhne supporter and to some extent it has also looked like you have pushed one of his lines.

My understanding of Nick's position is that he does not support vouchers. My read of Jasper's comment is that he used the v word and not Nick.

Liz Barker has waded in to clarify.

If my experience with newspapers (and I've been slagged off today by an unidentified Lib Dem in my local newspaper by the way - although it isn't hard to identify him) is anything to go by, there is a tendency to filter and interpret what is said.

As you surely know, once the interview is done you lose control of the message unless you are very lucky and get the opportunity to publish an unedited op-ed yourself.

I guess the only way this will totally be sorted will be if the man himself states his position in short simple words that noone can misinterpret.

But, speaking as one fellow Lib Dem to another, my concern is that pushing what I genuinely believe to be a misrepresentational line may actually harm our cause as a whole and play into the hands of our opponents.

The beauty of the parents premium policy is not about vouchers but the fact that it can cut disadvantage. Like Westminster, we also have serious pockets of deprivation in parts of Folkestone where I live. A voucher scheme would not tackle that in my view but the pupil premium would. Facing a similiar situation in Sheffield I'm sure (but again, I hope we shall hear from the man himself) that Nick believes the same.
Charlotte Gore said…
Um, well, comment number 3 is from the journalist you're quoting. Worth reading.
Jo Hayes said…
Indeed, as are the questions in my comment 11 why Jasper chose the language he used in his article. He hasn't answered those.
Joe Otten said…
A voucher and a premium would both end up being spent by a school. The difference between them is that vouchers - in typical usage of the term - can be taken to private schools. Nick has said he is against this and that is the end of the story.
Jo Hayes said…
No, it is not. The effect of the two policies on schools would be very different. And Clegg has let his verbal fluency run away with him and said inconsistent things within the space of a couple of weeks without apparently noticing. That does not augur well for how he would perform under the pressure of being leader. Like Blair and Cameron before him, the public will conclude that a leadership style based on a "nice guy" image without hard-edged clarity on policy is not enough.
Joe Otten said…
Spell it out please Jo. What do you think the difference is between vouchers and premiums?

Explain to me the difference between a voucher that "goes to parents" to be handed over to the pupil's school and spent by that school on books, teachers, etc, and one that goes direct from the LEA to the school on behalf of that same pupil. Given that it is clear that the voucher can't be spent on anything else, like a private school.

You are condemning Nick for the fact that a reporter used the word "voucher" to describe Lib Dem policy.
Jo Hayes said…
The policies are quite different in purpose and effect. The purpose of the pupil premium is to help poor and disadvantaged children out of disadvantage by following them to the schools they attend thus increasing funding to schools with a high proportion of disadvantaged pupils so they could have more teachers and better equipment. The purpose of school vouchers is to enable parents to decide at which school the funds allocated for their children's schooling are spent. The effect would be to tend to increase the competition for places in existing "good" schools without helping disadvantaged children. The whole school vouchers concept is based on letting parents as consumers decide in a schools market so, contrary to your assumption, the concept would not work unless the parents could choose private schools.
Joe Otten said…
What assumption? There was never any question of transferring the money to private schools because that was explicitly ruled out. It was mischievous to imply otherwise.

Yes, I agree that if vouchers can't be spent in private schools they will not fulfil their primary purpose to the right, which is a handout to the rich.
Jo Hayes said…
If you go back and read the articles I referred to you will see it is not (explicitly or otherwise) ruled out. What is the reference to parent's "preferred schools" supposed to mean?
Joe Otten said…
Jo, does it matter when it was ruled out?

As I said, it is fine to ask the question "does this mean vouchers for private schools?" - so long as when you have the answer, you accept it and move on.

And please don't demand that your questions are answered before they are asked.

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