But let me say something else: The rioters are not the face of Britain’s young people. The vast majority of our young people are good, decent and doing the best they can. Don’t condemn all of them because of the actions of a few. You know what really struck me? How so many of those who did join in the riots seemed to have nothing to lose. It was about what they could get, here and now. Not what lies in front of them, tomorrow and in the years ahead. As if their own future had little value. Too many of these young people had simply fallen through the cracks. Not just this summer but many summers ago, when they lost touch with their own future. So often the people who have gone off the rails are the ones who were struggling years earlier, not least in making that critical leap from primary to secondary school. So today I am launching a new scheme to help the children who need it most. In the summer before they start secondary school. A two-week summer school helping them to catch up in Maths and English, and getting them ready for the challenges ahead. We know this is a time when too many children lose their way, so this is a £50m investment to help them along the right path. And that is why we have found the money, even now, to invest in education. Protecting the schools budget. A two and a half billion pound Pupil Premium by the end of the parliament. More investment in early years education: 15 hours for all three and four year-olds. New provision for the poorest two-year-olds. All steps towards a society where nobody is ‘enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity’. Towards a liberal society. These are investments that will take years or even decades to pay off. By the time the two year-olds we help next year come to vote, I’ll be 60. So why are we doing it, when it costs so much and takes so long? Because investing early makes such a huge difference, especially for the poorest children.
So said Nick Clegg in his keynote speech one week ago at Liberal Democrat Conference in Birmingham. And, to be honest, I felt a little underwhelmed about the Summer school idea. I mean, two weeks, is that all? Surely that’s not going to be enough to help.
And then I thought about it some more.
I know how much kids I know have been helped by extra tuition, an hour a week, in addition to their schooling. Those who struggled really came on with a bit of focused support.There’s also always been the problem of kids forgetting loads of stuff they’ve learned over the long Summer – something exacerebated when they are then plunged into an unfamiliar environment. That’s a trauma even if they have reasonable transition arrangements in England like the Curriculum for Excellence has been designed to encourage in Scotland.
So, I think this will be £50 million well spent. The children will have the benefit of two weeks’ intensive learning just before going up to secondary.
Once a child starts falling behind at high school it can be a challenge to sort that out, so Nick’s initiative seems like investment at the right time to do most good. Of course, the longer term challenge is to make sure that kids don’t get to the end of primary school without the literacy and numeracy skills that they need. The Pupil Premium, a Liberal Democrat idea which Nick has been championing for as long as I’ve known him, will tackle that by giving more money for children who need it most. It’s a key part of the plan to ensure that nobody is held back by their background.