Nick Clegg will round off this week’s Liberal Democrat conference with an announcement that neatly illustrates the ‘proalition’ phase that the government is in at present. In his speech this afternoon, he will tell delegates that every year seven child who does not meet required standards in English and Maths will qualify for catch-up tuition. For every child falling behind, a school will receive £500, which they can do what they wish with. Around 110,000 pupils are expected to benefit from this premium.
I understand that the money was a specific request that the Liberal Democrats made as part of the negotiations over the English Baccalaureate. They argued – and Michael Gove accepted – that if the new exam was going to rightly raise the bar for examining teenagers, those pupils who start to struggle at the key age of 11 will need help if they are to stand a good chance. Clegg will say:
‘So yes we’re raising the bar. But we’re ensuring every child can clear it too.’
It is an interesting departure from the policies the Liberal Democrats have pushed for so far: while their flagship pupil premium is money that follows children from disadvantaged backgrounds around, the catch-up funding follows any struggling child, whether they are from a very affluent, comfortable home, or a struggling family. But the fact that the two parties did, after quite some grief about a return to a two-tier system of O-levels and CSEs, manage to hammer out a qualification that they are both happy with is an example of how coalition can work well.
The overall speech will be both proalition and pro-coalition as a concept, too, which is what makes this funding announcement so neat. Clegg will say:
‘But conference, I tell you this. The choice between the party we were, and the party we are becoming, is a false one. The past is gone and it isn’t coming back. If voters want a party of opposition – a “stop the world I want to get off” party – they’ve got plenty of options, but we are not one of them. There’s a better, more meaningful future waiting for us. Not as the third party, but as one of three parties of government.’
That’s the theme of what has been a deliberately well-behaved conference: coalition works.