The challenges facing Clegg's "fairness premium"

Will the premium just be used to offset cuts elsewhere?

After the pain of the Browne Report and before the pain of the Spending Review, the announcement of Nick Clegg's "fairness premium" is a rare opportunity for the coalition to sweeten the pill.

The premium, worth £7bn over the whole of this parliament, has three main elements: a £5bn "pupil premium" offering schools additional funds - believed to be around £2,000 per pupil - to help the poorest children, 15 hours a week of pre-school education for all disadvantaged two-year-olds and a "student premium" likely to be spent on increased maintenance grants.

The policy, which was part of the Lib Dems' original "shopping list" of demands, will cheer the grassroots and, appearing on the Today programme this morning, Clegg did a good job of selling it.

To the middle classes, alarmed by the prospect of child benefit cuts and higher tuition fees, he replied, in the manner of the authors of The Spirit Level: "targeting measures on those who are particularly disadvantaged, doesn't just help them, it helps everybody." He added: "If you deal with children who might get into trouble ... you save a lot of heartache, social disruption and money."

But will the premium live up to Clegg's undoubtedly good intentions? First there's the risk that the premium will simply be used to offset cuts elsewhere in the education budget. As a recent IFS report on the subject pointed out: "The gains in terms of extra funding for disadvantaged schools need to be set against the impact of the measures required to pay for them."

Elsewhere, research by the OECD suggests that there is only a weak relationship between spending per pupil and educational performance across countries. The degree of pre-school inequality in Britain means that narrowing the gap is a Sisyphean task for most. And with the tax and benefit changes set to hit the poorest hardest, schools will be forced to run to stand still. In increasingly unfair times, the effect of the "fairness premium" may be muted.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Quiz: Can you identify fake news?

The furore around "fake" news shows no sign of abating. Can you spot what's real and what's not?

Hillary Clinton has spoken out today to warn about the fake news epidemic sweeping the world. Clinton went as far as to say that "lives are at risk" from fake news, the day after Pope Francis compared reading fake news to eating poop. (Side note: with real news like that, who needs the fake stuff?)

The sweeping distrust in fake news has caused some confusion, however, as many are unsure about how to actually tell the reals and the fakes apart. Short from seeing whether the logo will scratch off and asking the man from the market where he got it from, how can you really identify fake news? Take our test to see whether you have all the answers.

 

 

In all seriousness, many claim that identifying fake news is a simple matter of checking the source and disbelieving anything "too good to be true". Unfortunately, however, fake news outlets post real stories too, and real news outlets often slip up and publish the fakes. Use fact-checking websites like Snopes to really get to the bottom of a story, and always do a quick Google before you share anything. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.