School children or MPs: who works the most?

You guessed it – it’s the kids – who work 310 hours more than MPs.

As Michael Gove continues his personal mission to make British schools a little more work-house like and less of a national handicap in the “global race” to nowhere, Margaret Hodge has suggested MPs might take a look at their own work habits. “It feels as if we are hardly working,” she told the Guardian. “Members of the public would be forgiven for thinking that it is MPs who are lazy and that it is parliament that is failing to provide good value for money.”

A little comparison is in order. This year the Commons are expected to sit for fewer than 140 days. During the 2010-2012 Session, the House sat for a total of 2,342 hours and 25 minutes, which comes to 296 days over two years. During the same period, school children spent a total of 2,660 hours in school, a total of 380 days.

That’s 310 hours and 84 days more than MPs.

The Lib Dem transport minister Norman Baker responded defensively to Hodge’s claim. “Some MPs work bloody hard all year round,” he said. Edward Garnier, Conservative MP for Harborough, argued that Hodge's claim select committees have inadequate hours to carry out their business is erroneous. “If she [Hodge] wants her committee to convene, they should be allowed to whenever they like. They do not need the house to be sitting to do so.”

Presumably, when the teachers’ unions make the same argument, the effect will be derided by an Education Secretary who keenly ignores the recommendations for shorter school days, increased flexibility and more support for teachers, which come from our Scandinavian neighbours, opting instead to lionise nations with scantly regulated school systems in East Asia.

The hours quoted above are based on my own comprehensive school's (that is to say, the most common type of school in Britain), which are from 8.20am – 3.20pm every day, 39 weeks a year (minus 5 teacher training days). This does not did not include extracurricular activities, breakfast or after school clubs, homework, revision and the rest.

Some students work bloody hard all year round, after all.

Hard at work - Michael Gove. Photo: Getty.

Philip Maughan is a freelance writer in Berlin and a former Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.