Ed Miliband speaks at his old school, Haverstock Comprehensive, in Chalk Farm on August 15, 2011. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour to cap infant class sizes by ending free schools in surplus areas

Miliband revives 1997 pledge to limit class sizes to 30 pupils for 5 to 7-year-olds. 

Ed Miliband has long been both praised and criticised for breaking with New Labour. But in a speech today on education, he will revive the first policy included on the party's famous 1997 pledge card: capping class sizes for 5 to 7-year-olds at 30 pupils or under. The original promise was funded by abolishing the assisted places scheme, which subsidised children from low-income backgrounds to attend private schools. Miliband will pledge to meet his £200m commitment by ending the establishment of free schools in areas where there are surplus places, which Labour estimates has cost £240m. 

Since 2010, the number of young pupils taught in classes bigger than 30 has trebled to 60,000. This is partly attributable to the free schools programme, which has seen more than 30,000 places created in areas where they were not needed. Based on present trends, Labour estimates that the number of classes larger than 30 will increase to 11,000, close to the level it inherited in 1997. 

In a speech at Haverstock School, the Camden comprehensive he attended between 1981 and 1988, Miliband will say: 

Successful teaching and classroom discipline is made harder when classes are so much bigger. Our plans will turn this round. Currently, the government is spending money on new Free Schools, in areas where there are surplus places. This simply makes no sense when class sizes are rising in the way they are. Or when people can't get their kids into the good schools they want. 

So by ending the scandalous waste of money from building new schools in areas of surplus places, we will create more places where they are needed. This will allow us to cap class sizes for 5, 6 and 7-year-olds at no more than 30 pupils. 

It's a sensible and almost certainly popular policy. Although free schools are beloved of the right, they are not, contrary to common belief, popular with the public. A YouGov survey for the Times in October 2013 found that just 27 per cent back the schools with 47 per cent opposed. The Conservatives' defence has long been that they offer parents choice in areas where there may no be shortage of places but there is a lack of good schools. The Department for Education has emphasised that it has provided an additional £5bn to councils to create new places, double the amount it claims the last government over the same period. 

But it is far from clear that this will prove sufficient at a time of rapid population growth. As Conservative councillor David Simmonds, an executive member of the Local Government Association, has warned: "The process of opening up much-needed schools is being impaired by a one-size-fits-all approach and in some cases by the presumption in favour of free schools and academies." On this issue, the public are likely to side with Miliband. 

The Labour leader will also say tomorrow: "My vision for education is shaped by my belief in equal opportunity, built for the modern world. It is based on the idea that education gives people a passport to a good life. It is a means not just of learning but of earning a decent living, transcending circumstance, understanding how to be part of a community and venturing into new worlds. 

"This has always been true. But now we must adapt this vision to the 21st century. Indeed, the biggest challenge we face is preparing our young people for the economy of the future, not of yesterday. The generational question facing us is whether we are fated to be an economy in which a few people do fabulously well, while most people work harder and harder just to keep their place. If we do not give every young person the skills and knowledge they need we will lock in a two tier economy. It is the key to building a different kind of economy which works for all and not just for some.

"Because in the 21st century, when companies can move across borders, it is the skills and talents of our people that is our unique national asset. In the 21st century, world class education isn't a luxury for the individual. It's a necessity. For Britain’s young people to succeed. For British business to succeed. For Britain to succeed. So if we are to restore the Promise of Britain by which the next generation does better than the last, we need to fulfil the promise of our young people. Equipping our children with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed with excellence from the first steps a child takes to the day they stride into the adult world."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue