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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A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The so-called “milkmen’s kids law” would seek protection for men who feel they have been duped into raising children they believe are not biologically theirs – at the expense of women’s rights.

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored Seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter” – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Maas’ proposal, announced on Monday, examines the problem carefully and sensitively before merrily throwing a woman’s right to privacy out of the window. It would compel a woman to name every man she had sexual intercourse with during the time when her child may have been conceived. She would only have the right to remain silent in cases should there be serious reasons for her not to name the biological father (it would be for the court to decide whether a woman’s reasons were serious enough). It is not yet clear what form of punishment a woman would face were she not to name names (I’m thinking a scarlet letter would be in keeping with the classy, retro “man who was present at the moment of conception” wording). In cases where it did transpire that another man was a child’s biological father, he would be obliged to pay compensation to the man “duped” into supporting the child for up to two years.

It is not clear what happens thereafter. Perhaps the two men shake hands, pat each other on the back, maybe even share a beer or two. It is, after all, a kind of gentlemen’s agreement, a transaction which takes place over the heads of both mother and child once the latter’s paternity has been established. The “true” father compensates the “false” one for having maintained his property in his absence. In some cases there may be bitterness and resentment but perhaps in others one will witness a kind of honourable partnership. You can’t trust women, but DNA tests, money and your fellow man won’t let you down.

Even if it achieves nothing else, this proposal brings us right back to the heart of what patriarchy is all about: paternity and ownership. In April this year a German court ruled that men cannot be forced to take paternity tests by children who suspect them of being their fathers. It has to be their decision. Women, meanwhile, can only access abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and even then counselling is mandatory (thereafter the approval of two doctors is required, similar to in the UK). One class of people can be forced to gestate and give birth; another can’t even be forced to take a DNA test. One class of people can be compelled to name any man whose sperm may have ventured beyond their cervix; another is allowed to have a body whose business is entirely its own. And yes, one can argue that forcing men to pay money for the raising of children evens up the score. Men have always argued that, but they’re wrong.

Individual men (sometimes) pay for the raising of individual children because the system we call patriarchy has chosen to make fatherhood about individual ownership. Women have little choice but to go along with this as long as men exploit our labour, restrict our access to material resources and threaten us with violence. We live in a world in which it is almost universally assumed that women “owe” individual men the reassurance that it was their precious sperm that impregnated us, lest we put ourselves and our offspring at risk of poverty and isolation. Rarely do any of us dare to protest. We pretend it is a fair deal, even that reproductive differences barely affect our lives at all. But the sex binary – the fact that sperm is not egg and egg is not sperm – affects all of us.

The original 2015 ruling got it right. The male demand for reassurance regarding paternity is an infringement of a woman’s right to privacy. Moreover, it is important to see this in the context of all the other ways in which men have sought to limit women’s sexual activity, freedom of movement and financial independence in order to ensure that children are truly “theirs”.  Anxiety over paternity is fundamentally linked to anxiety over female sexuality and women’s access to public space. Yet unless all women are kept under lock and key at all times, men will never, ever have the reassurance they crave. Even then, the abstract knowledge that you are the only person to have had the opportunity to impregnate a particular woman cannot rival the physical knowledge of gestation.

We have had millennia of pandering to men’s existential anxieties and treating all matters related to human reproduction, from sex to childbirth, as exceptional cases meaning women cannot have full human rights. Isn’t it about time we tried something new? How about understanding fatherhood not as winning gold in an Olympic sperm race, but as a contract endlessly renewed?

What each of us receives when a child is born is not a biological entity to do with as we choose. It is a relationship, with all of its complexities and risks. It is something worth contributing to and fighting for. Truly, if a man cannot understand that, then any money wasted on a Kuckuckskind – a living, breathing child he could get to know – has got to be the least of his worries. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.