Tory MPs call for U-turn on education as school places squeeze looms

Michael Gove said councils should seek sponsors for free schools if extra capacity was needed.
Michael Gove, when education secretary, said councils should seek sponsors for free schools if extra capacity was needed. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA

Leading Tories are demanding change to government education policy and an easing of cuts, amid predictions that councils in Conservative-run heartlands will soon be unable to provide school places for all the children in their areas.

The growing concerns of Tory MPs and council leaders are being relayed to ministers by the Conservative-led Local Government Association, which is calling on the government to hand back powers to councils so that they can expand schools or open new ones. The alternative, it says, will be a crisis of provision across the country.

Such a move would require a major U-turn in government policy. In the last parliament Michael Gove, while education secretary, imposed restrictions on councils’ ability to force academies to expand, arguing that headteachers should be free to run their schools as they wished.

He also said that where new schools were needed, councils should seek sponsors for “free schools” – which are funded by central government but not run by the local education authority.

Last week, however, Cheryl Gillan, the MP for Chesham and Amersham, whose constituency is experiencing rapid housing growth, was one of several Tories to voice concerns in parliament. She said Buckinghamshire county council had warned that it could not “provide the key infrastructure that is required for new schools and additional places”.

She insisted that her main message was about the need for more funding, but made it clear that more flexibility was needed to ensure places could be created where they were needed. “I thought our policy was supposed to be all about responding to demand,” she said.

Other Tory MPs who voiced concerns about looming shortages of places in their areas were Steve Baker (Wycombe) and Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton). Nick Gibb, the schools minister, insisted that enough money was being provided to councils to ensure sufficient school places.

The shadow education secretary, Lucy Powell, said: “With such big rises in demand, the provision of new places needs proper planning and co-ordination. The government’s fixation with free schools as the only solution is stopping extra places being provided where they are needed. They should free up local authorities to open and expand good and outstanding schools as required. Otherwise we will continue to see many more children without any school place, and many, many more crammed into over-large class sizes and being put in unsuitable accommodation.”

One of the main criticisms of Gove’s “free school” programme has been that many of the more than 400 such schools established so far are not in areas of acute need, but where people wish to set up a new school.

The Local Government Association says that in areas of need, councils will often struggle to find people to sponsor “free schools” and believes that local councils are “uniquely situated” to manage demand.

Roy Perry, the Tory leader of Hampshire county council and chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said councils had created 300,000 extra primary school places by expanding class sizes, converting non-classroom space and diverting money from vital school repair programmes, but now needed to be able to expand schools or establish new ones to meet demand.

“If they [schools] are not willing to expand, then powers to create new schools should be returned to local authorities themselves if they are unable to secure high-quality free school sponsors in their communities,” Perry said.

In its 2015 election manifesto, the Conservative party promised 500 new free schools by 2020, which they said would create 270,000 new school places. But Labour argues that there is no guarantee that they will be built in places where demand is highest.

To cater for 615,000 additional pupils expected by 2020, each of the 500 free schools would have to have an average of 1,230 pupils – when the median primary school size is between 200 and 300 pupils, whereas the median secondary school is between 900 and 1,000 pupils.

There are currently 304 free schools, with an additional 116 in the pipeline. According to the New Schools Network, a government-funded body, these 420 free schools will provide more than 235,000 places if they are full. Many of these schools have been significantly undersubscribed.

A department for education spokesman said: “Despite rising pupil numbers, 95 per cent of parents received an offer at one of their top three preferred schools last year and any suggestion to the contrary is nonsense.

“Instead of scaremongering, the LGA need to ensure they use the funds provided by Government to secure enough places. Councils are responsible for ensuring there are sufficient school places in their area, and we expect them to plan effectively and make good investment decisions.

“Where local authorities identify the need for a new school they are required by law to invite proposals for a new free school and then forward these to the Department to decide on the options. We would encourage councils to work with RSCs, using their combined local knowledge, to identify top sponsors for new schools in their area, and are confident there is sufficient quantity of quality sponsors to meet demand. We encourage all good academies to grow, to help give every child the world-class education they deserve.”

[“source-theguardian”]

mail Update Fixes Hotmail Sync, Nexus Users Still Report Notification Bug

Gmail Update Fixes Hotmail Sync, Nexus Users Still Report Notification Bug

Earlier this month, some Nexus users reported Google sync issues, including the Gmail app. Google then last week rolled out the v5.10 for its Gmail app with a fix for a sync issue involving Hotmail accounts. However, the company still seems to be working on another bug that restricts Nexus devices from getting notified about the incoming mails.

The Nexus users (including some Nexus 6P owners) experiencing the issue report that they are not receiving push notifications for Gmail until they open the app. The Gmail team has however addressedthe issue on the Nexus forum. “The team has identified an issue which we believe is contributing to the syncing issue on Nexus devices. It is actively being worked on, and I’ll continue to keep you all updated. In the meantime, please continue to post your experiences and/or if you have found any short-term workarounds,” replied a Google employee. Some users also took the issue to Reddit.

Some users believe that the glitch could be stemming from the Doze feature. The headline feature which was introduced with Android 6.0 Marshmallow suspends certain tasks in the background in an attempt to save battery. Many users noted that disabling Gmail and some other Google apps and services from battery optimisation apparently fixes the issues.

“This is the answer that needs to be at the top. Gmail is getting dozed, causing sync to get disabled. Just remove it from battery optimisation and all issues should be resolved,” a user wrote on Reddit. “Kind of sounds like the description for Doze’s approach to battery life in general,” another user chimed in.

Since there’s no harm trying it, if you’re facing a similar glitch on your device, you might also want to remove Gmail (and any other app impacted with the issue) as well as Google Play Services from Doze. To do this, open app drawer, go to Settings and select Battery. Click the three-dot button (context menu) and go to Battery optimisation. Click on Gmail and select Don’t optimise option. Repeat the same with any other impacted app.

[“source-gadgets”]

WhatsApp Could Soon Get Facebook Integration; End-to-End Encryption Indicator

WhatsApp Could Soon Get Facebook Integration; End-to-End Encryption Indicator

WhatsApp could soon introduce a feature to allow its users to integrate their Facebook account with the instant messaging and voice calling app. While exactly how this will benefit users remains to be seen, the description reveals that the integration will “improve Facebook experiences.”

The version 2.12.413 of WhatsApp for Android reveals company’s intention to allow users to link the messaging service with their respective Facebook account, as spotted by Android developer Javier Santos.

The feature, as seen in the screenshot, appears on the Account settings of the app, and asks users whether they want to share their WhatsApp account information with Facebook. From the leaked images, it appears to be an optional choice.

Facebook acquired WhatsApp in a multi-billion deal in 2014. Ever since the acquisition, the social juggernaut has been expected to introduce features to make WhatsApp and Facebook’s marquee services Facebook and Messenger work more efficiently, leveraging on each other’s features. But any such integration hasn’t been seen yet.

Interestingly, the same version of the app also has a “hidden” security settings page that provides users with the option to enable an additional indicator that would inform them whether their chats and calls are encrypted. Enabling the feature, however, requires a person to have a rooted Android smartphone or tablet and run a bunch of command.

To recall, in 2014, WhatsApp partnered with Open Whisper Systems, a nonprofit software group that develops collaborative open source projects to scramble messages with a cryptographic key to bolster privacy. In the same year, Open Whisper Systems noted that the end-to-end encryption had been implemented on WhatsApp’s Android client. In the studies conducted since, it has been found that the feature hasn’t been implemented correctly, with the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation giving WhatsApp a score of two out of seven when tested for privacy sophistication.

The inclusion of an additional indicator, if it is something that is indeed on the cards, could improve WhatsApp’s image with privacy activists and enthusiasts who largely use services such as Telegram andSecure, though these people might not like the idea of sharing their information with Facebook. We’ve reached out to WhatsApp for comments and clarification, and will update the post when we hear back from them.

[“source-gadgets”]

Apple Plans to Offer Subscription Content Through News App

Apple Plans to Offer Subscription Content Through News App

Apple Inc is working to make subscription content available through its News app, giving publishers with paywalls a new way to control who sees their articles, two sources familiar with the matter said.

The move would differentiate Apple News from Facebook’s Instant Articles news offering, which does not offer subscriber-only content, and would likely give Apple a boost as it seeks to distinguish itself from a growing crowd of online news apps.

The move comes as news publishers try to figure out how to work with Apple and Facebook Inc, which are important distributors of news content to their hundreds of millions of users, but at the same time are getting between publishers and their readers.

By making paid content available through its News app, Apple would give publishers a way to maintain relationships with readers and perhaps attract new subscribers.

It is unclear how Apple would authenticate subscribers or if it would take a cut of payments from readers who become subscribers through the app. Apple declined to comment.

Subscriber-only publications that work with Apple News now can either share their articles for free or just share excerpts of articles and direct readers to log on to their own websites for more. For example The Wall Street Journal, which has a paywall for most of its content, posts a handful of articles a day to Apple News.

However, publishers have been frustrated with the lack of information they receive from Apple about the readers of their content, the sources told Reuters.

“Ensuring subscription mechanisms in our off-platform distribution partnerships is critical,” said Katie Vanneck-Smith, chief customer officer of Dow Jones, which publishes the Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones is working with Apple and others to take advantage of new platforms, she added. She declined to comment on the specifics of conversations with Apple.

Released in September, the Apple News app followed Newsstand, which stored newspapers and magazines. Apple said in October that nearly 40 million people were reading Apple News, and the company has worked with more than 100 publishers as of this month.

Apple’s move is designed to counter publishers’ concerns about lack of data on who is reading their articles, the sources said.

Rival tech firms are working to give publishers more flexibility. Alphabet Inc’s Google is piloting a programme called Accelerated Mobile Pages that will allow users to search for news and retrieve articles from publishers instantly.

[“source-gadgets”]