Review of the Papers, Wednesday 29 August


  • Plans for 3m new homes in the UK will be dealt a blow on Wednesday by an official report recommending a lower rate of housebuilding growth for the south-east, the region at the heart of Gordon Brown's plans to increase home ownership. The prime minister is keen to see swaths of new estates, not only in "regeneration" areas such as the Thames Gateway and Milton Keynes, but right across the Home Counties. But the pace of that expansion may be held back after publication on Wednesday of a report on the south-east by three government inspectors appointed to assess the viability of that region's development strategy. The report says 32,000 new homes a year should be built over the next two decades, equal to 640,000 by 2026. Although ahead of the 28,900 proposed by the region's local assembly, the recommendation is behind the target of up to 38,000 homes a year set by the Government Office for the South East, which represents central government in the area. The 38,000 figure is in line with last month's housing green paper, which lifted the government's house building target to 3m new homes by 2020.
  • Childminding standards have fallen during the past year, according to a report by the education standards watchdog published yesterday. Figures show the proportion of childminders inspected judged to be good or better is six percentage points lower than last year - at 58 per cent. Examples of inadequate care cited by inspectors included too few toys and activities available to capture children's interest. In one setting, a boy was left on his own and cried as a result. The findings come a day after a report by academics at Durham University concluded that the £21bn government programme to improve early years' provision had so far had no effect on improving children's development or preparing them to start compulsory education at the age of five. Overall, however, just one per cent of child care providers were judged to be inadequate. This is the same proportion as last year but does mean that more than 270 childcare providers were deemed to be offering an inadequate service.
  • Examiners will have to set easier questions in some GCSE science papers, under new rules seen by The Times. A document prepared by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents awarding bodies across Britain, says that, from next year, exam papers should consist of 70 per cent "low-demand questions", requiring simpler or multiple-choice answers. These currently make up just 55 per cent of the paper. The move follows growing concern about the "dumbing down" of science teaching at GCSE and grade inflation of exam results, which critics claim is the result of a government drive to reverse the long-term decline in the number of pupils studying science. In the past five years, the proportion of students gaining a grade D or better in one of the combined science papers has leapt from 39.6 to 46.7 per cent.
  • Major heritage projects, from the National Gallery's attempted purchase of a set of Poussin masterpieces to the British Museum's proposed building of a new exhibition space, could be threatened because of lottery money diverted to the Olympics. The amount of money earmarked by the Heritage Lottery Fund for large projects above £5m - which in the past have included the purchase of Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks, the building of the British Museum's Great Court and the renovation of the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow - is set to be cut by £60m. There are fears that the reduction will mean that the post-millennium age of expansion and renewal of Britain's museums and other heritage organisations is now at an end, as far as large capital projects are concerned.,,2157927,00.html
  • The costs of paying for a free state school education are proving too high for three out of four parents, according to a survey published today. Spiralling costs for school uniforms coupled with demands for money for school trips and photos and even books can add up to more than £1,000 a year. In addition, nearly half of the respondents replying to a survey from the national charity Citizens' Advice said they had been asked to contribute to school funds - with some reporting pressure to make "voluntary" contributions. The survey of 1,000 parents revealed an enormous variation in the cost of uniforms, with some saying they could cost as much as £500 in a year.


  • Plans that would curb drastically the number of flights taken by British travellers are being considered by the Conservatives with new taxes on air travel and a halt to airport expansion. Short-haul flights would receive particular attention: VAT would be levied on fuel for domestic flights for the first time and airlines would be forced to give over airport slots to long-haul trips. All flights would be subject to a separate per-flight tax based on the amount of CO2 generated, replacing the air passenger duty and shifting the burden from passengers to airlines, although this might force up ticket prices anyway. The proposals also include plans for a moratorium on airport expansion pending attempts to free capacity at existing airports by restricting short-haul flights and forcing travellers to switch to trains.