Monthly Archives: May 2012


Do they make a difference? Maybe ,but  not on attainment


Over the last 15 years, teaching assistants (TAs) have become a central part of policy and practice in meeting the needs of lower-attaining pupils and those with SEN. Over this period, TAs have grown to comprise an astonishing quarter of the UK mainstream school workforce. Some claim that that using TAs to provide one-to-one and small group support to struggling pupils works well.  Others fear that they they dont have the necessary skills and training to cope with these specialist  tasks.One serving teacher  told me that the reality for many TAs today, is that ” they sit beside the most appallingly behaved children, lesson after lesson, and try to limit the damage they do by reprimanding them, encouraging them or distracting them.’

It does seem likely that schools will seek to extend this support work  through the Pupil Premium. However, research suggests   that schools should be cautious about the use (or misuse) of TAs assistants. Results first published in the 2009 book Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants: How Research Changes Practice and Policy, by Peter Blatchford, Anthony Russell and Rob Webster,  on a five-year study of 8,200 pupils, found that pupils who received the most support from TAs consistently made less progress than similar pupils who received less TA support. In Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants the authors recommend:

  • TAs should not routinely support lower attaining pupils and those with SEN
  • Teachers should deploy TAs in ways that allow them to ‘add value’ to their own teaching
  • Initial teacher training should include how to work with and manage TAs
  • Schools have a formal induction process for TAs
  • More joint planning and feedback time for teachers and TAs.

The five-year study, the Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) project (the largest study of TAs worldwide) measured the effect of the amount of TA support on the academic progress of 8,200 pupils, while controlling for factors like prior attainment and level of SEN. Worryingly, the  analyses, across seven year groups, found that those who received the most support from TAs consistently made less progress than similar pupils who received less TA support. So given the resources invested in Teaching Assistants and their apparent lack of impact on  pupil attainment, and  the possible role they may have  in support of the Pupil Premium , some searching questions surely  need to be asked.  But perhaps its unfair to blame TAs. Fully  qualified teachers  often  value the support afforded by TAs. And   the results from the DISS project seem to show that  it is the decisions made about – not by – TAs, in terms of their deployment and preparation, which are at fault.


Ofsted to look at how Premium being used in schools

More funds for literacy support for those dropping behind


Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, said in his speech on the Pupil Premium on 14 May, that the Liberal Democrats are ‘not going to miss our chance to make Britain a better, fairer place too. For me, nothing illustrates that better than our Pupil Premium: Extra money for the most disadvantaged children in our schools.’

The Pupil Premium is ‘to equip every school to support pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.’

And   it is ‘To help us build a more socially mobile Britain:  Where ability trumps privilege;Where effort trumps connections; Where sharp elbows don’t automatically get you to the front. He said  ‘for me, the Pupil Premium remains the most important lever we have – and it’s in your hands.’

Last year the Pupil Premium was worth an extra £488 for pupils on Free School Meals and looked after children.  This year it’s increased to £600… And been extended to children who have been eligible for Free School Meals at any time in the last six years. Despite an unprecedented squeeze on public spending… This year the Pupil Premium will be worth £1.25bn in total… Doubling to £2.5bn by the end of the Parliament.’ We’ll prove that teachers do best when Whitehall steps out of the way.’

Clegg makes a direct appeal to teachers in his speech  ‘ I want to strike a deal between the Coalition government and our schools and teachers: We’ll give you the cash; we’ll give you the freedom; we’ll reward and celebrate your success.  But in return, we want you to redouble your efforts to close the gap between your poorer pupils and everyone else. We won’t be telling you what to do, but we will be watching what you achieve.’


Parental involvement to be encouraged

Clegg said ‘All the evidence shows that, when parents play a part in their children’s learning…Those children do better.  When mothers and fathers understand how to support what happens in the classroom.  When they can pass their insights onto the professionals too. Many of the best schools already create this kind of partnership.t, where it doesn’t ,happen, the Pupil Premium creates a new way to bring parents in… To start a meaningful conversation that can last for that child’s entire school life.’


Extra Funds for Reading and Literacy

Clegg confirms that the Education Endowment Foundation will shortly be inviting groups of local schools most affected by poor literacy and reading  ‘To bid for extra funds for struggling Year 7s, from deprived homes… To help them get their reading and writing up to scratch: Extra “catch up cash”, if you like. The support will be for pupil premium pupils who leave primary school without Level 4 literacy – the expected level.

And we envisage that schools will want to use it for small catch up classes, or one-to-one tuition, or vouchers for literacy tuition that parents can spend.’


Ofsted will look at how Pupil Premium is being spent

In a key passage of the speech Clegg says that schools will be held accountable for the way they use the pupil Premium . He said ‘But schools need to know that, in assessing their performance… OFSTED will be looking forensically at how well their Pupil Premium pupils do.  Inspectors are already being instructed to look closely at how schools are spending the money… And to what effect… With plans to publish a survey early next year. And, because OFSTED understands the priority I attach to this issue…

It will be providing me with regular reports… Detailing the progress schools are making in closing the attainment gap.’


Prizes for narrowing attainment gap

The government will also In partnership with the Times Educational Supplement…  from next year, ‘ be introducing awards for the top-50 schools…  Who have done the most to boost the performance of their poorest pupils… And to narrow the gap with their better off peers.  That success will be up in lights in the performance tables. They’ll win publicity, acclaim and cash too – cash prizes of up to £10,000 for the best of the best.’


Clegg’s comments come just weeks after a survey of 2,000 schools leaders, conducted for the Press Association by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), found that more than four-fifths say the premium has either equalled or not made up for financial losses elsewhere.

NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby said: “NAHT has always supported the idea of a pupil premium and is perfectly comfortable with being judged on the performance of the most vulnerable pupils – this is, in any case, already happening. The Government needs to be frank, however, that the pupil premium is not extra funding – it merely substitutes for cuts elsewhere. It is a redistribution of funds within the system, not additional funding.”




For 2011-12, the Pupil Premium funding is: £488 per pupil in respect of pupils known to be eligible for Free School Meals (FSM), and for children in care who have been continuously looked after for at least six months; and £200 per pupil for those whose parents are serving in the armed forces. In 2012-13, the Pupil Premium rises to £600 per pupil in respect of pupils known to have been eligible for FSM at any point within the last six years, and for children in care who have been continuously looked after for at least six months. The Pupil Premium for children whose parents are in the armed services will rise to £250 per pupil.



Goes for the soft target-but what exactly is he doing to narrow the gap?


Michael Gove said in his speech at Brighton College that the dominance of the public schoolboy in every prominent role in British society is “morally indefensible”. “More than almost any developed nation, ours is a country in which your parentage dictates your progress,” he said. “Those who are born poor are more likely to stay poor and those who inherit privilege are more likely to pass on privilege in England than in any comparable country. For those of us who believe in social justice, this stratification and segregation are morally indefensible.” Gove was certainly not calling  though for the abolition of  private schools to remedy the problem.  What he meant was that state schools needed to improve to private school standards, and not that private schools should be abolished.

Clearly it is impossible to justify such inequity although when politicians start talking about morality they are, as a rule, on dangerous ground –so its worth taking a much closer look. We are certainly an unequal society in terms of outcomes. But it is too simplistic to blame the 7% of people who are educated here in private schools for such inequity and crucially  the lack of social mobility. Social mobility has stalled in our country, for sure. The problem is, though, deeply ingrained. Anthony Sampson in his  seminal book ‘Anatomy of Britain’ first published in 1962, with later revisions , highlighted that the establishment and business was dominated by the privately educated. The Sutton Trust has helpfully up-dated Sampson’s analysis and findings but  in truth  have told us not much that is new in this respect.   The reasons for the lack of social mobility are many and varied. What happens in the home up to the age of three  and parental support and education  are   regarded as very important  indeed,  in influencing  social mobility. The Jesuits maxim “Give me the child for seven years, and I will give you the man” is  probably only half correct in that a child’s trajectory  may be largely determined even earlier, at least according to some experts and recent research (although there is a danger of being too deterministic about this).

Politicians (educated in both state and private schools) in successive administrations   have largely failed to grasp the nettle to identify the nature of the problem ,let alone the policy levers that might help   alleviate it , and these levers  are not by any means all  related to education. Certainly its true that  if you fail to get good GCSEs at school your chances of doing well   in the world of work are severely circumscribed.  Bashing private schools though, even for a Tory Minister, it seems, pays political dividends.  They are the soft target.

Too many stubbornly underperforming state schools are at the heart of the problem, and it’s a difficult challenge to address. It is mainly about addressing  the long tail of our significant underachievers in school, perhaps as much as  20% of the school population. The next biggest  problem is  the way we treat  our  brightest and most able  pupils  , those who have the potential to succeed but who are not being given  either the personalised support  or  guidance in schools  to  enable them  to reach their  full potential. Depending on how you measure and define this group it could  range from 5%-20%. of pupils.This is bad for them, and us.

But lets be clear there is nothing immoral about choosing the type of education you want for your child, a right  that happens to be enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and those with money have every right to choose how they spend it subject  only to the law. For those like George Monbiot (privately educated) who naively call for the abolition of private schools the message is clear -it wont happen.  The Government would rightly be held to account for such an illiberal act under Human Rights law. His other solution is to remove charity status for these schools-which will marginally decrease their numbers, mainly the smaller ones, on the tightest of margins, but also serve to   make the sector more elitist ,less inclusive  and less prone, probably, to helping  the state sector.  It would also mean that tens of thousands of pupils end up looking for places in an already hard pressed state system .And if they lose their charity status, there will follow a major cull of thousands of other charities  which provide less public benefit than many private schools.

Looking at the advantages provided by an independent school education, they are perceived to be many.  Which is why surveys suggest that most parents, if they had the  means, would choose a private education for their child. Of course, class sizes tend to be much smaller. Some say the teaching is better although this is difficult to prove . But many parents are drawn to these schools because of the pastoral support, extra-curricular activities (arts music, drama), sport and facilities.   Also importantly these schools tend to  support character development,  values, self-sufficiency, self-discipline, resilience, leadership skills, teamwork, sporting prowess and nurture , too, creative talent , and ultimately  more rounded and socially- confident individuals.

Rather than abolish these schools the state sector should be learning from them. Lord Adonis talked about transferring the independent sectors DNA into state schools. And it is in the area of supporting character development, positive thinking and resilience where the state system has much to learn and where there are huge possibilities.

It is not absolutely clear though how this governments reforms will help support the development of these characteristics and attributes among our state school pupils,  and so  help  close the gap between state and private schools and promote equity. Indeed, it could be argued, and has been by Professor Tony Watts, that Gove has been personally responsible for pulling out the state-school funding for sport, music and the other performing arts (where the disparities with public schools are now particularly significant). Also the programmes for raising aspirations and improving social mobility (career guidance, AimHigher) have been halted.  How exactly are state school pupils, particularly the most disadvantaged, going to be more socially mobile if they are not  given  access to high quality, professional,   face to face advice in school  about their options and  pathways into further, higher education, training  and employment?

The Government is, of course, introducing significant reforms. The structural reforms – making schools more autonomous and giving them more freedom may well  help, providing they use this to improve educational outcomes, (some seem to have converted simply for the extra funding) . But few believe that they are sufficient in themselves to deliver significantly improved outcomes. In short, the changes are necessary but insufficient.  But the other side of this coin is what happens in the classroom, at the chalk face. There need to be improvements there in the quality of teaching. Evidence shows that improving the quality of teaching is essential to driving up standards in schools. Pupils taught by good teachers score nearly half a GCSE point more per subject than pupils taught by poor teachers. But its also, crucially, about  what children are taught , so that teachers are supporting the provision of a rounded education, and not just teaching to the test.(critics believe that exams are now the master not servant of education) .The delayed curriculum reforms and introduction of the Ebacc, might have a positive  effect. But, overall are  these  ‘ game-changers’ likely to  measurably  close the  attainment gap, to tackle the long tail of underachievement  and the widening divide between the state and independent sectors? Even after the Blair governments reforms,  Professor Barbers ‘deliverology’ and  significant new investment, the attainment gap  between the sectors actually grew (and productivity in state  education fell).  So what else is on offer? The Pupil Premium targeted at the most disadvantaged? –a possibility but unions claim that this money is being used to fill gaps arising from other cuts in school funding. Even if not, the sums involved are relatively modest and there is no guarantee that schools will use the ‘extra’ money effectively. The government has not ring-fenced Pupil Premium cash, but it will – via Ofsted and league tables – hold schools accountable for how it is spent. Unless we learn from what schools do with the premium, the money may well be wasted, and hence do nothing to narrow the achievement gap. So, what else is going to narrow the gap and improve equity? Gove deserves credit for pushing through reforms, often overcoming resistance even from within his own Department, and one would be hard pressed to name a Minister who has achieved more or performed better, certainly in the eyes of his own leader Tory MPs and  electors.  But, in terms of transforming the system, to make it fit for the 21st Century, we are probably edging towards the end of the beginning, rather than the beginning of the end.  And attacks on private schools tend to deflect attention away from other areas that require urgent attention and the sustained  investment of   political capital.



We start formal education too young, he  and other experts claim


Dr Richard House of Roehampton University says that the UK has, according to UNICEF, the lowest levels of childhood well-being in the developed world, and some of the highest levels of teenage disaffection and distress. So it’s not surprising there’s fierce debate in the UK about what constitutes good early years practice and care. A book edited by him and published in 2011 ‘Too Much too Young’  provides a collection of essays by childhood experts from around the world who believe that our tendency to over-focus on cognitive development (at the expense of social, emotional and physical development) is the main reason things have gone wrong in the past. At the moment, most English children start school in nursery or reception classes at the age of three or four and are taught using the Early Years Foundation Stage – a compulsory “nappy curriculum”. They then move into formal lessons at the age of five. How young is too young to start your child’s formal education? In France, Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden Finland) and Russia, children don’t start formal education until they are 7. Finnish pupils start formal education at seven, and when they start school they spend less time in the classroom than most  and then enjoy 11-week summer holidays – and they end up with the highest educational standards in Europe. Apart from the Netherlands and Malta, the only other education systems beginning at five are Scotland and Wales (with Northern Ireland even earlier at four). Our education system does not compare well with   many of those countries who start educating their children much later than we do. There is no evidence that I can find that suggests that the earlier you start  formal education , the  better the  educational outcomes for the child. (Nor does there appear to be a clear link between  more  time spent in the classroom   equals better outcomes)

Dr House believes that when it comes to our youngest children there is too much too soon, with too little genuine play and too much assessment, and that this eroded childhood. The overwhelming conclusion of the book is that the ‘schoolification’ of early years in England has not improved most children’s chances of success in the educational system, and may be doing long-term damage. What  Dr House and some other experts want including such heavyweights as Professor Susan Greenfield, Penelope Leach , and Camilla  Batmanghelidjh (Kids company)   is  the establishment of a genuinely play-based curriculum in nurseries and primary schools up to the age of six, free from the downward pressure of formal learning, tests and targets.  They share a concern  too that our  children are subjected to increasing commercial pressures, and that  they begin formal education far earlier than the European norm ,spending  ever-more time indoors with screen-based technology, rather than in active outdoor activity and play.

Much of the discussion in the book centres on the role of children’s play in early learning – and how far adults should intervene and direct that play. Although there is now widespread agreement that young children’s self-directed play springs from their essential human learning drive, and is vital for every aspect of development and well-being,  House claims that adults without a background in early years tend to see it as mere ‘messing about’ and to look for ways of making it more ‘educational’. The constant refrain of contributors to Too Much Too Soon is that such attempts to accelerate or force development inevitably backfire. Dr House, has presented  his most recent  findings this week  at a major conference in central London .He quoted, according to the Telegraph,  a major US study – carried out over eight decades – that showed children’s “run-away intellect” actually benefited from being slowed down in the early years, allowing them to develop naturally. Many bright children can grow up in an “intellectually unbalanced way”, suffering lifelong negative health effects and even premature death, after being pushed into formal schooling too quickly, he said. when he called on the Government to launch an independent inquiry into England’s school starting age. He said: “The conventional wisdom is that naturally intelligent children should have their intellect fed and stimulated at a young age, so they are not held back.“Yet these new empirical findings strongly suggest that exactly the opposite may well be the case, and that young children’s run-away intellect actually needs to be slowed down in the early years if they are not to risk growing up in an intellectually unbalanced way, with possible life-long negative health effects.”

Earlier this year, a coalition of 50 leading academics, authors and childcare organisations launched a campaign group – Early Childhood Action – to push for an alternative curriculum focused almost entirely on a play-based approach.

Note: Dr  Richard House lectures in psychotherapy at the University of Roehampton. He was a founder of the Open EYE campaign, challenging the statutory nature of EYFS.


Is a middle tier needed to ensure better accountability in the schools system?


The RSA was discussing last week the idea of a middle tier in education. There is  concern that as schools are given greater autonomy from local authority influence, and   made directly  accountable to the Secretary of State, through their  funding agreements,  they will, in practice, be less accountable than they were before the changes.  There are over 1700 schools now with academy status and the numbers continue to rise.   Who  is keeping a close  local eye on their performance, providing  ,for example, early warning of a school that is  badly under performing ?  Local  authorities are/were  supposed to do this (  with varying degrees of success, it has to be said)

Rick Muir of the IPPR  has argued that school improvement cannot be driven successfully from Whitehall. The Department for Education cannot run 20,000 schools. Every successful school system, he points out, has a middle tier of governance between schools and the centre. Ofsted is currently proposing to re-inspect schools requiring improvement after 12-18 months.  But, he argues,   it is not close enough to schools to monitor performance on a month-by-month basis, spot problems early on and  to intervene before the problems  escalate. There are a number of functions this (middle) tier will need to perform, he says. In successful systems intermediary bodies help to drive school improvement by monitoring the performance of the schools under their jurisdiction and supporting weaker school leaders to improve. They are crucial in managing the relationship between schools and central government, such as by explaining national policy developments and ensuring that critical national programmes are implemented. He adds that ‘An effective middle tier also fosters collaboration between schools, for instance by moving teachers around to fill gaps or by supporting their professional development through specialist training and peer support. It ensures that the needs of all local children are met by regulating fair access, providing sufficient school places and managing services for children with special educational needs. The middle tier can also carry out administrative roles, such as in finance and procurement, that can distract schools from their main purpose.’

Muir concludes that the government seems content to see local authorities wither away, while hoping that academy chains such as Harris, ARK and Oasis will take on these roles. While Academy chains are well placed to carry out some of these tasks it has become clear that chains will only cover a minority of schools: so far, only a quarter of ‘converter academies’ have joined these wider chains. Moreover, some of the chains are rather loose arrangements, without clear leadership and effective coordination’

So, Muir recommends the  creation of  local schools commissioners, who would commission (but not run or manage) all of the schools in their area, including free schools and academies, and have a singular focus on school improvement. Schools would retain the freedoms they enjoy today and these would be guaranteed in statute. But if schools coast or underperform the schools commissioner would have the power that currently rests with the secretary of state to intervene, ultimately by appointing a new head and governing body.

Christine Gilbert the former Head of Ofsted ,for her part, believes town halls should no longer be at the heart of school improvement and monitoring. Nor is she keen on the idea  of local commissioners or any other kind of new “middle tier” idea. Ms Gilbert thinks the job should be left to schools themselves. “It would be the profession supporting the profession,” she explains. “They (local authorities) have a role, particularly in making sure that vulnerable children are well served,” she concedes. “But I see the energy in the system coming from schools. I would really like to see the schools themselves in prime position, to be leading and driving this. “You can do it with other private, public or voluntary sector partners. But I would like to see (groups of schools) given contracts to do that for four or five years. Notions of commissioners and other sorts of middle tier are not the right way for us to be going at the moment.” She added, talking to the TES ,that there would need to be a proper framework with contracts that could be terminated if schools were not meeting their performance indicators or contractual duties.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, says that there could be a system of nationally-funded local area commissioners. He suggested that the local commissioners would report directly to the secretary of state, monitoring the performance of schools and chains in their area and bringing in other agencies where necessary and appropriate.

John Dunford points out that McKinsey research has shown that all the highly successful school systems in the world  have a middle tier between central government and the individual school and most of the jurisdictions in the McKinsey study are much smaller than England.  So, he suggests a network of about 40 District HMIs charged with monitoring performance of schools in their area, getting to know head teachers and keeping an ear to the ground for good and bad practice in local schools.  He says that  with a truly independent Ofsted, this could provide valuable intelligence to the system, helping to spread good practice and advising Ofsted and the government on where intervention is needed at an earlier stage than tends to happen now. Their remit would cover all types of school and issues between local authorities and academies would be entirely avoided by this nationally-led system. In short, the reinvention, in an up-to-date form, of district HMIs would be beneficial, not least because it would force Ofsted to play a stronger role in school improvement, as well as in (intelligent) accountability.

The RSA looks at the middle tier from a curriculum perspective. RSA is concerned about who determines the curriculum offer provided by schools, and on what basis.  The Government will need to monitor the different emergent curriculum offers provided, in relation to effectiveness, it says. The RSA advocates that such consideration include the curriculum’s role ‘in promoting engagement and local cohesion and agency.’

The RSA recommend, as part of another tier, that the respective roles of teachers, communities, parents and school leaders are considered in developing curriculum offers, and in their evaluation.  However, the RSA has doubts about teachers capacity  on their own to develop curriculum and to engage with communities and supports the idea that local commissioning or regulatory bodies may be necessary to form an intermediate layer between individual institutions and the centre. What these intermediate bodies look like is  the subject of on-going debate.  The RSA advocates that such bodies be comprised of teachers, parents and community representatives as a means of ensuring local accountability and engagement.

Schools, yes  ,even Academies fail. Spotting schools that are on the cusp of failure and  which need urgent support is important and saves much bother and expense further down the line.  As Dunford says ‘With autonomy in any public service comes greater accountability for the efficient and effective spending of public money. The issue is not whether there should be this accountability, but whether it is intelligent accountability and by whom it is exercised.’  Whether his model is the best to deliver this is a moot point.  But this debate is certainly useful  and important as evidenced by the Regulators intervention.


They are not the only ones


The Public Accounts Select Committee, chaired by Margaret Hodge MP,  in its latest report ‘Department for Education: accountability and oversight of education and children’s services’ expresses its concern ‘ about the Department’s (DFE) ability to pick up warning signs of improper spending or poor value for money for the taxpayer.’

The report said that  it  is not clear whether existing monitoring and accountability mechanisms do enough to flag up concerns that should be investigated. For example, some academies have paid very high salaries to their senior staff and incurred expenditure of questionable value. Where reports emerge of individual failings, the Department must consider whether they indicate wider problems with financial management and governance, and deal with the underlying system-wide causes.’

The Committees adds that ‘The Department must set out how it will ensure local monitoring mechanisms promptly pick up any concerns about the regularity, propriety and value for money of spending within all schools. At present too much reliance is placed on whistle-blowers. The Department and its agencies must ensure that they have arrangements in place to address concerns identified by whistle-blowers, but it is also crucial that systems are sufficiently robust to enable those responsible to identify problems early.’

The Committee also said that ‘The Department has only a limited understanding of why some local authority maintained schools are persistently in deficit or surplus. The Department needs to undertake work to better understand the causes and consequences of persistent deficits and excessive surpluses. It should analyse the extent of deficits and surpluses among those schools under local authority control, and work with the Department for Communities and Local Government to get local authorities that have failed to resolve long-standing financial problems in their schools to address these.’

The Committee is also worried about who is responsible for securing value for money within the schools system.  The report states ‘Responsibility for value for money is shared by the Department with the Department for Communities and Local Government, individual schools, academy trusts, local authorities and the YPLA. However, the specific responsibilities of each for achieving value for money, and how they interact to drive value for money, are not clear.’  Recent scandals involving the mismanagement of school funds, most recently in Lincolnshire, cast a spotlight on schools financial accountability. Critics of the academies scheme say that the increased autonomy these schools enjoy will increase the instances of financial mismanagement.

However, most of the cases of financial mismanagement discovered, so far, involve maintained schools, under local authority control.  Three  heads ,for example,  have  been suspended  recently by Brent Council over separate allegations of financial mismanagement. So it would be unwise, surely, to use this as a stick with which to beat academies.

Local authorities have not been publishing,  for a while now ,systematic data to demonstrate how they are monitoring schools’ financial management and intervening where necessary when they have concerns. It is true that many in education  believe that   a  much brighter light should be shone on how schools manage their finances. Weak financial management and weak academic performance often go hand in hand.  And, there is a lot of taxpayers money tied up in schools. Being cavalier with taxpayers money is now frowned on, or at least in principle . The trend, if anything, is for much less scrutiny and  a reduction in the bureaucratic burden   placed on schools.  An example , from January this year , Ofsted’s new inspection regime no longer includes a value-for-money assessment.  So, it will be interesting to see how the government reacts to this report. There  are,   on the face of it, conflicting forces at work. The drive to give schools more autonomy, with less red tape and a lighter regulatory regime  is on one side  of the equation-with the desire for   greater transparency, accountability, the pursuit of best value and  cutting waste, on the other. Can a compromise be found?




Launch of new Academies Commission


Sponsored by the Cooperative and CfBT Education Trust,  the Academies Commission launch  on 8 May follows a rapid increase in the number of schools converting to academy status. As of 1 April, there were 1776 academies, a huge increase from the 270 or so that had been open or planned at the time of the last election. The commission is chaired by former Chief-Inspector of Schools Christine Gilbert who is joined by two other commissioners – Brett Wigdortz (CEO of Teach First) and Professor Chris Husbands (Director of the Institute of Education). The Academies Commission remit is:

The commission will examine the model and incipient outcomes of academisation from a school improvement perspective, focusing on issues of accountability, governance, due diligence, and outcomes for pupils.

It will highlight emerging trends, risks, and related questions, concentrating on public interest.

It will also draw on international examples of similar systems and cases, to inform and compare analyses.

It will not rehearse debates about the decision to develop the academies programme, but will focus on the consequences of this programme in terms of outcomes for children and young people and for the education system as a whole.

Particular attention will be given to the key issues of

a) accountability including processes via which schools are held accountable; the role of the sponsor; commissioning of services; governance; operation of local markets; due diligence (e.g. what happens when performance worsens or fails to improve under a particular sponsor or chain?)

b) educational outcomes and how to lever school improvement in an academised system, given school autonomy. With the speed of academisation exceeding all expectations, much of the debate has been retrospective with operational policy being created ‘on the hoof’. What has been notably absent, in government policy and media, think tank and academic comment, is analysis of the implications of mass academisation. What are the unique features of an entirely academised system and what impact these will have on young people’s educational outcomes?  The Commission ‘will develop a practical but compelling vision for the future of UK Academisation.’  The Commission claims to ‘bring together a breadth of perspectives and a wealth of experience with Commissioners drawn from across the political spectrum, academia, private and third sectors.’ The inquiry will run for several months reporting towards the end of 2012.’


Christine Gilbert said at the launch on 8 May: “So the commission’s work will review the landscape, but with a view to looking firmly at the future rather than revisiting the past. We do not intend to rehearse debates about the decision to develop the academies programme. We are far more interested in ensuring that it delivers on its promise of a better education for every child.’

Speeches at  the opening found here:



The Queens Speech has been described as insubstantial and dull by critics. There is, though ,  quite a lot to be said for a dull Queens speech. Too much legislation, often poorly conceived and drafted  , is  a  commonplace and busy governments may like to  be seen to  be doing a lot  but, rather too often, much of what they do is not actually very good and almost always wasteful.  But this speech, we were warned in advance, would revitalise , and relaunch the Coalition after a difficult two months. But it is unlikely to do that. Rather optimistically some commentators were saying that the UK requires urgent action to re-start economic growth and this should have been included in the speech as if a bit more legislation is the answer. Somehow I doubt it.  Critics  turn decidedly vague and non-committal  when you challenge them  on what  is missing from the statute book  that will  kick start economic  growth (or reduce the so-called  economic headwinds which  push us off- course  ie euro crisis etc). Governments are not very good at making  big economic decisions designed to breathe life into  a stagnant economy,  mainly because they have insufficient information and legislation wont do much to help.  Besides, there are far too   many variables that are   clearly  outside their control  (elections in Europe etc)  which  add to the risks.

Given that this was not a launch pad to restore confidence in the Coalition it will be interesting to see what Cameron does over the next few weeks. There must be scope for a re-shuffle. As the FT pointed out in an Editorial advising Cameron to  ‘get a grip’-  ‘ an administration that saddles the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, with responsibility not only for the economy but also for the government’s political strategy and keeping Scotland in the union, is one that is too narrowly based.’



Mixed results but KIPP schools spend substantially more per pupil than district schools in the same city and serving similar populations


Policymakers have long pursued more cost effective, scalable alternatives for delivering elementary and secondary education. The elusive goal is identifying how to reform educational systems so that children will consistently achieve more academically—at a lesser cost. According to a new report  ‘ A frequently heard reform claim of this sort is that charter schools deliver higher performance at a lower cost. While the test score side of this question has been addressed by a great number of studies (with generally mixed findings), the cost side of the question has received far less attention.’

The description of the Research by Bruce D. Baker, Ken Libby,  and Kathryn Wiley is as follows:

‘This study evaluates the cost claim by comparing the per-pupil spending of charter schools operated by major charter management organizations (CMOs) in New York City, Texas and Ohio with district schools. In each context, we assemble three-year panel data sets including information on school level spending per pupil, school size, grade ranges and student populations served for both charter schools and district schools. For charter schools we use both government (and authorizer) reports of spending, and spending as reported on IRS non-profit financial filings (IRS 990).  We compare the spending of charters to that of district schools of similar size, serving the same grade levels and similar student populations. Overall, charter spending variation is large as is the spending of traditional public schools. Comparative spending between the two sectors is mixed, with many high profile charter network schools outspending similar district schools in New York City and Texas, but other charter network schools spending less than similar district schools, particularly in Ohio.  We find that in New York City, KIPP, Achievement First and Uncommon Schools charter schools spend substantially more ($2,000 to $4,300 per pupil) than similar district schools. Given that the average spending per pupil was around $12,000 to $14,000 citywide, a nearly $4,000 difference in spending amounts to an increase of some 30%. In Ohio, charters across the board spend less than district schools in the same city. And in Texas, some charter chains such as KIPP spend substantially more per pupil than district schools in the same city and serving similar populations, around 30 to 50% more in some cities (and at the middle school level) based on state reported current expenditures, and 50 to 100% more based on IRS filings. Even in New York where we have the highest degree of confidence in the match between our IRS data and Annual Financial Report Data, we remain unconvinced that we are accounting fully for all charter school expenditures.’

Spending by the major Charter Organisations- Comparing Charter School and Local Public District Financial Resources  New York, Ohio and Texas-   Bruce D. Baker, Rutgers University Ken Libby and Kathryn Wiley University of Colorado; May 2012; National Education Policy Center


 Parliamentarians report publishes a guide to help policymakers support social mobility


The All-Party group on Social Mobility was formed to “discuss and promote the cause of social mobility;  to raise issues of concern and help inform policy makers and opinion formers”. Social mobility in the UK has, we know, stalled, as the Sutton Trust confirms  in its  research. The Coalition government is committed to improving social mobility. The All Party Parliamentary group  has just published an interim report, which flags up some truths about social mobility and some possible  policy responses and options. Although much of what it concludes might seem obvious its seventh truth ‘ Personal resilience and emotional well-being are the missing link in the chain’ is striking and reinforces the case being put by reformers that better  support for  character development , positive thinking and resilience among pupils is both  possible and desirable.

The Chairman of the Group is Damian Hinds MP, and one of the Vice-Chairs is Baroness Morris of Yardley, the former Education Secretary.

The Seven Truths and the Policy responses according required:


1.The point of greatest leverage for social   mobility is what happens between ages

0 and 3, primarily in the home

Policy Challenge

A massive premium on ‘parenting’ skills


2. You can also break the cycle through education…

Policy Challenge

Children must be able to access learning (school readiness; reading ability)


3. …the most important controllable factor being the quality of your teaching

Policy Challenge

Focus first on quality of teachers & teaching


4. But it’s also about what happens after the school bell rings

Policy Challenge

Find ways to level the playing field on out-of school opportunities, and participation


5. University is the top determinant of later opportunities – so pre-18 attainment is key

Policy Challenge

Reinforces importance of school years – but also raises questions about university admissions


6. But later pathways to mobility are possible, given the will and support

Policy Challenge

Find the exemplar programmes, analyse and demonstrate impact


7. Personal resilience and emotional well-being are the missing link in the chain

Policy Challenge

Recognise that social/emotional ‘skills’ underpin academic and other success – and can be taught

Link to All Party Group Report