Category Archives: Conservative policy




Michael Gove and David Laws are responding to the concerns over a perceived lack of accountability within the school system- If they are still talking to each other, that is!There have been on-going debates about the need for a third tier. Although chains of schools can offer some accountability, most schools are not part of a chain ,or partnership arrangement. A consensus has developed that central government alone cannot provide effective democratic accountability for the education system. Effective school systems that provide autonomy to schools ,need a robust accountability framework if they are to improve  student outcomes.

Ministers have been working, for nine months apparently, on a joint coalition proposal to improve the monitoring of and intervention in failing institutions. Rumour has it that  it will neither return control to local authorities nor leave it in the department; it is due to be in place by the end of 2014. There should be an announcement on this shortly


Government keen on more faith schools but not everyone agrees


This government strongly supports faith schools and would like to see more of them. New faith academies and free schools may admit only half their intake based on faith where they are oversubscribed. But, according to Lord Nash, the Government  ‘remain strongly committed to faith schools, which play a long-established role in our diverse education system. They allow parents to choose a school in line with their faith and they make a significant contribution to educational standards in this country.’

According to the five A* to C statistics, including English and maths, 65% of pupils at Catholic schools achieve five A* to C grades, as opposed to non-faith schools, where the figure is 58%. At level 4 of key stage 2, 85% of pupils at Catholic schools achieve a pass mark, as opposed to 78% for non-faith schools. Church of England schools  achieving five A* to C grades, including in English and maths,  score 62% versus 58%, and at level 4 of key stage 2 they score 82% as opposed to 78%.

A number of new muslim schools are now entering the state  system too.

Some critics are concerned that faith schools could help segregate communities rather than support and  promote social cohesion, despite a clear duty placed on schools to  ‘promote community cohesion’. The government  points out that ‘ All state-funded schools are also required by law to teach a broad and balanced curriculum that promotes the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils, and Ofsted’s inspection framework includes a focus on this’

However the Cantle report of 2001 in the wake of the Bradford/Oldham riots found that communities were developing in parallel with little interaction and criticised the  Governments  policy of encouraging single-faith schools   as it  raised the  possibility of deeper divisions. Northern Irelands segregated school system has also been blamed for embedding and reinforcing division between catholic and protestant communities and helping to fuel the ‘Troubles’.

It is also the case that faith schools have been accused of not taking their share of FSM pupils, often below the respective local authority average, which  helps inflate their academic performance.  There is a significant performance gap between FSM pupils and their peers.


 Worries over funding deprived pupils

And what about the so-called  ‘soft’ skills?


Stephen Twigg , the shadow education secretary, says that we  can all agree that raising standards during primary education increases the life chances for young people in later life. The disagreement comes in what we mean by ‘standards’ and how we achieve system wide improvements.

Responding to the 17 July announcement from the Deputy Prime Minister on primary school assessment and accountability, Stephen  Twigg said in the Commons that  he “  wanted assurances that the Government’s changes to the accountability system will promote breadth and depth of learning, as well as literacy and numeracy The new floor target of 85%, is for an assessment that the Government have yet to define.” Surely, Twigg argued,  “that is putting the cart before the horse.”  “Would it not make for better policy to define the learning outcomes first? My worry is that this is another classic case of policy making on the hoof.”

“Similarly,” he continued, “ the plan for ranking 11-year-olds has all the hallmarks of such an approach. To rank 11-year-olds runs the risk of removing year-on-year consistency, because children will be benchmarked against their peers in their current year, rather than against a common standard.”

The Government, according to Twigg, have sent out confused signals about attainment and progress. “On the one hand they are scrapping level descriptors, which heads and teachers tell me are crucial for monitoring progress between assessments, yet on the other hand, the Minister is rightly emphasising progress measures today. That is very confusing.”

“On the baseline measure for five-year-olds, there is sense in developing policy about how best to establish prior attainment to provide both teachers and parents with a clear indicator at the start of primary school. The devil will be in the detail, so it is vital that there is full consultation on that.”

Finally, on the pupil premium, he said that  additional funding to support the progress of disadvantaged children is welcome. ” I have seen many schools that have made excellent use of the pupil premium. In his statement, though, the Minister said, “Early intervention is crucial”, and I agree with him. However, how does that sit with the fact that the biggest cuts in spending in his Department have been in early intervention funding? Can the Minister assure the House that additional funding really does mean additional funding?”

Twigg continued “I worry that the Minister may—to coin a phrase—be robbing Paul to pay Paul. The Chancellor announced in the spending review that the Government are moving to a national funding formula. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that this move could hit schools with large deprived intakes. Can he reassure the House that this really is new money and not simply giving money to schools with a lot of disadvantaged kids today, which is welcome, but taking it away in a couple of years when the national funding formula comes in?”

 In an article on the Spectators blog (18 July) Twigg, interestingly, sided with Anthony Seldons view that the curriculum proposals don’t offer much scope for a rounded education and what has been termed the ‘soft skills’ and too much by rote learning for tests. Twigg is concerned about what this government means by standards. He writes ’‘theirs is a backward looking vision, premised on rote-learning and a failure to value the importance of the skills and aptitudes that young people need to succeed. They portray these skills- such as speaking and listening skills, leadership, citizenship and resilience- as ‘soft’. Try telling that to Dr Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College where the curriculum is tailored to equip young people with a rounded, rigorous education. On standards, Labour’s approach is guided by what I call the ‘rigour of the future’. Rigour in core knowledge and subjects yes. But rigour and emphasis too on what Anthony Seldon calls ‘character education’ and a broad and balanced subject range and content.’Twigg doesn’t believe that this rounded education,  offered by the likes of Wellington College, should be the preserve of private schools.


Twigg suggests muddled thinking at the heart of the reforms. He says ‘David Laws argued for schools to have progress measures between Key Stage assessments so teachers and parents can monitor progress and attainment. This only a week after Michael Gove told MPs that Key Stage level descriptors- used by teachers to monitor performance- will go’… ‘ There might be a case to look at reforming level descriptors to ensure sufficient challenge but scrapping them outright is completely misguided and will undermine standards in primary schools’.


Twigg  also claims that ‘ranking pupils at 11 against others in their cohort will do nothing to raise standards, quite the opposite in fact. This is a classic policy red herring. By ranking pupils against others in their year- rather than against set, year-on-year standards- this will lead to distortions from one year to another. ‘


In short, Twigg believes that this is policy made  on the hoof,  is confused and lacking  in rigour. 


Cridland looking for a more holistic approach and a binding theme to reforms

And criticises careers advice in schools


It is true to say that the CBI, which represents  big business to government, is broadly supportive (though not uncritical) of the governments education policies. CBI members,  though, would  not disagree with  the oppositions Tristram Hunt  in his observation  that there is still  a worrying disconnect  between the education system and the job market.

But John Cridland who heads the organisation, has recently articulated other concerns. Firstly, that the Education Secretary has managed to alienate rather too many stakeholders, including ‘moderate’ unions (the on going  fall out over curriculum reforms adds to this impression). Secondly, as he described in a recent Guardian article (29 May) ‘What’s lacking is the thread that ties it (ie reforms) all together, the theme tune that will give more school leaders the confidence to get up and dance.’ Goves team, of course ,would dispute this. Having driven through structural reforms focused on school autonomy  ,against some  concerted opposition,,they are now focused on the curriculum, assessment and the quality of teachers and teaching ,so our schools and system  can  compare with the very  best in the world.  The  overarching theme is to improve the lot ,in particular, of  the most disadvantaged pupils narrowing  the achievement gap between them and their peers. So, there is the theme tune, or narrative, which was pretty clearly spelt out in the coalition agreement . Gove to be fair, whether one agrees with him or not, has been  pretty clear from the outset about his intentions.

As for alienating stakeholders, Gove joins a long line of  Secretary of States, both Conservative and Labour, who have upset both Headteachers and union leaders (remember David Blunkett?)

Cridland  suggests though   that there are three areas in which swift action could be taken to address this.

Firstly, standards and accountability.There’s more to school than just rigour he claims: ‘ The exam treadmill needs to be replaced with fewer but tougher tests in more relevant subjects, freeing time in the curriculum to focus on space for broader education. The accountability system also needs to keep pace with this.’ ‘ In schools, tough exams are essential but are not sufficient in creating a great education system.The government needs to adopt a more holistic view that wins support from heads, business and parents. Ofsted needs to adjust its role to be a guarantor, through reports that mix assessment on exam results with a broader narrative setting out achievement in the round.’

Secondly, the curriculum. 18 will be the main point of achievement for young people once the participation age is raised in two years time. So we need a refreshed, single curriculum from 14 onwards which acknowledges that each young person will learn in a different way and find a different path. Let’s invest in rigorous vocational alternatives and give them a proper standing in the system – gold standard vocational A-levels. And let’s stimulate a culture where individual learning plans are the norm, mapping out each young person’s academic and personal development.

Finally, we need, according to Cridland, ‘ to equip young people in making the transition from school into an increasingly complex labour market.  He writes ‘We know that schools are struggling with the new duty to provide careers advice which in many places is increasingly on life support. Businesses must step up to the mark to help with this but ministers’ attitude suggests that they simply don’t prioritise it. We need urgent action if the forthcoming impact assessment proves the negative picture many anticipate.’

Worryingly for the Gove team ,having focused so much in the first two years on structural reforms, with some success, they now  find that they are running out of time  on other fronts,  including   on curriculum  reforms, where the process appears rushed, and  meaningful consultation signally  lacking.


1″Provision [of careers advice] is absolutely patchy,” Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders has said . “We are aware of some very good practice, but lots of schools are really struggling.” Changes to the school-leaving age – due to rise to 17 this year and 18 by 2015 – make good, early careers advice “all the more important”, he added.

2 It is extremely difficult to find evidence in support of the government’s current approach to Careers Education Information and Guidance in schools. Indeed, several reports over the last eighteen months  from, for example, the  Education Select Committee, Alan Milburn, Professor Tony Watts ., HEFC, London Observatory of Skills  and Employment, Careers England, the AOC, ICGES/ Pearson Think Tank ,  NFER , ‘Which’, the Work Foundation, CIPD, and Working Links, paint a  negative, dysfunctional picture of the current state of CEIAG in England’s schools and a lack of confidence in  the direction of travel.

3  CBI First Steps Report 2012:“This report deals with the most important part of the UK’s long-term growth strategy – improving education. As our work sets out, the potential economic gain from getting this right is enormous, yet today we have a system where a large minority of our young people fall behind early and never catch up. This cannot be acceptable”


Committee expresses concerns over poor cost controls and financial oversight


A Public Accounts Committee report on the Academies programme describes a system peppered with overspends and errors, but subject to little oversight.

Millions of pounds were wasted on England’s rapidly growing academies programme because of over-complex and inefficient funding systems, according to the Select Committee report.

It urges the Department for Education to tighten its financial grip on these privately run but state-funded schools.

Committee chairman Margaret Hodge, who has gained a reputation for her forthright attacks on government waste,  said inefficient funding systems and poor cost control had driven up the cost of the programme.

“Of the £8.3 billion spent on academies from April 2010 to March 2012, some £1 billion was an additional cost which had to be met by diverting money from other departmental budgets.

“Some of this money had previously been earmarked to support schools struggling with difficult challenges and circumstances. £350 million of the extra £1 billion represented extra expenditure that was never recovered from local authorities.”

A DfE spokesman said the report failed to acknowledge “the significant progress that we have made in improving our systems.

“The academies programme has been a huge success. There are now almost 3,000 academy schools – more than 14 times as many as in May 2010 – with more than two million children now enjoying the benefits that academy status brings. The programme is proven to drive up standards. Sponsored academies are improving far faster than maintained schools.

“We make no apology for the fact that so many schools have opted to convert, and no apology for spending money on a programme that is proven to drive up standards and make long-term school improvements.

“The Department for Education has made significant savings in the last two-and-a-half years and has also set aside significant contingencies, which have been set against the growth in academies.”

He added that the costs of converting academies have already fallen by more than half per academy and that further savings were expected in the future.

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  The value for money of the Academies Programme will ultimately depend on its impact on educational performance relative to the investment from the taxpayer. The Department has chosen to expand the Programme rapidly, incurring an additional cost of £1 billion since April 2010. While it is too early to assess the impact of the expansion on school performance, the Department will need to be able to demonstrate whether value for money has been achieved. It has yet to state how it will do so, or when. The Department should set out what outcomes it aims to achieve from the expansion of the Programme, and how and when it will demonstrate whether progress is on track and value for money has been achieved.

2.  Inefficient funding systems and poor cost control have driven up the cost of the Programme. A large part of the £1 billion additional cost since April 2010 has been caused by the excessively complex and inefficient academy funding system which has reportedly led to overpayments and errors in payments to Academies There was around £350 million extra paid to Academies which was not recovered from local authorities. This system does not operate effectively alongside the local authority system, and makes it hard for the Department to prove that academies are not receiving more money than they should. The Department has not yet brought other types of cost growth under control, for example academy insurance. It should report back to us by the end of 2013-14 on how its funding reforms have reduced systemic problems such as the under-recovery of academy costs from local authorities, and on how far it has brought down other additional costs.

3.  We are not yet satisfied that individual academies’ expenditure is sufficiently transparent to parents, local communities or Parliament. Despite some improvements, key information on what academies actually spend is still only available at trust, rather than individual academy, level. This limits the ability of parents to scrutinise how their child’s school is spending its money, and of communities to hold their local school to account. The Department must publish data showing school-level expenditure, including per-pupil costs, and with a level of detail comparable to that available for maintained schools, so that proper judgments can be made and comparisons drawn to assess value for money. The Department should state how it will make robust, line-by-line information on individual academies’ expenditure publicly available in the most cost-effective way.

4.  New governance, compliance and oversight arrangements for academies remain vulnerable to failure. Some serious cases of governance failure and financial impropriety in academies have gone undetected by the Department’s monitoring, raising concerns that central government may be too distant to oversee individual academies effectively. Irregular expenditure by academies and gaps in the oversight framework led the Comptroller and Auditor General to qualify the 2011-12 accounts of the Department and the Young People’s Learning Agency. Academies’ compliance with mandatory monitoring is not good enough, and it is not yet clear how well revised audit arrangements will address these issues in future. The Department and the Education Funding Agency should review the operation of the new audit and oversight regime put in place this year, and assess whether it is reducing risks to regularity, propriety and good governance.

5.  Forthcoming staff cuts at the Department and its agencies may threaten effective oversight as the Programme continues to expand. We are sceptical that the Department has sufficient resources to properly oversee the expanding Programme, especially as schools now joining are less high-performing and may require greater oversight and scrutiny. The Department should review the Programme’s central resource requirements, and the extent to which efficiency savings expected from new IT systems and assurance processes are being realised, and are sufficient to offset the need for further resources.

6.  The Department has still not made completely clear the roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of different organisations across the changing schools system. Roles previously carried out by local authorities around accountability, performance monitoring and intervention are unlikely to be operating consistently and effectively across different localities and academy structures. We are particularly concerned that interventions in failing academies may be delayed if the respective roles of central and local government, as well as academies and academy trusts, are not clear. The Department should clarify and properly communicate the roles and responsibilities of local authorities, academy sponsors, the Education Funding Agency, the Department, the Office of the Schools Commissioner and Ofsted regarding these aspects of the Programme.

Department for Education: Managing the expansion of the Academies Programme – Public Accounts Committee-April 2013


These are telling criticisms. They suggest the need to rethink the scrutiny and oversight of academies, while preserving the principle of school autonomy. Surveys suggest that around a third of converter schools opted for academy status for financial reasons. As part of the Budget Statement 2013, the Government announced that it would conduct ‘a review of school efficiency’. To inform that review, the government said ‘we have launched a call for evidence to learn more about how schools and academies make financial decisions and the techniques that they find particularly useful. We particularly want to hear your experience of how academies make financial decisions and your opinions/ideas of how academies can improve their efficiency.’ This suggests some concerns in government over the financial management in schools (not just academy schools by the way)  and the additional risks that autonomy might bring.  There is an on-going debate on the accountability of autonomous schools and whether or not another tier is required to ensure greater accountability, given the reduced role of local authorities.Academies are directly responsible  of course to the Secretary of State, through individual funding agreements. Critics say that the Secretary of State , along with a slimmed down education department, cannot possibly  hold these schools  properly to account , even with Ofsteds support.



Gove hits out at left wing academics

But why is the education debate so polarised?


Millions of school pupils are being actively denied success by a cabal of Marxist academics, according to the Education Secretary, Michael Gove. Gove ,writing in The Mail on Sunday, accused “a set of politically motivated individuals” who run university education departments of a campaign to undermine traditional schooling because they are in favour of far left-wing ideology. These individual and those who support their  views had populated the quangos, some of which have been scrapped by this government, and university education departments and have encouraged some of the brightest teachers to join them. Gove writes ‘We have abolished the quangos they controlled. We have given a majority of secondary schools academy status so they are free from the influence of The Blob’s allies in local government. We are moving teacher training away from university departments and into our best schools. And we are reforming our curriculum and exams to restore the rigour they abandoned.’

Collectively they are known as the Blob.  Gove made his comments in reply to the 100 academics who co-signed a letter in The Independent  a few days ago  warning that the new curriculum risks eroding educational standards. The letter   says that the new curriculum promotes “rote learning without understanding” and demands “too much too young”. The academics, all of whom are either professors of education or teach in university education departments, write: “This mountain of data will not develop children’s ability to think – including problem-solving, critical understanding and creativity.”

Gove said: “You would expect such people to value learning, revere knowledge and dedicate themselves to fighting ignorance. Sadly, they seem more interested in valuing Marxism, revering jargon and fighting excellence. “He called the group the “new Enemies of Promise”, referring to the book by Cyril Connolly, a 20th-century intellectual, which described how talented young people were prevented from reaching their potential. Whether such a conspiracy theory is credible is a moot point but it is certainly the case that many of those academics who signed the letter to the Independent would not be embarrassed to be called left leaning.

Simon Kelner, a left leaning former editor of the Independent , wrote ‘My problem is that I don’t see why these different approaches are mutually exclusive. Surely, children can be encouraged to develop a creative and individual outlook on life while still being taught the correct use of a bloody apostrophe.’  John Rentoul also of the Independent wrote in the wake of the letter ‘Gove’s proposals are, to me, socialist in their intention, which is to equip every child with the sort of education that has traditionally been available to only a very few. How is that wrong? And what do left-leaning academics think they’re doing when they say, “Ooh, no, the children won’t understand any of it; it’s bad for them”? What? As bad as the fact that state-school students are still shamefully under-represented at our top universities?’

Ironically, the academics letter was criticised for its syntax and grammar.   What seems to be happening is that curriculum reforms are becoming an ideological battleground between progressives and conservatives ,which is worrying. When education becomes a battleground children’s interests become a secondary priority. The NUT conference, over the Easter break, reminded us just how polarised and adversarial debates on education  have become in this country. If you look at Finland, which we often do, one of the key pillars of its success has been that unions, officials and politicians work seamlessly together towards shared education  goals. It just doesn’t happen in this country. Nor does it seem to matter which government happens to be  in power (remember the grief that  the Labour Secretary of State David Blunkett received  from the NUT). One has to ask the question, why? Because until  this changes, it looks unlikely that outcomes for children  will change much for the better.

Meanwhile the Spectator is holding an education conference this  month that  will be looking at the schools revolution,  and the concept  of ‘the Blob’.


The idea that universities education departments  were training teachers in  ‘progressive’  ideas and that these ideas  and the practices they spawned damaged the education of children  goes back to the late 1980′s and  early 1990s.  Traditionally Universities and schools had collaborated closely in the provision of training. Critics of the universities then  fought to shift teacher training away from universities (there were also technical concerns about the quality of teaching and the lack of balance between theory and practice)  with, for example,  more school based teacher  training.For the record very few of the academics who signed the letter to the Independent are teacher trainers, or involved in the design of teachers training.



Successful and influenced by Hirsch

Hence Gove referencing Massachusetts


At his recent speech at the SMF, the Education Secretary ,Micheal Gove, praised the Massachusetts curriculum in which their “history curriculum requires students to be taught in rich factual detail about their heritage”. ED Hirsch the American academic who articulates the need for a core curriculum of knowledge and the importance of memorisation had a significant influence on Goves thinking behind the new curriculum. But Gove has been criticised for rushing through the proposals, of not properly consulting the experts or listening to them. Historians, for example, have written to the Observer this week complaining about the content of the new history curriculum and the need to identify consensus, through proper consultation.

Massachusetts prides itself on the amount of meaningful consultation it undertook before it settled on its curriculum frameworks:

The opening page to the MA Curriculum Frameworks website contains the following statement:

‘Since the enactment of the Education Reform Act of 1993, a great deal of work has gone into developing the Curriculum Frameworks.  What has made the process so effective is the grassroots involvement of thousands of people statewide. The task could not have been accomplished without the commitment, energy, and dedication of teachers, administrators, associations, parents, business, students, higher education faculty, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education staff, the Board of Education, and the public.’

Of course there is a consultation now underway (see link below) but the charge is that Governments generally   tend to have made up their mind before public consultations   take place and that the subsequent  process is little more than  an exercise in window dressing and / or cherry picking . We shall see.(I would suggest that it is worth looking in detail at the proposals and contributing to the consultation because the Secretary of State and DFE  will be less willing to ignore such contributions now  than they were a week ago, before the U turn on the EBC )

But why is Gove referencing Massachussetts?

Because its educational achievement outcompetes every other US state .For instance, the state leads the USA in reading and mathematics on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. It routinely excels even when you control for income and parental income level. On the 2005 NAEP tests, Massachusetts ranked first in the US in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and fourth- and eighth-grade math. It then repeated the feat in 2007. No state had ever scored first in both grades and both subjects in a single year—let alone for two consecutive test cycles.  How has Massachusetts done it?

The short answer that educators in Massachusetts give is that it  achieves so highly because 20 years ago they implemented Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum state-wide in 1993, a curriculum that now runs in over 1,000 US schools.

Its not ,of course, just about the curriculum. Leadership, high quality teaching, collaboration, dissemination of best practice  and  other elements are also essential for success, but Hirsch and his core knowledge win most of the plaudits

We have covered his thinking and influence before. Here is a quote from Hirsch to give a flavour:

‘Higher-order thinking is knowledge-based: The almost universal feature of reliable higher-order thinking about any subject or problem is the possession of a broad, well-integrated base of background knowledge relevant to the subject’.  (1996)

But there is another significant claim made that is particularly interesting.

The claim is that Core Knowledge Schools have raised the bar for all and closed the gap between more and less disadvantaged students.

In an extensive study in 2000, for example, Core Knowledge students were found to have outperformed their peers in almost all categories (reading, vocabulary, history, geography and maths). During the late 1990s researchers in Maryland found that the degree to which Core Knowledge was implemented in schools was a significant predictor of student achievement gain. Another study concluded that the carefully sequenced Core Knowledge curriculum also has the potential to help disadvantaged students overcome their disadvantages and achieve academic proficiency.

Then there is the so-called Matthew effect – ‘to those who have, more shall be given, but from those who have not, even what they have shall be taken away’. This is about    the effects of accumulative advantage referred to by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers and in Daniel Rigney’s book  ‘The Matthew Effect’.

Hirsch points out that ‘unless an early knowledge deficit is quickly overcome, the deficit grows ever larger’; for him, ‘the cumulative principle explains the phenomenon of the widening gap’ in achievement across and within countries. Therefore, Hirsch concluded, ‘we can greatly accelerate the achievements of all students if we adopt knowledge-oriented modes of schooling.’ (2006 xii)

Massachusetts uses Hirschs ideas   and is successful. Hence, Goves enthusiasm for his ideas.

In summary, Hirsch’s ideas can be distilled as follows: at the core of academic achievement lies a  body  of essential knowledge and the more you accumulate this knowledge the more you will accelerate your academic achievement .

But ,as Gove is finding out,what constitutes core knowledge  is  very much open to debate.


The National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP, which is an exam administered to a sample of fourth, eighth and twelfth grade students every two years in reading and math. All states and DC have been included since 2003.The NAEP is called “the nation’s report card,” and Massachusetts students have long been dominant.

Hirsch has studied Massachusetts. He found that Massachusetts was one of three states that made the most progress at reducing achievement gaps between 1998 and 2005. Between 2002 and 2009, the scores of African-Americans and Hispanics on both fourth- and eighth-grade reading tests improved more rapidly than those of white students. Low-income students made gains as well. “If you are a disadvantaged parent with a school-age child,” Hirsch said in 2008, “Massachusetts is . . . the state to move to.”


The  Children and Families Bill 2012-13

Overhaul of SEN

Significant reforms to services for vulnerable children and radical proposals to allow parents to choose how they share up to a year’s leave, to look after their new-born children, have been announced.

The Children and Families Bill, published on 4 Feb, includes reforms to adoption, family justice, an overhaul of Special Educational Needs, reinforcing the role of the Children’s Commissioner and plans to introduce childminders agencies. It also includes the extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees.  The proposed Shared Parental Leave reforms will give parents much greater flexibility about how they ‘mix and match’ care of their child in the first year after birth. They may take the leave in turns or take it together, provided that they take no more than 52 weeks combined in total. These changes will allow fathers to play a greater role in raising their child, help mothers to go back to work at a time that’s right for them, returning a pool of talent to the workforce. It will also create more flexible workplaces to boost the economy. This Bill is expected to have its second reading debate on a date to be announced.  This Government Bill was presented to Parliament on 4 February 2013. This is known as the first reading and there was no debate on the Bill at this stage.


Summary of the Children and Families Bill 2012-13

Adoption and virtual school head (VSH)

The Government wants to see more children being adopted by loving families with less delay. Children wait an average of almost two years between entering care and moving in with an adoptive family. The Bill supports the reforms set out in An Action Plan for Adoption: Tackling Delay including by promoting fostering for adoption and improving support for adoptive families.  The Government is committed to improving life chances for all looked after children. Their educational attainment, while improving, is not doing so fast enough. We know that a virtual school head (VSH) can have a positive impact on the educational progress of looked after children and so the Bill will require every local authority to have a virtual school head to champion the education of children in the authority’s care, as if they all attended the same school.


Family justice system

The Government is reforming the family justice system so that it can deliver better for children and families who go to court after family separation or where children may be taken into care. The reform programme is tackling delays and ensuring that children’s best interests are at the heart of decision making. The Bill will implement commitments the Government made in response to the Family Justice Review including by introducing a time limit of 26 weeks when courts are considering whether a child should be taken into care and making sure more families have the opportunity to try mediation before applying to court.


Special educational needs (SEN)

The Government is transforming the system for children and young people with special educational needs (SEN), including those who are disabled, so that services consistently support the best outcomes for them. The Bill will extend the SEN system from birth to 25, giving children, young people and their parents greater control and choice in decisions and ensuring needs are properly met. It takes forward the reform programme set out in Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability: Progress and next steps including by:

replacing old statements with a new birth- to-25 education, health and care plan;

offering families personal budgets; and

improving cooperation between all the services that support children and their families, particularly requiring local authorities and health authorities to work together.



The Government is reforming childcare to ensure the whole system focuses on providing safe, high-quality care and early education for children. The enabling measures in the Bill support wider reforms to substantially increase the supply of high quality, affordable and available childcare and include introducing childminder agencies to help more childminders into the market and offer greater support and quality assurance and removing bureaucracy so that it is easier for schools to offer wrap-around care.


Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC)

The Government wants to make sure that the Children’s Commissioner can act as a strong advocate for children, helping to embed a culture where children’s interests are put first. The Bill will help improve the Children’s Commissioner’s effectiveness, taking forward recommendations in John Dunford’s Review of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (England) including giving the Commissioner a statutory remit to promote and protect children’s rights.


Shared parental leave and flexible working

The Government is committed to encouraging the full involvement of both parents from the earliest stages of pregnancy, including by promoting a system of shared parental leave, and to extending the right to request flexible working to all employees. The Bill will implement the commitments in the Government’s response (November 2012) to the modern workplaces consultation.



Gove attacked for not bothering to convince stakeholders that his policies are right


Laura McInerney, a teacher, Fulbright scholar and Policy Development Partner at consultants LMKCO is concerned , as she sees it,about the Secretary of States unwillingness, or inability, to sell his education reforms to key stakeholders. McInerney has had an almost continuous dialogue on Twitter with Goves  respected special adviser, Sam Freedman , due to move to Teach First as head of research, around this and related  themes.

She says Gove can and should implement the policies he has long championed – free schools, the Ebacc, terminal exams – but through the correct processes.

She blogs ‘ In recent weeks Gove has stomped heavily on the processes of an informed democracy that hold politicians accountable once in power. If a Secretary of State steadfastly refuses to answer questions in the Education Select Committee about their latest reform, this matters for accountability (see Q11-36) . If in that same meeting the Secretary of State says they will ignore the independent regulator’s serious concerns about a GCSE reform, it matters for accountability (see Q46). When the Department for Education has one of the worst response rates to requests for Freedom of Information, it matters for accountability. When the civil service – bound by a code of political impartiality – sends out tweets about teacher strike action which feel to teachers to be heavily politicised, it diminishes an impartially informed democracy. And when significant education policies are announced through the pages of a newspaper that citizens can only access by paying the corporation (the Times) at the centre of 2012’s biggest media scandal, then –surely! – democracy and accountability aren’t just suffering, by now they are on the floor and weeping.’

A little strong, perhaps, but she concludes that Gove does not  have to change his policies simply because people don’t like them, but as part of an informed democracy he does need to convince people he is right.

Certainly Goves performance before the Select Committee recently raised some eyebrows as he refused to discuss with the Committee  Ofquals (well known) concerns about the timetable  for the introduction of the new EBC for reasons, that were not very clear (concerns shared, incidentally, by the exam boards). He must be careful not to allow the perception to be created that he lacks transparency or is being obstructive or ignoring process, as this suggests a lack of confidence in his own policies. It is very easy to become prickly and over defensive if attacked and Gove is, by nature, a courteous and confident debater and advocate.  He is more than capable of making a strong case for his own policies without leaving the impression that he is careless about the need for full transparency and accountability. It would also help in this respect  if his department improved its poor  record(  yes it does have  one of the worst  departmental records )  in responding quickly to requests for information  under the Freedom of Information Act  and in answering parliamentary questions (PQs are supposed to be answered within three days but can take up to six weeks) which junior minister Elizabeth  Truss was  challenged on recently in a Select Committee hearing.


Slap Down

Gove makes it pretty clear what he thinks of the National Association for the Teaching of English


Ian McNeilly, the head of the National Association for the Teaching of English, has said of the Government’s new English curriculum: “It is fantastic that Mr Gove has acknowledged that English as a subject needs to move into a different century. Unfortunately for all concerned, he has chosen the 19th rather than the 21st”. Such drollery  will have raised a smirk or two among English teachers.

When Michael Gove was reminded of this comment in   Commons education questions, on 3 December,he  said:  “I do not see anything wrong with having the 19th century at the heart of the English curriculum. As far as I am concerned, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy—not to mention George Eliot—are great names that every child should have the chance to study. As for the National Association for the Teaching of English, I am afraid that it is yet another pressure group that has been consistently wrong for decades. It is another aspect of the educational establishment involving the same people whose moral relativism and whose cultural approach of dumbing down have held our children back. Those on the Opposition Benches have not yet found a special interest group with which they will not dumbly nod along and assent to. I believe in excellence in English education. I believe in the canon of great works, in proper literature and in grammar, spelling and punctuation. As far as I am concerned, the NATE will command my respect only when it returns to rigour.” Ouch!