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.
THE MASSACHUSETTS MODEL
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.
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!
NEIL McINTOSH WARNS OF THE THREATS TO ADONIS ACADEMY LEGACY
Quality and genuine independence could ensure the Adonis academy legacy is sustained
But how independent are academies?
In his last speech, on 15 November, before stepping down after 22 years as chief executive of CfBT Education Trust, Neil McIntosh, expressed his concerns over possible threats to the Adonis legacy of Academy schools. Is that legacy secure?Could Academies disappear from the schools landscape?
Lord Adonis, the architect of the original Academies programme, had, in an earlier speech at the event (CFBTs AGM), testified to Neils influence in helping to transform the supply side in education, thanking him for his support,( when Adonis was the schools minister), in driving through the academy reforms, and praised his leadership in broadening the role of the third sector in the delivery of public services.
What Adonis was trying to do, as an adviser to Tony Blair and subsequently as the schools Minister, Neil said ,was “ to accelerate the improvement of schools in England by enlisting the energy and resources of the private and Third sectors, what is often called, civil society, within a public service, not for profit framework.”
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, believes that the best way of protecting the Adonis legacy was ‘to maximise the number of Academies.” True up to point, but insufficient, claimed Neil. He said “Its not so much about quantity as quality. If Academies fail to do much better than their predecessor schools they will be vulnerable to attack. And the more Academies there are, then the more likely there are to be failures. So ensuring quality, protects the legacy.”
The second threat, on the horizon, concerns the independence of academies. Just how independent are they? Neil believes that only genuine independence will ensure their sustainability. He said “independent providers of a public service should be genuinely independent and that the constitutional form that they take should be able to stand the test of time”.
In a key passage in his speech Neil crystallised his worries about the current constraints on Academy independence.
He said “Arguably we are developing a model in the education sector in which a new cadre of charitable organisations (Academies are Charities) are being created in a uniquely top down way, with many of the providers being, in effect, set up by government and being 100% dependent on one source of (government) funding. Moreover they are so-called ‘exempt’ charities, subject to a central government regulatory regime directed by a politician not the Charity Commission. That regime dictates the rules of governance even up to the Secretary of State (SoS) having the right to vet individual governors.”
He continued “Some of these new organisations are growing very fast, perhaps dangerously so given that they are often dependent to a disturbing degree on a key person, and that that one person has automatic right to be a trustee and may have no previous experience of running an independent organisation. And despite the supposed tight control of governance by the Secretary of State there is real cause for concern that the checks and balances between some of those high flying Heads and their governors are not robust enough. At their weakest, these are agencies which are independent in name only. And perhaps not even in that. This was highlighted, ironically, by both the PM and Michael Gove referring on a number of occasions last week to Academies as state schools. Independent state schools was Tony Blair’s preferred oxymoron.”
These developments, Neil believes, represent a threat to the integrity of the concept of charitable organisations but also demonstrate “the tendency in English education to adopt complex and opaque structures which fail to locate responsibility firmly and clearly and will, I believe, prove inadequate in the long term.”
So ,the big danger for Academies is that, especially with the single Academy model (as opposed to the Academy chains), they could so easily be transmuted from their ‘independent’ status back to their old status as maintained schools.(he cited the example of how the careers service companies, often run by charities, were transmuted into Connexions partnerships and look also at what happened to GM schools)
Neil concluded “For my money, then, securing Andrew’s admirable legacy is a matter of encouraging the development of a growing number of highly effective non-government promoters of consistently high performing schools (like CFBT); not re-badging all schools or trying completely to replace entirely the delivery system for supporting maintained schools in England”
Before July 2010, all academies had to register with the Charity Commission. Academies became exempt charities on 1 August 2011. Exempt charity status means that they are not registered or directly regulated by the Charity Commission. DfE is now the ‘principal regulator’ of academies. It is responsible for overseeing their compliance with charity (as well as education) law. The Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA), which originally funded academies, carried out this role on the DfE’s behalf until March 2012 when it was replaced by the Education Funding Agency
Battle over how history should be taught in schools
Concerns that modular approach has led to fragmentation and no clear narrative
Critics have long bemoaned the end of “traditional history” as they remember it. Some have even called for the return of patriotic history books like Henrietta Marshall’s Our Island Story, first published in 1936 and, to quote the Telegraph’s education correspondent, “a marvellous antidote to the fractured, incoherent history most primary school children are taught today.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge declared in 1830, “form and train up the people of the country to be obedient, free, useful and organisable subjects, citizens and patriots, living to the benefit of the state and prepared to die in its defence”. Rather extreme, obviously, but an indication of how important the teaching of history or a version of history is to many and why politicians feel the need to tell us what should be included in the curriculum. Hitler, Slavery etc. But many including Professor David Cannadine dispute the claim that there has ever been a golden age of history teaching.
Nick Gibb, the recently reshuffled schools minister, pointed out in the Daily Telegraph recently that in the Strange Death of History Teaching, published in 2009, Derek Matthews, an economics lecturer at Cardiff University, reported the results of a short history quiz he had set for 284 undergraduates over a three-year period in which Sixty per cent did not know Brunel’s profession; 65 per cent did not know who was the reigning monarch when the Spanish Armada attacked Britain; 83 per cent did not know that Wellington led the British Army at Waterloo; and a staggering 88 per cent could not name a single 19th-century prime minister. Not Disraeli. Not Gladstone. Not Peel. Professor Matthews attributed this to the way history is taught in schools: “Children playing games, role playing, drawing pictures, engaging in group discussion, trying to imagine what it feels like to be a medieval peasant or studying a range of historical source materials…” He identified the drive to teach “historical skills” rather than history itself as a key cause of the problem. This “skills versus knowledge” debate has plagued state education for over half a century – not just in the teaching of history but in all subjects, from science and maths to languages and geography.
The new secondary curriculum that the Government will be publishing soon is designed to address these problems. It will be a slimmed-down, according to Gibb, but a knowledge-driven curriculum in the key academic subjects to ensure that secondary school pupils are given the cultural literacy that will enable them to participate in society. ( Gibb admires ED Hirsch)
Professor Niall Ferguson says there are two problems with History in schools. First pupils give up History far too early, unlike a majority of other European countries. Secondly, what pupils are taught in schools is fragmented. Pupils need some kind of clear narrative and basic sense of chronology. The left winger Tariq Ali, perhaps surprisingly, agrees that History teaching is fragmented and this is the result of teaching in modules. Ferguson adds that there is too much focus on narrow issues such as the rise of Hitler .He says there should be a clear understanding of such broad issues as the Industrial revolution, the Enlightenment the Renaissance and pupils now need a truly global perspective on History.
An Ofsted report in 2011 said many primary and secondary pupils are being let down by a curriculum which does not give them a “chronological understanding” of the subject – instead concentrating on individual topics from ancient Egypt to post-war Britain. The education watchdog also said that history teaching is being marginalised in state schools, while A-levels are not adequately preparing sixth-formers for more rigorous university courses.
Professor David Cannadine points out that History has never been compulsory in our schools, beyond 14. In other European countries, almost without exception, it is compulsory to 16.Cannadine believes we should follow Europe on this.. Ken Baker (Lord Baker) wanted history compulsory 5-16, when he introduced curriculum reforms but Kenneth Clarke dismissed the idea, without ever justifying his decision. History in our schools, says Cannadine, has usually been a low priority for British governments, as indeed has education in general (until quite recently). Achieving any kind of consistent policy has therefore been nigh-on impossible in a situation where most education ministers have held office for less than two years, and few had any personal experience of school since they left it. There had been a great many theories about how history had been taught over time,” Cannadine says, “but no one had done any detailed research to provide the evidence to back them up.”
So, about three and a half years ago, Cannadine, along with two research fellows, Jenny Keating and Nicola Sheldon, funded by the Linbury Trust and the Institute of Historical Research, set out to find the empirical data, and their findings were published in The Right Kind of History. “History should never be used merely as a means of relaying a desired national narrative,” he says. “Putin is doing just that in Russia at the moment by insisting that some aspects of the Soviet regime should be taught in a more sympathetic light. There are also calls in some American states to rewrite their teaching of slavery. This can’t be right. If a country has cause to feel awkward about its past, then so be it. We should be grown-up enough to deal with it. Which isn’t to say we should wallow in guilt; rather that we should accept the good and bad equally without giving either greater emphasis.” Referring to Michael Goves efforts to reform the curriculum Cannadine said ”I suspect he might find it politically difficult not to change the national curriculum,” he says, “as it’s the easiest thing to do and also what many people want him to do. But there’s really no need. The biggest and most necessary change is to make history compulsory to 16, but doing that will create other pressures on the timetable. Still, he’s had a copy of the book on his desk since September, and if he needs any help writing the speech explaining what really needs to be done, he only has to call me.”
Cannadine says a curriculum designed for teaching over 11 years, from five to 16, became squashed into nine years, truncating the chronological sequence on which it rested. Worse still, to make sure pupils actually did study the 20th century (previously reserved for the final stage, from 14 to GCSE), the curriculum now pushed it into the last two years of the compulsory course, so that they could do it from 12 to 14, again from 14 to 16 if they took GCSE, and a third time from 16 to 18 if they went on to A-level.
The Government is reviewing the national curriculum with the aim of focussing it on the body of essential knowledge in key subjects that all children need to learn. As part of the review it is considering which subjects, beyond English, mathematics, science and PE, should be part of the national curriculum in future and at which key stages. The government recently confirmed that history is to continue as a compulsory subject at key stages 1 and 2. They are consulting on draft Programmes of Study for primary history before they are finalised. Cannadine, Schama and Ferguson have all given advice to the government (all are based, somewhat ironically, in the USA). The Government will make a separate announcement in due course about plans for the secondary curriculum, including the place of history. The Government’s intention is that the new Programmes of Study for all National Curriculum subjects will be introduced from September 2014. Michael Gove’s introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) was supposed to help History. But evidence from the Historical Association found that schools that already taught history well to GCSE continued to do so but those that had already introduced programmes limiting its time or reducing the years it is studied did not change course. The Historical Association says that Schools are still replacing specialist history teachers with general humanities teachers. Young people without a chance of scoring well in their GCSE’s are discouraged or prevented from taking history after Key Stage 3 – 31%, twice the level recorded in 2011. The two findings marry together – if the teacher isn’t an expert in the subject is it any wonder that the student is not good enough to be considered for examination.
JAMES O SHAUGHNESSY SAYS THREE STRIKES – THEN BRING IN EDUCATION MANAGEMENT ORGANISATIONS TO SUPPORT FAILING SCHOOLS
Not a recipe to privatise state schools ,but profit makers could have a role with not for profits in rescuing failing schools
James O’Shaughnessy, formerly a key adviser to David Cameron, now supporting Anthony Seldon in the expansion of the Wellington family of schools, (and working for Portland PR part time), says, in a new Policy Exchange report’ ‘Competition meets Collaboration’ that Ofsted’s new, tougher inspections could lead to a fivefold increase in the number of schools being told they need to improve. To deal with this seam of chronic weakness in England’s schools he recommends that a new failure regime – based on Ofsted’s new ‘three strikes and you’re out’ inspection regime – should be introduced to turn around the weakest schools:
On the first occasion of receiving a ‘requirement to improve’ the school is obliged to become an Academy under a new sponsor
On the second occasion, the Academy is obliged to join a successful chain. An Academy chain is a group of three or more independent state-funded schools with a shared educational vision, and which are bound together legally, financially and operationally
On the third and final occasion, the governing body is obliged to hand over the running of the school to a proven educational management organisation (EMO) which would operate the school on a payment by results basis. EMOs are private or not-for-profit providers that run schools under contract to a commissioner, such as a governing body or local authority.
Academies and particularly Academies which are part of a Chain are improving outcomes, according to the most recent evidence ,and so are well placed to assist failing schools.
The media, of course, spun this story rather differently, along the lines that a former top Cameron adviser wants profit makers to run state schools. Small wonder that debates on education are so polarised if the media rather too frequently, for the sake of an eye catching headline, mislead their audience and fail to provide context or to properly report the key findings of reports. Straw men spring to mind.Needless to say the opposition recycled this skewed view. What he is actually saying is that profit makers should be allowed in the supply mix, but after other options have been tried. In short, if turning a school into an academy and then handing it on to a chain haven’t been enough to break the cycle of underachievement, says O Shaughnessy, the governing body should be obliged to appoint an external provider to run it. The school and its assets would stay in the charitable sector, but they would be able to access the expertise of private providers who would be paid by results. Not for profits and state enterprises could also be in the mix. This hardly amounts to privatisation or for profit operators taking over the state system.
This new failure regime, he says, would be applied by a beefed up Office of the Schools Commissioner (OSC) and a network of new local school commissioners, themselves appointed and overseen by the OSC.
Education management organisations, operating under sharp, performance-based contracts that offer much greater improvement incentives than the funding agreements currently being signed with academies’, should be brought in if the Academy route fails. He concludes that ‘ it is absurd and counter-productive to prevent, for purely ideological reasons, successful school improvement businesses from turning around those schools with have proved resistant to other interventions’. Who could argue with that?
Competition Meets Collaboration -Helping school chains address England’s long tail of educational failure James O’Shaughnessy-Policy Exchange
Underperforming Primaries will be ‘encouraged’ to become Academies
So, what does Underperforming mean?
‘The schools identified as underperforming are those which are in an Ofsted category of “notice to improve” or “special measures” and/or are below the floor standard and have been so for the majority of the past five years. A school is below the floor standard if fewer than 60% of pupils achieve level 4 at key stage 2 in English and maths combined, with rates of progression in English and maths below the national medians.’(Source Lords Hansard 24 September PQ)
The Secretary of State, Michael Gove, recently decided that Downhills Primary school, in Haringey would, due to its “chronic under performance” and the need to secure swift improvement , have to convert to a sponsored Academy status, under the leadership of the Harris Federation. This was seen as something of a test case for the anti-free school lobby as the governors and some parents and the local MP had opposed forced Academy conversion and challenged the move in the courts, unsuccessfully as it happens. Downhills opened as an Academy this September.
Note-Ofsted had placed Downhills under special measures and said in its report (2012) that ’ it is failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education and the persons responsible for leading, managing or governing the school are not demonstrating the capacity to secure the necessary improvement.’
- PAYING FOR RESULTS-CAN IT HELP RAISE PERFORMANCE- OR DOES IT CORRUPT THE LOVE OF LEARNING?
- PROSPECTS JOINS MUTUAL JOINT VENTURE TO DELIVER PUBLIC SERVICES-GOVERNMENT KEEN ON EMPLOYEE OWNED MUTUALS DELIVERING PUBLIC SERVICES
- PROFESSOR TONY WATTS RESIGNS FROM THE NATIONAL CAREERS COUNCIL
- EDISON LEARNING AND THE NAHT UNION LAUNCH A SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT INITIATIVE WITH DFE BACKING
- THE FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT OF ACADEMIES-WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE ARE CONCERNS?
- PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE REPORT ON ACADEMIES-SOME CONCERNS OVER FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT
- CAIRNS OF BRIGHTON COLLEGE BACKS ACADEMIES
- IS CAREERS ADVICE IN SCHOOLS EFFECTIVE OR IS IT TOO EARLY TO SAY?
- LEMOVS TEACH LIKE A CHAMPION -TOP TECHNIQUES USED BY THE BEST TEACHERS
- THE PUPIL PREMIUM AND SPECIAL SCHOOLS
- EDUCATION EXPORTS-NEW GOVERNMENT STRATEGY IN THE WINGS?
- INSPECTING ACADEMY CHAINS-ON THE AGENDA
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