AUTONOMY AND SCHOOL ACCOUNTABILITY
Concerns emerging about lack of strategic oversight and democratic legitimacy
Research suggests that school autonomy is a good idea (OECD, World Bank, etc) but only if placed within a secure and robust accountability framework.
McKinsey research has shown that the highly successful school systems in the world have a middle tier, between central government and the individual school.
There is an on-going debate about how the government’s structural reforms, creating autonomous state schools (academies and free schools) have affected accountability. Academies and free schools are basically accountable directly to the Secretary of State, through funding agreements (which vary) which are contracts with the Secretary of State .These together with the academies financial handbook provide the accountability regime for all academies which includes the requirement to produce annual audited accounts. But can the SOS really hold so many schools directly accountable to him, given that over half secondary schools are now academies and there are going to be further cuts to his staff.
Meanwhile, the government argues that academy schools are ‘independent’ schools. But how independent are they, if they are directly accountable to the SOS, (and the provisions of the funding agreement)? The SOS can ,if he sees fit, vet the appointment of an academy trustee. How would any normal charity feel (academies are ‘exempt’ charities) if a Minister could veto the appointment their trustees? Certainly academies are not as independent as private sector schools, including those with charitable status (although academies are supposed to have inherited their DNA!).
Critics point out that there is no middle tier that can help identify and support problem schools early on. Some say that academy chains help provide a middle tier. For schools in this situation, the headquarters of the chain has become the new middle tier. But, of course, not all academies and free schools are part of a chain.
The latest contribution to this debate comes from Ron Glatter who is the emeritus professor of educational administration and management at the Open University and Susan Young is a freelance education journalist. In the Guardian (13 November) they argue that despite the growing power of central government, the dominant rhetoric has been about autonomy, independence and liberation from bureaucracy (read local authorities) and this focus has persisted and grown stronger over the years. The driving factors behind this include the commitment to free market ideology, England’s highly centralist constitution, and the symbolic power of the elite independent school sector. But they say that ‘paradoxically, despite the persistent and growing emphasis on autonomy, most school practitioners consider themselves constrained by government requirements to a far greater extent than their forbears in 1975. Schools have many more responsibilities and the centre has been transformed from a trusting referee and resource provider to a demanding and impatient managing director with frequently changing identities and priorities.’
They conclude that ‘The biggest change since 1975 has been the progressive disempowerment of the intermediate tier of governance which international research has shown is a vital element in system improvement. This looks likely to result in a highly unstable framework, marginalising the community and local dimensions. Unsurprisingly, many schools appear to find the stand alone model uncomfortable and are clustering together in various groupings such as academy chains and co-operative trusts. From the point of view of pupils and their families, the likely collapse of any local strategic co-ordination and community governance could have serious consequences and raises major questions about democratic legitimacy. A key challenge in the next few years will be to create an effective and legitimate multi-level system of educational governance that is fit for purpose and can command the trust of the public and the profession.’ This requires addressing a question, they claim, that is as crucial and unresolved now as it was in 1975, and which has become even more pressing: “To whom should schools funded by the public purse belong?”
Local authorities believe that they should be this middle tier, again. But one of the key drivers behind the academies programme is the proposition that schools were being stifled by local authority bureaucracy and interventions and needed much greater freedom to manage their resources, as they saw fit.This is less ideology, than common sense. And, arguably, while local authorities provide accountability, in the sense that councillors have to face periodic elections, (unlike their officials) in rather too many cases this has done little to improve schools under councils control. So this ’long accountability’ looks to be insufficient, because far too many children, and particularly the most disadvantage have been let down. There are other ways, of course, to create this middle tier that might go some way to satisfying key stakeholders and which dont revert back to local authorities and the status quo ante. The Financial Times suggests that the middle tier role should be filled by regional commissioners, accountable to the local community and able to act on grievances quickly. The commissioners could also foster collaboration between academies: for example, by co-ordinating exchanges of teachers and organising training.
This is an important debate that will run and run.
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
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
ACADEMIES, THE CURRICULUM AND CREATIONISM
They can depart from the National Curriculum but..
While publicly funded independent schools ie academies/free schools will continue to have the freedom to depart from the new national curriculum, where they consider that to be in the best interests of their students, the Government is keen to stress ‘they are required by law to teach a broad and balanced curriculum’. As is the case now, the government envisages that’ many such schools will, in practice, continue to offer the national curriculum, and they will be accountable to parents and their local communities for any decisions they take.’ There have been concerns that Academies and Free Schools will be teaching ‘Creationism’. There has been much scaremongering about this issue but frankly the threat that creationists will gain a foothold in Free Schools is slim to negligible.
This is the Governments attempt to address this particular concern: ‘Free Schools are not permitted to teach creationism as a valid scientific theory in any subject and the Government would not approve any school that intended to do so. The model funding agreement for free schools requires that free schools shall not make provision in the context of any subject for the teaching, as an evidence-based view or theory, of any view or theory that is contrary to established scientific and/or historical evidence and explanations. (Lords PQ 28 August).’
In short, the funding agreement between the DFE and Free School offers a significant safeguard, and self-evidently school inspectors will continue to monitor what is being taught in schools. Parents can also alert Ofsted to any concerns they might have.
FREE SCHOOLS HIGH ATTRITION RATE
Shortage of sites and capital slowing the initiative
The Government in 2011 approved 79 new, state-funded free schools to open from September 2012 onwards(these included UTCs). They were being set up by teachers, charities, universities, employers, and other groups in response to demand from local parents and industry. Another 102 have been approved for opening from September next (2013) year.
However just 55 will actually open this month .That is a pretty high attrition rate. And how come so few? The Financial Times suggested, in a Leader, that the Free schools initiative is now a damp squib given how many schools open and shut every year.
We know that more than a dozen free schools due to open this week have been delayed or beset by planning problems. Finding appropriate sites and securing the necessary planning permission is a major issue blighting the Free schools programme. Bedford Free School has vowed to open this week even though planning permission for its site has been rejected by the local council. Its appeal against the rejection of its application will be heard next month. Compass Free School, a secondary school, was approved to open this September in Southwark, South London, but has been delayed by a year. Doug Lewis, the chairman of the Compass Schools Trust, told the Times : “Finding a site is proving a real challenge and has already cost us — and our first intake of pupils — a year’s delay.” Katherine Birbalsingh originally planned to open the Michaela community school, in Lambeth, south London, but then moved its proposed home to Tooting, in nearby Wandsworth, and had been due to open in September 2012. But both moves foundered due to a lack of premises.
According to the Times at least one school has withdrawn its proposals and six others have been delayed by a year, all because of planning or site purchase problems. Another three have had their funding withdrawn by the Department for Education (DfE) while several others have scrapped their plans or been delayed for other reasons including recruitment problems. The problem is particularly acute in large cities. Of 17 schools due to open in London, at least ten are on temporary sites. Others are moving into temporary buildings on a permanent site, and building work will continue as teaching gets under way. Many will have little useable outside space but will travel to playing fields or leisure centres. Twenty-six of the 55 free schools expected to open across England will not be at their permanent location, and most of these will remain there for at least a year. At least four others will teach children in temporary accommodation on their permanent site.
Rachel Wolf, director of the New Schools Network, which advises applicants on behalf of the DfE, told the Times “Unquestionably, site is the biggest problem and the biggest potential road block to these free schools opening. The delays … are a symptom of the free school movement’s success. A process that might have worked for the first couple of dozen schools will not prove fit for purpose for the hundreds that are now coming forward.”
But there have been other shocks too that undermine confidence in the DFE approach to Free schools. Funding for One In A Million Free School in Bradford was withdrawn this Monday at the eleventh hour after its building was completed, teachers appointed and 30 children enrolled and over £200,000 of taxpayers money had been spent. Parents had less than a week to find their children places at other schools before the start of the school year. And yet only last month the DfE signed a funding agreement with the Beccles free school, which managed to attract just 37 applications for places, despite planning to open with 162 children. The application for the proposed Phoenix School, in Manchester, staffed by Armed Forces veterans and backed by Lord Guthrie – was recently rejected by DfE which came as a complete surprise to the bidding team. Phoenix had been identified as one of the 16 strongest out of about 250 Free School applicants by the New Schools Network. It had 85% oversubscription of pupil numbers – yet the DfE claimed lack of community support. Other bidders have been left bemused having failed to get DFE approval.
DFE claims that it makes no excuses for its rigorous vetting system which means, inevitably, that some bids fail to make the grade. But talk to people involved in bidding and looking at the various Free school forums on the internet ,they have a very different view. One of their main complaints is how little support they get from the DFE during the bidding process, exacerbated by key officials being away at crucial times, often on holiday as a deadline looms. But there is a strong suspicion too that the Free schools initiative is slowing down dramatically for two main reasons. A real shortage of capital and sites. Free-school numbers are low because the government has decided that the DfE must pay for new buildings upfront itself, but has provided not nearly enough capital with which to buy them. The government has also crucially eschewed private sector involvement from running such schools curtailing interest in the scheme, although, self-evidently, the sector could bring their capital and skills in breathing new life into the initiative.
There is additional trouble looming as potential bidders will look at the current situation and apparent inconsistencies and wonder whether it is worth all the effort and risk. Make no mistake, its extremely hard work to get a Free school project off the ground and often the individuals involved have to give their time free and dip into their own pockets . Apart from the logistical and administrative hassle that you have to cope with, you will also probably take some political flak along the way from those opposed to Free schools. It could soon become an issue of confidence. Certainly it is the case that there are less Free schools established or in the pipeline than Gove would have wished for at this stage in the cycle, possibly around 50% down on projections when the scheme was launched in 2010.
That is not to say that the initiative is not worthwhile. But some serious thinking needs to be done in DFE about how to get this initiative back on track, and officials need to up their game.
Note -Liberal Democat David Laws appointment, in the recent reshuffle, as schools minister will strengthen Goves team-he is a supporter of Free schools .
For profit advocates hit back
The IEA, the right wing think tank that promotes private enterprise, the free market and the profit motive, has a bright young Swedish academic on its staff
Gabriel Sahlgren is busy promoting profitmaking in the state sector. He is something of an expert, unsurprisingly, on the Swedish Free school model. Many Swedes are perplexed about how heated and polarised the debate is here on their school system. They are altogether more sanguine it seems, than we are , about the existence of profitmaking schools within their system.
Research on Swedens Free schools can be found to support both both the pro and anti free school lobbies. Fertile ground, indeed, for cherry picking.
Sahlgren says that the best papers on the Swedish voucher reforms have thus far displayed only short-term gains from these reforms. Until now, that is. In Sahlgrens view Böhlmark and Lindahl, are the authors of the most convincing recent research.
Their results, according to Sahlgren, show the impact of free school competition on pupils in both free and municipal schools, indicating that a 10 percentage-point increase in the share of 9th-grade pupils attending free schools in the municipality generates (1) about a 2 percentile rank point better test score in mathematics and English; (2) a 2 percentile rank point better performance in mathematics and English in the first year of upper-secondary school; (3) a 2 percentage point increase in the share who attend university; and (4) four more weeks of schooling on average.
Indeed, this is the first paper that finds long-term positive effects from a national voucher programme, while also presenting results indicating that grade inflation does not bias their findings.
Sahlgen writes ‘Comparing the results in ninth grade with the authors’ earlier results, we see that the impact is about twice as strong. It should also be noted that they only estimate the impact of ninth-grade shares of free schools pupils. In prior papers, they found that using the overall share of free schools as a measure of competition made the coefficient double in size (to about the same effect as in this paper). While it is questionable whether the overall share of free school pupils induces competitive incentives – at least immediately – this indicates that the above-cited estimates are lower bound.’
This is also the first paper – according to Sahlgren – that separates the general-equilibrium impact of for-profit and non-profit competition on achievement. They find no significant differences. This is strong evidence that both for-profit and non-profit competition is equally good at raising achievement. The key difference is the ability of for-profit actors to mobilise capital as well as scale up – thus providing more competition across the board. Michael Gove ,Sahlgren says, should sit up and pay attention.Gove has so far resisted pressure from the IEA, Reform and Policy Exchange think tanks to introduce profitmaking schools into the state sector even though many believe that it would breathe much needed life into the faltering Free school programme here (faltering mainly due to a lack of capital and practical problems in finding sites for new schools)
It is important to note, says Sahlgren, ‘ that about 70-80% of the positive impact does not stem from the fact that free schools are better than municipal schools – but rather that competition forces municipal schools to improve. It also turns out that the effects are not significant until after about one decade after the reform. The authors argue that this is because free schools were a relatively marginal phenomenon until the early 2000s. However, it is also important to point out that the pupil population kept growing until 2003, so whatever competitive incentives increased for municipal schools remained marginal. The pupil population began decreasing in 2003, which coincides with the stronger increase in the free school share and also achievement. It is thus not surprising that it took about ten years before competition effects kicked in.’
This, concludes Sahlgren, ‘clearly demonstrates that it takes time before competitive incentives have an impact – which has implications for how we evaluate other school choice programmes. Moreover, it indicates that competition is the key mechanism behind producing better outcomes, not the fact that some schools are better than others. It also shows that for-profit schools are just as good as non-profit schools when it comes to raising the overall attainment levels in a voucher system.’
Independent Schools and Long-Run Educational Outcomes: Evidence from Sweden’s Large Scale ; Voucher Reform IZA DP No. 6683
June 2012; Anders Böhlmark Mikael Lindahl
Acknowledgements to the IEA
Did Professor Hayes views disadvantage the Phoenix FS bid?
News that the Phoenix Free school ,in Manchester, had not won DFE approval to open in 2013, in the latest round, came as a shock to those involved, not least because it sought to stress its links with a military ethos and self-discipline and was backed by former army head, Lord Guthrie. One of the schools very public supporters was Professor Dennis Hayes of the University of Derby. Hayes co-authored a book with Kathryn Ecclestone ‘The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education. They broadly share the views of Professor Frank Furedi about the teaching of social and emotional development in schools. In short, they are highly sceptical. They see the main focus of schools in the maintained sector now as social engineering , no longer seeing serious academic study as paramount.
Their basic critique is that all the ‘support’ and apparent concern for wounded individuals offered by therapy, and its prioritisation of the emotions, leads to ‘diminished selves’. A therapy industry has grown up based on ‘pop-psychology’, not informed empirical evidence. From demeaning and effectively compulsory ‘circle time’ in primary schools to ‘learning power’ programmes and peer mentoring in secondary schools to the endless monitoring and self-surveillance techniques in FE to the emphasis on vulnerability in University the authors depict an educational world which has surrendered to these therapy ‘professionals’. Their argument is that training in appropriate emotional responses and a cultivation of what they call ‘a passive narcissism ‘has become the norm. In schools a concern with vulnerability is giving way to a programme that actively promotes ‘emotional well-being’ as part of the curriculum. This they claim,’ is a bizarre kind of attempt by government to order up happiness by edict.’ The authors point out that the SEAL programmes which were so enthusiastically promoted by New Labour are based essentially on this ‘pop-psychology’. SEAL is ,according to the government , “a comprehensive, whole-school approach to promoting the social and emotional skills that underpin effective learning, positive behaviour, regular attendance, staff effectiveness and the emotional health and well-being of all who learn and work in schools”. The SEAL programmes are not the result of empirical investigation but rather gain their legitimacy because they echo what is going on in popular culture. Indeed, Therapy becomes a way of life. Therapy believes that people are weak and vulnerable; everyone is a victim and external challenges are best avoided. In contrast, the authors believe that young people benefit from engaging with the world and not being wrapped in cotton-wool. They argue that adult students are demeaned by emphasising the benefits to ‘self-esteem’ of participating in adult education above the increased subject or craft knowledge they gain. They want an education which is based on the Enlightenment values of ‘reason, science and progress’. They argue for a compulsory (this is implied) liberal humanist education based around subjects and the authority of teachers.
One wonders whether this had any impact on the DFE when assessing the suitability of Phoenix’s bid. Hayes may have a point . And to be fair, the above outline of his views probably doesn’t fully do them justice , and over-simplifies them, but this kind of thinking, more generally, is not currently mainstream (mind you neither is creationism and the Guardian claims that three of the latest successful FS bids have creationists behind them -they dont -but lets not go there). Certainly their approach to traditional ,rigorous academic education follows the Governments line. But thinking in DFE and the government, more generally (think of Cameron’s Happiness index)is that support for positive thinking, emotional intelligence, resilience and so on are part of a child’s rounded education and can, at least to some extent, be supported in school to help the childs personal development and of course to improve outcomes. Emotionally mature and resilient pupils tend to do well at school regardless of background.
This is an extract from a recent Government policy document ‘Supporting the development of young people’s underlying social and emotional capabilities is a strong theme in the Government’s Positive for Youth strategy, which encourages a stronger focus on early help to support all young people to succeed’
(A framework of outcomes for young people-2012)
The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education is published by Routledge (2009)
PHOENIX FREE SCHOOL REJECTED
The Phoenix Free school in Manchester ,not approved by the DFE in the latest round of bids, was keen to emphasise its military credentials and the bid was backed, too ,by respected former army chief ,Lord Guthrie. The rejection came as a bit of a shock and surprise to the sponsors. It was particularly galling given the work, nearly all pro bono, put in to getting this bid off the ground. It wasn’t helped by reports that three creationist schools had got through the vetting process (there is little substantive evidence that these schools are creationist) .The Coalition government had, after all, signalled that it rather liked the idea of schools backed by former servicemen and attracting more former troops into the classroom.
Education Secretary Michael Gove had warmed to the idea of introducing a variation of Troops for Teachers, a scheme started in the US in 1994. The Centre for Policy Studies reminded us back in 2008 of the Troops to Teachers (T3) US programme .Retiring US servicemen are retrained as teachers, mostly for high-poverty, typically violent inner-city schools. T3 is extraordinarily successful and is popular with Head Teachers, retiring servicemen and the military. Pupils demonstrably benefit from T3. It is thought that many UK inner-city schools face similar problems to those of US inner-city schools. The CPS suggested that a UK Troops to Teachers programme could be based on the example of Skill Force – a successful British charity which already employs ex-servicemen to work closely with schools with hard to reach children (albeit mostly outside the main classroom). Gove made all the right noises when the CPS pamphlet, by Tom Burkard, was published, referring to it also in speeches. ( Burkard also of course supported the Phoenix school.)
But it is the Labour party, in the form of Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg, which has taken up the baton. Twigg after some flip flopping over Free schools policy is finding his feet. He recently endorsed the idea of schools with military links proposed in a ResPublica pamphlet earlier this year. The think tanks report called on the Coalition to back a pilot scheme that will see 10 schools set up in “Neet blackspots” – where a large proportion of youngsters are not in education, employment or training – before rolling them out in all local education authorities. It said: “Military academies would open up new opportunities for those lacking hope and aspiration; they would change the cultural and moral outlook of those currently engulfed by hopelessness and cynicism.” The report ‘ Military Academies – Tacking Disadvantage, Improving Ethos and Outcomes and Revitalising our Armed Forces, was compiled in the wake of last summer’s riots.
Its interesting that the while the Tories seem to have gone cold on this whole idea, the opposition is very much up and running with it. And Philip Blond ,who heads ResPublica and was lauded by David Cameron over his Big Society ideas , now has one foot placed in Labours camp.
Many people rashly assume that servicemen are natural Tories . Troops, more often than not, feel let down by politicians of whatever political colour.. But if you look at your History books many of the biggest cuts to the services (since the withdrawal from Empire)) have been inflicted by Tory led governments. The latest , just announced, are the biggest since the Cold War. Options for Change (1990), led to an 18% reduction in manpower. The 1982 Falklands war is irrevocably tied up with the Tory Defence cuts of 1981. Food for thought?
WHATS HAPPENING WITH ACADEMY FUNDING?
Academies have been getting extra funding-so why the smoke and mirrors?
Half of all secondary schools in England are either Academies or in the process of converting- over 1400 in all.
Last September Chris Cook of the Financial Times asked one school Headmaster why his school was converting to Academy status. He said: “A conservatory”.
This is not an apocryphal story and manages to sum up why some schools have converted to Academy status. Extra money. This was confirmed by a recent survey conducted by the Reform think tank and published in March this year. It found that more than one-third of schools in the government’s academy converter programme have cited additional money as their primary reason for taking part. Also, in a survey of almost 1,500 schools carried out last year by the Association of School and College Leaders, seven out of 10 cited financial gain as a reason for converting.
The stated purpose of the Academy scheme has never been to grant schools additional funds. It has been to give them new freedoms and real autonomy, so they can manage their own affairs, free from Local authority bureaucracy, to help raise performance. (and not to disadvantage other neighbouring schools through a two tier funding system)
The findings are in marked contrast to the government’s claims that schools were not converting to academy status to receive this extra funding. Academy institutions, funded directly by the central government as opposed to local authorities, are supposed to be financed at the same level as other local schools. The principle behind academy funding is pretty straightforward: every child gets the same spending, whether they attend an LA school or an academy. But Heads and governing bodies know that this has simply not been the case. Many who support the Academy scheme and who believe that academies really do represent a lever to bring about systemic change and improvement , fear that schools which jumped to become academies for the cash windfall may not have the strength or depth of leadership required to stand alone and so may serve to undermine the whole reform programme.
Chris Cook , of the FT ,explains the funding system as follows:
‘LAs spend money on things for LA schools, like pupil transport: so-called “central services”. If you are an academy, however, you have to provide some of these services yourself. So you get grants in lieu of those services which should equal the amount paid for those services: the Local Authority Central Services Equivalent Grant – or Lacseg. The problem arises because, for reasons that are unclear, the DfE sets these totals months before it knows how much LAs will actually spend in each area .Then, even if it discovers that its estimates are clearly wrong, it refuses to correct them’
Cook gives an example. Islington. He writes ‘So we know that the DfE estimated the Lacseg should be £551 for a pupil in Islington in 2011-12. But, in truth, the LA was only spending £219. This means a 1,000 pupil secondary would enjoys a £332,000 overpayment from converting to become an academy.’
Cook adds that the uplifts were bigger generally for schools that converted in 2010-11 — and were sometimes so large that the DfE decided it could not correct them in one go. Those schools are continuing to be overpaid. Cook suggests that this is ‘daft’ and if the DfE paid a flat fee of about £200 to all academies, it would be a more accurate mechanism with smaller errors than their attempts at localised estimates.
This, of course, raises a number of issues. First, the reality is that if you convert to Academy status, you get more funds, and that has been the case until now . Secondly the the funding system is very complex, unfair and wasteful, at a time when funding is particularly tight. Some schools feel rather hard done by.
Most worrying perhaps, for reformers at least, is what motivates schools to convert. If it really is just about getting access to more funds, rather than winning and using new freedoms and autonomy, then isn’t there a danger that schools will simply continue as usual rather than bring in changes and innovative approaches that might serve to improve their schools and the system as a whole?
And the funding system seems already to be changing. Academies look unlikely to receive, in the future, as much as they have in the past. Local authorities have changed the way they do their annual spending returns – known as ‘section 251′ returns. As Fran Abrams writes in the Guardian this week ‘councils have quickly adapted to this new use of their existing data, and have started to make their calculations differently. Broadly, what they have done is to remove money from the central, catch-all pot and label it instead as being for a specific purpose, thereby reducing the total amount from which academies get their cut.’ So it may well be the case that the financial benefits of converting to Academy status are already on a downward trajectory.
But , crucially, they will still have their new freedoms. And, by the end of this Parliament, a substantial majority of secondary schools will be Academies.
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