Category Archives: Public Services Reform



Almost certainly not according to the experts


‘Schools now have a legal duty to secure independent careers guidance for all 12-to-18 year-old pupils. They can choose the type of careers advice they offer: for whom and by whom, whether by telephone, through a web portal, or face to face. All this is in line with the government’s drive to make schools, and their decision-making, more autonomous.

The only problem is, it isn’t working: rather than getting careers advice more appropriate to their local job market, many pupils are now forced to make do with advice that’s barely up to scratch. In early March, business secretary Vince Cable triggered a row when he said that teachers weren’t even in a position to give good careers advice. The teaching unions reacted angrily to his suggestion that their members were unfamiliar with the world of work – but few seem to have a response to suggestions that they can’t do the job the government has handed them.

The range of providers from which schools are now buying services includes local authorities, private careers guidance companies, sole traders and new social enterprises. Elsewhere in the market you’ll find education business partnerships, which offer schools integrated careers guidance or work-related learning support services, as well as FE colleges and universities, all selling careers guidance services to schools.

At present, though, relatively few schools are buying in face-to-face careers guidance from an external specialist careers provider. Even those which are commissioning services are buying fewer days than they had received before.This matters, because schools’ own efforts don’t seem to be up to scratch. A 2012 Careers England survey found that there was a postcode lottery in both the quality and the scope of careers guidance on offer to pupils. Overall, what’s more, provision was deteriorating.

A range of other organisations have also expressed concerns about the quality of schools careers guidance. Ofsted has found that three out of every four schools they had visited had not been delivering an adequate service. The CBI’s John Cridland has said that “careers advice is on life support in many areas”. As for Parliament, the Education Select Committee said in 2013, “We have concerns about the consistency, quality, independence and impartiality of careers guidance now being offered to young people.” In February, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced that schools were to receive new statutory guidance on what was expected from them in providing careers advice – hardly a ringing endorsement of the status quo.

None of this has surprised the guidance profession. Its members had warned ministers from the outset that, with no additional funding allocated to schools to pay for this new duty, many were likely to pick the cheapest, rather than best, option for their pupils. There were no prescribed quality standards, nor even a recommended professional guidance qualification; and the accountability framework was weak to non-existent. In short, schools do not need to account for the quality of careers advice they offer their pupils. The result is a growing perception that the government is marginalising careers professionals and careers education in schools.

In the past, there’s been an overarching consensus that young people need access to high quality, independent careers education and guidance: to make the right choices for them, to manage the transitions from one stage of their education to the next, and to ensure they have access to information on the local job market. There’s been a consensus, too, that all this is best delivered by an independent, qualified professional, and to come with embedded contributions from employers. Some experts have argued, plausibly, that the delivery of interlinked government policies – improving social mobility, reducing exclusion and NEET figures, filling the skills gaps or improving the opportunities and access for disadvantaged pupils – all stand a better chance of success if young people have easy access to good advice.

But not everyone agrees. Education secretary Michael Gove is on record as doubting the need for “a cadre of careers advisers”. He recently claimed that the new guidance, due out this month, is “all about cutting out the middle man and getting inspirational speakers in front of students to spark their ambitions”. The line seems to be that young people need inspiration, not just information. But does Gove really believe you can cut out the careers advisers in favour of employers? Few doubt the importance of employer engagement, but they and careers professionals have important complementary roles. Young people need access to both.

When the government introduced its overarching National Careers Service as part of the 2012 reforms, many hoped that this would be the organisation tasked with ensuring that no one fell through the guidance net. That, though, has turned out to be a re-branded careers service for adults. For those under 19, access is limited to its website and telephone advice service. NCS has no remit to provide face-to-face careers guidance to young people, no remit to work with schools, and no funding for services to young people beyond its online and telephone facilities.

The government has a number of possibilities open to it. Radically tightening up accountability measures with some additional funding targeted on careers guidance is one option. Bolstering the NCS, and extending it to providing face-to-face careers guidance in schools, possibly with regional contracts, is another. Or perhaps schools could be required to employ their own qualified careers advisers, responsible for providing face-to-face careers guidance to pupils, with teaching staff planning and delivering programmes of careers education.

But one thing is clear: carrying on as things are today is not an option.

(Published in Education Investor- March 2014 Edition)



It was a reaction against one size fits all teaching-placing the needs of individual learners at the heart of the system

But dropped off the agenda

Does it still have utility?


The term personalised learning was probably coined in a September 2004 speech in Britain by  David Miliband, then minister of state for schools, who pronounced that “Personalised learning demands that every aspect of teaching and support is designed around a pupil’s needs” (Hargreaves 2004). This speech was driven by the then Labour government’s desire to reorganize the way services were delivered, to make them more efficient, and responsive to ‘customers’ needs,  given a concern that public institutions and government were lacking legitimacy,  in the public’s eyes.

Over time, the government’s reorganization entailed moving from the universal provision of services, by government, toward a more personalised approach that was hinged on each citizen’s actions- in short, more bottom up than top down.  Thus, in the UK, personalised learning has been bound up in a larger framework for the personalization of all public services. In both the healthcare and education sectors, the appeal is to the consumer side of a citizenry, looking for a promise of choice, greater flexibility and efficiencies for the individual. People ,or rather citizens,   should be participants in the design, delivery and co-production of those public goods that they feel are of most worth to them. This was   clearly part of  thinking too that informed the  Big Society agenda. Of course, the benefit to  a financially strapped state is to encourage citizens to take on more personal responsibility for the public good. In this framing of personalised services for the citizenry, UK policy makers do not necessarily distinguish between children and adults.

Professor David Hargreaves had been instrumental in defining this idea in the education sector by establishing nine gateways to personalising learning. In David Hargreaves’ view, personalised learning represents a larger movement that needs to be put forward on several fronts to (re)shape teaching and learning. His nine gateways to personalising learning are assessment for learning; learning to learn; student voice; curriculum; new technologies; school design and organization; advice and guidance; mentoring and coaching; and workforce development (Hargreaves 2006).  The close association of personalized learning and new technologies was a central strand since the inception of the idea, and is part of the all-embracing creed of technocrats looking to enter system level educational reform. The arrival of web 2.0 technologies was supposed to allow for greater and more innovative uses for those new technologies in schools. But it only dawned slowly  on politicians that the use of ICT in schools has tended to fall  way below its potential to transform the learning environment and to foster innovation. Of note is that David Hargreaves was a former chair of the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, which was the UK government’s main partner in the strategic development and delivery of its information and communications technology (ICT) and e-learning strategy. BECTA, a quango, was   of course shut down by the Coalition government because it was seen as wasteful and bureaucratic, rather too close to big producers and, somewhat ironically, slow on the up-take ,in a fast changing environment.  In Hargreaves  vision of 21st-century schooling, pupils help make the curriculum, tell the school how to use information technology, set standards and learning objectives, assess their own and one another’s work, spend half or whole days on collaborative  team projects,  and sometimes work at home . Teachers in this new landscape are mentors or coaches who comment on students’ work rather than grading it constantly. ie (more formative assessment than summative). Subjects become “essential learnings”, such as communication, thinking or social responsibility; or “competencies”, such as managing information or relating to people. Schools become part of a network, working with other schools or colleges or even employers . The sum becomes greater than the individual parts.  It was a big vision, too big it seems for the government of the day. But it was also hampered by various vested interests hijacking the concept and putting their own self- serving spin on  the concept.

But’ Personalisation’  wont go away. To some it remains the key to tackling the persistent achievement gaps between different social and ethnic groups.  It means a tailored education for every child and young person, that gives them strength in the basics, stretches their aspirations, and builds their life chances -“It will create opportunity for every child, regardless of their background.” It means seamless working with the childs interests paramount.  Hargreaves ideas were certainly radical which goes some way to explaining why his vision of personalising education really hasn’t quite taken off. A Select Committee hearing into Personalised Learning in 2008, so about four years after its launch, found little substantive  progress  or indeed consensus on its meaning, and much confusion over what the term actually  looks like  in practice. Professor David Hargreaves bemused MPs when said he had struggled for the past four years to define it but had now concluded that it was “a total waste of time trying to find a definition” .He suggested it was more helpful to see it as a constant challenge rather than a particular state a school could ever say it had reached. He favoured the analogy with business, which had geared itself to meet a “customised” market, rather than a mass-production system. He then, reflecting his own frustration at how the term had been misused, hijacked  and misunderstood delivered a devastating blow to “personalised learning”, saying “I think it has outlived its usefulness”.  The Labour Government had, when it realised what the full vision was and what it might mean in practice, backed off and sought to water down that vision to something quite different –in short seeking the reshaping of teaching and learning through assessing the strengths of individuals and then addressing the specific needs and learning styles of each student applying differentiated teaching.  The mantra was increased  ‘flexibility’. The effective  use of ICT, though, which was very much part of Hargreaves vision seemed if not to drop off the agenda, to take a back seat.

Other countries though have too focused on ICT and personalisation. So what is happening abroad?

In  Canada –Alberta- the ministry of education’s 2010–2013 business plan addresses personalised learning  and articulates the intent to “support a flexible approach to enable learning any time, any place and at any pace, facilitated by increased access to learning technologies (Alberta Education 2010a, p. 70). In the plan, personalization is addressed in the same breath as technology, where one is the facilitator of the other. In many ways this is a natural reaction of a government looking to create/support public services in a more digitized society, where people are experiencing (or perceiving) greater choice, more voice and increased scope for self-organization throughout their (digital) lives. In the more recent recommendations from Inspiring Action on Education (2010b), Alberta Education’s vision for policy directions, legislative change and transformational shifts for education in the province, personalized learning is not equated solely with emerging technologies, but positioned as extending students’ learning experiences into community. “Personalized learning means that … students have access to a greater variety of learning experiences that include and extend beyond traditional education settings and benefit from increased community involvement in their learning” (Alberta Education 2010b, p. 14).

In the United States the idea of personalisation is focused  mainly, it seems, on utilising  technology. The Charter schools movement is taking a lead on using ICT to personalise learning . A recent CFBT Education Trust report-Making the most of Free school Freedoms’ looked interalia at innovation taking shape in New York Charter schools. The report says that ‘The ‘School of One’ uses  sophisticated technology and algorithms to find the best matches between students,  teachers and resources, and thereby generates a unique timetable for each student every  day. This provides a new level of personalisation for students and ensures they never move on from a concept until they have demonstrated mastery.’ The report continues ‘Technological innovation in a number of US charter schools in particular, is taking the form of what are known as blended or hybrid models of learning wherein computer and face-to face learning take place more and more in parallel’.  It mentions the Rocketship Education which is one such small but growing network of charter schools which is having resounding success serving an overwhelmingly low-income immigrant community in San Jose. Rocketship is at the cutting edge of school reform thanks to its vision for how technology will integrate with, and change, the structure of the school.’

The exciting thing about Academies and Free schools, the independent schools being created as part of the UK education reforms, is that with their new freedoms they have the potential to seek to reshape the learning environment and to innovate around personalising education revisiting and redefining the whole concept. They could act as incubators for innovative ideas and practice, which could help drive system wide reforms.  Personalised learning is not a pedagogic theory nor a coherent set of teaching approaches, but an idea that is struggling for an identity.  But it is a reaction against the ‘ one size fits all model’ and accepts the importance, identity and needs of individual learners, and that they learn in different ways and at different paces and respond differently to their learning environment.  To be effective personalised learning also requires a joined up collaborative approach, at least according to Hargreaves model. No silos here, its all about joined up thinking and delivery. Collaborative working, of course ,is supposed to be at the heart of our self-improving school system.    The fact is all good schools will seek to personalise learning  for their pupils but some will have a clearer idea of what it in means in practice, than others .One thing it doesn’t mean, by the way, is simply giving each pupil an Apple Mac.Or accepting too readily  all the claims made by computer salesman on the effects that technology has on individuals  learning.

But perhaps we should revisit the concept and , here is a radical idea,put the individual learner at the heart of system.

Alberta Education. 2010a. Education Business Plan 2010–13. Edmonton, AB:

Government of Alberta. Retrieved August 12, 2010, at

Inspiring Action on Education. Edmonton, AB: Government of Alberta. Retrieved August 12, 2010, at

School of One

Rocketship Education



Time to move away from the Factory model of schooling, says Professor Mehta


Jal Mehta, an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is the author of the book “The Allure of Order: High Hopes, Dashed Expectations, and the Troubled Quest to Remake American Schooling.”

He makes the familiar claims  in his book that the way schools are organized, and what happens in classrooms, hasn’t changed much in the century since the ‘Progressive Era’. His proposition is that the US still has the same teachers, in the same roles, with the same level of knowledge, in the same schools, with the same materials, and much the same level of parental support.(Professor Ken Robinson has said much the same thing, as has Anthony Seldon here)

He writes in the New York Times ‘Call it the industrial-factory model: power resides at the top, with state and district officials setting goals, providing money and holding teachers accountable for realizing predetermined ends. While rational on its face, in practice this system does not work well because teaching is a complex activity that is hard to direct and improve from afar. The factory model is appropriate to simple work that is easy to standardize; it is ill suited to disciplines like teaching that require considerable skill and discretion.’

This echos concerns, shared by other educators, that the teaching profession, rather than improving its status, is being de-professionalised. Unions have little influence in shaping policy and have failed to raise the status of the profession.

Mehta  continues ‘Teaching requires a professional model, like we have in medicine, law, engineering, accounting, architecture and many other fields. In these professions, consistency of quality is created less by holding individual practitioners accountable and more by building a body of knowledge, carefully training people in that knowledge, requiring them to show expertise before they become licensed, and then using their professions’ standards to guide their work.’ Some of these arguments are being used by those in the UK who advocate a new professional body for teachers (Royal College of Teaching etc).

By these criteria, his conclusion is   that American education is a failed profession. There is no widely agreed-upon knowledge base, training is brief or non-existent, the criteria for passing licensing exams are much lower than in other fields, and there is little continuous professional guidance (and development). It is not surprising, then, that researchers find wide variation in teaching skills across classrooms; in the absence of a system devoted to developing consistent expertise, we have teachers essentially winging it as they go along, with predictably uneven results.

The top systems recruit the top graduates (Investing in Human capital -see Professor Hargreaves and Fullan on this)). Training in these countries is more rigorous, more tied to classroom practice and more often financed by the government than elsewhere.

In America, both major teachers’ unions and the organization representing state education officials have, in the past year, called for raising the bar for entering teachers; one of the unions, the American Federation of Teachers, advocates a “bar exam.” Ideally the exam should not be a one-time paper-and-pencil test, like legal bar exams, but a phased set of milestones to be attained over the first few years of teaching. Akin to medical boards, they would require prospective teachers to demonstrate subject and pedagogical knowledge — as well as actual teaching skill.

He continues ‘Tenure would require demonstrated knowledge and skill, as at a university or a law firm. A rigorous board exam for teachers could significantly elevate the quality of candidates, raise and make more consistent teacher skill level, improve student outcomes, and strengthen the public’s regard for teachers and teaching.

We let doctors operate, pilots fly, and engineers build because their fields have developed effective ways of certifying that they can do these things. Teaching, on the whole, lacks this specialized knowledge base; teachers teach based mostly on what they have picked up from experience and from their colleagues.’

The ‘Allure of Order’, explores the power of ideas  in shaping politics. When a new paradigm arises “Newspapers, legislative debates, and other forums where issues are debated and decided take up issues different from those they did before. Existing actors’ identities are reshaped as the new problem definition changes the way people think about an issue. … New actors and groups are also created.”

But, unlike a number of current narratives on the problems of education, Mehta goes further by offering guidance for the route to universal good schools. He discusses four elements needed for a successful school system:

 practice-relevant knowledge,

 strong human capital, (Hargreaves and Fullan etc )

 school-level processes of improvement, and

 external support and accountability.

He ends by looking for new institutions to try new approaches and old institutions to reform themselves: “We can only hope that they have learned from the lessons of the past and seek not to control but to empower, creating the infrastructure upon which talented practitioner can create the good schools of the future.”

The changes needed to professionalize American education won’t be easy, he admits. They will require money, political will and the audacity to imagine that teaching could be a profession on a par with fields like law and medicine. But failure to change will be more costly — we could look up in another 30 years and find ourselves, once again, no better off than we are today. Several of today’s top performers, like South Korea, Finland and Singapore, moved to the top of the charts in one generation. Real change in America is possible, but only, he says, if they stop tinkering at the margins.

Its interesting how many of the perceptions about what needs to change in the United States are shared by educators here in the UK when championing the need  for reform. There is a consensus building here that a new professional body is required to elevate the status of the profession, independent of  both unions and government.;jsessionid=985C8A681F1ABEA4DBBE353E3C9D56FB?cc=gb&lang=en&



Probably not –certainly evidence is at best mixed


After the financial crisis, regulators sought to limit cash bonuses based on short-term performance and move the industry towards long-term incentives. However, this is seen by some as playing into the hands of those who wish to sustain high pay.

For one thing, the resulting calculations become so complex that external observers are intimidated into silence. The figures are extremely difficult to fathom, let alone criticise.

It is also the case that there is an incestuous relationship between remuneration committees and those whose pay they decide.  A company’s remuneration committee typically comprises non-executive directors, with executive roles elsewhere, typically advised by ‘independent’ pay consultants on the going rate in the market (which rarely  seems to have a clear link to shareholder value and long term profitability). The smallish executive pool and the criss- cross of relationships within it mean that the there is significant potential for conflicts of interests and a certain amount of backscratching for mutual benefit is the order of the day.  The net result is that though a company may be doing badly, losing market share, with reduced profits, stagnant or plummeting share prices and eroding shareholder value, the remuneration of executives and their bonuses are often barely affected . Indeed, even if executives  are sacked for poor performance , their severance packages often mean that they receive a handsome cash pay off, generous pensions and a basket of shares whose value  they can realise at the time or in the near future. If you doubt this take a long hard look at what happened to those senior executives who individually and collectively contrived over the last few years to   destroy the once stellar reputation of Scottish banking and its financial services industry. (RBS/HBOS etc). Look also at Tony Hayward of BP who, despite BPs recent  loss of reputation and massive  on-going  pay-outs in  damages received  his own  ‘compensation’ of £1.045m as ‘compensation for loss of office’.

It is extraordinary, in this context, that there is relatively little evidence on bonuses and their effect on motivation and performance.  And the stark truth is that what  evidence there is  is decidedly mixed. A bonus culture has leached into the public sector yet ministers never bother to show us the evidence  bonuses actually  work, in raising civil servants performance and departmental productivity. Mainly, because here and globally, little such  evidence exists.  You would have thought given these austere times that some thought has gone into this issue . It hasnt.

It is often the case  that bonuses  do little or nothing to raise performance and indeed  in the private sector can incentivise the kind of behaviour that exposes companies and institutions to increased risks harming longer term outcomes.  Nonetheless it  is an arresting fact that basic salary now often accounts for just 20% of a FTSE boss’s overall remuneration with bonuses and ‘discretionary ‘payments justified on grounds that talented executives deserve additional rewards for ‘going beyond the day job’ to transform a company’s performance.

In 2003 the Harvard academics Nancy Katz and Michael Beer asked more than 200 senior executives in more than 30 countries about their bonus intentions — only to discover that the vast majority of those executives thought that bonuses had little or no effect on how their employees or businesses performed. Boris Groysberg, an associate professor in the organisational behaviour unit at Harvard Business School, published  Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance  on the issue a  few years ago.    “Exceptional performance is far less portable than is widely believed,” he said. “We found that mobile stars [bankers who leave one company for another] experienced an immediate degradation in performance that persisted for at least five years. Thus their exceptional performance at their prior employer appears to have been more firm-specific than is generally appreciated. Financial compensation is a lever [in motivating success] but it is not the only lever and it is the most overused lever. Banks behave as if stars deserve and should appropriate all the value they generate, but stars without the companies they work for might not be stars.”. There is also the other tricky issue. In the financial crisis bankers were given hefty bonuses for ‘their performance’ which involved reckless risk taking the results of which only became apparent much further down the line well after they had received their bonus. Indeed,  the bonus culture incentivised risk taking for paper gains, gains that proved  in the end illusory and  with at times catastrophic results  for the institutions concerned. And, of course, for   the financial and economic system as a whole. Economist Andrew Smithers says that a corporate bonus culture in which pay outs are typically triggered by short term profitability targets ,risks driving a country into economic decline because the focus is always on cost cutting . He noted that in the last three years in the USA is the only period ever recorded in which a fall in output has been matched by record profitability.

One of the most influential management studies on motivation ever carried out was by the psychologist Frederick Herzberg. He investigated motivation at work concluding that although pay and conditions could cause dissatisfaction, the reverse was not true: they didn’t generate satisfaction, which came from factors intrinsic to the job itself (challenging work, recognition, responsibility). People consistently overestimate the importance of money as a motivator particularly for other people. Indeed his conclusion was that money is more likely to be a dissatisfier than a satisfier.

Research by Nottingham School of Economics suggests bonuses don’t even improve a worker’s productivity. Experts in behavioural economics carried out a series of experiments to examine the effect that  bonuses and fines  have on performance. The idea was to mirror not just a workplace scenario but other real-life situations such as tax inspections and even speed-limit compliance. Study co-author Dr. Daniele Nosenzo said: “There are many situations where authorities have preferences over individuals’ choices. “Regulators want factories to observe rules, police want motorists to observe speed-limits, and employers want employees to work hard. Exactly how authorities induce compliance when individuals have incentives to deviate from the desired behaviour is a fundamental problem. To study this we set up a novel experiment – the first of its kind, as far as we’re aware – to compare positive and negative influences.”

The study, involving more than 100 volunteers, was carried out at the School’s Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics. Subjects were assigned the roles of employers or workers and randomly paired over a number of rounds of an “inspection game”. Volunteers were randomly paired as workers and managers during a series of tests. The worker could choose whether to put in “high effort” and the manager decided whether or not to inspect the employee. Sometimes the pair received bonuses, sometimes fines. “We found paying bonuses didn’t encourage more effort,” says Dr Nosenzo. “Employers tended to make fewer inspections when they knew they would have to pay a bonus for high effort.”The workers shirked slightly more often when bonuses were present. On the other hand, introducing harsher fines encouraged working. So it’s fines, not bonuses, that enhance efficiency.” In short paying bonuses didn’t encourage more effort.

“Employers tended to reduce the frequency of their inspections when they knew they would have to pay a bonus for high effort. This has a negative impact on encouraging working, which offsets any positive effect of bonuses. In fact, our subjects shirked slightly more often when bonuses were present.

“On the other hand, introducing harsher fines encouraged working. Shirking almost halved relative to a scenario without bonuses or fines. So it’s fines, not bonuses, that enhance efficiency.”

Evidence exists, though, that if you are making widgets and get a bonus for increasing the number of widgets you deliver in a day then the  carrot  of extra money can help improve productivity. But in many other areas this simple cause and effect formula  just doesn’t seem to work.

If you think that bonuses work, then you will have to wrestle with a few practicalities.    And the main practical challenge is how effectively to disaggregate one individuals performance from those around him/her. This is hugely problematic. Success, it can be argued, is more often down to teamwork than individuals working alone.  No man is an island-and each relies on colleagues for advice and practical support while tapping into others experience, ideas, inspiration, support  and leadership  throughout each  working day.

When it comes to education and in particular teaching, measurement of performance and awarding bonuses or ‘merit’ pay comes down to looking at test results and teacher observation. We know from research that teacher observation is an unreliable and blunt tool. Tests are also problematic. A pupils performance in a particular test depends on a number of variables only some of which have anything to do with the teacher. (see below) In addition those teachers who help support, inspire and motivate pupils but whose ‘subjects’ or area of expertise are not tested (though they are responsible too  for educating the child) will lose out.  Just how much of a pupils success can in practice fairly be laid at the door of a single teacher? And aren’t teachers supposed to collaborate within schools and between schools to improve pupil performance? Logically, doesn’t this amount to an explicit acknowledgement that pupil outcomes are influenced possibly as much by peers as the individual teacher concerned.

In short, the assumptions that student learning is measured well by a given test, is influenced by the teacher alone, and is independent from the influence and  growth of classmates and other aspects of the classroom context are not well supported by current evidence.

There is scant evidence that bonuses work in the city, in the broader economy or in public services where they are increasingly in evidence .It is extraordinary that the quality of debate on this issue has been so poor, particularly at a time of austerity and when we are supposed to be getting more from less. Meanwhile the bonus culture expands.

So, the issue of performance bonuses matters in education, as much as it does elsewhere.


Research reveals that gains in student achievement are influenced by a lot more than any individual teacher. Others factors include, for example:

• School factors such as class sizes, curriculum materials, instructional time, availability of specialists and tutors, and resources for learning (books, computers, science labs, and more);

• Home (parental support)and community supports or challenges;

• Individual student needs and abilities, health, and attendance;

• Peer culture and achievement;

• Prior teachers and schooling, as well as other current teachers;

• Differential summer learning loss, which especially affects low-income children; and

• The specific tests used, which emphasize some kinds of learning and not others and which rarely measure achievement that is well above or below grade level.

Note also that the controversial value-added models (little consensus here) used in the USA where merit pay  is a big issue  don’t actually measure most of these factors.


Selection in state schools remains controversial but grammar school are secure

Little prospect though of   any new grammar schools


Grammar schools are defined under section 104 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 as maintained (community, foundation, voluntary aided and voluntary controlled) schools which select all, or substantially all, of their pupils by reference to high academic ability.

They select their pupils by examination of their high academic ability, usually through the  11 plus examination.

The number of grammar schools had peaked at 1,298 in 1964. The proportion of secondary school pupils in grammars was highest in 1947 at just under 38%. The absolute number of pupils in state grammar schools peaked at 726,000 in 1964.  Their number went from 1,298 in 1964 to 675 in 1974 and 261 in 1979. The fastest period of decline was the 1970s. Between 1971 and 1978 650 grammar schools closed, an average of more than 90 per year.  The last grammar school in Wales closed in 1988.   However, there was a modest increase in the number of grammar schools in England in the early/mid 1990s. Their number remained at 164 up to 2012 with roughly 5% of secondary pupils in the maintained sector in grammar schools.

Under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 no new maintained grammar school can be opened and existing schools cannot introduce new selection by ability. Section 39 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 re-states section 99 of the 1998 Act. This prohibits any new selection by ability, other than for banding or for sixth forms. So, current legislation does not allow for a new grammar school to be established. But the Secretary of State is allowed to designate a new grammar school where it is established to replace existing grammar school provision.  And, any grammar school can seek to expand by opening another site .

The Education and Inspections Act 2006 and the Academies Act 2010 effectively mean that there can be no ‘new’ grammar schools (ie in addition to the 164 grammar school already operating).   However, as illustrated by the so called Sevenoaks   model, it is also the case that any school can seek to expand by opening another site. This has been allowed since the 1944 Education Act.  But to do so it must be a continuance of the original school.  In 2012, some councils attempted to use loopholes in the schools admissions code to expand the number of grammar places – building “annexes” of existing schools in new towns several miles away.  Hence, the compromise endorsed by councillors in Sevenoaks in 2012.  The promised extra provision in Sevenoaks will not be in a ‘new’ grammar school, but in two “satellites”, each with 60 places, run by existing grammars in other towns.

The first new state-funded selective school for many years opened at the start of 2012/13 –the Tauheedul Islam Boys’ High School -Blackburn and Darwen)- Which is a Free School catering for 11-18 year olds.

Seven Local Education Authorities (LEAs) Trafford, Buckinghamshire, Slough, Torbay, Southend, Kent and Medway- out of the 151 with secondary schools, have a fully selective system (grammar and secondary modern schools). A further 29 have partially selective secondary systems (grammars/secondary moderns alongside comprehensives).

Grammar schools remain though controversial. They are a totemic issue for the left in politics who eschew any form of selection in the education system and want a fully comprehensive  system, believing that selection diminishes individuals, casting the majority as failures at an early age (11), and  leads to social segregation. The Right see them as a ladder for bright disadvantaged pupils to improve their life opportunities and point to the fact that less working class children accessed the best universities   as the number of grammar school places  declined. If anything social mobility has been in decline over the last generation, mainly because of this.

In 2008 the (then) Department for Children Schools and Families looked at the intake of grammar schools in comparison to that of their local area. This found that free school meal rates in grammars were not representative of their local areas. They were around one-fifth of the level in their local area in 2007. In addition they also had fewer pupils from the low attaining ethnic groups –Black African, Black Caribbean, Bangladeshi and Pakistani- than their local area. The gap varied somewhat by ethnic group, but was typically around half the rate in their local area in 2007. This study also looked at the level of deprivation affecting children in the areas that different types of schools took their pupils from. In grammar schools in 2007 the proportion of pupils from the least deprived quartile was just over 40%, compared to around 25% in their local area. (Faith schools, research suggests, also tend to fall below the local authority average for pupils on Free school meals, and tend to perform better than peer schools).  Research for the Sutton Trust in 2008 looked at the ‘social selectivity’ of secondary schools and found that grammars were more socially selective than other schools and that they made up 17 of the top 100 most socially selective secondary schools, but 5% of all secondaries. This general finding should be little surprise given the lower attainment of pupils eligible for free school meals at the end of primary school.

Andrew Neil, the former editor of the Sunday Times, now a commentator  in the broadcast media,   made a documentary about  two years ago on grammar schools .In it  he argued  that the grammar schools provided bright working-class and lower-middle class  children with a route to educational and career success.  Far from being elitist and unfair institutions, they were actually effective engines of social mobility, he argued.  One of the most striking pieces of evidence for Neil’s thesis is the social background of UK Prime Ministers.  Between the Eton-educated Alec Douglas-Home and the Fettes-educated Tony Blair, five successive UK Prime Ministers were from modest backgrounds and four were educated at grammar schools.   Chris Cook of the FT who recently researched grammar schools results says ‘there is an idea out there in the ether that grammar schools are better for propelling poor children to the very top of the tree.’  But, that is not true he claims.   ‘Poor children are less likely to score very highly at GCSE in grammar areas than the rest.’ (FT 28 Jan 2013)

To recap – A single (grammar) school can operate from more than one site, but to do so ‘any other site must be a continuance of the original school.’ But new wholly selective state schools are not permitted under existing legislation.   It would be rash, though, to assume that all grammar schools wish to expand.  And indeed of those who rather like the idea of scaling up   not all will have the space or the capital to do so. We are not going to see an expansion of grammar schools any time soon although arguments over selection in the state system and the future of grammar schools will  doubtless continue.


Company part of a joint venture mutual ,offering school support services


Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society at the Cabinet Office was at the launch of the first ever joint venture mutual, 3BM ,in April. It provides a range of critical school support services. The business is made up of staff from three London boroughs; Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster. They are delivering services such as financial management, IT and building development to schools allowing them to focus on education.

3BM is the first ever mutual joint venture to spin out of local government. The business is owned by a partnership between the employees and the the education employment company, Prospects. The employees own 75.1% of the business, giving them a controlling stake. Prospects has a 24.9% share and brings capital and business expertise needed to make the business grow. As a result of 3BM spinning out, the local councils could see £1 million in savings over the next four years. The mutualisation project has been supported by the Cabinet Office which had previously designated Hammersmith and Fulham  Council as a national Pathfinder in 2010 to explore new ways of delivering public services more efficiently. Prospects is an  employee- owned  private company,   and was chosen in an innovative “dragons den” process but with the partner’s shareholding capped at no more than 25% in return for their input and support. All mutual staff will own shares, with Prospects, as stated, owning up to 24.9% of the company,  but subject to them meeting key performance targets to the satisfaction of the mutual.

Ministers have talked in glowing terms about the John Lewis model in business. All 84,700 permanent staff of John Lewis  are Partners who own the  39 John Lewis shops across the UK and the 291 Waitrose supermarkets  , an on-line catalogue business a production unit and a farm.  Policy Exchange, the Prime Ministers favourite think tank, published a report recently ‘ Social Enterprise Schools’ championing the John Lewis model in education.  The report said Private companies should be encouraged to take over and run state schools as profit making enterprises under a “John Lewis-style” business model. It argued the new schools, in which teachers and staff are encouraged to become shareholders, would create strong incentives to drive up standards. Under the proposals, half of any profits made by the schools would be distributed as a dividend to its partners on an annual basis, while the remaining half would be reinvested.

There are quite a few ‘ co-operative schools’  operating in England. The Co-operative College, a Manchester-based organisation, is helping to support and promote the ground-up, democratically driven growth of Co-operative trust schools. The Co-operative College has over recent years worked with the Co-operative Party and schools to develop a distinct co-operative trust model that enables schools to embed co-operative values into the long term ethos of the school.  These schools  are part of the Co-operative movement, with a history dating back to the 19th century. Despite some legal challenges, in just five years, co-operative schools have become the third largest grouping within the English education system, with currently over 450 operating. 30 have become co-operative converter academies, a small number are co-operative sponsor academies and we have seen the creation of the first co-operative multi-academy trust.

Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude, has launched a programme to introduce employee mutuals into public services and has endorsed the aim of a million public sector workers – around 15% of the total – transferring to staff-led mutuals by 2015.

Patrick Burns, Director of Mutuals Development for Prospects says that the reason for this Ministerial enthusiasm is the increasing evidence that employee ownership can help organizations perform better than conventional counterparts in the private and public sector; as well as the  micro and macro benefits to the wider economy. Prospects had elected to make the transition from conventional ownership to employee ownership. It is a former spin-out from the public sector – formed  from the careers services of four London boroughs in 1996 – which now offers advice and support to  authorities and staff groups interested in forming employee-led mutuals [ELMs] alongside its extensive  other work  in education, training and employment. Prospects services include careers services for adults and young people; the Government’s  Work Programme initiative to help long term unemployed people back to work; the largest Ofsted Early Years Inspection Services  contract in the country; advice and guidance for offenders; and an extensive range of education consultancy and school improvement services.

Patrick Burns was until December 2011 Chief Executive of the Employee Ownership Association. He written a paper about employee ownership  (see below) in the private and public sector of the British economy, and how Government can help it spread.

Knowingly Undersold- How Government can spread the John Lewis effect-Prospects Policy Paper-Patrick Burns




Private operator, EdisonLearning, has secured a major contract with The National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) to help improve student achievement in schools across the country as part of the NAHTs Aspire School Improvement Project. The project was briefly referenced in Michael Goves 25 April speech.

Working closely with the Department for Education and the Strategic Programme Board at the NAHT, EdisonLearning has been working with   30 primary schools, organized into three clusters of schools across three geographical areas in the UK.

Schools involved in the project in the western region are located around Bristol and Reading, in the southern region around West Sussex and Kent and in the northern region around Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield. The schools are very different in their size, diversity and urban and rural locations. To illustrate this, one school in a rural location near Bristol has less than 100 students and a large urban school in Sheffield has more than 500 students.

The NAHTs President, Steve Iredale flagged this  idea up in  a speech in 2012,   when he said that NAHT  “is taking the radical step of looking at the possibility of offering a school improvement service to support schools which find themselves in challenging circumstances.

“It’s a big challenge, but it’s something we’re interested in exploring. We can see massive benefit but there’s a long way to go. Trade unions tend to operate as trade unions and offering that level of support is a form of CPD linked to improving teaching and learning. There’s a massive challenge in there as well. There’s no question of schools escaping: there would be the same challenges from us. School improvement would be the driving force as opposed to the current Ofsted regime.”

At the launch  of Aspire, on 1 May, the NAHT said the project aims  to fill the gap between higher expectations and declining levels of support, offering schools access to advice, resources and support as they continue to improve the outcomes they provide for their pupils.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, who has experience in senior management in the private sector, said: “Every school wants to be good but many lack the support and networks to achieve their vision. The Aspire project is designed to fill the gap with a collaborative, sustainable model of school improvement. Schools joining the project will work in small clusters to help and inspire each other, assisted by NAHT officials, their local authority and external project management.

“What is dramatic about this is who is doing it. NAHT is a trade union dedicated to the protection and representation of our members. But we know that our members want to do the best for their pupils – that is part of their ‘reward’. The NAHT Aspire project shows that no-one is more ambitious for the young people of our country than those who work in our schools. The profession holds the answers and has the resources; it is trust, collaboration and inspiration that will trigger the innovation we need.


“This phase, now going public, is a pilot project to prove the concept can work. Ultimately, we plan to expand the reach of NAHT Aspire more broadly. The scale is already significant however: if this was an academy chain, it would be the seventh largest in the country.

The Edisonlearning team has already begun the initial Collaborative Quality Analysis process with many of the schools.

The project has been part funded for three years by the Department for Education .It will be independently evaluated by the Open University.

Michael Gove, Education Secretary, said: “I am pleased to commit my department’s support for it. I wish the project and those schools taking part in it every success as they seek to raise their performance to ‘good’ or better. I will be following this initiative with particular interest over the next two years.”


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.



Not against academies but they are not a silver bullet for improvement

Current government  policy he claims  eschews vital ingredient ‘collaboration’


The Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg, in  his speech to the ASCL, last weekend, claimed that this governments academies policy resulted in a two tier system and  was  not encouraging system wide reform. He said “I believe Michael Gove has learnt the wrong lesson from New Labour’s school reforms. He thinks that academies are about recreating the grammar school model. A group of high flying schools which are given additional funding and support, but no plan to raise the quality of education across the whole school system.  An increasingly fragmented schools landscape, while what we need is better collaboration between schools to raise standards.  Labour’s original academies programme was about how you realise the comprehensive ideal  – mixed ability education with rigorous standards.  We focussed on driving up standards in some of the most challenging schools in some of the least well off neighbourhoods.”

He talked of an Arc of Underachievement which holds back the life chances of too many children across the country with too much inconsistency. He said “ Michael Gove thinks that the answer to this underperformance is to create free schools and  academies.  But if this was the case – why is the worst performing school in England, an academy. Why  is that of the Free Schools who have had Ofsted inspections – all of the secondary schools – admittedly only three – have been inspected, have been giving a “requires improvement”  rating, despite having wealthy intakes and not one of the schools is rated as outstanding?”

Twigg reiterated that he was  not against academies, but nor does he think they are a ‘ silver bullet’ for  school improvement.

He is proud of Labours academy record. He said, referring to the recent report of the Academies Commission: “The Commission is absolutely clear about the impact of Labour’s academies programme.  While I know that some people would like Labour to condemn academies – I will not. They helped raise standards amongst some of the poorest children in Britain. We should be rightly proud, and celebrate the teachers and heads that delivered.  As the Commission notes, “these early academies revitalised the system, including initiating a shift in culture…[they] showed just how much could be achieved with high aspirations,  determination that young people would achieve well, and a rigorous and consistent approach  to school improvement.”

Crucially though , Twigg believes that the current system is atomised and missing a  vital ingredient for system improvement -collaboration. He said “The problem is at the heart of Michael Gove’s approach. A free market ideology fails to understand that collaboration is critical to school improvement.  Andreas Schleicher, who leads the OECD’s work on education has said that “professional autonomy needs to go hand in hand with a collaborative culture, with autonomous schools working in partnership to improve teaching and learning.” He points to schools in Scandinavia, Japan and Shanghai which have embedded a culture of teamwork and cooperation.  However, nearly two thirds of academies are ‘singletons’ – not part of a school improvement partnership. These represent the bulk of academies set up since 2010. An increasingly fragmented, atomised system where schools are not encouraged to  collaborate.”

Twigg concluded: “Michael Gove missed a golden opportunity with the converter academy programme. He promised to promote collaboration in the Schools White Paper in 2010. He could have made it a requirement of a school becoming an academy that they support a weaker school, but he failed.”

The Secretary of State, Michael Gove , says that  rigorous research from the OECD and others has shown that more autonomy for individual schools helps raise standards.  He points to the fact that two  of the most successful countries in PISA – Hong Kong and Singapore - are amongst those with the highest levels of school competition (Finland,  though, another high flier  eschews competition). He wants both competition and collaboration. In a speech to the the Schools Network in December 2011 he said “Overall, our vision for the future is of a self-improving network of schools, innovating and engaging, competing and collaborating, teaching and training, for the benefit of all our children.”


The Academies Act 2010 granted academy trusts exempt charity status, making them exempt from registration with and primary regulation by the Charity Commission, from 1 August 2011.  The definition of an exempt charity is one that is  ‘ not regulated by and cannot register with, the Charity Commission.’  So, they have this status because they are regulated by some other body. The Secretary of State for Education is now the principal regulator of academies and oversees their compliance with both charity and education law. But the education secretary has handed over the role of funding distribution and compliance for academies to the Education Funding Agency, which is an executive agency of the DFE.  The Academy Trust signs an agreement (The Funding Agreement)  with the Secretary of State , and so is accountable to the Secretary of State, not the local authority.Indeed independence from local authority control and bureaucracy has been  regarded as one of the attractions of academy status.

But what happens if an academy, autonomous from the LA,  is under performing or failing? This is an area where local authorities in the past have played an  important role, (some, of course,  more effectual  than others), in spotting early  potential problems.

Elizabeth Truss MP, the junior education minister, made it clear recently in a Commons question that  ‘ it is not the role of local authorities (LAs) to intervene in underperforming academies. Academies are autonomous from LAs and their performance is a matter for the Department through the Office of the Schools Commissioner. If a local authority (LA) has concerns about an individual academy, we expect the LA to raise these concerns with the Academy Trust in first instance. If the LA feels that the Academy Trust is failing to take sufficient action concerns can be raised with Ofsted or the Secretary of State.’

Two  questions then arise-if LAs no longer have the powers or budget to oversee academies, how are they, within an autonomous school system , supposed to spot potential problems with schools? And who, apart from Ofsted, is there to fill this  accountability gap?

The difficulty in giving a straight answer to both these questions explains why the debate continues on whether or not some form of  intermediate tier is required between the SOS and schools, as part of the ‘intelligent’ accountability framework.


Sir Michael  Wilshaw , the Chief Inspector,told the Education Select Committee  on 13 February that local authorities should be able to “identify under performance  in academies “They have a powerful part to play in local authority schools, those schools they control, and those outside their direct control,” Sir Michael said.“They identify under-performance in academies. They should be writing to the chair of governors and the sponsor of that academy and contacting the academy division at the department.”He also said that he wanted Ofsted to inspect academy chains and is in talks with the Secretary of State on this issue.