Category Archives: politicians and education

ALL PARTY PARLIAMENTARY SOCIAL MOBILITY GROUP-SEVEN TRUTHS ABOUT, AND POLICY RESPONSES TO SUPPORT, SOCIAL MOBILITY

 Parliamentarians report publishes a guide to help policymakers support social mobility

Comment

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

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

The Seven Truths and the Policy responses according required:

Truth

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

0 and 3, primarily in the home

Policy Challenge

A massive premium on ‘parenting’ skills

Truth

2. You can also break the cycle through education…

Policy Challenge

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

Truth

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

Policy Challenge

Focus first on quality of teachers & teaching

Truth

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

Policy Challenge

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

Truth

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

Policy Challenge

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

Truth

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

Policy Challenge

Find the exemplar programmes, analyse and demonstrate impact

Truth

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

Policy Challenge

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

Link to All Party Group Report

TWIGG, DEVOLUTION AND SCHOOLS

 

TWIGG, DEVOLUTION AND SCHOOLS

Consultation- part of Labours policy review-how to ensure accountability, while promoting autonomy of schools

Comment

As part of Labour’s Policy Review, Stephen Twigg MP, the Shadow Education Secretary, has launched a consultation to ask how Labour might devolve more power from central government, as a means for improving education standards.  Twigg believes that the current Government has overseen a huge programme of centralisation in our school system. He says that it is neither desirable, nor practical for so many schools to be directly accountable to no one, but Central Government.

The consultation document sets out the rationale behind the process and calls for ideas for devolving more power locally.  It states ‘This consultation aims to examine how we can reform our education system to ensure both the freedom to innovate and manage schools to drive up attainment and success- for all children- and necessary local accountability. That means involving parents, communities, and local government in ensuring that schools play a positive role in local areas, delivering high standards and innovation. Labour will be consulting on the best way to ensure local accountability in education, while promoting autonomy for schools.’

The outcomes of this work will ultimately be fed into the Education and Skills Policy Commission, which considers these areas of policy as part of Labour’s Partnership into Power policy development process

You can respond to this consultation by completing the downloadable form found at this link and e-mailing your response to stephen.twigg.mp@parliament.uk. Additionally you can post your form to School Devolution Consultation, Office of Stephen Twigg MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA

Devolving Power in Education: School Freedom and Accountability

Click here to download the consultation document

http://www.fresh-ideas.org.uk/devolving-power-in-education

INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS SUPPORT FOR STATE SCHOOLS-WHAT’S THE FUTURE?

Independent schools and support for state schools

The Government wants the independent sector to support Academies

But the mood music needs changing

Comment

A leading think tank hosted a lunch seminar this week on the developing relationship between independent schools and state schools against the backdrop of David Cameron’s  recent very public encouragement for independent schools to support state schools through the academies scheme . Indeed there was a Downing street meeting recently on this very issue. Lord Adonis the architect of the academies scheme has long championed greater support from the independent sector for the academies scheme and used  emotive language to get the point across-referencing the Berlin Wall, apartheid and so on. He even claims that independent schools have a moral obligation to offer such support. Adonis in a 2011 speech said ” Successful private schools ought to be prominent among the sponsors for the next  wave of academies. Everything about academies is in the DNA of the successful  private school: independence, excellence, innovation, social mission. And the benefit  is not only to the wider community, it is also to the private schools themselves,  whose mission is enlarged, whose relative isolation is ended, and whose social  engagement, beyond the families of the better-off, is transformed.”

Given that the seminar operated under Chatham house rules I cannot give the source of the following comments and observations but the seminar attracted some leading heads  from both independent schools and  state schools, including Academies  .

What is clear is that there are divisions in the independent sector over what, if anything, to do to support the state sector. Many schools already have extensive links with neighbouring state schools and around thirty independent schools provide some form of support for an Academy. What has caused resentment is the hectoring tone of politicians telling independent schools and the governors and trustees what to do. It is after all their decision as to how they will deliver public benefit. Support for Academies  is certainly one option but there are a range of others –bursaries, specialist teaching support, access to equipment and facilities, advice on  governance, curriculum advice and support , exam method, summer schools, pupil swaps, community support  etc.     The feeling was that the tone of the debate and perceived hostility from most political quarters towards the independent sector hardly establishes a context within which  a constructive debate can take place, rather it encourages a siege mentality (particularly given the additional antics of the Charity Commission.)   One point rammed home at the meeting was that one of the key reasons for the independent sectors success was its independence, and , specifically, independent governance. So called ‘ autonomous’ and ‘ free schools’ are not actually free in the same way as independent schools are   and are still subject to  significant bureaucratic restrictions , constraints and stipulations in their funding agreements.  However, it was also pointed out that governance was a key area where independent schools really might help  ‘autonomous ‘ state schools-ie how to use their autonomy effectively and what it could mean in practice  so harnessing  the aspirational ethos of the independent sector . There could also be more exchanges between governing boards, so independents have state school Heads on  their governing bodies and vice-versa.

But it was also clear that most independent schools are keen to have greater meaningful contact  with state schools and there can be demonstrable shared benefits  from such contacts. Every independent school that has an arrangement with an Academy agreed that this relationship brought mutual benefits. And state schools can offer expertise and know- how in particular areas-not least in adapting to big resource challenges, encouraging leadership at every level-adding value and getting the best out of challenging pupils and so on. Indeed, one independent Head said that much of the really innovative thinking going on was happening in the state sector, suggesting perhaps, some complacency in the independent sector

There seemed to be agreement that the real problem with our education system is not the fact that a relatively small percentage of pupils are educated privately but in the long tail of significant underachievers in the state sector, ie  the bottom 20-25% cohort. They are the big challenge and  a drag on the system and there seems to be an assumption that Academies are the answer to addressing this problem, although evidence is not yet clear on this.

It was also remarked that rather too much is expected of the independent sector based on wrong assumptions. It educates just 7% of the school population and most schools operate on tight margins, with small surpluses. Large endowments are limited to a few.  So the idea of supporting an academy just on practical grounds with limited resources  is daunting and hard to sell to fee paying parents.  There was a suggestion that those organisations responsible for representing the sector ISC,HMC etc  might  provide centralised support  to schools wanting to get involved with Academies but it is clear that thinking in this area is undeveloped and these organisations  have ,as yet, shown no indication that they would want to get involved. (joint approaches and action from these bodies is rare).

It was agreed ,though, that the aim for any academy engagement must be for it to be cash neutral. You cant ask hard pressed fee paying  parents to fork out additional money  to support engagement with the state sector, whatever its perceived merits. Raise funds separately so  that  the support operation is ring- fenced.  And ,of course, don’t rule out pro-bono support because, it was agreed, some of the simplest most straightforward advice can pay the biggest dividends in return.

My view is that most independent schools want to knock down perceived barriers between the sectors and agree that there are mutual benefits at stake but this is a view that is not always reciprocated in the state sector. Support for Academies is certainly one  mutually rewarding  route and maximises public benefit in a way that bursaries clearly don’t. (indeed by removing the brightest from a state school you can damage that school) But Academy engagement carries some risks, reputational and otherwise, and is by no means the only way that schools can fulfil their public benefit requirement. Academy engagement will suit some schools but not others. If the government seriously wants more independent schools involved it should help them  more in practical ways, for example by providing a matchmaking service,  rather than  hectoring them claiming that there is a moral imperative involved, which is entirely counter-productive and  just bad politics.

THE REASON FOR RIOTS IN ENGLAND 2011- IS GINI TO BLAME?

REASONS FOR RIOTS

Is Gini to blame?

Comment

The German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche -claimed that there was no such thing as an objective judgement ie one informed purely by empirical evidence and the application of  reason. Individuals (including philosophers)  unknowingly allow their own prejudices and cultural background to influence their judgement and one is reminded of this when reading the various explanations given for the recent riots in our major cities. These reasons include,  but are not limited to,  gang culture, black rap culture, immigration,  criminality, greed,  drugs, police tactics , stop and search, Police corruption, the Labour Government, the Coalition Government,(the Thatcher Government?) government cuts, tuition fees, August, poor education, youth unemployment, the NEET cohort,  economic deprivation,  poor parenting , broken homes, absent fathers, the judicial system, weak sentencing, the declining influence of religion and church leadership, the Gramacian Counter Culture  (don’t ask) , the concentration of wealth in the few, bankers excess  and so on. But maybe its  partly Ginis fault!

The Gini coefficient is a measure of statistical dispersion developed by the Italian statistician and sociologist Corrado Gini and published in his 1912 paper “Variability and Mutability” .This is the most commonly used measure of inequality. The coefficient varies between 0, which reflects complete equality and 1, which indicates complete inequality (one person has all the income or consumption, all others have none).

Using this method, the measure of overall income inequality in the United Kingdom now happens to be higher than at any previous time in the last thirty years.  The Gini Coefficient of the UK is the second highest in Europe (0.34 or so) and one of the worst in the industrialised world.  The overall message when it comes to the UK is simple: income inequalities have been increasing, both recently and over longer time periods.  These inequalities have been increasing at both ends of the spectrum.  In other words, the poorest have fallen further behind the average, and the richest have moved further ahead. Inner London is deeply divided: it has by far the highest proportion of people on a low income (29% in the poorest fifth) but also a high proportion of people on a high income (28% in the richest fifth). In South East England the figures are respectively 17% and 27%.In short the gap between rich and poor is increasing. Add to this volatile mix the perception that some of those with huge amounts of money haven’t been behaving very well, of late, and indeed appear to have caused, or at the very least, exacerbated our financial and economic problems, and it could explain at least one aspect of why communities are fracturing from the bottom up.

What is also interesting and should  presumably be put in the mix  is that ,despite the greater inequality in the USA, according to a Sutton Trust report,  almost 70% of the people surveyed there  believe they can do better in the future (class mobility), whereas in the UK less than 40% believe they will rise out of poverty.  We also know that social mobility has stalled in the UK and that the education system is not seen as a leveller.

None of this, of course, goes any way to remotely  excusing the malicious , nihilistic violence, looting and arson that we have witnessed over the last week. But maybe these are issues that  should be looked at as part of the overall  mix in the post mortem into the possible causes.

One other interesting footnote -David Willetts, the Higher Education Minister,  in his book the Pinch wrote ‘  Even in sober law-abiding Britain we saw the turmoil that resulted when the baby boomers were coming to adulthood. The two most violent riots in post-War London were the Grosvenor Square riots of 1968 and the Brixton and Broadwater Farm riots of 1985. They occurred around twenty years after each of the post-War baby boom peaks. (p129 of the paperback edition)’

Stuart Bonar points this out on his blog and adds ‘ Well, the third postwar peak in births (lower than the other two at 706,140, but still a peak with a trough either side) occurred in 1990. Yes, that’s right: 21 years ago this year.’

In the meantime, in the aftermath, our communities are making impressive strides in fighting back   and are trying to rebuild themselves and re-establish their  confidence, identities and mutual support networks.

http://www.poverty.org.uk/09/index.shtml

RIOTS AND REASONS -HARMAN BADLY OFF MESSAGE

Generally, in the wake of the dreadful rioting, looting and  arson of the last few days politicians of all parties have acted responsibly and not sought to score political points. Whatever the reasons and motivations of the rioters the responsibility and   fault   cannot  lie with  individual politicians or one administration .  But cue Harriet Harman MP,   whose command of Orwellian double speak    never fails  to rise to  the challenge.  Seeking to score political points she said,  in an exchange with Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, that she was not justifying the violence looting and arson   but then   went ahead,  with bull headed determination,  and attempted to do precisely  that,  managing to face  in two different  directions, at the same time. She said:

“there is a sense that young people feel they are not being listened to. That is not to justify violence. But when you’ve got the trebling of tuition fees, they should think again about that. When you’ve got the EMA being taken away, when you’ve got jobs being cut and youth unemployment rising and they are shutting the job centre in Camberwell – well you should think again about that”.

So, we are to assume,  using Harman’s logic , that our  disaffected  youth have reached a tipping point    since, that is,  the  Coalition Government came to power . However if   you look  at  youth unemployment, NEET and Truancy  figures  under the last Government there has been only marginal change in the first year of this government . In any case you look at figures  over a number of years  to determine trends and evaluate policy effects and outcomes .  When Labour came into power in 1997, around half of 16- to 17-year-olds were working. Now it’s just 23.3%, the lowest since figures were collected.  This is self-evidently part of a longer term trend most of which   was played out under the last Labour government of which she was a member. It is deeply unfortunate that Harman chose this line of attack. Presumably she is  regretting it now.

David Goodhart of left leaning Prospect is probably the most insightful on the rioters possible self-justification

“The nihilistic grievance culture of the black inner city, fanned by parts of the hip-hop/rap scene and copied by many white people, has created a hardcore sub-culture of post-political disaffection. The disaffection is mainly unjustified. It’s as if the routine brutalities and racist humiliations of 30 to 40 years ago have been lovingly preserved to provide a motor of real anger for what is really just a kind of adolescent pose.”

Or Danny Kruger a former  Cameron  aide (in FT) has this take:

‘The intifada of the underclass, as someone called it on Monday night, bears a pathetic comparison with the uprisings elsewhere around the Arab world during this year. Young people in Egypt and Tunisia had something to lose from their protests – their lives – and something to gain – democracy and justice. Our young people have nothing to lose and nothing to gain, except thrills and new trainers. They are simply confirming, in the most disgraceful terms possible, their own disgrace’

PROFESSOR MICHAEL BARBER-IN DEMAND BUT DOES DELIVEROLOGY DELIVER?

MICHAEL BARBERS THEORIES ATTACKED

Deliverology little more than top down command and control damaging Education, according to Professor Seddon

Whats the case?

Comment

Professor Michael Barber seems to be everywhere and much in demand. The Daily Mail tells us that he is currently charging the DFID (who manage our aid to developing countries) £4,400 a day for consultancy advice.  (The  Department  has not had to   suffer  the 20% cuts inflicted on most other Departments , meaning DFID is  relatively flush).   Recently the head of McKinsey’s Global Education Practice, where he impressed, he  is  providing education advice to Pearson Education (amongst others it transpires).

Previously Barber had made his mark in the public sector. He is a former teacher, academic (Institute of Education),Civil servant, Trade union official, and local authority man (Hackney). Back in 1997, when David Blunkett became education secretary, Barber was appointed head of the School Standards Unit, and the two of them drove forward, with considerable determination the Literacy Strategy, targeted initially at Primary schools. This was regarded at the time as a success, certainly in the initial  phase.  He went on to head the Prime Ministers (Blair) Delivery Unit in 2001 with overall responsibility for driving through public sector reforms.

He is highly regarded in both the public and private sectors. Indeed, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary asked him to be Permanent Secretary at DFE only last year, an offer he obviously declined.  He also advised Joel Klein who reformed New York schools.

Barber invented the term deliverology and gave an account of how he approached public service reforms in his book ‘Instruction to Deliver’ (2007).  His theories were central to informing Blairs public sector reforms. His power point presentations and performance  graphs were legendary, setting targets and evaluating departments  performance against  set  targets and milestones. Professor Barbers definition of deliverology is ‘ a systematic process  through which system leaders can drive progress and  deliver results’. In short, command and control. It was a top down, interventionist approach.  Governments, said Barber, face a productivity challenge; people want better services but don’t want to pay higher taxes. To meet the challenge, he went on, three management models have emerged: command and control, quasi-markets, and devolution and transparency.

Command and control, he suggested, ‘is often essential for a service which needs to improve from awful to adequate’. Its not effective, though,  for the next phase-adequate to good- where a more devolved approach is required.  In support of his argument, Barber cited literacy and numeracy in schools and waiting times for healthcare. The aim was to recognise that public services, while different from businesses in being universal and equitable, remained essentially similar in management terms. Barber said that that public service professionals need to have the mindset and capability, not just to lead radical change but to manage transformed services.

Blair set up the PMDU to drive through public-sector reform in the face of perceived civil service obstruction and inertia. It was based in his office, reporting directly to him. He gave its leadership to Barber It wasn’t easy.  By 2001/02 – ‘ the system’, in Barbers words , ‘which had worked so well between 1997-2000 had lost its edge at every level’ . Barber tells us that by October 2001 – so two years in – the position was poor. It was decided that a harder push was needed; individuals were to be held more accountable.  But by the end of 2002, at the time of the third round of delivery reports, progress was no better than mixed. 2003, was not much different.  Even one of the perceived successes,   the Literacy strategy, was under attack. Durham University’s Peter Tymms challenged the statistical basis behind the perceived success of the literacy strategy. Tymms concluded that the statistical procedures behind the startling results on which Barber had built his reputation for delivery were faulty. When the statistical error was corrected the results flattened out .He attributed most   improvements to the teachers ‘teaching to the test’

The Barber  top down approach was basically -tell mangers whats required, give them clear targets,  ensure accountability  and the delivery chain works and there are no weak links , then measure   monitor and evaluate, checking against clear milestones. And be prepared to intervene when things are going wrong (which, of course, they do, frequently)

The problem was twofold. First, the reform strategy to begin with, and indeed for some time, showed no measurable results, and politicians operate  remember ,with a four year horizon. When positive results began to show, they were hardly stellar .And, even when measurable results were available, later on, it transpired that given that billions had been invested in public sector reforms ,the return on investment was seen as, at best, marginal. Indeed some argued that some services had actually got worse. Few believe that the billions spent, delivered acceptable returns. Barber himself  says  the reforms  should be judged as a move from “awful” to “adequate” rather than from “good” to “great” And the reason for this modest change is clearly not inadequate expenditure.

This has led one critic, Professor John Seddon, to describe Barbers deliverology theory as ‘Mickey Mouse Command and control’ . Professor John Seddon in a lecture to academics at California State University claimed that the billions on public sector reform were in fact wasted. (CSU didn’t quite get Barber). Public services have not improved and the problem was actually Barbers approach. Deliverology made matters worse,  according to Seddon .In education,   the target setting  culture  has meant that our children   are taught to  the test and are not being properly educated.  Children are now asking their teachers, he said, will I be tested on that? So, anything that doesn’t contribute to test results is being discarded or knocked off the agenda.  Indeed, anything that cant be measured easily is now  regarded as a second order priority. So a broader education and learning experience suffers. Seddon, of course, is not the only critic of teaching to the test and the effects of the target culture on the  childrens learning experience. Many Heads see their main job as ensuring that as many pupils as possible pass  the benchmark tests,  whether it’s the key stage tests or securing good grades at GCSE and A level, securing  good league table positions.  Offering a broad education and nurturing those with real ability is not on their agenda.

A lack of improvement from this top down approach to reform is explained away according to Seddon in two ways. A failure to meet targets could mean that the targets were wrong. Or managers were not putting in enough effort, or failing to understand exactly what was required of them. Seddon defined deliverology as  ‘ a top down method by which you distort a system, undermine achievement of purpose and demoralise people’.
Seddon says that ‘Barber believes that the only way to achieve better services is through more resources.  This thinking around productivity as the challenge is misguided and wrong.  It was W. Edwards Deming that found the better way is to improve quality if you want better productivity.’

Seddon adds that  the problem with target setting is that ‘all targets are arbitrary and worse they become the defacto purpose of the organization.’   In education, the target has been to score high on tests, and so naturally the teachers purpose is to teach to the test.  The real purpose should, he points out,  be  to support learning.

Barber, Seddon claims, ‘believes that creating a bureaucracy for reporting and measurement is the same as real improvement.’  Concluding that Barbers regime ‘fostered compliance rather than experimentation ‘

Seddon expands ‘ In the latter days of Barber’s reign, the deliverology regime shifted the emphasis from top-down command and control to what was called ‘sustainable improvement, driven by the pressure of customers’ ie the second phase in reform. But to some it wasn’t  at all clear that the first phase had delivered-ie getting services from awful to adequate.

For Blair the shift was a new vision of reform, involving higher standards of performance through greater customer responsiveness. The tailoring and personalisation of services, built around customers, not producers. So, in short, a bottom up approach.  To some this meant that the top down approach hadn’t worked, reinforced by the fact that the Delivery Unit was disbanded

Seddon writes ‘ Barber’s de facto method is to create a bureaucracy for measuring and reporting that then deludes people into assuming improvements are real; his strategies for ‘unleashing’ only unleashed diseased and dysfunctional bureaucracies. ‘

The attraction of Barber is that he is a plausible and articulate advocate with broadly based experience.  So he ticks the boxes when it comes to top level experience and understanding how national and local government work. He knows how  to use data and the importance of research and what levers to pull  .But it strikes me that deliverology adds up to little more than sound project management and  it  hardly represents a new departure or  original management thinking . ie Focus, Plan, Have method ,Monitor and evaluate, and  Communicate.

Barber, to my mind, is rightly praised for getting the Literacy Strategy off the ground  with some momentum behind it and ensuring a long overdue, proper focus on the bedrocks of  literacy and numeracy in our primary schools. I have heard him speak and was impressed-he is a man   untroubled by even a scintilla of self-doubt, unlike most with an academic background.  But he surely cannot escape criticism for the failure to convince the public that there had been a revolution in public service delivery under the  Blair government. Indeed, there is no evidence that productivity improved in education over the period 1999-2006. Barber said ,remember that public sector productivity ‘is now the central issue of domestic politics’. According to the ONS ‘Productivity of publicly-funded education is estimated by dividing annual figures for output from education (taking account of quality) by inputs to education (after making an allowance for pay and price increases) (ONS 2007’) On this basis although between 1996 and 1999, productivity of publicly-funded education services increased on average by 2.1 per cent a year; from 1999 onwards, productivity fell on average by 0.7 per cent a year until 2007. In other words it fell throughout the period Barber was in charge of delivery, and at a time moreover when there was unprecedented investment in public services. It is not straightforward measuring productivity in the public sector, of course, although we lay claim to measuring it better than others, but the figures nevertheless raise some legitimate questions about the effectiveness of the reforms.  As for the target setting culture, which is a major legacy of Barber -well there are plenty of critics who say there are as many cons as there are pros to this approach. And we know that target setting can have bizarre and unintended consequences. For instance, teachers and local authorities focus most of their effort and resources on pupils at the C/D grade boundary at GCSE, to the cost of other more able pupils.

How many people believe that a childs learning experience is much better now than it was, say, in the late 1990s? Test results, of course, are better but test results were on an improvement curve even before 1997, as the Reform think tank has pointed out,   and, of course, improving test results tell us next to nothing about pupils learning experiences or whether our children are actually being well educated.

Professor Barber deserves much respect given his record of public service. But we seem to be still left, despite his best efforts, with public services that are  stubbornly  resistant to change, unresponsive to shifts in demand and  whose productivity never seems to measurably improve.  And now we no longer have the levels of investment in public services that Barber enjoyed when he was head of  Blairs delivery.

Barber perhaps demonstrated the limits of central government intervention. We have got to find ways of getting more from less and  the big issue now is how to achieve this. Certainly improving public sector productivity and public value is important , but this has to be accompanied by supply side reforms which  better harness  private sector resources and capital, with taxpayers money now  in  such short supply.

Professor Seddon is visiting professor at Cardiff, Derby and Hull Universities and Managing Director of Vanguard Consulting.

ONS  Public Service Productivity;Summary; Education 2007

http://www.statistics.gov.uk/articles/nojournal/Education_productivity_2007_execsumm.pdf

http://defendthecsu.blogspot.com/2009/12/barbers-deliverology.html

LABOUR’S EDUCATION POLICY

LABOUR’S EDUCATION POLICY

Burnham’s utilitarian approach eschews Latin

Comment

Andy Burnham, the Shadow Education Secretary, gave a speech at Demos this  month in which he sought to articulate the main themes being explored by Labour’s Schools Policy Review.  Significantly, he did not commit a future Labour government to overturning the coalition government’s new Free Schools or Academies. Indeed he didn’t mention them.  Its probably worth noting, in this respect, that ,by the next election, the majority of  secondary schools in England could have already converted to academy status.

So what are Labour’s themes?

Burnham said he would look to build a school system in England based on three clear principles:

First, where hard work is properly rewarded and all young people have something to aim for beyond school.

Second, where we reach every single child, by judging schools on the difference they make for every individual student – including how far schools stretch the brightest

Third, where learning is made relevant to life today, building the character and qualities young people will need to succeed in 21st century

He said “Reward, reach, relevance – these will be my 3Rs to guide schools reform in the 21st century.” Burnham wants a school  system that is   “comprehensive and collaborative”

Mike Baker who was chairing a discussion session at Demos picked out 10 themes from Burnhams speech   which struck  him as significant:

Labour’s approach will reject the current nostalgia for Latin and rote-learning or what Burnham called the ‘back to the future’ approach. The EBacc will not be applied universally.

The Policy review will take a broad view of education, including an emphasis on creativity.

It will seek clarity for those students taking a vocational route.

There could be a UCAS-style ‘clearing’ process for those seeking to enter apprenticeships, with the best opportunities going to those who work the hardest.

League tables will be reformed, using Value-Added or Contextual Value-added measures.

A minimum entitlement for all pupils (e.g. to one-to-one tuition) is being considered as is an expectation that every student should achieve a grade Cat GCSE in Maths and English.

Labour will take a more ambitious view of the role of work experience and placements to encourage social mobility.

An updated version of Tomlinson will be brought back, introducing a true, broad Baccalaureate.

teaching may become an all Masters-degree profession

Local Authorities will be given a clearer planning role and a role to encourage collaboration between schools

Burnham believes that what he calls the market model “encourages schools jealously to guard the best of what they’ve got; and will produce winners and losers, where young people get trapped in struggling institutions”.  How this last theme will fit with a school system dominated by autonomous state schools is hard to see but he clearly reflects Labours concerns that the current focus on autonomy  may ,potentially, lead to an atomised system in which collaboration between schools is reduced and the most vulnerable suffer because the support services, currently offered to them by local authorities, are cut back.

Ministers for their part,  point out that Academies, as part of their funding agreements, need to demonstrate a collaborative approach and show that they are community focused

Burnham seeks to caricature Goves approach to the curriculum by focusing on Latin as an unwelcome blast from the past. The argument goes -Gove prefers to focus on a dead language rather than, for instance, ICT that is more relevant to the workplace. There are suggestions here of a utilitarian approach to education-in other words education is about preparing pupils exclusively  for the jobs market, a view  shared by some former Labour Education Secretaries .  So, rather than Latin, Burnham prefers engineering, business studies and ICT to create “a route into work” for Britain’s young people.  But Burnham may be missing the zeitgeist. Many more state schools are taking up Latin than, say, five years ago. And the Independent newspaper, not renowned, it has to be said, as a hotbed of reactionary sentiment, opined last  week ‘Latin is the maths of the humanities – a training in analytical thought for which no previous knowledge is required. It fires the imagination of the young with its goddesses, gladiators and mythological flying horses. It offers a great foundation for later language learning. Its students do better in reading, comprehension, vocabulary and conceptual thinking. Ipsa scientia potestas est’

It is worth reflecting what  Schumacher said about education. He agreed that  science and engineering produce know-how, but the task of education should lie first and foremost with the know-what – the transmission of ideas of value so that we know what to do (with the know-how). Thus, Schumacher argues that a science and technology-focused education system can be like a dead-end street – “know-how is nothing by itself; it is a means without an end.”

Meanwhile Andy Burnham and his team will be gearing up,  over the summer,  to launch attacks  on the Education Bill, still with the Lords. One area where the Government is vulnerable  is  the new national careers service  and advice and guidance in schools. It seems that most pupils will not have access to face to face professional  careers advice in schools , as schools will opt for the cheapest  option-access to advice through  a web portal  . The BIS has provided funds for  adult face to face guidance but the DFE has provided none for the same service  for  schools. Who will suffer most from this?. The most disadvantaged pupils, in other words those pupils who are supposed to be the key priority of the coalition government. Both the Commons Select Committee and Simon Hughes the  ‘Access tsar’ have  recently stressed the importance of face to face advice.

http://www.labour.org.uk/what-young-people-need-to-succeed-in-modern-world?Init=f8905e5f-ff97-4eb4-69ca-f84c932daa49

MINISTERS ARE IGNORING THE EDUCATION MARKET-WHY?

WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE EDUCATION MARKET?

Suppliers are being ignored by the Government

Comment

The last government (DFES) commissioned PWC to look at the childrens services market and to come up with some ideas about how it could be better managed. The Labour Government wanted Local Authorities to move towards becoming commissioners rather than providers of services.  The PWC report (see link below)made recommendations as to how the supply market could be opened up so  for profit and not for profit providers   could deliver more  services( sounds familiar?). Indeed this is an aim shared by this government.  PWC concluded that:

“We have identified a number of barriers that exist to effective market operation.  The barriers that exist in the fostering market are typical of these markets and include: a lack of transparency  on costs; limited visibility of markets; a shortage of experienced commissioners; limited  dialogue between suppliers and commissioners; inconsistent application of overall national  frameworks; and potentially conflicting roles of local authorities acting as commissioner and  provider.  These barriers need to be addressed to improve the operation of the markets.  The DfES can play a significant role in removing the barriers and encouraging effective and strategic commissioning.”

Ministers agreed but then not much happened. Local Authorities largely continued in the way they had  always done in providing most services in-house, some even reducing the number of their  outsourced contracts. Of course, there were some contracts outsourced but certainly not on the transformative  scale the Government intended.The message had clearly not trickled down to the commissioning and procurement  staff in LAs.  The result was  that with no government intervention the supply market failed to develop here and companies went in search of  new business and income streams abroad.  But abroad these  companies  found, as they still do,  that they  they had to  compete  against grant funded  education quangos  who are not transparent with their costs and who who do not compete on an equal basis with other for profit and not for profit suppliers.

This government, like the last one, has failed to engage with  these market issues. Indeed, as Education Investor revealed last month five senior managers,   all exporters of education services, wrote to Francis Maude ,the Minister responsible  for public services reform and procurement issues, highlighting the problem of education  quangos and  unfair competition, (British Council, SSAT, NCSL etc)  helpfully recommending too,  ways in which the Government might  help create a level playing field and an enabling environment in which the market might expand. The Minister took five months to reply to this letter , (only replying with a backdated letter when the editor of Education Investor contacted his office), refused to acknowledge there was a problem and , to add insult to injury, ignored their recommendations . The recommendations, by the way, included a number of steps that the BBC has taken to address competition and transparency issues  following complaints about its market activities from its non-subsidised competitors. So what were these five senior managers’ recommendations?

 

Detailed supplier agreements should be drawn up to ensure that the commercial arms of quangos charge appropriately and are fully transparent on their costs.

 

Quango staff should be trained on fair trading and competition principles; and a governance structure for fair trading matters overseen by an impartial body (National Audit Office).

 

There should be separate accounting for commercial activities, with a certificate by the External Auditor that there is no material cross-subsidy of commercial activities out of public funds.

 

There should also be a recognised process and provisions to receive complaints and appeals by competitors claiming a grievance against subsidised entities.

 

An annual report for each quango should be published in searchable format with clear performance benchmarks and measurement of outputs and value added.

 

All quangos should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

 

There should be a range of penalties and sanctions for anti-competitive behaviour and the possibility of compensation to deter anti-competitive behaviour.

 

Parliament should take a view on how best it can hold Quangos regularly accountable for the way they manage and account for public funds.

 

These, as you can probably see, were constructive recommendations, from companies trying to export UK education services, in an area where we potentially have a competitive advantage and whose efforts can help our balance of payments too.

We know this government wants to make life easier for profit and not for profit suppliers  and SMEs in the market place. So why on  earth are they not prepared to engage with these suppliers or to address the  obstacles to a fair and transparent market. I think that they deserve an answer.. and not in five months time.

PS

The SSAT will tell you its not a quango and has never been because its a ‘ Charity’.  So being a Charity  means you avoid the dreaded quango label, does it? I think not. Using this argument  the British Council is not a quango either,  as it, too, is a Charity.If it looks like a quango, behaves like one, and is supported by grant funding… then err.. thats  exactly what it is,  a Quango.

https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/RW76.pdf

WHAT DOES ANDY BURNHAM SAY ABOUT FREE SCHOOLS?

WHAT DOES ANDY BURNHAM SAY ABOUT FREE SCHOOLS?

Wants Free Schools to demonstrate that they benefit all children in the local area ,not just those that attend the Free School

Comment

Andy Burnham, the Shadow Education Secretary, has been careful not to say that should Labour win the next election it would abolish Free Schools.

He said in a recent speech at an Education Conference on 17 May that “We are not against people who are trying to set up their own schools. And in the future, if a school was up and running successfully and making a positive input to the local community, a Labour Government would not close it simply because it was a Free School. Of course not. But what matters in deciding about any new parent-promoted schools is the contribution a new school makes to improving standards for all children.  That’s why local areas should judge whether each school plans to operate in the wider interests of all children in the area, not just those that attend the school.  My test will be clear – we should look not just at the results in the individual school but at the effect on results in the wider family of schools.”  Burnham had told the ASCL conference earlier this year, that he had made it clear that  “free schools must be judged by local areas on the merits of each proposal.”  Peter Hyman, a labour party member and former aide to Tony Blair, was singled out by Burnham as having the right approach to Free Schools. He is establishing a Free School in Newham. Burnham notes that his proposals “are comprehensive, committed to fair admissions, and have the full backing of their local area. “ This has prompted some critics to suggest that he favours Free Schools providing, that is, they are set up by Labour supporters. He has criticised Toby Youngs West London Free School bid.  Last December he said to the Guardian: “What I’d tell the Toby Youngs of this world is that your choice, well-intentioned as it might be … can undermine someone else’s options and choice.” With a number of influential Labour party members supporting Free Schools but with most union leaders opposed Burnham clearly has to steer a delicate course, seeking to satisfy two very different constituencies. So, he has a bit of a challenge on his hands.

Burnham says he will “judge every education policy on two clear tests – does it help every school to be a good school and every child to be the best they can be. That is why I say that by pursuing the free schools programme in the way that they are, the government has a plan for some schools and some children but not all schools and all children. “  Burnham’s main concern seems to be that Free Schools are not targeted at the most disadvantage pupils, in the most disadvantaged areas. Indeed he claims just 2 of the 26 schools approved so far are in the 10 most deprived communities.  So, he concludes, taking into account also the new Academies scheme (which encourages good schools too to become Academies) that while spending on schools overall is falling, funding is now ,as a result of this policy, being diverted from areas of educational disadvantage to wealthier areas.

About 10 Free Schools are expected to open this September. To date 40 FS proposals have been approved by the Secretary of State  to proceed to business case and plan stage or beyond.

.http://andyburnhammp.blogspot.com/2011/05/speech-to-education-2011-conference.html

THE SPIRIT LEVEL-IS IT A DELUSION?

The Spirit Level sees unequal societies as the unhappiest

But Spirit level Delusion says its hypotheses  are just  plain wrong

Comment

The left have been animated for a while by the incredible popularity and ubiquity of The Spirit Level. This tract from  Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett   claims that more equal societies do better at  just about everything, backed by much data and graphs comparing variables between countries and drawing conclusions from them.  On almost every index of quality of life, or wellness, or deprivation, there is a gradient showing a strong correlation between a country’s level of economic inequality and its social outcomes. Almost always, Japan and the Scandinavian countries are at the favourable “low” end, and almost always, the UK, the US and Portugal are at the unfavourable “high” end, with Canada, Australasia and continental European countries in between.  The authors  give themselves a huge challenge in making sense of so much data, which is impressive, although critics  such as Christopher  Snowden in The Spirit Level Delusion’ claim they have failed and  that the way they have used data produces many absurdities and false linkages. Nick Cohen of the Observer however   has said that Labour is energised by “The Spirit Level, a book which is turning into a cross between a manifesto and a call to arms. At one Left-wing meeting recently, a speaker wished everyone in the country could read its argument that societies more equal than Britain enjoy better physical and mental health, lower homicide rates, fewer drug problems, fewer teenage births, higher maths and literacy scores, higher standards of child wellbeing, lower obesity rates and fewer people in prison.( Although Wilkinson and Pickett concede that suicide rates are higher in more equal countries). If they could just grasp that, he said, then they would see that combating inequality was good for everyone.” His was not a lone voice. David Miliband and other senior Labour politicians have declared their admiration for its authors and their take on inequality.

One  possible problem with The Spirit Level is that you  can’t really, with much conviction, separate out all the variables when comparing statistics from different countries (just how reliable are these statistics anyway-are they collected and collated  to a uniform standard?). To demonstrate, the author of the Spirit Level Delusion, Christopher Snowdon, shows a scatter graph that proves recycling causes suicide. By fact-checking the book’s statistics and reviewing the scientific literature, Snowden argues that in fact there is no correlation between income inequality and a country’s health, happiness and well-being. In short, the hypothesis in The Spirit Level is, he says, based on selective evidence and flawed reasoning. A report from Policy Exchange  Beware False Prophets re-examines the empirical claims made in The Spirit Level and finds that of the 20 statistical claims made in it, 14 are spurious or invalid and in only one case (the association internationally between infant mortality and income inequality) does the evidence unambiguously support their hypothesis.

Given the fact that well- being and the pursuit of happiness appears to be  moving up the political agenda perhaps it is worth looking at both books before coming to your own conclusion.