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Tristram Hunt, the Shadow Education Secretary, was  on mischievous form recently at the Spectators Education conference. He attacked the governments Free schools policy as both wasteful and shambolic . But he also   took great pleasure  in winding up the Spectator’s Editor,  Fraser Nelson,   by  using quotes from the  Economist to support Labours education policies. ( slender on the ground at present)) He also  dug up  a quote from Joseph Addison, the co- founder of the Spectator, which  rather beautifully articulates the importance of education.

“I consider an human soul without education like marble in the quarry, which shews none of its inherent beauties till the skill of the polisher fetches out the colours, makes the surface shine, and discovers every ornamental cloud, spot and vein that runs through the body of it.” Joseph Addison –November 1711-  Co-Founder of the Spectator



Charlie Taylor, CEO of the National College for Teaching and Leadership, has talked about his aim of an ‘irrevocable shift’ towards a school-led, self-improving system by September 2016. Collaboration within schools and between schools and groups of schools is seen as essential if we are to improve schools.   But  what  exactly  does the Government mean by a self-improving system? Professor Toby Greany of the IOE  says that The Importance of Teaching white paper boils it  down to four criteria:

teachers and schools are responsible for their own improvement;

teachers and schools learn from each other and from research so that effective practice spreads;

the best schools and leaders extend their reach across other schools so that all schools improve; and (by implication)

government intervention and support is minimised.

Greany however is not convinced ‘that either the system capacity or the policy conditions are yet right for an ‘irrevocable shift’ to be achieved, even by 2016.  ‘My worry is that if the self-improving system becomes no more than a narrative device to justify the removal of central and local government support as quickly as possible, then a two-tier system could rapidly emerge in which strong schools thrive but large swathes are left behind’,he writes in a blog.

What does seem clear is that some regions are benefiting  more from collaborative practice,  than others, and collaboration is not the default position across the system.  The government believes that chains of schools are raising performance. But most schools are not part of a chain.  So, to advance this agenda, incentives may be required to help fill the yawing gaps and to encourage a  more collegial approach. Chains, of course, are not the only answer. There are other types of partnerships that focus on school improvement.  But  more research needs to be done in this area , as well as more systematic dissemination of best practice-and maybe its time for some carrots and sticks to be introduced to drive forward this agenda.



Seeks to ensure that places are allocated fairly

More schools using banding and random allocation of places


The School Admissions Code exists ‘to ensure that places in all state-funded schools are allocated in a fair and transparent manner.’ The Code is occasionally reviewed and up-dated.

It is the responsibility of the admission authority for each school to ensure that they comply with the Code and related admissions law when setting its admission arrangements. The School Admissions Code is available online at:

The Code sets out the requirements for those admission authorities who decide to use random allocation for allocating places, and those who use banding to select a proportionate spread of children of different abilities.

Any person or body who considers that these particular arrangements are unfair or unlawful can make an objection to the Schools Adjudicator. The Adjudicator’s role is to consider whether these arrangements comply with the Code and admissions law. The Adjudicator’s decisions are binding and enforceable; if found to be unlawful the admission authority must revise their admission arrangements as soon as possible, and no later than 15 April following the Adjudicator’s decision. Further information on the Office of the Schools Adjudicator can be found here:

As Conor Ryan, former adviser to David Blunkett, when he was Education Secretary, now  of the Sutton Trust, has said “School admissions is a minefield at the best of times”. Well informed parents are good at playing the system, and some schools are too.  Most schools, including most academies, still use distance from school and the presence of siblings at the school already as their main criteria in admissions.

However, there is evidence of a small but significant growth in the use of banding and random allocation – or ballots – to achieve a more comprehensive intake. The Sutton Trust ,in a recent report, found that  schools in striving to achieve balanced intakes,  sometimes use banding for the purposes of  admission which,   while no panacea, ‘can contribute to creating more balanced intakes than  would otherwise be the case’.

Banding and Ballots – Secondary school admissions in England: Admissions in 2012/13 and the impact of growth of Academies Research by Philip Noden, Anne West and Audrey Hind ; February 2014-Sutton Trust



What Got You Here Won’t Get You There


Leadership expert Marshall Goldsmith says  that the very traits that enabled you to become   a successful leader  in the first place might, paradoxically, ultimately  lead to your downfall. He  suggested to leaders  that ‘what got you here wont get you there’.

Now that you are a leader, your behavioural quirks and weaknesses take on more weight and significance, and can do more harm than they could when you were an up-and-comer. The premise is that by continuing to do what we are doing we will not  be likely to  move to the next level.  We may, of course, enjoy continued success  but if we stop doing some things and start doing other things, there’s a better chance for even greater effectiveness and a higher level of success. Charles Handy in his book the Empty Raincoat (1995) expressed it as the paradox of success: ‘what got you where you are, won’t keep you where you are, is a hard lesson to learn.’ (page 58)

Lessons here maybe for some school leaders?




A School transformed-but Academy presents a real challenge for this year


Anthony Seldon, the Master of Wellington College, has a tough battle on his hands this year to turnaround Wellingtons Academy, in Tidworth, which surprisingly, perhaps, given its impressive start, saw its GCSE results fall dramatically last year.

Seldon is taking a well- earned three month sabbatical this year but, at least, now has time to reflect on the transformation he has achieved at the mother school, Wellington College. Wellington, about ten years ago, was a school in  sedate decline, certainly academically. It was having trouble filling its places. In the League tables it was very much in the second tier and moving incrementally towards the third.  But Seldon, with a supportive governing body, and two strong Deputies, has managed a transformation turning the school fully co-educational, introducing the IB (and Middle Years programme) and  a tranche of progressive ideas , informed by the eight aptitudes  grounded in the thinking of Professor Howard Gardner. The school has managed, without becoming an academic hothouse, to rapidly change its academic fortunes, while preserving its sporting prowess.(its  Rugby team is the current  national 7 a side  school champions). Wellington can now claim to be the hardest independent school to get into, at age 13, outside London at least , and at 16, has over twelve applicants for each place. It has moved up from 154th in the Sunday Times League table   for combined GCSE/A Level results in 2008,   to 44th on 2013 and is a top ten Co-ed School. Since 2008 Wellington has also been top of the Value Added tables in the independent sector. Managing transformation is a huge challenge, but to do it seamlessly, requires a particular genius.

The school happens to reflect Seldon’s values, focused on social responsibility, well-being and a holistic education. Schools need to be outward looking, creative and international in mind set. So, following this unanswerable   logic, he created a group of look-alike schools abroad.

A school was opened in Tianjin in China in 2012 and another will open in Shanghai in this year. Seldon encourages meaningful interactions and exchanges between the Wellington schools .He points out that Wellington pupils will be living and working in a global village when they leave schools and so need to be properly prepared for this. But Seldon would be the first to admit that none of this would have been possible without governors who fully supported the vision and brought their own moral backing  and expertise in support of this vision, and transformation.

Seldon is known for his extraordinary energy and commitment to the task at hand. But,   crucially, he delegates to highly competent lieutenants, when appropriate and ,indeed ,has a strong Deputy to take over during the next three months. Doubtless he will return in March refreshed and ready to take on new challenges.

Seldon stands out in the independent sector as a Leader. It is somewhat alarming, in this respect,  that so few other Heads in the sector,( try counting them on the fingers of one hand)  put their heads above the parapet and have the moral courage to pursue, in the public eye, a clear vision that carries risks in the way  that Seldon has. Most choose  easier,  softer options.  And this fuels complacency.

The sector has the resources and potential to innovate and lead the world in education thinking and practice.  But who is stepping up to the plate? Arguably,Heads in the maintained sector  are now  stealing a march on their confederates in the independent sector.



Bain and Co want top to bottom changes on how schools are run

Proposing a New Leadership Development Strategy


A new report from Bain and Co finds that an essential ingredient behind each of the school success stories (in the US, but with wider relevance) it examined is, unsurprisingly, extraordinary leadership. It states ‘We have the opportunity to replicate these results at greater scale by more systematically developing talented educators into a deep bench of prospective leaders with the experience and ability to build an extraordinary school. ‘Yet’, says the report, ‘we have far too few transformational school leaders today to replicate the results that are possible at a greater scale. The reason: Most school systems fail to methodically develop talented educators into a deep bench of prospective leaders with the experience and ability to build an extraordinary school.’  It continues ‘School systems can do that by taking the steps necessary to identify, encourage and develop these leaders from within their own buildings (see “Launching a New Leadership Development Strategy,” below). Our research with districts and CMOs working on this issue highlights both the challenge and the opportunity. Many of these school systems are making important progress on the long journey to fundamentally rethink leadership development. They are dramatically raising standards, encouraging more-talented educators to consider the path to leadership, creating more meaningful stepping-stone roles, and devising systems to both evaluate and manage those moving through the pipeline.

‘Our recommendations are not easy to implement. They require a system-wide focus on overcoming the often contentious challenges of restructuring roles, raising standards and creating consensus around top-to-bottom changes in how our schools are managed and run. The payoff is an organic, home-grown solution to the leadership deficit that lies at the heart of our struggle to educate our children and prepare them for a better future. That is a goal all can rally around, but success will require a shared commitment to increase the number of exceptional schools by putting in place the transformational school leaders who can create them.

Implementing a new leadership development strategy is a daunting prospect. But a number of school systems in our research are making significant progress and their approaches share some important characteristics. They start with a multiyear, system-wide commitment to develop leaders over time instead of searching for them as vacancies arise. They include the active participation of all constituencies within the system. They tie an ambitious vision for transforming school performance to a concrete set of leadership standards and criteria. They create a robust set of stepping-stone roles and a clear set of pathways that connect them.’

Here is what a successful, phased effort might look like:

Phase 1: Define leadership criteria

Perform an audit of current leadership roles and programs to assess effectiveness, coherence and gaps

Convene a cross section of system leaders to define a core set of desired leadership skills for principals, APs and teacher leaders

Engage other stakeholders throughout the system to review this draft and offer input. Build consensus around a final set of standards and competencies

Redefine principal, AP and teacher leader job descriptions to reflect a high and consistent set of expectations

Phase 2: Develop leadership pathways

Design and pilot principal, AP and teacher leader evaluation systems aligned to these standards and competencies

Assess current and prospective leadership talent across the system. Systematically identify and cultivate the highest-potential emerging leaders

Create pilot teacher leader and AP pathway programs with formal training and enhanced mentorship around specific leadership roles and responsibilities

Promote the importance and attractiveness of leadership roles and the available pathways to move into them

Phase 3: Organize around leadership development

Reduce principal-supervisor spans of control and expand their role in managing the development of leadership talent across the system

Ensure all schools have a core set of robust teacher leader stepping-stone roles with sufficient time available to focus on them

Fully implement new principal and AP evaluations. Replace principals and APs who don’t meet the new standards

Apply new leadership standards to filling open principal, AP and stepping-stone teacher leader positions. Fully leverage past-performance data in filling key roles

Rigorously assess the strength of the pipeline and the processes that support it. Make continuous improvement a core tenet of the transformation



Can Academy Trusts award contracts to companies in which their Trustees have a stake ?Yes but no profit


All academy trusts are required to openly procure any externally sourced services, including those related to their trustees.

When a business controlled by or belonging to a trustee bids for a contract the academy trust must consider if that service is the most appropriate for the academy and offers the best value for money. If the academy trust decides to award the contract to the trustee-related service, that business must deliver its services at cost, with no element of profit.

 There have been some questions raised in the media suggesting that academies might have lax financial accountability.  There is  little  evidence though that suggests  that academies have an easier  financial accountability regime than maintained schools. There have always been cases in the  maintained sector of financial irregularities.   They still remain across all  schools, rare. Indeed the government argues that in terms of financial accountability because academies  effectively wear three hats- as companies, charities and public bodies- their financial accountability is more robust than in maintained schools. Academy trusts are constituted as companies limited by guarantee, so are subject to the full rigour of the Companies Act. This means that, unlike maintained schools, academies are required to file independently audited accounts.

But it is clear that, despite all  this, a few of  those running  academy schools  have a rather  self-serving mind set when it comes to  using their autonomous status. Contracts should be put out to open tender, best value must be the lodestar.  And its probably not  best practice to employ family and friends in the school(s) you are running even if  the recruitment process is transparent.    The government must be careful that the academies/free school brand is not undermined in the same way that the Charter school  brand  in the States  has been ,where  some excellent schools and chains have co-existed with others that have failed  to measure up both in terms of business  practice and student outcomes.



Children stand a  much better chance in life, if their parents are involved in learning

So, what’s new?


Research tells us that adults whose parents have low levels of education are eight times more likely to have poor proficiency in literacy than adults whose parents had higher levels of education. Parents are in truth the primary teachers, mentors and guides for children and young people. Research shows that children stand a much better chance of succeeding in life if their parents are engaged in learning. Yet  the lives and life chances of far too many  are frustrated by the circumstances of their  birth and restricted by their parents’ own  poor educational attainment.

The commissioners  of an NIACE inquiry  suggest, very strongly, that it is only by  addressing the issues within families, working  with them to develop positive attitudes to  learning, that we can ever hope to make that  step change difference that is needed.

Learning as a family, they say has multiple benefits. Family learning raises children’s attainment and schools have a  major role to play here –  because all great schools  involve parents. Evidence has shown that  family learning could increase the overall  level of children’s development by as much  as 15 percentage points for those from  disadvantaged groups.

The stand out message from this report is ‘Family learning works. It not only secures better outcomes for children and their parents, but also has measurable positive impacts on a wide range of economic and  social policy agendas’.

The NIACE Inquiry into Family Learning was launched in October 2012 to gather new  evidence of the impact of family learning, to  develop new thinking and to influence public  policy.The report recommends, interalia, that:

Family learning should be integral to school strategies to raise children’s attainment and to narrow the gap between the lowest  and highest achievers. (why not use part of the Pupil Premium on family learning)

 Family learning should be a key element of adult learning and skills strategies to engage those furthest from the labour market and improve employability, especially through family English and maths provision.

 Every child should have the right to be part of a learning family.  Many children grow up in families that can support their learning but some do not. Public bodies should target support to help these families.

 Key government departments should include family learning in their policies and strategies in order to achieve cross-departmental outcomes.

 The governments of England and Wales should regularly review the funding for and supply of family learning against potential demand.

 There should be a joint national forum for family learning in England and Wales to support high quality, innovative practice,  appropriate policy and advocacy, research and development.

 Family Learning Works The Inquiry into Family Learning in England and Wales-October 2013-NIACE




Richard Cairns, the  Head of Brighton College, is regarded, by many of his peers in the independent sector, as one of their brightest, though, some might say,  the competition is not fierce. He told a conference this week that ‘Private schools are “obsessed” with using means-tested bursaries to defend their charitable status and could help far more children by supporting academies. Too many independent school heads are “congratulating ourselves for saving Oliver Twist from the streets but we have lost sight of the Artful Dodger and his gang”, he said.

Cherry picking pupils from state schools, with tempting bursaries,  it can  be argued,plausibly,  damages the schools that they leave, as they are important role models. Some pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds can also find it difficult to adjust  to the rarefied environment of ‘public’ schools and there are many hidden costs in a private education ie parents are asked to fork out for pastoral and extra curricular activities that can be a huge ,and embarrassing,  burden on the poorer parents. Charities should deliver public benefit and the aim,  surely,should be to maximise public benefit. Self- evidently single bursaries, here and there, deliver limited benefit, so there is a logic to supporting academies as this  broadens and up-scales the benefit. Cairns, though,  is well behind the curve on this. Though the LAE, a free school sixth form college  in Newham, was founded in 2012,  with the support of  Brighton College,  and several other schools, including Eton College,  it was Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington College, who  first  put his head above the parapet on this issue four or five years ago. At the time he was  a lone voice in the independent sector preaching the benefits of academy and state school  links, while  putting his money where his mouth was ,by setting up a Wellington academy, in Tidworth. It does look as if Cairns has jumped on a passing bandwagon.But  he wont be the last to do so. Isn’t  it about time that  Heads  in the independent sector, stepped up to the plate and provided some  err…real leadership in education, after all they are supposed to be the best?



According to Collins, a shortage of capital to fund extra capacity may force the governments hand

Profit makers could help raise vital capital for new school places


Philip Collins, the former speech writer to Tony Blair, now a Times columnist,   Leader writer and Chair of the Demos think tank ,  argues, in the Times on 29 March , that  as there is a critical  shortage of school places and not enough money in government to fund the new places, the solution to meet this demand has to be found  in the profit making sector. The National Audit Office, somewhat off the pace, as ever, recently produced a report that   told us the blindingly obvious- that there  is a shortage of school places, something that was  flagged up or ‘predicted’, way back in 2010, for those who bothered to look at the statistics and projections, based on ONS data.  What on earth is the point of spending taxpayers money on producing a report that is two years out of date  by the time  its published?

Collins  is not sure why so many people object to the notion of profit making state schools.  He   wrote ‘ There is never any objection when a profit is made from supplying children with writing implements or books or when people make a living from managing school facilities, making the school dinner or training the teachers. There is never an objection, in fact, when large chains look after children of pre-school age. As soon as a child hits school age it is, for some reason, an ideological crime to make money.‘

Collins writes ‘The school building programme has been a victim of austerity and although David Laws, the Schools Minister, has found £4.3 billion, he needs more. The deficit means he hasn’t got any more.’

The price of being allowed to make a profit in running a state school, suggests Collins   ‘is that the company, rather than the taxpayer, has to find the initial capital costs of building extra classrooms or schools. The financial constraint on expansion is suddenly removed.’