Tag Archives: FREE SCHOOLS



Mixed messages


It was rumoured that Gove’s education team may be looking again at whether the profit motive could be allowed to give new impetus to the Free schools initiative. However when pressed at the Spectator Free schools  conference last week on the issue he gave three reasons why he  wants  to keep profit out of the equation. First, to ensure maximum acceptance that the policy is socially motivated.  Secondly, to give the idealists rather than the capitalists a chance. And thirdly because other countries have had trouble with allowing profit making in state education. The Gove team have also long been admirers of  the Knowledge is Power Programme ‘Charter Chain’ in the States, which happens to be not for profit.    It has been suggested too that  for-profit Charter schools, like Edison, may be less innovative than KIPP-though Edison would challenge this claim. However, we know, from those behind the Swedish Free schools programme, launched in the early 1990s, that it relied on the profit motive to get it off the ground.   Charities’ also seek, of course, to make a surplus (no margin no mission!) and need to invest that surplus to create chains of schools.  There is however  growing pressure to introduce private sector management nous  and capital into the programme if it is not to run into ground, as the process of setting up these schools is very demanding and time consuming (ask Toby Young whose group includes many top professionals willing to roll their sleeves up).  This, at a time when, according to the FT, the DfE plans procedural changes which will make it more difficult for smaller parent groups to set up free schools by denying them funding until their plans are well advanced.  The proposed rules were revealed  this month at a meeting hosted by the New Schools Network, a  grant -funded charity to help free school groups make initial applications to government.  Groups will need to present detailed marketing, financial and curriculum proposals as part of their first application to the DfE. Until now, school groups needed to set out only broad plans before being eligible for up to £200,000 with which to commission specialist project managers and consultants.

The new rules – meant to make it easier to distinguish between the capability of the groups backing different school proposals – caused “shock and panic” apparently  among free school founders present, said people at the meeting. School groups present report fearing that it would mean that they have little choice but to become partners with existing school providers and charities. They worry the new policy will limit their ability to innovate.  Under the old system, parent groups could get to a certain point – stage 3 – and then procure a Project Management Company via the DfE’s Project Management framework. That PMC then helped the group prepare its Outline Business Case and, once that was approved, ushered the group through the rest of the process – ie Funding Agreement, recruitment, admissions, opening.  However, under the new system, groups can only get to stage three once they’ve prepared their own OBCs. After their OBCs have been approved, they can then procure a PMC and be ushered through the final stages.

What this tightening up means in practice is that it will be difficult for parent groups to set up schools without the support of a company, whether for profit or not for profit, almost from the start of the process.  The reality of course is that Free school groups have  already been seeking advice and support from specialist companies most of whom seem to be giving pro bono support. But free advice and support goes only so far particularly in a relatively hostile economic environment and at some point in the process companies are going to want a return.  The Government has   done little to incentivise companies   to engage more, and on a sustainable basis, while continuing to resist profit taking. Companies are operating in a difficult environment. Budgets are tight and new revenue streams are hard to come by which is why companies are looking abroad for new business as public sector  contracts are in short supply.  If they can’t make a surplus from such engagement you won’t see much evidence of a longer term commitment and, don’t expect  the  quick development of chains of Free schools-like KIPP-  any time soon.  These changes and the current lack of a sound enabling environment have the   potential to de-rail the whole free schools enterprise, although we know that the big supporters of Academies have been in talks with the DfE to see a way around this.  The other big elephant in the room is the lack of funding-not much public money is currently available to support the FS scheme (just £50m inititially) which is acting as a fundamental constraint on its expansion and with private investment not part of equation the Government has set itself a big challenge with no obvious solution although the ‘James’ Review on capital funding is on-going.

Note:  As at 15 February 2011, there are 97 people employed in the Free Schools Group at DFE.  As at 3 February 2011, the Department has received 10 proposals to establish free schools specifically for 16 to 19-year-olds. Six of these proposals are currently being considered by officials and four have been informed that their proposals have been unsuccessful. A trouble shooter has been recruited by DfE to   vet early bids to help flush out   those who do not have the capacity to deliver, or have dodgy backgrounds.



No easy ride as government stymies parents attempts to set up new school

Recent decision by Balls suggests there is a surplus places rule, despite government denials


When local authorities identify a need for a new school they are statutorily required to initiate a competition that any bidder can enter.

The winner of the bid will then run the new school. So far, so good. Unfortunately, not only do local authorities almost never initiate competitions, unless there are significantly more pupils than they have made provision for, but when there is a competition they manage the process and, following a Government concession ,are allowed to enter their own bid, which clearly, as the incumbent,  affords them advantages over any outside competitors.

So there is not much evidence of a level playing field. It also suggests a conflict of interests. Choice, competition and the quality of existing schools are rarely factors. The surplus places rule comes in to play too. There are currently around 793,000 empty places in the English school system.  The surplus places rule, posits that schools cannot expand, and no new schools can be created, if surplus places already exist in a local authority. The Government has long held that it does not enforce such a rule, but it protests too much, given that the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) does require local authorities to prove that new school places are needed. Nearly all authorities and particularly those in disadvantaged areas have surplus places .Competition, of course, relies on excess capacity to work efficiently.  The Governments denial that there is currently a rule against surplus places, though technically correct, is essentially disingenuous. There are reams of surplus place guidance for authorities, combined with no pressure or duty for the local authority to allow surplus places. Indeed, the DCSF guide to setting up schools explicitly states that where approval is given for a new school which adds surplus capacity, local authorities will need to “consider parallel action to remove the surplus capacity thereby created”. The admissions code has similar guidance – if a school expands, the local authority should shrink another. This looks very much like a surplus places rule writ large. The Tories for their part have made it absolutely clear that they will abolish the surplus places rule, if they win the election.

Which brings us on to parents efforts to set up new schools. The Tories say that there are far too many obstacles to setting up new schools and  that it is particularly difficult for parents to set up schools with  the surplus places rule representing a significant though not  the only obstacle. The Tories we know are championing more involvement of parents in setting up new schools, citing demand from parents (the New Schools Network claim there is strong demand). The Government, on the other hand, remains unconvinced. First, because they don’t buy the claim that there is a demand. Secondly because they believe it will be costly. Thirdly because they believe it will be divisive and lead to a fragmented system. Significantly, and in contradictory vein, the Government legislated four years ago to make it easier, in theory at least, for parents to set up schools   But there have only been three applications for parent-promoted schools since this legislation made this possible -with just one approval to date.

To add insult to injury, for those supporting more parental involvement, Children’s Secretary Ed Balls has just rejected a call from a parents’ group wanting to set up a new secondary school in Kirklees. Mr Balls claimed that opening the parents’ school would have undermined the viability of a planned academy and that this would fragment the local organisation of schools while sharing the budget would have a negative impact on other schools.  Crucially, he added, that where there was already a surplus of places, it would be a “poor use of resources” to set up another school.  “We’re very supportive of new schools where there is a need. But it’s not a free lunch,” he said.   So, there we have it from the horses mouth, there is a surplus places rule in operation. You can’t draw any other conclusion or inference from what Balls says.  So we now actually have a clear dividing line here between the Government and the Tories.  The Government will keep the surplus places rule in place (while probably still maintaining that it doesn’t exist). The Tories will abolish it, claiming it does exist.  And the Government it will do nothing more to help parents to set up schools. The Tories on the other hand will make this a priority.   So this appears to be one of Ed Balls much vaunted dividing lines. Take your pick



Free schools and curriculum reforms in the pipeline


Much of the Tory work on fleshing out the free schools idea, based on the Swedish free school model and US Charter schools is well advanced.

The Tories, should they win the (May) election, will table an Education Bill in the first session which  would then  become law by late September 2010.

Many of the powers to set up new schools are in existing legislation. But until now there have been too many obstacles in the way, political, legal, financial and administrative to easily establish new schools.  Local authorities don’t much like the idea of ceding control of (their) schools to others and this includes many Tory councillors. Planning permission can be an insurmountable problem, which has often stymied good schools expanding. At the moment schools are only allowed to use land classified as D1 – already in public, non-commercial use (Charter schools in the States can open in old department stores, shops and office blocks etc and are often given property by the local education board).  The surplus places rule, according to which schools cannot expand, and no new schools can be created, if surplus places already exist in a local authority, acts as a break. The Government has long held that it does not enforce such a rule, but it protests too much, given that the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) does require local authorities to prove that new school places are needed. Nearly all authorities and particularly those in disadvantaged areas have surplus places .Competition of course relies on excess capacity to work efficiently. The Tories will scrap the surplus places rule.

The Tory deal is that anyone who wants to establish a new school, where there is a demand, should, in principle, be allowed to do so subject of course  to vetting and certain key regulatory requirements. Those setting up schools could be parents, community groups, not for profits, co-operatives, even social enterprises and profit making companies, but in the latter’s case the Tories are not yet happy to follow the Swedish or US Charter Schools models which allow profit making companies to profit from state schools. The Tories see the political sensitivities. But in order to attract big players, those who might run chains of new free schools, and up-scale successful models, they need the private sector to deliver transformational changes and to bring investment and new capital to the table.  Few in the private sector would be interested in setting up a stand alone school. And  the free school landscape in both Sweden and the States is characterised by chains of schools. Brand new schools are expensive and unless some deal is struck over capital costs it is hard to see where all the new investment will be coming from. Anders Hultin, the  a co-founder of Kunskapsskolan, who was a leading light in Sweden’s free school movement,(before  becoming MD of Gems Education,) has said that it  is a big mistake not to allow operators to run schools for a profit,  as the profit motive is a major driver behind Sweden’s free schools. 75% of all independent schools in Sweden are run by profit-making organizations.  Hultin told the Partnerships for School annual conference last  year “…Frankly, the Swedish Model as we talk about it wouldn’t exist without the acceptance of profit-making organizations. If you are looking for a UK version of the voucher system and would like to achieve the same kind impact in terms of numbers, my advice is to allow profit-making organizations. Not least since you already have a lot of charities running schools in the UK. It is very unlikely that another 2,000-3,000 charities will pop up and show interest in running schools under a voucher regime.”

Phil Collins of the Times has pointed out too that it would be  a bold but necessary move to invite educational companies to make a profit, in return for them providing the start-up capital. He says that this will have to happen soon enough because, even if there are enough voluntary sector providers out there, which is doubtful, there is no money.  In an interview with the FT  a  couple of weeks ago,Michael Gove the Shadow Education Secretary appeared to adopt a more welcoming public approach to profit-making while suggesting that there is sufficient leeway in current laws to permit a significant expansion of private sector involvement.

The proposed reforms have been afforded significant added ballast by the recent establishment of the New Schools Network, headed by Rachel Wolf, a former Gove aide, which is   backed by a heavyweight Board of Trustees, promoting the establishment of free schools and parental involvement in setting up schools. Given its lack of resources, it is punching well above its weight.

The Government’s 2006 Education and Inspections Act requires local authorities to allow parents the chance to bid to open their own school every time the council decides it needs one. New schools competitions have been run by local authorities which often submit their own bids, not a system that has won  much admiration in the supply market-something to do with conflicts of interest and playing fields that arent obviously level. But the Tories want to remove local authorities from this decision-making.

Under the  current academies scheme, the government, council and a sponsor agree proposals to open a new school,  the Tories  will allow any group that thinks it could run one, including parents or teachers, to apply directly to do so.

Funding, particularly Capital funding, as we have said  could be problematic but the experience of Charter schools in New York may be instructive in this respect . Local school boards have given properties to Charter companies to establish new schools, resolving the capital problem at a stroke. Swedish free schools are pretty flexible about where they locate too.

The Tories have also announced plans to turn some primary schools into academies.

The idea is that if more freedoms and autonomy are good for secondary schools, then the same should surely apply to Primaries. Forcibly changing community primary schools run by the local authority into academies under new management could tackle deep-rooted poor performance by schools in deprived areas. High-performing ones, meanwhile, should also have the chance to become Academies, having earned the right to run themselves semi-autonomously.  However. as the FT has pointed out, and it’s a view shared by Labour Ministers, changing large numbers of primaries into academies is likely to absorb millions of pounds in consultancy fees and other costs, which can be ill-afforded. If a school’s management is not doing a good job, wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier simply to sack the head teacher without changing the school’s structure.  The same argument could, of course, be made for secondary Academies, too.  In fact, it is logically inconsistent to have Academies at secondary but not primary level. More contentiously, the FT claims that there isn’t evidence to suggest, in any case, that Academies have raised standards. And Tory proposals add up to a more liberal version of the current Academies scheme.

However, successive reports from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which monitors Academies performance, have found that Academies have been improving, and often at a rate that exceeds the corresponding improvements in other similar schools. On balance, the evidence suggests that the improvements in pupil performance in Academies, when taken as a group, are better than in other schools with similar characteristics, although the absolute differences are generally relatively small. A National Audit Office report published in Feb 2007 found that GCSE performance in Academies has improved and is improving faster compared with predecessor schools. , including those in similar circumstances. Indeed it concluded that   even taking account of both pupils’ personal circumstances and their prior attainment, Academies’ GCSE performance is substantially better, on average, than other schools. The think tank Civitas however believes that much of the apparent differential in performance could be because Academies are opting for softer vocational options.

Finally, the Tories have listened to complaints from think tanks, schools, universities and exam boards about meddlesome bureaucrats and politicians undermining the exams and qualifications system. Under Conservative plans, inspired by a recent Reform think tank report, the content and structure of A Levels will be the responsibility of the experts: universities, exam boards, and learned societies such as the Royal Society and Institute of Physics. This, they believe will reverse the devaluation of the A Level’s reputation across the world and help restore world-leading exams to Britain. They will also launch an immediate programme to overhaul the National Curriculum in the core subjects of English, Maths and Science so that changes can be introduced from September 2011.

The review of the curriculum will specify core knowledge that is required in every year based on global evidence for what children can and should learn at different ages. In the Science Curriculum every student will be given an entitlement to study the three proper science subjects – physics, chemistry and biology. The National Curriculum does not give students that right at the moment.  And they will allow all state schools to start studying the international GCSE.  Controversially, given that most  teachers seem to have welcomed its main proposals, the Tories will scrap the Rose Primary Review.

The Tories have stolen a march on the Government on the education front ,at least for the time being, and the Government  looks as if it is  reacting to Tory ideas, rather than laying out a clear vision itself.With  Ed Balls supporting the Prime Minister elsewhere  this can hardly be a surprise.   Labour though  are likely to respond    and it promises to be an intriguing election battlefield.

One area where the Tories have less developed ideas is in school funding, and how their supply side  reforms will be funded. The clock is ticking. These reforms are not cost neutral and if you  largely exclude the private sector from running state schools  it is hard to know where the additional funds will come from.



But better schools regulation could help


Per Thulberg, Director General of the Swedish National Agency for Education,  so the man who runs Sweden’s schools, caused a stir recently when he told the BBC “This competition between schools that was one of the reasons for introducing the new schools, has not led to better results,” He continued “The lesson is that it’s not easy to find a way to continue school improvement.” Bit of a blow then for free schools. Well, not really.  A study by the University of Gothenburg compares Sweden’s education performance against other countries in international league tables. Sweden appears to be going downwards relative to others. However, when you look a little closer it’s less a question of Sweden falling back, and more a question of high achieving new entrants joining the tables and going straight into the top ten. These include, for the Pisa studies for instance, countries such as Hong Kong-China, Macao-China, Taiwan, and some of the new EU members from the East.  Thulberg did, however, confirm that students in the new free schools have in general better standards, attributing this to their parents background. “They come from well-educated families,” he said.  So he wants Swedish education to get back to the basics.

But are these free school actually being hijacked by well educated parents in a form of segregation? It is hard to find firm evidence.  Swedish free schools are of course non-selective. So, forgive me for stating the obvious, schools can’t select pupils, nor parents, for that matter.  And studies clearly indicate that the 1,000 or so free schools don’t and indeed cant cream skim the best pupils, having broadly similar socio-economic intakes, to neighbouring,  non-free  municipal schools. School choice reforms did not so much increase segregation based either on parental background or ethnicity, as alter its dynamic.  As Civitas has pointed out, the boundaries between schools and between local neighborhoods in Sweden were lowered in the early 1990s and new suppliers of education were allowed into the sector. The result is that many pupils, previously placed out in the suburbs, chose to make their way into schools resulting in   a mix of pupils that was more representative of the whole Swedish society. Hence, segregation along ethnic lines has in fact decreased in Sweden, through their school choice reforms, which is a huge plus.

But what Thulberg presumably is referring to is that there may have been some increase in segregation along the lines of parental academic background. In other words, well-educated parents (regardless of ethnicity) are more likely to take advantage of the new set of choices available to their children and find them a school that offers them the best opportunities. Crucially, these non-selective free schools provide opportunities across the board. The fact that some parents do not take these opportunities is no argument for denying them to everyone. If  a government provides welfare benefits to everyone who needs them, but some who need them choose not to use them or are not aware of their entitlements , this  is no argument to stop benefits for everyone .The same applies in education.  The system delivers equality of opportunity. Thulberg is essentially talking about parents with high expectations seeking the best for their children.

It is worth noting that here ‘middle class’ families already have access to the best schools in the world. What the best free schools will do is offer something closer to that choice to poor pupils as well. By enforcing the same rules as in Sweden, access to quality education can become a reality for all. It is interesting to note ,in this respect, that the free schools idea is seen as a threat by some, here, in the independent sector. Good state schools make the independent sector less attractive.   As for getting back to basics, it is a gross and misleading over- simplification to suggest this is an attack on free schools, or indeed choice.

In fact the Gothenburg study on Sweden’s relative decline over twenty years, saw schools choice as just one, in basket of influencers  and certainly not the main one.  Other significant reasons identified included housing segregation, making schooling a ‘community matter’, (communities have not distributed resources efficiently-sounds familiar) special teaching groups, and what is termed ‘individualisation.’  The main explanation the report gives, for instance for the dwindling average performance in mathematics and natural science was ‘the increased use of independent learning and decreased teacher-led instruction’.  Another key reason given was poor understanding and application of the National Curriculum. The report stated ‘  The current national curriculum, introduced in the 1990s, provides limited guidance on exactly what children need to learn and what methods teachers should use. While the original intention of this was to give teachers freedom to base their teaching entirely on what each unique situation calls for, it turns out that it has led to more time on their own for school children and less teacher-led instruction. The report shows that this has negatively affected children’s performance and has made support at home more critical to the children’s development.’  So the systems performance overall may have declined, relative to some other high achieving countries ,but not, of course, the performance of free schools within that system. There are plenty of evaluations that clearly demonstrate that schools in geographical areas where competition exists are performing better than schools in areas where there still is no competition. This hasn’t stopped Dr Sandra McNally and Dr Helena Holmlund from the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) arguing otherwise.  In an article published last  week they said the most recent studies of Swedish reforms found evidence of “only small positive effects”.  They added: “Importing the Swedish model may not make very much difference to the UK’s status quo.” It is a claim that will be hotly contested.

Even Per Thulberg who started this debate off   accepts that free schools perform better than municipal schools.

The CEP academics also claim that given we already have choice in our school system introduction of more choice will hardly make a difference. But a vast majority of our state schools including Academies do not have the level of autonomy enjoyed by ‘free schools’, and it is this freedom to manage themselves that is seen as the key driver to improve performance.

Anders Böhlmark and Mikael Lindahl (Stockholm University) found that an increase in the private-school share by 10 percentage points increases average pupil achievement by almost 1 percentile rank point. Another study indicates that student achievement in municipalities with a rising share of students in independent schools increase more than achievement in other municipalities so that the final grade in Maths, English and Swedish at age 16 consistently improved more where independent schools had been set up than elsewhere. And Åsa Ahlin of Uppsala University found that a ten per cent increase in the number of children attending free schools led to a five per cent increase in Mathematics performance across the area. So, increased competition is shown to have statistically significant positive effects on student performance in mathematics.  And, of course, like Charter schools in the States, these schools are popular with the  parents who use them, more so than municipal schools,  with  disadvantaged families and  with minority groups.

The feeling in Sweden seems to be that Swedish schools generally need to be made more accountable and regulated better including, through independent inspection. Somewhat ironic that we are looking at their model for schools and they are looking at our own Ofsted which has come in for some recent criticism (See TES Leader  two weeks ago). There are few influential calls for an end to schools choice in Sweden. More accountability, certainly, but less choice? Definitely not.

It is widely accepted now, in the UK, that one size fits all school model doesn’t work. There is no case that can be plausibly put either that because schools are funded by the taxpayers they have to run by the state. The state can commission and enable but does not need to be a provider, as successive UK Governments have long understood. It is understood too by politicians here, backed by research from the OECD, that genuinely autonomous schools tend to perform better, than  others with less freedoms to manage their affairs. This was accepted by Lord Adonis to justify the launch of the massive Academies programme. Adonis said freedom for schools to manage their affairs was a “key principle” of government policy.

“That is why we have established 130 academies – which are independent state schools – and given all schools greater control of their budgets, staffing and management.”   A Report by Professor Alan Smithers looked to the autonomy of schools in the independent sector in 2008 as an example for the state sector to help drive up standards. He said that the independent sectors autonomy meant decisions were made “closer to the teaching”.  “The autonomy of the school is very effective in delivering high quality education,”  he said  “What we really need to do is make the shape of the system right, put in the money, then have the courage to step back and let teachers take the decisions.  Smithers concluded “It gives an indication to the government as to how they can improve the quality of education in the state sector.”

Some choice is already in the system. The Tories want more choice. With greater freedoms. So do many parents, as the New Schools Network is finding out, as it is inundated with requests for information from parents fed up with whats on offer in their local areas and with centrally and locally driven prescriptions and the endless bureaucracy that is part and parcel of it. Certainly there are opponents of choice who  offer a variety  of arguments against it including, of course, the risk of  segregation, lack of inclusivity, lack of accountability atomization of the system  etc  .But  it is becoming  harder to argue  against the introduction of  regulated, non-selective schools in disadvantaged areas  that  offer more powers to Heads, governors and teachers along with reduced red tape. The free schools idea is about empowerment of parents, schools and of teachers giving the latter back their profession. It could also embrace the idea of co-operative schools in which parents and teachers have a very direct stake.

The most important lesson from Sweden is that school choice has produced better education outcomes, not just for those attending the new independent schools but importantly also those attending any school in a district that contains independent schools.   A  2003  study by Swedish economists Fredrik Bergström and Mikael Sandström and quoted by the Hoover Institute of Stanford University   ‘found  no indication that higher-income earners chose independent schools to a greater extent than low-income earners, no evidence that freedom of choice led to increased economic segregation, and nothing to indicate that independent schools have fewer special-needs students.’  Hence, it is likely that any possible alleged impact from segregation based on parental education will have been more than offset by other significant factors.





 With the Sutton Trust taking notice, it’s worth a closer look


 The Knowledge is Power Programme, KIPP in the US , is a national network of free, open-enrolment, college-preparatory public schools with a track record of preparing students in underserved communities for success in college and in life. It is the largest chain of so-called US Charter schools and is admired by the Tory education team, and the New Schools Network which is encouraging the establishment of Free Schools (autonomous state schools run by  a diversified range of suppliers and parent groups).

 There are currently 66 KIPP schools mostly middle schools (ie, with students between 10 and 14 years old) in 19 states and the District of Columbia, serving around 20,000 students. KIPP aims to grow the size of its network to 100 schools by 2011, to serve an anticipated 40,000 students. Eighty percent of KIPP students are low-income, and 90 percent are African American or Latino. Nationally, more than 90 percent of KIPP middle school students have gone on to college-preparatory high schools, and more than 80 percent of KIPP alumni have gone on to college. All students in KIPP school’s catchment area are eligible for admission, which is determined by random lottery, and tuition is free. KIPP pays for its operations through a combination of funds from the local public school system and donations. KIPP spends approximately $13,000-19,000 per student per year.

 KIPP’s unlikely rise is the subject of Work Hard. Be Nice, a newish book by Washington Post education columnist and longtime reporter Jay Mathews. He spent two years visiting 31 KIPP schools and interviewing its two founders, Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg, as well as the parents, teachers and thinkers who influenced them Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg completed their Teach For America commitment and launched a programme for fifth graders in a public school in inner-city Houston, Texas in 1994.The result is a vivid account of two young men who transform themselves from “terrible” first-year teachers into visionaries. Early alumni of Teach For America, Levin and Feinberg beg, borrow, lie and cajole their way to success. They win the respect of senior teachers .They persuade a Houston bedding tycoon, to buy them a reading curriculum; later, searching for room to expand, Feinberg sits four hours on the bumper of a car belonging to then schools-Superintendent Rod Paige, waiting to enlist his help. (He does.) Eventually, Levin and Feinberg cobble together a college-prep programme that boasts longer hours, days, weeks and years — pupils stay in school until 5 p.m. most days, attend class every other Saturday and spend weeks in summer school .

 Within five years, KIPP and its founders were persuading the USA’s leading philanthropists to part with millions to supplement public funding.

In 2000, Doris and Don Fisher created the KIPP Foundation, whose fundamental responsibility was to grow the KIPP network by training outstanding school leaders to open and operate KIPP schools. Since then, KIPP has become, for many, the default model of urban school reform.

So, what does KIPP do that’s different?

 All KIPP schools share a core set of operating principles known as the Five Pillars: High Expectations, Choice & Commitment, More Time, Power to Lead, and Focus on Results.

In practice, this translates to clear results oriented leadership, hard work and commitment from teachers, parents and pupils alike, innovative personalized education, combined with incentivising good pupil discipline, attendance and performance. Most KIPP schools run from 7:30 am to 5:00 pm Monday through to Friday and 8:30 am to 1:30 on select Saturdays (usually twice a month), and Middle school students also participate in a two-to-three-week mandatory summer school, which includes extracurricular activities after school and on Saturdays. As a result, KIPP students spend approximately 60% more time in class than their peers. Each middle school student receives pay at the end of the week in KIPP dollars which they have earned based on academic merit, conduct, and overall behavior. KIPP dollars may be spent on whatever the student chooses, from books to laptop computers. End-of-year trips are also earned. What is on offer varies from school to school. Many teachers and pupils might balk at longer school hours, but it does seem to give KIPP schools the flexibility to broaden their curriculum and pastoral support.

 Critics of KIPP charter schools have accused the chain of being opaque about how much money it spends and what kinds of students it serves. But KIPP says it’s committed to transparency, and so every year it releases a comprehensive report about its fundraising and planning efforts, and about how each of its schools is performing. (see report link below) The Foundation has recently developed a new leadership competency model that will serve as the anchor for Foundation and regional efforts to recruit, assess, develop and retain excellent leaders. This model has broad applicability to leaders across the network and will align with all levels of leadership. This model will also be tailored to describe what is essential to be successful in instructional leadership roles such as Principal, Assistant Principal, Grade Level Chair, and Dean.

 In KIPP’s regional growth model, schools are clustered into geographic regions, with a shared services center, a common board, and an Executive Director. Schools within a region take advantage of economies of scale in securing talent and other resources, while the shared services center supports school operations so that schools can focus on excellent instruction. Currently a majority of schools (73 percent) are within regions, and all new schools will be opened in existing or new regions. In every Grade (5-8 Grade) a significant majority of KIPP schools pupils outperform local district pupils in mathematics and English (with the possible exception of 5th Grade Reading but not Maths) . And in a nation where just 40% of disadvantaged pupils matriculate to college, so called ‘Kipptsers’ boast an 85% success rate.

 Not all Charter schools demonstrate such added value. But the KIPP model is attracting international attention and admiration including, most recently, here, from the Sutton Trust set up to improve social mobility.

Charter schools can still of course, polarize political opinion and are regarded by teaching unions with suspicion and outright hostility in some cases, but, crucially, they remain very popular in disadvantaged communities, which are too often served by sink schools. They are seen by many in these communities as the only ladder out of the cycle of poverty and under achievement. http://www.kipp.org/reportcard/2008/



 Abolitionists have Human Rights law against them


 Sweden is seen as a good example of how non selective autonomous (free) schools can operate effectively without creating a two tiered system of schooling characterised by good schools and sink schools.

In the Swedish system funding follows the pupil and the existence of independent schools within the state system is seen to have driven up standards across the board. At the time of Sweden’s school revolution in the 1990s a key argument successfully used there to promote school choice, against significant early opposition, was the claim that freedom to choose in education was a basic human right, being specifically enshrined in the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights has become a secular bible for thousands of human rights workers, and according to some commentators, it represents one of the greatest steps forward in the process of global civilisation. Article 26 of the 1948 Declaration outlines the first definition of the right to education, agreed and sanctioned by the United Nations and the wider international community. Those who drafted this document it transpires were determined to avoid a state monopoly in education, and hoped that confirming the right to choose would erode state monopolies where they existed. Although the Declaration’s authors wanted education to be free and compulsory, they did not want governments to dominate its provision, as presently happens in the United Kingdom. Crucially though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provisions mean that the independent sector is protected from any political drive to abolish it. When lawyers say that independent schools are protected by Human Rights law this is the key provision they are normally referring to.

 So it is worth looking in detail at the relevant Article 26, covering education, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 Article 26 states- (1)“ Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit; (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace; (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

 So, there we have it, in a nutshell.

 The left comes up with ingenious arguments about why the independent sector should be abolished and parental choice limited, normally along the lines that it promotes inequality and exacerbates social divisions within society.

The apologists forget though the discomfiting truth that only a totalitarian, markedly illiberal government, riding roughshod over human rights law, could ever begin to attempt abolition. It is interesting to note that in the debate, at the time, surrounding this third clause, a Lebanese delegate argued persuasively and to good effect that it was important to ‘exclude the possibility of situations in which dictators had the power to prevent parents from educating their children as they wished’. Control of education therefore should ‘not be left entirely to the discretion of the state’

 Indeed, it is an arresting fact that in the most socialist and purportedly egalitarian of states, the ruling elite, (think old Eastern Bloc and China now) will always make absolutely sure  sure their own children secure an elite education, the best that party membership can buy,  as distinct  of course from that offered to the masses. Abolition of private schools and the choice that goes with it, would not end the practice of those with the most power and resources securing the best education for their children and the social and economic benefits that go with it.

 The only viable policy to pursue in a liberal democracy, if you are concerned about the existence of a vibrant private schools sector and its effect on the state sector, is to improve free state education to such a degree as to make private schools largely irrelevant. Interestingly, in this respect, some see the Tories proposed free schools programme as a threat to the independent sector and so it could presumably be a wake up call to some in the sector, if ,that is, it takes off in the way that the Tories envisage. http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml#a26




The Tories plans for free schools have little to do with the Swedish model


When Lord Adonis was Schools minister (how we miss him) he praised the Swedish model of education and equated the Blair government’s academy and trust schools initiatives with what has happened in Sweden.

 Indeed, Tony Blair in his forward to an education white paper, which laid the foundations for the subsequent Education Act, also drew parallels with the Swedish model.

 The Tories too have waxed eloquent about the Swedish and US Charter models seeing these ‘free’schools’ as the future. Indeed not much separates the Shadow Education Secretary’s position from that of Lord Adonis, when he was schools Minister.

 However, Lord Adonis and Michael Gove in seeking to equate the Swedish education model with that in the UK are less than totally persuasive. Since 1992, parents in Sweden have been allowed to choose their children’s school. Municipalities were required to fund approved independent schools at 85 per cent of the per-student cost of public schools. A national agency was given the responsibility for approving new independent schools. To receive government funding, independent schools had to forgo tuition charges, meet established educational standards, and admit students without regard to ability, religion or ethnicity. Now almost anyone can set up a school and receive public funding. Far from undermining the public [state] schools in Sweden competition from new independent schools has led to an improvement in the public schools. As in other markets for goods and services, greater competition is a key driver in improving the quality of service to the consumer. Since when has the UK government forced local authorities (as they do in Sweden) to fund pupils in independent schools if that is their wish? That is the essential and manifest difference between the two systems. Seventy five percent of the Swedish free schools are profit making, yet the Tories would not allow their model of free schools, call it Swedish ‘lite’, to be profit making. But self-evidently its not much good having a model if you deny it the fuel to operate.

Anders Hultin, a former adviser to the Swedish government and now Chief Executive of GEMS Education, spelt it out in the Daily Telegraph this week. He said that the Swedish model would not exist without the acceptance of profit-making organisations, and he should know (nor for that matter would the Charter Model, or certainly not on the current scale). He wrote that the reason that 75% of the Swedish free school are profit seeking is because schools that are paid per pupil tend to expand as fast as demand requires – if they are oversubscribed, they will open a sister school rather than build up waiting lists. But in order to expand, they need to have money. Indeed, without the profit element, research showed that most of Sweden’s new independent schools ‘would have been very small, and most would have had a religious purpose’.

In short, the Tories can’t seek to emulate a model, while removing the core ingredient of that models success.

It is also odd given the state of public finances that they choose to shut out a huge source of potential investment.

 Crucially, to make it worthwhile for private suppliers to set up state schools you need to make it attractive for them to set up chains of schools, to up scale success to generate economies of scale and a return so that they can invest in the future.

You cannot rely on the charitable activities of private companies to deliver systemic change, particularly in the current economic and financial environment. If you don’t have an attractive financial model, then providers will not engage. This also extends to the not for profit sector, perhaps paradoxically, because not for profit operators seek not just to recover costs but to make a surplus  so that they can invest in the future too . You don’t need the brains of an Archbishop to work this one out. Over, to the Tories.