The NUS  seems to be keen on protecting sensitive students from ideas, arguments and speakers that might potentially offend them. Hence the emergence of ideas such as trigger warnings , safe spaces, and  no platforming, in other words preventing certain speakers from addressing student gatherings. Given that universities were established in the first place in  order to encourage freedom of speech and expression  ,  informed by the values of the Enlightenment, and the exchange of ideas, in order to help discover Truth, its all rather perplexing.  Freedom of Speech is only working if you are irritated by what other people are saying. Lets hope that  its all  a passing phase and that University administrators robustly oppose such nonsense. Interestingly though  the use of “no-platform” could be illegal.  The Sunday Times has seen   legal advice commissioned by the NUS. The  37-page legal opinion  says that  no platforming  is lawful only if applied to members of proscribed groups, such as terrorists. In other cases they breach part of the Education Act 1986, which requires universities to ensure freedom of speech.

For example The  Education Act 1986:

Part IV Miscellaneous

43 Freedom of speech in universities, polytechnics and colleges.

(1)Every individual and body of persons concerned in the government of any establishment to which this section applies shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the establishment and for visiting speakers.

(2)The duty imposed by subsection (1) above includes (in particular) the duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the use of any premises of the establishment is not denied to any individual or body of persons on any ground connected with—

(a)the beliefs or views of that individual or of any member of that body; or

(b)the policy or objectives of that body.

(3)The governing body of every such establishment shall, with a view to facilitating the discharge of the duty imposed by subsection (1) above in relation to that establishment, issue and keep up to date a code of practice setting out—

(a)the procedures to be followed by members, students and employees of the establishment in connection with the organisation—

(i)of meetings which are to be held on premises of the establishment and which fall within any class of meeting specified in the code; and

(ii)of other activities which are to take place on those premises and which fall within any class of activity so specified; and

(b)the conduct required of such persons in connection with any such meeting or activity;

and dealing with such other matters as the governing body consider appropriate.

(4)Every individual and body of persons concerned in the government of any such establishment shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable (including where appropriate the initiation of disciplinary measures) to secure that the requirements of the code of practice for that establishment, issued under subsection (3) above, are complied with…….



The sector  in future will face growing scrutiny over its economic and social returns

The recent IFS report (see link below) discovered that that at 23 universities men typically earned less even 10 years after graduating than their counterparts who’d never been. For women, it was at  nine  universities. A University education, of course, is   not just about ensuring that you have high level earnings in future years. But ,if the perception takes root  that for most there will be no graduate premium, that universities wont really help  you to be socially mobile and you will be stuck with debt for many, many  years, then the obvious  danger is that  many young people will begin to turn their backs  on Higher education.

Recent decades have seen a major increase in participation in higher education throughout the developed world. UK now has proportionately more graduates than any other rich country, bar Iceland. To many, probably  most, this is a good thing. It has   demonstrably improved the life opportunities of many more young people. But to others there are concerns  . Perhaps the rapid expansion  was underfunded,  maybe the quality of teaching  has declined,  due to the  increased pressure  on academics to do more with less,   and perhaps   degrees have  devalued in the job market, through over- supply.  There  is already a   perception that many graduates are, in some senses, being underutilised in the labour market. Put another way ,many graduates are now in jobs that are not considered, or certainly weren’t historically considered,  to be graduate level jobs.  It is arguable that too many graduates are in jobs that are low paying and don’t utilise the skills and knowledge that their degrees gave them (or purported to give them). Aditya Chakrabortty in the Guardian  this week points out that  one in six call-centre staff have degrees, as do about one in four of all air cabin crew and theme-park attendants.

This begs an obvious question- what is the point in creating more graduates unless you have more graduate-level jobs?

In 2015 the CIPD in a policy report concluded that ‘Policy-makers need to scrutinise the range of courses offered by the HE sector and seriously consider the social and private returns to them. We conjecture that they will conclude that, in many cases, public funds could more usefully be deployed elsewhere in the education and training system. Our findings suggest that the presence of a large HE sector will not necessarily lead to the attainment of the knowledge economy so beloved by successive UK governments.’

Its pretty safe to conclude that, in future, there will greater scrutiny from young people,  paying undergraduates , the government and regulators over the quality of degrees in HE institutions and the social and economic returns they  can deliver . It is also clear that there are some in government (see this weeks  Daily Telegraph leak story) who believe that some  degrees and HE institutions are not  currently delivering value for money for the students, and , indeed, taxpayers.

CIPD Over-qualification and skills mismatch in the graduate labour market-August 2015


IFS Working Paper-April 2016- How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background



The Government says ‘Good teaching and high academic standards are strongly associated with adequate provision and widespread use of high-quality textbooks.’ And, ‘ a well-designed textbook provides a coherent, structured programme which supports a teacher’s own expertise and knowledge as well as a pupil’s.’ Hard to argue with that.

Lord Nash answering a PQ on 14 April said ‘Cambridge Assessment’s report, ‘Why textbooks count’, analysed the use of high-quality textbooks around the world. The report found that use of textbooks is common in high performing education jurisdictions. In Finland, 95% of maths teachers use a textbook as a basis for instruction. In Singapore, 70% of maths teachers use a textbook. In England, only 10% of maths teachers use a textbook for their core teaching.On 26 March 2016, the Department for Education published a report from a review group looking at teacher workload in relation to planning and resources. The group concluded there is a case for schools to place greater emphasis on quality- assured resources, including textbooks, to reduce the time teachers spend on searching for resources.Good textbooks also have workbooks which support homework in a positive way by providing well-structured practice exercises linked to clear explanations, which parents can understand and use to help their children.We have been working with textbook publishers with the aim of improving the quality of textbooks available to schools, to better support excellent teaching and teacher professional development. Last year, the publishers produced a set of common guidelines for the production of textbooks.’

This is what Nick Gibb MP , the schools Minister, said in the Foreword to the Cambridge Assessment paper:

‘Ideological hostility to the use of textbooks, particularly in primary schools, developed in the 1970s. Their replacement with work sheets and hundreds of thousands of bespoke written lesson plans has added to teacher workload, detracted from coherence and impacted on standards. This seminal paper will, I hope, lead to the renaissance of intellectually demanding and knowledge-rich textbooks in England’s schools.’


Why textbooks count A Policy Paper Tim Oates –Cambridge Assessment -November 2014


TES-Tim Oates 18 April 2016




We know that savings have to be made and costs cut in public services, that we have to get more from less,  and productivity has to improve,  because that’s what we are told by Ministers. Strange then that at the Energy Department, as policy  lurches  from one crisis to the next, and experts predict a mismatch between supply and demand, with an acknowledged  shortage of generating capacity and a creaking national grid,  and an  expensive nuclear deal in prospect  that may or may not work,(probably the latter), one has grounds for wondering why so many civil servants who deal with Energy policy  are due bonuses.

The Public Sector is heavily into bonuses but has yet to produce any evidence that they work (ie for example- they incentivise employees to increase productivity). Because-well – there isn’t and they don’t. Bonuses might work on a production line, making widgets, but for more complex team oriented tasks and  services,  there is  scant evidence that they  do,  or at least  they   only work in certain very specific and limited  contexts.  Apart from anything else its extremely difficult to disaggregate an individual’s singular efforts and added value from that of other team players. Or, establish clear cause and effect rather than simply identifying correlations.  The empirical evidence just isn’t there. If evidence tells us anything it is that  non-monetary incentives (e.g., recognition, respect, autonomy, etc.) can be  much more powerful motivators of behaviours in the workplace. I can guarantee, by the way, that the departments ‘productivity’ will not have increased over the last year, and as Professor Michael Barber has reminded us in the past, improving  productivity is a  key task and benchmark  of any and every  government department.

New figures show that Energy secretary Amber Rudd’s department blew a total of £1,299,729 on whats called “Non-consolidated performance related payments”, aka bonuses, in 2014-15. A whopping £284,586 was earmarked for just 108 “Senior Civil Servants”, meaning these departmental mandarins hooked themselves a median average of £9,800, with some payouts going as high as an austerity-busting £14,700. This is despite an average annual salary of £109,490 . The average private sector bonus for UK workers last year was just £1,500…

Are other civil servants in other departments across government getting bonuses?  I think  we know the answer to that one.

Schools Week tells us that The Department for Education (DfE) paid out £1.7 million in bonuses last year – with top civil servants pocketing up to £17,500 for good performance. In total, 25.7 per cent of DfE senior civil servants got a bonus, with a median of £11,000. That compared with 23.4 per cent of non-senior civil servants with a median bonus of £1,900. And at Ofsted a quarter of the watchdog’s senior civil servants received bonuses: the largest was £16,500 and the median was £13,500.Question- did productivity in the DFE and Ofsted go up last year? I think we probably know the answer to that one too

Austere times, indeed, in the public sector.


Sir Michael Wishaw said at a Sutton Trust conference recently   that independent schools should lose charitable status if they did not sponsor an academy. A bit harsh.

Having upset the FE sector, then heads of  Multi Academy Trusts  and now the independent sector one wonders who might be next in Sir Michaels cross hairs, as he heads towards the end of his term as chief inspector.

Most independent schools, of course, are modest in size and intake with few assets, so one assumes that Wilshaw is talking about the big ones with large endowment funds and big intakes. . If so, he should have made this a little clearer.

Of course its not up to  Wilshaw, nor indeed Alan Milburn ,who is now the social mobility guru,  to tell schools what they should be doing. Milburn is on record as saying he wants independent schools to lose their charitable status, so is hardly a disinterested adviser.   Its up to governors/trustees  of course  to decide how  they spend their money to fulfill their  charity purposes and deliver public benefit. Sponsoring an academy is a complex challenge which needs great expertise and resources that few independent schools actually  have. They normally  have to deal with largely compliant pupils who want to learn  ,with supportive parents,  sadly , unlike rather too many state schools.  State school teachers often  have to wrestle with daily challenges that would place many independent school teachers well out of their comfort zones.

There are significant reputational risks involved  with supporting an academy . So,  Heads and governors need to give serious consideration to these before making a decision on academy sponsorship.

Under Sir Anthony Seldon, Wellington College took on an academy near Tidworth. Sir Anthony did more than any other Head to persuade independent schools to support academies and to bridge the unacceptable divide between the independent and maintained sectors.  In this he had an ally in the form of Lord Adonis. Wellington College remains committed long term to its academy. But it hasn’t been easy.  Although the school now has a ‘Good’  Ofsted rating   it  has found the project challenging- starting strongly, dipping, then continuing on an improving trend (although exam results fail to capture the real transformation underway in the Wellington academy with the support of the mother school).  Dulwich College is another school to take on an academy but gave up, and with brutal candour admitted that  it was  not very good at it,despite being one of the top performers in the independent sector.

Eton College  sponsors Holyport College, a free school which opened  in 2014. Eton gave the new school money for an all-weather sports pitch, new furniture for its boarding houses, cast-off music technology equipment, a piano and a minibus — as well as providing   specialist teacher support. Bradfield College, sponsors nearby Theale Green School ‘ helping with  its  improvement plan. Yet results to date have been far from encouraging. Last year Ofsted inspectors judged Theale Green, ‘requiring improvement’.The London Academy of Excellence, though  a Stratford-based sixth-form college which is sponsored by a host of private schools including Eton, Brighton and Highgate, encouragingly , recently announced that eight of its pupils had been offered places at Oxbridge

If schools are to become more involved given the trajectory of government policy they would probably have to be part of a multi academy trust now which brings its own  particular challenges, for a singleton independent.

The fact is that schools that have charity status can satisfy the public benefit criteria in different ways.  Its not just about academy support, or indeed bursaries.

Around 97 per cent of all independent schools do engage in partnerships and many independent schools are engaged in major long-term projects to raise aspirations in their local community. It is clear to most in both sectors that collaboration between the state sector and the independent sector can have major mutual benefits and independent schools can be forces for good in terms of social mobility.

There are many  ways in which effective collaboration can take place. Some of the strongest and biggest schools have, of course singly or in partnership with others, sponsored academies. Many schools continue to grow their provision of means-tested Assisted Places. Almost all schools can do something in terms of partnership which can enrich the experience and raise the aspirations of pupils. There are facility shares, teacher swaps, help from specialist teachers, shared professional development, sports fixtures  art, music , joint theatre projects, joint research , masterclasses, Sunday schools,   shared cadet forces, holiday clubs, holiday revision  and so on.  There are now many flourishing independent state school partnerships, which are all well established and very successful, each offering a myriad of opportunities and benefits to all the schools concerned. The Department for Education is sufficiently  impressed with the effectiveness of these partnerships and it has committed £176,000 to nurturing new projects, awarding seed money to 18 schools to encourage them to set up new ways of working with local schools.

A big question remains though. If the most successful multi-academy trusts are very careful now about what schools they take on because of the reputational risks involved ,and they are experienced at running state schools,  one has to ask how many more private schools will want to risk their reputations by being associated with a state academy with less than outstanding exam results?   There are  clearly merits in  supporting academies and frankly it’s a much better option than awarding a few bursaries ,with much  less  return,  and with fewer beneficiaries   but there is as yet little evidence that the independent sector has grasped this baton and is  running  with it.  My guess is that with accelerated academisation there will be more academy support from the independent sector, but not much more.

Meanwhile, the sector will  continue to be attacked  from various quarters because it is seen as  a soft target. at a time when the politicians are wrestling, fairly ineffectively it has to be said ,  with promoting equity ,social justice and social mobility. Improvements in this area need a cross cutting  collaborative  strategy involving schools, FE colleges, Universities,  the third sector, employers,   the professions, careers advisers, parents et al.   One thing is for sure, displacement attacks on the private sector will not make this complex agenda any more easy to  deliver.


The battle lines are drawn

With the NUT taking up the fight against forced academistaion and a petition doing the rounds against it too  (130,000 signatures thus far )  it is worth reflecting what  research tells us about the impact academies have on pupil outcomes. . Broadly it tells us that academies are not in themselves a panacea for improving  outcomes.

Opposition  to forced academisation is coalescing around three main arguments. There are outstanding schools that are not academies-so why force them to change their status- ie ‘ if it aint broke don’t fix it.’ This is probably the strongest argument. Secondly, there is no compelling evidence that academies  overall  perform better than maintained schools. Thirdly, if you take all schools out of LA influence, then you lose democratic accountability and make it more difficult for LAs  to perform their other functions ie ensuring a school place for every child, improving inclusion,  social equity etc etc.

Research from  Stephen Gorard ,of Durham University, in 2014  confirmed  earlier studies in ‘ finding no convincing evidence that Academies are any more (or less) effective than the schools they replaced or are in competition with.’ ‘The prevalence of Academies in any area is strongly associated with local levels of SES segregation, and this is especially true of the more recent Converter Academies. Converter Academies, on average, take far less than their fair share of disadvantaged pupils. Sponsor-led Academies, on the other hand, tend to take more than their fair share. Their profiles are so different that they must no longer be lumped together for analysis as simply’ Academies’. Academies are not shown to be the cause of local SES segregation. Instead they are merely more likely to appear in areas that already have inequitable school mixes. This means, of course, that Academies are not helping reduce segregation (as was one of their original purposes) or increase social justice in education, and the paper concludes that maintained schools should be preferred for this purpose.’

Gorard concludes that:

‘To say that struggling Academies are doing no better than their non-Academy peers or predecessors is not to denigrate them. They are doing no worse than their peers either, with equivalent pupils. Nor does it mean that good work has not been done in and by Academies. But it does demonstrate that the Programme is a waste of time and energy at least in terms of this rather narrow measure of outcomes. There is no success specific to Academies that might not also have come from straightforward increased investment in ‘failing’ schools’.

The government clearly thinks that rapid academisation is the answer to improving pupil outcomes, while admitting that too many academies are not delivering significantly improved results. It should therefore more clearly argue the case for what changes academisation will make, whether they are feasible given capacity issues and the tight  timescale envisaged,  and  how these changes will lead to long‑term benefit for learners. While many in education back the academies programme (though some supporters are split over forced academisation) because,  crucially, it affords more ‘autonomy’ to schools, there are concerns over why performance is so patchy . It  is also the case , worryingly, that the relationship between the government (DFE) and some large academy chains, the bodies tasked with driving reforms , are strained.

Some might argue that the reasons for the patchiness in performance is because the programme has now become overly centralised  and subject to too much intervention and too little real autonomy, as well as de-facto  restrictions on the scope for academies and MATs to innovate. They could have a point.



Also see NFER





Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE ,an expert on Careers Guidance ,recently gave evidence to a Sub-Committee of the Education Select Committee (on Education Skills and the Economy) which is looking at Careers information and guidance. This is timely because the government is currently drafting a new careers strategy. Deirdre mentioned international evidence and the findings of the 7th International Symposium on Career Development and Public Policy held in Iowa (June 2015).What were those key findings, based on contributions from seasoned international guidance professionals? According to Deirdre Hughes:
‘Career development policies, systems and services need to support young people to access work-related learning from an early age. Work-related learning should be a core part of the education system for all young people and include learning about entrepreneurship and social enterprise.

Strategies should aim to provide national co-ordination, benchmarks and evaluation, while respecting the need for regional/local tailoring.

Career development services need to be both widely available and able to contribute to a range of client needs from supported self-help through to intensive personalised support. This requires a diverse workforce, frequently operating through devolved and dispersed networks.

There is a need for a cadre of professional career guidance practitioners in every country who are able to guide, develop and support diversified delivery networks. There is also a need for some career specialists educated at the second and third levels of higher education, to deliver higher-level training courses, undertake research and evaluation nationally, and engage with the international academic community.’

So a big question arises. Are these the areas where the new Careers and Enterprise company and its 18 staff is focusing all its efforts and resources at the moment? I think not. Its work is almost entirely focused on work experience, employer engagement with schools ( a proxy it  now seems for professional careers advice and guidance) and expanding enterprise advice and advisers in schools.

Meanwhile, there is a haemorrhaging of experienced careers guidance specialists from the sector, so the cadre of ‘professional career guidance practitioners’  seen as vital ,in Englands case at least ,  is diminishing daily, something that the new Careers strategy should urgently address. The scary part is that there is a possibility that it might not. If this is the case, then the future of careers guidance in England looks bleak, and the government, moreover, will be seen to have turned its back on evidence led policy.