The recent Green Paper, sets out proposals to increase selection in the maintained sector. It aims, through increasing selection, to make more good school places available, improving choice , driving up attainment which in turn will improve social mobility. It proposes that those independent schools with charity status, either set up, or sponsor, a state school. But that’s not all. Ministers want an increase in the number of bursaries available and, also, suggest other measures, which are listed, that schools ought   to be undertaking   more of, to deliver public benefit.  (One wonders how much time they will have left for their core business.)  If schools don’t jump through the hoops, they may have to forfeit their charitable status. While acknowledging that many independent schools are small, and that most members of the ISC are currently involved in some form of partnership arrangement or activity, (87% of ISC schools are ‘in mutually beneficial partnerships with state schools and local communities, sharing expertise, best practice and facilities to the benefit of children in all the schools involved’) the government insists that while this is good, as far as it goes, it is simply  not enough.

The assumption, on the government’s part, is that that because most of these selective  schools achieve good results then they can help non-selective  state schools achieve better results driving up attainment which will have a transformative effect across the maintained sector, delivering more good places. Maybe they can. But evidence suggests that this assumption is, at the very least, debateable. It does not necessarily follow that a good selective school will  ensure that any non-selective school it runs will be good or  outstanding particularly if they take on schools in the most disadvantaged areas, which are often the most challenging .  Rather obviously it’s a different context, and a different challenge.

There is also  a belief in the sector that the government has an unnecessarily narrow and overly prescriptive view of what public benefit looks like.

Unsurprisingly, the government’s threats, combined with the accompanying possible sanctions, have not gone down well with the independent sector. If you want transformative outcomes, from any institution, as a rule, it’s probably not a good opening gambit to threaten them. Incentivise them, yes. Threaten them, no. This Green paper is heavy on sticks, light on carrots.

The Independent sector is used to being a whipping boy for Labour governments. But for a Conservative government to attack them in this way, well, it’s almost unprecedented (mind you it’s also attacking the business community so the sector shouldn’t feel totally alone on that score) and arguably counter-productive. The sector argues that both in scale and scope there are many on-going, effective partnership   arrangements that help deliver public benefit between the sectors, although rarely are these given publicity by the media, or indeed historically at least  by the DFE.  The sector also complains that many of its attempts to forge relationships with the maintained sector are rebuffed.

It does accept, though, that more could be done by some schools, with the requisite capacity, to work more closely with the maintained sector to bridge the divide and to improve outcomes, crucially, through partnership working and active collaboration.

A new organisation has been formed, with the support of the ISC and DFE- ‘The Schools Together Group’ chaired by Christina Astin (Kings School Canterbury) It  held its inaugural meeting last week in Westminster. Lord Nash, the education Minister was among the speakers.  The Groups mission statement is’ Harnessing the power of partnerships for the benefit of children’

It has three aims:

to highlight the projects and partnerships which currently exist between independent schools and maintained schools or community groups

to provide a selection of case studies and best practice guides which add more detail about specific types of existing projects and partnerships so that others interested in setting up similar activities have the support they need

to encourage and enable more collaboration between schools and within local communities by putting people in touch

The official launch was timely. With the Green Paper pushing the sector to do more, here   was proof positive that the sector had got this message, without any prompting,  some time ago, with over 1400 projects and cross sector partnerships, already up and running.(see web site)

The audience, from the outset, was reminded of Frederick Douglass’ dictum  ‘ It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men’.

It seems to be accepted, at least at one level, by the government, that the basis of a good, self-improving school system is effective partnership working, although that message is all but lost in the Green paper.  Lord Nash, however, for his part, understands the value of collaboration and partnership working based on his own  experience with Multi Academy Trusts. At this meeting he accepted that there were many good partnerships between the sectors but reminded the audience that social mobility was not improving and much more needed to be done.

Social mobility is a difficult, stubborn issue, of course, which won’t go away. Sadly, it seems to be getting worse, at least if you look at the latest Social Mobility Commission report.  That concludes that, if anything, the rungs of the mobility ladder are getting further apart.  Intractable problems, though, rarely have simple solutions. And the Green paper proposals, which are designed apparently to ease social mobility, look very unlikely in the view of the Social Mobility Commission at least, to do any such thing. (Indeed, they might make matters worse) The Minister, while understanding concerns being expressed about the Green Paper, said that the government wants more from the sector, but added that it genuinely welcomes feedback on its proposals and is in listening mode. We shall see. (the autumn statements allocation of  capital funding for grammar schools expansion suggests to some   that the governments mind is made up, before the consultation has closed)

Deborah Leek Bailey, who chaired the launch, claimed that there was a massive appetite in the independent sector for more engagement with the state sector. There is much scope for working across the sectors, in particular, in Primary schools where much subject specific work is  already being done to enrich the curriculum-in science, languages, maths, technology Latin and in particular  the minority subjects. This all looks promising.

Martin Robinson whose book the Trivium has influenced approaches in the state and independent sectors, particularly in promoting the liberal arts,  believes that the independent sector can offer support in two main areas -Culture and Curriculum. He added though that this has to be two way, and involve reciprocity mutual support and respect. In many areas, the curriculum is being narrowed. He singled out Art History, Classics and Latin as areas where support could be given. On the Cultural side independent schools are often strong in Sports, Arts, Drama and Music, Debates, Cadets, Conferences and so on. He mentioned the idea of ‘Uber’ teachers (not to be confused with taxis or Nietzsche for that matter), excellent specialist  teachers who can move  between sectors  and give support where required . There is much more scope for bringing together staff from both sectors, professional voices to start conversations, to bridge the sector divide, on a sustained basis.

The work of Newhams London Academy of Excellence was mentioned several times as a very successful model for cross sector partnerships (Sixth Form) which has a   higher success rate at getting pupils into Oxbridge than many independent schools.

Jonathan Taylor mentioned mutual learning and respect as important and geography(ie location) could be too, it was  certainly important  in  the York partnership,  He said that there has to be an operational steering group and don’t forget a  paid co-ordinator for partnerships if you are serious about wanting results.

Alex Galvin, senior education lead SSAT, outlined her organisations approach (the largest state school network) and gave some pointers on partnership working and collaboration. SSAT is experienced at helping to facilitate partnership working, of putting potential partners in touch with each other, acting as a facilitator ensuring that partnerships become   a community of shared practice and research. For partnerships to be successful there is a role for brokerage.  You can’t impose partnerships on schools. They must be based on trust. There is scope too for introducing schools to new partners they don’t   already know. Partnerships must have a clear aim and purpose, of course. And the right partner has got to be chosen for the right purpose. And, the same message repeated time and again at this meeting, the   benefits must be seen be going both ways. Good partnerships mean   you are raising attainment together, with dignity.

The Headteacher of Kingsland Community School, Newham, Joan Deslandes has worked closely with Richard Cairns of Brighton College, following their chance meeting in China.  Big things can come from these small conversations, between professionals. She said that partnerships must be integral to the school development plan. Her partnership with Brighton College has resulted, amongst other things, she says, in her school in a disadvantaged area, having some of the best science teaching and results in London,


What are the key messages from this meeting?

Take a look at the web site – there is an awful lot happening that you don’t know about on partnerships with information/case studies that could help you forge your own partnerships.

The state sector is quite often reluctant to engage and may need incentives

Professional to professional contact and engagement, can break down barriers. From small beginnings, good partnerships can grow

Effective partnerships must be organised professionally and have a clear purpose and objectives, but also depth. It’s not just about the Heads.  At their core often is a community of shared good practice   and research.

To be sustainable the relationship must be reciprocal, with a clear understanding of the mutual benefits that can be gained, by all parties, based on trust and respect.

These partnerships, if well-structured and run, can offer a diversity of shared activities and outcomes which can significantly enrich the curriculum offer, particularly but not exclusively at Primary schools, as well as offering potentially big cultural dividends.

The Green paper is a deep worry to many in  the sector, partly because of its tone-based  seemingly on threats and potential sanctions but also its apparent  lack of acknowledgement for the importance of partnerships (rather than simply bi-lateral relationships) and specifically for the real progress being made in partnership development between the sectors .(surely if you are involved in a partnership this  could be as  good as running or sponsoring a school in terms of delivering  public  benefit )

Those attending were urged to contribute to the Green Paper Consultation

Schools Together is supported and maintained by the Independent Schools Council (ISC) in collaboration with the Department for Education and the Independent/State Schools Partnership (ISSP). It is chaired by Christina Astin with a Steering Committee Tom Arbuthnott (Eton College) Sarah Butterworth(Highgate School) Harry Chapman (Kings College Wimbledon)


The Government says , with respect to its recent Green Paper, ‘ Within our new proposals, we have been clear that we expect selective schools to support non-selective schools, looking to them to be engines of academic and social achievement for all pupils, whatever their background, wherever they are from and whatever their ability’ So the clear presumption is that selective Schools have better teachers and teaching than non-selective schools.. but where is the evidence? The fact that selective schools perform better could be entirely due , or due at least in significant part, to the quality of their intakes, surely?  You would have to demonstrate that selective schools add more value to their pupils than non-selective schools across the board to justify such a claim.  In which case, where is the data that shows us  that this is the case?


One reason why Theresa May seems now to be focusing more on those’ hard working families just about managing’ rather than on the most disadvantaged cohort, as refllected in her speech to Conference and the recent Education Green Paper,  is for sound political reasons, in that they are the voters disillusioned with establishment politicians, who feel they are not being listened to, are on stagnant incomes  and who voted in huge numbers for Brexit . She  wants to attract them back into the fold, with what she sees as more ‘inclusive’ policies.  Another reason could be that despite successive governments best efforts and attempts to intervene to help the most disadvantaged and to close the attainment gap between them and their mainstream peers , only  glacial progress is being made in this area. Could it be that the government has all but given up on narrowing the achievement gap between pupils on Free school meals and mainstream pupils ? As Sir Michael Wilshaw pointed out recently the attainment gap between FSM and non-FSM secondary students hasn’t budged in a decade. It was 28 percentage points 10 years ago and it is still 28 percentage points today. Thousands of poor children who are in the top 10% nationally at age 11 do not make it into the top 25% five years later. He added that the fact that a quarter of a million youngsters leave school after 13 years of formal education without a GCSE in English and Maths is a national disgrace.
One interesting issue raised ,and question put, in the recent Green paper, was how to identify and target these hard working families who don’t quite qualify for FSM. The short answer is that ,at the moment it  is difficult and it seems pretty widely accepted that the FSM measure is too clunky and indiscriminate to be an accurate indicator  for the most disdavantaged, and isnt much use for the group that  May seeks to target, . Neither The Pupil data base nor the standard returns made by schools give the granular details necessary. However work is being done behind the scenes with HMRC and other agencies to improve the metrics and data to enable more forensic targeting. So watch this space.


The Government said  in its recent  Green Paper that it   wants  all universities  either to   sponsor existing schools or set up new schools in exchange for the ability to charge   higher fees.

In addition to, but not instead of, the above requirements,  the government said  that  universities could consider:

  • supporting schools through being a member of the governing body or academy trust board;
  • assisting with curriculum design, mentoring of school pupils, and other educational support; and
  • provision of human resources, teaching capacity (for example in A-level STEM subjects), and finance support.

‘In addition to driving attainment, we could ask universities to consider taking into account geography, the number of good school places or higher education participation rates when deciding where to focus their energies’.

This proposal doesn’t even look good on paper.

It is not the business of universities to run schools . Besides, there is no evidence that they are  any good at it.   Why would they be?  Even specialist organisations that run schools as their core business find setting up,  or sponsoring,   a new school,   a challenging business. A number of Universities have tried, and to say that their record is patchy is an understatement.

If a University wants  to set up a new school then it needs to make a compelling  business   case for it, with a rigorous  risk assessment attached. Otherwise we will have more failed  ventures  on our hands,   that are wasteful , damaging to the institutions involved ,  and , most importantly, hugely damaging to pupils.

As one insider  put it to to me ‘  In what other sector could you imagine being required to do something you have no experience of in order to be able to ,or allowed to,  develop and market your core business?’

Good leadership ,and above all high  quality  teachers and teaching, are at the heart of  every  good school . But , who with their hand on their heart, can honestly  say that these  are currently the perceived   strengths of our  Higher Education Sector ?Indeed one of  the major motivating factors behind the Higher Education and Research Bill was the poor quality of teaching in too many universities . So, the government  is now actively incentivising   institutions , many with poor quality teachers and teaching,  to set up or sponsor schools… really?

Of course, the HE Sector could , and should, support schools and pupils  and add value in various  ways. There are many partnership programmes up and running already. This engagement between the HE sector and schools though   should be informed by  hard evidence of what works and is most effective.  Some Access programmes could be  better structured and evaluated, for example  but there is plenty of sound practice to be built on too.   Student progression,  transition  (and  careers guidance),  to higher education is an area where universities can do much  more. Curriculum and  professional development are two other  areas , as well as those  mentioned above in the Green paper.

But  forcing a university to set  up or sponsor a school in order  for it to raise its  fees makes no sense.  It could also do a lot of harm.

A much more flexible, evidential  approach is required from the government and  one should  pray that this will  be reflected in the eventual proposals that come out of the consultation process.


Universities are about the communal examination of ideas
There is a new intolerance that is sweeping higher education in the US and UK. Its an intolerance of words, ideas and images. Andrew Anthony expressed it thus “ a zealous form of cultural policing that relies on accusatory rhetoric and a righteous desire to censor history, literature, politics and culture.” A new vernacular is developing around this of ‘Safe Spaces’, ‘no-platforming’ and ‘ trigger warnings ‘. Worryingly, many universities, rather than defending freedom of speech and expression are doing the opposite. Allowing a new culture of censorship to develop.
Research by online magazine Spiked, shows that 80% of universities, as a result of their official policies and actions, to have either restricted or actively censored free speech and expression on campus, beyond the requirements of the law. However, it transpires Students’ own representative bodies are far more censorious than the universities themselves.
An obsession with protecting people’s feelings has, over time, begun to trump other values. Including it seems the values of the Enlightenment and the exercise of dispassionate, secular reason, on which the foundations of world class universities were built. This seems to have combined with social Medias considerable capacity to give currency, organisation, effect, and faux credibility to minority radical views. (There is scant evidence that a majority of students sympathise with these views-an HEPI poll for example this year found a majority of undergraduates agreeing that universities should never limit free speech )
But there is a push back underway. Earlier this year ,Professor Louise Richardson, Oxfords Vice Chancellor said : “We need to expose our students to ideas that make them uncomfortable so that they can think about why it is that they feel uncomfortable about and what it is about those ideas that they object to. And then to have the practice of framing a response and using reason to counter these objectionable ideas and to try to change the other person’s mind and to be open to having their own minds changed. “That’s quite the opposite of the tendency towards safe spaces and I hope that universities will continue to defend the imperative of allowing even objectionable ideas to be spoken.” (Daily Telegraph 16 Jan 2016)
More recently in  a  speech at Melbourne University (14 September Sir Robert Menzies Memorial Foundation Lecture)- Baroness Amos, Director of SOAS, offered a robust defence of free speech on campus. She said “Universities are about the communal examination of ideas”. Adding that “ As the next generation of intellectuals, while you have a duty to test and critique the boundaries of scholarship, you also have a duty to ensure respect for others as these boundaries are tested. The debate will only ever be as good as the space it is given. Argument and disagreement are all part of the course to finding solutions. It is only through the interplay of constructive and engaged examination, that we can progress in our understanding and knowledge of the world. As leaders in higher education – the key sector of society which provides such space across the world. I feel we have a duty to preserve and protect free speech. It is a duty I hold dear.”
But as Lady Amos points out ,as others have her before her “ it must also be recognised that these rights are not absolute – these are rights that need to be exercised with due regard for others – with respect.”

When universities stop being about confronting new and challenging, perhaps even dangerous, ideas, and instead become self-censoring spaces in which students are  protected from ideas that might offend , and in which acceptable views, and speakers, are defined ( by a self-appointed illiberal  elite), , and others banned, not only the pursuit of truth is imperiled but the very purpose of universities is  undermined.


Gerard Liston, an enterprise and employability consultant, told Schools Week,  that  he had “real concerns” about a “lack of progress and lack of sustainability” at the CEC, and said its funding – £70 million over this parliament – would be better spent on training teachers to deliver guidance in classrooms.

“There is a real limit to what can be achieved in a school through one day a month with a volunteer from business,” he said, adding that he was disappointed with the “lack of results and the superficial nature” of projects from CEC so far.’

There are fears that the CEC, is front loaded, meaning its heavy on marketing itself but light on delivery. Within a year of its establishment the then Minister Sam Gyimah talked of significant achievements omitting to  mention  what they were. Inputs are clear outputs less so. There is nothing on the CEC web site about the impact it is having on the guidance offered to  young people.  There is also a  perception developing that it is almost entirely focused on employer engagement  and ‘enterprise’ rather  than in  ensuring that pupils have easy access to professional independent guidance, including face to face guidance which evidence tells us  benefits the most disadvantaged more than anyone else  . Nor does it seem to understand what Careers ‘education’ means.    Its beginning to look like an expanding  Quango, with  as much being  spent on its  25  staff , (at least three are on six figure salaries)  its contractors  and  central London rent, as is going in to  ensuring that the quality of professional  guidance is raised throughout the system, that guidance is no longer a lottery and that the end user, the pupil , confronted with  hard and complex  choices, benefits directly.  Its most recent research confirms what we already knew, that with so much information out there pupils find it all rather bewildering, with information overload- and don’t know where to start. Which is precisely why many of  them, indeed most, would benefit from  a  meaningful,   face to face chat with a guidance professional. Very few get this though. Instead employers are being turned into proxy guidance specialists, but without the  necessary qualifications, information  and knowledge to offer real support, or guidance.

Meanwhile, pupils making crucial early choices about what routes and qualifications to take are too often not able to make informed choices. Putting an employer or Enterprise Adviser into a school does nothing to address this.  No surprise then that social mobility remains stagnant. As Dr Deirdre Hughes , a leading Guidance expert, has said “It’s great that they want to be known as an evidence-based organisation .But we don’t need to have a quango producing what’s there already. What we need is to get independent, impartial careers advice back into communities” Hughes would like to see the CEC  funding making a difference at grassroots level. Wouldn’t we all.

So rather  than paying lip service   to the Gatsby  benchmarks and cherry picking, CEC  should revisit Number 8 ,on Personal Guidance. It says:

‘Every student should have opportunities for guidance interviews with a career adviser, who could be internal (a member of school staff) or external, provided they are trained to an appropriate level. These should be available whenever significant study or career choices are being made. They should be expected for all students but should be timed to meet their individual needs.’ Why has the CEC done so little to make this happen?

And  why is it paying out so much taxpayers money to its senior members of staff ,  with such limited accountability,  and without addressing  the most fundamental challenge- to transform the quality,  accessibility and scope of professional guidance available  to our  young people .

See Schools Week Article

£70m government-funded careers company insists it has ‘achieved a lot’




A version of this article  was  published in Education Investor (September 2016)

Last April, it was reported that No 10 was in talks with the University of Buckingham about funding a new school leadership college.  Although details were sketchy, the aim seemed to be to fast -track top graduates fresh out of university, into leadership positions. With structured support from the college and experienced mentors they could serve an apprenticeship, and be   accelerated into Headships, where they are needed most. (mainly in Coastal and Rural areas, as it happens)

The discussions reflected growing unease in the government   about a looming Leadership crisis in schools.  These concerns  remain. There is a dearth of good heads, particularly in disadvantaged areas. Supply is not matching demand.

Heads are increasingly hard to find.  A 2015 survey by the National Governors’ Association (NGA), found that 43% of respondents reported that it was difficult to find good candidates when recruiting senior staff. Perhaps more alarming, many good teachers and potential leaders, eschew Headship.  In 2o15 The Key found 86.8% of school leaders believed headship was less attractive as a career choice than it was in 2010. Another survey of headteachers, by The Future Leaders Trust , saw less than half of respondents saying that they still planned to be a headteacher.

It’s not hard to see why. Though still rewarding for some, too many are being put off   by the challenges and lack of support.  School budgets have reduced in real terms by about 7%. Pupil numbers are on the rise, with a capacity shortage. There are   too few   specialist teachers. Schools are also subject to relentless changes to the curriculum, assessment and accountability frameworks, while the accelerated academisation programme brings new pressures.

Meanwhile, the focus on structural reforms has shifted attention away from Leadership, though it and the quality of teaching, have the most impact on outcomes Indeed, the one factor that all good schools have in common is good leadership As Professor Michael Fullan said “effective school leaders are key to large scale sustainable education reform’. It’s a given, if you want to transform a failing school, change the leadership.  Everything else follows. What we don’t have is proper career planning for Heads.  And our system lacks an effective end-to-end model for identifying, encouraging, training and developing the best leaders over time.

We pretty much know what we want from Heads. A clear vision and ability to see it through. While research also tells us that the closer leaders get to the core business of teaching and learning, the more likely it is that they will have a positive impact on their students.

So what we need, in short order, is to identify the best ways of developing this. There is probably no silver bullet, there rarely is in education. But look at the Buckingham apprenticeship model, and its focus on accelerated routes to Headship.  Also, The Future Leaders Trust and Teaching Leaders are doing interesting work    creating a joint network of 5,000 school leaders at all levels working in the most challenging schools in the country. Make sure that Heads and Governors are actively identifying potential leaders, and supporting their development. Look at what successful MATs are up to-the Harris Federation recruits 80% of its Heads in-house. The DFE is reviewing Leadership qualifications, about time too, as they don’t seem to have much credibility in the profession. Teach First is good at spotting leadership potential. Alumni of its two-year teaching training programme, are over seven times more likely to progress to senior school leadership. What are they getting right?   The ASCL, is developing its own Foundation for Leadership in Education, how can this contribute? All these elements may have a role to play. But there needs to be a coherent vision, with these elements working towards the same goal as part of a seamless effort.  That will require ‘political’ leadership. But we need to act now if system- wide improvements in outcomes are to be delivered and sustained.