GRADUATE DEBT-A GROWING CHALLENGE FOR THE HE SECTOR

GRADUATE DEBT – A DEVELOPING NARRATIVE
The Higher Education sector should be wary. There is a narrative developing, articulated with increasing regularity in the media, that students are not getting value for money from their university education.

The graduate premium is not as big as Ministers claim, and in any case is narrowing significantly.  There are now   serious alternatives to a university education, including high quality apprenticeships and company and on the job  training programmes .Employers, fed up with the quality of graduates who apply  for their jobs, who signally lack   the kind of soft skills they are looking for,   are now   looking elsewhere. Thats the narrative. Students are being miss-sold  a university education.  Why saddle yourself with debt when you can be paid while you train for a guaranteed job?. Earlier this year the Higher Education Statistics Agency published figures showing that one in four graduates was not in a graduate job six months after receiving a degree

The Intergenerational Fund think tank, says that student debt payments wipe out the benefit of higher salaries for most graduates. Indeed, MP Frank Field found out from the Office for National Statistics  that more than a quarter of graduates were paid less than the £11.10  an hour average for those on work-based training schemes (Apprenticeships) in 2013 . With a  government focus on  incentivising the provision of   more high quality Apprenticeships the balance is likely to have tipped further in favour of those on work based training schemes, over the last three years.

Alice Thomson in the Times, this week ,wrote ‘The 500,000 students settling into campuses this autumn will be incurring average debts of £44,000. For those inspired by their courses and for the intellectually gifted, this is probably still worth every penny, but for many of the 49 per cent of the population who take up places at university it will be close to a waste of time. The higher education ombudsman has received more than 2,000 complaints from students in the past academic year over issues such as too little time with tutors, overcrowded lecture theatres and poor teaching. Apprenticeships are in many ways far better value for money. The National Grid’s engineering training programme for school leavers pays £23,500 a year.’ Thomson’s views are shared by a number of other commentators.

There is not much evidence that the sector is fighting back. Its  looking complacent, unaware of the avalanche that is about to hit it.

A report out this week from The Money Charity reinforces the idea that students are overburdened with debt.  The figures reveal that the latest group of students from England to begin to pay off their loans owe more than ever before.
The average debt for the graduates who entered repayment this year was £24,640, up from £21,170 in 2015. Due to incremental rises to tuition fees and maintenance loans, the sum owed by students has risen steadily for the past decade, tripling since 2003. Much of this is driven by the introduction, and gradual rise of tuition fees.

The other, often overlooked, driver of rising student debt is the runaway cost of accommodation, which requires ever larger maintenance loans just to keep up. Original research from The Money Charity last year found median rents growing by £277 between 2014 and 2015.

To make matters worse, this is the last group of students to pay a maximum of £3,465 in tuition fees before the rise to £9,000. So the 2017 group will immediately owe £16,605 more than their predecessors, even before we take into account the rising maintenance loans.
This year’s graduates, who will begin to repay next year will face average debt levels of well in excess of £41,000 – 35% of the average outstanding mortgage (£117,162)!
Michelle Highman, Chief Executive of The Money Charity says:
“For nearly half the young people in the UK, becoming a student will be the first step into adult life, with all the financial responsibilities that brings. We worry that these early, formative experiences of debt will leave a lasting legacy.”
“Normalising large quantities of debt right at the start of people’s financial independence risks setting them up to fail. The size of these sums may also affect later borrowing such as loans and mortgages.”
Universities are not just about preparing young people for the job market. Far from it. But students are now  paying for their Higher Education and incurring substantial debts before they even begin their working lives. This means that increasingly they will think about future earnings and the size of the so-called graduate premium and the likelihood of getting a graduate level job after their studies. They will take a keener  look at destination measures. In other words, how successful graduates  are, from particular institutions and courses, at getting good jobs after graduation. That is the new reality. And the sector will have to respond.

On a positive note for the sector, most young people aged 11-16 want to go to university, according to the latest survey(Sutton Trust). But more engagement with employers ,from 16 onwards   and better information on the options available to them,  could  mean that by 18   less   of this cohort  will opt  for Higher Education.

See Graduate Employment and Earnings Outcomes of Higher Education Graduates: Experimental data from the Longitudinal Education

Outcomes (LEO) datase
The median earnings five years post graduation for those graduating in 2003/04 was £26,000 compared to £25,500 for those who graduated in 2008/09
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/543794/SFR36-2016_main_text_LEO.pdf

POLITICS BEFORE EVIDENCE ON GRAMMAR SCHOOLS?

 

What about evidence informed policy?

Ryan Shorthouse, who heads the  Tory think tank   ‘Bright Blue’ thinks that expanding grammar schools would be a big mistake putting politics(or ideology) before evidence.  Sam Freedman, formerly an adviser to Michael Gove,  with a research pedigree, now working for Teach First, says  that there is not a jot of evidence that Grammar schools CAN   improve social mobility, which seems to be the main justification for the possible   move, in Tory ranks at least.

Freedmans concerns are broader though.  Having worked in DFE he understands the amount of political capital, time and resource,  that will  have to be  used up  to seek to push expansion through, and  with no guarantee of success. Meanwhile other reforms that have more potential impact on pupil outcomes may be put on the back burner and not be given  crucial attention and traction..

Tory Neil Carmichael,  Chair of the influential Education Select Committee, has also  just pitched in to the debate,  warning that efforts to re-establish grammar schools would be a “distraction” from improving the quality of education for all.  He said “What we need to be doing is ensuring that schools that are not doing terribly well improve, and grammar schools are a distraction to that central purpose. One of the messages from the Brexit vote was that we are leaving too many people behind. Grammar schools may help some people but they also leave more people behind.”

Research  by Anna  Vignoles and others  for the Sutton Trust  in 2013  found that less than 3% of entrants to grammar schools are entitled to free school meals –  an important indicator of social deprivation .The average proportion of pupils entitled to free school meals in selective areas is 18%, and its higher on average in other areas where grammar schools are located.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies  research found:

‘Our key conclusion is that there is a substantial difference in the likelihood of a child who is eligible for free school meals enrolling in a grammar school as compared with a similar child who is not eligible for FSM. This remains true even if we allow for the fact that FSM children have lower levels of prior attainment. In other words, amongst high achievers, those who are eligible for FSM or who live in poorer neighbourhoods are significantly less likely to go to a grammar school. For example, in selective local authorities, two-thirds of children who achieve level 5 in both English and maths at Key Stage 2 who are not eligible for free school meals go to a grammar school, compared with 40% of similarly high-achieving children who are eligible for free school meals. This is a substantial gap.’

Research from CMPO at  Bristol University (April 2006) found ‘the substantive under representation of poorer and special needs children in grammar schools. ‘  It also found  that  ‘only 32% of high ability children eligible for free school meals (FSM) attend grammar schools compared with 60% of non-FSM pupils’.

If social mobility and improving the outcomes of the most disadvantaged pupils are the reason for refocusing on grammar schools (and therefore further structural reforms) the evidence really  isn’t there to back it.

Some Grammar schools have also been challenged on the amount of value added they offer, given  the quality of their intakes. In other words some of their pupils should be making more progress and achieve  better end qualifications than they do, given their performance when they enter the school. In the vernacular of Ministers  some Grammars, rather too many,  are “coasting”

Under a 1998 law, the number of selective state schools is fixed and any other new or existing state schools cannot use academic criteria for admission. But existing grammar schools are allowed to expand.

To allow brand new Grammars to start up would require Primary legislation. Given that some Tories, the Labour party and Lib Dems oppose Grammar expansion, the arithmetic is against getting such legislation through the Commons . And that’s without  factoring in the Lords where there will be a majority against new grammar schools (Labour,Lib Dem Peers many cross benchers and some Tories  would oppose) guaranteeing  significant delays   .Which leaves the  expansion option. Existing grammars expanding on their existing site, or into an annexe possibly  in a different  location  (but still part of the same school). This might work, but would carry big  risks and take time . And couldnt be done quickly at scale. And this is a government with a slender majority, aiming to be more inclusive and with much on its plate.  Its probably better to stick with evidence informed policy.

One  other  legislative option though, which is possible, given that a stand alone  Bill focused on enabling new Grammars wont get through Parliament, is to  insert a permissive  clause into the up coming Education for All Bill,  and then  whip Tory backbenchers into line.  Certainly possible, but also risky .

It is hard to see how Ministers would be prepared to launch such a high risk strategy with few ,if any ,  political  or educational returns.   But we live in strange political times in which its unsafe to make many or indeed   any predictions.  But, then again, maybe there is some kite flying going on here , to test reactions? If so, the message is  surely pretty  clear.  Its High risk , with very  limited returns.  Its probably better to make sure current reforms can bed in,  and to   address  the system wide  shortage of high quality leaders, and to focus more on raising the quality of teachers and teaching, key performance  drivers.

Entry into Grammar Schools in England- Jonathan Cribb, Institute for Fiscal Studies; Luke Sibieta, Institute for Fiscal Studies,

Anna Vignoles, University of Cambridge

http://www.ifs.org.uk/docs/Grammar_Schools2013.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

SOME PRESSING ISSUES FOR THE NEW EDUCATION SECRETARY

Whats pressing on her agenda ?
Justine Greening, the new Education Secretary ,has attracted headlines over her apparently relaxed attitude to Grammar school expansion. But arguably she has  other more pressing priority  issues to address. Here are some:

Schools funding shortfalls. School budgets are stretched. Income is down on average around 7% so Heads and governors are having to make significant adjustments. Some may be tempted to use the Pupil Premium to make up the shortfall, as there is no obligation to ring fence the PP.
National Funding Formula– there are funding inequities in the system and these need to be addressed but there are on-going delays because its not easy . And there are political sensitivities ie there will be both winners and losers.
Teacher recruitment and retention crisis. – Around 40% of teachers who begin their initial training are not in a state school job five years later. That means of 35,000 or so individuals training to become teachers each year some 14,000 are not teaching five years later. And only about 40% of Teach First graduates are still in teaching five years on. Its costly training teachers and this all looks wasteful. There is a shortage in Stem specialist Teachers . Remember the government says ‘ High-quality teachers are the single most important factor determining how well pupils achieve in schools.’
Leadership crisis – there is a shortage of high quality Heads particularly in disadvantaged areas. How do you transform schools in deprived areas, if you are short of leaders? The National College is not really set up to deliver a pipeline of good heads, so what is the short term solution? Many Heads are close to retirement. Its estimated that maybe as much 40%  are due to retire or move out within 18 months.
The ITT system in a bit of a mess as there is now a mismatch between demand and supply. Although Primary places are pretty full, the same cant be said for Secondary.

School Places An additional 750, 000 school places are required by 2025. There is a significant shortage of Primary places across the system, but critical in some areas. Recent projections by the Local Government Association suggest that the population bulge that has hit schools at the Primary level is having a knock on effect  now at the Secondary level
An incoherent assessment and accountability system– which lacks easy  comparability with the past – how long will it take before we know if the system is improving?  Try giving a brief verbal overview of the new accountability framework and you will see that its complex and therefore not easily understood by key stakeholders (ie parents)
An incoherent system of school governance – the transition from an LA-based system to a school-led system is struggling . There is a shortage of good governors with the right skills particularly where there is most need (ie deprived areas). And the government has signalled that it wants more skills  based governance to  drive  improvements. But where exactly will these new governors come from, and where are the incentives?
Autonomy/Accountability-There is confusion over the implications for the system of autonomy and accountability and getting the balance right. . Increased regulation is creating a new bureaucracy (DFE,RSCs and Ofsted) perhaps stifling innovation, and reducing autonomy. So making it more challenging surely to deliver improved outcomes?
Academisation programme- a shortage of funding, sponsors and unrealistic time frame suggests a need for a re-think on the programme (New Bill?) Too many MATs are still underperforming. The rate of free school starts appears to be slowing and academy sponsors appear put off by mixed messages from the government and its agencies about expansion and the lack of incentive to do so. In addition there has been a signal lack of transparency in the process of approving schools. It is unclear-  its a secret garden, in which people are making important decisions according to criteria that are opaque . Indeed no one seems to know the ultimate criteria for deciding on competing proposals for different types of schools
The Free Schools Programme– The government is committed to 500 Free schools in this Parliament .But there is some evidence that local authorities are doing their utmost to stifle the growth of new Free schools ie through planning permission etc. But local authorities are very aware of the demand for new places. There may be a case for developing two separate programmes: a basic need new schools programme, on which the school commissioner’s office and the Education Funding Agency would work closely with local authorities to identify the local need and find a suitable provider to meet it; and on the other hand a free schools programme, through which the DfE would allow new schools to open in areas or poor provision or where parents have very little choice
The new Careers Strategy has been delayed-both Ministers (Gyimah, Boles)who had responsibility for adult guidance and schools guidance, are gone. Will a new strategy be ready by the end of year? It seems that Robert Halfon has taken over the mantle.  But does he get that good Careers guidance is not just about getting more employers into schools?  Gyimah and Boles didnt.
New Skills Strategy and establishment of Institute of Apprenticeships, needs the setting  of clear milestones. Taking forward the Sainsbury panel recommendations, streamlining the system and creating a common framework of 15 routes across all technical education. The routes will group occupations together to reflect where there are shared training requirements. Rather than the current crowded landscape of overlapping qualifications, the aim is to ensure that only high-quality technical qualifications which match employer-set standards are approved. The new, employer-led Institute for Apprenticeships will regulate quality across apprenticeships and its remit will be expanded to cover all technical education
HE Bill-Overseeing significant reform of HE-  the Higher Education and Research Bill through Parliament (Second Reading -19 July). At least the new SOS will have a  very capable Jo Johnson to help  guide this through.

GRAMMAR SCHOOLS-IS THE FUTURE LOOKING MORE ROSY?

Possibly but will they help the social mobility agenda?

The appointment of Justine Greening,  along with the appointment of   Nick Timothy as Theresa Mays chief of staff ( he has  backed new selective schools in the past) has  increased speculation that Theresa May will allow significant expansion in grammar schools. (Selective state schools).

Asked by Andrew Marr over the weekend if  she was “completely closed-minded” to the idea (of new grammar schools) , Ms Greening said : “I think that the education debate on grammar schools has been going for a very long time, but I also recognise that the landscape in which it takes place has changed fundamentally. I think we need to be able to move this debate on and look at things as they are today, and maybe step away from a more old-fashioned debate around grammar schools and work out where they fit in today’s landscape.” That doesn’t amount to a commitment to expand grammars ,but it clearly implies that expansion is not ruled out.  The new landscape she talks about is the variety of different types of schools.

Currently there is a general prohibition against academic selection in (most) state schools .And a 1998 Law prevents the establishment of any new Grammar schools. However, existing Grammar schools can expand, providing that any expansion onto a new site is a change to an existing school and not a new school. Which is why the anti-grammar school lobby were very   animated about developments in Sevenoaks, Kent, where an existing Grammar school  sought  to open a satellite,  some distance away.

Yes, they know that the law doesn’t allow for the expansion of grammar schools, and for this to happen there needs to be new legislation-which will need a majority in Parliament.  (The Tories only  have a slender majority) But they suspect that the pro-grammar lobby will  seek to use the satellite route to expand the programme elsewhere with political cover from the government .

Grammar schools, secondary modern schools and technical schools formed what was known as the tripartite system, which arose from the interpretation of the Education Act 1944  .Grammar schools provided admission to children on the basis of their ability and offered an academic education. Selection was usually made at the end of primary school in the form of the ‘11 plus’ examination. Secondary moderns provided a more general education with an emphasis on more practical subjects. Technical schools provided a more general education but with a focus on technical subjects.

There are currently 163 grammar schools in England with a total number of 163,000 pupils. This comprises around  5% of the total number of pupils in England. Ten local authorities are classified by the Department for Education as having a wholly selective system and a further 26 have at least one grammar school in their area. The majority are concentrated in Kent (32), Lincolnshire (15) and Buckinghamshire (13).

Not all Tories, by any means, support selection, or the expansion of Grammar schools. But it is significant that two influential Tories,  Graham Brady ,who chairs the influential 1922 committee,  and Boris Johnson,  now Foreign Secretary  have long   made the case for more Grammars.  Theresa May was also relaxed  about the idea of a  local grammar school  expanding , creating a new  and very distant  annexe. Around 100 Tory  MPs are thought to support expansion.

Opponents of Grammar schools are against selection in the state system. They believe that they may offer social mobility to a few, but its only the few. They may be fine institutions for those  fortunate  enough to attend them. But the real problem is the provision for those who fail to gain a place. And a majority of pupils  who enter fail the selection exam. Selective schools tend to cream skim the best pupils,  making it harder for those who remain behind

What about the selection process?. Although the 11 plus exam is supposed to measure potential, there are plenty of private tutors  who boast that they can get just about anyone to pass the 11 plus  providing they put in or ‘invest’  the extra hours (and their parents pay for it). So this means, in practice, that middle class parents, with a decent income, are more likely to get their child into a grammar school than parents from a disadvantaged community. Hence the charge that Grammars are colonized by the middle classes.

If you can tutor for the exam, it rather suggests that it is not simply about measuring potential. And there appears to be no reliable evidence to suggest, in any case ,that 11 is the best age to measure a child’s potential. Children develop educationally  at different paces.

But one of the most compelling arguments against grammar schools is that successive governments have seen the holy grail of education in improving the lot of the most disadvantaged pupils and narrowing the achievement gap between them and their peers. So this should be the benchmark against which Grammars are measured. Disadvantaged pupils are broadly those defined as eligible for free school meals. But in 2014, the proportion of grammar school pupils eligible for free school meals was 2.7% but 15.7% across all types of schools.

Remember that  Education Minister Lord Nash, served a warning to grammar schools, as recently as   July 2014 ,when he stated:

“The Government is committed to closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers. Grammar schools and the highest performing non-selective schools currently have some of the lowest representations of children eligible for free school meals in England. We want to encourage all high performing schools, including grammar schools to do more to attract and support disadvantaged children.”

 

When Chris Cook, a former Tory ministerial adviser (now with the BBC), was the FTs education correspondent he did some number crunching to find out how poor children fared in areas that had selective education. His verdict  was unequivocal  -poor children do dramatically worse in selective areas. He wrote on 28 January 2013 ‘If you plot how well children do on average by household deprivation for selective areas and for the rest of the country, you can see that the net effect of grammar schools is to disadvantage poor children and help the rich.’

Research seems to point to Grammar schools contributing to rather than easing social inequality and leading  to a widening of the income gap between rich and poor. A 2013 study by academics from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the University of Cambridge and York University found that more than four times as many of the 22,000 Year Seven entrants into grammar schools each year were likely to come from private schools, compared with those on free school meals.

Laura McInerney,  editor of Schools Week , reminded  us this week  that  in 2013  in Kent and Medway, the largest selective area,  children living in the poorest parts of the county had a less than 10% chance of getting into a grammar. Children in the richest neighbourhoods had a 50% chance.

Ryan Shorthouse, Director of Bright Blue (a Conservative oriented think tank)  says  ‘The evidence shows that grammar schools are not engines of social mobility. Fewer than 3 per cent of entrants into grammar schools in selective regions in England are eligible for free school meals – a proxy for poverty – despite these children making up 18 per cent of all the population in those regions’ 

In 2014 Professor Simon Burgess from the University of Bristol, said:“Selective schooling systems sort pupils based on their ability, and schools with high-ability pupils are more likely to attract and retain high-quality teaching staff. This puts pupils who miss out on a grammar school place at an immediate disadvantage. In addition they will be part of lower-ability peer groups, which also affects their chances of succeeding at school,”  His research  also revealed that  grammar schools pupils have greater earning power when they left school compared to those in non-selective schools.

So, if this is the case, are Ministers really going to agree that the expansion of Grammar schools is the best way to further social mobility and  narrow the achievement gap?

That doesn’t mean that some satellites won’t be approved. Nor does it mean that Grammar schools that exist are not safe.  They clearly are under this administration. But one has to wonder whether its good politics to open a new front in education reform while a raft of new reforms are still bedding in, with increased academisation, curriculum reforms, and a new accountability framework .  Is it wise to yet again focus on structural changes,  which will be heavily contested by most in the education establishment, including all the teaching unions? Surely its better and more productive to make sure  the current  on-going reforms work, and there is more of a focus on system- wide leadership and raising the quality of teachers and teaching, as these are the variables that have most impact on student outcomes. ? If Grammars are the answer one has to wonder –what is the question?  If the question is how best do we improve equity and social mobility in the system  and narrow the achievement gap between  the most disadvantaged and mainstream pupils then there is no evidence that grammars can do this. And , remember, Greening was  educated in a comprehensive school and sees social mobility as a priority.

 

ACADEMIES PROGRAMME AND ITS IMPACT ON PERFORMANCE -EVIDENCE STILL MIXED

Over sixty per cent of secondary schools already have academy status, and in March, the Chancellor set out plans to turn all schools into academies by 2020/2022.

The government argues that academies drive up standards by putting more power in the hands of head teachers over pay, length of the school day and term times. As academies, schools have more freedom to innovate and can opt out of the national curriculum.

But where was the evidence on which to base such a sweeping and enforced national change in the education system?

The Education Select Committee said, in its 2014 report, that “it’s still too early to know how much the academies programme has helped raise standards”, although “there is some evidence that sponsored secondary academies have had a positive effect on pupil performance”. On the other hand, it also said, “there is no conclusive evidence of the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools”. Then again, “however measured, the overall state of schools has improved during the course of the programme.”

It seems obvious that to demonstrate success, academies must be able to do at least as well as schools generally in enabling their poorest students to get good GCSE results and meet new attainment measures.

But evidence, as things stand, does not prove that academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children. This judgement, that they are not raising standards for disadvantaged pupils, is particularly damaging because it raises deeper questions over their purpose.

The Sutton Trust in its report Chain Effects found that around a third of the academy chains it examined are dramatically transforming the prospects of their disadvantaged pupils, with results well above the national average. But it also found that many others are middling or worse, and says “their performance raises important questions about how the programme is run and how it might move in the future.”

So, some academies seem to benefit disadvantaged children and some don’t. How does that compare, one wonders, with community schools? The answer is that some maintained schools do, some don’t.

Academies, we must remember, were initially introduced by Tony Blair’s Labour government, inspired by City Technology Colleges. They were specifically intended to target the most disadvantaged areas, and this is what happened (by and large), until 2010. Evidence suggests that these first phase academies did relatively well when it came to improving pupil attainment, although we also know that a certain amount of gaming took place – not least choosing soft non-academic options for pupils to secure league table advantage.

Bill Watkin, when he was operations manager at SSAT schools network, said of this phase: “The early academies really did make a big difference to thousands of the most vulnerable young people and to many struggling communities. They brought about a transformation in attitudes and standards, they re-engaged parents and the wider community, they re-connected with employers; they provided a secure, orderly and healthy learning environment and a vibrant community hub.”

However, after 2010, and the arrival the coalition government, there was a rapid expansion of the scheme, with attention initially directed towards converting successful schools to academies.

This switch in direction immediately presented difficulties in judging academy performance. How do you compare the first phase of the academies scheme in which poorly performing schools were transferring to academy status, with the post Labour phase when many high achieving schools were transforming into academies?

It is also instructive to examine whether academies are outperforming other comparator (maintained) schools. This is where it gets a bit complicated. If a school becomes an academy it is simply not possible to know for sure what would have happened to it if it had not become an academy and remained as a community school. As Simon Burgess of CMPO points out in a blog in 2010, what researchers have to do is make assumptions to produce estimates of the effect of the policy. One way is to look at what happened to close comparator schools and to assume that something similar would have happened to the academy: for obvious reasons, this is called matching.

A 2014 NFER report presents comparisons between sponsored and converter academies and groups of similar maintained schools. This, it claims, is a more robust method for analysing the association between academy status and GCSE outcomes than comparing levels of school performance and of comparing trends.

The report’s analysis shows that the level of attainment progress made by pupils in sponsored and converter academies is not greater than in maintained schools with similar characteristics. In almost all analyses the difference in average GCSE outcomes is small and not statistically significant. It concludes: “It is still too early to judge the full impact of converter academy status on school performance because almost all converter academies have been open for three years or less, but this analysis shows that there are no short-term benefits in improved school performance associated with converter academy status.”

The Education Policy Institute published its own rankings this month showing how local authorities compare with multi-academy trusts which have at least five schools. The findings show that academy trusts are among the most, and least, successful at improving pupil performance, at both primary and secondary levels. In between is a spread of success and underachievement, with the analysis concluding that there is little overall difference between academy trusts and local authorities.

So the picture is mixed and it is certainly too early to draw firm conclusions. The nature of the academy programme has changed dramatically and it is true to say that there is some disappointment in the way that the academies programme doesn’t seem to have had the transformative effect that it was expected to have delivered to date, despite some areas of real excellence (Ark, Harris etc).

The government accepts that some academies are not performing as they should, and that is one of the reasons why it appointed its eight Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) in September 2014.

Nevertheless, the reasons why some academies are struggling may not be so hard to pin down.

The early academies had, arguably, more autonomy, active sponsors (the scale of the initiative now means sponsors are in short supply although some ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ academies as opposed to businesses have become new sponsors of failing schools to drive improvement), more access to effective support networks and more funding.

Latterly, as autonomy has been reduced, with more prescriptive funding agreements, regulation tightened and some support networks disappearing, sponsors have all but dried up and the extra funding that was available is no longer forthcoming. It has become a much colder climate in which to operate.

The most successful chains tend to be those that were very picky with the schools they selected at the start and grew gradually, often avoiding the most disadvantaged rural and coastal areas. The least successful chains – judged on exam results (which may not be entirely fair) – tend to be those that took on the most deprived schools in the most disadvantaged areas. They also tend to be spread across large areas (which, by the way, they were encouraged to do) and have expanded rapidly.

Having set its course, the challenge now for the government will be to look much more closely at the academies’ programme and the balance between autonomy and accountability in order to work out how to incentivise the best chains to target the poorest areas and pupils.

The pupil premium ‘extra’ money targeted at the most deprived pupils doesn’t seem to a be a sufficient incentive to offset the reputational risks in taking over the most disadvantaged schools. If you manage a chain and your results aren’t quite what the Department expected, they are all over you like a bad rash, forbidding any further expansion. The Department used to be a critical friend, now it’s more like a brooding interventionist regulator.

The safest judgment on the academies programme at present – and fortunately it could change – is that it has had mixed results: real excellence at the top but underperformance compared to similar schools in the maintained sector, at the bottom. Bit of a curate’s egg, then.

For the long term future of the academies’ programme to be deemed a success – and its potential has yet to be realised – academies must show clear blue water between themselves and maintained schools, particularly in adding value to disadvantaged pupils. But for this to happen there may have to be a better balance struck between autonomy and accountability and a re-setting of the relationship between the Department for Education and those Trusts that run academies.

The irony is that the academies scheme was launched to release schools from red tape and burdensome bureaucracy, but the perception is growing that this old bureaucracy has simply been replaced by a new one. The Department for Education, Ofsted ,the Schools Commissioner and Regional Schools Commissioners are all part of an accountability framework that allow  MATs very little real freedom. It raises a question too, over whether reforms are now actually school-led, which was also the government’s original intention.

Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary,under pressure, stepped one pace back from forcing all schools to become academies. But it  may be wrong to assume that this will necessarily slow the rate of academisation substantially . Schools that are perceived as failing or underperforming  may  still be faced with the prospect of being forced to become academies, while singleton academies will be encouraged to join multi-academy trusts so the trajectory remains – essentially – the same. Indeed, by 2022, there could be over 700 new multi-academy trusts in operation. Unless, of course, the new Prime Minister, replaces Morgan, and the new administration no longer places such a high priority on structural reforms.

WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT TEACHER EFFECTIVENESS-SIMON BURGESS

I was at a Roundtable discussion this week hosted by CMRE  in which  Professor Simon Burgess introduced discussions on  what we know about teacher effectiveness and the impact that teachers ,both good and bad ,have on student performance and attainment. The  discussions were  under  the Chatham House Rule  but  my  selected  key points listed below,  made by Burgess, draw on material already  published  by  him  and other researchers . (see Notes below )

In short, his research shows that teachers matter a great deal: having a one-standard deviation better teacher raises the test score by (at least) 25% of a standard deviation. Having a good teacher as opposed to a mediocre or poor teacher makes a big difference

Teacher effectiveness matters enormously. A pupil being taught for eight GCSEs by all effective teachers (those at the 75th percentile of the teacher effectiveness distribution) will achieve an overall GCSE score four grades higher than the same pupil being taught for eight GCSEs by all ineffective teachers (at the 25th percentile). A range of studies have consistently shown a very high impact of teacher effectiveness on pupil progress. While there are also papers contesting the validity of the assumptions required to identify true effectiveness, there is other research arguing that the results are secure.

Measures of teacher effectiveness are noisy. Numerous factors affect exam scores, from good or bad luck on exam day, through the pupil’s ability, motivation and background to a school’s resources. Research shows that it is possible to measure a teacher’s contribution to this, but it is an estimate with less-than-perfect precision. There is simple sampling variation, plus non-persistent variation arising from various classroom factors. For example, a teacher’s score is any one year may be affected by being assigned a particularly difficult (or motivated) class (in a way not accounted for in the analysis)

Experience doesn’t help beyond three years. Research shows that on average teachers do become more effective in their first two or three years. Thereafter, there is no evidence of systematic gains as their experience increases: a teacher is as effective after three years as s/he will be after 13 years and 30 years.

Good teachers are hard to spot ex ante. One of the more surprising findings to come out of the research on teacher effectiveness over the last decade has been that the characteristics that one might have thought would be associated with better teachers simply aren’t. Experience, a Masters degree, and a good academic record in general are not correlated with greater effectiveness in the classroom. These results have been found in both the US and England. We need to be careful what we are claiming here. The research shows that easily observable, objective characteristics such as those noted above, variables typically available to researchers, are no use in predicting teacher effectiveness. This is not to say that no-one can identify an effective teacher, nor that more detailed subjective data (for example, from watching a lesson) can be useful. No doubt many Headteachers are adept at spotting teaching talent. But there are enough who aren’t to mean that there are ineffective teachers working in classrooms (even in schools rated outstanding)

Very few teachers  (ie bad and mediocre teachers) are dismissed from the profession in England. (Dylan Wiliam has suggested that there are few long term benefits  in  seeking out poor teachers in order to dismiss them-much better to use your time and resources to  identify poor teachers  early  on  and give them the  crucial support they need from their better peers  to improve their teaching quality)

 

Notes-Sources

Aaronson, D, Barrow, L and Sander, W (2007). “Teachers and Student Achievement in the Chicago Public High” Schools Journal of Labor Economics, Vol. 25, pp. 95–136.

Chetty, R, Friedman, J, and Rockoff, J (2011). The long-term impacts of teachers: teacher value-added and student outcomes in adulthood. NBER WP 17699. www.nber.org/papers/w17699

Hanushek, E (2011). The economic value of higher teacher quality. Economics of Education Review. Vol. 30 pp. 466–470

Hanushek, E A, and Rivkin, S G (2010). “Generalizations about Using Value-Added Measures of Teacher Quality.” American Economic Review Vol. 100, pp. 267–271.

Kane, T J, and Staiger, D O (2008). “Estimating teacher impacts on student achievement: An experimental evaluation.” NBER Working Paper 14607, NBER Cambridge

Kane, Thomas J, and Douglas O Staiger. 2008. “Estimating Teacher Impacts on Student Achievement: An Experimental Evaluation.” NBER Working Paper 14607.

Rivkin, S G, Hanushek, E A, and Kain, J F (2005). “Teachers, schools, and academic achievement” Econometrica, Vol. 73, pp. 417–458

Rockoff, J E (2004). “The impact of individual teachers on student achievement: Evidence from panel data.” American Economic Review. Vol. 94, pp. 247–252.

Rothstein, J (2009). “Student sorting and bias in value-added estimation: Selection on observables and unobservables.” Education Finance and Policy, Vol. 4, pp. 537–571.

Rothstein, J (2010). “Teacher Quality in Educational Production: Tracking, Decay, and Student Achievement*.” Quarterly Journal of Economics Vol. 125, pp. 175–214.

Slater, H, Davies, N and Burgess, S (2011). Do teachers matter? Measuring the variation in teacher effectiveness in England , Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics

http://www.bristol.ac.uk/media-library/sites/cmpo/migrated/documents/wp212.pdf

Staiger, D and Rockoff, J (2010). Searching for Effective Teachers with Imperfect Information. Journal of Economic Perspectives vol. 24 no. 3, pp. 97–118.

SCHOOL GOVERNANCE AND PARENT GOVERNORS –THE FULL CONTEXT

Is the government trying to sideline parent governors-in favour of professionals?
School governors give an enormous amount to the education system in England, yet their contribution is largely hidden from public view. Their work for the most part is undertaken for no tangible reward. There are around  300,000 or so school governors in England . The Government understands the importance of school governance and governors and sees school governing bodies as one of the levers  to drive  system wide education reform. Because of the importance Ministers attach to governors and governance, they see the need for more high quality ‘professional’ governors serving on governing bodies. They also want to preserve some parent involvement although there have been claims that they want governing bodies to become wholly professional, run almost like businesses at the expense of this parent involvement .

The role of parents in school governance has been  seen as important by many for some time
Back in 1984 Sir Keith Joseph said:
“We mean to give parents an increased role within it. Parents, too, are partners in education. They bring to this task unique responsibilities, a close knowledge of the children and a personal dedication to the full development of their qualities and talents.”—
[Official Report, 25 May 1984; Vol. 60, c. 1381.]

The National Governors Association say about parent governors:
“Elected parents are an important part of sound governance… They have knowledge that others governing from outside the school do not have and through election, they ensure that boards do not become small groups of like-minded people who appoint their friends, colleagues and in some cases even relations. Those disposed to governance by clique must not have that option.”

But critics say the government is side-lining parent governors.

The charge is that a new amendment to a regulation -School Governance (Constitution and Federations) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 (S.I. 2016, No. 204)-strengthens the professional voice on governing bodies but at the expense of the parent voice. The amendment actually provides that the governing body of every Federation of two or more maintained schools includes two parent governors. Currently, the parents in each school in a federation can elect one parent governor. In a federation of five schools, for example, there will be five parent governors. Labour argues that to limit the number to just two elected parents seems unnecessarily prescriptive. The government argues that the amendment simply brings Federations in line with other state schools. Academy trusts, however many schools they contain, have never been required to have more than two parents on the board. That allows governing bodies to remain at a workable size, enabling them to make sound and strategic decisions for their group of schools. Nick Gibb MP, the Minister, points out that the Department’s advisory group on governance, which includes all organisations with a key interest, including the National Governors Association support the measure.

In a debate on the Amendment on 14 June 2016 he said that the amendment to the School Governance (Federations)(England) Regulations 2012:

“was requested by the National Governors Association and the Churches. It was prompted by concerns that requiring the governing body of a federation of multiple maintained schools to have a parent governor from every school may result in a membership that is larger than they need or want. That can be a particular issue in larger federations or those that involve voluntary aided schools, where they need to maintain a majority of two foundation governors over all the other categories of governor.”

He added
“The amendment reinforces the principle that…, a parent governor’s role, like that of every other category of governor, is to govern in the interests of all the children in federated schools, not just in the interests of the pupils from their child’s school. In reducing the number of parent governors to two, federations have the freedom to retain or recruit any particularly skilled and effective individuals, for example, by appointing them under a different category of co-opted governor. There is nothing to stop a federation or a foundation asking parents to be a foundation governor of a foundation school, or indeed to fit in to any of the other categories of governor that make up the governing body, to a minimum of seven.”

So this seems to shed a rather different light on the government’s intentions.

 It is worth noting  though ,in this respect ,  that Regional Schools Commissioners  have an obligation to check that the trustees of a MAT have the necessary skills and expertise before the funding agreement of an academy or free school joining the MAT is signed