TUTOR PROOF TESTS FOR GRAMMARS- WE ARE STILL WAITING?

The Green paper suggesting ideas  for  more selection in the state system has been heavily criticized. Mainly because it fails to highlight any evidence that increased selection will improve choice ,or, crucially improve the lot of the most disadvantaged either in terms of attainment or social mobility.  In fact, unless handled properly it could make their position infinitely worse.  The authors of the paper themselves seem to accept that the current selective system is unfair on the most disadvantaged pupils, because it suggests a raft of measures, incentives, conditions and sanctions   to  try  to make sure that these newly  selective  schools  will take their  fair share of the most disadvantaged pupils. (as clearly there is a perceived   risk  that  unless they are  heavily regulated and scrutinized that they wont)   So much for school autonomy, and the removal of red tape.  It  was good while it lasted. This envisages something of a bureaucratic  and regulatory nightmare .  The Green paper does seem to concede  though that the current  11 Plus test  can be coached,  (and therefore rich families have an advantage) and  that poor  children in areas that have grammar (selective ) schools tend to do  worse than poor pupils elsewhere.

This is what the  the  Green Paper says (Pg 21, Para 4):
‘Many selective schools are employing much smarter tests that seek to see past coaching and assess the true potential of every child. However, under the current model of grammar schools – while those children that attend selective schools enjoy a far greater chance of academic success – there is some evidence that children who attend non-selective schools in selective areas may not fare as well academically – both compared to local selective schools and comprehensives in non-selective areas.’

I assume  when the Green Paper refers to  the much smarter tests  that ‘ see past coaching ‘  its referring to those designed by CEM (Durham). There are few academics who have done more than Robert Coe of Durham  has to champion evidence based /informed practice in the teaching profession . But CEM  may be struggling to deliver  on these smart tests.   Becky Allen points out that a so-called ‘tutor-proof’ test ,offered by CEM and ‘introduced across Buckinghamshire (selective area) for 2014 admissions (they apparently have around 40% of the 11+ market) hasn’t really proved itself. ‘It claims to make selection fairer by testing a wider range of abilities that are already being taught in primary schools, rather than skills that can be mastered through home tutoring. Following the introduction of the test, Buckinghamshire – a local authority with very low FSM rates across its schools – saw the number of FSM pupils attending grammar schools fall in 2014 and 2015.’  So, not so smart then.

In short,  it would seem that  a test that ‘ sees past coaching’ has not yet  been developed. It may be a long wait .

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ARE FREE SCHOOLS AS INCLUSIVE AS THEY SHOULD BE?

Are Free Schools selective?
One interesting aspect of the Grammar schools debate, which has marked the start of May’s premiership, is how Free Schools might be used to introduce more selection into the State system. Nick Timothy, who now Heads May’s NO 10 Policy unit , used to head the New Schools Network, which promotes Free Schools. He has made it clear that he thinks expanding selection in the State sector is a good thing. So. that could mean, more Grammar schools,  and  also more selection  in new Free schools(500 more expected in this Parliament) Either full, or partial selection . Already perhaps(see below) some Free schools are not being quite as ‘ inclusive’  as they could be.
Timothy  might have  been taken aback by the hostility the leaked proposals for perhaps 24 new grammar school, received from across the political spectrum, amid calls to point to  robust evidence that Grammar schools improve the lot of the most disadvantaged pupils, and can drive social mobility across the board.
Government insiders are now tentatively suggesting that there would be no large scale expansion of Grammars. Just the 24, which looks like policy made on the hoof. If you believe in Grammars, and their transformative effects, you surely cant believe that just 24 schools are enough to drive transformation across the system. It also suggests too, does it not, a lack of confidence in Academies, and their capacity to transform the system. So what  are they  trying to achieve here?

To change any system you need to look at what drives improvement in student outcomes. Evidence is pretty clear. Yes ,structural reforms can be important, providing schools are given meaningful autonomy and are rooted in a robust accountability framework (not the same as red tape, by the way). But this is only one side of the coin. Evidence also tells us that high quality, distributed leadership is important, along with high quality teachers and teaching. We are short of good leaders and good teachers in the areas we need them the  most.  Ministers seem preoccupied with structural reforms, which are the low hanging fruit of educational reform, and seem to have a blind spot when it comes to the other drivers.
Returning to admissions, it seems that Free schools have a mixed record on admissions. Research by Professor Rebecca Morris in 2014 looked at admissions criteria  used by the first two waves of secondary Free Schools in England. She found a real diversity of criteria being used by this new type of school and  in how they are prioritising access. Free Schools are able to choose their own feeder schools, set their own catchment areas, prioritise particular postcode districts, guarantee places for children of the school’s founders or opt to use banding systems. Although the admissions policies of the majority of secondary Free Schools appear to be adhering to the 2012 Admissions Code legislation, (the Admissions code is being reviewed). Morris notes the influence that such criteria may have in creating intakes which ‘ are less balanced in terms of socioeconomic status, ethnicity or religious affiliation.’
Morris says ‘ It.. demonstrates the potential for these new schools to increase levels of stratification between schools in the local area. Some schools are clearly attempting to use their admissions policy to admit socially balanced intakes, offering priority to those eligible for the Pupil Premium or by participating in Local Authority-wide banding systems. The majority of schools, however, are not operating in this way.’
Its probably worth remembering that one of the original objectives of Free Schools was linked to the provision of high quality education for those from deprived backgrounds

Admissions Criteria of Secondary Free Schools-Rebecca Morris 2014
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03054985.2014.921614
Note
Other recent research has also concluded that Free Schools “are opening in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, but are taking fewer poor children than the other local schools” (Green et al., 2014).

http://www.llakes.ac.uk/sites/llakes.ac.uk/files/Are_Free_Schools_Socially_Selective_original.pdf

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.

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

ACADEMY U TURN- TELEGRAPH LETTER

Published Letter-Daily Telegraph 10 May
SIR – The Government’s U-turn on forced academisation is welcome. If maintained schools are good, or outstanding, they should be supported. Forcing structural changes on successful institutions would be dreadful politics, and counterproductive to efforts to raise attainment.
There is significant support in the Conservative Party for academies, but this is balanced by a distrust of centrally driven prescriptive interventions. Whitehall doesn’t always know best, but even Tory ministers often forget this maxim.
Politicians should always go with what works. They should also respect the views of parents.
Patrick Watson
London

INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS-UNDER THE COSH-AGAIN

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.