According to the  Schools Commissioner,  Frank Green (evidence to the Select Committee -13 May) the regional Schools Commissioners are going to take most note of those schools or academies that require improvement or are in special measures. That is about 10% of the number of academies. There are currently 4,095 academies across eight regions, with roughly equal numbers in each region.  Green said “If you take that as 500 academies per region at the present time, of which 10% are in difficulties, that is 50 schools. The regional‑schools‑commissioner role is going to be focused on those 50 schools in terms of improvement in the first instance”




Lawyers Browne Jacobson’s school leaders survey 2013


This survey, by legal firm Browne Jackson, which gives advice to schools, claims to provide a valuable independent barometer of satisfaction with policy, confidence levels and priorities for the future.

Key findings

the introduction of the Pupil Premium has been a resounding success with 72% satisfied with its introduction of which 13% are very satisfied

nearly three quarters of school leaders (72%) are dissatisfied with the Government’s free schools programme

plans by the Government to get tough on disruptive behaviour in the classroom has been met with a chorus of approval with 72% of school leaders satisfied

around seven out of ten school leaders (69%) are dissatisfied with Ofsted and the current inspection regime

two-thirds are dissatisfied with the Government’s policy towards the development of special educational needs provision

investing in the school estate is a high priority with 68% of school leaders looking to build and/or carry out significant capital works

becoming an academy in the next 12 months is a priority for one in three maintained primary schools in England. ( maybe, but doesnt that  conflict with the finding that  72% are  dissatisfied  with Free schools)


Note-About the research

Research for the school leaders survey 2013 was carried out between 30 September and 14 October 2013.

223 school leaders took part in the survey, of which 156 were headteachers. The remainder included CEOs, MDs, Executive Principals, Principals, Executive Headteachers and Deputy Headteachers and Principals. 60% of schools that took part were maintained and 40% academies. Of the total 68% were primary with 32% secondary. Where the results do not add up to 100%, this may be due to computer rounding.

Schools leaders survey report 2013





Michael Gove and David Laws are responding to the concerns over a perceived lack of accountability within the school system- If they are still talking to each other, that is!There have been on-going debates about the need for a third tier. Although chains of schools can offer some accountability, most schools are not part of a chain ,or partnership arrangement. A consensus has developed that central government alone cannot provide effective democratic accountability for the education system. Effective school systems that provide autonomy to schools ,need a robust accountability framework if they are to improve  student outcomes.

Ministers have been working, for nine months apparently, on a joint coalition proposal to improve the monitoring of and intervention in failing institutions. Rumour has it that  it will neither return control to local authorities nor leave it in the department; it is due to be in place by the end of 2014. There should be an announcement on this shortly



Some concerns remain over the expansion of Faith Schools


Faith schools are now an important part of the education landscape and their numbers have increased in recent years.

Recent events in the  Muslim Al-Madinah  Free school in  Derby, judged dysfunctional   by Ofsted, has raised awareness of the number of faith schools that are publicly funded (around a third of all  schools are faith schools) and opened up the debate, again, over whether ‘faith’ schools should, in a secular society, be publicly funded. And, if so, whether the current regulation of these schools and of their admissions policies is sufficiently robust.

Faith schools tend to perform above average. But concerns have been raised over their admissions policies. The highly successful London Oratory (Catholic) school was recently criticised for its admissions policy. Indeed ,there is some research evidence that Faith schools tend to have less FSM  pupils on their books, than the local authority average, which implies some form of selection is taking place.

Lord Baker, the Conservative former Secretary of State for Education and Science who first introduced the National Curriculum, has expressed his disappointment at the increase in the number and diversity of religious schools since 1997.

In a recent interview in The House Magazine, Lord Baker commented that ‘I think the Labour Party in 1997 was very wrong to open up the possibility of having more religious schools. When I was Education Secretary I did not approve any independent religious schools. I went to a Church of England primary school myself and I liked it, it was a very good school. But Church of England primary schools are community schools, rather than church schools, and I believe very strongly that children of all faiths – Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist – and atheists should all study together, play together, eat together, go on the bus together. So I’m not in favour of any more faith schools.’


New research from the British Humanist Association (which obviously has a particular agenda to advance) claims to have found ‘ that religious schools, particularly minority religious schools, are the most ethnically segregated.’ The  researchers claim that the majority of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu state-funded schools have no ‘white British’ pupils at all, while the rest have only one or two at most. At the same time, most Jewish state schools have no ‘Asian’ pupils at all. By comparison, the average Muslim, Hindu and Sikh school is situated in an area where a third of the local population is ‘white British’, whereas Jewish schools are in areas where 12 percent is ‘Asian’. The BHA has challenged the Government’s decision to fund such segregated schools, with all of the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh schools and many of the Jewish schools having opened in the last few years.


These findings, according to the BHA, are based on the most recent available data, namely January 2013 figures for school populations and the 2011 Census for local area populations. Specific findings include:


Out of the five Sikh state schools for which data is available, four have no pupils at all that are classified as ‘white British’, compared to 30 percent of their local populations.

Out of four Hindu state schools, two have no pupils classified as ‘white British’, compared to 45 percent of their local populations.

Out of 15 Muslim state schools, eight have no pupils classified as ‘white British’. On average, over a third of the local populations are ‘white British’. Overall, Muslim schools have on average 34 percentage points fewer ‘white British’ pupils than would be expected for ethnically diverse schools in the areas in which they are located.

Out of 44 Jewish state schools, 29 have no pupils who are classified as having an ‘Asian’, compared to 12 percent of their local populations – with one school having a majority ‘Asian’ population in its immediate vicinity. Jewish schools have on average 13 percentage points fewer ‘Asian’ pupils than would be expected for ethnically inclusive schools located in their areas.

Out of 1,985 Roman Catholic schools, 245 have no ‘Asian’ pupils. Catholic schools typically have 4.4 percentage points fewer ‘Asian’ pupils than would be expected for schools located in their areas.

Out of 13,121 schools with no religious character, just 18 have no ‘white British’ pupils. 2,344 have no ‘Asian’ pupils, but less than 1 percent of these schools’ local populations are ‘Asian’. Schools with no religious character have on average 0.8 percentage points more ‘Asian’ pupils than would be expected for schools located in their areas.’


A report by the Religious Education Council for England and Wales (published this week)  says that it is time to reconsider the special status given to religious education (RE) in schools for the past 70 years. It calls for debate on alternatives. The report complains that RE has become effectively marginalised in many schools and will call for a better system. It wants an open discussion on how best to provide good quality RE locally and nationally in the 21st century. One option would be to add the subject to the national curriculum, making it a legal requirement to teach the same approved syllabus. This would provoke protests from faith schools, which are allowed to teach a denominational syllabus agreed by their diocese.  It wants ‘strong, core knowledge of religions and worldviews through varied experiences, approaches and disciplines including investigative teaching and enquiry’.



U Turn or not?


Stephen Twigg,when he was  Shadow Education, managed to tie himself in knots over Free schools, seeking to face two ways at once.

The message he conveyed was  that  he was  uncomfortable with Free schools and that their future, post – election if Labour won , would not be assured .But   given there is a  capacity shortage, he argued, schools should be set up where there is most demand for them, not an unreasonable stance.  Free schools have not always been set up where there is a shortfall in capacity and are disproportionately represented in London.  But he also stressed that no type of school should have a priority, all should be treated equally. As things stand academies and free schools are being actively promoted by the government. There are also presumption arrangements in place that require LAs to seek proposals to establish an academy/free school where they have identified the need for a new school in their area. The LA is responsible for providing the site for the new school and meeting all associated capital and pre-/post-opening costs.

So Twigg was   clearly implying that this favoured treatment  would end under Labour.   However, it should be stressed, that he never threatened the status of existing academies and Free schools, or those in the pipeline.  There are, after all ,some very good free schools operating that have ‘Labour’ stamped all over them. (think School 21)

Tristram Hunt, has replaced , Stephen Twigg ,as Shadow Education Secretary . Hunt’s spokesman told the Times (11 October), in response to rumours that Labour might   clamp down  on Free schools, through building regulations  “…We are very clear on free schools — those that are open and in the pipeline will remain. We will ensure that educational innovators, parents and social entrepreneurs will have a vehicle for opening new schools through ‘parent academies’. To these people, we have a clear message: Labour is on your side.”So, on the face of it, the Free school lobby hasn’t got much to worry about.  (Although clearly the days of setting up schools in areas where there is not significant demand for new capacity are probably already over).  In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, Hunt said he wanted to put “rocket boosters” under the new policy. ”What I am saying is if you want to do that when we are in government we will be on your side. There has been this perception that we would not be, and I want people to be absolutely clear that we are. I am putting rocket boosters on getting behind parents and social entrepreneurs,” he said. “We are not going to go back to the old days of the local authority running all the schools – they will not be in charge. ”We will keep those free schools going. We aren’t in the business of taking them down. We have to clear up this question which has dogged Labour education policy since we entered opposition and since Michael Gove began his reforms, as to what we’d do. We just want to say, ‘You are setting up these schools, we are behind you’.”

Crucially, though, Hunt reiterated the point that these schools would only be established where there is a real need. Read this carefully. He said on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday  “We are in favour of enterprise and innovation, but here’s the difference. First of all, it’s going to be in areas of need because we have a school places crisis going on. Secondly, it’s going to have properly qualified teachers in these schools; and thirdly, you’re going to have systems of financial accountability, transparency.”

The latter point is interesting because this could involve more local authority responsibility. Accountability is a major issue for Labour. Hunt believes the recent problems at  al-Madinah highlights one of the central flaws in  the free schools  initiative – that there is minimal oversight.  Schools are directly accountable to the Secretary of State  but some are calling for a ‘third tier’ to aid accountability.

And will the local authority presumption referred to above survive a Labour government?


Government keen on more faith schools but not everyone agrees


This government strongly supports faith schools and would like to see more of them. New faith academies and free schools may admit only half their intake based on faith where they are oversubscribed. But, according to Lord Nash, the Government  ‘remain strongly committed to faith schools, which play a long-established role in our diverse education system. They allow parents to choose a school in line with their faith and they make a significant contribution to educational standards in this country.’

According to the five A* to C statistics, including English and maths, 65% of pupils at Catholic schools achieve five A* to C grades, as opposed to non-faith schools, where the figure is 58%. At level 4 of key stage 2, 85% of pupils at Catholic schools achieve a pass mark, as opposed to 78% for non-faith schools. Church of England schools  achieving five A* to C grades, including in English and maths,  score 62% versus 58%, and at level 4 of key stage 2 they score 82% as opposed to 78%.

A number of new muslim schools are now entering the state  system too.

Some critics are concerned that faith schools could help segregate communities rather than support and  promote social cohesion, despite a clear duty placed on schools to  ‘promote community cohesion’. The government  points out that ‘ All state-funded schools are also required by law to teach a broad and balanced curriculum that promotes the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils, and Ofsted’s inspection framework includes a focus on this’

However the Cantle report of 2001 in the wake of the Bradford/Oldham riots found that communities were developing in parallel with little interaction and criticised the  Governments  policy of encouraging single-faith schools   as it  raised the  possibility of deeper divisions. Northern Irelands segregated school system has also been blamed for embedding and reinforcing division between catholic and protestant communities and helping to fuel the ‘Troubles’.

It is also the case that faith schools have been accused of not taking their share of FSM pupils, often below the respective local authority average, which  helps inflate their academic performance.  There is a significant performance gap between FSM pupils and their peers.



Christodoulou seeks to address some myths

Focus should be on  what happens in the classroom


Daisy Christodoulou,joined the Curriculum Centre, which is part of the ‘Futures Academies’ group (Pimlico Academy etc) as its first Managing Director in August 2012 and was quickly promoted to the role of CEO.

She studied English Literature at Warwick University and trained as an English teacher on the Teach First programme in 2007.  In 2010 she edited a Policy First publication on the importance of ethos and culture in schools.  In 2011-12 Daisy worked at Pimlico Academy on a pioneering knowledge-based curriculum.  Daisy’s book Seven Education Myths: Knowledge and skills in the English Curriculum, was published this month.

Daisy is  the Curriculum Centres  English Language, English Literature, History and Geography lead.

She has spent her twenties teaching in challenging  inner-city comprehensive schools, and much of what she writes in this book is informed by what she experienced in these schools.  Her book is essential reading for anyone in education who wants to fully understand some of the thinking behind the curriculum reforms.She identifies seven myths but there are rather more out there that need to be challenged, a point that Daisy accepts. Daisy is also interested in  the advances in  neuro science and how much more we now understand about how the brain works, and how this might help inform teaching practice in future.

Much of the heated disagreement in education has been over structures. As the introduction points out, ‘both left and right prefer structural solutions to education problems’.  In a certain sense structural reforms are the easy bit (which is why politicians are so keen on them). This book shines the spotlight on what matters most: what actually gets taught in classrooms, and how it gets taught.

Here is an extract from her book about the disconnect between robust evidence and teaching practice  :

‘ After I’d been teaching for three years, I took a year out to do further study. I was shocked to stumble across an entire field of educational and scientific research which completely disproved so many of the theories I’d been taught when training and teaching. I wasn’t just shocked; I was angry. I felt as though I’d been led up the garden path. I had been working furiously for three years, teaching hundreds of lessons, and a whole lot of information which would have made my life a whole lot easier and would have helped my pupils immeasurably had just never been introduced to me. Worse, ideas which had absolutely no evidence backing them up had been presented to me as unquestionable axioms… My central argument is that much of what teachers are taught about education is wrong, and that they are encouraged to teach in ineffective ways’.

Daisy draws from her own experience of the ways in which potentially effective teachers have been made ineffective because they follow too closely the theories they have been taught in  their teacher training . Some of this training peddles not only the wrong ideas about skills and knowledge, but has also served to deprive these potentially good teachers of the knowledge they need to be effective teachers of subject matter. Teachers who are only moderately talented  as teachers can be highly effective if they follow basic  teaching principles and a sound curriculum within a school environment where knowledge builds cumulatively from year to year. Knowledge begets more  knowledge and has a multiplier effect. The ideas of ED Hirsch are much in evidence here . Daisy supports the Core Knowledge approach advocated by Hirsch (Hirsch,  by the way, admires this book and Daisys approach )

Seven Myths in brief

1. Facts prevent understanding

Myth: Facts are inert

Reality: Facts are foundations

2. Teacher-led instruction is passive

Myth: Directed instruction is counterproductive

Reality: Directed instruction is effective

3. The 21st century fundamentally changes everything

Myth: The future economy makes learning facts pointless

Reality: In a knowledge economy, knowledge is a prerequisite for innovation

4. You can just look it up

Myth: The Internet makes memory obsolete

Reality: Long-term memory is crucial for thinking well

5. We should teach transferable skills

Myth: Most skills transfer easily across subject content

Reality: Few skills transfer easily across subjects

6. Projects and activities are the best way to learn

Myth: Physical activity always enhances thinking and remembering

Reality: Physical activity often crowds out thought and memory

7. Knowledge is not indoctrination

Myth: Prescribing knowledge is a right wing ideology

Reality: Sequencing knowledge is crucial for critical thinking skills

Seven Myths in Education is out on Tuesday 18th June on Amazon Kindle, and available via the free Kindle app on iPhones, ipads, Macs, PCs and android smartphones.