Academies raise their game in a rebuke to critics


Academies appear to have upped their game this year, across the board, posting better than expected improvements in GCSE results.

The Harris Federation has seen a 10 percentage points increase across all their academies. Peckham Academy saw a 11% improvement, for instance, from 26% to 37% of pupils securing   A*-C grades, including English and Maths.   ARK Academies have seen a 13 percentage points increase – described by Schools Minister Nick Gibb as “a remarkable achievement and an example of what is possible with freedom, independence and relentless focus on raising standards for all.”  In one of Arks schools, Burlington Danes, in West London, 60% of pupils achieved five GCSE passes including maths and English, representing a 20% improvement on last year. Its St Albans Academy saw a 19% improvement. Even the ULT stable which has, relatively speaking, been under the kosh recently with a couple of poor Ofsted reports, posted an 8 point increase.  Paddington ULT Academy, for example, reported an impressive 28 point increase from 34 per cent to 62 per cent. All 17 of its schools have exceeded the threshold of at least 30% passing five GCSEs including maths and English.

The Government claims that, historically, Academy improvement rates have consistently outstripped the average national increase in the proportion of pupils achieving at least five GCSEs at A*-C including English and maths.  Nick Gibb reacting to the figures said “It is because of this success, together with our determination to tackle inequality in education, that we want to see academy freedoms used more widely to drive up standards with the heads of outstanding schools working in partnership with weaker schools to help the poorest children, along with allowing great new schools to be set up by teachers, parents and charities.” It is probably too early to say but champions of the Academy reforms already claim that now the genie of school choice is out of the bottle it is clearly thriving. Academies work. The irony is that much of the credit for this goes to the last Government and particularly Tony Blair and Andrew Adonis but you won’t hear many Labour politicians boasting about it, and silence from the leadership campaigners is particularly noticeable.  Ed Balls, the former Education Secretary, claims that the Coalitions Academy and free school reforms have nothing to do with the Labour scheme. He sees the new scheme as a reversion to GM schools  as they  are not exclusively targeting the disadvantaged and this will lead to a redirection of resources away from those most in need.




 High social and economic costs attached to educational failure according to new CPS report


 White boys from low income families perform worst at school, followed by African-Caribbean boys. Last year only 16% of white boys entitled to free school meals – the standard measure of deprivation – reached the expected standard of five A to C grades including Maths and English, well below the national average for all students of 48% .

A report from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills found that only 6% of white boys entitled to free school meals and 16% of all Caribbean boys go on to further education .More than one in five 14 year old boys has a reading age of nine or less. 63% of white working class boys and 54% of black working class boys are unable to read and write properly at 14. The opportunities available to these children says, Ofsteds Christine Gilbert, ‘fall well short of those available to others’. In short, they remain on the outside, looking in. The trouble is that problem may be getting worse, due the current recession. The recession is triggering a surge in the number of young people aged between 16 and 24 who are Neets (Not in Education, Employment or Training). They are now at a 16 year high. In England 16% of 16-24 year olds – that is 935,000 – are Neets. So why, despite the billions spent by the government on this problem, do their lives continue to be wasted?

A new report ‘Wasted’ by Harriet Serjeant from the Centre for Policy Studies seeks some answers.

 The report states ‘Young men with nothing else to do, no other way of proving themselves or making a living, take to crime. In 2004, the estimated total cost of youth crime in Great Britain was in excess of £1 billion. Gangs of youths are one of the biggest fears of the public. They are right to be fearful the author claims.

 The author feels that there are three key factors play -whether black or white, from Brixton to Liverpool, the same three factors are having a catastrophic effect on our young men.

First, Young boys need adult males to emulate and validate them. But these important role models are all too often missing from their lives.

The second major factor is education. Between 2000 and 2007 education spending has risen by 75% but GCSE results rose by only 9%. During the same period almost 4 million pupils left school without gaining the basic qualifications of five good GCSEs including English and maths. Nearly a million pupils left with less than five GCSEs of any grade including English and maths. Last year more than a third of 14 year old boys had a reading age of 11 or below. More than one in five boys has a reading age of nine. Almost 250,000 – 40% started GCSE studies without the mastery of reading, writing and maths needed to cope with the course.

The third factor is the change in the job market. The loss of manufacturing and the growth of immigration has hit white and black working class boys particularly hard. This is compounded by the effect of benefits. In the two decades since 1982 manufacturing employment has declined by 34% and service employment grown by 20%. These newly created jobs in the service sector require personal and social skills alien to the majority of teenagers .The arrival of large numbers of skilled, capable immigrants willing to work for low pay has hit them hard and left them side lined. Indeed, ,far from being ‘work shy’ the author found that most young boys she met were eager to work but prevented from doing so by the prospect of losing their benefits. The welfare system hands out more in benefits, in particular housing benefit, than they can possibly earn. So it makes no financial sense for them to take a job paying the minimum wage.

 Cause then for abject despair? Not necessarily.

Harriet Sergeant details case studies which show (interalia) the success of Charter Schools in the US, where children from poor backgrounds are flourishing in response to strong discipline and traditional teaching methods. She points to the success of synthetic phonics in teaching reading, particularly for those who find reading most difficult – while claiming that government efforts to impose synthetic phonics have been subverted along the way. She also suggests that some voluntary organizations are able to provide the structure and discipline which are so often absent from schools.

The report says ‘Children can be taught to read. Children will respond to discipline. Children will rise to a challenge. And there are some excellent state schools which, despite the odds, flourish. But for this to take root in all our schools, we must eradicate the educational orthodoxies that are in large part responsible for the failings of too many of our schools’. Sergeant concludes: “It is time to must challenge this deep-seated culture in our schools. Proposals for giving parents more freedom to set up schools, for imposing synthetic phonics, for enhancing the professionalism of teachers are all wise and greatly needed. But if change is to be lasting, something more dramatic is in order: namely, recognition of the source of the crisis and an end to the educational ideology that has damaged schools and betrayed millions of children.”

The report’s messages will appeal to Tory policymakers. Their main criticism of the Government’s education policies is that they have barely helped those on free school meals and have failed to increase social mobility. They have long admired Charter schools in the States and their work in disadvantaged communities which have helped inform their free schools initiative. Nick Gibb the shadow schools spokesman has also long advocated the teaching of synthetic phonics, claiming that the Literacy strategy does not have enough of it, and Tories are wedded to the idea of better discipline in the classroom, making it easier for Heads to rid schools of troublemakers. They also want to make the teaching profession more professional, incentivising the best teachers to stay in teaching while also recruiting the very best graduates into the profession.