It doesn’t work!

Recent evidence shows that ‘academisation’ is not the “magic bullet” the Coalition Government has claimed. Many schools have received poorer Ofsted ratings after becoming academies while those receiving ‘outstanding’ gradings were already at that level.

The new Education Secretary has tried to distance herself from the toxic legacy of her predecessor. In what the  Daily Mail laughingly called a ‘U-turn’, she said she was continuing Michael Gove’s policies but not because of ideology; she is doing so  “because they work”, she said,  to which the simple riposte is,  “No they don’t!”


‘Free schools’ failing?

Just in case you haven’t seen the story in today’s Observer, quoting a leaked memo, here’s the link:

No surprise to us that money is to be spent on political expediency rather than children.

Gove in ‘toxic’ jibe

Teachers are coming to expect insults from Michael Gove, their Education Secretary. He visited Nottingham last Friday and, in the wake of the OFSTED blitz of Nottingham schools in December, launched a tirade in the local press and media. According to what he was reported as saying in the Nottingham Post, (March 15 & 16), he ‘demanded’ that under-performing schools improve and suggested they be “taken by the scruff of the neck”. He threatened school leaders with the sack and academisation (this message was encoded as ‘a change of leadership in some schools could be needed’, ignoring the fact that, even if the OFSTED judgements are sound, most of the schools judged to require ‘Special Measures’ are currently academies!).

He warned the schools not to use deprivation as an excuse: “Deprivation cannot be used as an excuse for poor performance. There are children who come from a tough background who go on to succeed.” Many people would suggest that this is because of their school and often such children cite an inspirational teacher, who believed in them, but Gove is having none of that.

He went on to accuse teachers of lacking ambition. What he is reported as having said, is : “What is needed is to raise the level of ambition…not this toxic attitude that children in deprived areas will not do well.”

We wonder how Michael Gove knows what is in the hearts and minds of teachers in schools in ‘deprived areas’ when they go to work each day. We also wonder how they will feel, going into school on Monday, knowing their ‘boss’ thinks their attitude is poisoning their children’s life chances.

If you are such a teacher, get in touch with HOOS via our ‘Contribute’ button and tell us, anonymously.

Nottingham Free School announces site

After months of silence (the website hadn’t been updated since the end of November), ‘Torch’ has finally revealed the site for the NFS, which will be the Courtaulds building on Haydn Road. The Group now has less than six months to turn part of this building into a proper school with not just well-equipped classrooms, complete with interactive white-boards and so on, but also specialist teaching rooms : Science laboratories, Technology workshops, kitchens (for teaching), a gym. And what about outdoor sports facilities?

We know that money will be no object, as Michael Gove will be keen to fund this start-up, the first in Nottingham, but time is short. What will parents who have signed up and been very patient, make of the location? How soon before they can actually have a look inside: will they be happy with the resources available to teach their children? What will the children themselves make of it?

Finally, given that other offices will continue within the same building, are there ‘safeguarding’ issues to think about?

We maintain our position that, wherever the NFS is located and however well it is resourced, this is an unnecessary development that is costing tax-payers money that would have been better spent on existing schools.

Al Madinah

Our happiness that the Al Madinah ‘free school’ in Derby is to have its secondary section closed forthwith, is tempered by our concern for those pupils who, through no fault of their own, have suffered such a poor start to their secondary schooling. We hope they are able to make as smooth a transition as possible to another local school.

The decision to ‘pull the plug’, taken by Education Minister Lord Nash, will have seemed inevitable to anyone who has read what OFSTED had to say about this school but the plight of Al Madinah highlights the folly behind the whole ‘free school’ project. Public money has been lavished on these schools which are not operating at anything like capacity, can employ unqualified ‘teachers’, to operate sometimes in inappropriate buildings, overseen by inexperienced governors and where, in some cases, financial mismanagement has been alleged.

Yet Michael Gove ploughs on, disregarding evidence and contrary advice, dismissing  those who criticise him as “enemies of promise”. What price the “promise” of the young people at Al Madinah,  who now have to pick up the pieces of their tattered secondary school education?

Ravens Wood School

Yet another academy is facing problems. This time it’s Ravens Wood School in Bromley, whose executive principal is Professor Sir George Berwick CBE, who was knighted for services to education this year. According to a report in today’s Observer, the exam board EdExel is investigating an allegation that pupils’ performance was falsified. This follows claims by ‘insiders’, which allege that a senior member of staff was alerted but no action was taken. The allegations and investigation centre on the coursework for a BTec course in ICT.

The school is currently awaiting the outcome of its June OFSTED inspection. It is not clear why publication of the report has been delayed (inspection reports are normally published within 15 days) but it is clear that the school is challenging the OFSTED inspection.

Last Friday, according to the Observer article, a letter was sent home to parents informing them that Sir George, who has been described by Michael Gove as “visionary”, having reached retirement age,  will officially retire on 10 October 2013. Read the full article below:

Academies increase segregation

Research led by Professor Stephen Gorard from the University of Durham, indicates that academies increase the segregation between rich and poor in this country. He found that Gove’s ‘converter academies’, those that opted to become academies following a Good or Outstanding OFSTED judgement, had fewer children on free school meals than ordinary state schools. This is also true of any non-standard school such as independents, foundation or faith schools. Apparently, there’s not really enough data to make judgements about ‘free’ schools but they are likely to be the same. Research in Sweden has certainly indicated this is the case.

The reason is not hard to establish and is entirely predictable. Schools that are somehow perceived as ‘better’ will attract the more middle-class professional ‘customer’ who understands the system or who tends to be more proactive. The conclusion of the report is that greater choice leads to greater segregation, by which presumably is meant, inequality.

Read the full coverage in today’s Independent from the link at the head of this post.

Spending Review boost for ‘free’ schools

None of us should feel relieved that the chancellor has, apparently’ ‘ring-fenced’ the schools budget. The devil, as always, is in the detail. We know that Michael Gove has raided and re-targeted budgets in the past for his ideologically driven academies and ‘free’ schools programme. Dismaying therefore, but no surprise, that Osborne has announced he has allowed money for 180 new ‘free’ schools in the year 2015-16. Quite how he knows, two years out, that this precise number of such schools will spring up in response to consumer demand is unclear.

Free schools in trouble – in Sweden

As we know, our dearly beloved Education Secretary got his ‘big idea’ for ‘free schools’ from Sweden (and, to a lesser extent, the Charter Schools in the USA). The evidence that they raise standards is, to say the least, patchy. Nonetheless, Michael ploughs on secure in the knowledge that he’s right. Mr Gove would like to go even further we know: at the moment, ‘free schools’ and academies have to be run by educational charities or trusts but Gove sees no reason why people shouldn’t be able to run schools for profit. Here’s the reason.

In Sweden, where that very same thing has been happening for some time, one of the biggest providers of these schools — J B Education — has decided there isn’t enough profit in it and is to close four of its schools and sell the rest. The decision, which follows four school closures announced by the company in February, came as the Danish private equity group Axcel, which bought the chain in 2008, decided it could no longer continue to cover the company’s losses. This seems to most of us on the anti-academies/free schools ‘side’ of the argument to be inescapable proof of the folly of Gove and his actions. Even if so-called ‘free schools’ were shown to be delivering a better education, which they most certainly aren’t, can we as a nation risk leaving hundreds of our children high and dry at the commercial whim of private equity companies?

‘Ibrahim Baylan, the education spokesman for Sweden’s opposition Social Democratic party, said the closures should come as a warning to the UK not to slavishly adopt the Swedish model, where private companies can set up profit-making free schools, paid for by the state but with little government oversight.

“Before you do something like this you have to really, really think about how you set up the system,” he said. “The system here is not working as it’s supposed to work. Nobody could foresee that so many private equity companies would be in our school system as we have today.”

Two Swedish school companies, Kunskapsskolan and Internationella Engelska Skolan (IES), have already taken over the management of schools in the UK, albeit on a non-profit basis. Like JB Education, both are owned by private equity companies. Kunskapsskolan’s non-profit UK arm, Learning Schools Trust, operates schools in Suffolk, Northamptonshire and two in Richmond, south-west London. IES is often cited as an inspiration for the Conservative push for free schools, with the education secretary, Michael Gove, visiting IES’s schools in Sweden. Through a trust named Sabres, IES has operated a free school in Breckland, Suffolk, since 2012.’ (Extract from Guardian article, 31 May)


Reprinted from the ‘Colin thinks…’ blog