And so it begins...

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18 May 2015 by Mary Bousted
And so it begins - Nicky Morgan’s bonkers announcement that the leaders of ‘failing or coasting’ schools will have their headteachers removed and be forced to join an academy chain is bad policy making from an education secretary who is either naïve, or ignorant, or both.

Let us examine each part of her pronouncement and test both for accuracy and, then, for common sense – two prerequisites, surely, of any policy which has any chance of working…

Before I begin my analysis I want to state that it is crucially important pupils are educated in good schools that enable them to succeed. Schools that condemn pupils to poorer educational outcomes than their talents deserve must be held accountable and must improve, quickly (I will come back to this).

So, is there any evidence that Nicky Morgan’s answers to the problem of failing and coasting schools will work? The short answer is, no, there is not. Academisation is no magic cure – a fact recognised by the cross-party Education Select Committee whose recent report on academies and free schools concludes:

“Current evidence does not allow us to draw conclusions on whether academies in themselves are a positive force for change.”

And for primary schools:

There is at present no convincing evidence of the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools. The DfE should commission such research as a matter of urgency.”

So, there is no robust evidence, overall, that academies nationally outperform other types of school. But there is another problem with mass conversion - academy chains vary greatly in their effectiveness. Chain Effects – a 2014 research report on the impact of academy chains on low-income students – found that:

“…some chains are doing particularly well; with attainment scores for disadvantaged pupils substantially above those of the general run of state schools. However, there are other chains which are performing less well than maintained schools on average, and are not doing enough to improve the prospects of their disadvantaged pupils.”

Which brings me to my next point – I sent this tweet out on Sunday:

If Nicky Morgan is so confident that academy chains are the route to school improvement why is she stopping them being inspected as a chain?”

It is my most successful tweet – widely re-tweeted and favourited – because it asks the obvious question. If Nicky Morgan is so confident in the academy chain route to school improvement, surely she should want chains to be inspected (as local authorities are inspected) to determine the quality of the support, direction and resources given to their schools? The longer this does not happen, the more we have the right to ask – just what is she trying to hide?

And now I come to the common-sense test. I ask, where are these legions of school leaders willing to be drafted in to work with failing and coasting schools? The fact is that there is a looming crisis of recruitment and retention of school leaders whose jobs are coming to be as insecure as football managers.

Too many school leaders are deciding to leave the profession to preserve their health and their sanity. Many of those leading successful schools are pulling up the drawbridge – focused on their own establishment and the protection of their school as the policy tsunami of qualification reform hits their teachers and their pupils. Why would they risk career suicide taking over failing schools when they know that there is insufficient time, and resource, to turn those schools around?

Which brings me to my final point – to which I said I would return. All the policy evidence shows it is not school structures that transform educational outcomes; it is the quality of teaching in a school that is transformational. In-school variation of teaching quality is at least four times greater than between-school variation. If inadequate teaching within a school was brought up to be good, pupils’ educational achievements would be transformed very much for the better. But this is hard, intensive, painstaking work which must be supported by effective in-school training and development. It is not headline grabbing, and that is why we get nonsense spouted by Nicky Morgan this weekend. Expect more of it...

Tagged with: 
Educational reform


Thank you Mary Bousted for highlighting the flaws in the Secretary of State's approach. Morgan appears to be prioritising ideology over evidence based policies (and common sense). Perhaps teachers and educationalists generally can now see the nature of a Secretary of State claimed to be more emollient than Gove? At least in Wales we have a sensible view of the reforms required to raise standards of pupil attainment. Perhaps highly able headteachers and senior leaders in England's non-academy schools might wish to cross the border?

As a teacher in a failing school taken over by an academy chain, I have to say they have made a difference by allowing teachers to teach well by having very strict and rigourous behaviour policies. Yes we need good teachers, but in you many schools teachers can't teach well because of poor behaviour.
The downside: who picks up the pieces of the scores of permanently excluded students and SEN students that the academy doesn't want to deal with? The school down the road, who are undersubscribed, and soon to be failing as they pick up the students the academy doesn't want.
We need to tackle parents and social issues, not blame everything on bad teachers.

Having taught in a failing school, I agree with the sentiment that many teachers are not able to teach well because of behaviour and other factors. However, that does not mean that academies are the way to deal with this. A new leadership team could do this while the school was still under the umbrella of the Local Authority.

I have nothing against schools who wish to convert to academies becuase the governors and leadership feel that it would benefit the school. However, as has been demonstrated time and time again, forced academisation is not a magic solution to failing/coasting schools.

"... an education secretary who is either naïve, or ignorant, or both."

... or simply incompetent ... or (most worrying) very competent, but with aims very different from those of children, teachers and parents.
In whose interests is it, that schools should be run by 'academy chains'? Cui bono? (or, in English, "follow the money.")

Cui Bono? It would be an interesting trail to follow. Tax deducted from individuals, paid to the treasury, distributed to Govt depts - i.e the DfE, who distribute to the LAs, Academies & Free schools. LAs have been working to ever reducing budgets, therefore many of their services to schools have become depleted or disappeared completely. If schools want or need assistance they have the option of training their staff on an often zero CPD budget or buying from the private sector. Academies need to employ private sector solicitors to convert their status, then may chose to employ private sector services for HR, accounts & auditing, curriculum and senior leadership support etc. Free schools receive large set-up payments and employ private sector agents to find, purchase, adapt/build on a site, purchase all essential equipment and services from the private sector.
Would the private sector be there if there was no profit to be made?

Could it be a scandal that so much of the country's taxation is being channelled to the private sector?
With some of the current academy chains displaying some reluctance to absorb more schools, and other chains prevented from doing so by the DfE due to their incompetent running of their existing academies, who will administer the, seemingly, hundreds of schools our highly savvy and wise Secretary of State wishes to convert? Oh yes, I've just remembered, there are a number of American and Swedish (and possibly Hong Kong or Singapore) companies who have experience of providing private education funded by the public purse, they could fulfil the Secretary of State's urgent need. Wonderful, problem solved!
Now, that's what she would call capitalism at work, just like the Gas, Electricity and Water utilities and the car industry, the major profits would be heading from British taxpayers to overseas owners and if a school became loss-making they could just close it. Ah well, the LA can provide the places, - oh no, the esteemed previous Secretary of State barred all LAs from building new schools, perhaps the Academy in the next town could be persuaded to bend it's admissions policy to accept the pupils without a monetary incentive?
What a Brave New World of educational opportunity we have entered!
For the pupils? Perhaps not, given the current levels of NEETs.
For Private sector companies? The best opportunity in education for a century, and yet, where is the campaigning voice of the Taxpayer's Alliance when we need them?