Stories + Views
Government rolls out successful programme. Is it innovative social enterprise or thinly veiled privatisation of services?
“SEN children make big step forward in English and Maths” says the Department for Education (DfE). Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have made remarkable progress during a pilot scheme, Achievement for All, set up two years ago by the last Government.
Achievement for All was a whole-school approach which provided a broad structure allowing head teachers to adapt the scheme to fit local needs. Manchester University evaluated the pilot and found it had a significant positive impact on progress in English and mathematics for SEN pupils. Attendance and behaviour improved, and there was better engagement with parents and teachers. The Government has decided, therefore, to allocate £14 million to help roll out the scheme nationally so that schools can strengthen provision for SEND pupils.
Schools, including ones already in the pilot and new schools, are being invited to come forward and sign up. However, there’s a snag. It’s not free. Schools will have to pay a fee of £3,000 for up to 500 pupils for two years. Larger schools or groups of schools will be charged an annual fee of up to £9,000 depending on size. This will pay for access to resources and designated days of support. Pilot schools can “fast track” to Quality Mark and Quality Lead status if they sign up for the project – other schools can aim for this accreditation in the longer term.
The annual fees will be paid to a newly-formed charity, Achievement for All (3As), which has been commissioned by the DfE to deliver the programme. Achievement for All (3As) describes itself as a “new social enterprise” and is supported by Price Waterhouse Cooper. The charity’s registered address is that of its solicitors in London, but it operates from the office of a registered company, Achievement for All (3As) Ltd, in Newbury. One of the charity’s Trustees is also a Trustee of the New Schools Network (NSN), the organisation which implements the Government’s free school policy. The Chief Operating Officer of Achievement for All (3As), Hassan Al-Damluji, was Head of Strategy at NSN from January to July 2011.
When Achievement for All was originally piloted, the scheme was co-ordinated by Local Authorities (LAs) and money was distributed to pilot schools – Oldham pilot schools, for example, received £15,000 each. But the DfE now expects schools to pay for it. There is also the problem of local co-ordination – LAs are being broken up as more schools convert to academy status. The DfE, therefore, has found a third party to co-ordinate the scheme in academies and free schools. And that third party is the New Schools Network.
It is unacceptable that lessons learnt from a successful pilot are not disseminated freely to any school that wishes to duplicate the strategies. The DfE has allocated £14 million to the scheme yet it is unclear where this money is going. It is unacceptable that Quality Marks and the like will be available to schools that pay a fee to join the scheme. It is unacceptable that the remit of the New Schools Network has been expanded. Far from being an independent charity, it now seems to be an extension of the DfE established for the sole purpose of pursuing the Government’s political objectives. This could be considered a violation of Charity Commission rules.
This national “roll-out” is not what it is claimed to be. It is not national – it is only available to schools that pay. The final questions remain – is this social enterprise approach to providing support to schools really innovative or is it a thinly veiled move to the privatisation of services?