The Free Schools experience.

Paul Atherton's picture
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Over the last 18 months, I've been watching the involvement and engagement of the free schools process and I've been so encouraged by the people involved, that I genuinely believe it can do nothing but good.

Many of the arguments on this site seem to focus on the fact that LA Schools could be improved.

But that seems to miss the point.

The Free School (dare I call it) movement. Seems to be more about engagement by parents & community than an LA School could ever achieve.

This, in main of course, has been highlighted by the Governments push to keep the idea in the media and the high profile types who've been the initial founders (e.g. Katharine Birbalsingh & Toby Young).

In addition to the freedom this type of school offers to parents, pupils and teachers alike.

But I think Free Schools like Academies before them force communities to think about education in a different way to the existing LA system.

I was brought into Bexley Business Academy as it transferred from a failing school to an Academy. And what was noticeable was not the exam results but the complete turn around of attitude from the pupils.

They wanted to be in the school (truancy was at an all time high previously), were filled with aspiration (most students came from backgrounds where there expectations of future progression were kept low) and could generally engage with all the new facilities that were offered to them (there was much wrong too - I was brought in because, they'd had an entire TV Studio installed but nobody had been taught how to use it).

This may not have translated into exam results but anecdotally at least, translated into more well rounded, positive children joining society than the schools previous incarnation.

I think what Toby Young says in the we produced Free Schools video about Working Class parents wanting the best for their children, is reflected in his schools intake and why I think this is genuinely a good thing for UK society.
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Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 13:20

The "freedom" enjoyed by so-called free schools and academies is an illusion. It consists of nothing more than the ability to set pay and conditions for staff, and being able to purchase services which are provided by local authorities to their maintained schools.

The majority of parents want the best for their children and the Government plays lip service to this by promoting "user choice". But the evidence linking user choice to educational outcomes is mixed as shown by the OECD* and recent Harvard research.

I highlighted Business Academy, Bexley, on another thread where I noted that the Key Stage 2 results in three of the last four years were worse than the results of both Downhills and Nightingale School, Wood Green, yet the two latter schools are facing enforced academy conversion. Nightingale School has already had its governing body forcibly removed. There is inconsistency in the way the DfE is targeting particular schools and this is bound to cause anger.

There is no uniform "LA" system. OECD found in 2009 that UK was among a group of four countries that allowed schools the greatest autonomy. Perversely, this autonomy is likely to be undermined when schools join academy chains or outsource responsibility for running schools to an education provider. The National Audit Office 2010 found that some sponsored academies felt pressurised to purchase services from the sponsor thus undermining the school's autonomy.

It's true that Ofsted is positive about the Business Academy despite its low KS2 results. And Key Stage 4 results have risen: 29% achieved the benchmark GCSEs A*-C including Maths and English in 2008 - this rose to 52% in 2011. But the rise in GCSE attainment may not necessarily be because of its academy status. As Henry's analysis shows, non-academy schools have also had similar gains.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found in 2008 that when schools improved they used similar methods irrespective of whether they were academies or not. And both PwC 2008 and NAO 2010 said there was insufficient evidence that academy conversion was a silver bullet for raising results. NAO also found that the gap between disadvantaged and advantaged pupils widened in academies.

It is disingenuous of the Government and supporters of academies/free schools to put forward these schools as the only way of raising standards.

References:

*OECD Economic Survey UK 2011 not freely available on internet but details of how to get a copy are here: http://www.oecd.org/document/38/0,3746,en_2649_34569_47283558_1_1_1_1,00...

http://www.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/fryer/files/effective_schools.pdf

http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/17/43/48910490.pdf

see FAQs above for discussion of PwC and NAO reports/

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 14:00

Hello Paul,

Welcome to this forum. I'm a regular contributor but have no links with the site beyond contributing.

You say that you genuinely believe Free Schools can do nothing but good.

Here are some two main concerns
All who have studied the economics and planning of education or have substantial previous believe that
1. local planning is essential for economic efficiency and
2. the proper processes of democratic consultation and accountability can exist.

Regarding point 1: Economic efficiency.
Michael Gove claims that free schools will lead to economic efficiency (and confidently and effectively projects this message through the media) but his thinking is based on an exceptionally naive extreme right wing ideology which says that if you plan things less they will be more efficient. He has not engaged with the concerns of those who have studied the field or have experience in it. Instead he has aggressively attacked them as being self-interested extreme left wing ideologues - which they aren't. The economic theory of education and the state predicts that an efforts to get rid of local planning will collapse and revert. I haven't heard any coherent argument to suggest that it will be otherwise. It is simply a case that the more we force ourselves down this route the more expensive will be the collapse.

Re: Point 2 - Democracy and accountability.
Michael Gove says that local school provision will be better if he makes all the decisions rather then them going through the processes or local consultations. This may or may not be true however it is clearly less democratic. That are vast issues of accountability as local decision makers have to deal with the consequences of their decisions and no-one remotely believes Micheal Gove has any intention of dealing with any of the consequences of his. And finally, and this is really the most worrying point - opening one schools has very substantial consequences on the other in the area which need to be carefully planned for if we wish to avoid very serious consequences for the students in them.


One of Michael Gove's tricks has been to link his policies to the Academies policy under the last government by adopting the vocabulary. There is really no link. The Academies policy under the last government was about taking very small numbers of the secondary schools with the most challenging catchments out of LA control and giving them special attention without shutting down the LA infrastructures which would still apply coherently to the vast majority of schools.


Paul I notice on your linkedin profile you say that free schools is a cause you believe in and my question to you is why? Is it just the magnetic charisma of Michael Gove who gives them a big sell as being a way to create freedom and diversity in education? Is it just a little dull talking to people like me who understand that factors which really constrain freedom and diversity in education and how they can be appropriately and effectively addressed? I'm wondering what on earth you've put in your video about why they are important. They are not important. They are policy disaster created out of hubris, arrogance and the inability this government understand why they should bother to consult with the experts who actually understand what they're talking about.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 14:17

It is difficult to see how the “Free School Movement” has devolved “engagement” or “freedoms” to parents, teacher and communities when Free Schools and Academies (same thing) are not accountable to local authorities or communities, when they are increasingly in the hands of education chains and when parents’ complaints are dealt with directly by the DfE, which is the department that has directly granted Funding Agreements in the first place. It was a long time ago when a group of parents, like that led by Toby Young, managed to set up a Free School from scratch without the aid of consultants and companies providing infrastructure of specialist advice and services for a fat fee. The government made it much more difficult for parents to complete the process on their own.

And what of those parents who wishes or opinions were ignored?

Those who opposed a Free School because they felt its existence undermined existing provision or polarised their community)?

Those who are bulldozed (Downhills Primary and other Haringey schools currently being forced to convert to Academies against their wishes despite being told they were improving and when other schools in other areas performing worse but not singled out for punishment http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/12/downhills-school-forced-ac...)

Those who choice is rendered obsolete because Academisation in their area has been so fast and so complete that there is no choice apart from a Harris Federation school http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/12/how-an-academy-chains-domi...?

Aside from mandatory conversions, there are also the many schools that converted last year mainly for no other reason than the financial incentives from the government - the alternative being to face savage cuts and going into decline? I would not call any of this “freedom”. Centralization of control is what this is all about, sneaked in through the back door whilst focusing the public’s attention on some mendacious statements about freeing schools from local authority “control”, the stranglehold of unions and the propaganda that Academies achieve better results – a claim that has been systematically rebutted and proven to be untrue by Henry Stewart’s analyses on Local School Network.

Anecdotal stories about well rounded and engaged students at Bexley Business Academy are just that - anecdotal. I am reminded of Sam Freedman’s dismissal of the Panorama programme of “nudged out” pupils in ARK Academies as “anecdotal”. In Hackney, there are many anecdotal stories of students in Academies like Mossbourne having a miserable time and leaving school with either great grades but a horrible memory of what school was like for them or “nudged out” because they could not keep up. Perhaps we should be looking forward to evidence-based research papers on the impact of Academies on the type of children they churn out and what their contribution to “society” is and, more importantly, whether their experiences in an Academy encouraged a lifelong love of learning.

At present, there seems to be an emphasis on schools churning out human resources with the right academic and personal qualifications for no reason other than to service employers. Bit misguided when there are 3 million unemployed, 1m of those aged between 16-24 and in a bleak recession in which more and more young people will graduate from school or universities wondering if there are no jobs, then what was the point of being taught to the test? Excluded from employment and with little to aspire to, we shouldn’t be surprised when protests and riots escalate.

For a significant number of people, Toby Young and Katharine Birbalsingh have done little to persuade that Free Schools are the way forward simply because they are politically motivated and frequently polarise opinion, deliberately provocative in their public pronouncements and because have not shaken off the suspicion that opening up a school has as much to do with their vanity and own career prospects as helping the disadvantaged.

The “freedoms” that have been granted have not gone to communities but to for-profit making companies who now stand to benefit hugely from the floodgates that coalition education policy has afforded them. The government can’t be blatant about this, of course, since public opinion would be as repelled by this naked dismantling of state education as it is by the privatising of the NHS, so better to dress it up as “freedom” for parents and from the “control” of local authorities.

What we are really getting is freedom for the private sector to influence government policy whilst making money out of schools and control being taken away from local communities and placed into the hands of central government. Communities should indeed “think about education in a different way to the existing LA system” and see how their freedoms and democratic rights are being eroded.

Paul Atherton's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 14:36

Hi Janet,

Thanks for your comments. I had read all this material, but appreciate you posting it here.

The problem with examining quantitative statistics in this way, is they don't tell you anything useful.

They all come to the same thing i.e. that there is "insufficient evidence" to draw a conclusion on one side or another.

Ultimately there are too many variables to consider to make any statistical analysis useful (e.g. every year a different type of intake with different children who age differently, educated differently, examined by different exam boards etc. and therefore no realistic comparisons can be drawn).

And I totally agree that 'choice" in the UK is an illusion in all walks of life (from the NHS to shopping on the High Street).

Though I would have to contest your idea about a Free School not giving you more freedom than an existing LA school.

If I wanted to educate my child in a school that say offered a particular style of discipline and education and that didn't exist within my current LA offering. I could, as Toby Young has done, possibly set up a Free School that gives me that offering, but I couldn't alter an existing LA school to fit those needs.

And that, to me as a parent, is what is so appealing about the notion of a Free School.

I remember when school league tables were first brought out and thought how ridiculous - as if a measure of examination success would dictate my choice of school for my child (made even more complicated by destandardising the exam boards but not weighting those differences on the league tables - there were three Exam Boards when I was a child and all vastly different i.e. WJEC, OEC & Baccalaureate - couldn't even start to draw comparisons now)

I don't believe any sensible parent pays any attention to things like that anyway. What they look for (as best they can, in the options that are available to them) is the right type of teaching, the right kind of environment, that they believe will get the best results for their child, either in academic excellence, skills based learning or just confidence building for life.

But ultimately, I think many parents end up doing what my parents did and put them in the school that takes them.

The notion of a Free School as I said before is more appealing in that it's getting parents to think about education in a different way and I can see no wrong in doing that.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 15:14

Professor Mel Ainscow, whose schools improvement scheme was deemed a "success" by Michael Gove, has warned that the Government is taking a "very dangerous" risk by setting schools loose from local authorities and letting market forces rip without any local regulation.

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6164811

And what does unfettered choice for parents actually mean? Suppose that in one area there are small groups of parents who all want different things. One group wants single-sex education, another wants firmer discipline, a faith organisation wants separate education while a fourth thinks a school modelled on Summerhill would be great. Can all these groups realistically expect their "demands" to be met? It might be possible in a city with good transport and lots of schools within travelling distance. But what happens in small towns? The appearance of a new school in an area which already has a school with sufficient places for all children can make both schools too small to offer a wide curriculum or, worse, one of the schools becomes unviable. This is what might happen in Beccles as has been discussed on this site.

Paul Atherton's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 15:59

Hi Rebecca,

Thank you. I've connected with you on Linkedin.

I'd like to read your research in regards to this, before addressing your points in any depth.

But superficially, it looks as if things are being done with less bureaucracy, staff and hinderance, which would all imply more economic efficiency.

I find the democratic argument in relation to schools (actually, even general politics) somewhat moot. We don't have a democracy. If we had non-political Local Authorities then maybe, that argument could hold water, but we don't.

So if you're in a Labour controlled borough such as Lambeth - the council decisions will all be for Labour initiatives regardless of who is in Government and likewise in say Conservative controlled Wandsworth.

These seats are so strongly entrenched, that the LA's are not interested in the views of the general electorate, only those that have their values.

We need swing vote councils who are genuinely interested in the needs of all those in their communities or apolitical ones (my preferred choice) before any notion of democracy can be seriously engaged with.

That said, when I have the time, I'll research the former point with more seriousness and get back to you on your research.

In answer to why do I believe in Free Schools?

That's an easy one.

It's because I've been talking to people at grassroots who felt they couldn't be involved in their children's education because their concerns weren't being listened to by local councils.

There's a passion, a drive to understanding things, from people who would never have thought in such a way 10 years ago (certain types of single mums from sink council estates, illiterate parents wanting to make sure their child can read and wanting the additional support they need to achieve that, single father's who just felt completely out of their depth with the whole school choice issue).

There's a belief in communities that things can finally get done (though Lambeth's blocking of the Michaela Community School dampened that dramatically for the Lambeth residents we were talking to).

And when you see that, it's inspiring.

Parents from ludicrously deprived areas wanting to move their children out of violent schools and were unable to do so, are coming to Free Schools (in at least Toby's & Katharine's case) in the hope they'll provide a solution.

But it's the level of engagement from all those involved in it, that's really the most exciting.

The amount of time all experts are happy to commit to free of charge.

Toby's honesty (and he was brutally honest about his own reasoning for setting up a school) and commitment to an idea that benefitted him not one jot (other than for what he feels is the betterment of his children - he is the archetype of the sharp elbowed middle-class parent) and one, in previous incarnations of himself, would have walked away from at the first sign of trouble.

Katharine's unbelievable commitment to genuinely supporting the children who clearly look up to her. And again, fighting battles she could easily throw in the towel on, but continues regardless.

The politics of it all is superficial to me, Gove is a man like any other and I'm sure, as a politician, he has a trenche of experts who will support his position. But I don't care about policy as much as I care about what's happening in society and among the people who count.

Parents, teachers and pupils.

There's a real ground swell of engagement to reinstating quality, respect, engagement which has seemingly been absent in society for nearly a decade and a half.

And above all, just a sense of people wanting to get things done - not discuss it through endless committees (Im a Welshman and hate all committees - think Life of Brian's href:"http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55fqjw2J1vI">People's front of Judeah) but actually do something practical and that's truly motivating & exciting in a society that has been absent of it for so long.

Hope that answers your question.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 21:54

I love to hear your enthusiasm and energy Paul. I have it too.

LAs exist so that decisions which are made about school planning are properly thought through and they have a responsibility to ensure the quality of the whole provision.

This is a very complex thing to do. Sink schools occur rapidly and easily and most LAs are aware of the signs and the small but important early interventions needed to prevent them existing. There are so many issues like this which people like yourself seem to write off as 'wasteful bureaucracy' without having the remotest clue what they actually are or why they exist.

Those of us who've been working in secondary schools in challenging areas for decades (with relentless dedication and love - of just the kind Katharine describes but with a lot more cumulative experience and a longer memory) understand that the main reasons for education not being as you would have it be are that the teachers in such schools have their energy endlessly sapped by trying to avoid the horrors of special measures and by league tables and targets.

And we are working relentlessly hard to get past those problems - but all the processes of consultation and progress in that direction have been shut down under this government and we have suddenly gone backwards because all the people with real insight and ability have been cleared out to make way for the Gove disciples and all the consultations and policy development time is focusing on his pet projects.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 16:14

The Bexley Business Academy was one of the first three academies established in 2002. "Its striking new building was designed by Sir Norman Foster but was not completed in time. The Academy was rated unsatisfactory overall by Ofsted in 2005, which was particularly critical of its teaching and learning, and it was issued with a Notice to Improve. However, when it was next inspected in 2007, it was rated satisfactory overall." And from Paul's evidence above we learn that it was provided with a TV studio which no-one knew how to work.

The Sutton Trust 2008 downloadable from: http://www.suttontrust.com/research/the-academies-programme-progress-pro...

Ofsted 2009 report for Business Academy, Bexley, found that the “very low achievement at the end of KS2 had not improved during the period of 2007 and 2009″. The academy's KS2 results are still lower than Downhills and Nightingale School, Wood Green.

There may be good reasons for the under-achievement of Business Academy at KS2. And these may be the same reasons that account for the so-called under-achievement at Downhills and Nightingale School. However, the Government is not concerned about possible reasons. It is singling out some non-academy schools for punitive punishment by having their governing bodies replaced and another one imposed upon them.

This sort of behaviour can only increase suspicions that the Government favours particular types of school - academies and free schools - over local authority maintained schools. PwC warned in 2008 that the then Government should keep non-academy schools equally high on the agenda. This Coalition appears to have taken that on board but in a wholly negative way: academies are praised even when such praise is not jusitified, and free schools are told that they are "shock troops" which will smash through complacency. Non-academy schools which perform well are ignored.

Paul Atherton's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 16:32

Alan,

I think you make some good points, especially in relation to how the DFE have eroded the ease by which parents could put together a proposal for a Free School. I agree that it defeats the object if this is not community driven.

But when it is, it's great to watch.

The naysayers at meetings, which in all honesty were very few and usually politically motivated e.g. NUT & Anti-Academies folk. and often not even from the borough and usually there for the sole purpose of disrupting meetings and not engaging with them (got some footage of that, that we may post when we complete the film) often shouted down by the majority who were there to listen (even by those who didn't even agree with the idea).

But watching how people came together at these events over the education of their children was just brilliant. For many it was the first time that they felt they could ever be involved in the decision making process of what kind of educational offering could be given to their children.

Anecdotal evidence is as an important measure (if not more so) under the heading of qualitative statistics as quantitative percentiles. The key is understanding how to correlate the data to give a clear understanding of the full picture not just pick out components that can be interpreted one way or another.

And I agree totally with your point that education until lately, has been nothing but a way of churning out non-thinking fodder for call-centres & local government.

But that's why I find the "notion" of free schools so exciting. Differing ways of teaching, values, curriculum etc. teaching children in differing environments and moving from this one size fits all - and everyone needs a degree nonsense, that has pervaded our lives for far to long.

I totally accept, that there are many flaws in the system that need ironing out and agree that Free Schools should not be run by businesses (including those that run academies).

But the dominant over riding theme, is parents getting involved and if the Free Schools movement gets momentum, then they'll be an entirely different notion to education entirely.

Lilly's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 20:55

Hi Paul,

Naysayers are not uncommon at some meetings. Take for example Rivendale Free School - this proposed school in Hammersmith and Fulham (Toby's home turf) was trounced out not on political grounds (the locals are highly Conservative and many of the free school opponents were Tories) - but because locals liked the quality of the local schools and saw through the insinuations that a) free schools are automatically better and b) that free schools were automatically freer. Local people without children resented not being consulted (yet again) on a major initiative in their community...and when they learned that planning regulations had been relaxed in order to accomodate this initiative, this really bent them out of shape ...

My child, who is gifted and social and musical and is getting along brilliantly in life - is doing very well at a very nearby community school, very mixed - a minority in many ways and is doing very well by ALL standards.

This is not necessarily because his parents are white elbowed middle class...quite the contrary.

I got involved in my child's school - and - alas - I saw that they welcomed my input in a meaningful and valued and utilised way - and there is a very large and strong and valued parental involvement across the board. People assume that their input will have no impact and things like curriculum can't change etc etc - it is nonsense. Many of the people who wanted Rivendale had never been to the local schools (there are several) - they just assumed they'd get a rotten deal from a state school because of the media hype that state = rubbish and free = shiny and nice.

I think that parents getting involved is key - and is certainly not prohibited by a school being attached to the LA. I've seen two local schools be transformed by a small group of parents getting a larger group of parents more seriously committed to the school's development - yet these schools are slagged off because they are 'just state schools'. I think that attitude does a massive disservice to the vast majority of children in the UK...

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 21:15

Paul –

I suspect that the long term aim of the government was never to empower parents. This was the first phase of selling a policy whose end game is the privatisation of state education. Make the claim that school reform empowers parents, get public opinion behind the scheme whilst perpetuating the myth that the system was “broken”, then slowly put the schools into the hands of chains and service providers who step in to provide the services forced away from local authorities.

You claim that the naysayers were “anti-academies folk” and unions. Where is your evidence of this? I find the fact that you have “footage” that you are completing into a film a little disturbing to be honest. In any case, any film which is cut down can be edited in a way to advance one perspective over another. I do hope you will be honest enough to present an impartial “film”. I also hope you have secured the signed consent from those participating in the “film”, particularly if they have cause to complain that the film misrepresents or defames them.

Communities have come together to support their schools long before Academies were introduced. The scenario you present unfortunately presents a picture of parents who are concerned only for the wellbeing of their own children as opposed to the collective good. I wonder how many of the parents are aware that the best educational systems in the world actually offer no choice but schools that are uniformly excellent, non selective, comprehensive in their curriculum and equipped financially and politically to teach children of all abilities? This is what gives equal opportunity to all children regardless of ability or income.

You have either deliberately or naively misunderstood my point about children undergoing education for no other reason than to be shaped as human resources for companies. This is not what has always happened but it is most certainly a theme in the current coalition’s general kowtowing to the demands of industry. Time and time again the right wing press and the government churn out the argument that students leave education unfit for the demands of the workplace. I think we should be more worried that students are leaving school disillusioned with, first, the learning process they underwent and, secondly, the fact that after all that effort, the hope of getting a job was minimal anyway, thanks to the irresponsibility of the private sector banking industry which took their future away from them. You might be as offended to know that highly educated young people are working in what you deem as “non-thinking fodder for call-centres” as they might be by your description of such work. Quite how you equate working in local government as being somewhat demeaning is actually beyond my comprehension.

We agree only that there are flaws in the system but where we differ is that you acknowledge and put your beliefs in a construct that, despite the flaws, will be overcome thanks to wishful thinking, energy and commitment. I see what has happened in the Charter School movement in the United States, upon which the Free School and Academy policy is modelled. Over 20 years, Charter Schools have failed to raise attainment across the board and despite the billions poured into the programme, American schools are still not competing with the best nations in the world. Despite the success of some stand-alone Charters and, arguably, KIPP and HCZ, the evidence is that American “Free Schools” have not transformed the landscape for the better. The question is - why would they succeed here when they have not succeeded there?

Paul Atherton's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 21:46

Hi Lilly,

Apologies, I'm not entirely clear of your point and would just like some clarity before attempting to conceivably address anything we don't agree upon?

From what I've read, you said there was an open consultation about Rivendale Free School where people had an opportunity to air their views, is that correct?

During that meeting people opposed it, yes?

People without children attended and were annoyed that people with children were discussing children's issues without gaining the consent of those without... not sure I could have got that right?

Your child, who by your admission is gifted, is happy and getting on with life in whatever school they've been placed in (which I would argue is true of all gifted children - their gift isn't impinged upon by poor schooling or poor social environments)?

You are informing me you are not white, middle-class or sharp elbowed (all of which would be true of Katharine Birbalsingh, mixed race, working class and blunt elbowed) but I am unclear as to why you would do that?

You make a good point on how you changed the curriculum of an LA school, but don't elucidate what it was and how you achieved it, that would be incredibly useful to know?

And in your last paragraph we certainly agree in the first sentence. But please again elucidate on the name of the schools, what the small group of parents try to achieve and how they achieved it.

I think, this in part maybe a perception issue and as you rightly point out, that groups of parents are affecting real change in LA Schools - we're just not hearing about them - so please, shout their stories from the rooftops:)))

Guest's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 22:31

Paul,

Well done for coming on a website like this to try and have an open discussion.
Unfortunately you are wasting your time as they have already made up their minds.

As we all know billions have been spent on the English education system and Janet will no doubt confirm that every study the OECD and PISA have undertaken has pointed to a fall our standings since 2000.

At last we are getting change that majority of parents want under the coalition, more emphasis on academic subjects, more emphasis on discipline, more autonomy for schools, encouraging parental involvement, pupil premium to target money where needed, Free Schools to add choice, zero tolerance on schools which have failed communities year after year, no coasting schools.

I wish you luck Paul in spreading the word about the excellent opportunities being created by Free Schools.

Paul Atherton's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 22:51

Alan,

A government can never act against the wishes of the people without their acquiescence (either by force or manipulation). So your first point is reliant on the will of the people - not even I would suggest I can control that:))

If we show the film online, it will be unedited, we didn't need any consent from individuals as it was a public event and advertised that it was being filmed. In that instance It is then down the individuals to approach us and ask to be removed, as no one did, our legal obligations were met (I do this for a living by the way).

As for evidence to support the video we have approximately a 100 eye witnesses to back it up (many of whom we recorded after the event making just those points), leaflets that were handed out, and interviews with the people outside the venues where they cite their opposition, reason for being there and indeed even their names (not the brightest bunnies in the box), before recording them disrupting the meeting.

Surprised you'd take such an interest in such a minor thing - but addressed it nonetheless.

Your argument about equality only works on the assumption that people are all equal and society treats them as such.

Neither is accurate.

All people have differing abilities and are treated entirely differently by the outside world (hence we have Gender inequalities, racism and class). And whilst acknowledging that it would be a wonderful world if this wasn't the case (thinking about it, I'm not even sure that is true?), these things have been in existence since civilisation began and are unlikely to change in the next coupe of centuries, so we do need to educate our children within the realities of the world they are engaging with, however unrealistically optimistic we are.

Parents can only be concerned for their own children first - it is the essence of all creatures that you protect your offspring first. If in doing that you can create a community of like minded individuals then that's even better. But no community is created for the detriment of all. It only makes sense if the community is to the benefit of all it's members and no community can do that unless all members of that community require the same outcomes.

Not wishing to be too personal, but it suddenly dawned on me that I don't know if you have children - you're not listed as a parent?

If you don't then some of these things may seem alien to you. If you ask any parent, if they had the choice of saving two of somebody else's children from death or one of their own - I can pretty much guarantee their answer.

The education, education, education mantra that Labour was elected in on, required exactly the thesis that I have elucidated. It seems you only started reading the press since the coalition has got in? Just in January the Labour shadow education secretary was perpetuating this ideal http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-16427941

Highly educated people would not be employed in sectors that they challenge - the adage of "over qualified", "not suitable for this environment" or "the role is beneath you" will get rolled out time & time again. And with enough uneducated (not in the academic sense) drones, who can repeat the same thing over and over without ever losing their soul, why would any employer risk someone who would say - "this isn't fair"?

What would happen to the insurance industry, banking industry and the entire Public Sector without these folk.

And the public sector hates change, so anybody that comes in with fresh ideas and "look what I can do attitude" never gets employed.

Perfectly illustrated by Gerry Robinson's OU series http://www.open.edu/openlearn/whats-on/ou-on-the-bbc-can-gerry-robinson-...


I know, I used to work there. I've been under the care of Social Services since birth until 16 and have been made homeless by the homelessness unit of a council. I've experienced all sectors from Wales to London from Manchester to Cornwall, from councillors to DWP from NHS to MP's.

I've set up a campaign to deal with the heartlessness of the public sector from Social service, NHS & Local councils because these people are so appalling and are letting down the people they are paid to serve. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/joepublic/2011/apr/01/soup-runs-homele...).

Why would you try & compare different systems & cultures to ours?

The UK is the UK, with its history & culture - suggesting that something similar wouldn't work because it failed somewhere else, would be failing to understand why Germany would never consider re-introducing the death penalty after the holocaust - our cultures are not remotely similar and therefore it's a pointless argument.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 22:56

Guest -

Will you be supplying any evidence of this majority demand? And will you explain quite how these changes will work here when they have failed in America and Sweden? Will you also explain why you are so euphoric about these policies when, so far, Academies have failed to outperform non-Academy schools, whatever criteria is applied? And lastly will you please explain why you are suddenly so enthusiastic about open discussions when, having made up your mind before you came here, your modus operandi is limited to doggedly repeating government-issued falsehoods?

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 23:39

Paul -

The video camera as agent provocateur? Really? Is that how repugnant the debate has become for you?

I am afraid many governments act against the will of their people. This is why the Arab Spring erupted - in defiance of totalitarian rulers. Some have succeeded; others are still being crushed as in the case of Syria. Similarly, the government perverts democracy by forcing Academization on schools, like they are doing in Haringey and Michael Gove's frequent proven and suspected abuse of power and flouting of the law has been well documented. I am not sure why you feel it important to reveal so much about your own personal history to back up your arguments but, without wishing to sound critical, I am surprised that given your background, you are so supportive of a government that is currently doing its level best to cut social services, the NHS, schools and which is responsible for increasing unemployment, homelessness and poverty.

Your position and the examples you give, are confused and confusing, summed up in your final paragraph when you ask why different systems and cultures cannot be compared to ours. I am stunned that you think the UK and the USA "are not remotely similar". The UK and USA are similar in many ways - ethnic diversity, immigration, language, we even share a history. Furthermore, both nations have widened the socio-economic divide to such an alarming degree that it will take generations to begin to close the gap and this failure is mirrored in education "reform" in that the most disadvantaged have not benefited in any way. Less than 20% of Charter schools perform better than regular public schools and, as Henry Stewart's analysis on this site has revealed, academies have failed to outperform non-academies. It is our government that has attempted to add lustre to the Academy policies by pointing to Charter School successes, but they are going about it in a less than honest way by focusing on what they deem the best practices of fiscally over-endowed charter chains such as KIPP, or districts such as New York City, where some schools are basking in reserves, drawn from philanthropy, to the tune of $200m. If it is pointless to question the wisdom of importing a system that has failed in the US, largely because of fiscal inequity and the failure to scale up the success of a handful of charter school chains across all districts and states, then this is nothing as compared to the utter pointlessness of the coalition lauding and importing a policy that has not been anywhere near as successful as the billions thrown at it might have reasonably expected. Ideology for ideology's sake, without a care of its long term impact or how it can be applied to a construct as complex as schools serving different intakes, communities and challenges, is as damaging to civil liberties as the death penalty and "Holocaust" you so provocatively and distastefully invoke.


Guest's picture
Wed, 07/03/2012 - 08:58

Peter or is it allan,

Perhaps when on your self imposed exile from this site you mIssed the YouGov poll that Janet brought up which showed the public want all of things I mentioned.

Your inane ramblings below provide absolutely no evidence, as usual, just mixed up thoughts.

Stick to what you are best at and why you chose to stop contributing here.

Guest's picture
Wed, 07/03/2012 - 11:46

Peter/Alian,

Thanks for the link to the YouGov poll which shows again the majority are after more rigorous discipline, academic subjects etc - did you miss that ? They also agree with OECD/ PISA and most business leaders that standards have dropped in England over New Labours time in office. Also thanks to Janet for the link below confirming that majority of parents want choice.
Allan or is it Peter (I too get confused when addressing you), you keep asking for evidence about Free Schools, the proof will be if parents want to attend - are they oversubscribed ? If yes ask yourself why?
Remember not all parents had choice you did when sending your children to the school with half the FSM than the other schools in your borough have. Of course that is not your fault, as admissions are run by a successful private firm which has turned around education in Hackney. Ironic that as you fear private companies.

Your constant ranting about charters and Sweden are irrelevant.

Guest's picture
Wed, 07/03/2012 - 13:40

Alian,

Its good that you accept all my other points, assume this is the case, please let us all know if you are against the pupil premium, more academic rigour and better discipline in schools.
Free Schools are free to choose the models which they wish and are choosing the successful ones. That is great and as will give the parents the choice they want.
You still do not get the point that England will never have a one size fits all option but continue to bang on about it. Try and get over this as it will never happen regardless of which party is in power.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 07/03/2012 - 09:21

Guest -

I presume you are referring to the YouGov poll posted by Janet Downs here http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/02/mixed-support-for-free-sch... ? If so, then I am surprised that you are still trying to force a correlation between what you want to believe and what the survey tells us. There is nothing there that shows overwhelming support for Free Schools. You asked on that thread - "cherry picking, moi"? The answer could be yes but that would bestow upon you the ability to recognise more than one perspective.

I'm not sure my thoughts are rambling but I am amused at your reaction when challenged to provide evidence that a failed model in Sweden and America would work here. Show me evidence that the Swedish government has not revised its thinking on Free Schools and show me the evidence that Charter Schools have succeeded in their mission to raise education standards across the US. For someone who never provides evidence, Guest, you do lay yourself open to ridicule every time you attack those who do. Back up your claims or keep your prejudices with you inside your dank cave.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 07/03/2012 - 12:39

Guest -

I am afraid that your dismissal of Sweden and the USA as being "irrelevant" is quite the opposite. If their example is irrelevant, then perhaps you can explain why the government has based the Academy/Free School model on them and is claiming, wrongly, that they have been a success? Are you unaware that the government and their advisers point to a selective number of Charter chains in order to "prove" that Free Schools can adapt the policy here by learning from the best practices of a handful of districts and chains such as KIPP and HCZ? The problem is - since the Charter Effect has not scaled up and been implemented across the whole of the United States, then how do you suppose it can be scaled up and imported here? Since the Charter movement took hold in America 20 years ago, American education standards have remained average but in line with the majority of most western industrialised nations with the similar socio-economic makeup, just like the UK. The tiger nations, Shanghai and Finland dominate international tables. They offer choice but the choices are all the same - no selection, mixed ability schools, real autonomy so that teachers can adapt to local and individual needs, a reverence for the teaching profession, little emphasis on teaching to the test, equality. What may be irrelevant, Guest, is not so much your limited reasoning but the government's insistence on implementing a model that has already failed.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 07/03/2012 - 13:57

Guest -

You must never assume anything. This is precisely why prejudice makes one blind! So no - never just assume I agree with anything you say and try not to put your words in my mouth.

You still do not get the point that the States has minority of good schools, public or charter, which serve a minority. What that charter system has failed to address is great education for the majority and this is the same model of failure that is being imported here. I see you still have no response to how, despite the evidence, you think Academies and Free Schools stand a good chance of improving standards across the board when their American counterparts have failed to achieve this. Try and get over your willfull blindness

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 17:03

Paul - you mention Ms Birbalsingh's "unbelievable commitment to genuinely supporting children". Would that be the same commitment that persuaded her to take a job in a struggling school but then use her time there (all of five weeks), not in helping the school turn around as she had been employed to do, but to prepare for her speech at the Tory conference where she ridiculed one of the children whom she was supposed to "genuinely" support? Would this be the same Ms Birbalsingh who peddles the myth of the iron hand of LA control when everyone knows LA's "control" is limited to admissions and support? (See link below to clichéd hyperbole about children being denied "freedom and equality" if they're not in academies.)

I think you are overstating to absence from society of such things as "quality, respect and engagement". The school at which I taught demonstrated these and we were not alone. The huge majority of schools have this ethos. Unfortunately, politicans have rubbished English state education for their own ends - the advancement of their political careers. And now there is another, insidious reason - paving the way for Education Management Organisations to make a profit out of education.

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/katharinebirbalsingh/100098471/schools...

Paul Atherton's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 17:40

Janet,

I don't wish to fall out. But your comments about Katharine Birbalsingh are unfounded. I've spent the last 18 months with her students from all her previous schools. Unless you can prove your allegations (and I apologise in advance if you can), this is merely rhetoric on your part.

The photograph of the child I assume you are referring too, which she used at the conference, had given permission for its use as too the parent and real names were not used in that particular story. You do know she published two books and wrote a blog on the subject of her school experiences?

Disappointing because I believed you were trying to make some genuine points.

I have friends who are head teachers all over the country from Nottingham, to Pengam (my old school) in S.Wales all the way to Falmouth in Cornwall. Some who agree with the politics, other's who don't.

But not one of them is in any doubt that LA's are not run by people with vision or commitment to anything other than their politics.

If you're experiences are different, I would be pleased to hear them, the councils you worked with, names of people who broke conventions, the outcomes you achieved and the politics you overcame? I've yet to hear of a good news story in that regard, so I look forward to reading it.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 21:21

Unfortunately Katharine Birbalsingh is a divisive, polemical and inconsistent personality with actually very little past experience to head a school. She is attractive perhaps to a section of society who find her superficially compelling but her attitudes, histrionics and tendency to self promote are offputting to many others. I would have thought a school head is best when he or she conducts themself in a manner to promote cohesion and inclusion rather than acting as lightning rod for polarisation.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 21:42

By the way, the fact that Birbalsingh has written two books and blogs does not automatically make her a great teacher or head teacher. It makes her a published author and a blogger. That's all. Here is an article on the "confusing world" of Birbalsingh http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/mar/05/katharibne-birbalsingh-t... . I don't claim this author is right but this is one of a few articles which have questioned Birbalsingh's reasoning. She is clearly a more complex and confusing personality than the one her public relations would like to paint.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 07/03/2012 - 10:37

I am aware that Ms Birbalsingh has written blogs - I link to one example in my post. I thought she had only written one book. I have written a review (see below) with links to evidence where Ms Snuffy's assertions about education are not upheld by research. Of course, we don't know how much of Ms Snuffy's experiences are fictional. However, as an ex-teacher I was concerned that Ms Snuffy didn't report the sexual abuse of one of her pupils who confided in her as she was legally expected to do. But then, perhaps it was only fiction. Nevertheless, this was an odd oversight - rather like a nurse writing about her experiences but telling the reader about her feelings rather than what she did to help.

Perhaps you could let me know the title of the second book as I would be interested to review it.

I believe that Ms Birbalsingh did seek permission to use photos of pupils at the conference. However, I wonder if she told the parents that she would be ridiculing one of the boys. I wonder if the parents were still happy when they heard the delighted laughter which greeted Ms Birbalsingh's remarks.

Whether local authorities are run by "people with vision or commitment" is actually irrelevant to the running of schools because local authorities' input is restricted to admissions and providing back-room services such as pay-roll. LAs have no say in curricula, resources, recruitment and qualifications offered. LAs also offer support. In the case of Downhills school, for example, Ofsted in October 2011 praised the support given to the school by Haringey council.

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/03/snuffy-to-the-rescue-not-q...

Hilary's picture
Fri, 09/03/2012 - 09:37

I take issue with your comments stating that Katharine Birbalsingh's students all look up to her. I have two children who were taught by her and neither of them found her an inspiring teacher. They were afraid to speak out in her language lessons as if they made mistakes she was harsh and unsupportive. They used to groan at her assemblies as they were always about race, and she would constantly positively discriminate in favour of BME children, but curiously to the point of accepting apparently white, but with 3rd generation BME antecedents, bright children when it suited her purposes.

Paul Atherton's picture
Fri, 09/03/2012 - 14:57

Hilary, apologies if that's the way my comments read. These threads get somewhat convoluted. Of course I wouldn't expect ALL the children of a teacher to like or respect them. But the one's we've been working with clearly do and they've come from all the schools she worked in, that's all I was saying.

And it was in relation to an accusation Janet made that she clearly was unable to support.

Paul Atherton's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 17:18

Hi Janet,

You're quite right to point out the flaws with Blair's academy idea. Rushed through, not wanted by the majority of his party and as I said very flawed.

But it's disingenuous to suggest that Ofsted was measuring anything useful. My friends were heads of departments & taught there pre & post the change (hence my involvement) and I can assure you the reality for them, as an Academy, was that they had classrooms with children in them (as opposed to empty ones in the old school), they had engagement (unlike the violence they had to deal with previously) and their students left with a sense of achievement (whether they had learnt how to make a film, trade on the stock exchange or produce a Radio show) - none of which were examined under Ofsted.

20 Bexley Students were instrumental in making my most famous production href:"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ballet_of_Change:_Piccadilly_Circus" The Ballet of Change

And I agree that LA Schools should be given equal importance, but we need to sort out LA's first.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 17:31

Paul - at the time Business Academy was criticised by Ofsted, Lord Adonis was puffing up academies. But the first Ofsted is pretty damning even allowing for the low prior achievement of the pupils. Nevertheless, the latest Ofsted has been far more positive although key stage 2 results are still below the benchmark and if Business Academy were a non-academy with these results it would have the DfE heavy brigade leaning on it.

You are, however, absolutely correct in that Ofsted doesn't look at everything - and inspectors often miss what matters most. My granddaughter's lovely village school was judged inadequate by Ofsted on the basis of one year's poor results with a cohort of just twelve pupils - it knocked the stuffing out of the staff and caused some of the parents to doubt, wrongly, the education on offer. And Ofsted is never there for the drama productions, the industry days, the theatre trips, the charity days, the work experience programmes, field trips, young enterprise type activities and so on, all of which make a school far more than exam results, important though they are.

I can't get the link to work to your production. Can you repost it?

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 17:21

Paul - you are correct in stressing the importance of parental involvement in education - it is one of the most important indicators of pupil success. OECD found, for example, that there were several ways in which parents could boost children's reading. This, and the recent Eurydice report on reading which also discussed how parents can help, is summarised here:

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/01/what-can-carers-do-to-help...

However, not everyone is convinced with the brave new world of free schools. Here is a more cynical view* in the TES:

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6169525

*NB this article is opinion just in case anyone out there thinks I'm presenting it as Fact or Evidence. I link it as a counterpoint to the overblown claims about letting a carpet of flowers bloom.

Paul Atherton's picture
Tue, 06/03/2012 - 18:36

Janet,

So glad you caveated that last link.

Hardly even an opinion, more of a rant and one that had no substance either.

And this is the problem with some of the anti-free schools arguments. There is absolutely not substance to them at all. It's just a diatribe of cliches and stereotypes conjured together in the hope that everyone just agrees.

Thankfully, I have found very few of those on LSN.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 07/03/2012 - 09:10

Paul - thank you for recognising that posts on LSN are rarely diatribes. There are very few which are not backed by solid evidence with links provided where necessary.

And you are correct that many so-called arguments are "clichés and stereotypes" strung together. The Telegraph article linked in my post (6/3/12 5.03 pm above) is one such which evokes the false image of schools bowed down under the heavy weight of local authority control when everyone in education knows that LAs have very little influence and most of the diktats in the last 25 years have come from central government. Another article of this type is highlighted below. It is regretable that such a rant should appear in what is supposed to be a quality newspaper.

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/06/uk-state-education-is-not-...

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 07/03/2012 - 08:46

68% believe parents have the right to choose their child’s education but this is tempered by a belief that freedom to choose should be kept in “reasonable bounds”. The British Social Attitudes survey suggested strong support for the idea that there should be a balance between freedom and equality on the one hand and parental choice on the other.

The Institute of Education’s report on Swedish free schools found that these schools had increased segregation in Sweden, an equal country. IoE expressed concern that if free schools are introduced in societies which are less equal, like England, then such a policy would worsen existing inequalities.

http://ir2.flife.de/data/natcen-social-research/igb_html/index.php?beric...

http://www.llakes.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Wiborg-online.pdf

Paul Atherton's picture
Wed, 07/03/2012 - 12:36

Alan,

Conspiracy theories aside (recording events as they happen, is not making them happen).

I pick my words carefully, I didn't say "will" I said "wishes" in relation to Government. I merely direct you to this semantic point because you seem to have misunderstood the rest of what I was saying. And missing those semantic difference my be the reason why.

I don't see any value in responding to the majority of your post, for you, me or anyone reading this.

You have a world view, which you are of course entitled to - but without experience, it would have little meaning in the real world and therefore pointless to debate.

However, I think it worthy to address the cultural point you've made. As this comes up quite often from both sides the Free School argument and I don't believe either is useful.

America (I noticed in your last point that you at least drew it down to the USA, but nonetheless) is a continent. With vastly different states, with laws that contradict one another, all with completely different cultures. Minnesotan Mormons for instance aren't remotely like the LA Evangelists, New York City is as far removed from New York State as London is from the UK.

It would be the same as trying to compare New York to Europe - the variables are ludicrously complex and would be impossible to assess.

For example in the US their higher education has never been free - it has always been private and required paying for. Great example of the argument between the notions of Right & Privilige of Further Education from the EPI http://etwus.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/higher-education-a-right-or-a-priv...

Unlike ours which has mainly been free and is still hugely subsidised.

We don't share a history with the USA at all. We fought, they won, their history started ours continued. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_United_States).

English spoken in the USA is a US version and can cause much confusion with our own, words like Pants & Fanny having entirely different meanings.

Just taking Black immigration, the differences are massive. The last direct Black Slave descendent to die in the states was 30 years ago, the last one to die in Britain was 300 years ago. I'm sure you're getting my point. http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/article-1257421-son-sues-lloyds-over-...

I'm picking out minor examples to make a major point. Which is that any reasonable person would acknowledge that you cannot compare cultures. This Radio 4 programme beautifully illustrates my point looking at the working culture of Germany & the UK and why it's impossible to interchange the inherent cultures of either country. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17213556

Which is where I began.

I've only see the good of Free Schools at moment. That's not to say we won't see dire consequences of their existence in other ways (think Oppenhiemer for that one) but it is an experiment well worth exploring.

But overall I would argue that you biggest concern is sustaining the status quo, where as I'm interested in what works best for parents, children and teachers and am basing my judgements on what I've witnessed, not what I've read (you know the old adage of don't believe all that you read in the papers?).

Anyway interesting talking with you.

Best of luck in whatever you are hoping to achieve.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 07/03/2012 - 13:03

"It would be the same as trying to compare New York to Europe – the variables are ludicrously complex and would be impossible to assess."

Quite right Paul. So why on earth did Gove and his advisers promote New York Charters as a model for Free Schools? It is unique even in America, not least because philanthropic investment in Charters is abnormally high. Yes, higher education has to be paid for in the US, but we are talking about primary and secondary schools which are tax payer funded. You have entirely missed the point about transplanting charters into the UK, focusing instead on splitting hairs over fannies and pants and black slaves. You attempt, feebly I may add, to argue that America and England have as little in common as do England and Tibet whilst ignoring the evidence that the Charter School movement as an example and as a policy have not improved standards in the US. You have been unable to respond as to how this failed "experiment" which has not worked "best for parents, children and teachers" justifies the cost of implementation here. Perhaps rather than making judgements based on the limits of what you have witnessed, you should take some time to assess what is going on in education in America and round the world and apply those perspectives to the Free School Movement?

You are completely wrong to argue that I wish to maintain the status quo - this is the usual and tiresome attack of Free School supporters when they are challenged and in retreat. What I - and many others who question the wisdom of dismantling and privatising state education - am concerned with is improving equal access to great schools for everyone, ensuring that schools are accountable to their local communities, that resources are spread evenly to all schools and not just those favoured by Gove and that schools encourage social cohesion rather than unhealthy competition and division.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 07/03/2012 - 13:27

I think Guest (above) must be getting rather confused. The YouGov poll he cites didn't ask respondents anything about academic subjects. Neither did it ask about free schools and choice - it asked for opinions about free schools and their link, if any, to rising standards. Guest was correct that a small majority, 53%, thought that educational standards had fallen in the last ten years but 25% thought they had remained the same, 12% thought they had got better and 11% didn't know. And he knows very well that the OECD/PISA results can't be used to show that the UK has "plumetted down" league tables since 2000 because the OECD has said the 2000 results are flawed and should not be used for comparison. There has been a decline in UK's league table position since 2006, the only year with which a comparison can be made, but the change in scores was statistically insignificant. In any case, UK pupils were still at the OECD average for reading and maths, and ABOVE AVERAGE for Science (apologies for shouting, but some people take such delight in "proving" that UK education is appallingly bad that I feel such success should be trumpeted loudly).

While the British Attitudes Survey showed that 67% (sorry, typo in post above) agreed parents should be able to choose their child's school this didn't imply that they wanted more choice. 63% of respondents thought parents should send their children to their local school and a further 22% agreed with this statement as long as quality and social mix was more equal. And as I pointed out above, respondents to the survey felt that parental choice should not trump equality.

Guest's picture
Wed, 07/03/2012 - 14:15

Janet,

Only thing I am confused about is Allan Beavis and which identity he is using.

Shall we start with OECD/ PISA and what the OECDs deputy director had to say regarding 2000 and 2003 data. You know this already but seem to forget. It can be used to conclude 'a decline in relative standings'.
With regard to the YOUGOV poll you brought to our attention it stated a staggering 83% felt discipline not strict enough, 53% education has got worse, 48% that exams too easy. I could go on but there is little point.
Cherry picking is always the order of the game on this site.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 07/03/2012 - 15:29

Guest - if you read my post carefully you will see that I said "There has been a decline in UK's league table position since 2006." This is something I've never denied although I avoid using the 2000 figures because they are faulty.

I have not forgotten that a Guardian reporter wrote that Andreas Schleicher of the OECD said in an email that there had been a decline in the relative standing of the UK in the last ten years. However, Mr Schleicher said in a video that there had been very little change in England's PISA results during this time. I think we can assume from this that Mr Schleicher does not think that England's standing is as bad as the Government and its supporters make out.

You imply I deliberately didn't mention education standards. Again, read my comment carefully - you will see I gave the full results to the YouGov question about education standards (It's in the sentence that begins "Guest was correct"). You did not mention exams earlier - so I didn't mention them. Bringing in extra topics always runs the risk of going off thread.

I apologise for missing the reference to discipline, but you do rather like to string topics together in one long list. I think you mentioned the pupil premium somewhere, not quite sure why in a thread about free schools since all schools will receive this for every one of their FSM children.

If you still think there are cherries left unplucked, please do say so, preferably with linked evidence. I've given the link to the YouGov poll just in case you need to look at it again although please remember this thread is about free schools not about slapping children, whether things are better now than when the Queen came to the throne or any of the other subjects mentioned in the poll.

http://www.ippr.org/research-project/44/7131/creating-a-world-class-scho...

http://cdn.yougov.com/cumulus_uploads/document/1or1j1cocr/YG-Archives-Po...

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 07/03/2012 - 14:11

My suspicions that Guest is confused have been confirmed. In his post above he says that "one-size-fits-all" will never be a solution. But that's just what the Government is doing - promoting the "one-size-fits-all" of academy status on to all schools.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 07/03/2012 - 14:11

Let's look forward to a time when all schools are academies set adrift from LA support. If a school is large enough then it can genuinely stand alone - it will have adequate funds and sufficient expertise. But smaller schools won't be able to go-it-alone. They will have no option but to join an academy chain and risk having less autonomy than they had when they were with the LA. John Burn, OBE, an ex-principal of an academy, warned about the dangers of academy chains in his evidence to the Education Bill committee. The National Audit Office warned about pressure being put upon sponsored academies to purchase services from sponsors. And schools that outsource management of the school to an education provider actually give control to the provider as IES Breckland has done. It was IES, for example, that recruited the head. In LA schools, the LA has no say in staff recruitment.

The future, then, is not likely to be as it is now with LA maintained schools, schools with their own personalities supported by LAs so schools can concentrate on education, but one where there will be a number of branded chains where schools have the same corporate identity, use the same resources (economies of scale, it's called) and teachers conform to the chain's idea of effective teaching. And some of these will siphon money away from education. (I think there's a lucrative job going as head of E-Act).

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmpublic/education/mem...

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/02/audit-office-raised-concer...

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/07/mike-harwoods-poem-to-be-p...

Paul Atherton's picture
Wed, 07/03/2012 - 18:05

Hi Alan,

Just to close. I'm no in way in retreat.

I shared some information that was pertinent to Free Schools debate and am now getting back to work.

This is clearly a political fight for you. But this is about seeing people do things for me.

After years of nothing, I finally feel people are reclaiming individual responsibility, acting and a re genuinely concern about what's going on around them.

I certainly don't want to live in a world with no competition. I want to be pursuing brilliance constantly innovating, being creative and above all finding new ways to achieve them.

This could be one of those ways - but we'll all have to wait and see:))

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 07/03/2012 - 19:09

Paul -

I am happy for you to save face by not retreating and having the last word. I am amused at your unsubtle attempt to tar, well tarnish, me with the broad strokes of a (Trotskyite?) political campaigner but I am not affiliated with any political party so my arguments are not skewed in favour of any ideology. You claim to be feeling the zeitgeist but many, many people have worked very hard over a very long period to dismantle the inequalities in our education system. Your casual dismissal of their efforts as amounting to nothing is as misguided as your belief that privatised state education puts the teaching of young children before profits

Paul Atherton's picture
Thu, 08/03/2012 - 10:19

Alan, very gracious of you to give me the last word.

The fact that you decided to interpret "political fight" into Troskyite? is an abstraction I think even Piccasso would struggle with.

I said "political fight" because you keep bringing the politics into the debate with references to Michael Gove and how he came to the idea of Free Schools.

I have no interest in that political debate whatsoever. Free Schools are now in existence, so there is little point fighting over the validity of a policy that's already been enacted.

I said I'm seeing great things happening in relation to the people involved in Free Schools having interviewed 1000's of individuals (teachers, pupils and parents) about their experiences, over the past 18 months.

And as I said, it's exciting to see that kind of engagement from people from all walks of life.

I've never once advocated privatising state education nor dismissed the efforts of others.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 08/03/2012 - 16:43

I live in Lambeth and having read in Private Eye about the incompetent and uncaring way Lambeth Council treated Paul Atherton, I'm 100% certain I will never trust those horrible people to have anything to do with my children's education.

On other topics - some of the arguments on this thread against Free Schools are bizarre -

Allan Beavis appears to be some sort of conspiracy theorist with his idea about a secret Tory agenda to privatize.........

Meanwhile another commenter tries to tell us that central planning is economically efficient.

It's like walking into a student common room in around 1976, when the Trots seriously thought a revolution was about to start.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 08/03/2012 - 18:56

Paul -

Here you stated that "I’ve never once advocated privatising state education nor dismissed the efforts of others." You have dismissed the efforts of a great many people - a passion to improve our state schools didn't begin with Michael Gove, Toby Young or Katharine Birbalsingh. Instead of confining your reading to the fallacious hybrid of fact/fiction in Miss Snuffy's world, you might read Melissa Benn's book "School Wars" which gives an excellent account of how state education was conceived and how it has evolved into the incomplete jigsaw we have been bequeathed today. I think you would find it illuminating and the book might fill in some gaps in your knowledge. I learnt a tremendous amount reading it.

Perhaps more misguided, though, is your belief that your zeal for Free Schools does not advocate privatising state education. Well it does, I'm afraid, because that is the real policy behind the ones that are administered as a tranquiliser by the government to dull our senses from understanding that education is being put bit by bit into the hands of free market profiteers with less than certain guarantees. that our system will improve education for all children.

Sarah's picture
Thu, 08/03/2012 - 16:55

There's really no secret about the Tory agenda - it's about creating an education market. They've been pretty open about that - it's just that people have been slow to realise that this is precisely what they are so worried about in respect of the NHS changes.

Central planning IS economically efficient - as the government acknowledges - they have said they are quite happy to create surplus places in order to provide choice. Surplus places cost money to maintain - please explain the efficiency of that.

Without central planning there would be many thousands of pupils potentially without any school place at all. I'm still waiting for someone to explain to me how the market is going to be able to ensure that all children have a school place taking account of the varied pattern of housing development and changing demographics. Have a look at what happened to rural bus services when that was deregulated - and then consider how the market would ensure that rural children still had a school place that was within easy reach of their home. At best education will always have to be a regulated market to ensure that scarce resources are targeted in the right way.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 08/03/2012 - 18:29

Ricky -

I am assuming you're not serious when you take me to task that there is a "secret" Tory agenda to privatize and that your purpose is to be a Troll? The Conservative ideology is based on the concept of an unfettered free market and so it is with the present incumbents who make no secret of privatising everything including education, the NHS and even the police. You and Paul Atherton both seemed to have take far too seriously my aside about the Trotskyites - it was actually a facile comment made in response to Michael Gove's desperate tarbrushing of anyone who questions - and asks for greater transprency over - his schools policies as a Trot.

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