Policy Exchange report (Part 3) – the conclusion

Janet Downs's picture
“Competition meets Collaboration”, the lengthy Policy Exchange report written by James O’Shaughnessy”, is built on two false premises:

1 Academy conversion is the best way to improve results. It isn’t – City Challenge was more successful than the academy programme. And Henry Stewart’s research has shown that in general academies don’t perform better than similar non-academies – the latter outperform the former (see faqs above).

2 Local authorities (LAs) have failed to improve schools. But there are numerous Ofsted inspections which praise the support given by LAs.

O’Shaughnessy argues that academy chains present the best way to deal with underachievement as local authority schools improvement services decline. This vacuum, however, is caused by schools being encouraged to opt-out of their local authorities. Critics might argue that this encouragement is designed to create just such a vacuum which then needs to be filled by other organisations.

A more proactive “industrial model” is required, argues O’Shaughnessy, which would increase the number of academies, chains and networks. But networks already exist, some under the local authority umbrella, some as part of trusts, some informal, and some in response to initiatives such as City Challenge.

O’Shaughnessy expects there will be a wave of schools judged to be failing under the new Ofsted regime. Again, critics could argue that this is precisely why the regime has been changed – to increase the number of failing schools. “Satisfactory”, which in 2009 was linked with “sound progress” as this 2009 inspection report shows, has been downgraded. No longer are pupils in “satisfactory” schools deemed to make “sound progress” – “satisfactory” schools are “unsatisfactory” and the new definition is being applied retrospectively.

Two factors, then, will increase the number of “failing” schools:

1 The retrospective application of a new definition of “satisfactory”

2 A tougher new inspection regime in which “nothing is ever good enough”.

O’Shaughnessy describes a possible third factor. He recommends “outstanding” schools should not be judged “outstanding” for a second time unless their heads show leadership across a chain of schools. The unintended consequence of this, apart from the obvious one of each “outstanding” head driving round trying to find weaker schools to weave into chains over which the head can show leadership, there is the unintended consequence, already noted by Ofsted, that when a head’s attention is on improving other schools then their own school could suffer and consequently be downgraded. So, ironically, heads in pursuit of a second “outstanding” judgement could actually lose it.

Academy chains will struggle to cope with the tsunami of “failing” schools, O’Shaughnessy writes, and he suggests three possible answers:

1 Selling schools to private companies which become responsible for operating these state-funded schools. He rejects this because there would be a conflict of interest between the need to give shareholders a financial return and the educational need of the child.

2 Private companies providing “additional capacity” and operating “…in competition with existing state-funded provision”. O’Shaughnessy rejects this option because it is slow and cumbersome even though it would increase choice. He acknowledges that this extra choice might cause less popular schools to decline – this, he believes, is a price worth paying. However, he thinks that bringing in additional private sector provision might be “risky”.

3 “Owners” of state schools ie LAs or trusts should procure services from private sector Education Management Organisations (EMOs). This is O’Shaughnessy’s preferred solution. It has already been tried in England – O’Shaughnessy praises the Hackney Learning Trust, but avoids mention of Bradford where Serco ran education for several years. The outsourcing of Bradford’s education was featured in the Channel 4 documentary, “Britain’s Fat Cats”. O’Shaughnessy also mentions such firms as EdisonLearning and Kunskapsskolan. The former has been involved in controversy and the second has been compared to McDonald’s. Per Leden of Kunskapsskolan told the Economist: “We do not mind being compared to McDonald’s…If we’re religious about anything, it’s standardisation. We tell our teachers it is more important to do things the same way than to do them well.”

One recommended EMO, then, is an organisation which would rather its teachers behaved like identikit clones than teach well.

Despite O’Shaunghnessy’s enthusiasm for EMOs, the evidence which links market forces with educational outcomes and efficiency is “fragmentary” and “inconclusive” (see faqs above). At the same time, Sweden is setting up an enquiry into the motivation of the for-profit education providers running Sweden’s free schools, and in Chile students are protesting against for-profit schools.

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agov's picture
Wed, 24/10/2012 - 07:28

'Education Management Organisations'

So that would be a snotty way of referring to outsourcing.

Like IT functions are outsourced.

That always works well. Not.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 24/10/2012 - 12:42

agov - Henry's thread "Where is the evidence of private sector delivery?" discusses IT support. Other threads on this site discuss private sector delivery including "social enterprise" as a way of diverting money into shareholders' pockets:


The lessons to be learnt from the collapse of Southern Cross (which also covered accusations against Capita for making money out of IT contracts in newly-converted academies):


The G4S Olympic fiasco which demonstrated that private firms are not suited to providing many public services:


And then there's Channel 4's investigation into "Britain's Fat Cats" (linked in article).

Adrian Elliott's picture
Wed, 24/10/2012 - 17:01

''He recommends “outstanding” schools should not be judged “outstanding” for a second time unless their heads show leadership across a chain of schools.''

Who is this person? What is his background? What is his experience of schools?

You move from violently disagreeing with these people to believing they are simply bonkers.

So would this mean the head of a rural school,say in the Yorkshire Dales, could not be judged outstanding unless they ran a chain of schools in the area? - many of which could, of course, already have their own outstanding head, each desperately looking for other schools to run?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 07:29

O’Shaughnessy is Director of Mayforth Consulting which, according to Policy Exchange (the right’s most influential think tank according to a 2009 Telegraph article) website, he is involved in projects “aimed at reforming publicly-funded schooling in the UK”. According to the Daily Telegraph in 2009, when O’Shaughnessy was Director of Policy and Research for the Conservative Party, he was 89th in the list of 100 most influential right-wing thinkers. He wrote the Conservative Party’s 2010 manifesto.
He has some experience in education – after graduating from Oxford (he was in the 1995 class) he taught at the Mathieson Music School, Calcutta, a school which gives deprived children a chance to learn a musical instrument. I don’t know how long his teaching career lasted but he worked in “advertising and new media” between leaving the school and joining Conservative Central Office in 2001.



agov's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 09:41

he worked in “advertising and new media”

of course he did

Adrian Elliott's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 09:44

Thanks, Janet . Nothing you have written gives me any confidence that he has a clue about schools. His time in Calcutta was clearly a post degree gap year.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 10:49

Experience is a valuable commodity in any field. But we should not too easily mistake complicity in past failure for valuable experience.

If a doctor had a consistent track record of failing to bring about expected levels of recovery in his patients, would we look to him/her to advise us on medical matters?

Many comprehensive heads have thought nothing of sending 30, 40 even 50 per cent of their charges out into the world poorly equipped for tertiary education or employment.

Should Mr O'Shaugnessy really be disqualified from commenting because he has not been one of them?

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 11:11

He hasn't commented. He has written a report which is selective, biased and politically motivated to serve his masters. All credit to Janet Downs for her forensic analysis and rebuttal. This government has thought nothing of implementing policies that have widened inequality and tipped hundreds of thousands of people and children into poverty. The correlation between child poverty and low attainment is so well documented and universally recognised that it is needs no argument here. If this increasingly discredited and desperately out of touch government had lifted a finger to close the inequality gap, take more children out of poverty, rather than chuck more in, there might be some justification for their education policy which in practice disadvantages poorer children, despite the empty rhetoric from Gove and his SPADS that they are administering "rigour" and increasing poorer chldren's life chances. It's all fabrication. Gove might believe in his own whacky fantasies, aided and abetted by the Sam Freedmans and Rachel Wolfs of his world, but in the real world he is destroying people's hopes and lives.

Gove and this corrupted, incompetent government might like to tell us why they are chucking out more of more young people into a world where their policies have raised unemployment, where there are no jobs and after their school experience has left them with little vocational skills; a diminished and unimaginative curriculum centred on Gove's personal 1950s ideology; no qualifications at all and a deep divide between those praised for aspiring to Russell Group universities and those left feeling they have failed because they never wanted to play the Russell game in the first place.

It's a recipe for disaster and one that will lead to greater social inequality that returns Britain to a feudal age and not forward into the modern world.

Patrick Hadley's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 11:27

I don't think that anyone is saying that only those with experience of teaching can comment on education. It is possible to get a good idea of what is needed by reading widely, listening to experienced practitioners, and studying the best available research. However when people show a profound lack of understanding of the subject, but consider themselves to be able to identify the problems and propose the solutions, then that is very frustrating for those who actually know something about it from first hand experience.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 13:06

Allan - although this is a serious thread, I have been crying with laughter at the unverified statement by Ricky that "many comprehensive heads have thought nothing of sending 30, 40 even 50% of their charges out into the world poorly equipped for tertiary education or employment." Not a shred of evidence is offered to support this statement - no research, no reports, nothing. Just a top-of-his head comment which he hopes will deflect attention from O'Shaughnessy's limited lack of teaching experience which was not even in the UK.

Of course, he could have been cited the bit in O'Shaughnessy's report which said that one interviewee “thought” half of English schools were underperforming. I'd like to know the identity of that one interviewee - might be one of Gove's spads.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 15:42

unverified statement

Huh? Janet, I know you know where the Performance tables are. You cite them frequently.

But to save you time, here are the national figures for 5XA*-C (inc M&E):

2008 - 48.2%
2009 - 50.7%
2010 - 55.2%
2011 - 58.2%


Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 16:52

Ricky - you are falsely linking the inability to gain 5+ GCSEs A*-C (including Maths and English) with unfitness to be employed. It's true that the 5+ GCSEs A*-C are needed to proceed to Sixth Form and A levels, but it's not true that failing to achieve these five grades makes someone unemployable.

In Hong Kong, which has just dumped its O and A level type exams in favour of a single graduation certificate at about age 17, the grade recognised as showing suitability for employment in the O level-type exam (now discarded) was grade E (see faqs above for more information).

So, yes, you were making an unverified statement. Your justification for the statement was built on a false premise.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 11:35

I can understand that frustration, Patrick. But surely a little modesty..... contrition even.... should be shown by those who have had a part in creating the situation we are in?
Instead, what we get is unrelenting opposition, sneering and boastful credentialism.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 11:56

That's a sweeping generalisation isn't it? I thnk the present government have played a huge part in marginalising children and further impovershing the needy? The Tories haven't shown much modesty or contrition have they? Plebgate, Pastygate, Fare-dodgin-gate, Murdochgate, Huntgate. And Gove can be found with his fingers all over these scandals in one way or another.

O'Shaugnhnessy is really only doing what Gove does - listens to advice from amateurs and grifters whilst rejecting advice from experts and those without a polical agenda.

It is ineptitude and arrogance on a completely divorced from reality level. No wonder the Tories are trailing behind in the polls.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 12:20

Allan, you must live in a different world. In the real world, it was after 13 years of Labour government that income equality was at the highest level since records began in 1961, that 800,000 more adults of working age were living in poverty than in 1998, and that there were high levels of family breakdown, educational failure, drug addiction and health inequality. Labour's fiscal and regulatory incompetence had also plunged the UK into the worst depression since the 1930s and Labour had once again bankrupted the exchequer (...they always do). By contrast, the Coalition has created one million new private sector jobs in two years; is tackling the deficit; and improving outcomes in health and education. As for the polls, Populus for the Times this week showed Labour with a paltry 5 point lead ( astonishingly low for an opposition mid-term) that is entirely attributable to the flight of stop-the-war types from the LibDems back to their natural ideological home.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 13:50

Ricky - I sense you are getting a little rattled. As usual you provide no evidence for your statements, some of which might even be true. But your comment that it was "Labour's fiscal and regulatory incompetence" which was wholly responsible for the global financial meltdown is inaccurate (although I agree about the uselessness of "light-touch" regulation - in this case it allowed greedy speculators to gamble with savers' money).

But as so often happens your comments provoked a bout of laughter, this time caused by your final statement that Labour's lead is "entirely attributable to the flight of stop-the-war types from the LibDems back to their natural ideological home".

Really? Did Populus go into that much detail? Did Populus ask respondents if they were from the Stop-The-War coalition? In any case, the survey you cite is contradicted by the one in Corby which gave Labour a 22 point lead.


The poll you cite is reported here at this rather unfortunately named website:


Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 14:09

Ricky – I’ve just found the source for your first statement “after 13 years of Labour government that income equality was at the highest level since records began in 1961.” It was Ian Duncan-Smith at the Tory party conference. You are correct. According to the Gini co-efficient which measures income inequality (see FullFact link below for explanation), the gap between rich and poor was indeed at its highest point (0.36) at the end of Labour’s term of office.

However, FullFact’s graph shows that the steepest rise since 1979, when Mrs T became PM, was in the years 1979-1990 (0.25 to 0.34). Gini dropped slightly from 0.34 in 1990 to 0.33 in 1996/7 when Labour came to power. Gini rose from 0.33 to 0.36 during the Labour years and has now dropped back to 0.34.

The steepest rise in income inequality, therefore, happened during years when Tories were in power, and, although the gap has begun to narrow, the Institute of Fiscal Studies warns that this falling trend may not continue.


Were you at the Tory conference, by the way, busily taking notes?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 14:45

Ricky - the "one million new private sector jobs in two years" doesn't quite hold water. Much depends on how jobs are classified - if public sector jobs are reclassified as private sector jobs then it appears that the private sector has provided "new" jobs. But, of course, they aren't new. This has happened with Further Education corporations and 6th Form College corporations - jobs in these sectors have been reclassified from public to private.


Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 14:10

I don't think the Conservatives are wise to push the LibDems back in to their ideological home, which might be in the same neighbourhood as Labour. They won't win the next election outright (well theu haven't won the last 4 times have they?) and it makes more sense to have a Labour-LibDem pact.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 15:11

Interesting detail, thanks for that link Janet.

So many people working in FE! Who knew?

What the article shows, after all the quibbles and pedantry, is that both private sector employment and total employment have gone UP under the coalition. It also shows that this government is far better at stimulating wealth-creating jobs than Labour, who relied on fabricating unnecessary tax-consuming jobs to make their figures look respectable.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 15:31


Really? Did Populus go into that much detail?

At the 2010 GE the Lib Dems polled 23% of the popular vote. Now down to 9%, according to Populus.

The Tories, by contrast, polled 36.5% in 2010 and are now at 35% (hardly changed).

I think it's pretty clear where Labour's extra support is coming from!

As for Labour's dismal economic record - I'm glad you agree that their reckless destruction of the time-honoured Bank of England oversight was foolish. But that wasn't the most foolish thing they did. Running a deficit for seven years during a boom was far more stupid.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 15:46


What was "stupid", as well as incompetent, has been the private sector's dismal record as exemplified by the banks, whose greed crippled the economy and who then had to go to the public purse with its begging bowl. Odd how you are so keen to point the finger at Labour and not at the fat cats now further protected by the Tories.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 16:04

Selective quotation, Ricky. You missed the third part of my three-part question:

Really? Did Populus go into that much detail? Did Populus ask respondents if they were from the Stop-The-War coalition?

You answered by quoting stats about LibDems - didn't mention Stop-The-War.

The Tories were just as much in favour of "light-touch" regulation as Labour and they still haven't done much to reign in the banks.

It’s true that in 2010 the deficit was higher than any previous deficits. However, since 1975 it’s been common for Governments (whether Tory or Labour) to spend more in a year than they can recoup. As FullFact found, “In the 35 years between 1974 and 2009, the Government has ended the year in surplus on only seven occasions: between 1988 and 1990 [Tory years], and between 1998 and 2001[Labour years].


Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 25/10/2012 - 13:06


I think it was banking industry greed, corruption and incompetence that led to Labour having to use the public purse to prop them up and precent them from plunging the economy into meltdown. I don't recall the Tories objecting at the time.

One of David Cameron's key themes in his speech to the Conservative Party conference before he limped in to Number 10 was that Labour has "made the poorest poorer", "left youth unemployment higher" and "made inequality greater”.

Whilst it is true that Labour’s third term saw a rise in income inequality, and a fall in the income of the poorest fifth of the population, their record over their entire term in office is different. Income inequality was slightly higher in 2007-08 than in 1996-97. However, since 1996-97, there has been positive income growth, after allowing for inflation, at almost every part of the income distribution. And the proportion in poverty fell by just over a quarter from 27% in 1996-7 to 20% in 2009-10.

Let’s look at what Labour inherited from the last period of Conservative government 1979 to 1997. According to analyses, including studies by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, income inequality rose substantially during the 1980s, dwarfing the small increase under the last Labour government.

The IFS also found that the incomes of the poorest 2% of the population were lower in 1996-97 than they were in 1979. There was also a large rise in relative poverty during the 1980s, which compares with a small fall under the last Labour government They also found that direct tax and benefit changes made by the previous Conservative governments acted to increase income inequality, whereas those made since 1997-98 under Labour benefitted the poor by more than the rich. This is exactly what Cameron and Co are doing now.

Conclusion: It would be fair to say that youth unemployment and income inequality rose under Labour BUT the record on youth unemployment was no better, and on poverty and inequality considerably worse, in the Thatcher and Major administrations than under Blair and Brown.

The future under Cameron is bleak. Iain Duncan Smith moved to downgrade child poverty targets and the government is way off target to eliminating child poverty by 2020. The London School of Economics suggests the coalition's changes in the rules for claiming child tax credit, reductions in the childcare element of working tax credit, caps on overall benefits and changes to the local housing allowance have combined to hit low-income families hardest.

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said:

"The warnings for the current government are crystal clear. Under current policies they risk wiping out….hard-won gains. Unless their strategy improves, their legacy threatens to be the worst child poverty record of any government for a generation."

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