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02/02/13

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Sorry Toby But The Data Backs Suzanne

On Thursday Suzanne Moore’s article “Michael Gove is destroying our school system” appeared in the Guardian’s G2 section. Though reflecting a rather widely held view, this was savaged by Toby Young in the Telegraph under the title “Suzanne Moore’s attack on Michael Gove is a hysterical, ill-informed rant.” At Local Schools Network we’ve been checking educational data for a while and Toby’s use of facts seems dubious and misleading. Let’s take his claims one-by-one:

Toby: In fact, there’s plenty of evidence to support Gove’s policies. Here’s evidence that standards fell during Labour’s 13 years in office.

Toby’s link is to the Wikipedia entry on PISA, the international comparison of performance of 15 year olds. Michael Gove often uses the PISA rankings, and the UK’s apparent fall from 2000 to 2009, to justify his policies. However the 2000 figures for the UK were flawed:  Andrew Dilmot, head of the UK Statistics Authority, has criticised the DfE for its misleading use of this data. At the same time TIMMS (Trends in Maths and Science Survey) and PIRLS Progress in International reading Literacy Survey) have shown more positive results and the recent Pearson report The Learning Curve found that the UK was in the top two in Europe for overall educational performance.

Toby: Here’s evidence that free schools have raised standards in Sweden.

The international evidence for similar approaches is in fact not strong. Even the 2007 paper that Toby links to, warned against applying the findings to other countries. Christopher Cook, in the Financial Times, looked at the data and argued it was a “pretty meagre return on such a massive disruption in the system.” Sweden showed a significant fall in the PISA tables that Toby refers to and many are now worried about the increased social segregation that Swedish free schools have caused.

In the United States the evidence for Charter Schools is very patchy. The CREDO review of charter schools across 40 states found that 17% were significantly better than average, 46% were around the average and 37% were significantly below average. This week a report by Stanford University found that charter status had little impact, finding that schools that start ‘bad’ stay ‘bad’. Indeed Greg Richmond, who leads the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, admitted that “in the charter school space, too often there’s a willingness to give failing charter schools more time,”

Toby: Here’s evidence that increasing school choice has raised standards in England.

Toby uses research by Professor Stephen Machin and James Vernoit from the LSE. There are issues with their approach but their report found some evidence for strong performance in the early academies. However Stephen Machin made clear that it is “hard to justify” the use of his research by the government for its very different academies. Indeed he called it a “step too far”.

Toby: Here’s evidence that the academies programme is raising standards in England.

The claim, made by the Department for Education (DfE) 10 days ago, is that the results in the key GCSE benchmark rose by 3.1% for sponsored academies and only 0.6% for maintained schools. However this difference disappears when you compare the performance of similar schools. The independent fact checker Full Fact compared the claims, finding that the DfE claim did not show the full picture, and validating my analysis. No mention was made, by Toby or the DfE, of converter academies (on which the government spent the best part of £1 billion) – as on average their results actually fell after conversion.

Toby: It’s a myth put about by Labour luvvies that the Ebacc and/or the EBC (they always confuse them, too) will mean schoolchildren are discouraged from studying Art, Music, Drama and Design Technology. At present, the majority of English primary and secondary schools in the state sector include all those subjects in their core curricula in KS1 (5-7), KS2 (7-11) and KS3 (11-14) and there’s no evidence that’s about to change. In KS4 (14-16), there’s no reason why the majority of pupils shouldn’t continue to study for qualifications in “creative” subjects while at the same time studying the Ebacc/EBC subjects which, in any event, won’t be compulsory. Gove isn’t proposing to abolish GCSEs in Art, Music, Drama and Design Technology. This is a complete red herring.

It is true that a lot of people get confused between the current ebacc and the future EBC. But there is certainly evidence of change for age 14-16s. The DfE report on the effect of the Ebacc so far found that 247 schools have withdrawn Drama as a GCSE, 183 schools have withdrawn Art, and 151 schools have withdrawn Design Technology. It is a matter of simple maths. The current ebacc is effectively seven GCSEs (Maths, English, English Lit, 2 Science, a humanity and a language). Many students only take eight GCSEs altogether and most only take nine. So, if you take all the ebacc subjects, you only have one or two choices left. The ebacc means less arts options. For concerns on the EBC, read Fiona Millar here.

Toby: Yes, not all, but on average results at sponsored academies are improving five times faster than results at maintained schools. Where’s the glitch?

This is the same claim as above, refuted by Full Fact. The data reveals that previously poorly performing schools did grow fast, but there was little difference between academies (7.8% growth) and maintained schools (7.7% growth).

Toby: I suggest she visit Mossbourne Community Academy just down the road from where she lives in Islington. The percentage of children on free school meals at Mossbourne is 50.7 per cent and yet 89 per cent got five good GCSEs last year, making it one of the best-performing state schools in the country.

Mossbourne is an outstanding school, which gets exceptional results. However to use this to claim all academies will be amazing is nonsense. It is like stating “David Beckham is from Chingford. David Beckham is an outstanding footballer. Therefore all footballers from Chingford must be outstanding.” If Mossbourne’s success was due to it being an academy, then you would expect to see many academies doing as well. My analysis last year showed that the other best-performing schools were not academies.

Toby claims that at nearby Stoke Newington School only 25.6% of students are on Free School Meals. This is sloppy research. A simple look at the recent DfE data on schools (available here) reveals the true figure to be 42%.* 

(Added Note: To be fair to Toby, the key DfE measure of free school meals changed this year, from the % of students currently eligible for FSM to the % of students whose families had been eligible in last six years. However he used the new, higher, figure for Mossbourne and the old, lower, figure for Stoke Newington to create a false comparison.)

Toby: “Emotional intelligence” is balls. See here for chapter and verse.

Wikipedia again, Toby? I think the Sutton Trust research is more reliable on educational impact. They said “SEAL interventions have an identifiable and significant impact on attitudes to learning, social relationships in school, and attainment itself.” (SEAL stands for Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning.)

Toby: It’s one of the reasons the percentage of state school students at Oxbridge has actually declined since the decimation of England’s grammar schools in the 60s and 70s.

Toby produces no evidence for what seems to be an urban myth. The House of Common Library analysed this question in a paper titled “Oxbridge Elitism”, published in June 2009. It found that, in 1961, 34% of students at Oxford and 27% of those at Cambridge were from state backgrounds. Last year, the Telegraph reported that 55% of admissions at Oxford and 66% at Cambridge were now from state schools.

Toby: This is one of the most common criticisms of Gove’s reforms – that by encouraging schools to focus on knowledge rather than skills, prioritising academic subjects and making public exams at 16 and 18 more difficult he will create a system that’s only fit for the 19th century. (See Moore’s dismissive reference to “rote learning” above.) In fact, these are precisely the characteristics of the state education systems in Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan.

Well, Toby, you need to take a look at the recent Pearson report that described how these countries are moving away from Gove’s approach. “No education system can remain static,” writes Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong. “Technology is transforming our lives. The skills needed in the future will be very different from those needed today.” South Korean schools are now being encouraged to develop “creativity, character and collaboration”. And Chinese leaders believe their schools need to produce more “creative talent”.

Is Gove Destroying our School System?

Our Education Secretary has very strong beliefs about what is needed in education but, like those of Toby Young, these seem only rarely to be evidence-based. The highly respected Sutton Trust has analysed what works and Ian Gilbert compared their conclusions to the approach of Gove and his colleagues. I summarised Ian’s excellent article with these tweets earlier this week:

  • Setting? Goverment claims they know it works. Sutton Trust: negative effect for most students
  • Gove: Blazer & tie encourages good behaviour. Sutton Trust: no evidence of improvement:
  • Gove: Performance pay is vital. Sutton trust: It would not appear to be a good investment:
  • Gove: Longer school day, shorter holidays. Sutton Trust: Better to use existing time effectivley
  • Government: SEAL “is ghastly” Sutton trust: SEAL interventions: an identifiable and significant impact
  • Government: Phonics is best method for reading. Sutton Trust: Above Yr 5, phonics produce less or no impact
  • Gove: Parents prefer tradition, children sitting in rows. Sutton: impact of collaborative learning is consistently positive
  • Gove: End 1-1 tuition. Sutton: 1-1 tuition can enable learners to catch up with their peers
  • Government: Sure start is waste of money. Sutton: pre-school intervention has above average impact

This comparison appears to back up Suzanne’s claim. It seems that the common perception that Michael Gove is seeking to return education to the system that worked for him 40 years ago, rather than what the evidence calls for, is correct.

The National Audit Office reported that the DfE had overspent by £1 billion on its academy conversion programme. There is little evidence that this has had any impact on school standards, with GCSE results for converter academies in 2012 actually falling. The tragedy is that there is clear evidence of what does work, such as the Sutton Trust analysis, and what has improved our schools. The most notable example of the latter was the London Challenge, which transformed education in the capital, where 85% of schools are now classified by Ofsted as Good or Outstanding. It is time to learn from what works.

 

Note: A big thanks to my Local Schools Network colleague Janet Downs, who helped with the data sources and the interpretation.

* Early version of this gave figure of 46% for FSM at Stoke Newington. This is actually figure for ‘disadvantaged’ students, figure should be 42% as above.

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Comments, replies and queries

  1. Excellent article Henry and well researched. Evidence based, rather than the hokum of ideological drivel, prejudice and myth peddled by Toby Young, Michael Gove et al.

    @imaginieinquiry

  2. John Wadsworth says:

    Really good to see someone who has actually bothered to do some research.

    • Tim Woodcock says:

      Quite right. The problem with using statistics without analysis, evidence ant thought is that the clever learn how to outwit the system and the ambitious then exploit the clever.

  3. Rachel says:

    As a parent of a 13 year old I know first hand that my son is being gently guided away from taking music GCSE (his will be the last year to do GCSEs) and towards History, because despite the fast that he will be taking 10 or 11 GCSEs, he will not count as an EBACC pass unless he does History.

    • Henry – very detailed set if refutations. Alas, the ability to report the truth that is vital on this site is not deemed vital for papers like the Guardian, it seems.

      Rachel, it is sad that this is happening. It is crazy that the desires and needs of a customer of a system – the pupil – come a distant second to the accountability ‘needs’ of that system. Especially since such ‘needs’ have become so distorted over time/

    • Tim Woodcock says:

      Sadly this is happening in many schools. Schools are also putting able children in for a large number of GCSE’s rather allowing them to concentrate on fewer. this is because it allows them to play with the data. My niece was encouraged to take 13 she pass them all but was later told she could not take her preferred course because she had not achieved the required grades in those subjects. The childs future became less important than the chase for stats at the ‘high performing’ school.

  4. “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts” (Daniel Moynihan). Except, it would seem, Mssrs Gove and Young.

  5. Elly says:

    A shame the people who really need to see this will not read it. How to get the message to all?

    • Elly – if you’re on Twitter (I’m not), then tweet it. If you contribute to other websites, then put a link to the thread.

      On Henry’s thread, “A Failure of Journalism”, Henry suggests writing to editors when articles about education are below the standard that readers should expect.

      My Dad read the DT every day until a few years before he died. I think he would be disappointed with some of its journalism today. He would have loathed the histrionics, the misleading “evidence”, the smugness and spite in many of the blogs. Such vitriol may bring readers to the website but at what cost to the paper’s reputation?

      Leveson described Telegraph’s exposure of the MPs’ expenses scandal as “an example of journalism at its best”. What a pity its education coverage, particularly blog comments, fail to reach this exacting standard.

      http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2013/01/a-failure-of-journalism/

  6. In his article, Young mocks those who confuse EBC and EBacc implying that people who do this are thick and stupid.

    It’s not difficult to confuse the EBC/EBacc as I said in my comment under Young’s article (DT username Elkins). It’s the fault of the DfE for calling the proposed 16+ exam English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs) so it’s logical, if technically incorrect, to describe EBCs as EBaccs. A cynic might say that this similarity is deliberate so as to muddle debate.

    In any case, the name of the proposed exam hasn’t been decided yet. The Consultation’s only just finished and the first two questions on the Consultation were about the exam’s new name which, apparently, is the most important question.

  7. Ivan Godfrey says:

    On a flippant note try googling EBC. Their currency and importance is so great that my first links were EBC brakes, European Builders’ Confederation, European Brain Council, European Brewery Convention, English Baroque Choir and Emergency Birth Control – and then I came to the educational link.
    As Janet comments the various fanciful names are a matter of trivia – but when there is no real substance to your proposals it’s normal to focus on what’s irrelevant and try to make that the point of debate rather than deal with matters of fundamental principle. The second ploy, of course, is to denigrate your opponents by whatever means possible rather than enter the debate.
    All in all I’d be quite pleased to see the content and tone of this article – it seems to me to be a sign that some of the evidence-backed, well-researched criticism that’s spreading through the education world is beginning to have an impact.

    • Ivan – a third ploy is to find some anecdotal evidence (in Young’s case, one of these came from “Standpoint”, the right-wing mag launched by, among others, Michael Gove). These anecdotes are used as “evidence” to make sweeping generalisations.

      The longest anecdote was from a teacher whose “evidence” about the woeful knowledge of her pupils comprised vague terms such as “Lots of…”, “Most could not…”, “Quite a few…”, “I think most of them…” , “Plenty did not…”. Oh, and one 14 year-old asked what a swan was.

      Young presents this anecdote as “proof” that the English education system is not fit for purpose.

  8. Henry,

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to my post on Telegraph Blogs about Suzanne Moore’s piece in the Guardian. I’ll try to answer your points in the order in which you make them.

    1. Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s deputy director, had this to say about the conclusions that can be drawn from a comparison of the PISA data for 2000, 2003 and 2009: “The UK’s PISA data for 2000 and 2003 were not sufficiently robust to establish trend lines that meet OECD standards. However, it is hard to derive any interpretation of these data that wouldn’t imply a decline in the relative standing of the UK internationally.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/mortarboard/2011/dec/07/schools-michaelgove)

    2. You don’t appear to be offering any rebuttal of the research I link to in my post providing evidence that the introduction of free schools has raised standards in Sweden. Rather, your argument is that you cannot apply this evidence to other countries. Odd, then, that in the next breath you cite “increased social segregation” in Sweden as a reason to be concerned about the impact of free schools in England. Either you can draw conclusions from the Swedish evidence or you can’t. For more up-to-date evidence that free schools are raising standards in Sweden, see this http://www.ifau.se/Upload/pdf/se/2012/wp12-19-Independent-schools-and-long-run-educational-outcomes.pdf

    3. One of the findings of Bohlmark and Lindahl’s latest research, linked to above, is that pupils in free schools don’t just attain more than their peers in municipal schools (and this is after controlling for all the usual variables, including the socio-economic background of the pupils) but the attainment of pupils in neighbouring municipal schools has improved since the free schools have opened. This is the same “competition effect” documented by Machin and Vernoit in their exhaustive study of Labour’s sponsored academies and their impact on neighbouring maintained schools. Of course Machin cautions against drawing far-reaching conclusions from his research – any social scientist worth his salt would be equally circumspect. But for those of us who believe that increased competition raises standards across the board, this is powerful evidence and I think you owe us a more thoughtful response.

    4. You don’t dispute that GCSE results are improving five times faster in sponsored academies than they are in maintained schools, you merely point out that results are improving almost as quickly in comparable maintained schools. That hardly constitutes evidence that Michael Gove’s education reforms aren’t raising standards. To me, it looks awfully like yet more evidence of the “competition effect”.

    5. You’ve invented the fact that the Ebacc or EBC requires a grade C or above in *seven* subjects. It’s only six, so my point stands about most children being able to do two or more “creative” GCSEs as well as the Ebacc/EBC subjects. But in any event, it’s not compulsory for state schools to put all their pupils in for the Ebacc/EBC subjects or even to steer their more able pupils towards those subjects. If schools are choosing to do so, it’s because they’re anticipating that parents will set some store by the percentage of pupils doing well in those subjects when choosing which schools to send their children to. Is it really so wrong for schools to focus on those subjects that parents care about?

    6. I don’t dispute that Mossbourne is an exceptional school, but the reason those on my side of this debate like it so much is that it gives the lie to the claim that schools that serve deprived communities shouldn’t expect too much of their pupils. That’s an excuse wheeled out too often by under-performing schools, as I’m sure you’d agree. As for your accusation that I’m guilty of “sloppy research”, I got the figure of 25.6% of pupils at SNS on FSM from precisely the source you cite as evidence that I’m wrong, namely, the DfE’s Performance Tables. Here’s a link to the page where I got my figure of 25.6%:

    http://www.education.gov.uk/cgi-bin/schools/performance/school.pl?urn=100279

    7. I suggest you look at Table 1 in ‘Oxbridge Elitism’ which shows that the percentage of students admitted to Oxford from state schools climbed to above 50% for the first time in 1981 (thanks to the number of successful applicants from grammar schools), then declined dramatically as the impact of comprehensivisation kicked in and didn’t return to above 50% until 2000. Here’s the link:

    http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CD4QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.parliament.uk%2Fbriefing-papers%2FSN00616.pdf&ei=e4IOUe6VHZHqrQf4koGAAw&usg=AFQjCNGqhomSc_lHTWXobJxzy5CLVBYVTw&sig2=ER15LDY-mUHh15e-s7X_fw&bvm=bv.41867550,d.bmk

    8. You don’t rebut my claim that the countries at the top of PISA’s international league table rely on precisely the kind of traditional approach to teaching and learning that Michael Gove is in favour of. They’re not proposing to abandon them, either, and the evidence you provide to suggest they are is threadbare at best.
    ________________________________________

    As a general point, Henry, none of the research you cite constitutes evidence that the Coalition’s education reforms have had a negative impact on England’s schools. It simply purports to show that Michael Gove doesn’t deserve the credit for the improvements that have taken place over the last two-and-a-half years.

    Can you point me to any evidence in support of Suzanne Moore’s claim that the current Secretary of State is “destroying our school system”?

    • Toby – your first point. You are correct that there has been a “relative” decline. But the change in the score of the UK between 2006-2009 was stastically insignificant. The “relative” decline was caused by more countries entering PISA and many of these being high-attaining jurisdictions such as Shanghai.

      The Statistics Watchdog has warned about the misuse of PISA data. See:

      http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/10/statistics-watchdog-expresses-concern-about-dfe-use-of-the-pisa-2000-figures/

      This week’s TES reported that the Sutton Trust warned that “English education is in danger of being driven by its rankings in “see-sawing” international league tables that do not reflect the quality of schools”.

      The Trust pointed out that international league tables painted were contradictory and claimed that ‘politicians have “spun” England’s test performance to justify their reforms, when schools play only a small part in the results’ variations’.

      http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6317642

      See faq above: “Is the UK tumbling down the international league tables?” for the latest info re international tests.

    • ‘lo Toby. I hope you’re having a nice time in Kenya. Both my stepmum and my neighbour grew up there and went to the two main girls schools where they had interesting times during the mau mau. My stepmum’s dad was an engineer – building wells. When they got married she and dad sponsored more wells which they went to see for their honeymoon (among other amazing things in Kenya). :-)

      1. Do you actually understand what PISA results show yet and how they differ from other measures? This intrinsically explains why they were not strong at this time, why the steps which were being taken to address that were being taken (do you have any idea what these were) and why it was madness to shut down the improvement processes. (Looking at your comment at 8 the answer is very clearly no).

      2. Have you seen how Liz Truss has been misunderstanding Sweden this week too? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one to be caught out when you step up from chatting to your clique of friends who love to hear what you say because it suits them into actually having it critically assessed.

      3. Do you understand why it was never logical that making a school a ‘free school’ would lead to improvements and that the reasons why schools improve lie elsewhere yet? Nope? Really after running a school for this long reality should have begun to tickle your tootsies. Or do you just nick of to Africa to avoid the harsh truth?

      4. Are you still in denial about needing to compare like schools Toby? Sill with the view that it’s a great idea to compare schools with very challenging cohorts for not achieving the same results as Eton? Do you need me to spell it out to you letter by letter by letter again?

      5. You don’t seem to understand the reality of the lack of choice or its implications yet. That’s very sad.

      6. Mossbourne gives the lie to the view that schools which are funded at double the level of other local schools and have amazing buildings combined with the ability to cherry pick the best teachers and students from across London shouldn’t achieve more than schools which are underfunded, overcrowded, in crap buildings and taking sink cohorts. Should anybody be stupid enough to hold that view.

      7. If you want to begin to understand a little of the issues associated with Oxbridge access please do feel free to read and comment on my blog here: http://mathseducationandallthat.blogspot.co.uk/2012_02_01_archive.html
      Essentially you could start by trying to understand that not all state school children are the same.

      8. “You don’t rebut my claim that the countries at the top of PISA’s international league table rely on precisely the kind of traditional approach to teaching and learning that Michael Gove is in favour of.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Well let me rebut it Toby (for most people it’s just blindingly obvious). PISA is designed to test functional and applied skills.

      Can you point me to any evidence in support of Suzanne Moore’s claim that the current Secretary of State is “destroying our school system”?

      What is the system now Toby? We all understood what it was. We’ve all seen it being dismantled. There appears to be nothing coherent left – just a mess with odd bits of this and that and no coherent plan. Please do enlighten us…… :-)

      • This was an answer to Toby’s point’s by the way. Janet you beat me to it! :-)

        • Dwight says:

          Rebecca, you attribute the success of Mossbourne, in part, to “…the ability to cherry pick the best teachers…” but when talking about relative failings of other schools you omit to mention the quality of the teachers.

          Isn’t part of the problem that schools find it hard to get rid of poor teachers?

          • I’m not quite sure what you mean by ‘the problem’ Dwight.

            But I would say to you that it’s a bit of a problem if a nearby school is offering jobs with half the teaching load, masses of support, fabulous resources and the best cherry picked sixth formers from across London you can’t offer your staff any of those things. Wouldn’t you agree?

          • Dwight says:

            @Rebecca Hanson

            This website won’t let me give a direct reply to you but hopefully you’ll see this….

            The problem is the large number of children who leave school unable to read or write or perform simple calculations to a decent level.

            Your second paragraph is interesting and wouldn’t dispute anything in it but that wasn’t really what I was getting at.

            To recap:

            Toby Young compared Mossbourne and Stoke Newington schools. You gave reasons why that was it was an unfair comparison and one of the reasons you gave was that Mossbourne gets “…the best..” teachers. Your words, not mine.

            Which implies that you think SN gets teachers who are not the best but are less than the best.

            My point was just that there are obviously teachers of varying quality including bad teachers (as there are bad doctors, nurses, salespersons etc.) it’s important, vital even, that there is a easy way to get rid of them.

            As I understand it, Gove is trying to do just that, which seems a positive step.

          • Hello Dwight,

            I think you’re reading too much into my comment about the quality of teachers at Mossbourne. In a previous thread here we discussed an advert for a main scale maths teaching job at Mossbourne. Essential qualifications included a proven history of exam success at KS3, KS4 and KS5. Mossbourne can ask for that because the conditions it can offer are so vastly superior conditions to other schools – for example they were advertising that they had 13 maths teachers and a fully resourced specialist suite of rooms (apart from their elite rowing academy for those who got the best GCSE results in London and were also outstanding rowers and so on).

            Do you not understand that main scale jobs in maths teaching usually go to teachers with little or no experience? And that you’d expect to have 13 maths teachers in a schools with about 60% more students than Mossbourne? And that in other schools teachers have to move from classroom to classroom with no base and few resources?

            Mossbourne are creaming off the best of the teachers who have been tried and tested and have gained experience in other schools. So yes – other schools have weaker teachers because they can’t cherry pick like Mossbourne can. Does that make sense now Dwight?

            By the way I do understand that many people think that drilling young children in tables and forcing them to do the long division algorithm will lead to a great leap forward in standards. But I’m afraid I’m a lecturer in maths education Dwight so I deal with the reality of how education works and for me politicians using media spin and the support of the public who don’t understand these things to make themselves popular despite the damage they do to kids is just a pain in the (London)derry air. We expect it at the beginning – but for them still to be standing in front of groups of senior professionals over 2 years in lecturing them on the enlightenment of getting rid of chunking even though they’ve never found a single experienced or credible person who agrees with them is excruciating to watch. Their behaviour so ruthlessly exposes no only their low intellect but also their retarded emotional intelligence in being so blooming arrogant about their own superior insight despite them having no experience and everybody telling them they are wrong for years. I mean for goodness sake can they leave our country with no dignity at all and no justifiable reason for the Scots to stay with us?

    • Toby – your second point re Sweden: The Academies Commission (2013) found it’s difficult to come to conclusions about the Swedish free schools programme because Sweden doesn’t routinely collect test and demographic data. The Commission cited Bohlmark and Lindahl (2012) who concluded the programme had improved educational performance and this was driven by the effects of competition. But Bohlmark and Lindahl warned against applying findings from Sweden to other countries because school types and external factors differed. That’s the point Henry made – evidence re Sweden can’t be used to justify similar policies in other countries.

      The Commission cited Cook (2012) writing in the Financial Times: the improved educational performance attributed to the Swedish free school programme was extremely modest and the slight positive effects were “not very impressive given the scale of the policy intervention.”

      Meanwhile, the Swedish State Secretary for Education told the BBC (2012) he was setting up an inquiry into profit-making companies running many of Sweden’s free schools. He feared that bringing in the profit motive resulted in conflicting interests – those of the child versus the needs of shareholders for a financial return.

      http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/10/many-free-schools-are-significantly-undersubscribed-the-bbc-has-found/

    • First of all, Toby, thank you for your detailed and thoughtful response. I will come back later on each of your 8 pts, but let me first address your question at the end of whether Michael Gove is “destroying our school system”. You have been a regular visitor to our site and so you will know our views well but our concerns range from actions we see as dangerous to those that are simply irrelevant:

      I don’t argue that our current schools are perfect. I agree with you that many of our students, especially the most disadvantaged ones, deserve better. The question is how to get that improvement.

      Dangerous: In the article I listed some of the things the Sutton Trust found work in schools and counter-posed what Gove believes. A Secretary of State that seems to go strongly against the evidence of what works is deeply worrying.

      Dangerous: The move to a narrow core of traditional subjects. You may claim that the ebacc doesn’t restrict choice but you can’t argue with the evidence (from the Dfe) that schools are stopping teaching many creative subjects as a result of the ebacc. That could seriously harm our creative industries in the future, which is why its drawn such strong opposition from the creative sectors (see http://bit.ly/TGTmwH & http://bit.ly/PQpAQr).

      The new measure of judging schools on the % of students achieving 3 ‘facilitating’ subjects is another example. The Russell Group requires 2 not 3 of these core traditional subjects and top universities see it as fine for the 3rd to be Art or Drama or Music. The measure will have the effect of pushing students to drop that creative 3rd option.

      Dangerous: The focus of the future EBC appears to be a narrow ‘more rigorous’ approach focused entirely on an end-of-course 3 hour exams. This is fine for some. Gove did well at those (and I did too) but, by definition (more rigorous = harder), it will mean more students failing. See here for an alternative that enables all students to play to their strengths and succeed. http://bit.ly/UXUUj2

      Dangerous: When his A level proposals were announced the Telegraph reported that “Cambridge University, private schools and teachers’ leaders have lined up to attack Michael Gove’s plan”. (See http://bit.ly/UiOnov) This quotes a spokesman for Cambridge University said “This change is unnecessary and, if implemented, will jeopardise over a decade’s progress towards fairer access to the University of Cambridge”.

      Irrelevant: Focusing the investment in school improvement on academy conversion. I’ve asked Michael Wilshaw (founding head of Mossbourne and now Ofsted Chief Inspector) what he believes makes for an outstanding school and he listed good leadership, high quality teaching and good behaviour. I agree. If the £1 billion overspent on academy conversion had gone into building leadership, teacher development and building links between schools to learn from each other (effectively what happened in the London Challenge) then we could have seen some real improvement.

      Dangerous: Is the ground being laid for privatisation of schools? Several right-wing think tanks (eg, Policy Exchange and Bright Blue: http://bit.ly/11xLwtR) have proposed it. If there is a 2015 majority Tory government, the current landscape of independent academies will make it very easy for privatisation to take place. You have said that many of your Tory colleagues see this as desirable but I think most of the population do not want to see their local schools in private profit-making hands and many would indeed see that as destroying our school system.

      Those are some initial thoughts in response. So, yes, many of us are deeply worried that Michael Gove is destroying a school system that is designed to work to the benefit of all students to one designed for those strong in traditional academic subjects and traditional exam methods.

    • Toby – your fourth point. It might look like evidence of the “competition effect” to you. Except that there are very few sponsored academies that have been open for long enough to show any effect. Are you really suggesting that the existence of these few sponsored academies, mostly in cities, have raised results in similar non-academies situated all round the country because the latter were responding to competition?

      Both PwC and Ofsted have found that when schools improve they used similar methods which have nothing to do with academy status. The London Challenge was a huge success and this had nothing to do with sponsored academy status. The Academies Commission has said that although some sponsored academies have been a “stunning success” (Mossbourne), most of them have not done any better than similar non academies.

    • Toby – your fifth point re EBacc. You’re right that this is a performance measure and schools don’t have to ensure their pupils do EBacc subjects. But the measure is used for league tables. Unfortunately, league tables have a great deal of influence even though they don’t really reflect the education that a school provides.

      The OECD warned that there was too much emphasis on raw test results in England. This had perverse consequences such as teaching-to-the-test.

      The Academies Commission wrote that innovation is being discouraged because of league table pressure.

      http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2013/01/innovation-is-inhibited-by-league-tables-not-by-lack-of-freedom-says-commission/

      The Education Select Committee is also concerned about the downgrading of subjects because of some being including in EBCs:

      http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2013/02/slow-down-you-move-too-fast-select-committee-tells-gove/

    • Toby – point 6. Strange as it may seem, both you and Henry are correct. But it depends which FSM figure you take. The school performance table for Stoke Newington School says:

      % eligible for FSM (in the whole school) 25.6%
      %eligible for FSM in the last six years : 41.6%

      Scroll down the page to the “Narrowing the Gap” table. The figure for disadvantaged pupils in the 2012 GCSE cohort was 46%.

      Mossbourne is, as you say, an exceptional school. Fully-comprehensive, state-of-the-art buildings, and the pupils built up steadily year-by-year. But its success has not been duplicated in other sponsored academies which serve deprived areas. Could it be because their intake might be skewed towards the bottom of the ability range, for example? Perhaps they’re bad schools, as you suggest. Or maybe they’re being blamed for circumstances beyond the control of the school? An under-subscribed school, for example, with a transient school population is going to find it harder to get high results than an over-subscribed school with a fixed school population.

      In any case, exam results are not necessarily a sign that a school is offering a good education. The Education Endowment Fund last year found that many underperforming schools were doing a good job in difficult circumstances.

      • And Mossbourne High is likely to get special attention from the DfE because it is the flagship Academy, and may instill high expectations in arriving pupils to create a self-fulfilling prophecy of excellence. As always, it is dangerous to draw global conclusions from single examples.

    • Toby – points 7 and 8. I’ll deal with those tomorrow. My head’s spinning.

    • As Janet is working her way through your pts, I’ll stick to two of them:

      pt 7: Your original claim was that “the percentage of state school students at Oxbridge has actually declined since the decimation of England’s grammar schools in the 60s and 70s”. This is nonsense. You don’t question my rebuttal of it and my demonstration that . state school entries to Oxbridge are now at an all time high. Full stop.

      (Yes there was a weird drop in Cambridge results in 1984 % 85 and in Oxford in 1985 but your grammar school explanation is too simplistic. Oxford hit all-time highs for state entries from 81-83, when comprehensives were firmly in place and Cambridge in 1989. Both are at their highest ever levels for state entries now.)

      pt 6: You gave the FSM figures for Stoke Newington at 25.7% and Mossbourne at 50.7%. The Stoke Newington figures are here: http://bit.ly/WK87wy and the Mossbourne figures are here: http://bit.ly/TvkRKo

      Both your figures are from the DfE site but the Mossbourne 50.7% is for those eligible for free school meals in the last 6 years, while the Stoke Newington 25.6% is for those currently on free school meals. These are two separate measures and not comparable. Thats what I suggested was ‘sloppy’. (I quoted the 6 year figure for SNS, 41.6%, because this is now the figure quoted by DfE – and the figure that the pupil premium is calculated on.)

    • Toby – you cite an anecdote by Daisy Christodoulou (Teach First 2007). In her review of Birbalsingh’s “To Miss With Love” she says this about anecdotes:

      “Conversations I’ve had in the pub with other teachers suggest that this book has a wider truth. But of course, this sort of evidence is only anecdotal. The Ofsted statistics say that bad behaviour is confined to a small minority of state schools and that standards have never been higher. In short, I have no idea whether this book is representative of the state sector.”

      So, Christodoulou appears to be suspicious of anecdotal evidence and concludes that she has “no idea” whether such anecdotes are truly representative . Yet you quote her anecdote as if it had more weight that it actually has.

      In the Guardian Christodoulou repeats the old chestnut about a class of pupils thinking Churchill was the nodding dog in an advert. An entire class! Some adults don’t seem to recognise when they’re being sent up.

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/feb/27/state-school-comprehensive-crisis-opinion

    • Toby – point 8. My first point:

      You’re again referring to PISA as it it were the only international test. In other tests, the UK (or England) comes nearer the top. Pearson/EIU placed UK sixth behind Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore, second in Europe and second in the Western world (See faq above “Is the UK tumbling down the international league tables?”).

      However, league table rankings are too variable to be used to direct educational policy, the Sutton Trust says. TES reported:

      ‘The research, commissioned by social mobility charity the Sutton Trust, warns that ministers’ repeated calls for better results in tests such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) will result in “teaching to the test” rather than improvements to the system.’ and

      ‘that by focusing on international tests, which measure skills in maths, science and reading, the country risks adhering to a “very narrow definition of what education can be about”.’

      So, being top of PISA rankings may not be a true reflection of a country’s educational system. And too much concentration on PISA risks unintended, negative consequences.

      http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6317642

    • Toby – point 8. My second point: You say that the top performing countries in PISA “rely” on a “traditional approach to teaching and learning.” This isn’t quite correct.

      Finland – fully-comprehensive system, broad-balanced curriculum, tests at 18. Focus on equity. Teaching tailored to pupils with much reliance on formative assessment.

      Shanghai and Hong Kong (jurisdictions, not countries): Curricula emphasis is changing. OECD found these two jurisdictions are:

      “reducing the emphasis on rote learning and increasing the emphasis on deep understanding, the ability to apply knowledge to solving new problems and the ability to think creatively.”

      Commenting on all East Asian countries, OECD wrote:

      “As most research results concur, motivation in education in China (and also in Japan and Korea) is basically extrinsic, prompted by family or social expectations. In most cases, intrinsic motivation or genuine interest in the subject matter per se, are not the driving factors.”

      As an ex-teacher, I would rather my pupils had “genuine interest in the subject matter” rather than seeing the subjects as a way of fulfilling the expectations of others.

      http://www.oecd.org/countries/hongkongchina/46581016.pdf

      Hong Kong: rejecting content based curriculum. TES 2011: “a key element of the curriculum reforms behind the territory’s success has been the kind of explicit teaching of learning and thinking skills already rejected by Mr Gove.”

      http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6068595

      Singapore: “the Ministry of Education (MOE) has been implementing three major initiatives in the schools, namely the IT-Masterplan, the introduction of critical and creative thinking into the curriculum, and National Education. These initiatives are underpinned by related innovations like the reduction in curriculum content, the introduction of project work and changes in school-based assessment and in the examination system.”

      http://www.nie.edu.sg/curriculum-teaching-and-learning/research-areas

      Japan: 1998 reform stressed students’ ability to act autonomously and think creatively. The underlying philosophy was “Zest for living”. In 2008 this was given even more importance and geared towards three objectives: “solid academic abilities, rich humanity, health and stamina”. The 2008 reform stressed the development of “both cognitive and non-cognitive competences” including developing pupils’ “learning to learn skills” plus “a capacity to learn on their own initiative at their own pace.”

      http://www.oecd.org/edu/preschoolandschool/programmeforinternationalstudentassessmentpisa/49802616.pdf (page 54)

    • Toby – point 8. My third point: TES reported the Sutton Trust as saying ‘the dominance of East Asian countries could be down to ambitious “tiger mothers” and a culture of hard work as much as schooling.’ Pearson/EIU said that while South Korea was at the top of league tables, their young people were the unhappiest among OECD countries.

      http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6317642

      This morning on Today, there was a feature about domestic abuse in China. Apparently, Chinese society is “tolerant” of abuse within families even going so far as to regard it as an act of love.

      Having high aspirations and ambition can go too far. At what point does it stop becoming focused on the child and becomes focused on parents, carers or educational institutions who wish to bask in reflected glory? At what point does pushing a child become abuse? And is Oxbridge the only fruit worth eating?

      No doubt you will misinterpret my comments as “the soft bigotry of low expectations” which exemplifies the attitude of “trendy” teachers to academic achievement. To do so would be wrong. Yes, I wanted by pupils to reach the highest standard of which they were capable. But I also wanted them to be adequately prepared for future life – as society members, lovers, parents, friends, carers, voters, life-long learners as well as employees and tax-payers.

    • Toby – point 7 re proportion of state pupils accepting by Oxbridge.

      In your article you wrote, “the percentage of state school students at Oxbridge has actually declined since the decimation of England’s grammar schools in the 60s and 70s.”

      Thank you for the link to “Oxbridge elitism”. However, it doesn’t support your argument.

      The report shows that by the early 1970s the proportion of state school pupils entering Oxford was 43% and Cambridge was 45%. By 1981, the proportion was Oxford 52% and Cambridge 50%. This proportion “fell noticeably in the mid-1980s”. This would seem to support your argument.

      But the figures have not remained at this low figure. They have risen and surpassed those of 1981. In 2011 the proportion of state school pupils accepted by Oxford rose to 56.1%. At Cambridge, the proportion in 2011 was 55.7%, down from a peak of 58% in 2008. (See chart page 9).

      Definitions about what constituted state pupils were changed in 1986/7 so it is perhaps unwise to contrast pre-1986/87 figures with those after this date.

      So, what happened between 1989 and 2011?

      Oxford. 1989: 49.9% of undergrads were from maintained schools. At the beginning of the 90s the proportion fell to a low of 45.8% (1997). Since then the proportion of state pupils accepted at Oxford began to rise. The proportion fluctuated but never fell below 51.4%%. In 2011, the number of maintained students entering Oxford rose to 56.1%.

      Cambridge: 1989: 52.2% of undergrads were from maintained schools. Like Oxford, the figures fluctuated but never fell below 50% (1994). In 2000, the figure was 52.4%, rising to a high of 58% in 2008 and falling to 55.7% in 2011.

      It appears, then, that the number of maintained school pupils entering Oxford and Cambridge in 2011 is higher than the number entering the two universities in 1989 despite fluctuations.

      Whether this increase is due to the “decimation of England’s grammar schools” or the rise in comprehensive schools is, of course, a matter of opinion. There are other factors at play such as the imposition of tuition fees and their subsequent increase, or the willingness (or otherwise) of certain Oxbridge colleges to accept state pupils.

      The report concluded: “Both universities now take more than half of their entrants from state schools, if overseas entrants are excluded. These rates are generally increasing, but the historical data shows that progress has been slow.”

      Note: “generally increasing” does not mean “actually declined”.

  9. Toby – your third point. Stephen Machin, one of the author’s of the LSE report you cite, was doing more than just warning people about making far-reaching conclusions. He was annoyed that his research had been used by the Government and others to justify the academy conversion programme. He wrote:

    “And one thing is clear: researchers, policy-makers and the media need to be clearer and think carefully about how they make practical use of research evidence.”

    http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/04/using-evidence-from-labour%e2%80%99s-sponsored-academies-to-justify-government%e2%80%99s-programme-of-converter-academies-is-%e2%80%9cstep-too-far%e2%80%9d-says-academic/

    Academics working on behalf of the OECD reviewed the current literature into the link between market forces and educational outcomes. They found the evidence was inconclusive. The academics warned:

    “Compared with government aims when market mechanisms are introduced in education and the fierce tone of the political as well as the academic debate on these issues, the effects as reported in empirical research are modest to say the least.”

    See faq above “Do market forces in education increase achievement and efficiency?”

    And the OECD has warned that while the free school/academy programme in England may increase choice, the policy should be carefully monitored if it is not to impact negatively on already disadvantaged children (Economic Survey UK 2011).

  10. Adrian Elliott says:

    Janet

    ‘Are you really suggesting that the existence of these few sponsored academies, mostly in cities, have raised results in similar non-academies situated all round the country because the latter were responding to competition? ‘

    Also worth bearing in mind, Janet, that the pupils whose results we are discussing began their GCSE courses within weeks of the 2010 election. The idea that their educational outcomes were then effected by new arrangements for other schools which weren’t even in place until they were half way through their courses is too daft to even contemplate.

    On a lighter note has anyone seen the Observer story this am about an alleged ‘dirty tricks’ department working for Gove.

    If true, it did make me wonder who exactly some of the regular contributors to this site are who post under false names,are clearly very well informed , who never miss an opportunity to attack supporters of state schools and who laud any new policies of Gove to the heavens.

    No connection I’m sure but it does make you wonder!

  11. Patrick Hadley says:

    If Toby Young wishes to be taken seriously he should not pretend that a 3.1% rise the pass rates of sponsored academies, compared with the 0.6% improvement in all schools “proves” that Gove’s reforms are working. If he thought that when he wrote his earlier Telegraph because he did not understand that he was comparing a subset of academies with all schools, then it was a lamentable mistake. If, as now seems likely, he knew that he was misleading his readers by comparing very different sets of schools, and also knew that there was nothing in the recent results to show any benefit of conversion to academy status, then he was being dishonest.

    No amount of bluster on his part can save him from the contempt of those who actually understand the evidence.

    • What gives you the impression Toby Young wishes to be taken seriously Patrick?
      He’s only ever given the impression of seeking to drive traffic through forums by posting deliberately ignorant and controversial drivel in order to boost his own bank account.
      Oh the joys of seeing the worst kind of tabloid journalistic practice evolving into cyberspace….

      “No amount of bluster on his part can save him from the contempt of those who actually understand the evidence.”
      It don’t think he gives a stuff about the contempt or the damage. Have you no insight into the money and opportunities which come his way because of the commercial benefits of drawing contempt and doing damage in this way?

      • Rebecca,
        You are correct – this is modus-operandi of the Daily Mail. It thrives on the unleashing of emotions, not on accurate, informative writing. This is still the case when most readers know that most of what they read is distorted. We switch off our intellectual capacities and switch on entertainment mode.

      • Patrick Hadley says:

        Rebecca, I think that you misjudge Toby Young (and perhaps libel him too). He is not just a hack who is motivated by his bank account. He genuinely believes the line he is peddling. His belief in this is so strong that he cannot allow any inconvenient facts to stand in his way.

        His certainty that the govian reforms are helping means that he is not able to process any data that casts doubt upon them. His brain is closed to the reception of any information that casts pre-govian-reforms maintained schools in a good light, and does not show post-govian-reforms schools in a good light. He can no more look at schools data objectively than a young earth creationist can learn from the science of evolution. You can see that in his reply above. He is clearly not deliberately lying, just incapable of seeing the truth.

        • This phenomenon is particularly prevalent in science, where challenges to established viewpoints are denounced repeatedly, even when subsequently proven to be correct. The path is denial, begrudging acceptance and eventually ‘yes, I knew you were right all along’.

        • But it’s not just this issue Patrick it’s so many other too.

          If you look at an article like this:
          http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tobyyoung/100137028/the-tes-publishes-brilliant-send-up-of-trendy-left-wing-teachers-disdainful-attitude-to-academic-achievement/
          Do you actually believe that Toby really thought that Jonny Griffiths (nationally and internationally respected maths teacher specialising in developing the very best A-level tasks for teaching) was wrong to try to help an over anxious student to relax and enjoy maths and that it is reasonable to conclude that him doing so makes him a left wing trendy teacher whose student make him miserable and who he does not encourage? Do you think the title of this article was actually intended to to portray the truth (given that not only were was the flight of derogatory fantasy in it ludicrous, Toby also knew it to be untrue as he admits in the article)? Do you honestly think that the way Toby created this article was about reporting the truth rather than about creating and driving controversy for his employers commercial gain?

          Given that Toby writes this stuff relentlessly on topic after topic after topic how ignorant would he have to be to actually believe that what he writes entirely true and his writing it is good journalism Patrick?

          Please do remember that he has been firmly told the truth about many of his ignorant articles and had he actually given a stuff about any of the people he has badly damaged he could have printed apologies or apologised directly to them as others have.

          • Rosie Fergusson says:

            Toby’s articles in the Spectator are hilarious and worth a look ; his cage rattling can always be trusted to draw out both extremes of the class war , the right in smug, reactionary “they don’t like it up ‘em” agreement and the left in justifiable apoplexy.

  12. Dwight (reply to your post 3/2/12 6.46 – no reply button). You mention “the large number of children who leave school unable to read or write or perform simple calculations to a decent level.” But what is a “decent level”?

    If you mean the number of school leavers who are functionally illiterate or innumerate (ie who don’t have enough literacy/numeracy to cope with everyday life), then the number is actually very small. See faqs* above:

    “Are 20% of school leavers illiterate?”

    “What about maths? How many school children leave school innumerate?”

    Unfortunately, the description “functionally illiterate” has been misused. For example, it’s often used to describe school leavers who haven’t achieved Grade C in English or Maths. The actual threshold for functional illiteracy is Grade G English and for functional innumeracy it is actually slightly below Grade G Maths.

    For more discussion on this misrepresentation see:

    http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/10/zombie-stats-for-literacy-given-new-life-by-guardian/ and

    http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/04/the-3-rs-%e2%80%93-reading-rioting-and-recommendations/

    *Warning: the faq figures relate to 2011. I will update the faqs to include 2012 figures and the latest data from the Government publication “Skills for Life” in due course.

  13. [...] that Young’s critique is wrong (see a deconstruction of his argument based on actual data here), that is not the primary focus of the present blog [...]

  14. Capilano says:

    I’m surprised that there is such a tremendous bias against Toby here. I wouldn’t have expected support, but it certainly demonstrates that a school system can fail year after year yet develop a massive support network for the status quo.

    I think the most obvious point which is being evaded here is that Moore’s original claim was that Gove was ‘destroying our school system’. Quite a claim, yet nobody here seems to require much in the way of evidence to support it. Which is a good thing, since Moore didn’t provide much, besides belief statements and appeals to prejudice. In contrast, Toby’s far more modest claim – that free schools can help raise standards and certainly offer parents more choice – is argued with infinite determination and enthusiasm. Rather ironic since the whole fuss started with Moore calling everyone else an ideologue.

    Having skipped the argument stage, we proceed with more important things like questioning Toby’s brain function and implying ulterior motives. After all its not like there are different views on how best to run a school system, there’s just ‘us’ who love kids and ‘them’ who are trying to destroy the country. I hope our state teachers make sure their students learn that important lesson.

    >>”On a lighter note has anyone seen the Observer story this am about an alleged ‘dirty tricks’ department working for Gove. If true, it did make me wonder who exactly some of the regular contributors to this site are who post under false names,are clearly very well informed…<>”If there is a 2015 majority Tory government, the current landscape of independent academies will make it very easy for privatisation to take place. You have said that many of your Tory colleagues see this as desirable but I think most of the population do not want to see their local schools in private profit-making hands and many would indeed see that as destroying our school system.”<>”He’s only ever given the impression of seeking to drive traffic through forums by posting deliberately ignorant and controversial drivel in order to boost his own bank account.”<<

    An amazing comment from someone who, as far as I could tell, didn't have a single critical word to say about Moore's ridiculous column (though I'm not sure anyone else here did either. After all, she's on "our side", right?). Here's something a surprisingly number of people fail to understand: while there is no profit in state education, there sure is a lot of money in it. Hundreds of thousands make a living in it, a few quite a nice living. Teachers' unions are large, powerful and well funded. Yet somehow nobody can imagine how £100bn of public spending could produce anyone with a financial interest in the status quo. I don't suppose its something state school teachers are pushing to get into the curriculum.

    • Capilano says:

      2nd attempt to get the formatting right.

      I’m surprised that there is such a tremendous bias against Toby here. I wouldn’t have expected support, but it certainly demonstrates that a school system can fail year after year yet develop a massive support network for the status quo.

      I think the most obvious point which is being evaded here is that Moore’s original claim was that Gove was ‘destroying our school system’. Quite a claim, yet nobody here seems to require much in the way of evidence to support it. Which is a good thing, since Moore didn’t provide much, besides belief statements and appeals to prejudice. In contrast, Toby’s far more modest claim – that free schools can help raise standards and certainly offer parents more choice – is argued with infinite determination and enthusiasm. Rather ironic since the whole fuss started with Moore calling everyone else an ideologue.

      Having skipped the argument stage, we proceed with more important things like questioning Gove’s brain function and implying ulterior motives. After all its not like there are different views on how best to run a school system, there’s just ‘us’ who love kids and ‘them’ who are trying to destroy the country.

      “On a lighter note has anyone seen the Observer story this am about an alleged ‘dirty tricks’ department working for Gove. If true, it did make me wonder who exactly some of the regular contributors to this site are who post under false names,are clearly very well informed…

      Oh yes dirty tricks. What sort of dirty tricks might those be? Maybe some casual innuendo? Yes let’s be alert for any of that. And apparently the most suspicious ones are those who are “very well informed”. Can’t trust them can you.

      And perhaps the weakest argument of the bunch:

      “If there is a 2015 majority Tory government, the current landscape of independent academies will make it very easy for privatisation to take place. You have said that many of your Tory colleagues see this as desirable but I think most of the population do not want to see their local schools in private profit-making hands and many would indeed see that as destroying our school system.”

      You know that if your biggest risk involves a Tory majority government in 2015 you are really stretching it. But still, what exactly is the risk, that a democratically elected government would change policy? I’m afraid there’s not much you can do about that, this being a democracy and all, but the idea that we need to kill reforms in their infancy lest they lead to even greater change later is quite troubling. Toby is right to highlight the importance of alternatives when the status quo is that rigid and afraid of change.

      Finally, this:

      “He’s only ever given the impression of seeking to drive traffic through forums by posting deliberately ignorant and controversial drivel in order to boost his own bank account.”

      An amazing comment from someone who, as far as I could tell, didn’t have a single critical word to say about Moore’s ridiculous column (though I’m not sure anyone else here did either. After all, she’s on “our side”, right?). Here’s something a surprisingly number of people fail to understand: while there is no profit in state education, there sure is a lot of money in it. Hundreds of thousands make a living in it, a few quite a nice living. Teachers’ unions are large, powerful and well funded. Yet somehow nobody can imagine how £100bn of public spending could produce anyone with a financial interest in the status quo. I don’t suppose its something state school teachers are pushing to get into the curriculum.

      • Capilano – sorry you had trouble with the formatting.

        You say no-one has supported Moore’s original claim that Gove was “destroying the school system.” See Henry Stewart’s post 3/2/12 5.46 pm.

        As you will see I have posted several comments refuting Toby Young’s claims in his “rebuttal” above. That’s not bias – it’s countering his views with evidence. I have given links to the evidence so that you and Toby can follow them up to see that (a) I’m not making up the evidence, (b) I’m citing evidence that actually says what I claim it says, and (c) it’s not just anecdotal.

        You have made a sweeping statement that “a school system can fail year after year yet develop a massive support network for the status quo”.

        1 Please supply reliable evidence that the schools system has failed (an anecdote from a blog won’t do).

        2 Criticising Young does not imply “massive support” for the “status quo”. There is much that needs changing eg less emphasis on raw exam results, less interference from the DfE, an exam system which moves towards graduation at 18 like most of the rest of the developed world, less emphasis on structures and systems…

        I could go on…

        • Capilano says:

          1. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Henry’s evidence was “here’s a bunch of things I disagree with”, as if that in itself proved the school system was being destroyed. Apparently he has spent his whole career in the school system agreeing with everything happening until now.

          What is incredible to me is that commenters here have managed to bring the world’s largest sliding scale into the forum to test Toby and Moore’s arguments. It strikes me as a bit silly how Moore’s ridiculous hearsay arguments pass without criticism (clearly waived through on ideological grounds) while Young’s studies will be argued against until the end of time.

          2. You have made many arguments which I consider well thought out and well supported. However that doesn’t make them refutations of Toby’s arguments. Unfortunately the adage that “everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts” doesn’t apply so well to the social sciences. It seems to me that everyone is entitled to their own opinions and also to their own studies. Studies and counter studies abound.

          And lets take a step back here. What many of your arguments are saying is that “there is no conclusive proof that free schools are better”. That’s true, there isn’t conclusive proof. There are positive signs here and abroad under similar systems, but the evidence isn’t overwhelming. However take a moment to consider the difference between “there isn’t yet enough evidence that it is making a positive contribution” and “it is destroying the school system”. I find it difficult to believe you argue one at length and then casually accept the other.

          Look at many of your “refutations”. The OECD “warned” that the policy should be “carefully monitored”. Not really earth shattering is it? And you point on literacy definitions (while correcting a common misconception) doesn’t explain why graduates would need remedial training. Your supposed refutation (and Henry’s) of the PISA results? Let me quote from your own source: “FullFact points out that it isn’t ‘necessarily wrong’ to compare the 2000 PISA results with those of 2009″. Neither of you come out a clear winner I’m afraid.

          3. Why not ask Henry. He’s the one who said that disadvantaged children “especially” deserve better. Labour raised spending on education from 4.5% of GDP to 6.1% of GDP, a £50bn per year increase. We can see the fiscal situation all this extra spending has put us in. Can you show me the huge leap in educational results that all this extra spending has achieved?

          4. Please. No system is ever truly static. BT was capable of change even before they ended its monopoly, but things sure changed a lot faster afterwards. Closed systems do not reform well (they are more inclined to do what you want them to do, show less focus on exam results, i.e. eliminate measurability in the pursuit of self preservation). Nobody is proposing banning state schools. But the opposite is not true. The state sector is very anxious to destroy any innovators. It seems to me that the idea that even a sliver of innovation and change external to the current system is going to “destroy our schools” reveals just how reflexively defensive and hostile the current system is.

          • Capilano says:

            oh heck now i can’t even post in the right place! 0/2

          • 1. If the infrastructure for the democratic oversight and management of schools is not being destroyed please could you explain what is now is Capilano?

            2. Which of Toby’s arguments do you feel has not been properly refuted?

            3. Can you remember what the schools sytem was like during the 1980s? Because you’re anonymous it’s hard to know what level of insight you’re starting from.

            4. Technology is a wonderful thing. We used to struggle to reform and improve our complex systems. It was good that such transformation advances (such as the www) have been made. The latest Sir High Cudlippe lecture was very good.

            The state sector is not anxious to destroy innovators. It’s just left with some horrific regulators which have not yet introduced the standards embodied in the regulators code which are designed to support innovation and health diversity.

      • Adrian Elliott says:

        ”Oh yes dirty tricks. What sort of dirty tricks might those be? Maybe some casual innuendo? Yes let’s be alert for any of that.”

        Read the original article- it’s a bit more than ‘casual innuendo’.

        And as far as this site is concerned I’m not sure I would regard comparing people you disagree with to Andreas Brevik and President Assad as ‘casual innuendo’.

        Perhaps like me and most other contributors to this site you would like to post under your real name? And get rid of the puerile skull if you wish to be taken seriously.

        • Capilano says:

          1. Thankfully, the Labour party and the unions have never, in all history, engaged in dirty tricks. So no need to be suspicious of opponents of free schools. Carry on with your innuendo.

          2. No and no.

      • “I think the most obvious point which is being evaded here is that Moore’s original claim was that Gove was ‘destroying our school system’. Quite a claim, yet nobody here seems to require much in the way of evidence to support it. ”

        We used to have a system where local authorities were responsible for both the democratic oversight and the quality of schools. This system has been deliberately collapsed by Gove and as yet there is not a sniff of anything coherent to replace it. What evidence are you looking for Capilano? Most people aren’t providing evidence because this is clearly what’s happening. Gove is very proud of it in the way that people who love putting a bomb under systems of authority because they naively believe that everything will be better if they do that are. I’m not trying to avoid giving you the evidence of this, I just don’t know which part of the picture you’re missing and need evidence for.

        “Toby’s far more modest claim – that free schools can help raise standards and certainly offer parents more choice – is argued with infinite determination and enthusiasm.”

        Individual free schools can raise standards and can offer choice in some limited circumstances. But the reasons they can raise standards are the normal reasons standards improve in schools. It’s not to do with them specifically being free schools.
        There’s no reason why free schools would raise standards and given they way the infrastructure of education is being dismantled to accommodate them it is most likely that they will lead to an overall decrease in standards.

        They also don’t generally improve choice because the best choice at secondary level is created by large schools with diverse options for students. Free schools are taking children away from these schools (which then have to shut down courses – reducing choice) and putting them into small schools where they have less choice. And a primary level they’re about creating spaces rather than choice.

        Do you understand what the barriers to professional diversity and choice are in education Capilano?

        Do you think it’s somehow noble to pursue deeply unsound ideas with “infinite determination and enthusiasm” If so why?

        “we proceed with more important things like questioning Gove’s brain function and implying ulterior motives”

        Where? I missed that.

        “Oh yes dirty tricks. What sort of dirty tricks might those be?”

        Read the article. If you want to know more of what’s been going on link to me on linkedin and ask. Or read previous discussions here. Or meet people you trust and ask them.

        “didn’t have a single critical word to say about Moore’s ridiculous column”

        I don’t think it’s right to refer to George Osborne as Gideon in print. He changed his name.

        I think she’s wrong when she says Oxbridge is the goal. Pacifying Ofsted and staying off the hit-list is the goal.

        It’s an angry article. But that is quite pertinent because it reflects the mood of a substantial proportion of parents with children of the age who are going to be mangled by the Ebacc mess. I suggest you go and meet some parents in this category to better understand where that article has come from Capilano.

        “Teachers’ unions are large, powerful and well funded.”
        It occurs to me that perhaps you are young and have no idea what powerful unions are actually like Capilano. I suggest this beginners guide to you.
        http://www.amazon.co.uk/Taming-Trade-Unions-Governments-Employment/dp/0333559029/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1359994781&sr=8-1

        “Yet somehow nobody can imagine how £100bn of public spending could produce anyone with a financial interest in the status quo.”

        Generally teachers just want to get paid enough to buy a house, run a car and raise and educate their children – having some classes and holidays along the way. Are they evil for wanting this Capilano? Are you proposing a future where they should not aspire to this?

        “I don’t suppose its something state school teachers are pushing to get into the curriculum.”

        I’ve watched all the efforts teachers have relentlessly put into improving the curriculum been ground into the dirt beneath the feet of an ignorant desire to return to 1950s rote learning.

        • Capilano says:

          1. “Change is scary. Lets change really really slowly, and only within the narrow confines existing structures”. We spent £50 billion on that approach, can you show me the results.

          2. So free schools definitely can’t work and can only produce chaos and ruin, yet now that they have them in Sweden the parents don’t want to go back to the old system. I hope some proper left wing government comes and takes away their choice, since they obviously are too dumb to choose for themselves.

          3. “Do you think it’s somehow noble to pursue deeply unsound ideas with “infinite determination and enthusiasm” If so why?”

          Yes that’s exactly what I want, because… wait. Remind me why you are worth talking to?

          3.”They also don’t generally improve choice because the best choice at secondary level is created by large schools with diverse options for students. Free schools are taking children away from these schools”

          Right so the only way to improve choice is to allow parents not to choose free schools. Got it.

          4. If you think teacher’s unions have no power in the education system you are completely delusional. We don’t even have proper performance related pay yet.

          5. “Generally teachers just want to get paid enough to buy a house, run a car and raise and educate their children – having some classes and holidays along the way. Are they evil for wanting this Capilano? Are you proposing a future where they should not aspire to this?”

          Yes, that is precisely what I am… wait. Why am I responding to this? £50 billion Rebecca. What did we get for our £50 billion? Are we not allowed to ask this question? Are we not allowed to expect something to show for it?

          • 1. Health change is relentlessly suffocated by Ofsted and high stakes assessment.

            2. I’ve never said that. For free schools to work they had to be carefully consulted and planned for with a coherent system being put in place for the future before the current one was dismantled. Because that hasn’t happened we have a seriously dangerous mess.

            3. I’m not worth anything if you quantify value in monetary terms. I don’t do that.

            4. Why do you think performance related pay in education is a good thing?

            5. Might teachers be allowed just enough to eat and to get shelter for themselves provided they are all castrated? Or should it be less than that with them being kept hungry all the time because you have a passionate and energetic believe that teacher work harder and get more C grades if they are starving?

          • ‘Health’ change? Please ignore world health.
            perhaps replace with Capilano?

  15. Capilano I think you might find this article useful.
    http://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-michael-goves-plans-are-a-disaster-for-schools-33046.html#utm_source=daily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=email
    It expresses the same frustration so many parents are feeling but without any florid language.

    Do you have any criticisms of that article? I think if Moore has cut out some of her more emotional phrases it would have been pretty much the same article wouldn’t it? I’m just trying to work out if you and Toby are actually critical of the content of these article or whether you just don’t like the kind of emotional phrases that Toby uses with abundance in his ‘articles’.

  16. colin wiles says:

    Interesting debate. I’m no expert on education but I have put two children through the state education system and have interviewed hundreds of applicants over the years as an employer. I was also briefly a school governor in London. What I see in the real world is a whole generation that has not been taught the basics of reading and writing, that has no understanding of the basic rules of grammar and that is ignorant of huge swathes of our history and culture. The “experts” in the education field who have posted comments above may lament the loss of local authority “democratic” control but you really need to see the wood for the trees. The old system was a miserable failure that condemned millions of children to poor education in ill-disciplined schools. Parents have voted with their feet and jumped at the chances offered by the new academies, or even private schooling if they can afford it. Blair and Adonis were right to tackle failing comprehensives and replace them with something new and different – the alternative was throwing good money after bad for evermore.

    • “The “experts” in the education field who have posted comments above may lament the loss of local authority “democratic” control but you really need to see the wood for the trees.”

      Which wood from which trees Colin? All I’m seeing is schools brutally forced to become academies (in places where there is no rationale or evidence base why that will lead to improvement) and prevented from using improvement strategies which it can be shown are very likely to lead to improvement.

      Why do you thing the further deprofessionalisation of education will lead to a great leap forward in grammar and maths? Do you actually believe that if children are drilled in tables before they properly understand what they mean there will be a great leap forward in maths in this country? Do you not understand what will really happen?

      When you were an employer did you enjoy it when politicians coming up with stupid ideas they’d though up overnight based on no experience whatsoever in your field? Did you think it was a great idea when they shut down the consultations process about you used to be able to take part in regarding how you industry should be run and just told you want to do despite it having no evidence base or coherent rationale?

      Did you enjoy the fact that while other sectors of society had regulators which adhered to the regulators code your regulator was an arm of government designed to serve the interests of politicians?

      Did you enjoy the fact that the politicians who dictated everything were also so close to the press that they could relentlessly persuade the public that everything which had ever not been perfect in the past in your sector of society proved that you were incapable, unprofessional and totally self interested and that the public and media friendly tabloid headline tested diktats of government were a wonderful answer which would lead to a great leap forward?

      Can I very politely put it to you Colin that you’re a bit lost in the trees?

  17. colin wiles says:

    You prove my point for me. Thanks.

    • Colin I’m a lecturer in maths education. It is a little more complicated to ensure all students are fluent and confident in maths than dictating that they can all chant their tables by the end of year 4 and forcing them to work on algorithms which are not supported my visual models.

      Effectively teaching classes of 30 children so that they all come to understand and be fluent in maths requires the teacher to move through concrete, visual and abstract stages of mathematics with an appropriate amount of time being allowed at each stage.

      None of this has been understood or taken into account by the politicians.

      If you do not yet understand these issues please do ask me questions because, unlike the people you are choosing to believe, I can explain my points in detail evidencing them both in experience and credible research.

      You are choosing to believe that I don’t care about fluency. You have no reason to believe this because it is not true and you will find reason to believe it apart from your indoctrinated prejudice which I suggest you take the time to examine and challenge.

    • Colin – she has proven the opposite. Rebecca responded to your claim about woods and trees with sound arguments. So please respect that rather than use glib one-line write-offs.

      Replacing schools with something ‘different’ is a meaningless argument unless you flesh out what the difference is.

  18. colin wiles says:

    My principal concern is reading, writing and basic grammar: I don’t see my perceptions of these failings as “indoctrinated prejudice”, but a matter of what I see in the real world. I know what it is liked to be completely immersed in your subject and to fail to understand how your world is perceived by the public at large. If people like me believe the system has failed, and see the evidence of it with our own eyes, then it is up to people like you explain that it ain’t so, in simple and understandable terms. Wrapping your case up in complex and mysterious arguments that few people understand does you no favours.

    • I will try to explain it simply Colin.

      If you want children to be able to read, write and have basic grammar they need to be explicitly taught these skills in a coherent way. You clearly understand that.

      But it is also necessary that children have a wide variety of experiences so that they come to understand the vocabulary they are expected to use. Professional, educated, english speaking parents usually give their children a very wide range of experiences so this component of education is often less important for their children than it is for others (although it’s still usually of value). However teachers are teaching classes of 30 children and this side of education for literacy becomes very important when you are working with mixed groups in a way it isn’t, necessarily, if you are working with individuals groups who are all intellectually privileged.

      So just as attention to grammar and phonics are important, so are other aspects of literacy education. It is not right that people who raise this issues are vilified and treated as being ignorant which is what has been happening.

    • and to answer your post very directly Colin,

      “I don’t see my perceptions of these failings as “indoctrinated prejudice”, but a matter of what I see in the real world.”

      You’re creating a straw man here. Your indoctrinated prejudice is against academics of education. Academics of education can clearly see the problems you see. They can also see other problems. And they can see the strength of the current system which more casual observers tend not to see. They can rapidly assess different proposals to see how they would impact on the key relevant areas of student progress.

      They also still have between them a surprising amount of knowledge regarding how to develop and implement professional development and/or a new curriculum across communities of hundreds of thousands of teachers. I say surprising because, of course, this government has shut down the relevant structures, systems and expert bodies.

      All this exists despite the relentless circus of politicians and hacks who seek to build their own profile through promoting extreme and superficially brilliant schemes. It suits those well resourced people to portray the academics as being ignorant and self-interested and to indoctrinate the public (you) to believe in this image for their own benefit.

      “I know what it is liked to be completely immersed in your subject and to fail to understand how your world is perceived by the public at large.”
      Well don’t project your own inadequacies onto people who don’t deserve your condemnation.

      “If people like me believe the system has failed, and see the evidence of it with our own eyes, then it is up to people like you explain that it ain’t so, in simple and understandable terms. Wrapping your case up in complex and mysterious arguments that few people understand does you no favours.”

      It’s part of the nature of online discussion that it often takes several tries for somebody who is explaining something to pitch it in the correct terms that another participant can properly understand. It would be much easier if you were in a room with me and I could watch your body language and absorb non-verbal cues to help me adapt my explanation to suit you. So if you want to understand you must engage in conversation with me and I will listen to your particular concerns and we can discuss them until have properly explored the issues which have aroused your concern.

      If you simply decide I’m an idiot and don’t bother to try then you will walk away having learnt nothing but that is nothing to do with me. It’s your choice and an indication of your character.

  19. colin wiles says:

    You are not an idiot but I do think you are something of a patronising geek, if you don’t mind me saying so. Hope that helps.

    Perhaps you can answer this question. Did standards of literacy improve between 1970 and 2000, yes or no? By standards of literacy I mean the ability of school leavers to read well and write well-constructed paragraphs free from grammatical and spelling mistakes. If yes, who is responsible, if no, who is to blame? I have to say your earlier comment about learning tables by rote surprised me. I wish I had been drilled in my tables – being able to know instantly that six eights are forty eight is a very useful skill, isn’t it? You don’t necessarily need to know what it means at the time – its usefulness becomes apparent later in life. However, I did spend hours parsing sentences and although it was not particularly enjoyable, it was useful. By contrast, my children were never taught the basics of grammar – the meanings of nouns and adjectives etc and that is despite attending good comprehensives in Cambridge. I dread to think what the standard of teaching in some inner London comps is like. Your analysis does seem to be rather class based, as if the teaching system has to make up for failings at home (all those terrible professional, educated parents having the temerity to pay attention to their children’s education), which I also think is rather patronising, although I do think that children from the poorest areas deserve the best possible education, which is why it is so encouraging to see places like the Mossbourne Academy overturning years of failure and sending poor kids to Oxbridge. I used to live in Hackney so I know how bad Hackney Downs was. Let’s have more of them, I say, and level up, not down.

    I confess I knew nothing of the Local Schools Network until I read about the spat between Toby Young and Suzanne Moore, but looking at the comments pages here I am afraid you do seem to be a small group of people talking to each other and defending a failed system, resistant to any change. Sorry to intrude upon your private conversation.

    • “Did standards of literacy improve between 1970 and 2000, yes or no? By standards of literacy I mean the ability of school leavers to read well and write well-constructed paragraphs free from grammatical and spelling mistakes.”

      The answer you demand will reveal nothing so I’ll give you a simple and very reasonable answer. It’s hard to give a precise, evidenced answer because definitions of what literacy is vary.

      As it being the capacity to understand language I suspect most students were more able by 2000 than they were in 1970.

      As it being the capacity to use language in different contexts to achieve objectives I suspect again that standards generally improved.

      As it being the capacity to use grammar correctly I would expect to find that for the top 50% (this is a very rough guess) standards fell while for the bottom big chunk standards rose.

      “If yes, who is responsible, if no, who is to blame?”

      For the yeses to points one and two the responsibility generally lies to with the improved capacities of teachers (you could look more deeply at this if you like).

      To understand the improvement in the english language skills of the lower attainers you need to look at improved inclusion, the work done to eliminate sink schools and so on.

      The blame for the decline in standards you are concerned about lies with the policy and cultural climate which determined that more attention be paid to other student capacities than to grammar. Now, of course, we have internet technology we didn’t have during the period you have chosen to it is much easier to achieve all the literacy objectives together. It would be even more easy if we had coherent policy and modest central investment to support teachers in realising what is now possible.

      “I have to say your earlier comment about learning tables by rote surprised me. I wish I had been drilled in my tables – being able to know instantly that six eights are forty eight is a very useful skill, isn’t it? ”

      Absolutely it is. But if drilled rather than taught with understanding at a young age it tends to set up substantial problems for many of the learners in a class (although some will fly). It is much better to plan for there to be a period when student understand how to do multiplication but they have to use their brains to puzzle out 6×8 before you move to abstract fluency and leads to full classes of students being fluent and confident in their mathematics and prevents some of the class learning their tables without understanding. Expecting fluency in year 4 is okay for some students and for some schools but it is the wrong strategy for many schools which are dealing with multiple complex issues. They should be allowed to aim for fluency by the end of year 5 or year 6 provided there is ability at a younger age.

      “You don’t necessarily need to know what it means at the time – its usefulness becomes apparent later in life.”

      That may be true for some students but for many to learn facts without understanding is very damaging to their ongoing maths education.

      “However, I did spend hours parsing sentences and although it was not particularly enjoyable, it was useful. By contrast, my children were never taught the basics of grammar – the meanings of nouns and adjectives etc and that is despite attending good comprehensives in Cambridge. ”

      I’ve never parsed a sentence and to be honest Colin I haven’t suffered at all because of that. However I think students should study grammar and that we should work to improve our teaching of grammar and that this can be achieved without compromising current standards in other areas of literacy provided we use emerging technology well.

      “Your analysis does seem to be rather class based, as if the teaching system has to make up for failings at home (all those terrible professional, educated parents having the temerity to pay attention to their children’s education), which I also think is rather patronising.”

      As we chat you’ll see my view really based around the reality of teaching classes of 30 students who all have natural propensities to learn different things in different ways Colin. Teaching is a very different art to tutoring. When I’m tutoring I can work very precisely with the child in front of me, drawing them on from what they know into what they can next understand. With a class of 30 when you explain something you often lose many students because they are coming from different ‘places’ to each other. By using sound teaching strategies where you take the time to engage students with a relevant context and appropriate structures to help them think and see concepts you can bring them all with you but it’s not trivial and yes, it’s much harder if some of those students haven’t had the experience you’d give your own children as the kind of post-graduate educated professionals teachers are and you have to work out how to get past that.

      “which is why it is so encouraging to see places like the Mossbourne Academy overturning years of failure and sending poor kids to Oxbridge”

      Mossbourne isn’t sending poor kids to Oxbridge Colin. It’s got an elite 6th form rowing academy which selects the students with the best GCSE results (who are also good rowers) from across London and then sends them to Oxbridge.

      It’s hard to have every school being the one which poaches the best teachers and students because it has the best resources. Do you see why that is? I am in favour of there being excellent schools with good discipline in deprived areas, I’m just trying to make you aware that ‘rolling out Mossbournes’ is not a trivial thing to do.

      “I confess I knew nothing of the Local Schools Network until I read about the spat between Toby Young and Suzanne Moore, but looking at the comments pages here I am afraid you do seem to be a small group of people talking to each other and defending a failed system, resistant to any change. Sorry to intrude upon your private conversation.”

      There’s a lot more to the LSN than that you and you are very welcome here. If you’d some high quality discussion about education I would suggest you also try some of the discussion groups on linkedin.com. They are generally of a high standard because people are who they say they are and you can see their context from their profiles.

    • Finbar Murphy says:

      Well said! You have correctly identified the fundamental purpose of the LSN.

    • Rosie Fergusson says:

      ouch !!! Colin-that last bit hit us stright between the eyes – it’s a fair cop ( except the bit about the failed system).!”

    • http://www.mossbourne.hackney.sch.uk/assets/pages/6th_form/elite_rowing.php

      “Final offers will be made based on your academic results and the level of commitment you have shown over the summer.”

      • It looks to me like the journalist simply didn’t bother to research what was going on and published what was in the press release.

        It’s a good thing to bring in bright and motivated students to work alongside students who are likely to have lower aspirations. The students from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit from this not only through having their horizons broadened but also because their teachers are stretched and challenged and become better because they have high attaining students.

        But it makes me want to vomit when this situation is used a club to beat up schools and teachers who are not achieving the same results with their students with because its just such an inappropriate thing to do.

  20. colin wiles says:

    So The Guardian report is untrue? No poor pupils from Mossbourne going to Oxbridge?

    “Ten sixth-formers at a city academy in one of the poorest parts of Britain have been offered places at Cambridge University.

    The pupils attend Mossbourne academy in Hackney, east London, which replaced a school described by the Tories in the 1990s as the “worst school in Britain”. Hackney Downs was closed in 1995 and reopened in 2004 as Mossbourne, which has been praised by both Labour and the Conservatives.

    The pupils are among the first year at Mossbourne to take A-levels. They include Michael Ha, 17, the son of a Chinese immigrant labourer and a seamstress, who has won a conditional offer to study medicine. Shedeh Javadzadeh, 17, who described her parents as working class, will also be heading to Cambridge to study medicine if she achieves an A* and two A grades in her A-levels.

    Sharukh Malik, 17, whose father is a minicab driver, has an offer to study economics, and Liam Downes, 18, is aiming for a place at Pembroke college to study German and Latin.

    • Were any of them actually Mossbourne students or had they all come into Mossbourne for the 6th from having achieved top GCSE results at other schools?

      The article (/press release) could be completely true and they could all have been students who are poached from other schools in this way. The fact that it doesn’t specifically say that any of these children were proper Mossbourne students would lead me to suspect that none of them were.

      Mossbourne has a reputation for extreme cramming at GCSE which makes it hard for its own students to progress well at A-level. Brining in the best students from across London might help to overcome that but we can’t tell from the article.

      • Oh it wasn’t a press release – it was Sir Michael being honest and open about the reasons for success at Mossbourne (which seem to including having at least twice the money of other schools among many other things) as usual….

  21. colin wiles says:

    I suggest you look at these newsletters. “Where are they now” includes several students at Oxbridge who have all completed 7 years at Mossbourne. Unless of course you think the school is lying? Sounds like a great school to me. Those mentioned in the Guardian article having Cambridge offers all sound like they have come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Why shouldn’t their peers aspire to do the same?
    http://www.mossbourne.hackney.sch.uk/assets/pages/news/newsletter.php

    • :-) which month colin?

      • Because the only newsletter which has been published since the students who that article refers to got their results doesn’t indicate that a single proper Mossbourne student went to Oxbridge.

        What did you read?

        However that newsletter does make it sound the the high academic standards in the sixth form set by those students poached from other schools is encouraging far more students from other schools to apply to come to Mossbourne’s sixth form.

  22. colin wiles says:

    ? Read the July 2012 newsletter. Three students at Cambridge who all attended Mossbourne for 7 years. I’m not talking about the Guardian article. I’m responding to your assertion that Mossbourne “isn’t sending poor kids to Oxbridge”. It clearly is.

  23. Hmmm – I’ve managed to find Megan Golman-Roberts who can clearly afford foreign holidays. What makes you think she’s poor?

    I can also now find reference to three others. But again – no indication that they’re poor or disadvantaged. What makes you think they are? Don’t you know Mossbourne’s attracted some highly educated and ambitious families? I’m not knocking it for that, I’m just interested to see your evidence that it’s the poor and disadvantage students it takes in that it’s sending to Oxbridge.

    • It sounds like I’m anti-Mossbourne Colin. I’m not. I’m just anti things being misrepresented about Mossbourne.

      I also think it’s a great shame that the school improvement strategies which lead to outstanding results without hugely disproportionate funding, exceptional buildings and resources, extreme cramming and poaching the best students get so little airtime in comparison with Mossbourne.

      Since you’re clearly interested in how schools in very challenging areas are positively transformed can I suggest you watch the video from the link here:
      http://www.thersa.org/events/audio-and-past-events/2012/is-education-the-answer-to-social-mobility
      The second speaker Jo Shuter (who is head at Quintin Kynaston school) is well worth watching.

  24. colin wiles says:

    Oh for heavens’ sake. Read the blinking article and the newsletter. Why are you so ******* narrow minded and prejudiced? Isn’t it a GOOD THING that people from one of the most deprived boroughs in Britain are going to Oxbridge. Shedeh Javadzadeh is listed in the newsletter and is mentioned in the article. Perhaps you will admit you were wrong to state that no poor children from Mossbourne were going to Oxbridge. As below:

    “The pupils are among the first year at Mossbourne to take A-levels. They include Michael Ha, 17, the son of a Chinese immigrant labourer and a seamstress, who has won a conditional offer to study medicine. Shedeh Javadzadeh, 17, who described her parents as working class, will also be heading to Cambridge to study medicine if she achieves an A* and two A grades in her A-levels.

    Sharukh Malik, 17, whose father is a minicab driver, has an offer to study economics, and Liam Downes, 18, is aiming for a place at Pembroke college to study German and Latin.

    • Gosh, that seems rather an extreme reaction to my comment?

      I now realise I misread the date on the article. Probably to do with trying to answer in real time to help you with kids screaming and blocked sinuses.

      I’m genuinely delighted.

      I’ve spent many years working extensively on Oxbridge access with children from all sorts of backgrounds Colin. That’s why I’m interested in probing the truth behind the bovine excrement and twizzle spin.

      • I’ve puzzled out how I muddled the dates.

        Because the guardian article was written in 2011 I was processing the dates thinking that the article was about students who got Oxbridge offers in 2011 and so would only have been part of the Mossbourne alumni after August 2012. But it’s about students who got offers in 2010. I’ll try to make sure I read the full dates in future!

  25. Colin

    I live about a mile from Mossbourne and know it fairly well. I think it has achieved remarkable things for its students, and I do celebrate the fact that those Hackney students went to Cambridge (though they aren’t the only ones to do so). Its intake is actually better than it likes to indicate (being at about the national average) but its value added is undoubtedly among the very best in England.

    If every academy (or even a significant number of them) were doing as well as Mossbourne for their students, then it would indicate there was something about being an academy that made a huge difference. But that isn’t the case. Let’s learn from schools like Mossbourne. But its not about the status of the school. Its about leadership, high expectations, high quality teaching, great use of data and other factors.

    One of the dangers in focusing school improvement principally on converting schools to academies is that its focusing on something that appears to make little difference while not putting those resources into areas (like a massive programme of teacher development) that do make a difference.

  26. Rosie Fergusson says:

    The new format of the Department of Educations Performance Tables are a joy for the data analyst allowing multiple downloads and comparisons of all schools in an area and beyond.

    Mossbourne delivers an impressive result for low attainers of 50% GCSE passes compared to the 7.1 % nationally which should be celebrated .

    However Mossbourne has a pupil/teacher ratio of 12.8 and pupil/support staff ratio of 37 compared to national average of 15.6 and 46 respectively i.e significantly more support staff for low attainer support.

    Alas the academies listed do not yet have financial info for 2011-12 which won’t be available until summer 2013, so we can’t see the Mossbourne wages/pupil ratio to confirm that paying enough staff well is the key to children’s success. Still perhaps Mr Gove , who presumably will be privy to this data, will get the message soon.

  27. Rosie Fergusson says:

    Bit puzzled as to why , with the 2010-2011 financial data available for Mossbourne as to why Mr Gove isn’t immediately raising the London -medium FSM rate of £6872/pupil to Mossbournes income of £9843/pupil ?( must be because he’s just shelved his key accountant Mr Gibb)

  28. [...] was left to Henry Stewart, posting on the Local Schools Network blog to put a more  balanced, evidence-based position forward. Stewart proved yet again that you can [...]

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