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Bellicose Gove incites Mail readers to join battle against “Enemies of Promise”

“I refuse to surrender to the Marxist teachers hell bent on destroying schools” thundered Michael Gove in the Mail on Sunday.

Gove uses provocative language in his confrontational article to smear those he describes as “Enemies of Promise”. He raises the spectre of Reds under the Beds to attack the 100 academics who savaged the proposed National Curriculum. He described them as “a set of politically motivated individuals who have been actively trying to prevent millions of our poorest children getting the education they need.”

He says the education system “should give all children the tools they need – mastery of English, fluency in arithmetic, the ability to reason scientifically, a knowledge of these islands and their history – to take their place as confident, modern citizens.”

Yes, pupils should be skilled in the use of English. No-one has suggested they should not be. But Maths is more than “fluency in arithmetic”. Being able to do sums doesn’t necessarily demonstrate mathematical understanding. And, yes, pupils should be proficient in using the Scientific Method. But why should history be confined to “these islands”? The history of Britain can’t be disentangled from world history.

Gove quotes “surveys” to support his argument that many children leave school without these accomplishments. He says businesses complain about school leavers’ lack of literacy and numeracy. What he didn’t say was the CBI found that employers’ dissatisfaction with these skills was lower in 2012 than in 2011. Most businesses were satisfied (65% with literacy skills, 70% with numeracy). Neither did he say that the greatest concern, cited by 61% of businesses, was school leavers’ lack of self-management – a skill which is not developed by spoon-feeding for exams.

“Survey after survey*,” he wrote, “has revealed disturbing historical ignorance, with one teenager in five believing Winston Churchill was a fictional character…” This makes a change from the oft-cited claim that children think Churchill is a nodding dog (Oh, yeesss!) which has been doing the rounds for years.

He goes on: “Expectations in science have been so dumbed down that children could be asked if grilled fish is healthier than battered sausages in their GCSEs.” Channel 4 FactCheck looked at this statement when Gove made it in 2009. It found Gove’s claim was based on a genuine GCSE science question but the actual question wasn’t as simple as Gove suggested. FactCheck added that picking on this and similar questions didn’t necessarily say much about the full range of standards being examined because there were examples of harder questions on the same paper.

Fired with his own rhetoric, Gove mounts a virulent attack on the 100 academics who savaged the proposed National Curriculum. They are the real “Enemies of Promise”, “guilty men and women who have deprived a generation of the knowledge they need”, he wrote. They are members of the “Blob”**.

According to Gove, “Enemies of Promise” oppose performance-related pay “because they resent the recognition of excellence.” No, Mr Gove, they oppose performance-related pay*** because, according to the OECD, “making it work well and sustainably is a formidable challenge”. Andreas Schleicher (OECD) has admitted that there wasn’t any clear evidence that introducing performance-related pay into schools had any benefit. This view was endorsed by the Sutton Trust which wrote “the evidence of impact on student learning does not support” performance-related pay.

And “Enemies of Promise”, he says, “hate academy schools because heads in those schools put the needs of children ahead of the demands of shop stewards.” But those who oppose academisation are not inspired by hatred of certain schools but by a variety of reasons including:

1 By making schools “independent” it makes it easier for schools to be run for profit.

2 Academies give undesirable freedoms such as being able to employ unqualified people as teachers or to ignore school food standards.

3 Academies risk fragmenting the education system with academies acting in their own best interest (see faq above about the Academies Commission 2013).

4 Academy chains can impose uniformity by prescribing particular resources or teaching methods.

5 Academy chains can exert more control over their schools than local authorities have done for more than 25 years (see faq above about the Academies Commission 2013).

6 Academies can impose unacceptable conditions of service.

Gove ends his article with a call to arms:

“The fight against the Enemies Of Promise is a fight for our children’s future. It’s a fight against ideology, ignorance and poverty of aspiration, a struggle to make opportunity more equal for all our children. It’s a battle in which you have to take sides.”

But it’s Michael Gove, with his fiery rhetoric, his divisive tactics, his misrepresentation of evidence, his contempt for the professionalism of teachers and his ignorance about the way children learn who is the real Enemy of Promise.


*Gove didn’t reveal details of these surveys so I’ve put in a Freedom of Information request to the DfE. When I receive a reply I’ll post them here.

**The “Blob” has been variously described as a mix of trades unions, the Educational Establishment, “local authority advisers or quangocrats”.

***ATL voted unanimously to reject performance-related pay at its Conference this weekThe


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Comments, replies and queries

  1. Roger Titcombe says:

    So what can we expect by way of response from Stephen Twigg and David Laws?
    Don’t hold your breath.

    • What would you say in response to this if you were them Roger?

      • Roger Titcombe says:

        Rebbeca – If I was Stephen Twigg I would be presenting to Jon Cruddas and Ed Miliband the argument that Blair was fundamentally mistaken in his belief in Thatcherism that caused him to create the foundations for the destruction of the education and health services that are coming to fruition through Cameron’s government.

        I would argue that privatisation of public services always lowers standards, replaces professionals with operatives, polarises pay driving the operatives down towards the minimum wage and longer hours, while managers cloak themselves in a corporate camouflage that enables their pay and perks to escalate towards the extremes typified by bankers and company directors, while the services they are in charge of follow the metaphoric example of the ‘The Herald of Free Enterprise’ and sail with their bow doors open to cut costs so they can become ever more competitive.

        I would point out how the privatised operations always always ends up costing the taxpayer and the public vastly more, giving examples like British Rail, the energy Industry, staffing prisons and providing security for Olympic games, translation services for courts, job centres and benefits management, Academy and Free schools, customer/provider splits, outsourcing in local authorities, PFI, fatcat, inneffective regulators that proliferate in direct proportion to their uselessness etc.etc.etc.

        Finally I would draw attention to the catrastrophic consequences of employing cheaper, deprofessionalised staff that results in ferries sinking, trains crashing, babies dying in maternity wards, old folks lying in shit drinking from flower vases and private clinics cutting open women’s breasts and stuffing them with explosive low grade rubber implants.

        On persuading Jon and Ed of these things I would suggest that they have to start reversing the damage that has been done and kick the parasitic merchants out of the temples of our public institutions.

        Having achieved all this it would be a matter of taking education out of politics in one of the ways proposed on this website, thinking deeply about the purpose of education and getting the brightest and most experienced educational minds to design the minimum national framework needed to support the national education system, having due regard to what works best in the rest of the world.

        As for David Laws I would tell him to join the Conservative Party taking as many of his Orange Book Lib Dem friends with him as possible.

        You did ask.

        • I did, because I’m genuinely interested.

          I think there is an alternatively position which allows privatisation in some cases provided we have full consultations regarding its aims and to define the mechanisms of implementation by which those aims will be achieved combined with very high quality regulation. I’m not convinced there are any such cases in state education (except perhaps with backroom services) but I am open to having a debate about it.

          So you’re labour and I’m a libdem. And neither of use are remotely Tory.

          • Roger Titcombe says:

            It comes down to wants and needs. Capitalism is good for the former, socialism for the latter. I accept that wants slowly morph into needs as standards of living rise (however there has to be a limit to sustainable economic growth), but then new wants get created in the process. I just believe that public bodies that don’t pretend to be private companies should be capable of providing the the best possible public services at the lowest possible cost. If a private company can do better then there must be something wrong with the way the public body is managed because the private company has the extra costs of profits. I do accept that there is a half way house between wants and needs and here the solution is mutualism, co-operatives and employee shairholder operations like John Lewis.

            The government braggs about new jobs created in the private sector and new entrepreurs starting up companies. But what do these new companies do? Do they pay their workers enough to keep them off benefits? How many are inventing radical versions of vacuum cleaners and how many are thinking up ever cleverer scams like premium phone, car parking, betting and payday loan swindles?

            Wherever public services are privatised and the entire funding source remains the tax payer the business plan is always the same. The only way a profit can be extracted is by paying the workers less. The only way this can be done is by deprofessionalising them and replacing them with less educated, less experienced, less well trained, and crucially, – cheaper alternatives. The only way this can be done is by giving the new staff less and less responsibility and autonomy by imposing ever tighter protocols on the way they work. Railway engineers are replaced with general contruction workers leading to spectacular and stupid train crashes (failing to tighten the bolts properly on points etc). Nurses and midwives are recruited from lower ability bands while their work is taken over by low paid ‘care assistants’. When Cumbria CC outsourced many of its departments from administrative services to property maintenance, the best professional staff left to be replaced by operatives on lower pay, while the pay of the bosses of the privatised companies that took over skyrocketed in parallel with the vast profits to be made from the taxpayer. That’s how it always works. Outsourcing contracts have not been renewed.

            Instead of privatising public services the government should be supporting the quality private industries we have through a proper industrial strategy like that which German industry has enjoyed for decades. This applies to the creative industries as well.

            When it comes to education the key need is to produce school leavers that are cleverer and wiser, because jobs for the less bright and more foolish will continue to rapidly diminish. That is why a market driven education system is so disastrous. It has perverse outcomes that make our kids dimmer through degraded teaching methods needed to cram for silly, arbitrary and invalid targets and market performance indicators. We have been here before. The 1862 ‘Payment by Results’ education reforms were a disaster and were abandoned for exactly those reasons.

            In many ways the model of how to run excellent, highly cost effective public services can be found in Scotland, the NHS and the school system particularly. It also appears to be highly popular with Scottish voters.

            However this is an important thread about our education system and this discussion is to some extent a distraction. What is important is the building of an effective strategy than can stop Gove’s destructive policies now. That is the urgent priority.

          • Rebecca – did you catch Radio 4’s The Bottom Line this week? It was about the Education Business. Even Davies interviewed three men involved in for-profit supply of education. Two were in higher education but the third was James Tooley who said he had come out of India because of its regulatory regime. He is on record as saying that the state should have no role in education and there should be minimal regulation.

            The programme is available for a year to Listen Again.


          • Thanks for the tip Janet.

            I think the ways of improving the provision of education are different where you don’t have universal provision.

  2. Michael Gove has taken time to identify for us the Enemies of Promise, those he identifies as “the guilty men and women who have deprived a generation of the knowledge they need.”

    He has this, and much more to say against them and their evil deeds:

    “The fight against the Enemies Of Promise is a fight for our children’s future. It’s a fight against ideology, ignorance and poverty of aspiration, a struggle to make opportunity more equal for all our children.

    It’s a battle in which you have to take sides. Now that Labour seem to be siding with the militants, it’s even more important that we support the great teachers and heads fighting for higher standards for the sake of our children.”

    As if to reinforce the truth of his creed, Michael Gove invokes the opinion of someone who might ordinarily have been seen as an arch rival.

    “Previous school reformers have been stymied by these Enemies Of Promise before. Just last week Tony Blair was lamenting the fact teaching unions ‘have stood out against necessary educational change’ and arguing for the policies this Government is pursuing.”

    So there we have it, miraculously, the very finest of the Left and Right united, for a moment. ‘The Enemies of Promise’ finally identify as the 100 academics who “put their name to a letter in The Independent this week.” supported, naturally, by the generation of educational professionals they spawned.

    The battle-lines in this epic struggle are clearly identified for us. On the one hand is the enlightened voice of political reason, seeking only to serve the interests of “millions of talented young people being denied the opportunity to succeed as they deserve.” On the other, the “new Enemies Of Promise, a set of politically motivated individuals who have been actively trying to prevent millions of our poorest children getting the education they need.”

    Hey! What’s to choose here?

    Unless you should be unclear, as the Secretary of State for Education tells his readers, “It is a battle in which you have to take sides.” Notice the lamentable language of confrontation, ‘battle’, ‘sides’, ‘militants’, ‘siding’, ‘fighting’. How well this fits his natural habitat; that place where national policy is brutally hammered out in open warfare across the dispatch boxes.

    Make no mistake, Mr Gove and others of both Left and Right, this ‘me-right-you-wrong’ approach to reform in education is the real ‘enemy’. It is not a question of whose ‘side’ you come down on in crudely argued columns. We need a more nuanced approach, seeking to balance the question, how are we to secure opportunity for all our young people through collaboration at local and national level?

    The road to long-term reform of our education service is much longer than any of our political leaders can endure. It is a journey we have yet to embark upon. It cannot be seen as a battle. In fact, the whole enterprise would be helped by humility and generosity on the part of our leaders. To tackle the substantive issues of why and how education is to be reformed for the sake of our children’s futures, we need politicians to step aside, as argued at

    One of the 100 signatories to the letter in The Independent was Emeritus Professor of Education Michael Bassey, undeniably left wing but with a wealth of experience and ideas. Judge for yourself here:

    This is what he has to say about a different approach to schools improvement:

    “Politicians should recognise that good schools and academies grow from the inside, from the combined efforts of pupils, teachers, heads, governors, and local community – and not from government edicts. Those schools that are struggling in difficult and impoverished environments will do better if they can seek the support of their local communities, bringing them on-side, rather than suffer the harassment of Ofsted inspections and government threats.”

    If this is interpreted as the work of ‘The Blob’, then just call me Mr Blobby.

  3. Janet, I agree with your summary about why the Academies Programme is rejected by so many people. I read the Michael Gove article and felt my temperature soar. It was like reading an extract from a sequel to ‘1984’, penned by Orwell himself. I found the language of conflict especially distasteful when so much is at stake in the drive to provide an education service fit for all in an uncertain future. Respectfully, however, I have a problem with your final analysis:

    “But it’s Michael Gove, with his fiery rhetoric, his divisive tactics, his misrepresentation of evidence, his contempt for the professionalism of teachers and his ignorance about the way children learn who is the real Enemy of Promise.”

    As much as I endorse what you wrote, I believe it misses something vital. It does not encapsulate the nub of an enduring problem. The current Secretary of State for Education is just the face of the ‘real Enemy of Promise’. It is the very system of education governance that deserves our immediate attention.

    To tackle the substantive issues relating to why and how our education system has to be reformed for the sake of our children’s futures, we have to go further than challenging Mr Gove. It is time for politicians to step aside, as argued at in order to enable us to take a longer-term view of education reform of practice and provision.

    • John – I agree that education has grievously suffered from political meddling for years ever since the imposition of the National Curriculum. The latter has grown into a monstrous top-down, prescriptive weight. Even Andreas Schleicher (OECD), much-admired by Gove, has said that the English education system, despite giving enormous freedom to all schools to use their resources as they wish (see faq above about autonomy, suffers from being based on “industrial work organisation, very prescriptive, mechanical, top-down.”

      Will Gove now put Schleicher among the “Enemies of Promise”?

      Of course, Gove and his supporters will argue that schools can be freed from National Curriculum prescriptions (described by Gove before the last election as a “bear hug”) if they become academies. But if freedom from the NC is so desirable, then give it to all schools. This would cost nothing and would save time and money on useless NC reviews and consultations.

      But academies, despite the rhetoric of freedom, won’t really be free from the NC. We don’t know how schools will be “accountable” (Ofsted are already required to police the use of synethetic phonics). And schools minister Truss has made it clear what she believes is a “good” curriculum – off-the-shelf lists put together by an untrained, Civitas director who is principal-designate of Pimlico Academy primary free school. The lists are an anglicised and up-dated version of stuff advocated by Hirsch in the early 90s. (Schleicher quote)

    • John – the way the Government are promoting the draft programmes of study was the subject of a previous thread in which Squealer explains them to the animals:

      “Do not imagine that Napoleon has drafted these Programmes of Study because he does not trust you. It is because he has given you freedom to opt out of a centralised curriculum that he felt he must publish guidance so you might better decide which routes to take…”

      • John Mountford says:

        How apt, sadly! So many works of fiction might be employed, as you have done to great effect, in exposing the absurdity of so much that is peddled as fact or reason. Thanks for this.

    • Tarquin Hapsburg says:

      Surely the establishment of a National Education Commission would be just another ‘monstrous top-down, prescriptive weight’ ?

      • Tarquin, I question your proposal about a Nationl Education Commission becoming a ‘monstrous top-down, prescriptive weight’. Take time to read what I have written and you may appreciate that the ‘National’ component is included so that, for the first time in the history of public education in our country, we deliberately seek to identify a vision of education for the future and from this we arrive at the aims necessary to adapt that vision at a local level. The ‘Commission’ would comprise membership from across society and include professionals, parents, politicians and others with clear terms of reference and would be accountable to Parliament.

        I understand your concerns about the potential for this proposal to create a monster, however, I believe we have the collective wisdom and a determination that such a development would not take place. But, more importantly, I am concerned that the longer we delay taking the steps to change the system in favour of our young peoples future, the greater the waste of resources, human and material, we will suffer.

        • Roger Titcombe says:

          John – I can see where you are coming from and I support the idea of a National Education Commission, independent of government to set out long term principles and vision. However where do you stand on the management, ownership and control of schools? And what about marketisation and competition?

          I think it is important to abolish the pseudo-business model of schools competing in a market. Heads need to be primarily educators and motivators of staff and students. Schools need internal decision making structures that recognise and encourage professionalism of teachers. Student School Councils are important and rarely discussed on this forum. What about governors?

          Common admission arrangements are important with mechanisms to ensure balanced intakes. Perhaps most important of all a new system must be cost effective. I think the best solution to these challenges is a return to Local Education Authorities (LEAs) but ideally relatively small and modelled on single tier local government. I think Hackney is a good model for urban areas. Large county councils like Cumbria need to to be split into urban and rural single tier authorities.

          The example of Hackney shows how effective an LA education service can be on the model of The Learning Trust but not privatised. The new LEAs would not only manage uniform admission arrangements, but would encourage curriculum innovation and co-operation between schools and facilitate staff development through 1970s style local Teachers Centres.

          A further major function would be the central provision of administrative services so making huge savings in reversing the duplication caused by Local Management of Schools, and the freeing of school management to concentrate on their core fuction of facilitating the most effective possible teaching and learning. My personal view is that the principle of school staffing through the old points system should be restored so that schools are free to appoint teachers at any point on the national pay scales.

          I think local democratic control is an important principle that should be exploited to raise the participation rate in local elections and access to councillors and the structures of local democracy.

          What relationship would you propose between the National Education Commission, the new LEAs and schools?

          Or have I misunderstood what you are proposing? What I am sure of is that the current structures based on schools competing in an artificially imposed market has to go. This is the first major principle that Labour has to recognise. It is so far showing no sign of so doing.

          • What criteria would you use to define a ‘balanced intake’. What mechanisms would be put in place to ensure this?

          • Roger, I find your comments and questions very helpful in considering further the precise issues that would need resolution in the future model of education governance envisioned in Ordinary Voices. Thank you for this. I will consider each of your observations in due course.

            Having arrived in my first headship just one year before the National Curriculum and LMS got underway, I felt cheated. Up to that point, throughout my career, I had dreamed of the time when I would take on the leadership of a group of professionals with the responsibility of working with them to create what would have amounted to a learning school. Sadly, I never saw that dream realised. Each year brought fresh initiatives to the point of overload. Since those early days of what has become the ‘brave new world’ of education, I have watched things move at a pace and in a direction I find is failing to address the future needs of our young people.

            I believe that the viability of our global future depends on our capacity to generate local solutions to our problems. Education will play an increasingly important part in bringing this about. I also believe that there is a place for a suitably revised version of the old LEAs. One function of which would be to support and monitor groups of local schools working collaboratively. This would empower LEAs to work with the National Education Commission to ensure all pupils have open access to a quality education.

            Naturally Roger, through this forum, I cannot go deeply into the mechanics of how I would see the new system of accountability working. I would be happy to do so via the link available at

        • Tarquin Hapsburg says:

          I very much agree with your aim of removing politics from the direction of educational reform.

          However, simply removing one interest group, the elected government of the day, from the equation will not solve the problem.

          The various education sector unions are another powerful interest group with political motives.

          I would be interested in your prescription for dealing with them.

          • “I would be interested in your prescription for dealing with them.”


            Beyond that and the tail end reforms the most important think is to have able and credible people who can command personal respect in charge.

          • Roger Titcombe says:

            Tarquin – I fear we are not going to agree about this. Politics can never be removed from education, it is a deeply political matter. Everyone has a right to their political views about education or anything else. This obviously includes the teaching unions.

            The issue is not political views but political POWER and political CONTROL by the governing political party. The 1944 Education Act was constructed so as prevent such government interference and control. The memory of Hitler and Stalin was too vivid. I strongly support employee representation through Trade Unions in all industries. Teachers have a right to join a union to defend their pay and conditions of service just like all other employees. Teachers have professional views about education, being especially well placed to develop them, which they are also entitled to express through their Trade Unions. As for Trade Unions being political, of course they are. Union leaders are elected by their members to represent them. Most teachers in the past have voted Labour or Lib Dem, not Conservative. In future it is more likely to be Labour, not Lib Dem or Conservative. But Trade Unions are not the government and have no political power. Sensible governments listen to the views of teachers expressed through their Trade Unions but are not obliged to accept the advice offered. Michael Gove chooses to provoke, insult and publicly ignore them. That is foolish. In the more successful economies of Europe, Trade Unions have a positive role in most large private sector companies. Germany is a good example.

            So to answer your question, they cannot be ‘dealt with’ but should be engaged with. By far the best Secretary of State for Education since Shirley Williams was Estelle Morris. She remained a member of the NUT.

          • Your raise some interesting points, Tarquin. The thrust of the changes I am seeking, is to see education distanced from the wielding of raw political power. I have set out the general principles for doing so in Ordinary Voices. I accept that governments will always play a role in education. I also accept that the unions ‘are another powerful interest group with political motives’. Strangely, I never looked to either of the two teaching unions I was a member of throughout thirty years of membership for advice about teaching. They were there, it seemed to most teachers I knew, to secure appropriate terms and conditions of employment, to collectively bargain over pay awards or to offer legal support. It is quite possible that things have changed in the last thirteen years since my retirement. However, having kept abreast of developments and trends in education, I see no evidence to suggest this is so, especially when they are faced with having to fight their corner over pay and conditions (as at present).

            I believe that the unions will have a role to play in the new system I envisage. It will, however, be to collaborate with others in defining our vision of education for the new century (never attempted before) and setting the overall aims for the curriculum. There is a safeguard I envisage for ensuring that the governance of education works in favour of successive generations. It arises out of the plan for schools in future to collaborate with others in working to adapt national education policy to local circumstances. I have been as brief as I can here, but understand that the devil, as in any reforms will be in the detail.

          • Tarquin Hapsburg says:

            ‘But Trade Unions are not the government and have no political power.’

            May I draw your attention to Table 4 of:


            Those who do not support the Labour Party, 60-70% of the population or more, will never accept that the funding of the Labour Party by trade unions gives the unions no political power.

            So, Roger, you are correct. We will not agree.

            John, you will have to explain how you intend dealing with the lobbying influence of the unions if your National Education Commission idea is to ever take wing.

            Rebecca, I’m not sure where you are going to find your able and credible people to take charge. Whether it is Trade Unions or Political parties, most sensible individuals will run for the hills.

            Democracy, the least worst system of government!

          • Tarquin Hapsburg says:


            ‘……I never looked to either of the two teaching unions I was a member of throughout thirty years of membership for advice about teaching. They were there, it seemed to most teachers I knew, to secure appropriate terms and conditions of employment, to collectively bargain over pay awards or to offer legal support.’

            A 2 minute google throws up this:

            ‘Mr Kenny, who is part of the NUT’s executive said: “If we are going to defeat him (Mr Gove) on education, we have not only to expose the horrors of his new curriculum, but to develop, and win support for, an alternative curriculum, which as the motion suggests, should have social justice and equality at its heart.’


            How will your National Education Commission deal with powerful lobbying from the major financial backers of what will either be the government of the day or Her Majesty’s loyal opposition?

          • “Rebecca, I’m not sure where you are going to find your able and credible people to take charge. Whether it is Trade Unions or Political parties, most sensible individuals will run for the hills.”

            Since 2011 believe that mass online discussion is re-enlightening society and that we have every reasons to be optimistic about the future. It’s just taking us a bit of time to get going because it takes time for individuals and organisations to learn from what is now possible.

            “How will your National Education Commission deal with powerful lobbying from the major financial backers of what will either be the government of the day or Her Majesty’s loyal opposition?”

            How about ‘with open, transparent and inclusive systems of consultation which are fit for purpose?’

          • How do ‘open, transparent and inclusive systems of consultation’ deal with raw political power, red in tooth and claw?

          • As fascinating as your comments are, Tarquin, I think you may be overlooking the most salient issue of all. The present set-up has failed for decades to address the needs of our changing society. The education system has to be reformed if it is to make its unique contribution to addressing the challenges we face. Our failure to steer clear of a dangerous ideology may well lead to the situation where the desire to generate profit out of education will win the day while we go sleep-walking into a future few would want.

            Like Rebecca, I believe we have to be optimistic. This is uncharted territory, and that’s for sure. It will be some time in the making and all the answers are not ready and waiting to be seized upon. But, be assured we have to change the rules in favour of a more locally accountable system that looks eventually to build a more hopeful global future. If we just look at the obstacles, we will drift relentlessly towards possible oblivion. In my view, it does not get any more important than that.

          • Tarquin Hapsburg says:


            Thanks for your response.

            I entirely agree with your idea to change accountability within the state education sector.

            Individual schools, with a board of governors and a strong Head, teamed with other proximate local schools for community relations and for the economic provision of common services is pretty much all you need.

            The elephants in the room are, of course, the teaching unions who fight against reform of education, from whichever party, here and elsewhere, since the localisation reforms of the moment erode their membership and influence.

            That is why any strategy for reform must include detail on how to deal with the Union filibuster if it is not to be doomed, like all the others, to abject failure.

  4. If you want to hear bellicosity, follow the teachers’ union conferences, particularly the NUT, which is heavily infiltrated by the far left at its higher levels. As a teacher, I find their childish, rude and aggressive behaviour embarrassing. I wish they would just shut up, and that’s why I have resigned as a union member, as even the relatively moderate ATL was becoming too much to bear.

  5. Roger Titcombe says:

    FJM (no button) – In urban areas common banded admission policies based on uniform CATs testing in Y6 as happens in Hackney.

    • Does that mean the end of any sort of parental choice and church schools? Would there be some sort of bussing of children around to achieve this uniformity? Would all schools be basically the same or would different styles of education be permitted to suit different types of child?

  6. Roger Titcombe says:

    John (no button) – I totally agree. I entered headship in 1989 so we have a lot in common.

  7. John – re LEAs (no reply button). My LEA was good at encouraging schools to collaborate. I always found most LEA Advisors to be helpful eg arranging courses and giving advice (obviously).

    I note that Gove lumped LEA advisors in the “Blob”. He really doesn’t like anyone who might challenge what he says, does he? Instead of engaging properly with the argument he just smears his opponents with sound-bite accusations (“Enemies Of Promise”, “backward bigots…” and so on.)

    The OECD, the Academies Commission and others stress the importance of schools collaborating. That was the key to the success of the London Challenge. However, I’ve noticed a trend for schools to market their improvement strategies. In other words, their co-operation is available but only at a price.

    Another feature of the London Challenge was that schools were encouraged to see themselves as part of a whole area-wide strategy. But the Academies Commision (see faq above) heard evidence from people who feared the fragmentation of the education system with academies working for their own benefit only. Offering advice for a set fee (over and above expenses such as travelling) works against system-wide collaboration.

  8. Roger Titcombe says:

    FJM – No to both. In Hackney the main RC school is part of the process. Parental preference is part of the process. It can only ever be preference not choice, as it is now. Genuine unfettered choice would require hopelessly uneconomic over-supply of places. Proximity would still be the driver of admissions policy. All pupils take CATs in Y6 (cheap – no cramming possible or necessary – no curriculum time wasted). The results produce normal (bell curve) distributions. These are converted to standard scores on the IQ scale of mean = 100, SD = 15. In an LA area where the mean is 100 (national norm), a quartile banding system would have banding boundaries of Band A – 110+, Band B 100-109, Band C 90-99, Band D less than 90.

    A school with an intake number of 200 would have 50 places in each band. The bands are filled according to the school’s admissions policy where proximity is the main driver. The LA offers places to qualifying pupils according to the parental preference forms. That’s it. There is no social engineering or quotas of any kind. Contrary to popular belief, especially on the left, data show that it is the CAT score that counts in predicting exam outputs REGARDLESS OF SOCIAL CLASS, ETHICITY ETC.

    Hackney does not operate fully fair banding for two reasons.

    1. The government encourages parents to judge schools on league table data. This has no statistical validity whatever, but it distorts admissions to the higher bands in favour of the most popular schools.

    2. Individual schools, rather than the LA are allowed to set their band boundaries. Mossbourne Academy sets theirs at the national quartile points even though the mean Hackney CAT score is 97 not 100. This gives Mossbourne a permanent advantage over the other schools, but this only works if Mossbourne is popular enough to fill its upper bands from parental prefences. In a league table system the irrational circularity of this is apparent.

    The downside is that if a school is located in a low mean CAT score postcode then the lower bands become oversubscribed so that a large proportion of local children cannot get into their local school, as is the case for Mossbourne. However in an urban area other schools are not far enough away for this to be a big problem.

    For truly fair banding Hackney LA would apply the same band boundaries to all schools which would be adjusted to give equal quartiles based on the Hackney mean of 97. Mossbourne would still be an excellent school but its top end results would decline slightly. Even in the present banding system ALL the Hackney schools get a decent amount of pupils in all four bands for all the schools to run a quality broad and balanced curriculum for all pupils, making it very difficult for any school to become a sink devoid of higher ability pupils. While not perfect it is the best possible system within the marketised structure. It works in Hackney because the schools that don’t have to, including the many Academies, voluntarily participate. The LA schools are actually now in a minority. None of this is a criticism of Mossbourne as it tries very hard to co-operate with the LA and to co-operate with other schools. It is indeed a model comprehensive in a model LA run system. Of course the system would be even better without league tables.

  9. One reason the healthcare systems are better in most other European countries such as France and Germany is that they are more redundant: that is they have more spare capacity. Because funding moves through social insurance funds and is connected to the choice patients have this is why people are prepared more in to these funds.

    We could have a similar situation here with schools. Lets remember that every time an LA tells someone where to go to school this is a democratic failure.

    Fair enough there are problems with league tables and assessments for making valid judgements, but the major teaching unions seem to say we want no tables, no assessments, no curriculum (with anything in it), oh but we still want the money and we ARE accountable. They need to come up with something showing more understanding and counter propose something with obvious value, something measurable that allows tracking improvement and a culture to back that.

    This is what Gove is doing because the profession and LAs between them are incapable of that.

    It is particularly inappropriate for unions to tell the general population where they will be schooled. They have no role at all in that.

    • Roger Titcombe says:

      Ben – ‘One reason the healthcare systems are better in most other European countries such as France and Germany is that they are more redundant: that is they have more spare capacity.’

      This is a leading statement. They are not better – but much too complex to argue here. It is not just the unions that want to abolish school league tables. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have opted out and have intention of going there. As far as I know England is the only country in the world that does it. Of course there should be assessments and of course curriculums are needed. They weren’t invented with the National Curriculum, which we managed to do without from the end of WWII to 1990. What are you talking about regarding money? The unions are funded by their members. The school system is funded by the taxpayer. Do you want it privatised and paid for by fees? The unions don’t ‘tell’ the public anything about school admissions, but they are entitled to express views about fair admissions practices that don’t disadvantage particular schools and their pupils, and yes, their teachers. Obviously unions are not involved in drawing up school admissions policies. I have never heard them propose any such thing.

      I once toured the Mercedes Benz factory in Stuttgard. What an eye opener that was. The unions were closely involved in helping the company succeed in all sorts of ways that appeared to be welcomed by the management. Why wouldn’t teaching unions in England want their pupils, their schools and the education system to succeed as well? You and I are never going to agree but I am not saying that your views or those of Michael Gove shouldn’t be articulated. But they have to be measured against the lessons of history, evidence, contrary arguments and best international practice.

      • the German unions are probably more reasonable than British ones, such as the NUT, which has many Socialist Worker party extremists amongst its executive. Let us be honest and admit that the turnout in elections of union officials is very low. I recently realised that I was wasting a lot of money on union subs and resigned, also because I found the antics at the Easter conferences juvenile and embarrassing. My union could not be bothered to respond to my resignation letter. Too much union influence could lead to what is called ‘producer capture’ of education.

      • The German unions are probably more reasonable than British ones, such as the NUT, which has many Socialist Worker Party extremists amongst its executive. Let us be honest and admit that the turnout in elections of union officials is very low. I recently realised that I was wasting a lot of money on union subs and resigned, also because I found the antics at the Easter conferences juvenile and embarrassing. My union could not be bothered to respond to my resignation letter. Too much union influence could lead to what is called ‘producer capture’ of education.

        • Roger Titcombe says:

          Ah, the producer-provider split; that essential pillar of privatisation and the true cause of the escalating costs and growing number of poor care scandals in the English NHS. Note ‘English’. There are no purchase-provider splits in the Scottish NHS and no care scandals.

  10. Roger – reply to your comment above re teacher unions (no reply button). The Academies Commission noted that teacher unions were in a good position to encourage the kind of reflexive practice it thinks is essential for “develop better pedagogy” (see first link for further info).

    Last year, ex-skills (and now ex-energy) minister, John Hayes, enjoyed a fish supper with the NUT during the Tory Party Conference. Hayes, an honorary member of the ATL, praised the trade union movement as a “progressive force for good and social justice”.

    Also last year, Hayes was part of the UK delegation with representatives from NUT and NASUWT at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession.. The UK delegation promised to “seek to promote policies and conditions for teachers to be actively trusted and respected.” (See link to TES article)

    It’s encouraging that not all politicians, even right wing ones, rubbish the unions. And Hayes opposed Gove’s views about untrained teachers. When he was skills minister he rejected recommendations for FE teachers to be unqualified (fourth link). Perhaps that’s why he was reshuffled… and shuffled again.

    • Your last paragraph says it all, Janet. This is the precise reason we cannot wait on the sidelines for enough fair-minded, dare I say enlightened politicians, to admit that the present system of power shuffling does not now, and never will, provide the basis on which to organise a nations education service which has to be able to evolve instead of revolve.

      • John. In order to depoliticise the education process, as far as that is possible if we say any human activity is political, why don’t we think about structures which will do that?

        Seeing as the current distribution of national spending tends to tax the top part of society, break even over the large range from wealthy to poor and then subsidise the poor (in other words redistribute from rich to poor) why don’t we just carry on with that, assuming this is a consensus, and cut out the middlemen?

        Let everyone pay for their education with commensurate taxation – the rich would continue to pay, the middle ground get their tax back, the poor get the same as the middle plus some more…of course there are details to work out.

        The principles are let the people decide and try and make it fair … OFSTED, LAs whatever can at least mostly reduce in function.

        Or we can stick with the status quo of the big man at the top, then various goon squads (=political parties, unions, LAs, OFSTED) with the plebs n kids at the bottom of the heap

  11. Leonard James says:

    What forms of tax? All tax or income tax only?

    • All taxes, benefits, use of public services such as health and education. The top decile make a net contribution, the remaining 90% are net beneficiaries. Obviously some people in the 90% are net payers as well, such as healthy reasonably well paid single people.
      As for income tax, the top 1% of income tax payers pay about 25-30% of all income tax.

      • Roger Titcombe says:

        FJM – Of course the top decile make a net contribution. Given the staggering level of escalation of pay at the top this is nowhere near enough.

        In 1964, at the age of 17, I attended my first public political event. It was a rally led by Harold Wilson campaigning for the General Election at Birmingham Rag Market before a huge crowd (no tickets or visible security of any kind). Wilson addressed the equality issue directly by invoking an image of a horse-drawn coach stuck in mud. “Who amongst the passengers should be the first to get down into the mud and push?” he asked. The answer of course was, “the strongest not the holders of the cheapest tickets”. This might seem trite and simplistic to the twenty-first century adult, but it had a profound effect on this idealistic teenager. Last year was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Those holding the cheapest tickets of this White Star Line ship were exceptionally poorly represented amongst the survivors.

        The current economic crisis and its imposition of austerity, contrasted with the continuing gross rewards of the ultra-rich, have brought equality and meritocracy firmly back onto the political agenda. These concepts have been researched, aired and debated by Will Hutton, Observer columnist and Chair of the Big Innovation Centre at ‘The Work Foundation’, who is now Principal of Hertford College, Oxford. While accepting the need for rewards linked to talent and hard work (meritocracy), in his 2011 book, ‘Them and Us: Changing Britain – Why we need a Fair Society’, Hutton calls for limits on the multiplier between the lowest and highest paid in every employing organisation, even when very high rewards can be justified by the profits earned for the company (as in the case of financial commodity traders) or the alleged need to compete for the best skilled managers and executives in a global market. Progressive taxation is a necessary part of the equalising process.

        I believe that both Harold Wilson and Will Hutton are right, but grossly unequal societies stoke up problems for the ultra rich as well as the ultra poor. The former have to live in gated communities and pay security guards to protect themselves from an increasingly feral mob. Society becomes very unpleasant indeed.

        Leonard also raises an important point. Rich and poor pay the same rate of tax for all their purchases.

        But this debate is going nowhere. We all know that all modern democracies are divided on these issues. I am a socialist. You are not going to agree with me and I am not going to agree with you. The NHS is a purely Marxist concept, ‘to each according to ability, from each according to ability to pay taxes’. The public education system is founded on similar principles. Both the principles and the institutions command overwhelming popular support.

        Can we get back to the nitty gritty of the best way to run the education service?

        • Roger Titcombe says:

          Sorry, it should obviously be ‘to each according to need’

          • I am familiar with Marxism. Who decides the need and who decides the ability? The state? The vanguard of the proletariat? The party? You?

  12. Roger Titcombe says:

    FJM – Don’t be silly. The statement in question is the well known Marxist precept. I have just interpreted ‘ability’ as ability to pay taxes, which is appropriate to the NHS. The precept corresponds closely with the NHS Constitution. The NHS in England is also funded through prescription charges – not so in Scotland. There is nothing especially radical, and certainly not revolutionary about it. It is the founding ideology of the British Welfare State. Recent polls have shown that the principle (if not the implementation) commands as much massive popular support now as it did in 1945, although many may be surprised that it is a Marxist principle. As far as I am aware, all political parties in the UK are still bound by the principle, with regard to the NHS at least. The present government certainly say they are.

    I will add that in my view the NHS scandals highlighted in the Francis Report as down to ‘cultural problems’ is simply a recognition that the ‘pretend to be a private corportation’ culture required by NHS Foundation Trust status is bound to be in permanent tension with the NHS Constitution and the Marxist precept on which it is based.

    The educational analogy is the 1988 Education Act setting up competition and leagues tables, and the subsequent logical extension of creating independent Academy and Free schools. In my view the current problems with the education system are also, as in the NHS, essentially cultural in nature. What Janet reports about Academies ‘charging’ LA schools for help and advice is the clearest possible example of such a culture clash. Apart from that it’s a joke. Academies stole a march on LA schools through their use of the ‘vocational equivalent scam’, but all schools are in on it now. Other powerful advice would be on how to use the power to fix admissions policies to the disadvantage of competing schools, and the power to introduce ability based banded admission systems. LA schools don’t have the powers to respond to any such advice. As for other advice, eg how to motivate and get the best out of teachers, then the advice needs to flow in the opposite direction.

    Incidentally the Marxist precept with regard to universal free state education has spread to most of the developed world, and is practised in the ‘purest’ forms in the most successful education systems. The English system declines in proportion to the degree of commercial contamination of the precept.

    Oh dear, you have managed to sidetrack me again. I must try harder to resist.

    • I am not silly, and, unlike you do not support an evil, murderous ideology, which has caused more deaths than Nazism. I recommend you read ‘The Road to Serfdom’, but I don’t really want to engage in discussion with you any more than I would an apologist for Hitler or a holocaust denier.

      • Roger Titcombe says:

        FJM – You are now being even sillier. Who said I was a Marxist? I am not. I am a committed democrat. I was just pointing out the fact that the British Welfare State, supported in principle by all post-war Prime Ministers from Atlee to Cameron taking in Churchill, Heath and Thatcher on the way, is based on a Marxist precept. I am surprised that you didn’t realise this. Your education must have lacked sufficient factual content.

        • Roger Titcombe says:

          FJM – You really should study Marx. Although he was gravely mistaken about communism he was a real expert on capitalism, as a great many eminent present day economists acknowledge.

  13. Sorry, wrong blog. Thought I was on a site concerned with the future of education!!

  14. Roger Titcombe says:

    Tarquin (no button) – I do not intend to get drawn into another political argument, but where is your evidence that national pay scales and conditions of service lower educational standards? If you look at the most effective education systems you will find that the reverse is the case. Such structures provide a supportive framework that lets professionals concentrate on the job, while attracting top graduates into the profession. Why would you want local pay and conditions arrangements?

    • Tarquin Hapsburg says:

      I don’t recall saying anything remotely resembling that, but, since you ask:

      ‘Unionization on the supply side, and public ownership on the demand side, of the teacher labour market means that teacher wages are frequently set to be
      flat across heterogenous local labour markets.

      This paper exploits the flat pay structure of teacher wages and the use of national exams at entry into and exit from secondary (middle/high) schooling in England to examine the eff ect of such wage setting practices on pupil value added.

      We find that pay regulation reduces school performance.’

      • Brian says:

        I’ll be honest and say that I’ve only skimmed the paper but I did come across this:

        ‘In England, secondary schools are classified into a number of types, the most common being Community Schools. These schools are not permitted to select pupils and Local Authorities have complete autonomy over their curriculum and teacher wages’ and ‘Teacher wages are set by Local Education Authorities (LEAs) ‘

        Unless I’ve misread it (I’ll hold my hands up and apologise if I have) this causes me to wonder about the degree of understanding they have of the system, both in respect of the curriculum and teacher pay scales.

      • Roger Titcombe says:

        Well Tarquin, this is a cracker. Thanks for the reference. I urge all those that have actually taught in schools and held headships in schools to download it and study it.

        Words fail me, but at least we now know what the neo-liberal revolution in education is about, and the flavour of Gove & Cos favourite bedtime reading.

        The model is clearly based on the notion that teacher performance, and hence the quality of learning of pupils is all to do with positive or negative ‘shocks’ to teacher pay with respect to prevailing labour market costs.

        Well I’m blown. I’ve been wasting my time this last 35 years thinking it was to do with how children learn. Poor sad old Piaget and Vygotski who have wasted their lives as well, when it’s all down to managing wage levels and labour markets.

        This is real ‘teachers as rats in cages’ stuff – a behaviourist nightmare straight from 1984.

        Fortunately it’s rubbish. Thanks for sharing it with us Tarquin.

        • Tarquin Hapsburg says:

          Always delighted to help. I’m sure your detailed critique (‘it’s rubbish’ seems a bit thin) will be gratefully received by the author, Carol Propper, Professor of Economics of Public Policy and Co-Director, Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion at LSE, also by the Economic and Social Research Council Chairman, Allan Gillespie and Chief Executive, Professor Paul Boyle, who funded the paper and by Helen Simpson,
          Hélène Turon and Frank Windmeijer who, along with other participants at the University of Bristol, commented on previous drafts.

          • Roger Titcombe says:

            Tarquin – Yes ‘rubbish’ is an innappropriate description, which I must withdraw. However the work does seem to share a lot of the sort of misunderstandings found in the October 2010 Bristol paper by Burgess, Wilson and Worth that sought to link an alleged decline in the performance of Welsh children, compared to English, with the abandonment of league tables.

            Warwick Mansell produced a thoughful analysis that can be found here.


            The paper you quote draws its conclusions from a ‘thought experiment’ based on a theoretical model. Thought experiments can have great power. You only have to reflect on Einstein’s conclusions that arose from thinking of the implications of ‘sitting on a ray of light’. Warwick Mansell’ s criticisms mostly lie in the area of the assumptions (and some mistakes) made in the analysis.

            I am respectfully suggesting that this may also be the case here, but I would be interested in what other educationalists think about it.

            CMPO does seem to engage in a lot of seeking evidence and justications to support it’s neo-liberal economic ideology. You can therefore expect those that don’t share that ideology to be sceptical about the conclusions. The relationship between financial incentives and professional performance is highly complex. This paper is important because it supports the notion that standards can be raised by having locally flexible pay for education and health professionals that is related to the pay rates in the local labour market. Here in Barrow-in-Furness, where a high proportion of the workforce is on the minimum wage, benefits or (as often the case), both, then our local General Hospital (much in the news) should be improved by cutting the pay of its doctors and nurses. However, the contrary argument might point to the difficulty of recruiting much needed high quality staff. Similar arguments apply to our local schools.

            It just seems to me obvious that national pay rates support recruitment of professionals to towns like Barrow, and it is towns like Barrow, in contrast to London, where your formula would advocate much higher pay levels for local professionals, that are in need of most improvement.

            There is an obvious clash of ideologies here.

  15. Roger and Tarquin – this is what Andreas Schleicher (OECD) said about performance-related pay:

    “We’ve not been able to identify any relationship [between performance-related pay and educational improvement],” Schleicher states. “It’s an attractive idea, but very, very difficult to do well. You want to reward good performance but also to retain the collaborative culture. You want to get teachers to work with each other, for each other.”

    And this is what the Sutton Trust said:

    “Performance pay has been tried on a number of occasions, however the evidence of impact on student learning does not support the approach… Performance pay may lead to a narrower focus on test performance and restrict other aspects of learning.”

  16. Tarquin Hapsburg says:

    Thanks but I make and have made no comments regarding performance related pay.

    If asked, my position would be one of incredulity that something taken as read throughout the private sector could be described as ‘very, very difficult to do well’

    I have also made no comments regarding national pay scales, providing evidence in a simple spirit of helpfulness.

    My point, in reply to the idea of a commentator above, was a simple one:

    ‘How will your National Education Commission deal with powerful lobbying from the major financial backers (Trade Unions) of what will either be the government of the day or Her Majesty’s loyal opposition?”

    • Tarquin – the link you provided contained references to performance-related pay so it’s quite likely that there will be comments about this subject. Or were you unaware of what the linked paper actually said?

      The “something taken as read throughout the private sector” does not always result in higher standards. Think of the call centre staff who rush through customer complaints in order to reach targets. Or the botched “repair” that had to be done in a set time.

      Children aren’t uniform widgets. That’s why Andreas Schleicher, the Deputy Director for Education and Skills, and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD’s Secretary-General, said that performance-related pay in teaching is “very, very difficult to do well.”

  17. Tarquin Hapsburg says:

    I provided the link, in a spirit of helpfulness, in answer to a request for evidence on national pay scales to support another comment that I didn’t make.

    My original point, in reply to the idea of a commentator above, was a simple one:
    ‘How will your National Education Commission deal with powerful lobbying from the major financial backers (Trade Unions) of what will either be the government of the day or Her Majesty’s loyal opposition?”

    Performance related pay is a tried and tested way of rewarding excellence.

    It is not much different in concept to the idea of paying different rates for more senior positions.

    Headteachers should be allowed to reward excellence and are, of course, well able to distinguish the different levels of challenge encountered by teachers among different classes of all the uniformed little widgets (not).

  18. Roger Titcombe says:

    Tarquin – No one is saying all teachers should be paid the same regardless of experience, talents and commitment. A (much better) alternative to what you propose is the creation of job structures with clearly defined duties and responsibilities, each attracting a salary level and responsibility allowance on the national pay scales. Every member of staff has a clear and explicit job description and this is made public knowledge together with the corresponding rate of pay. From time to time posts become vacant and/or new posts are created. All such posts are advertised inside the school and often outside as well and a competitive application process takes place with clear and published selection criteria. Excellence is thus rewarded with promotion and higher pay. Very able classroom teachers can choose to seek promotion or not. If they do then this provides opportunity to share their expertise and ideas more widely while accepting responsibility for their efforts and outcomes. This is acceptable performance related pay. What is disastrous in a school is to relate each individual’s (secret) pay to some subjective judgement of a manager regarding performance. The secrecy results in the destruction of teamworking, which is essential in effective schools. There are no external performance criteria that be validly related to class exam results because in a real live school the relative contributions of different teachers cannot be determined with any validity and even if you could it would still destroy teamwork because of suspicions of favouritism, persecutions and unfairness.

    On a related matter, automatic pay progression for the first few years of service as a qualified teacher is also a very good system because every new teacher has so much to learn regardless of academic qualifications. The profession accepts relatively low starting salaries. This does not prevent ambitious teachers being promoted and receiving extra allowances during their progression through the automatic starting levels of the pay scales.

    This principle applies right up to headship. The idea of appointing an unqualified teacher, 27 years-old with no school experience as a principle to lead a team of teachers, most of whom are massively experienced is laughable.

    • Tarquin Hapsburg says:

      Essentially what you propose is a bureaucratic version of performance related pay.

      Far better to delegate power to the headmaster.

      There are many examples of the young and inexperienced providing excellent leadership in all walks of life.

      By the age of thirty, Alexander had created one of the largest empires of the ancient world.

      • Leonard James says:

        It sounds pretty similar to what we have now, is way more equitable for the reasons Roger has outlined and is surely far less bureaucratic than having thousands of schools generate their own pay structures and progression policies.

        Also if there are many examples of the young and inexperienced providing excellent leadership it seems rather odd that you’ve dredged up somebody who has been dead for over 2000 years. A modern day example perhaps?

        • Roger Titcombe says:

          Tarquin – I know this is no longer typical, more’s the pity, but how can you provide leadership to teachers unless you can do it yourself? I am a strong advocate of appointing heads from the ranks of teachers that command respect from other teachers and their pupils. Many of the modern ‘Executive Principals’ wouldn’t have a clue and wouldn’t dare take the risk. How many Academy Principals teach a class when OfSTED are in? When I first started teaching after a brief spell in industry I thought I knew it all. Not for long! There is no substitute for experience and it is the older, wise practitioners appear to effortlessly command the respect of pupils that form the spine of successful schools.

          • A good argument, since what some of us debating against LSN are arguing is that teachers and schools must earn their leadership of communities as you argue teacher heads must be do to become heads.

            Where is the counter to this? Since it’s ok for teachers to organise it’s also ok for parents to do so likewise. Consent.

          • Oh I’ll happily take this one having seen it many times.

            The counter to a head having earned their position by becoming able to command the respect of the teachers and students around them is a head having earned their position despite not becoming able to earn the respect of the staff and community around them.

            This happens when the head has the absolute gift of the gab with parents and inspectors and tells them precisely what they want to hear regardless of the truth or of the implications for students.

            The collected ‘evidence’ about all the staff and use it selectively to get rid of any who might be a threat to them, while creating the impression that they are ‘getting rid of dead wood and improving the school’. The replace the governors so they’ve got them in their pocked. Having demonstrated to staff how effectively they can and will dispatch them if they raise any question or complaint they change the culture of the school from being a vibrant community which debates what’s in the interests of students to one which does what it’s told in the interest of the head.

            The head uses their ability to manipulate parents and Ofsted to retain their power base until they are able to move on to something better. Nobody complains because there is no system for complaint. No-one is believed and the complainant is rapidly removed. There is no framework by which Osted can be challenged.

            Standards at the school decline but nobody seems to notice because of the gift of the gab of the head, him being surrounded by trained disciples and the head’s ability to hit narrow targets by forcing everyone to focus on one narrow objective no matter what the cost.

          • Tarquin Hapsburg says:

            Teaching skills and leadership skills are different.

            A headmaster must have both to some degree.

            It is a matter of opinion which is the more important.

            I believe leadership skills are more important.

            I do not see why someone who is an outstanding leader should not be an excellent headmaster, despite having only a few years teaching experience.

        • Tarquin Hapsburg says:

          There are loads of incredibly effective, hugely successful, disgustingly wealthy, modern young leaders listed here:

          ‘National pay agreements should offer guidance on minimum pay, limiting
          automatic progression to four increments. After that, schools and networks should develop their own pay structures based on the situation in their local market. Coupled with our proposal for a per-pupil national funding formula (see Chapter 4), this should enable schools to create whatever performance incentives
          they believe necessary. Providers running a number of schools will be
          in an especially good position to develop models of pay that can be rolled out across their network.’

        • Tarquin Hapsburg says:

          This pretty much sums up my position:

          ‘National pay agreements should offer guidance on minimum pay, limiting
          automatic progression to four increments.

          After that, schools and networks should develop their own pay structures based on the situation in their local market.

          Coupled with our proposal for a per-pupil national funding formula (see Chapter 4), this
          should enable schools to create whatever performance incentives they believe necessary.

          Providers running a number of schools will be in an especially good position to
          develop models of pay that can be rolled out across their network.’

          If you google ’30 under 30′ you will find lists of disgustingly successful youngsters who are leaders.

          I would provide the link but my comment goes straight to a moderator if more than one link.

          • Leonard James says:

            One of your complaints about national pay scales was bureaucracy – please can you explain how the creation of a system that retains features of what we have now and introduces multiple layers of pay policy will address this concern?

            Also there is an obvious question about providers many of whom are prospecting in different areas of the country – in this case how will they be able to roll out a model of pay to all schools and react to their local markets?

          • Tarquin Hapsburg says:

            The idea of the policy exchange paper I reference above was that:

            ‘Given that schools have different requirements, it makes sense for each school to have far more control over salary.

            National pay agreements should provide guidance to schools on minimum starting
            levels of pay, rather than restricting school flexibility to pay whatever necessary to
            improve performance and retain the best teachers.

            Indeed, in all likelihood, they are probably much better placed to make such decisions.’

            A National pay agreement with only four increments, the rest delegated to headmasters, sounds eminently sensible, simple and straightforward to me.

            Providers covering different areas will, no doubt, have a system common to all areas, with area based formulas for increases/decreases based on industry sector average rates of pay for the area compared to the national average.

            This is not complicated. Large companies all over the country have been doing this, routinely, for many years.

          • Roger Titcombe says:

            Tarquin – One of the main problems that critics of the public service culture have is their ignorance of it.

            A good headteacher is much more like the conductor of an orchestra than the macho ‘boss’ character played by Alan Sugar in ‘The Apprentice’. It is not possible to ‘command’ the musicians to play the right notes at the right time with the right degree of emphasis. Similary it is not possible to conduct an orchestra successfully unless the conductor has a deep understanding of music at a theoretical and performance level (for music read education). Nor is it possible without respecting the professionalism of the musicians. Nor would performance related pay be much help – a secret bonus for one favoured violinist? The relevance of teamwork, mutual support and covering the slips of others is obvious.

            Outsiders from the private sector are often suprised by the culture of applying for a job in another LA school. First you tell the head and ask for a reference and, if you have any sense, advice. The recipient head will wait until the closing date then meet with her senior team to draw up a longlist. At that stage references will be sought (before, not after the inteviews). Shortlisted candidates will then be invited for interview, usually all on the same day or over more than one day for senior posts. The interview panel will include a number of governors and hopefully a trusted LA officer. The selection process may involve a number of stages but usually the successful candidate will be informed on the same day. On being invited for interview the applying teacher will be granted time off to attend on full pay – no need to pull a sickie.

            At least this is how it used to be when I was a head from 1989 to 2003. I hear stories that it is not the same in Academies and Free Schools. Perhaps the pseudo-market and the claptrap surrounding ‘corporate’ this, and ‘executive’ that and the other, is having its pernicious influence more widely.

            Our local Academy has a ‘Head of Transformation’! I would love to have sat in on the interviews.

            National pay frameworks and standards (the purple book) are necessary to support good practice and absolute probity. I can’t see how any of this stands in the way of quality curriculum and excellent teaching and learning, indeed the reverse is the case.

            Everything about good practice in the public sector is about honesty, openness, transparency, proper procedures and avoidance of corruption or even the faintest wiff of it. When corruption does occur in the public sector then the private sector is almost always involved.

            Regarding headship, you learn the job by serving under one, as a member of the senior management team. You learn from bad practice as well as good. This means that you have to be a Deputy or Assistant Head/Principal first. These jobs don’t come easily nor should they because they are extremely tough involving the management of difficult pupils and possibly problem staff. It is usually necessary to have successfully served as a Department or Pastoral Head first. This also involves leading a team of professionals as well as liaising with outside bodies like Social Services and Exam Boards.

            So the idea of appointing a 29 year old unqualified person to a headship, who has never taught successfully in any school is an absolute and total joke. The same would apply to a time-travelling Alexander the Great. The recent TV series in which Jamie Oliver assembled a group of highly qualified academics and others at the top of their profession, to teach a small group of troubled teenagers was both revealing and utterly predictable by any experienced teacher.

            It really is time that the teaching profession drew some respect and understanding from the government and the academics in government funded operations like CMPO.

          • Tarquin Hapsburg says:

            A lot of us are critics because we come from a public service culture, in my case going back into the mid nineteenth century.

            Most of us know what is supposed to happen in a public service organisation, because it tends to be written ‘process’.

            What actually happens is often very different:

            ‘My introduction to Headship in a London borough was less than auspicious. Four
            years into a deputy headship and twenty minutes into a French lesson with a class of
            12 year olds the Head interrupted the lesson and offered to cover my class so that the borough’s chief inspector could discuss with me something I would no doubt find of interest.

            Surprise turned to amazement when it transpired that the chief inspector wanted me to consider stepping in as Head teacher in one of the borough’s schools where the authority had not been able to recruit a satisfactory candidate through the usual means.

            My amazement deepened when she replied to my enquiry as to when she might need a response with “Well, I thought if I took a turn around the playground…”

            I yield to no-one in my admiration for those who teach problem teenagers. The few that I have met were all deeply impressive individuals.

            The argument concerning the 29 year old, as I understand it, is whether or not she does in fact have the necessary experience and qualifications to run a primary school:

            ‘…Ms Briggs has taught in a school – several schools, in fact. As a director of Civitas, the well-known education think tank, she helped run Civitas Schools, a network of after-school classes and Saturday schools across the country. As for her lack of credentials to run a primary school, she is one of the country’s foremost experts on E D Hirsch’s core knowledge curriculum and, as such, advised the Department for Education on the new primary National Curriculum.’

            The multi academy trust sponsoring the school obviously has confidence that she does have the necessary skills and experience.

            If she doesn’t, it will swiftly become apparent, but the point is

            ‘it’s for parents to decide whether they want their children to be taught by teachers without PGCEs, not trade unions or Labour politicians.’

  19. Leonard James says:

    Ben (no reply button)

    “A good argument, since what some of us debating against LSN are arguing is that teachers and schools must earn their leadership of communities as you argue teacher heads must be do to become heads.”

    I don’t think you are arguing against LSN entirely here as they often put out stories in support of communities who are fighting against forced academy conversion – in fact you are implying that you are against forced academy conversion because prospectors like Harris can hardly be described as ‘earning the leadership of their communities’ given their behaviour.

  20. Leonard James says:

    Tarquin (no reply button)

    “Teaching skills and leadership skills are different.
    A headmaster must have both to some degree.
    It is a matter of opinion which is the more important.
    I believe leadership skills are more important.”

    I think skills are overrated. The most important thing for anyone trying to improve a service is knowledge of the work – the biggest single problem in education today is that the educational hierarchy have no knowledge of the work because they have never worked in a school or left the classroom years ago. The same can be said for members of SLT who spend most of their time in an office isolated from their own establishments.

    “I do not see why someone who is an outstanding leader should not be an excellent headmaster, despite having only a few years teaching experience.”

    It depends on what you class as a few years but I’m extremely sceptical that the person in the OP has had enough time on the job to acquire meaningful knowledge of the work. Martin Johnson, by all accounts, was an outstanding leader on the pitch but was terrible as England rugby coach – why? Because he was parachuted into the job without enough experience and therefore enough knowledge of that particular line of work.

    • Tarquin Hapsburg says:

      On the other hand, Brian Ashton had 21 years coaching experience before taking over as England Coach:

      ‘Ashton’s success rate over 22 matches was, according to those in Twickenham’s corridors of power, an unhealthy and unsatisfactory 54.5%. As of Saturday morning, Martin Johnson has taken England to the door marked exit following a World Cup quarter-final, England’s equal worst showing alongside similar disappointments in 1987 and 1999, as well as winning the 2011 Six Nations. Johnson’s success rate over three years and 38 games in charge is 55.3%.’

      Maybe it was just that other teams/crops of players were better?

      What goes to make a good leader is much argued about!

      Knowledge is one of the smallest paragraphs in that reference!

      Obviously credibility is an important starting point but I see no evidence that youth precludes outstanding leadership, particularly in sport where, despite having much more experienced older team mates, Graeme Smith, Captain of the Proteas at 22 and Sam Warburton, Captain of Wales at 23 offer two immediately obvious examples.

      • If we talk about teaching:

        Let’s take someone who has outstanding leadership skills prior to entering the profession who may want to be a headteacher.

        The fundamental job of a headteacher is to manage their middle managers well. To do that they need to know what they do. They do very complex jobs. It’s not realistic to properly understand their lives without having been one. Teaching is a service not an production industry where you have to respond to the needs of people all the time.

        To be a middle manager you need to manage teachers and again it’s not realistic to do this well unless you properly understand what they do. You also need to be an excellent teacher and to lead by example and this doesn’t come overnight.

  21. I am still waiting to be given some specific examples of the ‘skills’ that pupils are meant to acquire. Are the ‘skills’ spoken of lovingly by LSN things such as being able to translate from English into French, or carry out mole calculations or differentiate equations or are they more nebulous, such as ‘working in groups’ or ’empathising’? I would like a definite answer.

    • Roger Titcombe says:

      FJM – I agree with you about the term ‘skills’. I don’t use it. ‘Skills’ implies vocationalism, like learning to drive. People are ‘trained’ to aquire skills. I am not knocking skills or training, they are vital, but they are not ‘education’. I think what we usually mean are the higher order abilities, cognitive and otherwise, in the Bloom pyramid. I think it is confusing to call these higher order ‘skills’. ‘Abilities’ would be better but there are unjustified hangups about using the word.

      • Roger – you’re right that the use of the term “skills” can be ambiguous.

        The Oxford Dictionary defines “skill” as (a) “the ability to do something well; expertise”, and (b) “train (a worker) to do a particular task.”

        It defines “Life skills” as a “skill that is necessary or desirable for full participation in everyday life.”

        It is these skills that appear in some jurisdictions’ national curricula.

    • FJM – you say that you are still waiting for “specific examples” about skills. On the thread below was the following:

      You 26/3/13: “I introduced CASE lessons in my school and found it excellent at improving thinking skills in science…” So you obviously think that “thinking skills” are skills worth developing.

      My reply 28/3/13 gave examples from different jurisdictions with links to evidence:

      Skills included:

      Study skills, transferable employment skills, personal management and social skills, relationship skills, critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, creativity, innovation, collaboration, managing information

      You dismissed these as “fluffy waffle”. That is your opinion and you’re entitled to it.

      So, you have been given a definite answer. You may describe them as “nebulous” but the jurisdictions who drew up the list obviously do not.

      • The skills that CASE introduces are actually quite specific and not fluffy: being able to spot relationships between variables, noticing correlation, formulating a scientific hypothesis etc.
        One of the problems with education is the use of words such as skills without the general public, or even teachers, agreeing on what they mean. I think it’s a word we should perhaps avoid. Let us take ‘problem solving’, such a vague term that it could mean almost anything requiring the brain to be engaged, from packing everything you need into a suitcase that will fit on Ryan Air flight to the synthesis of penicillin from some simple organic molecules. It would be better if those of us in education explained more precisely what we meant before entering into discussions. the same could be said for all the above skills. I think that teaching pupils specific subject-related ‘skills’ enables them to then become competent in the skills which you list. I don’t think that one can think, create, collaborate etc without have some knowledge and understanding of something to form the material upon which these skills can be practised. Perhaps we, and dare I say it Mr Gove, agree after all. We may have defective ‘communication skills’.

        • FJM – Exactly. When “skills” are defined they are anything but fluffy. And, yes, perhaps educators should define these terms more clearly. But it shouldn’t be expected that they should be defined every time the term is used – discussion would become clogged with definitions.

          For instance, if you had defined “thinking skills” in your earlier post it would have become very long. You assumed that your readers would understand. And if they didn’t then perhaps the burden is on them to look it up instead of dismissing them as waffle.

        • Hello FJM,

          The ‘skills’ defined by the 2007/8 curriculum were rather different from those defined by CASE and CAME (which I’ve used) because they include a greater focus on the ability of the child to deal confidently with real situations.

          The best resource we have in maths for upskilling teachers so that they properly understand what these skills are and how to develop them with students are the professional development resources which were produced as part of Bowland Maths.

          These are rather difficult to find and must not be confused with the Bowland Maths teaching resources but they are worth the effort as they are excellent. The are found on this site:
          Follow the blue link to ‘bowland player’
          Then select ‘professional development’
          If you go into the first session: “The Case Studies and Mathematics” and open the Module Handbook, it contains some great explanations and useful diagrams which break down the curriculum in a way which makes it make sense. I found staff I worked with really began to understand ‘the skills’ once they’d worked through the bottle school task with a group of students. Until then it was all quite foggy. Trying to use the Bowland resources without working through this training was generally a disaster for every teacher who tried it.

  22. […] eagle-eyed retired teacher Janet Downs, writing on the Local Schools Network website, spotted that the anecdote had a familiar ring to it, […]

  23. […] eagle-eyed retired teacher Janet Downs, writing on the Local Schools Network website, spotted that the anecdote had a familiar ring to it, […]

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