Is it “standards not structures” or is it more structural change? Article re Twigg interview gives confusing message.

Janet Downs's picture
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‘…London’s schools outperform the rest of the country.’

Evening Standard, 23 September 2013

Shadow Education Secretary, Stephen Twigg, can take some credit for this achievement. He was Minister for London Schools when the then Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, launched the London Challenge with Tim Brighouse, Commissioner for London Schools. The Challenge was responsible for London’s success.

But mention of the Challenge is missing. Instead, the article concentrates on Teach First, a graduate teacher training programme.

Twigg said academies are “here to stay” and sees a continuing role for academy chains such as “Ark and United Learning (ULT)”. He seems to have forgotten Labour banned ULT from sponsoring more academies because of poor performance. He says chains should be judged on “evidence, outcomes and results”. But being part of a chain is no guarantee of successCrest Boys’ Academy, led by E-Act, the chain whose director resigned following a critical report into finances, was judged Inadequate in all four categories including leadership and management (September 2013)* .

Ofsted has no power to inspect academy chains – Twigg should support calls by Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, to inspect chains in the same way it inspects local authorities (LAs). Academy chains should be judged on more than results but on how they use public money and on whether any improvement is not merely pseudo-improvement**. And he should be robust in rejecting any chain that is a “vehicle” for making a profit to shareholders.

LAs will have a role in planning school play supply, Twigg said. The interviewer asked how this was possible when many schools were outside their aegis. Twigg looked a “little pained” before reminding the writer that former education secretary, David Blunkett, was looking into this problem.

LAs no longer have the power to commission their own schools – this was causing problems where extra places were needed, Twigg said. “In some parts of London local authorities are having to find people to promote a free school, because that’s the only way you can create the places.” The priority was to get good places provided quickly – it was less to do with whether a new school was LA or free.

Twigg believed the present system was “too driven by ideology” and gave Sulivan Primary as a case where a school was being forced to amalgamate by a Tory council to make way for a free school.

There was an oblique hint about the Challenge’s success at the article’s end. Twigg said London boroughs had improved by “very different routes” – Hackney relied “heavily” on academies while Tower Hamlets had few. But only 24 of London Challenge schools became academies during the lifetime of the Challenge – its achievement was nothing to do with academy status.

The article ended with “In other words, it’s back to Labour’s late-Nineties schools mantra: “Standards not structures”.’ It’s a pity, then, the article’s headline was “Stephen Twigg: More academies, more freedom – my plan to keep London top of class”. This suggests that Twigg thinks changing structure is essential.

It’s contradictory – whether that’s the fault of the article writer or whether Twigg conveyed mixed messages is unclear.

 

*Citing Ofsted judgements does not imply agreement.

**Pseudo improvement is an apparent rise in results which is not underpinned by real learning but by such factors as the use of equivalent exams, pupil exclusion, sending pupils to off-site provision and manipulating admissions to deter pupils likely to bring down results. These activities are not confined to academies, of course, and should be rooted out wherever they appear.

 
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