Local Schools Network Predictions for 2011

Francis Gilbert's picture

The cuts will really kick in. There will be job losses in most Local Authorities, with many LA education departments essentially disappearing. In most schools, class sizes will go up and there will be significant job losses over time. The vast majority of extra-curricular activities will be axed. Poorer children will be disproportionately affected because their parents won't be able to pay for things like music lessons, sports' activities, art classes and so on. The pupil premium will not change this; indeed the pupil premium will probably have little or no effect. School buildings and the general infra-structure of education will fall into disrepair, with leaking roofs, faulty equipment, dilapidated classrooms becoming more and more of an issue.

Curriculum changes will demoralise teachers, bamboozle parents, and add even more stress to students, offering very little comfort for 'non-academic' children. The reading test for 5-year-olds seems particularly pernicious; at a time when we are increasingly seeing how destructive tests are upon young children's self-esteem, this test seems like madness. Changes to the league tables will cast many secondary schools -- including quite a few Academies -- in a deliberately poor light, making Gove's claim that many schools are "broken" have more weight. Of course, this will be very unfair since the changes to the league tables, particularly the 'English Baccalaureate' idea of assessing schools on GCSE grades in English, Maths, Science, a Humanities, and Modern Foreign Languages, will have been introduced retrospectively. Many schools have been doing other perfectly worthwhile qualifications with their students which are now deemed "sub-standard" by the current government.

Chaos will reign supreme with regards to the training of teachers. University-based teacher training will be severely cut back but will not be replaced with anything that's coherent or thought-through.

Schools opting for Academy status will get more money, but will it be short-term gain, long-term pain? In the end they'll have to buy in the services that their LA currently provides for them. There will also considerable problems attaining Academy status in time to "redress" this year's cuts because the DfE is not very well staffed itself.

The free schools movement will be smallbut divisive. We've already had evidence that many parents resent the setting up of schools which drain resources and pupils away from existing state schools.

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Alison's picture
Tue, 04/01/2011 - 13:33

It's a bleak prospect isn't it?

Melissa Benn's picture
Tue, 04/01/2011 - 16:47

These predications make for particularly bleak and accurate reading when you go back, as I am doing now, for research for a book, and look at the evangelical tone of Tory proposals for reform in 2009/2010; yes they were going on about free schools back then and the need for more rigour and discipline etc but they were also promising more funding for the poor, which the pupil premium looks unlikely to do. No mention either swingeing cuts that will make the job of educating the vast majority of pupils, including those in the poorest areas, more difficult.

You don't mention admissions Francis. But it's interesting to see how back in 2009 they were obviously very keen to change admissions policies and allow schools to select their pupils ' as long as they don't discriminate on social class and intellectual ability' - as if schools, left to their own devices, wouldn't find a way to skewer their intake in just those directions! They were also keen, back then, to start up a 'first come, first served' admissions policy similar to both Swedish schools and places like Eton, I assume. Cameron rowed back on that, but as we move into early 2011 and consultation on new admissions procedures, do not expect fair reform from the Coalition. Is it worth lobbying the battered Liberal Democrats on this?

Francis Gilbert's picture
Tue, 04/01/2011 - 17:45

Apologies for sounding bleak Alison! I suppose the positive message that I feel may come of this is that the sensible schools will see the value of co-operating with each other, instead of competing; sharing resources, pooling ideas, sharing admissions' issues (more of this in a moment). The schools which try and "go it alone" may profit in the short-term by getting the extra money for Academy status, but will suffer because it's clear that in such a time of cuts that resources are going to have to be shared. I was very interested to read that Conservative Home ultimately regard Clegg as making the final "big" decisions in education; ie he blocked the move to make all schools academies. I feel the Lib-Dems believe much more in co-operation, strong LAs, and fair admissions than the Tories do.

Yes, Melissa, admissions! This is the really big issue that so many governments have ducked. I personally don't hold out that much hope, but I really think it's worth lobbying the Coalition on making sure that we have fair admissions in our schools. Every person involved in the system has to read Barnados' report Unlocking The School Gates, which shows the nightmarish effects of our current system: http://www.barnardos.org.uk/unlocking_the_gates.pdf

Francis Gilbert's picture
Tue, 04/01/2011 - 17:48

Another positive point: I do think that Gove has been very weakened by the flip-flops in policy, the poor take-up for free schools, and the inconsistency of his philosophical approach, talking about giving teachers freedom to teach and yet putting the most stringent strait-jackets on us that we've seen since 1988. I think he may have wanted to introduce "for-profit" schools etc. We've already had a lively discussion about them on this site. However, I don't think this will happen, not with Clegg having final say-so over the big decisions.

Helen Flynn's picture
Tue, 04/01/2011 - 17:51

There are still Lib Dems fighting for fairer, locally accountable schools policy, Melissa, and I am one of them! I just wish the general population cared more about education policy--not just parents who are pandered to by political parties as the only 'users' (or even worse, 'consumers') of education.

It is a massive job, but we really do have to start to somehow make people aware of what is going on. Gove really is getting it all his own way at the moment, and is a particularly dangerous person to be in such a position....

Francis Gilbert's picture
Tue, 04/01/2011 - 18:15

Helen, do you think it's worth approaching the Lib-Dems about having a sensible admissions' code? The suggestions in Unlocking The Gates seem good to me: stopping schools selecting by ability, aptitude, faith etc, making LAs supervise admissions, having Ofsted report on admissions' codes, creating a system of fair banding where appropriate.

Alison's picture
Tue, 04/01/2011 - 18:29

Francis, I think your analysis is spot on. But I think it is going to be very difficult keeping school staff positive in the months to come. My school is already struggling with its SATs results and the relentless focus on meeting targets - which has been intensified by the new government is likely to result in an impoverished education for children, particularly in primary schools. The main problem with the current government is that it does not have a coherent policy for education. What we seem to be faced with is a series of ideas none of which are linked to each other and which have no overarching goal and there seems to be very little analysis of the potential impacts of these ideas on the current system. We are merely told that they will "raise standards". Admissions is an important aspect in establishing and maintaining a fair education for all children but I just don't see the government agreeing to it as it will fundamentally undermine their rationale for free schools and academies. The Lib Dems locally might but centrally they couldn't as free schools in the flagship Tory policy.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Tue, 04/01/2011 - 18:42

Alison, I couldn't agree more. The central problem is the lack of any coherent vision for education. I really think the Tories are stuck in a time-warp; so many of their ideas are redolent of the yesteryear: soldiers as teachers, a curriculum which wouldn't be out of place in 1904; admissions policies which favour overt and covert selection; more one off "pass and fail" tests and exams; the downgrading of coursework and controlled assessments; the denigration of anything that's remotely progressive or forward thinking. And yet, they speak of giving teachers "freedom". It's utterly nonsensical.

Michael Keenan's picture
Tue, 04/01/2011 - 19:13

Change happens. It happened regularly under the last government and the one before that and the one before that. Accept it, move on. What is unacceptable is saying the reason for change is because our education system is broken - this panders to a section of society that thinks most schools are a microcosm of the Jeremy Kyle show. This is an insult to teachers and the children they teach. There are problems - always have been, always will be. Will free schools and academies fix these problems? Don't know. Hope so. Doubt it.
I do know this though, competition in schools for money, resources, bums on seats will not help the children who need it the most. One would like to think that, deep down, those Liberal Democrats not high on power, the ones with some social conscience and integrity left intact, the ones who probably see their children coming through these "broken schools" unscathed, will eventually crack and actually do something. Change is good. Destruction of an education system is probably not.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Tue, 04/01/2011 - 19:18

There's a good article in the Guardian today which indicates that the best systems have strong "local authorities", even the ones Gove supposedly promotes. Dismantling LAs will, as you intimate Michael, lead to destruction of an education system I fear. http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/jan/04/education-policy-canadian-model

Jane Sweeney's picture
Sun, 09/01/2011 - 20:02

Re: admisssions. I admit to being an idealist but I continue to be appalled by the idea that schools do manipulate policy to ensure they only take the 'right type of child'. How shameful. Children at 11 are in no way responsible for their circumstances and, as teachers and indeed people, we have a moral obligation to try our upmost to engage and support the poorest and therefore the most vulnerable children in our society.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 09/01/2011 - 20:49

The perverse incentives in the league tables mean that many schools actively use covert selection select to improve their test and exams results.. One head of a highly selective 'comprehensive' faith school in West London explained to me that if schools are expected to 'operate in a market no-one should be surprised if they use the tactics of the market'. The more schools we create with control over their own admission, the worse this problem will get.

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