Gove's Latest GCSE Pronouncement: Possible Subtext

Helen Flynn's picture
Many of you will no doubt have read the recent news story about Michael Gove’s plans to increase the target for pass rates at GCSE. By 2015 he expects every secondary school in England to be achieving the current national average of at least 50% of pupils achieving five A*-C grades at GCSE, including English and maths. If not the school will be regarded as underperforming. (.)

Apparently this is “to end what he [Gove] sees as the low-expectations culture in some schools”.

But I can’t help thinking there may be something else going on here. If you look at one of the proposals in the Education Bill currently going through Parliament, the Bill seeks to extend the power of the Secretary of State to close all schools eligible for intervention (rather than, as at present, only those schools deemed by Ofsted to be in need of "special measures").

So what does “eligible for intervention” mean? Can it—or, more to the point, will it--be tied down more specifically?

Combining this with information revealed in a recent speech given by Bruce Liddington, Director General of the Academy Chain, E-ACT, at the Education 2011 Conference, possibly can provide some of the subtext behind Gove’s most recent pronouncement.

Sir Bruce unveiled his ‘5-year Plan for Academies and Free Schools’. By the end of 2011 E-ACT will have 17 ‘traditional’ academies and one free school. By 2015 he is hoping to have 126, comprising 65 ‘converter’ academies, 21 free schools and 40 ‘traditional’ academies. Then he revealed what he believed would be future schools policy—contained in four bullet points:

•All schools to be academies
•Free schools are academies
• A market for more school places
• Profit-making schools? (Note the question mark for this point.)

Of course E-ACT is only one of the chains of academies that are now emerging. So if you do the maths, it is easy to work out the possible size of the academy universe in 2015. Where wlll they all come from?

It seems to me that 50% pass rate is a very optimistic target in a very narrow time frame. Presumably, this is a chance for Gove to ‘intervene’ and hand over schools to ‘any willing provider’ (to use an NHS phrase). Liddington, et al, will clear up. How, though, are this lot going to be held to account, I wonder? Or will the rules suddenly change about what is a ‘good’ school, and what isn’t?

Go to this site, if you want to see the whole of Sir Bruce’s presentation.
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Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 20:38

I think you are probably right Helen . It maybe my long standing interest in school admissions, but as soon as I heard the announcement this morning I immediately thought how unfair this is for schools which either take disproportionately large numbers of pupils with low prior attainment - in selective areas for example - or schools with very high pupil mobility so the pupils who take the exams may not have been in the school (that is being held accountable) for very long. All schools are not the same in this respect so progress ought to be taken into account as well as final attainment.

Sarah Dobbs's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 20:48

This is the whole reason that the Louth saga has developed. Because we are in a selective area with small schools and falling numbers, it goes without saying that it would be very hard for schools to stay above floor targets all of the time. Hence the need to merge our local schools. The heads concerned, who I have learnt to like a far bit during our campaign, see a merger as a form of a defensive strike to avoid outside intervention and what they call a hostile takeover from an another academy.
Gove is a bully. And he needs whole communities and regions to stand up to him, because good policy can never be the result of fear.

Sarah's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 22:42

There's no doubt in my mind what this is about. It's an attempt to turn the whole school system over to Academy status by whatever means possible. First they've picked off the one's at the 'top' - the outstanding ones. Then they've extended that to those which are simply good with outstanding features. At the same time they've offered a financial bribe to encourage such schools to convert. Then they've gone to the bottom end of the market and ensured they can convert any school which fails to meet whatever target they set for 'failure'. The whole point is to squeeze those in the middle into believing that (in the words of one of our local schools) 'there is no status quo option' ie that if they don't convert they will be at the bottom of the pack unable to 'compete' - as that's clearly what's required to survive in this new non-collaborative dog-eat-dog educational world which owes more of its language to Tescos to any place of learning.

Gove has essentially made it possible to ensure that the tipping point is reached, particularly for secondary schools, to allow the remaining stragglers to follow suit. Add to that toxic mix a predatory edu-business sector and (I am disappointed to report) and increasingly predatory faith sector and you have the absolute disintegration of any notion of an educational system.

We are now in the territory of schools as individual businesses doing whatever they can to poach, cajole or encourage parents to send their children to their schools and to hell with other children who end up in failing, withering schools denuded of resources.

It is a sad sight to behold for anyone who has been involved in education and believes in a strategically planned, comprehensive and inclusive state education system.

Helen Flynn's picture
Thu, 16/06/2011 - 08:34

The news this morning coming from Gove re: turning the 200 lowest performing primaries into academies confirms what I wrote about above.

The thing is, once all schools are academies, what are they going to do then about the fact that poor children still do not do well in terms of GCSE results? How are they going to explain that away? I wonder if there is a plan B?

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 16/06/2011 - 08:59

They will take them off existing providers and move them to a new chain.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 16/06/2011 - 13:59

What is insidious about this is that local people will have absolutely no say. If Mr Gove, or any other Secretary of State (SoS), decides a school is "eligible for intervention" then that school can be forced to become an academy with its governance decided for it by the SoS.

And one Tory MP, Sam Gyimah (East Surrey) wants teachers in "failing" schools to be punished by having the protection under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE) removed.

He says: "I firmly believe in employment rights, for people who work in the private sector as much as for people who work in the public sector, but when a school fails, it is often because the teachers have let the children down. We should consider whether all those terms and conditions should be transferred across."

And this was Mr Gibb's reply: "I gave assurances in Committee that the rights of staff when transferring from the employment of a maintained school to an academy trust are protected by TUPE, but the application of TUPE at conversion does not mean that staffing cannot be reviewed and restructured after conversion—just as it can be before."

The above exchange was in the context of underperformance which, it is clearly implied, is the fault of teachers. There is no attempt to examine the context eg a school intake skewed towards the lower-ability, although Richard Fuller MP had praised such teachers earlier in the debate “the teachers who go to poorly performing schools are sometimes the most inspired and capable teachers in the country." Unfortunately, he followed this with his attack on, among others, the Local Schools Network.

Ian Taylor's picture
Thu, 16/06/2011 - 18:05

Michael Gove has said that secondary schools not achieving 50% 5A*-C by 2015 will be deemed to be failing. Currently this is almost half of all secondary schools. Where do these targets come from? We hear a lot on this site from some contributors about the “expected standard”. To some people there seems to be an absolute standard which lots of schools are not achieving, whatever the intake of the students.

So how realistic is it for secondary schools to reach Mr Gove’s target?

AQA's Centre for Education Research and Policy have been looking at whether the government's new floor targets for GCSE could be technically achieved

In order for all schools to hit the 50% 5 A*to C target, inequality between schools would need to fall, and the mean 5A*-C pass rate for English schools would have to increase to 75% from its current 55%.

As the AQA centre says, a pretty tall order to achieve this in the next 4 years!

So to meet Mr Gove’s aspirations, on average, your local school’s 5A*-C pass rate has got to increase from its current level by 20% in the next 4 years. If it is currently 70% it has to increase to 90% etc.

How realistic do you think this is in the next 4 years?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 17/06/2011 - 09:40

AQA's Centre for Education Reseach and Policy had this to say about the floor target:

"Theoretically this could be achieved at present with no change to the GCSE pass rate. In comprehensive schools the 5 A* to C rate including English and Maths is currently about 55 per cent. If all pupils were distributed equally between schools then all of these schools could meet the target."

It's worth repeating that last sentence: "If all pupils were distributed equally between schools then all of these schools could meet the target." But pupils are not distributed equally - they never will be. In this case it's important that the quality of pupil intake is taken into account when deciding whether a school is "under-performing". It may be because the intake is skewed towards the bottom of the ability range. It's also important that the education provision in "high-performing" schools is monitored - high results in a school with high-ability pupils may be masking poor quality provision.

Ann Smith's picture
Fri, 17/06/2011 - 22:07

Thank goodness Councillors etc are beginning to voice their concerns about the latest Gove statement.
I am extremely concerned that Primary Schools are to be affected as well as Secondary. What the logic is of all this is completely beyond me except some mad pursuance of private sector idealogy at any price. I cannot see what a private sector academy can deliver that a local authority doesn't/cannot deliver. Are they being fooled about the resources that are going to be made available!! Choice is one thing. But to do this by force is shameful.
The school where I am a Governor may well be one of the target schools. But it is a mistake to assume that the teaching is at fault. These youngsters have many difficulties including poverty, low parental aspiration, high unemployment, many with SEN. It will take a lot more than an Academy to guarantee achievement for these children and in my view, the Local Authority understand these needs very clearly and work to support the school, parents and children. Why change this? Is Gove certain that his policies are going to work. Many are not sure and we can't afford for our chidren to be experimented upon without clear benefits. So far I haven't seen any evidence of clear benefiits.
We need to raise the debate about all of this before it is too late in the same way that was done about the NHS reforms. We need to make our grave concerns known at Local Authority level, School Governor level and Central Government Coalition level. Hopefully the opposition would also support a real debate on this matter.

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