Should we be nationalising private schools? Gove says we should.

Francis Gilbert's picture
As Fiona has already said, the Channel 4 Fact-check on Free Schools is fascinating. There is also an interesting interview with Michael Gove about the free schools programme. At the end of the interview, we get to the heart of the matter when Jon Snow questions the wisdom of making Batley Grammar School a free school-- it's currently a private school which is only half-full. Gove claims this is a "fantastic" idea because it will mean that poor children will be able to go to what is a great school -- it's about "nationalising" education, he says. There are a few questions to be asked here. Firstly, should we be "nationalising" private schools? Isn't a bit bizarre for a right-winger like Gove to say this? Secondly, surely turning Batley Grammar into a state school simply shifts the burden of paying fees for a private school onto the taxpayer? A parent who has a child at the £9000-a-year school says it was like “winning the lottery” -- as has already been commented upon this highlights the gross unfairness of the system; it's about giving a leg-up to the rich, and kicking the poor.

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Paul Atherton's picture
Fri, 10/06/2011 - 20:41

Francis, The parent, who said it was like "winning the lottery" was clearly not shown as rich, merely an entrepreneur, who was struggling himself. But I maybe missing the point here.

Are you advocating the need for keeping Private education for the rich?

Or do you not see bringing the Batley Grammar into the Free School system as opening up it to everybody as Gove contests?

I thought the most telling thing about the report is the observation that Councils in deprived areas were making it harder for Free Schools to set-up and thereby preventing the poorest from accessing the possible benefits they may provide.

As somebody commented on the site, it's about time we lost the politics and focused on the children.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Fri, 10/06/2011 - 21:26

But is Batley Grammar offering a good education? It's totally unproven with a genuine mix of pupils, and seems to have some questionable approaches to me. My research and experience shows that teaching standards in private schools is pretty low, they rely on creaming off bright children to get results.

Paul Atherton's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 11:23


Again, I'm not sure I understand your argument?

Batley Grammar School would appear (and I used that term reservedly as they seem to have neither an OFSTED or an ISI Report publicly available at this time) to be a successful school in terms of output and clearly parents believe so, otherwise they wouldn't be struggling to pay £9,000 a year for their children to attend and keeping them there.

"Batley Grammar School’s Year 13 students have once again achieved outstanding A level and AS results with students passing 96% of all subjects taken. Just over 50% of entries were the top grades of A*, A or B and 74% were grade C or above"

I think you are arguing that bright children will do well, regardless of how poor the teaching they receive, a correlation I've yet to see proven and one I find difficult to believe. Especially with such a large component of their examinations now resting on course assessment.

Though I would acknowledge that bright people being surrounded by bright people could by definition improve results.

As you said "...lifting bright but poor kids out of poverty is to put them in an environment with other bright, academically minded pupils." (Evening Standard, 6 January 2005).

Which makes perfect sense.

Or have you changed your views in this regards and if so, why?

Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 11:31

If Batley Grammar School is so successful, why is it so keen to enter the state sector? Surely the point is that these private schools that have applied to become free schools are failing in the private sector and desperate to survive. I don't notice many of the popular and over subscribed fee paying schools clamouring to come in. Quite the reverse.Judging by the ISC recent action in the High Court, they seem to be keen to have as little as possible to do with their neighbouring state schools.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 11:46

I don't know the ins and outs of Batley but what I do know is that many private schools are struggling financially as many parents, hit by the recession, are unable to pay school fees. I think I have posted elsewhere here on a report that just one credit company is chasing some £9m from private schools. If Batley is only half full then perhaps it's only option for survival is to become a state free school? Whatever the reasons, private schools are essentially private sector enterprises (despite the charitable status) and should remain that way and not now burden the state sector, which is aleady overstretched and fragmented under the Coalition

Paul Atherton's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 14:55

Fiona, without seeing the accounts for the school, it's merely conjecture to suggest their reasons for choosing to become a Free School, is because it's failing economically.

The school has been independent since 1978 and clearly weathered two recessions already.

Though it is in fact going to be 400 years old next year.

And if we're going to enter the realm of conjecture, could it in fact be, that it would like to return to it's roots of offering the opportunity of an independent free education to all local residents and this is the first time it has been able to do so?

Is the action in the High Court by the ISC you are referring in relation to the current fight about Charitable status, if so, how does that correlate to having little to do with their neighbouring state schools?

Paul Atherton's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 18:06


The ISC (Independent Schools Council) is arguing that their members should do more or was it that the Charities Commission are arguing that the ISC should do more (which of course only represent around 50% (1,200) of the independent schools in the UK of whom 80% are Charities)?

If the latter, The CHARITY COMMISSION DRAFT GUIDANCE ON PUBLIC BENEFIT 2007 ( would tend to imply they have some quite robust arguments on why they should have charitable status, the strongest of which appears to be fiscal.

Most notably:

"In round terms, the annual fiscal benefits of charitable status for ISC schools
amount to £100 million. Divided among 440,000 UK-domiciled children in ISC
charitable schools, £100 million is £227 per pupil

• Educating a child in the state sector costs approximately £5,000 per year. At its
highest, the cost to the state of educating a child in the charitable independent
sector – at £227 per year – is less than 5% of the cost of educating the same child
in the state sector. All children have the right to be educated in state schools at
state expense. ISC charitable schools therefore save the state approximately
£4,773 per child per year, making a £2.1 billion annual subsidy to the state from
the independent sector

• Additionally, ISC charitable schools pay around £200 million annually in
irrecoverable VAT. This cost of VAT in the state sector is ultimately borne by
the Government. The VAT payment increases the annual subsidy from the
independent sector to the state from £2.1 billion to £2.3 billion. It also wipes out
the entirety of the fiscal benefits from charitable status, and converts the initial
annual cost to the state per pupil of £227 to a direct gain to the state per pupil of
the same amount

• Nearly a third of pupils in ISC schools receive help with fees: 24% from the
school itself. The cost of this help, at approximately £300 million, is three times
the amount of the fiscal benefits of charitable status

• In round terms, for every £1 of fiscal benefits from charitable status, ISC schools
give back, directly or indirectly, £26

And on this basis, one hopes they don't all become Free Schools!

Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 15:25

The ISC is arguing that independent schools should do no more than exist ( and offer the odd bursary) to justify charitable status. They are not interested in making a step change in their relationship with other local schools and object to Charity Commission attempts to make them do so.

I merely make that point to illustrate that some people's faith in their altruistic motives does not appear to be borne out by what is happening across the country in most fee paying schools.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 11:39

Paul Atherton -

You say that we should lose the politics and concentrate on the children but aren't you being a tad selective about the children to focus on? You make points about "bright poor children" as if they are exclusively worthy of life chances. What do propose is done with the less bright "poor" children? Or the ones that become brighter when they hit, say 14 rather than 11? How are you defining "bright" anyway - in that narrow private schools, classical education way or in other ways? Brightness isn't just measure in exam results based on a traditional curriculum.

Less "bright", "poor" children deserve a good education more tailored to their needs as well. Do you propose we should revert to a Victorian style of society, where they should rot in some work house and the only deserving poor get a life chance?

Paul Atherton's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 12:04

Allan, I would take your points up with Francis, as he was the person that brought the notion of "brightness" into the debate and used the term "bright poor children", not me.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 12:19

Paul -

You are the one saying lifting bright but poor kids out of poverty makes "perfect sense" so I think you can answer my question rather than avoid it. What do you propose we do about less "bright" children?

It is also disappointing that you trot out the Tory propaganda (Rachael Cooke from the New Schools Network has just done it again today) that councils of poorer areas are resisting Free Schools as if they were actively denying a good children for all the children in their care. Has it not occured to you that they may resisting because i) many of their population are against free schools and ii) the social divisions (especially pitting deserving poor and undeserving poor created by Free Schools might devastate the community even more? Segregation underlines these schools policies. Please don't support them

Paul Atherton's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 13:11


I'm not avoiding the question, I made my views perfectly clear in my post. Surrounding intelligence with intelligence and therefore engendering an environment which challenges thinking is something that makes perfect sense to me (take a look at TED Talks to follow through that notion). Which is also what I believed Francis was saying when he made his quote in the Standard .

However, I cannot comment on his interpretation of "bright poor kids" - which was not my point, nor my quote and therefore I would not presume to know what someone else's meaning may be.

As for Council's in deprived areas resisting Free Schools, I cited a conclusion of the report that was a link on the Channel 4 Site Check report. It's my understanding that the research had no political affiliation?

I can only talk from personal experience as to Council's both from a personal direct experience (with Lambeth Council) and as the producer of "A Thousand Voices for a Broken System" an online video database designed to assist with residents challenging councils on issues that are not being addressed (we are currently working with No Cuts for Kids in Lambeth).

We know, if we're to believe the NUT YouGov study that nearly 50% of parents want Free Schools in one form or another.

But I've yet to find a council that is actually looking out for their residents rather than playing petty politics when it comes to any issue - in my opinion, from our 1,000's of responses across the UK there are none as bad as Lambeth (hence our pilot starting there - in addition to my personal experience with them).

Lambeth for instance are trying to push through a sale of the old Lilian Bayliss School site to scupper the plans of Katharine Birbalsingh's proposed new free school.

They've evicted a community hub and Sports Action Zone who have occupied the site for sometime and were given assurances by the council that they could be there for at least a year in December 2010, with just weeks notice (both organisations were going to run alongside the school as part of the proposal) and have set a deadline for offers as the 5th of July 2011 ensuring that the school cannot get its bid in.

This against the wishes of many of it's residents including Church groups, SAZ, Community Hub, other Schools and even a local Labour MP, as well of course a groundswell of local parents.

So, no, I don't see them doing anything for the residents or the population of the area.

In all honesty, I have no understanding of the terms deserving and undeserving poor in the context of education (I can see it's meaning with Welfare Benefits) perhaps you could elucidate to what you mean here?

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 13:32

I believe that A South London Press poll showed 76% were not in favour of a Free School in Lambeth so Birbalsingh does not have the support she claims.

I think Birbslangh's attitude illustrates what I mean by deserving/undeserving poor. She has been banging on about her school attracting poor black kids and that she has support from the black community in council estates for her school. There is a limit to how many poor black kids she can accommodate in her small school (which has no classrooms at the minute). So the ones that get in are the deserving poor. What about the undeserving ones? The white poor, the poor of whatever race and background who don't get in? Do they just rot in the state schools that her free school and Tory government policy have helped to sideline and seek to devastate as they are squeezed dry so that money can be pumped into her vanity school?

So the deserving poor are the ones also to toe the party line, as Birbalsingh did at the Tory conference when she betrayed her ideals and the ideology of education for all, if they fall in with this project of educational and social segregation. We keep coming back to the same thing. What do you propose is done with poor unlucky enough or so abandoned by the state and society not to have a fair crack at getting the education they deserve? Are you happy with them to rot in the gutter?

I amazed to find myself agreeing with the Archbishop of Canterbury but unlike the Coalition government he is giving a damn about our fracturing society.

Paul Atherton's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 14:29

OK Alan, We'll ignore the results of a globally recognised polling company (YouGov) commissioned by a Teacher biased union (NUT) and rather go for the results of a local newspaper survey (South London Press), notoriously reliable & robust, although in truth I can find no record of the research you mention anyway. Seriously!

Alan, do you live in the UK? I ask, because you seem to think that we have a current system that is fair to everybody? I have seen nothing remotely similar to the utopia you seem to inhabit. There is a problem with not enough school places in Lambeth as we've previously discussed. So what's happening to those student, seems to me a far more salient question?

What I see Katharine doing (and I'm not suggesting what she's doing is right by the way - as we're yet to see the outcome of her commitment) is fighting for the students that she believes have been worst let down by the current system and who are the majority in the catchment area concerned.

Our society fractured a long time ago (look at Oldham) - the difference now is people are actually starting to notice.

Sadly, it's being driven by political posturing but at least there are people now doing something to address it, in whatever ways they see things can change.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 19:04

Paul -

YouGov are great but polls are polls and they can be skewed which is why it's not such a good idea for you or me to fling out statistics as proof that this is what "people" want or don't want. I'm sure many people in Lambeth are sick to death of Birbalsingh's hypocrisy and self promotion and suspicious of her "commitment" especially as she she showed herself to be less than committed to her profession or her ideologies in the past. She herself has stated she has no choice but to set up her own free school in order to earn a living, complaining that the state system has shunned her and she can't get a job there.

I think Birbalsingh herself can jump to the front of the queue for political posturing don't you think? Dabbling in the high profile forum of a party conference to thrust herself into the limelight and sell a few books is that got her into hot water in the first place. I suspect that the undeserving poor that her free school will do nothing to help will have no sympathy for her whatsoever.

I don't know what the history of the Lilian Baylis building is but I seem to remember that her trying to get her hands on it has aroused a lot of emotion. I will find out why and let you know. There is a shortage of school places in Lambeth but what on earth can a free school with no building achieve? How many people will the school teach? If the cost per pupil is £5-6k like Toby Young's then it is costing the government more per pupil. A better solution would have been to spend what little money there is opening up capacity in existing schools.

But the I forget. Isn't the idea to close down schools like the ones in Lambeth as the government manipulates figures to show that maintained schools are failing and the likes of Michaela are succeding - especially when they start excluding the less bright as they do in some Charters in America). With those closed, local Academies and Birbalsingh had better start adding extensions to their lofts, police stations, warehouses, whetever it is that they deem fit for purpose as a school. Oh - and double class sizes to accommodate the overspill. You speak of fairness all the time - does this strike you as a fair way of going about things Paul?

Paul Atherton's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 20:06

So first, when statistics don't go your way (and I purposely used these particular stats precisely because they were coming from the NUT, as opposed to a Conservative political think-tank), you fling weak ones at me, then you decide their useless and now you'd prefer to just guess what people think. Brilliant!

Lilian Baylis was a school, which became an Academy and moved to a new purpose built technology school 6 years, it was recently taken over by community projects who are currently being evicted - so it can be sold off to developers if Lambeth Council can get a buyer.

Everything your saying is currently supposition. So to ask me if something is fair, that at this juncture is a construct of your imagination, is impossible to answer.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 20:15

I wonder if anyone has asked the new Lilian Baylis school what they feel about this. I feel quite defensive of that school having spent some time filming there several years ago after Oliver Letwin had condemned it publicly without even visiting it. I have since been back to visit the new site, which isn't far away. The school has a fantastic committed head and works extremely hard for all local children, who come from a wider range of challenging backgrounds. It is simply not true that Lambeth children are all being let down by local schools - by society maybe - but there are many people in Lambeth trying hard to address those issues. Maybe another school is needed, but it should be developed in consultation with the community and , as Laura McInerney reminded us in her pamphlet about the 'predictable failures of free schools' starting off with a blind faith that you will do automatically do better than all existing provision, without fully understanding the context, is not a recipe for success.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 20:18

Well actually I was trying to make the point that flinging statistics around was only half the story! As for supposition - well aren't free schools - their effectiveness, their small classes, their claims for radicalising of education, their "inclusiveness" - just a supposition? Asking you if think that dismantling local schools to prop up free schools at whatever cost has nothing to do with supposition. It's fact. Maybe you can't answer whether you think it is fair because to say yes would be an unpalatable truth, no? No one likes to look like they are self-serving and couldn't give a damn about the excluded and the disadvantaged, so they conceal it with empty rhetoric which amounts to does nothing but favours some deserving but not the majority of them. Shifting weak or strong statistics around won't evade the truth

Paul Atherton's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 20:54

Allan, you're now contradicting yourself within your own post, yes I agree that Free Schools only exist as an idea (I have said many times to you that I think this is an idea worth exploring) but you then go on suggest they already exist and how they are going to impact on society and decide that is fact.

So which is it, are Free Schools an idea yet to be tested and realised or are they dismantling local schools to be propped up?

And I hope you are not for one second implying that I don't give a damn about the vulnerable in society.

I'm Black & registered disabled, I've been brought up in Children's homes and lived on the streets. I have a Mother in a care home suffering with Alzheimers and a son who lives 150 miles away.

I've produced productions that have involved Children from disadvantaged backgrounds at Bexley Academy, made a domestic Violence docudrama that was so successful in highlighting the plight of women in that situation that's its used by the Probation Service, Armed Forces & Refuges as a training aid and constantly used in Court to explain to judges why women just don't leave the situation their in and am now creating a system for the vulnerable of UK to put pressures on Councils who let them down.

Can I ask what you've done?

Paul Atherton's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 21:28

Fiona, Considering just 600 people were consulted about what happens to the Old Lilian Baylis site what do you see as being in consultation with community and what form do you think it should take?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 15:14

11 May 2011 House of Commons

Graham Brady (Con MP for Altrincham and Sale West) attempted to insert a new clause 2 into the Education Bill. He says he wants “excellent independent schools to come into the state sector” but to be allowed to keep their selective status and their ethos. In other words, they will be allowed to refuse admission to low-ability or challenging children. These unwanted children can be educated elsewhere so that independent schools allowed into the state sector can maintain their “excellent” results. About Batley grammar school Mr Brady says, “Shockingly, under the present Government, it, too, is being required to change its ethos and its admissions policy in a way that would not have been required had it been a state school transferring to academy status.”

This is Andy Burnham’s reply: “That is a relevant question given that today we have further evidence, from the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady), of the true Tory instincts on education. His new clause 2 would allow independent schools that cross over to the state sector to continue selective admissions policies, as he confirmed to me, which means that formerly independent fee-paying schools would be fully funded by the taxpayer, but would remain exclusive schools selecting students on the basis of ability. I notice that 35 or more of his colleagues felt free to put their names to this outrageous expansion of selection, presumably because they are being encouraged by his own Whips and Front Benchers.

At a Friends of Grammar Schools reception in Parliament last year, hosted by the hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of State was asked for his view on whether his free school movement could allow the expansion of selection. He reportedly replied:

“My foot is hovering over the pedal; I’ll have to see what my co-driver Nick Clegg has to say”.

Well, I think we know what the Deputy Prime Minister will do: he will talk about being muscular, but then offer no resistance whatsoever. Indeed, Tory voices today are crowing about the right-wing nature of the school reforms before the House. I urge Liberal Democrats to live up to their recent statements, particularly since Thursday, and to implement the policy passed at last year’s Liberal Democrat conference. I urge Liberal Democrats, too, to listen to the independent experts. When asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) in the Education Select Committee whether he would make the changes to admissions set out in the Bill, the schools adjudicator replied:

“I wouldn’t, no. The only changes I would be introducing, as I said to the Chair, is the extension of our role to take on academies and free schools. I don’t think that I would be taking out any of the admissions changes suggested in the Bill.”

The Children’s Commissioner said:

“Reduced accountability in the admissions system also risks increasing the social segregation in schools”

The Association of School and College Leaders said:

“While we accept the limitations of the Local Authority and Admissions Forums we are concerned that there may now be a void in policing admissions.”

Barnardo’s said:

“As the Bill stands, it is likely that in the future there could be a variety of admission arrangements within local areas—resulting in selection and segregation.”

These warnings could not be clearer.”

Tracy Hannigan's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 20:46

What I wonder is this: if in the future Gove gets what he wants, and all schools can set admissions the way they like, and they are all 'competing' many children can't get into any local school whatsoever because they don't fit into the 'ever more competitive' school's admissions criteria?

Paul Atherton's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 17:07

@Janet, So if I've understood correctly, the argument is currently surrounding selective admissions.

Although attempts were made to rid the UK of Grammar Schools, certain local authorities resisted and we still currently have 164 state run ones in England, selecting pupils on academic ability.

It would appear then, that this is simply about limiting choice and that seems hugely unfair to me.

Surely what should be fought for is great schools for academic children and great schools for those who aren't.

As it stands, as my son lives in Wales, he wouldn't have had the chance of going to a grammar school, if we chose that route, as none exist. If I wanted that option I would have had to uproot him and move to him to England and then the schools are predominantly only in the South (as it happens I live in London - so I'd have a choice of 8). I certainly couldn't afford to send him to a private school.

So whilst there is in existence all kinds of state funded schools offering differing specialisms, whether technical or sporting and grammar, why shouldn't we increase the number of academic schools currently allowed into the mix?

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 18:50

Paul -

What is hugely unfair is subjecting children to a test at 11 to determine whether they can be win one of the golden Tickets to be admitted into Willie Wonka's Chocolate factory. Unfair because of the pressure put on them by their parents. Unfair because, actually, not that many poor families can afford the tutors that the better heeled families can shell out for their children prepare for the entrance exam. Unfair because this demonstrates, that once again that grammars don't give "bright poor working class children" a chance for a "better education" but draw their intake from the middle classes wealthy enough to afford course books and an army of tutors but too strapped to go for the private option. Unfair because each child develops at different ages. Unfair because the superior attitude of grammar schools pander to the fears and prejudices of people concerned only for the "aspiration" (I love and loathe that word in equal measure and I must thank my good frenemy Andy Smithers for prompting me to overuse it) of their own with nary a thought to other people. Unfair because grammars send out the message that only a traditional curriculum will get you anywhere in life and anything else is virtually worthless.

Technical and sporting specialities , by the way, are in addition to academic curriculum, not instead of, unlike grammars. At the ones I visited many years ago, my mind was alternately numbed by their smugness on the one hand and their banging of their own drum about percentage GSCE rates. Where was the enjoyment in learning as opposed to the gritting of teeth to succeed succeed succeed in all subjects at all times?

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 13/06/2011 - 10:50

It is the grammar school that chooses the pupil, not the other way round. Parents can express a preference for their child to go to a grammar school where one exists but it is not the parent who does the choosing. The child can be rejected. And those of us old enough to remember the stigma of attending a secondary modern school, even when these offered an excellent education and were regarded as "great schools", do not want to return to this two-tier system. That is why the majority of local authorities closed grammar schools.

Just because a grammar school gets good results (because of its intake), it does not follow that it is offering a better education than schools which get lower results (because of their intake). And there has been a grammar school which was failed by Ofsted because it failed to give an adequate education despite its high showing in the league tables.

Paul Atherton's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 20:30

You may think it wrong to test children at 11 referring to 11+ but surely the SATS are far, far worse (starting at 7 again at 11, 14).

My son is being graded and streamed in an environment that places no emphasis on results, but does apply them to everything.

That I think is truly unfair.

He excels under pressure, but is useless if he feels cannot accomplish something. So a competition where everybody wins is pointless for him. He just doesn't bother. So for him competition is good.

I don't want to impose those values on other children but do want to put him in an environment so he can excel at his talents - because as a parent that's the best I can offer him.

He reads for pleasure and learns about a whole variety of things outside of school.

You chose your own life course, if your child is hoping to enter a profession that is extremely competitive, then the grit your teeth and persevere option is likely to be the one to take.

But this isn't right for everybody and I'm not suggesting it should be - but it is right for some and shouldn't they have the same choice as your suggesting from your perspective?

Paul Atherton's picture
Mon, 13/06/2011 - 11:40

@Janet, You do accept though, that Grammar Schools in the 21st Century aren't remotely similar in terms of their 20th Century versions. Not least because this about choice now. Then, it was either in or out. Now it's one type of education or another.

Grammar schools obviously reject pupils who fail to meet their academic standards whereas a child can simply be rejected from a State School because of numbers).

I don't think rejection comes into play now.

If a pupil fails to get into a Grammar School, nobody ever needs to know.

So I cannot see how we can get back to the two tier systems that once existed unless of course we scarp the entire education system as it stands and start again and I don't think anybody will achieve that - purely from a political standpoint. Ignoring the logistics and the cost.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 13/06/2011 - 14:26

I'm sorry, but 21st century grammar schools are no different from those of the last century. In areas where grammar schools exist then there will be children who are rejected. And it's obvious who they are because they all go to the other secondary school in the area which is a secondary modern in all but name. It may even be called a comprehensive school but it will have very few high-fliers because they've all been chosen by the grammar school.

The system is actually worse now because schools whose intake is skewed towards the bottom end are judged against schools whose intake comprises high-fliers. The former will inevitably be lower down the league tables than the latter, and therefore perceived as a worse school.

To say that selection doesn't include rejection is odd logic to say the least.

As far as scrapping the existing system is concerned, that is what Mr Gove is trying to do. Sir Peter Newsam's post makes this clear. And it's not for the better.

Paul Atherton's picture
Tue, 14/06/2011 - 08:59

Janet, I think your personal experience of Grammar Schools my be skewing your view here.

As I said Grammar Schools are not an either or situation today, as opposed to what you had, where everybody wanted to go to a Grammar School as they were seen as the only preferred option.

Parents who want to give their children the best education they see fit, will not necessarily go the academic route and therefore a Grammar School would not be their preferred option.

But I think this idea of failing an entrance exam as being rejected, seems a strange one. All schools have exams, all pupils are made to take SATs in state schools, which stream them. All pupils take GCSE and many go on to take "A" Levels. If they are unsuccessful this doesn't mean they have been rejected, it merely says that at that time, they were unable to achieve the desired result.

Exam failure does not equal rejection.

I am against league tables on principle. Not least because they tell you nothing of what you need to know as a parent. Parents need to do the work if they want to assess schools for themselves, talk to parents, pupils, headmasters and teachers etc.

And, ultimately, unless they are putting their children into fee paying schools, most parents will invariably only have a choice of maybe 5 or 6 Schools locally (I had a choice of 2 and in truth only 1 because it was in walkable distance of my son's home and his Mother works and wanted him to be able to get home easily on his own).

So parents choose schools on a variety of reasons and often nothing to do with education (such as the schools location, where the majority of pupils from a primary school go so to keep friends together, hours of the school day if parents work etc).

Sir Peter Newsam's Post suggests that within 3 years the entire education system will be irrevocable changed forever.

History tells us, that, that will never happen. There will be only 12 free schools next year, we already have 1/2 million pupils in private education as it is and whilst many schools are choosing the academy route even if you add in Labour's there are still only 702.

The changes will take decades not years. And certainly will not take root in a single parliamentary term.

And the biggest tenet of his argument, lies with the local councils, he assumes that they will decide to no longer provide various educational needs. There is no proof of that as yet but it is of course something we need to keep a very close eye on. But at least that's a local provision and we can take action to control that.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 21:50

Paul -

No, I have not contradicted myself. What I said was that the claims of Free Schools - basically that they will offer provide quality education of the sort that maintained schools have failed to do - is a supposition. Sadly, Free Schools will exist from September and it IS a fact that they will they will impact on other local schools, the community and society in general. The impact can only be negative. Why? firstly, because Free School founders (including Birbalsingh and Young) cannot stop themselves from denigrating maintained schools in order to promote the supposed excellence of Free Schools; secondly, the government, in diverting so much capital towards Free School and away from maintained schools, will degenerate existing local schools; thirdly, they are funded by central government and are not accountable to the local community; fourth, free schools are funded from money cut from BSF - money that would have been spent to help ALL schools. These are the facts.

Yes I do thing it is unfair to test children at 11 and I don't like SATS either.

I'm not going to get drawn into what I have contributed to society, either personally or professionally. I don't think it would contribute anything to the debates here and I certainly don't wish to betray confidences by using them in a battlle of one upmanship.

Paul Atherton's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 22:00

"No one likes to look like they are self-serving and couldn’t give a damn about the excluded and the disadvantaged, so they conceal it with empty rhetoric" Seems an appropriate quote to throw back at you.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 22:05

I don't think so Paul. But the facts I have listed speak for themselves. No empty rhetoric there

Paul Atherton's picture
Tue, 14/06/2011 - 14:04

A couple of corrections of your "facts":

If people have had poor experiences in maintained schools surely they should have the right to express them. Neither Birbalsingh or Young have said all State Maintained Schools are poor just the ones they have had experience with.

£50 Million is all that had been allocated for all Free Schools out of the £1.9 Billion apportioned for the BSF which is a drop in the ocean and as you rightly pointed out isn't being diverted from anything other than the cancelled BSF (which was all for construction of buildings and not about teaching or education).

Free Schools being in the community and used by the community are by their very nature answerable to the community. If people aren't happy with them they don't send their children, if they don't send their children, the school no longer exists.

BSF was not about ALL Schools it was localised in England and only 96 Local Authorities had been approved to join the scheme with many other Councils not being able to prove their ability to manage the projects, it was incredibly wasteful (my brother was one of the Directors delivering it) and as you know has now been scrapped.

Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 14/06/2011 - 14:56

Katharine Birbalsingh, introduction to To Miss With Love, a highly critical account of the English school system which she claims is based on the five schools in which she has worked :
"The majority of children across England's cities are in schools like the one in this book, and some are in schools that are much worse"

Paul Atherton's picture
Tue, 14/06/2011 - 15:25

Thanks for helping my point Fiona.

Alan, as you can see, even in her novel she acknowledges that not all schools are bad, that she is talking from her own experience and that she is only referring to inner city schools.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 14/06/2011 - 16:01

1. Google Birbalsingh and Young - especially their blogs - and read how their sensationalist and outrageous attacks on maintained schools serve to bolster their media profiles and their schools. You should also read Laura McInerney's book "Six Predictable Failures of Free Schools" (available from Amazon) and see how both do themselves and their schools no favours as they do nothing to build strong relationships with existing schools and dismiss the problems facing existing schools and fail to recognise their new school may face them too. Black educationalist Gus John is offended that Katharine Birbalsingh seems to think that NO state run school could provide quality education or equip black children with sound values that make them fit for living in civil society. "That is frankly a gross insult to those thousands of teachers who do just that every single year, including in an increasing number of those virtually all black schools in the Borough of Lambeth."

2. The £50m you refer to has been questioned on this site and by other education journalists. We are unclear if this is just capital funds - or includes running costs too. Either way it is a suspiciously small amount for Free Schools and if true would hardly be enough to sustain the programme as envisaged at its inception by the government. £50m would go a fair way to improve buildings - even if only cosmetically - and it is a fact that attractive, bright, well maintained school buildings contribute to better standards.

3. Being answerable to the community means nothing. There has to be a public body within the community representing its interests. At the moment, that is the Local Authority who, by implementing guidelines and regulations, ensure that their schools are acting fairly and responsibly.

4. You don't know if you are happy with a school until your child is there. At the moment, people are seduced by the visions and aims of Free Schools, as if maintained schools do not share and try to implement the same visions. If you are subsequently unhappy with a school, it is not easy to make the decision to take them out and it is not easy to find another school place. Not a choice between Tesco and Sainsbury's.

5. The BSF project and the red tape surrounding it was by no means perfect. But at least this progressive, fair and inclusive Labour policy sought to improve standards for as many children as possible. The Coalition regressive policies create a two-tier system and encourage negative competition where neighbouring schools are not inspired by each other to do better but to compete to survive. BSF = Regeneration and Hope. Coalition policies = Battleground and Segregation

Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 14/06/2011 - 15:45

I didn't read it quite like that . My understanding was that she was critical of the schools in which she worked and used them to typify the whole system ( which she described as "broken" at the Tory Party Conference). However it wouldn't surprise me if we both misunderstood her, she is usually quite muddled in her explanations, never quite sure if she has written a piece of fact or fiction.

Paul Atherton's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 08:19

1. I have Googled both Birbalsingh & Young and can find nothing to support your contention that they criticise all State Schools.

But I did find this quote from Birbalsingh:

"I thought black underachievement was about racist teaching. Then I saw all these hard-working white teachers around me, none of whom were racist, and I realised that the racist teaching analysis didn't make sense."

As I've said many times before, this is an idea, whether it will work or not only time will tell.

And Gus John does seem to be a little out of touch with reality. He states:

"My youngest daughter went to a state school in Camden, having left one in Haringey that had too much of an anti-learning culture among young black girls, and got her 10A* and 3As at GCSE before going on to City & Islington College and getting 4 As and then on to Oxford to read Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies. She is not an exception by any means."

So, not only does he acknowledge that one state school wasn't appropriate for his daughters needs, (Anti-learning he refers to it ), he shows he was in a position to put her into a better school (which of course backs up the argument, that parents are moving their children to better performing schools) but then ends his quote by saying his daughter is not the exception for attending Oxford, when only one Black Caribbean Student was admitted to Oxford last year.

Worst still he seems to have a complete reversal of thinking. He wrote in
the Guardian (Friday 5th September 2008):

"Dr. Steve Strand's report is a timely reminder to government and schools of what black Caribbean parents and many black teachers have been protesting about for years. His research-based evidence has been preceded by the findings of black supplementary schools and the experience of frustrated parents up and down the land for decades, which is that teachers' low expectations and stereotypical beliefs regarding the ability of African Caribbean children and the quality of teaching that flows from them, are leading to educational underachievement, low student aspirations and an alienation from learning that encourages poor behaviour and discipline and low self worth."

Which is exactly what Katharine's complaints have been about.

2. Whether the figure is accurate or not (and at this juncture we have to accept them until evidence to the contra is found) it would still be coming out of the BSF savings.

Could you please provide evidence to support your contention that "... it is a fact that attractive, bright, well maintained school buildings contribute to better standards."

3. Why? And what makes you think Local Authorites are representative of the community?

4. The fact is there is clear evidence that parents do move their children to better schools (look at Gus John for example), thats is why certain schools are hugely undersubscribed and others totally oversubscribed.

5. So selection in Schools is OK, '... Progressive, Fair & Inclusive" but that same selection when applied to pupils is not. Why is it fair & inclusive to exclude swathes of English schools for the failures of the councils that manage them? Why is it fair to simply focus on English Schools not UK schools? Why is it progressive to spend vast amounts of money on building & technologies (in the private sector) when you don't have the teaching staff to utilise them, as I found in Bexley Business Academy?

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 14:39

There is plenty on the internet. I'm certainly not going to draw more attention to their remarks. They have both attracted enough publicity for themselves as it is.

Not only time will tell - examples in other countries have shown that these schools are as likely to fail as succeed. Please just go and read Laura McInerney's book - it's worth every penny of the £6.

I think your remarks about Gus John do little but to show that he has revised his opinion. for the better, in my mind. Birbalsingh on the other hand, appears to have few fixed beliefs. In the space of one interview she can contradict herself, theatrically. Not the best attributes I would have thought in a leader.

LAs are representative of the community because they have responsibility for and provide support to all its schools. Is this not obvious?

Yes I know people move their children from one school to another but the point I made - PLEASE READ - is that is not an easy decision to make.

Sorry - no idea what you are going on about in point 5. And I never said Selection in Schools is OK. I said that BSF was a progressive, fair and inclusive programme I have never said that and never will. Finally, I much prefer to discuss issues which affect all schools, or at least the majority of them if possible. I don't know the ins and outs of your experiences at Bexley but one personal bad experience doesn't mean the whole system is bad.

Paul Atherton's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 22:10

1. So no evidence to back up your claim that Burbalsingh & Young have denigrated all State Schools?

From what I understand of Laura McInereney's pamphlet it is derived from available research, I'd rather draw my own conclusions from the source material thanks.

Which Gus John's quote are you referring to when you talk about revising his views the one he gave in 2011 in reference to his daughter going to Oxford or the one in 2008 where he makes comments about a report published that year race and teaching?

If the latter, in truth, do you really believe that the decades of problems suddenly disappeared overnight (or in under 2 years)?

And in truth the only place I can find mention of the quote you provided by John, was on "Lambeth Says No to Free Schools" which makes me question its veracity. You would have thought, if he felt this strongly about it, it would at least make a mention on his own website?

2. No evidence then (becoming a bit of a theme this one) for "it is a fact that attractive, bright, well maintained school buildings contribute to better standards."?

3. "LAs are representative of the community because they have responsibility for and provide support to all its schools." Clearly not.

a) They do not oversee all the schools in their Borough only those that are under its authority - so hardly representative of the community as a whole

b) looking at the failures of councils to meet the requirements of it's residents it surprises me that you put so much faith in them.

4. It's irrelevant if it's easy or not for parents to move children from schools, they do, which thereby supports my contention.

5. Put simply, a Council had to apply for BSF through a bid application, in the same way a Grammar School Pupil needed to pass an exam to be allowed entrance. This then means that Schools in boroughs who had poor Local Authorities or ones who didn't sign up to the scheme were penalised (so by definition you were arguing that it was OK to select schools, but not the pupils who attended them). So, I do not see what was fair progressive or inclusive about the BSF. The problems I elucidated with Bexley (being the first City Academy) was reflected through all the PFI developments. Schools with Stock Exchanges, Radio Stations and Television Studios with no teachers to teach the subjects.

A quick look at the National Audit Offices report "The Building Schools for the Future Programme: Renewing the secondary school estate" Publication date: 12 February 2009 highlights many of the problems.

Also look at the Observer's Debate:

"Do good buildings make for better educated children?

As the government shelves school building projects, Rowan Moore, architecture critic of the Observer, and Rick Jones, a teacher and journalist, consider whether the classroom environment affects teaching and learning"

Which I think give the most salient arguments on the subject and what most people believe.

The "for" good environments argument put forward by Rowan concluded:

"Sadly, the last [Labour] government's mighty splurge of school building yielded few examples of what I'm talking about. There were a few city academies by big name architects, swish but not always user-friendly. Otherwise new buildings were dished out in bundles, in which one consortium might deliver all the schools for an entire city. The vital link between users and designers was lost. Processes were devised and consultants appointed to minimise cost overruns: they created the certainty, rather than the possibility, that money would be wasted."

The "against" argument from Rick concluded:

"Environment is helpful to a good education but not essential. It still comes down to the ability of the teacher to transport and inspire students verbally. Buildings cannot teach. That is the specialised skill of the professional educators, but the amounts lavished on construction schemes sometimes make it seem as if the bricks and mortar themselves were the all-important element in learning. The announced discontinuation of building works might be seen as a return to the idea that the teacher is the centre of the education universe."

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 22:19

Sorry Paul. Too bored to comment

Paul Atherton's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 22:25


Anonymous's picture
Mon, 11/06/2012 - 17:07

Reading this article and being a member of batley grammar school you guys have it ALL WRONG. The school is now full of people who have no intention of learning and would rather go out on the streets in Adidas jackets. The school has turned into a terrible school and that is the end of that. Do not attempt to find out who I am cause I am deleting this account.


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