Is the Schools Commissioner interested in all schools, or just Academies and Free Schools?

Allan Beavis's picture
Those of us following @liz_sidwell, or Dr. Elizabeth Sidwell, recently appointed Schools Commissioner for England, have noticed that she only seems to refer to, or visits, academies.

It is clear from the DfE website that the schools' commissioner is only interested in academies, free schools and so on. The schools' commissioner, therefore, isn't an ambassador for all state schools in England, but only for those of which the government approves. It's another way of sidelining community schools.

A TES article in Nov 2008, published when Bruce Liddington left his job of schools' commissioner to work for Edutrust, shows that the NASUWT was already worried that the role of schools' commissioner was narrowing and becoming nothing more than an academy advocate.

"His post in the Department for Children, Schools and Families was supposed to involve championing fair school admissions, supporting the greater involvement of parents in schools, helping local authorities to develop as commissioners of schools, and promoting "choice and diversity" through academy plans and attracting trust school partners. But Chris Keates, the NASUWT general secretary, claims the commissioner's job is now widely perceived as being about pushing through academy and trust school plans, rather than taking a balanced view of school provision. She has written to Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, asking him to discontinue the schools' commissioner post. "We are not convinced that the office is necessary or provides any added value to state education," Ms Keates told The TES".

The NASUWT wrote to Ed Balls asking him to discontinue the post. This is the role that Elizabeth Sidwell has been employed by the coalition to undertake. Is Elizabeth Sidwell’s appointment in this role to be a mere advocate of Academies and Free Schools? If so, then who – or what – is responsible for the majority (60% or so ) of community schools that she does not acknowledge or care to visit?
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Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 14:04

There are 20,303 maintained schools in England according to the 2010 schools census. This number includes 202 academies established under Labour. Since the election a further 1097 schools have converted to academy status. There are, therefore, 19,004 schools which are still not academies. These 19,004 schools have all but disappeared from the DfE website – they appear in a few sentences on the website’s duller pages. And it appears that the Schools Commissioner, whose job title gives the impression she’s commissioner for all schools, is interested only in academies, free schools, studio schools and University Technical Colleges. In other words, this is a political appointment to promote government policy. The NASUWT was right – this post should go.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 14:09

The Schools Commissioner is supposed to address underperformance – and who could possibly disagree with that? Except that the ways she puts forward to tackle underperformance are restricted: convert to academy status or open a free school. Mr Cameron advocates another way: allow a private school to parachute in and rescue a “failing” school (this despite the fact that the OECD found that UK state schools actually outperform private schools when socio-economic factors are taken into account).

There are actually very few underperforming schools in England and the Education Endowment Fund (EEF) found that many of these are doing a good job in difficult circumstances. But the Government and the Schools Commissioner want to eradicate this underperformance, which in many cases is caused by factors outside a school’s control, by changing the entire educational landscape in England and paving the way for profit-making companies to take over the running of English schools.

Mark Luscombe's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 17:26

(this despite the fact that the OECD found that UK state schools actually outperform private schools when socio-economic factors are taken into account).

Is this actually the case? Or is it rather that state schools performance against Private schools in the UK is better than in other countries? A subtle difference I know but I'd hate to see a sound argument unpickedby others because of a slight inaccuracy .

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 20/10/2011 - 09:15

Apologies, Mark, I should have provided links to the evidence. OECD found that globally private schools outperformed public schools but three-quarters of the difference could be “attributed to private schools’ ability to attract socio-economically advantaged students. Schools that attract advantaged students are also more likely to attract better-performing students as well as greater resources.” BUT when socio-economic background and the advantages that accrue to the schools is taken into account, then there is only a small performance difference, if any (see below). OECD also found that when public and private schools have the same intake and resources then there is no difference in performance. (PISA in Focus 7).

That’s the situation globally. In the UK the difference between private and public schools (state-funded in the UK context) is wider. Firstly, the UK is “one of a fewer number of OECD countries that favour socio-economically advantaged schools with access to more teachers” (Viewing the UK School System through the prism of PISA page 5). Secondly, “socio-economic disadvantage has a strong impact on student performance in the UK” (although the latter is brushed aside by the government who subscribe to the “no excuses” formula). Finally, OECD said this about the performance of private and public schools in the UK:

“On average across OECD countries, privately managed schools display a performance advantage of 30 score points on the PISA reading scale (in the UK even of 62 score points).” This sentence would seem to confirm Nick Gibb’s assertion that British independent schools are the best in the world. BUT that is to ignore the qualifying statement which follows immediately: “However, once the socio-economic background of students and schools is accounted for, public schools come out with a slight advantage of 7 score points, on average across OECD countries (in the UK public schools outscore privately managed schools by 20 score points once the socio-economic background is accounted for)”. (op cit page 13).

So UK private schools do NOT perform better than UK state schools when socio-economic background is factored in. The opposite is true: UK state schools perform better than private schools – overall they are doing a good job in more challenging circumstances than private schools. This, again, is ignored by the government who not only downplay the achievements of state schools (unless grammars or academies) but talk patronisingly of private schools being able to help poorly-performing (in terms of raw grades) state schools. It’s as if consultants in a private hospital serving affluent, well-nourished patients are asked to descend on a clinic serving the fictional Chatsworth estate (“Shameless”) in the expectation of raising health outcomes.

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