Government rolls out successful programme. Is it innovative social enterprise or thinly veiled privatisation of services?

Janet Downs's picture
SEN children make big step forward in English and Maths” says the Department for Education (DfE). Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have made remarkable progress during a pilot scheme, Achievement for All, set up two years ago by the last Government.

Achievement for All was a whole-school approach which provided a broad structure allowing head teachers to adapt the scheme to fit local needs. Manchester University evaluated the pilot and found it had a significant positive impact on progress in English and mathematics for SEN pupils. Attendance and behaviour improved, and there was better engagement with parents and teachers. The Government has decided, therefore, to allocate £14 million to help roll out the scheme nationally so that schools can strengthen provision for SEND pupils.

Schools, including ones already in the pilot and new schools, are being invited to come forward and sign up. However, there’s a snag. It’s not free. Schools will have to pay a fee of £3,000 for up to 500 pupils for two years. Larger schools or groups of schools will be charged an annual fee of up to £9,000 depending on size. This will pay for access to resources and designated days of support. Pilot schools can “fast track” to Quality Mark and Quality Lead status if they sign up for the project – other schools can aim for this accreditation in the longer term.

The annual fees will be paid to a newly-formed charity, Achievement for All (3As), which has been commissioned by the DfE to deliver the programme. Achievement for All (3As) describes itself as a “new social enterprise” and is supported by Price Waterhouse Cooper. The charity’s registered address is that of its solicitors in London, but it operates from the office of a registered company, Achievement for All (3As) Ltd, in Newbury. One of the charity’s Trustees is also a Trustee of the New Schools Network (NSN), the organisation which implements the Government’s free school policy. The Chief Operating Officer of Achievement for All (3As), Hassan Al-Damluji, was Head of Strategy at NSN from January to July 2011.

When Achievement for All was originally piloted, the scheme was co-ordinated by Local Authorities (LAs) and money was distributed to pilot schools – Oldham pilot schools, for example, received £15,000 each. But the DfE now expects schools to pay for it. There is also the problem of local co-ordination - LAs are being broken up as more schools convert to academy status. The DfE, therefore, has found a third party to co-ordinate the scheme in academies and free schools. And that third party is the New Schools Network.

It is unacceptable that lessons learnt from a successful pilot are not disseminated freely to any school that wishes to duplicate the strategies. The DfE has allocated £14 million to the scheme yet it is unclear where this money is going. It is unacceptable that Quality Marks and the like will be available to schools that pay a fee to join the scheme. It is unacceptable that the remit of the New Schools Network has been expanded. Far from being an independent charity, it now seems to be an extension of the DfE established for the sole purpose of pursuing the Government’s political objectives. This could be considered a violation of Charity Commission rules.

This national “roll-out” is not what it is claimed to be. It is not national – it is only available to schools that pay. The final questions remain – is this social enterprise approach to providing support to schools really innovative or is it a thinly veiled move to the privatisation of services?

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Jake's picture
Fri, 25/11/2011 - 11:56

Another weak attack on the NSN. The dept statement says the following:

"The charity is working with the New Schools Network to support Academies and Free Schools to take up the Achievement for All offer. Achievement for All 3As is currently working with 41 local authorities and 598 schools."

The NSN is the obvious channel to help roll out this initiative to free schools in conjunction with the DfE, while AfA already has many LA and direct school contacts as noted above. This seems a sensible approach given the current financial climate.

Given that loony tunes such as Balls and Brown bankrupted this country over the course of 13 years (Liam Bryne's note was sadly spot on) I am not sure where you think funding can come from these days to help disadvanatged children such the SEND kids through initiatives like this? Would you rather sacrifice these children on the altar of ideology by doing nothing?

Schools can decide for themselves if there is value to paying for this new service, why is this different from any other service schools already pay for? There is no money in the public purse for free hand outs in this day and age.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 25/11/2011 - 12:38

The DfE is allocated £14 million to the scheme. If schools are having to pay to access the resources, then where is this £14 million going? It wouldn't cost £14 million to publish the strategies on the DfE website. The resources would then be available to schools free of charge for little cost to the taxpayer.

What Achievement for All (3As) seems to be offering schools for their fee is access to resources, which could be disseminated free-of-charge from the DfE website, and meetings with "Achievement Coaches" who will work with the "School Champion" to develop a framework for the whole school. As the original scheme allowed head teachers to develop their own framework within a broad structure, then it should be possible for heads to do this if they wished to do so if they were given free access to the strategies used in the pilot.

There is no need to "sacrifice these [SEND] children on the altar of ideology". All the DfE needs to do is publish these strategies on its website.

Jake's picture
Fri, 25/11/2011 - 13:05

You have answered your own question - "The DfE has allocated £14 million to the scheme". You nor I has any idea how this figure is arrived at or whether it is reasonable - it may be or it might not be, so why don't you FOI the figure or lobby your MP? I doubt very much the solution is quite as simple as you suggest above - ie, publish everything for free on the dept website and that will solve the problem. Time is money - there is a cost to implement. We live in a world of scarce resource and if the £14 mill was not recovered somehow than it would be money not available elsewhere. That is a value judgement the ministers have made in this instance. In economic terms its called 'opportunity cost'. The pie is only so big unless you want to bung a penny or two on income tax (no one ever got elected using that tactic) or rob Peter to pay Paul (overseas aid anyone?).

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 25/11/2011 - 17:33

Jake - let me put the question in little clearer because it has not been answered. £14 million has been allocated to the scheme - I said that much in the original thread. I asked where the money was going. Yes, the money is indeed going on the scheme as you helpfully pointed out - but what exactly is the money buying? It clearly isn't going to schools because schools have to pay a fee.

Time is indeed money - and it would have been more cost effective for the DfE to have published the resources on its webisite where they would be available to all 20,000+ schools (like the National Strategies). Instead, the DfE think up a convoluted scheme whereby a charity and a limited company are set up (costing time and money) in the hope of attracting interest from 1,000 schools. The charity has links with the New Schools Network which is then given the job of co-ordinating the charity's work with interested academies and free schools ( as the Government is busy wrecking the local authority framework which supported the original pilot).

On an earlier thread I reported that Mr Gove has said that there needs to be an intermediary between academies and central government. As the DfE has given some co-ordination work to the New Schools Network, this raises the question as to whether the NSN will become the intermediary in the future.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 26/11/2011 - 13:32

Alternatives to bought-it support are highlighted below. One example of free training and resource sharing is from c4eo which describes itself as "the Schools and communities interactive e-learning resource created to support you in achieving outcomes for children".

Other examples were highlighted in TESpro (25 November 2011 - not all articles available on line). It described ways in which teachers are developing personal learning networks unique to their own needs. The editor of TESpro describes the growth of these networks as an "upbeat, grassroots movement [which] stands in stark contrast with the political debate about how to professionalise teaching. These teachers are not waiting for a Government-approved master's degree - they are arranging their own learning." They are also not going to wait for the arrival of an "Achievement Coach" at a minimum cost of £3,000 pa per school for two years.

As well as publishing its own resource bank, available free to those who log in, TES lists Teachmeet events where teachers meet informally to give short presentations. TES also listed suggestions of places where teachers can share ideas: social networking, microblogging (see below for info re #ukedchat), Linkedin, Wikis (Wikispaces, PBwikie, Wetpaint), Blogging, RSS readers and social bookmarking.

There's no need to buy into a scheme which parachutes in an expert: "Teachers are Doing it for Themselves". (re collaboration) (re Teachmeet)

A selection of websites which are sources of ideas (listed in TESpro 25 November 2011). There are probably dozens more: (to access some of the national strategies materials)

Brian's picture
Thu, 01/12/2011 - 18:54

Hi Janet,

I am the Chair of Achievement for All 3As the Charity and thought it might be helpful to clarify a few points.

Achievement for All works across all sections of the school community to ensure that children with SEN and vulnerable learners have a greater chance of achieving better outcomes. It grew out of my Inquiry into the SEN system and the pilot programme of the same name as a consequence of the lack of progress and focus on this group of Children. It was founded by the leader of that programme Professor Sonia Blandford, myself and a group of schools leaders, most of whom joined us from the state sector. As you say, but don't illustrate, the pilot achieved amazing results for children with SEN. Some of the main ones were;

• 37 per cent of children achieved or exceeded expected levels of progress for all pupils nationally in English.
• 42 per cent of children achieved or exceeded expected levels of progress for all pupils nationally in maths.
• Improvements in attendance with a decrease of just over 10 per cent in persistent absenteeism.
• Behaviour of pupils improved, with reductions in teacher-reported bullying and behaviour problems.
• There was better engagement with parents and teachers – with schools reporting excellent relationships with parents rising from 12 per cent to 48 per cent.

We are now rolling the Programme out to schools. Yes this involves a fee, and that is heavily subsidised by the investment from the DfE that you refer to. This will ensure that the current money enables us to get to many more schools in the first instance, and ultimately it will help create a sustainable model for the charity that means we will be able to continue the work after the end of the investment. In turn this will allow us to reinvest money and support in schools. As you are aware I am sure, Schools have been delegated SEN budgets and the pupil premium can be used to support children with SEN and disability. So while we know things are tight for schools there are financial resources at their disposal, and local authorities, before the money was delegated to schools, often commissioned specialist support from the voluntary sector. Now schools will know that they are investing in a proven programme and one that can save them money overall when the improvements in behaviour, attendance and bullying are costed in.

You are right that there are some excellent resources that can be accessed. However my Inquiry found that many schools did not have a consistent focus on SEN or adequate involvement of parents. If all it took was some excellent resources we would not have many children with SEN falling so dramatically behind their peers. The evaluation shows that it is the combination of support that the programme provides with trained coaches, working with the school, that delivers these results. I urge you to read the evaluation in full and you will see that this approach is fully supported by Independent research. It also proved really popular with the schools staff who have been part of the programme and has involved many more staff than just the heads of schools.

There is nothing sinister about us being a limited company as you try to imply. Nearly all charities register as limited companies as otherwise their trustees would have unlimited liabilities. As a charity we are not limited to just running the programme and are in the process of developing other projects. We are always keen on additional support-and I would be happy to discuss our other ideas for development with you or readers of the blog.

Also while it’s great to have a discussion about the programme and issues, I do not think your comments on individual trustees or staff are helpful or fair – you could just have easily picked out that other trustees are heads of state schools, long standing social innovators, charity workers, and SEN experts and that many of our senior staff came from the state school sector. In any case it would make no difference to the argument - the point surely is that children with SEND are represented in all schools – and as a responsible charity/organisation we should draw on the expertise, experience and views of all these areas to ensure that no child is overlooked regardless of the setting they find themselves in.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 04/12/2011 - 09:53

Brian - thanks for your comments. I apologise for not responding sooner but this thread dropped down the list.

I acknowledged that Achievement for All had been found to be an effective programme. My argument was that the successful strategies should not be dependent upon schools paying a fee and sign up for a minimum of 2 years. The evaluation made it quite clear that the programme's success depended on the enthusiastic support of heads and their ability to tailor the scheme to their particular circumstances. I am not sure that the programme offered by Achievement for All (3As) would do that. I am also concerned about the ability of schools to be awarded "Quality Marks" if they sign up for the scheme. This disadvantages schools who do not sign up for this scheme but whose SEND provision is as good or better than the 3As schools.

You are correct in saying that children with SEND are present in all schools - that is why all schools should be able to benefit from the lessons learnt from the project.

You criticise my picking on individual trustees. The New Schools Network (NSN) has been controversial since its inception - the immediate grant of £500K to a charity set up by an ex-member of Mr Gove's staff, Rachel Wolf, who is on record of being in favour of profit-making firms running schools, has been criticised. Any involvement by NSN is bound to raise concerns about influence or conflicts of interest.

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