Local Schools: DfE Data Shows Their Success

Henry Stewart's picture
I wrote yesterday about the 'under-performance' of academies. One of my LSN co-founders pointed out this was a bit of a negative take. And they were right. Many of the academies have done well but, overall, existing local authority schools have done better. Let's celebrate some of that success.

Too often the media paints a picture of failing comprehensives. In contrast to the shiny new academies, we get an impression of inner city schools with unmotivated teachers and a culture of low expectations. The DfE data released last week indicates that nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that there has been a  transformation, especially in the most deprived areas, over just the last three years.

Taking only the non-academy schools, this is the change in the % achieving the key measure of 5 A-Cs including English and Maths:

It is a remarkable change. While the most advantaged schools (those with less than 10% of students on free school meals) have seen their % rise from 63% to 69%, those in the most disadvantaged schools (more than 40% on free school meals) have leapt from 35% to 50%. The differential between the two categories has fallen, in just three years, from 1.8 to 1.4.

This is a big success story for the Department for Education. But the only press releases I have seen focused only on the achievement of academies. Well done to genuinely outstanding academies like Mossbourne and Burlington Danes. But let's hear also about the achievements of thousands of schools and tens of thousands of dedicated teachers who have made a real difference in the lives of some of our most disadvantaged young people.

I have written before about Tower Hamlets schools Sir John Cass (up from 45% to 82%) and Bethnal Green (from 27% to 79%), the first with 57% FSM and the second 65%. Take Rokeby School in Newham, with 60% FSM, which went from 35% in 2008 to 65% in 2011. Or Waverley School in Birmingham, with 56% on FSM, which went from 37% in 2008 to 66% in 2011. There are many more local schools whose examples can be quoted.

You won't hear these success stories from our Education Minister. Indeed any visitor to the DfE web site might be excused for thinking it is the Department for Academies and Free Schools, not the department representing all schools. The DfE data has 87 academies showing an increase in the % achieving 5 A-Cs (including English and Maths) but we will hear much more about these than any of the 2,228 non academy secondary schools that increased their results in this period.

Our hard working students and teachers deserve better. Let us celebrate the growing achievements of all our local schools and applaud the dedicated work going on to change the lives of young people in our most disadvantaged communities.
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Toby Young's picture
Mon, 30/01/2012 - 23:46

Good post, Henry. I'm pleased to see you acknowledging the success of Mossbourne and Burlington Danes. But I feel duty bound to point out that the two schools you single out for praise in Tower Hamlets are not examples of typical local authority schools. Bethnal Green is now an Academy and Sir John Cass is a voluntary-aided faith school.

In the past, you've written that all taxpayer-funded schools "should be co-ordinated by their local authority, to whom they should be accountable for the quality of their education and who should organise admissions." Given that both Bethnal Green and Sir John Cass are admissions authorities in their own right and that one of them has opted out of local authority control, does this mean you now accept that there is no single model that all taxpayer-funded schools should conform to? If so, by my reckoning that aligns you with Francis, but puts you at odds with Fiona and Melissa.

If my reading of this post is accurate and you're now embracing a diversity of provision within the taxpayer-funded sector, I don't see any great dividing lines between us. Like you, I believe free schools and academies can happily sit alongside local authority-maintained schools. Similarly, I share your view, expressed in an earlier post, that local authorities aren't always best placed to oversee taxpayer-funded education and that in some cases that responsibility should be outsourced to a private company, as it is in Hackney. Indeed, I share your admiration for the success of Hackney's taxpayer-funded schools – and Hackney, with its patchwork quilt of academies and community schools, all with slightly different admissions policies, overseen by a private education provider, is about as far from the Fiona/Melissa, one-size-fits-all, local authority-controlled, universal model as it's possible to be. Indeed, all Hackney needs to be truly diverse is a free school – and I hope you'll join me in wishing Hackney New School every success in its application to open a free school in 2013.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 31/01/2012 - 08:48

Toby - Bethnal Green was not an academy when the 2011 cohort took their GCSEs so the rise in the percentage of pupils reaching the benchmark 5+ GCSEs A*-C including English and Maths (27% 2008, 79% 2011) was not due to academy conversion. You say that Bethnal Green is an admission authority in its own right - but that has only been the case since September 2011.


In any case, local authority schools are not under the "control" of their LAs. Their support is rather like the overseeing capacity model which you say exists in Hackney. So your argument about a "one-size-fits-all, local authority controlled, universal model" doesn't stand up because LAs don't "control" schools. This has been discussed here before (see links below).



Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 01/02/2012 - 19:13

"If my reading of this post is accurate and you’re now embracing a diversity of provision within the taxpayer-funded sector, I don’t see any great dividing lines between us."

Does that mean you now have enough experience in education to understand the issues which are actually militating against diversity of provision within the taxpayer-funded sector Toby?

Given your posts I suspect not. I suspect you of still not having sufficient mental mapping of the realities of education policy and planning to comment coherently on the relevant issues. It seems you are still stuck in the believe that Gove's academies and free schools will actually deliver this aim. I suppose it's inevitable you will not see the wood from the trees for a while because you have put so much of yourself into this ludicrously ignorant and misguided policy.

But I, and am sure others, would be delighted to hear that you actually now have sufficient experience to engage with the real issues here. Such as the appropriate professional reform of Osted (http://mathseducationandallthat.blogspot.com/2012/01/notes-to-tweet-to-m...) and the use of emerging technologies and systems to positively reform assessment in ways which will integrate formative and summative assessment and properly support professional diversity.

I understand that you don't yet see the dividing lines between us Toby, but I suspect you will have enough experience to one day.

Henry Stewart's picture
Tue, 31/01/2012 - 08:17

Toby, great to hear from you & delighted you are still a regular LSN reader. And it is true that, unlike Mr Gove, I believe the success of outstanding local comprehensive schools should be celebrated whatever their type. And don't worry, there is no split, all of us at LSN are together on that.

It is clear that most schools will be academies. But that doesn't mean it is a good development. Have you read my previous post? The data is pretty devastating: academies perform less well than comparable non-academies on pretty much every measure. (http://bit.ly/zDOoh7) If this government's policies were evidence based they would call a halt to the move to convert.

Yes, i absolutely still believe that taxpayer-funded schools “should be co-ordinated by their local authority, to whom they should be accountable for the quality of their education and who should organise admissions.” (Post on Hackney's success: http://bit.ly/rtrvJp). I believe you called that too much to ask in an exchange we had at the time.

Hackney has indeed shown that a variety of schools can be successful, provided there is accountability to the local authority, who also organise admissions. This is a big contrast with the picture you painted before of "selfishly competing" schools, for which there is no evidence of success. The most successful areas in the country, like Hackney and Tower Hamlets, have very active roles played by the local authority.

You do subtly distort things, though, Toby. Bethnal Green may now be an academy but it achieved its success as a local authority comprehensive. The Learning Trust, Hackney's education authority is not a "private education provider" but an arms-length public sector body and which will fold back into Hackney Council later this year.

No, I don't support the Hackney New School. There is no shortage of places in the area it plans to base itself, there is no evidence of support from local parents and the data shows (again, see my previous post) that the best performance comes from local authority schools. Have you talked to the organisers about the less-than-enthusiastic response they got at their public meeting last week?

My challenge to you, Toby, is on your response to what the data says. If it is the non-academies that are most successful surely only somebody driven by ideology, rather than evidence, would pursue the policies that Michael Gove is following.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 31/01/2012 - 09:16

Henry - you have highlighted the crux of the matter. Mr Gove says that the academy conversion programme is an "evidence-based, practical solution" for raising standards (see link below for further discussion). But your research based on the DfE figures shows that academy conversion does not automatically bring higher standards (based on raw exam results). There are many academies that have not achieved success - and equally there are hundreds of non-academy schools that have. Here are just two in south of Lincolnshire which is rather more sparsely populated than London and can't support the diversity of provision celebrated by Toby above. The figures give the percentage of pupils gaining the benchmark 5+ GCSEs A*-C inc Maths and English:

Stamford Queen Eleanor (comprehensive, became an academy Sept 2011):
2008 23% 2011 43%

Boston Haven High (nominally comprehensive, but had 40% low attainers, 85% middle attainers, and 6% high attainers in the 2011 cohort): 2010: 28% 2011 53%

So Boston Haven High, which is really a secondary modern school, nearly doubled the percentage of pupils gaining the benchmark in only one year. But it's not an academy so I don't hold out much hope that Messrs Gove and Gibb will mention Haven High's improvement rate in their next speeches.


Adrian Elliott's picture
Tue, 31/01/2012 - 10:41

As the ex-head of a voluntary aided school I would argue that the distinction Toby Young makes between v.a schools and other local authority maintained schools is an entirely false one. I never felt anything but part of the family of schools within the LA.We worked extremely closely with both LA officers and other schools in the area.

Nor would I have dreamed of pouring out the vitriol against community LA schools, many of which I admired and learned from, which is so commonplace amongst DfE ministers and press officers today.

Whilst it's true we were an admissions authority we followed our admissions policy to the letter. There was never,for example, any question of interviewing parents before decisions were made on admissions or any of the other tricks to covertly select pupils used by some schools - mainly I suspect south of the Trent!

The real distinction,as I posted yesterday, is between those schools which are maintained and supported by elected local authorities and those which are not. To draw an artificial distinction between voluntary aided schools and other locally maintained schools is a red herring.

Toby Young's picture
Tue, 31/01/2012 - 11:05

Following your own admissions policy to the letter, Adrian, isn't really something to boast about, is it? Or do you mean the admissions policy of your VA school was identical to those of the local authority-controlled community schools in the same borough? If so, that would make your VA school exceptional. In any event, the point I was making is that Sir John Cass is a VA faith school, that is, it gives priority in its admissions arrangements to children of a particular faith (it also gives priority to first born children which, as far as I'm aware, isn't allowed by the Admissions Code, but happy to be corrected about that). And as far as I know both Fiona and Melissa have campaigned against VA schools that give priority to children of a particular faith in the past. If, like Henry, they've changed their minds about this I'm pleased to hear it.

On whether or not academies outperform non-academies, there's more than enough data to support both sides of the argument and not yet enough to definitively answer the question. But, for what it's worth, here's Fraser Nelson making the case for academies in last week's Spectator:


And here's the most exhaustive study carried out to date of the academies set up under the last government:


Henry, I appreciate your efforts to summarise my position in the education reform debate, but for those interested in a fuller understanding here's a link to a Telegraph piece setting out my views about competition, whether schools should act "selfishly", and so on:


Finally Henry, if Fiona and Melissa can describe [corrected from 'survive'] multi-academy sponsors like ARK and Harris as "private companies", as they have done on many occasions to try and give the misleading impression that academy conversion is a form of creeping privatisation, then I think it's legitimate to describe the Learning Trust as a private company. Indeed, ARK and Harris are both charities, whereas the Learning Trust isn't. It's a commercial company, pure and simple. If Wandsworth had outsourced the management of its community schools to a commercial company, you can bet your bottom dollar that Fiona and Melissa would be jumping up and down like loons, crying "privatisation!".

Henry Stewart's picture
Tue, 31/01/2012 - 18:08

Toby, thanks for your detailed response and the links. I hadn't seen the LSE study so that is useful. But its not a ringing endorsement for academies. The conclusion states "we also find results showing that only the early cohorts of schools that convert to academies experience significant performance improvements."

This is despite what seems to be a flawed methodology. The comparison non-academy group is made up of those which later converted (under labour) to academy status and are therefore likely to be biased to those schools which have not seen improvement.

I'm interested in your views on the question of privatisation. In your Observer response you make clear that you think the current free school models make private management unlikely (though outsourcing of services to for-profit companies is, of course, already common) . But I presume you must be aware of people in or close to the current government who believe involvement of for-profit companies would be a good thing. Indeed, what is your view? Do you personally think the opening up of UK education to for-profit companies to run schools would be good or not?

Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 31/01/2012 - 20:55

Just for the record, I don't think I have ever claimed ARK and Harris are private companies. It is well known fact that these are charitable trusts ( although no longer accountable to the Charity Commission with whom they still appear to be registered). The point is surely that once schools are independent, whether in chains or otherwise, it will make it much easier to move them into private hands . It is a matter of public record that some of the chains ( ie E ACT ) are already speculating about future profit making potential. Michael Gove has never ruled this possibility out so I think we can assume that is his long term solution.

Henry Stewart's picture
Thu, 02/02/2012 - 11:03

Toby, I presume the Charter school that Fraser mentions in his article is the same Charter school that has just been criticised for setting its catchment area to exclude children from two local disadvantaged council estates: http://bit.ly/x8Lkyk

This is an example of what happens when you encourage schools to 'selfishly compete'. They pursue what is in the best interests of their image, not necessarily the best interest of local children.

Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 31/01/2012 - 20:48

I am just catching up with some of these discussions. Still find it interesting that none of the academy supporters on this site appear to address the issue of the curriculum/qualifications that many sponsored academies appear to use to boost their results, especially as they all appear to be people who favour a more traditional curriculum. Surely this point is significant on the day the government has announced these "equivalents" will be stripped out of the league tables?

Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 31/01/2012 - 21:01

In case you didn't see this - my piece about chains from last summer's Guardian including the reference to Sir Bruce Liddington 's presentation in which he referred the the future potential for profit making schools. Since thus article was written all the chains have all been turned into exempt charities so no longer need to make their accounts publicly available on the DFE website.

Toby Young's picture
Thu, 02/02/2012 - 11:28

I see it as an example of the regulatory system acting as a safeguard against the dangers you've flagged up (see my longer reply below).

Janet Lallysmith's picture
Thu, 02/02/2012 - 19:54

They love calling themselves 'charitable trusts', don't they? In fact, they were made for the saying that charity begins at home.

Toby Young's picture
Tue, 31/01/2012 - 11:07

By "survive" in the last paragraph I meant "describe", obviously.

Henry Stewart's picture
Tue, 31/01/2012 - 18:30

Toby, have now read your Telegraph piece. The core of it seems to be "What the socialist opponents of free schools and academies have failed to grasp is that if schools act in a more self-interested manner, the school estate as a whole will benefit."

This is our disagreement. A school able to act entirely self-interestedly will seek to get more of the more able children (so boosting its results through intake not quality of education), it will exclude and seek to avoid taking other school's exclusions and will not wish to share its examples of success with other schools. I do believe in healthy competition within a framework of what is best for the community. That means an approach where local authority ensures fair admissions, each school takes its fair share of exclusions and good practice is shared so all schools get better.

And 'accountability' is about a local body that can hold a school to account. One reason for Hackney's success is that the Learning Trust has held up the highest expectations for all schools and been prepared to take tough action. I know of over a dozen cases where they have moved to replace a headteacher seen as under-performing. As Michael Wilshaw has pointed out, with academies and free schools no longer accountable to the local authority there is a gap. Who will intervene to support a school in difficulties, and then to take tough action if it is needed?

Phillippa De'Ath's picture
Tue, 31/01/2012 - 13:31

Referring to the Hackney New School public meeting: the meeting was a success from the organisers' and parents' perspective and, despite the negative comments from a very small minority, HNS received over 40 new supporting signatures following the meeting, as well as a good deal of valuable feedback from parents and local education specialists.

Tracy Hannigan's picture
Tue, 31/01/2012 - 19:21

Forty signatures is not really sufficient to fill a school, particularly as many won't end up as first choices for places at that school. Several schools have had this problem - lots of people sign up to 'we are interested in a new school' but when it comes down to it, they might list the school second or third - resulting in a) a flawed understanding of demand and b) not enough children to provide a sustainable entry.

Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 31/01/2012 - 20:56

This is probably why some of the free schools that have opened this year are still not full. What a waste of public money.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 01/02/2012 - 13:15

Toby – Fraser Nelson’s article (link in post above) shows the seeming superiority of English private schools over English state schools. But this superiority is over-turned when socio-economic background is considered. OECD said that globally, once socio-economic factors were accounted for then public (ie state funded and run) schools had a slight advantage of 7 score points on average across OECD countries but in the UK state schools “outscore privately managed schools by 20 score points once the socio-economic background is accounted for.”

http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/33/8/46624007.pdf (page 13)

OECD also found that when state schools had the same intake as a private school, then the former would offer the same advantages as the latter, even if the average state school, with its more diverse student body, did not. OECD concluded, “Private schools – and public [state] schools with student populations from socio-economically advantaged backgrounds – benefit the individual students who attend them; but there is no evidence to suggest that private schools help to raise the level of performance of the school system, as a whole.”


Mr Nelson praised five ARK academies for increasing the percentage of pupils who reached the benchmark. What he didn’t mention were the 21 academies where the percentage of pupils reaching the benchmark fell by 5% or more between 2010 and 2011. And why is he referring to the “City Academy programme” when many of the academies sponsored under Adonis’s programme were not in cities?

Mr Nelson is correct, though, when he says that a “properly run” school can have a transformative effect. But a school doesn’t have to be an academy to be “properly run”.

Nor does a school have to be an academy to improve its results. I hope Mr Nelson will, therefore, join with me in praising Haven High, a community school in Boston, Lincolnshire, for raising the percentage of pupils reaching the benchmark from 28% in 2010 to 53% in 2011 – an improvement rate of nearly 100%.

A guest's picture
Wed, 01/02/2012 - 14:11

What Fraser Nelson also did not point out in his article praising Ark academies was that 3 of the schools were on the list of 200 schools in 2010 whose A-C passes dropped the most when vocational awards were removed.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 01/02/2012 - 13:41

Toby - you mention the LSE report in your post above as if it were a ringing endorsement for academies. This has been criticised on the site before (see below for link).

Many academies do not perform well, particularly those outside London although, to be fair, some of these are really secondary moderns because of their intake. And there is no evidence that the latest breed of converter academies established from outstanding or good schools will raise results. Even Fraser Nelson cited in your post above recognises this in the postscript to his article:

"...there's a big difference between the decision of a school to seek independent [academy] status (which can mean a major pay rise for its management team) and the takeover of a failing school by one of the new breed of providers. We have seen the transformative effect of takeovers... but this effect has not yet been demonstrated by schools who simply sought the Academy status."

Although I disagree with Mr Nelson about the "transformative effect of takeovers", I share his concern that there is no evidence that converter academies will see a rise in results. I think Mr Nelson has just demonstrated the flaws in Mr Gove's argument that academy conversion is essential for raising standards and those who oppose this are "enemies of promise".

Thank you for drawing our attention to Fraser Nelson's conclusion particularly where he points out that academy conversion often results in a substantial pay increase for the senior team - that is an important point and could explain why so many schools have converted.


Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 01/02/2012 - 14:32

Toby - I started to read your Telegraph article but stopped as soon as I got to "In the OECD’s 2009 PISA survey, British schoolchildren were ranked 14th among the world’s developed countries for Science – down from 4th in 2000 – 17th for reading – down from 7th – and 24th for Maths – down from 8th.".

The above statement can only be upheld by using the discounted 2000 PISA results and the OECD, the organisation behind the PISA tests, has found the 2000 figures to be flawed and shouldn't be used for comparison. But you know that, don't you?

You go on "Britain is now ranked below Estonia when it comes to Science, below Poland when it comes to reading and below Hungary when it comes to Maths."

Why the emphasis on Eastern European countries? Surely you are not suggesting that these countries are so backward that to be beaten by them is a slur? But perhaps we should compare your statement with the evidence to see if it checks out. Yes, Britain is "behind Estonia" in Science, but the UK is still above the OECD average for Science - a fact which seems to be little publicised. And yes, the UK is behind Poland in the overall mark for Reading. But in the subscales "Reflect and Evaluate" and reading "non-continuous texts", the UK outperformed Poland and was above the OECD average in these tasks. But, no, Hungary did not outperform UK pupils in Maths. The UK score was 492 and Hungary scored 490. And if England is looked at separately, then England's score was 493.

Isn't there anyone at the Telegraph who checks figures before publication? There was another glaring error a few days ago when one article said that UK pupils were "well below" the OECD average in Maths. Perhaps someone ought to print a correction or, better still, stop printing these incorrect statements in the first place. I'm sure the DT doesn't deliberately want to mislead its readers.



Toby Young's picture
Thu, 02/02/2012 - 01:40

Henry – The way to prevent schools from trying to gerrymander their admissions is to enforce the Admissions Code. In arguing that the best way to drive up attainment across the board is to encourage all schools to act selfishly, I'm not suggesting they should act illegally. Nor that they shouldn't have to take their fair share of hard-to-place children, including children excluded from neighbouring schools. At present, free schools and academies are obliged to do precisely that. I'm simply arguing that the staff and governors of every school should place the education of the children in their care above everything else, including "the community".

Janet – Thanks for pointing out the mistake about Hungary outperforming the UK when it comes to Maths. I will correct it. But the fact remains that the UK is behind Estonia when it comes to Science and below Poland when it comes to Maths according to PISA's 2009 data which even you accept is reliable. The reason this is shocking is not because they're in Eastern European, but because the average cost of educating a child in those countries is so much lower than it is in the UK.

You often dispute comparisons between the PISA data for 2000 and 2009 on the grounds that PISA has "discounted" or "disowned" the 2000 data for the UK, but Andreas Schleicher, the OECD's deputy director, had this to say: "The UK's PISA data for 2000 and 2003 were not sufficiently robust to establish trend lines that meet OECD standards. However, it is hard to derive any interpretation of these data that wouldn't imply a decline in the relative standing of the UK internationally." (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/mortarboard/2011/dec/07/schools-mich...)

Fiona – In your recent speech at Downhills, you described academies as "wholly owned subsidiaries of corporate organisations that call themselves charities".(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCLOiYKbgq8&feature=player_embedded). Pretty darn close.

In that same speech you also said that the Coalition's education reforms were about "getting as many schools as possible out of the maintained sector, out of local authority hands, because that is the quickest route to get them into the hands of private sector companies”. I'm curious. How exactly would a "private sector company" get hold of a school wholly owned by a charitable trust, as all academies and free schools are? And why are they more vulnerable to takeover by private companies than voluntary-aided schools like William Ellis? If you genuinely believe this is Michael Gove's secret agenda, it would be helpful if you could flesh this out a bit.

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 02/02/2012 - 11:29

Quite simple - everything about independent state schools can be done by agreement with the Secretary of State via the funding agreement. You must know this as I believe you are in the process of amending yours to change your admissions criteria? IThe Secretary of State could simply agree to remove the requirements on a trust to act as charity ie not make a profit. We are half way there now with so many independent state schools. William Ellis is a maintained school, has no contract with the Secretary of State. Who would we pay the profit to?

The charitable trusts running many academies operate in a very corporate way - strong corporate brands, centrally determined management practices, curriculum, uniforms, etc - so corporate in fact that the idea of "autonomy" is laughable. I do believe some are genuinely motivated by philanthropic ideals but am quite sure that others aren't. Many of the players in this schools market are already discussing for profit..See here from MTM consulting and Tom Legge from The Place Group. I think it is quite clear what is happening from their own words. Profit remains 'the elephant in the room" and there is a view out there that the only thing that is restraining Mr Gove is the fact that he is in a Coalition with the Lib Dems ( no-one voted for profit making schools).

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 02/02/2012 - 11:56

Toby - I have never denied that the relative standing of the UK in international league tables has declined. That remains true even if only the 2006 and 2009 data is considered. However, the decline wasn't due to UK pupils doing worse but because other countries increased their performance and more, high-attaining, countries were included in the tests. The change in actual scores for UK pupils in 2006 and 2009 was statistically insignificant. And there is a huge difference in degree between Mr Schleicher's "decline in the relative standard" and the much-promoted view by Mr Gove et al that England is "plummeting down league tables".

The fact remains that UK pupils are at the OECD average for Reading and Maths, and above-average for Science. In the Trends in Maths and Science Survey 2007 English pupils beat all European countries that took part in both Maths and Science. The Eurydice report on Maths (October 2011) noted that England was one of only a few nations to see "significantly higher achievement than the average in participating EU countries" in international maths tests. Yet the only paper that featured this major European report was the TES. Shortly after the report's publication a Daily Telegraph article said the UK pupils were "well below" the OECD average in Maths - this is an untrue statement for which a correction should be printed. Perhaps you could request that this be done.



Toby Young's picture
Fri, 03/02/2012 - 02:37

God help me Fiona, I actually bothered to look into this (unlike you). Charities law prevents charities becoming profit-making companies because their assets were accrued when they were charities. Consequently, any of the academies or free schools set up thus far would fall foul of charities law if they ceased to be charities and became profit-making.

Of course, there would be nothing to prevent the Secretary of State for Education signing a Funding Agreement with a for-profit company to set up, own and operate an academy or free school. But that's been possible since 2002, following the passing of the last government's Education Act. Then again, you probably know that because you were working in Downing Street at the time.

Marigold Doyle's picture
Fri, 03/02/2012 - 07:36

The IES UK (for profit company) £21 million pound contract to run a free schools seems pretty much signed, sealed and delivered.


Surely the point is that a group of people may run a 'charitable trust' and a for-profit company. So the 'charitable trust' doesn't make a direct profit, but the company does when the 'charity' buys in all its own products.

I'm always a bit surprised when the S of S and his supporters deny that our schools are moving towards profit-making models, as they're so keen on the free market.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 03/02/2012 - 08:17

Toby - "of course, there would be nothing to prevent the Secretary of State for Education signing a Funding Agreement with a for-profit company to set up, own and operate an academy or free school". Exactly. And because this policy had its roots with the last Labour Government doesn't make it any less objectionable. And the Charities argument is actually a red herring. As Mr Gove has said - all the Charity needs to do is to sub contract to an education provider. The Charity wouldn't be making a profit, but the sub contractor can. And that is exactly what is happening with IES UK (see Marigold's post 3/2.12 7.36pm). In return for its fee IES takes over complete control of staff recruitment, resources and so on. In theory, the Trustees are still responsible for the school but they have ceded that responsibility.

The Trustees, in fact, have less control of its schools than any LA maintained school which DO have control over recruitment, resources and so on.


Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 03/02/2012 - 10:43

Quite - it is easy to do. Simply cease funding the charitable trust and fund a new profit making body which the existing trust decides to set up. As you say there is nothing to stop the Secretary of State doing this is there? Apart from the politics of course...

Toby Young's picture
Fri, 03/02/2012 - 10:37

A school charitable trust in receipt of public money cannot let a contract to a for-profit company run by the same people as the charitable trust. Breach of EU procurement law.

Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 03/02/2012 - 10:49

Sorry - I should add that there would have to be a procurement process but this would weigh heavily in favour of the larger corporate style chains with the resources to fund these bids ( as we are already seeing in the NHS).

Toby Young's picture
Fri, 03/02/2012 - 11:03

But that's an entirely different point to the one Fiona is making, Janet. She's not claiming that public education is in danger of being privatised in virtue of something the last government did – a government that she and her partner worked for at the very highest level. She's claiming it's because of something this government is doing when, in fact, nothing this government has done or is likely to do will render public education more vulnerable to being privatised than it was at the end of New Labour's 13 years in office. Yes, one free school has let a management contract to a for-profit education provider under this government – Breckland. But then two taxpayer-funded schools entered into management contracts with for-profit education providers under the last government.

Is there a "danger" that the Breckland model will start replicating itself on a large scale in this Parliament? I honestly don't think there is – and I speak as someone who would like it to happen because it would mean more free schools being set up. In my recent book on the subject, I refer to this as the "hybrid model" and it is so complicated to set up – involves navigating a legal and regulatory framework that is both unstable, internally inconsistent and constantly subject to re-interpretation – that I think the number established in the lifetime of this Parliament will be < 10. My group looked into doing this and, after six months of exhaustive research, decided the game wasn't worth the candle. The hybrid model simply isn't scalable.

Private education providers will only enter the state-funded English education sector in a big way if they're allowed to set up, own and operate free schools, as they are in Sweden and in some American states. From a legal and regulatory point of view, that's a much more straightforward proposition than the hybrid model, not least because it doesn't require a change in the law, thanks to the 2002 Education Act. But it's unlikely to happen in the current Parliament for a whole host of reasons, only one of which is Nick Clegg's opposition.

Will it happen in the next Parliament if the Tories win an overall majority? Not a foregone conclusion. I'd say the odds of a future Conservative government allowing it to happen are < 1:2 because said government will be nervous about being seen to "privatise" public services lest it jeopardise its chances of being re-elected. Indeed, I'd say the chances of it happening will be greater if Labour wins an overall majority next time. As Alan Milburn pointed out when criticising the current government for executing a U-turn over its NHS reforms, it was easier for the last government to reform public services than the present one because Labour wasn't pre-occupied with not being thought of "the nasty party". (See here for Milburn's view http://www.politics.co.uk/news/2011/06/16/milburn-holds-nose-at-nhs-refo...). Ironically, anyone concerned about the "creeping privatisation" of public education should vote Conservative at the next election, not Labour.

Toby Young's picture
Fri, 03/02/2012 - 11:05

"Quite"? No. There could be no free transference of assets between the new profit-making body and the old charitable trust without the transaction falling could of charity law.

Marigold Doyle's picture
Fri, 03/02/2012 - 11:50

Sounds like you've looked into this, Toby! Obviously, a little less blatantly than that, until the law changes that is.

Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 03/02/2012 - 11:29

Let me give you an example. An existing "sponsored" academy fails the perform - this appears to be the case with an increasing number of these schools. They are below the floor targets and graded poorly by Ofsted. The Secretary of State can't turn them back into maintained schools can he? The only option therefore is to cease funding the existing trust and seek a new 'proprietor" to use the legal jargon of the independent sector. What is to stop him running a procurement process? Several of the leading chains have by now set up arms length profitable companies and there are the existing non charitable private school companies like Cognita . They all take part in the procurement process, possibly joined by the odd Swedish or American profit making school chain. One of them wins. Lo and behold we have the start of a profit making chain of state schools.
I understand that you were not closely involved in this area while Labour was in power but I think if you do some research you will see that I was an active opponent of the academy policy then, because it was clear to me ( and others), where this might end.
Incidentally not having a mandate doesn't appear to stop Michael Gove doing things now that were not in the Coalition agreement, let alone the manifesto of the Lib Dems on whom he is dependent for his job. However I am heartened that you think this policy might be unpopular with the electorate. Finally something we agree on!

Charlie Ben-Nathan's picture
Fri, 03/02/2012 - 09:53

"The Eurydice report on Maths (October 2011) noted that England was one of only a few nations to see “significantly higher achievement than the average in participating EU countries” in international maths tests. Yet the only paper that featured this major European report was the TES."

Maybe other papers felt it was less significant since only one of the top 9 European OECD countries that was significantly above average in Maths in the OECD 2009 data fully participated in the TIMMS study. Top performers such as Finland, Belgium, Estonia and Iceland didn't participate at all. And even then, students in those top performing countries that didn't take part did less well than students in the top performing countries/regions worldwide.

This report was more of an affirmation of our place in the middle rather than trumpeting tremendous success.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 03/02/2012 - 11:26

Charlie – it’s true that England’s performance in the larger PISA test is at the OECD average for Maths. And it’s also true that TIMSS is a smaller survey. However, TIMSS didn’t confirm England as just “middling”. English 13 year-olds (score 513) outscored several countries that achieved higher marks for maths in PISA including United States (508), Australia (496,) Norway (469), Slovenia (501) and Sweden (491) although all Western countries lagged behind Korea (597), Singapore (593), Japan (570) and Hong Kong (572).

I think the reason the media found the Eurydice report not worthy of reporting is because it praised elements of maths teaching in England including introducing at primary school some mathematical concepts which are delayed in other countries until secondary school. But positive stories about England wouldn't fit too well with previous headlines such as "Why our maths teachers are among the worst in the world" (an article which proved to be wrong as discussed in the link below).

Unfortunately, there are too many vested interests that stand to gain from the misconception that England is “plummeting down league tables” including the Government to justify its policies; free school proposers who play on inaccurate perceptions of the state of English education and journalists who pander to this perception.



Adrian Elliott's picture
Fri, 03/02/2012 - 16:43

'But positive stories about England wouldn’t fit too well with previous headlines such as “Why our maths teachers are among the worst in the world” (an article which proved to be wrong as discussed in the link below).'

I would put it even more strongly than that, Janet. Positive stories about English state schools are simply not acceptable to the editors of most of our national papers. A couple of years ago when Alistair Campbell was guest editor of the New Statesman, he asked the editors of national papers for their views on the NHS and state education.

Most made it clear they were totally hostile to state schools. One (the Independent editor, believe it or not!) included a number of four letter words in his response) Paul Dacre, of the Mail,revealingly replied to the effect that Campbell 'knew his paper's policy on state education' : think about the implications of that.

In 2005, I examined several weeks worth of editions of the Mail for items about state schools. Out of several dozen almost all were negative, three or four neutral and only two,one of which was a reader's letter ,was positive.

The journalist and ex-editor Peter Willby wrote that most senior staff on national papers
'have little grasp of why schools have changed from the institutions they remember. Moreover, a high proportion live within a few square miles of each other in north London,which hosts enclaves of exceptional deprivation and affluence. This gives them a distorted view of what most comprehensives are like' TES 28/07/08.

Toby Young's picture
Fri, 03/02/2012 - 18:57

Lilly's picture
Fri, 03/02/2012 - 19:40

He's looked into it deeply I'm sure - I see he's tweeting about hoping that privatisation wins in education - the only obvious benefit as yet is to those making the money!

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