Centralisation of education funding is inconsistent with localism and accountable government, says academic.

Janet Downs's picture
The Government allegedly promotes decentralisation and localism but seems to be moving towards greater centralisation, warns Joan Costa Font of the London School of Economics. Government education policies weaken a key element of democracy - power sharing between central and local governments – while at the same time providing favourable conditions for private sector expansion.

Concerns about this threat to local democracy have been raised on this site before as long ago as January 2011. And Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted Chief Inspector, has added his voice to the increasing number of calls for a “middle-tier” between central government and schools as the academy conversion programme weakens local authorities. Even the Secretary of State belatedly mused that there ought to be an intermediary and there weren’t enough mechanisms in place to oversee a growing number of academies. However, it is unclear whether mediators appointed by Ofsted or centrally by Mr Gove would be consistent with democratic local government.

A recent report by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services said, “Many in education have come to realise, increasingly, that for all the talk of school autonomy, this is a top down change process, demonstrated by the very detailed accountability framework, the tone and in the way it is being enforced through Ofsted and Department for Education field forces.”

The Government has distorted the word “freedom”.

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Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 08:06

There is a world of difference between 'localism' and having power held by local authorities. The Conservatives in 2010 pledged themselves to effecting an irreversible shift in power away from political and bureaucratic elites (including local councils) to individuals and communities. In education, that shift is moving power to small institutions (schools).

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 08:57

"There is a world of difference between ‘localism’ and having power held by local authorities."

Yes. The development of schools councils (is that the correct name for the organisations of headteachers convened to co-ordinate and support educations provision in their area?) was a good move forward. Having a local councillor sitting on the committee also makes sense for purposes of facilitation communication and understanding between education and the public and also part of a mechanism of alert if things are going wrong.

In Finland the population is much less dense than here. This means that the status quo in terms of which schools exist where is more stable and there is less potential for the controversy and political infighting which comes when school closures are on the cards. It's in these situations in England when external authority is most often needed.

"Conservatives in 2010 pledged themselves to effecting an irreversible shift in power away from political and bureaucratic elites (including local councils) to individuals and communities."

And this was a good pledge. But it is more complicated to put into action than this government seems to have realised. Democracy is about giving everyone the chance to express their opinion and to make as transparent and open as possible the processes by which decisions are then made after all those opinions have been expressed. The power to speak and the power to scrutinise are the only powers it can offer. It cannot offer everybody the power to do what they want because we share limited resources and collective decisions have to be made. This is especially true in complete systems where the behaviour of one element of the system has a substantial impact on that of other elements of it.

"In education, that shift is moving power to small institutions (schools)."
No it isn't. It's creating chaos. It's a heartbreaking mess.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 09:26


From what you have said in other threads, you are strongly in favour of:

1. People with MBAs
2. Education academics
3. Local authorities

I would like all three groups to be swept out of education altogether. Permanently.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 21:47

"1. People with MBAs
2. Education academics
3. Local authorities
I would like all three groups to be swept out of education altogether. Permanently."
Er why?

You've misunderstood me by the way.
I'm here because I'm in favour of policy which has been properly consulted to the extent where its likely consequences on the ground are properly understood and will be monitored.
I'm not against any people or groups of people. I just want intelligent coherent process of democracy which operate to ensure policy changes made will deliver the results they intend to deliver.

This old chestnut:

You sound rather like you're in favour of Gove's cultural revolution:
Get rid of anyone who doesn't immediately see that melting all your teaspoons will create great economic progress (clearly an enemy of the state so they deserve whatever they get - let's not look at the reality of the situation)/get rid of any teacher who doesn't immediately deliver the new demand to get students from 4s to Bs instead of 4s to Cs (clearly lazy/stupid/left wing ideologue so they deserve whatever they get - let's not look at the reality of the situation).

Does this better define the difference between our positions Ricky?

Tim Bidie's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 08:09

Some of the best PISA rated education systems have no accountability whatsoever.

'As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg shrugs. "There's no word for accountability in Finnish," he later told an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. "Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted."

Now that is real 'localism'


Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 09:02

Finland: Population 5.4 million area 130 596 sq miles
England: Population 51.5 million area 50 346 sq miles

There are things we can learn from Finland but we need to understand the issues and challenges we face in planning education which they do not face.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 09:27

Tim - you are confusing accountability in education with democratic accountability of local government, a tier which is being dismantled by the Government. However, you are correct in saying that the term "accountability" means something different in Finland:

"Beyond the periodic sampling assessments administered at different grades by the National Board of Education, there is no national mechanism for monitoring the performance of schools [in Finland]. There is a national evaluation council, but its role seems to be focused more on the evaluation of national policies than the performance of schools. There is a National Matriculation Exam taken at the end of upper secondary school, but its function is to certify what the student knows, not to assess the quality of his or her school."

Accountability in Finland, therefore, is very different to accountability measured by raw exam grades as in England and the US.


Thanks for the link to the Atlantic article - it ends with the thought that the US should concern itself less with competition and more with co-operation. It should design a school policy which is equitable as in Finland.

That said, this thread is not about Finland but about the threat to local democracy by government policies as is made clear in the original post and in Joan Costa Font's article in which he argues that it's not just threatening education but the NHS.

Tim Bidie's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 14:12

Indeed, and one of the things that we can learn from Finland is that schools should be far less accountable.

Headteachers should have ultimate responsibility for the entire running and performance of their school themselves.

Finland already has 'localism' in education. We should move a great deal further in that direction.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 10:50


Joan Costa Font's argument is based on the idea that education funding was once decentralized and is now being centralized.

But this is not so.

The schools budget was always paid from the centre. It was paid to LAs, who then retained a proportion before passing the residue on to schools.

The only change now is that with academies, the centre send the money directly to the school, missing out the middle man.

It's absurd to represent this as 'centralization'.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 11:59

"Joan Costa Font’s argument is based on the idea that education funding was once decentralized and is now being centralized.
But this is not so."

LAs used to take a cut which they redistributed. In most cases very little of it was used to run the LA.

The vast majority was moved from schools which didn't need it to schools which did. The schools which needed it more were the schools which were not full and so were not running efficiently, the small schools, the schools which were losing numbers fast (as a temporary measure to help with adjustments costs) and the schools with severe social issues.

If you look at the cost of education per child in schools in Cumbria on the DFE data all this is very clearly shown. The cost of education per child in the small rural schools is very high but it is efficient because to educate those children far from their homes would be higher - it's all been calculated and the inefficient schools have been closed. Although the cost per child is high the total cost of running the schools is small because few children are involved.

The money is distributed from the schools in better areas which are usually full to bursting and therefore run very efficiently. Of course these are also the schools which are highly rated by Ofsted because the kids are well behaved and come from educated families so they achieve more.

This is how Gove forced schools to become academies. He threatened the with cuts but told them they could get their money back if they clawed it back from the LAs - in other words they took it from the schools which needed it far more. But it was hard for schools to justify losing staff and courses due to cuts Gove was publicising they didn't need to take. Schools are being forced to create big problems for more needy schools. It's a horrific situation for them. That's why some have voted against academy status on the grounds of it being immoral.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 12:14

I wrote about one case like this as it happened - here on Mike Baker's blog.

The reason it hadn't happened far more is that in most places the staff haven't been consulted. Massive pressures have been placed on heads and governors to shove through the changes rapidly and they don't have the resources to force cuts on their staff and ignore that pressure.

Sadly the horrific behaviour in cyberspace even went to Mike Baker's blog - where a post was made following mine pretending to be from a parent who said Cockermouth school had not become an academy because the head was incompetent and clearly not fit to lead a school and the school had voted against it because they were worried about his ability. It was an obscene thing for anybody to write and obviously completely fabricated to make my report irrelevant. Mike removed it of course (having tried to contact the person who posted it and unsurprisingly found they did not respond) but it's indicative of the level of misinformation being published in cyberspace to try and force Gove's policies through.

Once again I'd like to thank the group who run this forum for their efforts in running it and allowing free speech about education policy in a public place on the internet.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 13:03


LAs used to take a cut which they redistributed. In most cases very little of it was used to run the LA. The vast majority was moved from schools which didn’t need it to schools which did.

In 2009/10, the amount withheld represented 21.4% of total spending.

The amount then pushed out to schools represented 11.4% of total pending.

The amount used to fund LEA central functions represented 10% of total spending on education. That's not "very little".

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 12:15

Here's an article about the decision making process at my local school. I was not involved at any stage by the way just in case you wondered.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 13:39

Quite a lot of that LA spend is focused on specific systems which support the more vulnerable schools. It may have come from an LA budget heading but it's providing services which are being used in those schools. So the LA has specialist and services which work almost all the time in the school which need them rather than in the schools which don't.

At Cockermouth they were told that they were having their budget cut by 10% which they could get back by taking control of 'their' LA money. But many of the teachers there have worked in other local schools and know precisely how that money is spent and how much it was needed so they voted to take the cuts rather than force them on the other schools.

It's a key reason why this government is so despised and yet another reason why heads are voting with their feet. Nobody likes being forced to shaft the schools around them and they feel they have been. It's not what they took the job for.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 14:03


I do wish you would actually attend to what has been written before casually bulldozering over it.

You wrote:

It may have come from an LA budget heading but it’s providing services which are being used in those schools.

No. The school level spend came from the 11.4% pushed out. The 10% was explicitly not school level expenditure.

Also significant is how LAs chose to spend money they retained. Spending on school improvement fell in cash terms between financial years 2003-04 and 2009-10. Odd that, don't you think?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 14:09

'Explicitly not school level expenditure' = advisers and so on. Who work in schools. And they work particularly in the schools with problems. For example when I took up a job as head of maths there had not been one in place nor anyone capable of doing that role so the LA advisor had been in administrating things. This does not happen in the popular schools in good areas.

Where do you think it's going - luxury holidays and foot spas?

"Also significant is how LAs chose to spend money they retained. Spending on school improvement fell in cash terms between financial years 2003-04 and 2009-10. Odd that, don’t you think?"

No. They've been spending in on interventions to improve schools and keep them out of special measures instead. Wouldn't you? If they don't do that the LA gets put into special measures itself. LAs can't afford school rebuilds which is what's generally needed.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 14:18

There are poor LAs and there are inefficient LAs (but not nearly so many as the media think in my experience). But why can't the government just fix them by ensuring expertise and good practice is transferred?

Tim Bidie's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 14:02

'Tim – you are confusing accountability in education with democratic accountability of local government, a tier which is being dismantled by the Government.'

Not really.

I am saying that there is no need for the two to have anything to do with one another.

True localism is about breaking down government into small pieces and taking away from government things that it doesn't do very well.

Quoting from the Atlantic article again;

'For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master's degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal's responsibility to notice and deal with it.'

Let local schools stand on their own two feet, with the lightest of light touch regulation from central government.

That is the ultimate expression of 'localism'.

It doesn't apply simply to tiers of government, it applies to the whole theory of government itself.

Deregulation, delegation and a huge divestment of power away from government at whatever level back to headteachers, health practices and so on, to the people who are hands on and can take often differing decisions based on local conditions and characteristics.

Sarah's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 17:30

So you believe that the market can manage itself. I'd be interested to hear your views on how we ensure that the right number of school places are available in the right locations to meet the needs of the population. As we've seen with the free schools finding a suitable location for a school and getting it up and running are not simple or quick matters. Surely there needs to be some strategic planning of services?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 09:19

Tim gets it.

Tim Bidie's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 20:08

That is, of course, the function of any market, that it manages itself through supply and demand.

In practice, where the state intervenes to set a legal requirement that all children must be educated, it is then incumbent upon the state to provide such regulation as ensures that such a requirement can and will be met.

However it is by now well known that Governments are extremely poor at strategic planning, due mainly to their prime short term goal of re-election.

Thus local forces such as parental demand, elected mayors and so on are now mooted to replace the dire educational central planning systems of the post war era.

Given sufficient delegated powers, there is no reason why local decisions concerning the location of schools and provision of school places should not prove a great deal more effective than centrally created diktat.

So, in answer to your question: 'Surely there needs to be some strategic planning of services?' Yes, there does, but strategic planning by local communities and their parent groups via their locally elected representatives.

After all, this country is well known for its excellent and long established independent educational sector. What strategic planning, other than local, did they have?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 27/04/2012 - 21:49

This suggests the picture is not so simple:

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 20:32

Sarah - you ask precisely the correct questions.

Tim - the first half of your post is spot on but I'm going to challenge the second half a little.
Independent schools have not needed the kind of planning infrastructure state schools need precisely because they do not have a duty of provision to all including the most vulnerable - as you yourself have identified so your point does not have quite the level of relevance it seems to have from your post.

One thing that scares me tremendously about the Tories and Burkard and co is the way in which they completely misrepresent the conclusions of E.G. West to the extent that they seem to make them mean the opposite of what they actually were. Eddie West concluded that little or no local or central planning was needed in emerging markets for education but that coherent local planning was needed in complete systems and that our established systems were more or less efficient. The key thing was to look at the systems of central planning and to relentlessly look at the extent to which they removed power at the level of the school and to ensure that if this power was removed it was always for coherent reasons.

It's not LA planning which unnecessarily removes power from schools (unless it's working badly in which case that should be addressed), or if so it's only marginal. It's Ofsted and narrow high stakes assessment. Both of these issues can and should be analysed and addressed but the government is ignoring them because it is, as governments do, focusing only on its own interests.

Sarah's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 22:48

I would like to see your evidence that 'governments are extremely poor at strategic planning'. Local authorities have actually been shown to be very good at the strategic planning of school places with their forecasting standing up well in audit after audit. There are very few places in the country where there it is not possible for a child to access a decent school place a reasonable distance from their home address.

Local communities and parent groups in my opinion are likely to be too parochial to be able to take a broad view of educational provision across a town. Most will only be interested in their own child's education. Most schools individually don't really care about the impact of what they do on neighbouring schools unless the system is set up to make collaboration beneficial to them. Someone needs to be able to step back and take a view across an area so that all children's needs are catered for, not just the ones with active communities or articulate and interested parents.

Using the independent sector as a comparator is a red herring because that sector has only ever catered for the tiniest minority of pupils - it's not a model that would work with the education of thousands upon thousands of children in an urban area for example. And how will the market be able to predict where new school places will be needed without anybody monitoring the market, scanning the horizon and undertaking the long term planning required to create new school places (or get rid of unneeded ones).

Allowing schools to fail through lack of interest condemns generations of children to being educated in failing schools - something which this government professes to want to eradicate.

Tim Bidie's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 21:30

Yet another quote from 'The Atlantic' article that I reference above:

'Americans are consistently obsessed with certain questions: How can you keep track of students' performance if you don't test them constantly? How can you improve teaching if you have no accountability for bad teachers or merit pay for good teachers.......

The answers Finland provides seem to run counter to just about everything America's school reformers are trying to do.

For starters, Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what's called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, roughly the equivalent of American high school.

Instead, the public school system's teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves..... Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools.'

There is a big strategic shift in generic organisational thinking taking place in the world.

Less is more.

The 'American century' is over.

For example, manufacturing, through 3D design and manufacture, is set to return to smaller, dispersed units:


Finland, in education, for mainly circumstantial reasons, is ahead of the game.

We know, from Finland, that localism in education, devolving power to the smallest common denominator, the local school, can work.

But what of the duty of care for the most vulnerable, typically those that any 'unaccountable' or devolved model most neglects?

Of course, there, and indeed only there, is where state diktat is best placed to ensure provision.

In Finland, the most vulnerable are swiftly identified at an early stage and given dedicated remedial educational resources.

Relieved of responsibility for broad swathes of the population through delegation and divestment of powers to local communities, the state suddenly comes into its own in providing for the the most vulnerable in society.

That, of course, was what Beveridge originally had in mind as his guiding star.

For now we have Ofsted and measurement.

Tomorrow, with optimised localised services of all types, your Ofsted will be like your local 'postie', not that there will be any of those left.

I haven't quite worked out how a localised Royal Mail will work.

Help me out.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 22:07

So what you've essentially got in Finland, Tim, is trust being placed in the individual.

For that to work you have to have a network of people who are capable of evaluating people holistically - essentially along the the lines of Hawkins scale of consciousness but doubtless not explicitly since the methodology predates the creation of such explicit transcultural scales. It's not enough just to have these systems - you have to work to diffuse and plan against the forces which can rapidly destroy them which tend to come from the people who are not far up the scale and unable to recognise their own limitations. This is much more likely to happen in crowded societies and is less likely to happen where populations are disperse and people live closer to nature so natural rather than political leadership tends to be successful.

It's what we had here in Cumbria before Ofsted came along and gave the young men guns. It's how the incredibly strong and respected heads were nurtured - the old style who were appointed because they could command the respect of and lead their communities of teachers, students and parents.

In Finland it's the same system whereby the state takes a gifted man like Sibelius and offers him a reliable income for life to enable him to the the musician he is capable of being instead of making him spend two out of every three years applying for grants which are 'objectively' awarded according to predefined scales for which, of course, he would never have ticked the boxes.


Long may the BBC invest in Gareth Malone so he can bring the likes of Paul Mealor to the national consciousness.

Tim Bidie's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 07:21

Where to start? Blue Streak, TSR 2, CVF Carrier program, NPfIT, any nationalised industry you care to mention, national energy generation, water supply provision, the road system, the rail system, even the still, in part, Victorian national waste disposal system.

Centrally dictated provision of school places is very different to the provision of school places that the parents, who foot the bill, actually want.

Free schools cannot exist without a great deal of hard and difficult work by parent groups driven on by the awfulness, in certain areas, of current state provision of school places.

Free schools only exist because of localised 'bottom up' demand facilitated, not dictated, by central government.

Some parents want more Grammar school places. Oh, not possible because no one is allowed to set up a new grammar school! Why? Central government diktat.

The tiny point that I made, way up the comments column, about independent schools is a simple one. People want them, therefore they exist.

There is no reason why that should not happen in the state sector. Individuals also, of course, pay school fees in the state sector, just in a different way

We are fortunate in England in our existing educational infrastructure. Left to simple supply and demand from day one, market provision would be unpredictable. Markets usually are. But the state, in England, has dictated that every child shall be educated, and has provided the infrastructure.

What our generation now has to do is adapt the existing educational system, to change from top down diktat to bottom up, demand led, provision of education to give the long suffering taxpayer an educational system for the 21st Century that focuses more closely on what they actually want for their children, rather than a system that some remote strategic planning office tells them that they must have.

That isn't going to happen overnight. It requires a massive cultural shift within the department of education. There is and will continue to be central direction of one sort or another so that no localities or groups are severely disadvantaged by the changing face of state educational provision.

The wishes of the taxpayer, however, must be paramount in all this. Equity, fairness, common sense, demands that. Democracy, ultimately, will provide it.

Why? Because democracy, ultimately, is itself derived from free market ideals:


Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 07:50

"Why? Because democracy, ultimately, is itself derived from free market ideals:"
Erm - that doesn't really marry up with this does it Tim.

"Some parents want more Grammar school places. Oh, not possible because no one is allowed to set up a new grammar school! Why? Central government diktat."
But traditional wisdom insists that it's essential to look at why the diktat exists before attempting to change it. Michael Gove failed here because he decided that this and many other rules are made up by ideologues. Sigh.

It is well know that if you have a rapid movement of middle class children out of community schools you quickly get the sudden creation of pernicious sink schools with horrific consequences for the students left in them and their communities and huge cost in fixing them. Hence it was decided to prevent sudden changes in this status quo for this reason.

Carefully considered marginal changes should be allowed provided proper analysis and planning has been done to ensure that the consequences people are worried about will not occur.

Tim Bidie's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 09:00


'the page about the indie pop band "Passion Pit," according to its drummer, Nate Donmoyer. Donmoyer found 10 factual errors on his band's page ranging from subtle to significant. Some information even appeared to have been added to the page by companies or organizations in search of publicity......

"It's kind of crazy," Donmoyer told LLM. "I don't think I can trust Wikipedia again. The littlest white lies can throw its whole validity off."

Tim Bidie's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 20:27

'A recent Eurobarometer survey (2010) suggests that a large majority of people in Europe believe that intermediate or regional levels of government are more adequate for managing social services like health and education.'


Hands up who, in England, thinks that regional levels of government are the way forward?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 07:18

Tim - the link you provided is the same one as the one in my original post. The author, Joan Costa Font, argued that Government policies weaken a key element of democracy – power sharing between central and local governments – while at the same time providing favourable conditions for private sector expansion.

There are two areas of concern in the above statement: (a) the weakening of power sharing between central government and local councils which is a central plank of democracy, and (b) the possibility that private sector expansion, which is not democratically accountable, would fill any gaps.

As Joan Costa Font pointed out - an intermediate layer at regional level is essential for the proper working of democracy. This government says it is "decentralising" but it is in fact doing the opposite. Academies, for example, are charities which are overseen by the Secretary of State for Education.

Tim Bidie's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 08:28

It was mean't to be, to show the origin of the quotation.

Nobody wants a regional level of government in England, as poll after poll has demonstrated.

With today's IT potential, it is debatable whether even a level of regional administration is required.

Central and local. That's all you need. Lean and mean!

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 08:33

Tim - evidence, please, of the "poll after poll".

Tim Bidie's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 08:55

Tim Bidie's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 13:28


For heaven's sake.

Here's the full result of the referendum:


That, and the BBC reference took all of 2 minutes to find.

Nobody wants regional government.

That's democracy.

You are correct. Everyone wants local authorities, not regional government.

After the North East Regional Assembly debacle, all further plans for regional assemblies in England were shelved.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 07:43

Sir Peter Newsam, writing on this site, warned about the "nationalisation" of schools in England in June 2011:


Tim Bidie's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 08:50

Sir Peter Anthony Newsam (knighted in 1987) was born in November 1928. He was educated at Clifton College and then Queen's College, Oxford. In his early career he held the following positions: Assistant Principal, Board of Trade (1952-1956); Teacher (1956-1963); Assistant Education Officer for North Riding of Yorkshire (1963-1966); Assistant Director of Education for Cumberland (1966-1970); Deputy Education Officer at West Riding of Yorkshire (1970-1972).
In 1972 he became Deputy Education Officer, and then succeeded Eric Briault as the Education Officer (Controller of Education) in 1975, for the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA). The authority, based at County Hall, had been established in 1965 and had taken over the responsibilty from the London County Council for education in the inner London boroughs.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 08:05

Tim - (25/04/12 no reply button). You are correct in prioritising the style of accountability in Finland - this relies on formative assessment (using assessment to plan suitable strategies which take account of learners' needs) rather than summative assessment (end-of-stage exams). In England, Government emphasis is the other way round and OECD has warned that there is an excessive emphasis on raw exam results which could have negative effects on education*.

However, this is not the same as allowing schools to be established and run only according to parental "demand". This risks the school system being led by those with the loudest voices and often with no regard to the effect of individual choice on other people's children. The latest British Social Attitudes Survey examined school choice and found a tension between parental right to choose and equality. The survey discovered that "there is stronger support for prioritising equality than for prioritising parental freedom."

*OECD Economic Survey of the UK 2011 - not available freely on the internet but details of how to obtain a copy are here:


British Social Attitudes Survey:


Tim Bidie's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 08:24

Here's an alternative take on the British Social Attitudes Survey:


Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 08:43

Tim - I'm not surprised that the Adam Smith Institute found the results "depressing" from the point of view of an organisation which promotes libertarian and free market ideals. This is their "take":

"Respondents’ attitudes to education were similarly depressing. Despite a high level of support for a ‘basic right’ to choose a school, 63% believed parents should send their child to the nearest state school and only 38% believed that parents who could afford to should be able to pay for private education. This shows how far the state has gone in destroying support for private education and choice."

Note how the Adam Smith summary blames the "state" for "destroying support for private education and choice". Is the Institute suggesting that the respondents had been brainwashed by the "state" because they didn't seem to support the ideals of the Adam Smith Institute?

Read the survey - don't bother with commentators - look at the primary source.

Tim Bidie's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 08:56

Far better to look at the results of a General Election.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 10:33

How far did the 2010 General Election results (which didn't give any single party a mandate to govern) reveal how the electorate felt about the right of parents to choose a school and the promotion of equality in school provision?

Re request for evidence in my post above - you answered (26/4/12 8.55) "Google it". Not good enough. If you wish to back up your opinion with evidence it is up to you to provide the evidence with links. In any case the evidence you provided was dated 2004 and referred to proposed regional assemblies. There was no support for these because (a) they would have weakened, probably destroyed, established local authorities (ie existing local democracy) and (b) the areas covered by these regional assemblies had been decided in Europe and disregarded existing UK counties. This was seen as an unfair imposition especially as the map for France kept established territories.



I've provided the links - I don't expect you to google.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 12:17


Since Education policy applies only to England, the relevant election outcome is surely that the Conservative Party won a clear overall majority of parliamentary seats in England (56%) and had a 12 point lead over Labour in the popular vote.

So there was an unambiguous popular mandate for the party to enact in England all the education reforms in its manifesto.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 13:19

"So there was an unambiguous popular mandate for the party to enact in England all the education reforms in its manifesto."

I've never met anyone who voted for these policies. Most people simply were not aware of them.

Personally I blogged election day on Facebook because I felt so disappointed that it was the first time ever there was not a single credible party I could vote for. Labour were out as Brown was clearly unelectable. The Lib Dems were out because their energy policies would have sent the price of energy here through the roof and collapsed the economy and the Tories were out because of their education policy. We even discussed all the minor parties but none were credible. It was so sad - I was sitting here in my kitchen looking at the polling station signs opposite and feeling really guilty but what can you do?

The coalition was precisely the right results and I was delighted to see the Libdem energy policy go straight down the toilet where it belonged but was completely astonished the Tories' education policy didn't go the same way. It was policy born in a complete bubble of unreality and despite all efforts I've never found anyone with any understanding of education who was involved in it. For so long I kept believing there must be some coherent reason for it but there never was sigh.

I know some people who don't understand education at all are persuaded by the Gove rhetoric and I can understand why but it is an absolutely disgrace to this country that this has happened.

The Tories have got plenty of really bright people in their ranks who I like and respect. How did they let this happen? How did they select so many candidates who know so little about life and society that this momentum could be created?

Tim Bidie's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 13:43

By the next general election, every voter will have a clear view on the effects of these educational reforms.

Any new government is unlikely to reverse them wholesale, but may amend and adjust them, who can say.

Progress through democracy!

That's why we're all still living here, right?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 13:51


I’ve never met anyone who voted for these policies.

Then you need to widen your circle of acquaintance to encompass some of the 40% of voters in England who did.

Most people simply were not aware of them.

Gove was one of the most active shadow cabinet ministers in opposition and the policies were very clearly laid out. Anyone who took an interest in politics will have known about them.

I’ve never found anyone with any understanding of education who was involved in it.

Why do you always assume that people who disagree with you are stupid or lack understanding or insight?

Michael Barber isn't stupid - and he supports Gove's policies.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 16:22

I don't see where in the manifesto it was stated that all the normal systems of consultation of policy would be shut down. That's the biggest crime.

This government operates with many bodies full of people representing all groups affected by the implementation of policy so that as it is consulted its potential impacts become understood and it modifies to take account of this. So no matter what the original aim and philosophy the potential damage of policy on the ground is explored, understood, planned for and to the best extent possible militated against.

When I first met this young bunch of Tories and understood that they actually believed that these consultative bodies were full of ignorant left wing ideologues and were to be systematically ignored and bypasses I felt like I'd been run over by a truck. The people being ignored were so dedicated and experienced and profoundly intelligent and the people doing the ignoring were so ludicrously ignorant and inexperienced in people, society, politics and management it was like being part of some weird, warped horror story.

"Michael Barber isn’t stupid – and he supports Gove’s policies."
Who's he? Is he someone who ever been a head teacher or involved in the local planning of education? Some very intelligent people without relevant experience have been convinced by Gove's rhetoric. He has outstanding skills in rhetoric.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 16:57

Sir Michael Barber, was New Labour adviser, now Chief Education Advisor to Pearson, described in the Guardian thus: "The columnist Simon Jenkins called him "a control freak's control freak", while the Mail's Quentin Letts compared him to the speaking clock. When he gave PowerPoint presentations on "delivery" before Blair's monthly press conferences – described by one Downing Street official as "excellent punishment for the hacks" – one journalist muttered "bullshit, bullshit, bullshit" throughout."

Hardly surprising Barber supports Gove's policies since it was New Labour that starting the academies programme.


Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 17:33

Hmmm - yes there do seem to be some obsessive control freaks who are in tune with Gove. Never come across any of them in reality myself and would avoid them like the plague if I did. In teaching there has to be a culture of mutual respect for everyone to survived. But I am hearing more and more worring stories about these extreme control freaks/bullies being brought in to lead schools on the forums.

The closed new mums teachers forums are particularly revealing as people can't post in public about what it's really like to try and teach when your head is coming in every day to criticise your lessons and is taking you out of class to shout at you from time to time.

While the mums in normal schools quite looking forward to going back to work these mums are having breakdowns and are unable to face it. It's common that their confidence is so crippled by these experiences and their professional self esteem so destroyed that they will not return to teaching. But then that's part of their plan isn't it? They don't want teachers with their own kids because they can't dedicate every hour of every day to their work as demanded. The reality that the vast majority of adults become much better teachers through having raised their own children completely passes these schools by.

Ricky you may guess that I'm not the kind of teacher such a person would appoint :-)

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 26/04/2012 - 16:57

Who’s he? Is he someone who ever been a head teacher or involved in the local planning of education? Some very intelligent people without relevant experience have been convinced by Gove’s rhetoric.

Wow, Rebecca .... that one really takes the biscuit.

M. Barber's (short-form) CV might go like this:

Teacher > NUT official > Chair of Education, Hackney > Professor of Education, Keele > Professor of Education, Institute of Education > Chief Advisor to Secretary of State on Education Standards > Head of 10 Downing St Delivery Unit > Head of Global Education at McKinsey's > Chief Education Advisor, Pearson.

.... and somewhere in there there's Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and about six published books.


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