Michael Gove's second letter to Stephen Twigg consisted of an impressive looking list of all the activities undertaken by the Department for Education while he has been Secretary of State. However there is no mention of the results of this activity in terms of improved teaching and learning or better outcomes for children.
There are one or two items in the list for which the coalition government deserves credit, such as the £2.5 billion spent on the pupil premium. However, in the spirit of Mr Gove's first letter to Stephen, we would like to ask some questions of him:
Do you judge your success by the the level of activity of the DfE or by the outcomes for school students?
Which student outcomes should we judge your success on?
What improvement in these outcomes has there been over your three years as Secretary of State?
Use of Public Money
If £1 billion was spent on school conversion but no schools received any extra funding
(as the DfE Permanent Secretary told the Public Accounts Committee) how could this be described as a good use of public money?
Given that the bulk of that money was spent on converting already Good or Outstanding
schools to academies, and the GCSE results for those schools subsequently fell, does this make you doubt conversion as an improvement strategy?
What effect could that £1 billion have had on student outcomes if it had been spent directly on measures to improve teaching and learning, such as professional development?
Can the Secretary of State tell us how much capital investment has been made in new free schools in areas where there are already adequate places?
Academies & Free Schools
If you support parental democracy, why is it not allowed for parents to ask for a school to be set up and for it to be a maintained community school, if that is what they want?
Why are Academy Brokers, despite working directly for the DfE, not bound by the Civil Service Code
If you believe the freedoms that academies have are valuable - such as varying their curriculum - why do you not want to extend them to all schools?
The Academies Commission confirmed OECD findings that schools in England already had considerable freedoms
. The Commission went as far as to say that non-academies can do most things that academies can do.
Why, then, do you persist in saying that the only way for schools to gain "freedom" is to convert to academy status?
You constantly claim that academy conversion will give schools "freedom" from Local Authority "control"
but LAs haven't controlled schools since Local Management of Schools was introduced. How do you intend to put right this misrepresentation?
The Academies Commission received complaints from some heads of academies in chains that they now had less freedom
than when their schools were LA maintained. What do you plan to do to address this?
The Discovery New School,
a free school in Crawley, has been judged "Inadequate". The DfE identified failings nine months ago but Ofsted didn't inspect until May 2013. This allowed the school time to address these weaknesses. Why does the DfE not allow a similar amount of time to state primary schools deemed to be "failing" instead of forcing them to become academies?
How do you justify giving academies and free schools extra freedom to effectively "opt out" from the School Admissions Code
Use of Data
Should the sources of government policy be more authoritative than surveys from Premier Inns and similar sources
The UK Statistics Authority
has censured the use of international educational test data by the DfE. When will the Department issue a retraction and apologise for misleading Parliament and the public about the standing of the UK in international educational league tables?
You told the Spectator
conference that pupils in the Far East worked longer school hours than pupils in England. This was contradicted by data from Education at a Glance
2012 (OECD). How can you explain this mismatch?
The LSE report on the "academy effect" painted a relatively positive picture of the earliest of Labour's sponsored academies but contained a warning that the report's results could not be used to justify the Coalition policy of converting good or outstanding schools and primaries. You ignored this caveat
. Can you explain why?
Given the lack of any evidence for the effect of converting Good or Outstanding schools to academy status, is it fair to base a huge policy shift - affecting thousands of schools - on a hunch?
The Public Accounts Committee made clear that more financial information was required on academies. Why has all financial information on academies and free schools
been removed from the DfE Performance Tables?
Progress and Achievement
Why has the DfE adopted the % of students making 3 levels of progress
from age 11 to 16 as a key target, even though this regards a student going from level 5 to a GCSE grade B as success?
The OECD found successful school systems
have moved from “professional or administrative forms of accountability and control” to “professional forms of work organisations”. The emphasis is not on outcomes but on the next stage in a pupil’s education: the next teacher, the next school, the pupil’s future life. What is your response to this finding?
The DfE talks a lot about the increase in GCSE results of academies, but the difference between academies and non-academies disappears when similar schools
are compared. Why do you persist in only comparing academies to all schools?
You have made clear that you would like more study of "core academic subjects". Yet students are far less likely to study history, geography or languages
in academies than in similar maintained schools. Is this a concern to you?
You have talked of 'gaming' the system by using Btec and similar GCSE equivalents. Are you aware that academies, and especially those in chains like Ark, make far more use of GCSE equivalents
than non-academies? Why does the DfE make such widespread claims for academies growth when the data makes clear that so much of it is based on the GCE equivalents that you regard as 'gaming'?
At the time you came to office it was clear that the most successful programme of educational improvement had taken place in London at the time of the London Challenge
. What has the DfE learnt from the success of London schools and where is the evidence of those lessons being applied anywhere else?
At the core of the success of London Challenge
was collaboration between schools. At the core of your approach has been competition. Although it fits well with your ideology, where is the evidence that competition is more successful than collaboration?
Why are you focusing so much effort on a new national curriculum, when the majority of secondary schools will no longer have to follow it?
The DfE report on the effect of the Ebacc
found that, in one year, 247 schools have withdrawn Drama as a GCSE, 183 schools have withdrawn Art, and 151 schools have withdrawn Design Technology. Does this concern you at all?
The Academies Commission “heard considerable evidence that the current accountability framework inhibits change and innovation
.” What steps will you take to reduce the negative effects of the present accountability regime?
You have said that academies have freedom to design their own curriculum. At the same time you and junior minister Elizabeth Truss promote the "Core Knowledge Curriculum
". This is an anglicized version of a 1990's curriculum devised in the USA by E D Hirsch, published by Civitas and piloted in Pimlico Academy which has links with Education Minister, Lord Nash. It is marketed as the curriculum which parents can expect to find in any "good" school. If academies can design their curriculum, then why do you think it is appropriate for ministers to promote one particular curriculum?
Will you set up an independent body , including currently teaching professionals, to shape future curriculum and qualifications?
Faith-based free schools were established on the basis that only 50% of children attending would be of that faith. Are you concerned that some faith free schools have over 90% from that faith?
The Sutton Trust recently highlighted covert selection
in many schools. What actions are you taking to tackle this?
The Academies Commission expressed concerns about the emergence of a population of hard-to-place children
. How will you address this issue as more schools become their own admission authorities and local authorities cannot direct these schools to take such children?
Why is it acceptable for Ofsted to describe independent schools judged Grade 3 as “adequate” while the term used to describe Grade 3 state schools is “requires improvement”?
Why are you focussing on changing exams at 16 when most of the developed countries do not have high-stakes tests at this age but concentrate on graduation at 18
In January the DfE introduced a measure of the % of students achieving 3 "facilitating" A levels
. Can you explain why they ignored the Russell Group advice that a measure of 2 facilitating subjects should be used and instead used a measure that is not required by any UK university?
Role of Local Authorities
Effective local authorities intervene in schools to support and challenge long before Ofsted ratings make them clear. Please list which academies the DfE has intervened in, in this way?
If a local authority raises evidence of concern with an academy with the DfE and no action is taken, what can it do to support the raising of standards in that school?
Most of the most successful education areas (in terms of value added) are in areas with active local authorities. Why, then, are you so anxious for schools to stop being maintained by LAs?
What action is the DfE taking about the fact that permanent exclusions in academies
are far higher than in maintained schools?
The DfE has intervened in schools across the country to encourage or force conversion to academy status. Why then did the DfE tell the Public Accounts Committee that the department had only intervened in five schools
If an academy or free school is found to be failing, such as Discovery New School
, what solution will be forced on it?
The Academies Commission found that the avalanche of Government initiatives and a focus on structures and systems was diverting attention for the classroom
. What is your response to this criticism?
The Academies Commission published its report in January 2013. The Government is yet to respond. Can you explain what has caused the delay and when we can expect a response?
The Deregulation Bill
will give all schools the freedom to vary the length of the school holidays. This is likely to cause problems for parents with children at different schools. What sanctions do you plan to put in place for those parents who take their children on holiday in term time when terms are longer?
Schools can vary the length of the school day but parents at one primary academy in Great Yarmouth felt this impinged on family life
. What is your response to these parents? And will there be sanctions for parents who collect their children from school before the end of the lengthened school day?
How much money will you allow local authorities, particularly in rural areas, when they have to pay for more school transport because of the difficulty of co-ordinating transport for schools with varying school times and terms? Or will you expect already cash-strapped LAs to pay the extra cost? Or parents?
reported that the DfE had had secret talks about allowing schools to be run for profit. Will you release the names of the companies which have been in discussion with the Department?
When will you let the electorate know that you are firmly in favour of running schools for profit, that you have been so since before the last election
, and profit-making schools would become a reality if the Conservatives were to win the next election? Will this policy be clearly stated in the Conservative manifesto?
If we are all "in it together" would it make sense to introduce performance related pay for MPs and also change their pensions in the same way that teachers' pensions are being reformed?
Do you view teaching as a profession like medicine or more a trade like plumbing? If the former why is apprenticeship alone acceptable and university education in the actual profession no necessary?
You have made clear that quality of teaching is central to your vision. Why then has there not been more focus on, and funding for, professional development for teachers and other school staff?
Do you feel it could be a problem that teachers and headteachers feel criticised and blamed
by your government and by yourself? is it not the case that most leaders feel the need to build the support of those who they want to implement change?
In truth these are just a start. We realise there are not enough on many aspects of education. Special educational needs, for instance. We invite you to add any questions you would have for Mr Gove.