Another head praised by Gove publicly backs his ideas

Janet Downs's picture
“One of the best schools I have ever visited” is how Education Secretary, Michael Gove, described Nunthorpe Academy recently. His remarks followed a visit he made to the school in April after schools minister David Laws had visited in January. Gove said this:

"I am just overjoyed a comprehensive in Middlesbrough is setting the standard for state schools across the country."

Gove’s praise is justified according to Ofsted*: Nunthorpe was judged Outstanding in 2013. But whether the school can be described as “comprehensive” when the 2012 cohort had 48% previously high-attaining pupils and only 5% previously low-attaining ones is debatable. And Gove’s claim that Nunthorpe’s head, Debbie Clinton, had turned the school from special measures to outstanding “in the last couple of years” is not upheld by evidence.

Shortly after Gove’s visit to Nunthorpe, Recognition PR, the marketing company which handles Nunthorpe’s publicity, issued a press release in which Clinton welcomed Gove’s GCSE reforms:

"The reforms are both timely and sensible given that the first teaching of the planned new specifications will be in September 2015; sufficient time for good teachers to plan stimulating and challenging classroom experiences."

However, there are many “good teachers”, including members of the headteachers’ union NAHT, who are concerned about the rushed timescale. Nevertheless, Clinton said the changes were necessary to close the gap between English pupils and their “international education rivals”. Perhaps she’s unaware that most of the developed world doesn’t have high stakes tests at 16 but postpones graduation until 18**. Gove shares the same misapprehension.

In March, Clinton told a local paper she will “dock” the pay of any teacher who went on strike. This tough-sounding rhetoric disguises the fact that striking teachers aren’t paid when they are not at school because they are taking industrial action.

Now Clinton is pushing the Gove line about performance-related pay (PRP). She poses a false choice: either performance-related pay or "letting down our students".

She accuses the NASUWT/NUT pay policy as "lacking courage" and "cautious". But it's not lack of courage that causes professionals to be cautious. It’s a desire to ensure that policies are underpinned by evidence.

The Sutton Trust found “Performance pay has been tried on a number of occasions, however the evidence of impact on student learning does not support the approach.” The OECD gave a cautious response: “Performance-based pay is worth considering in some contexts; but making it work well and sustainably is a formidable challenge.” And Ben Levin, professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), investigated the evidence about PRP in North America. He gave eight reasons why merit pay for teachers was a bad idea.

Clinton is, like any head, entitled to give her views. But it’s not the first time that heads who support Gove’s policies are publicly named and praised while heads that oppose him are described as “pessimists and fatalists”. I don’t suppose it will be the last.


*Disclaimer: citing Ofsted judgements doesn’t imply agreement.

**See faq above What are the examination systems in other countries?

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