The Government’s flagship policies have had little or no effect on school improvement according to an Education Select Committee’s report due to be published this week, says the Guardian
’s front page
. Evidence that academy conversion raises standards is ‘inconclusive’.
I can’t comment on the report because it’s unpublished. However, it’s already become a political football.
Shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt, said Labour's sponsored academies, investment, school reform and ‘raising the bar on what we expect from teachers’ had been more effective than Government policies.
While Hunt is correct about the damage done to English education by the Government’s ‘market ideology’, he’s on less sure ground when he praises Labour’s legacy. Deception about sponsored academies
started when they were established; school ‘reform’ increased the high stakes nature of tests; Labour’s response to the extensive Cambridge Primary Review was lukewarm
; and the late Ted Wragg wrote an excoriating article
about how heads were being ‘harangued to meet their targets’.
That said, the London Challenge and the City Challenge were successful. Hunt should make more of these as long as he remembers their achievement had little to do with sponsored academies
The Department for Education hit back at Hunt’s comparison between sponsored and converter academies’ improvement rates. Sponsored academies were bound to have a higher improvement rate, a DfE spokesperson said. They improve faster because they have further to go.
What? After years of saying sponsored academies improve more quickly than other schools, the DfE has done a complete turnaround and admitted what we on LSN have been saying all along – sponsored academies start from a lower base so their improvement rate will be greater than schools where results are higher.
The DfE spokesperson obviously hadn’t read letters from the UK Statistics watchdog concerning misleading remarks by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan about literacy and numeracy standards under the last Government.
Labour had left a ‘legacy’ where one third of pupils left primary schools ‘unable to read, write or add up properly’, the spokesperson said. Adding the word ‘properly’ to Morgan’s discredited statement doesn’t make it accurate - ‘properly’ is subjective.
Britain is ‘stagnating’ in international league tables, shrieked the DfE spokesperson. It’s true Britain’s performance in OECD PISA tables has been consistent since 2006 – UK 15-year-olds score at the OECD average in Reading and Maths and above-average in Science. But England still remains in the top ten countries for primary maths
according to the 2011 Trends in Maths and Science Survey (TIMSS). The performance of English 14-year-olds in Science in TIMSS has remained consistently high since 1995. And the performance of English 10-year-olds in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS
) 2011 rose - English top-performers are up there with the best in the world.
This success, however, was ignored by the DfE spokesperson keen to promote the ‘stagnating’ line.
100,000 more six-year-olds could read because of the Government’s emphasis on phonics (unspecified method), the spokesperson said. But the phonics screening test doesn’t test reading – it tests decoding. And DfE research contradicted the spokesperson
– the majority of teachers of reading were using other methods alongside phonics.
Hunt accused ex-Education Secretary Michael Gove of making ‘cheap political capital’. He’s right but he must take care not to make the same error himself.
26 January 16.22. The above article has been amended to include the name of the ex-Education Secretary. This was missing.
27 January 15.20. The Education Select Committee's report on academies and free schools has now been published. A summary of its findings is here