The Education and Adoption Bill is a naive and simplistic measure. Morgan is the real ideologue not her opponents.

John Bolt's picture
Yesterday, the Education and Adoption Bill completed its committee stage in the House of Commons. It passed, not surprisingly, unaltered but there remains a lot of debate to be had especially in the Lords. Despite intense scrutiny, there remain huge unanswered questions about the bill and in many cases Nick Gibb’s response amounted to little more than an assertion that black is white. Ministers are clinging to the notion that academisation is the answer despite all the evidence to the contrary.

The public evidence session of the committee saw several witnesses, notably Rebecca Allen and Becky Francis, comprehensively take apart most aspects of the bill. Their evidence is well worth reading. But, so far, at least with no significant effect.

The purpose of the Bill according to the DfE press release is ‘to sweep away bureaucratic and legal loopholes’ that prevent schools from being improved. The plan is that all schools found inadequate by Ofsted will become sponsored academies. There will be a duty on governors and local authorities to co-operate with the process and sponsors will no longer be required to consult parents and local communities.

There is also to be provision for “coasting schools” to be given a notice to improve and a rather vague promise of support from “expert headteachers” and if necessary “new leadership”. It stops short of promising academy status for them though.

The rhetoric surrounding this initiative is extra-ordinary. The equating of sponsored academy status with improvement is absolute. You would think that no sponsored academy had ever gone wrong and no local authority school had ever improved. This of course should mean that Morgan has incontrovertible evidence that her approach works just about every time. In fact this is an extraordinarily flawed bill on just about every level.

First should come some matters of principle. The Secretary of State is setting herself up as the only decision maker who matters. No one else’s view is to count for anything. Not for Nicky Morgan the Cromwellian warning “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken”. Good governance is about listening to a range of views and considering evidence from all directions. But not in Nicky Morgan’s world. Anyone who disagrees “puts ideological objections above the best interests of children.” It’s a fundamental rule of organisations that this kind of arrogance leads to trouble sooner or later. Every management textbook will tell you this is a bad way to run anything. But it’s what we’re going to get.

Second, it is absolutely clear that the evidence does not back up the assertions. The Select Committee said so. The RSA Academies Commission said so. The record of failing academies and failing multi-academy trusts says so. Morgan is setting a high standard – academy status is the only path to success, so we are entitled to assume that their record should be pretty spotless – otherwise we might have expected a little more caution.

So to set the balance straight, here are 5 letters written by Ofsted to significant academy chains: here, here, here, here and here.

Then you could add the 99 warning letters sent to poorly performing academies. Or the 14 academy chains prevented in 2014 from taking on new schools because of concerns about their performance. Or the 21 financial warnings issued to academies in the last year.

Then, if you look at the overall statistics, 2.7% of all schools are inadequate according to Ofsted. But 13% of sponsored academies are in that category. No less than 35% of sponsored academies require improvement. Now it’s reasonable to say that many sponsored academies are in challenging circumstances. We know too that there is a huge bias in Ofsted against schools in such areas. And we know that some sponsored academies have done well and some chains are effective. But so are many maintained schools and – despite all the obstacles put in their way – many local authorities.

So does this amount to evidence of a magic bullet? Does it justify riding roughshod over local and professional opinion all over the country? Is it evidence that people who disagree are putting ideology above children’s futures? The DfE prefers to argue by producing the odd anecdote and some quotes from academy leaders who’ve done well out of the system. But they consistently steer clear of trying to present any argument based on hard evidence. When you look at the evidence, it’s the DfE that would seem to be the ideologues, promoting one particular way forward in defiance of evidence that suggests that the world is a little more complicated than that.

We should also think about what is not in this Bill. There is nothing that will actually make sure there are enough good teachers in classrooms – especially in areas where recruitment is difficult – at a time when new teacher numbers are in free fall. Nothing to show how we will find more good headteachers at a time when the job is so insecure that fewer and fewer people want to take it on. Nothing to create the structures of support and challenge that over time we know is how you bring about long term change. Nothing to make sure that there are enough school places in the right areas to meet escalating pupil numbers. Nothing to put right the deeply damaging changes to the curriculum and assessment regimes that may well turn out to be Gove’s most toxic legacy.

And at the end of the day there is nothing to tell us how the DfE is going to successfully manage more and more schools. The Public Accounts Committee has consistently savaged the accountability systems run by the DfE and the EFA. There are no proper systems for identifying problems at an early stage. Anyone who has dealt with the EFA knows that it is a deeply dysfunctional organisation that often can’t even get the basics of funding and administration right.

The system will remain shrouded in secrecy. Issues like the choice of sponsor will be even less transparent than they have been so far. 1000 more sponsored academies over five years will demand either even bigger chains or many new sponsors. But we know big chains expanding rapidly are the most likely to fail. And there is no evidence that there is a massive queue of new sponsors queuing up. Like much of this government’s programme, this is a leap in the dark based on a touching faith that it’ll be all right on the night.

But on the evidence of the last five years, it will make very little difference to pupils’ education. Some schools will improve. Some will get worse. Just as they would if none of this happened. The top down structural model of school improvement is irrelevant to the real needs of children. But ministers do it because it creates the illusion of action and gets them headlines. The daily grind of incremental improvement doesn’t interest them but it is what will really make a difference for children.

This is a bad Bill not just because it seeks to centralise decision making to an unacceptable degree. It’s also bad because it puts public assets into private hands with no proper accountability. But above all it’s bad because it’s based on an approach to managing complex systems that is naïve and simplistic in the extreme. What a massive waste of everyone’s time!

(The initial version of this post was published on the SEA blog here. )
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Sylvia HART's picture
Sat, 18/07/2015 - 13:39

I am very concerned for all the reasons you have outlined. However in this climate of austerity it seems that education is increasingly having to cope with limited budgets and higher levels of need. This is also going to impact on what can be offered to pupils.

Guest's picture
Sat, 18/07/2015 - 14:13

"We know too that there is a huge bias in Ofsted against schools in such areas." Forgive my naivety but do we "know" and if so, what is the evidence?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 19/07/2015 - 08:36

Perhaps 'bias' is the wrong word. However, inspectors have to take achievement into account and this is (obviously) likely to be lower in schools with an ability range skewed to the bottom end. Schools Week found the definition of 'coasting' disproportionately affected such schools.

There is also the problem of mismatch between data used by Ofsted and school performance tables. It's all a matter of interpretation, I was told, but it can be the difference between success and failure and I discussed here.

Paul Hopkins's picture
Sat, 18/07/2015 - 20:47

This is where we do need to get this message out and there is nothing happening in the media over this. When the BBC do publish a story on its website the response from the DfE is normally along the lines of, "The DfE say that they are right because they are the DfE" without the production (as you say of anything like evidence).

Stories like (‘are-not-a-panacea’) and ( in the TES and the evidence from Stephen Gorard to the Select Committee ( need to be got out to the media to all MPs (I have lobbied mine to hear what he has to say) if nothing else we need to get Con MPs complicit in the lies so that it will come back to bite them.

As to the final paragraph the untold scandal of the last election (and where was T.Hunt!!) was the transfer of uncounted billions (but probably about £50bn) of public assets into private hands and already we have seen significant amounts of this sold-off. Difficult to calculate how much more will be given away.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 19/07/2015 - 08:44

Paul - it is the complicity of Tory MPs (and some Lib Dems in the Coalition) in spreading misinformation and supporting the Gov't line that angers me. It's likely that every Tory MP will vote for the Education and Adoption Bill despite the growing evidence that academy conversion isn't a magic bullet and can in some cases do harm.

But, as Henry pointed out in his thread about the arrogance of Gov't, when you think you're unassailable you can ignore such inconveniences as opposing evidence or parents who want their schools to remain with LAs. It's called hubris.

Clive's picture
Sun, 19/07/2015 - 05:07

Guest's picture
Sun, 19/07/2015 - 20:42

Clive - You may well think so but I am not persuaded. You may prefer to dismiss the issue of correlation without tangible evidence does not lead to causation but I do not. I remain unconvinced that the - for me at least sweepingly glib - statement that "Schools with able intakes attract the best teachers and leaders" holds up. With regard to pupil behaviour it is undeniable that negative behaviours impede/reduce learning and progression. It is however also accurate to say that passive behaviours can impair a pupils personal learning and progress in the same way as the negative. It follows then the 'good' behaviour people refer to is really that manifest by pupils who are engaged, interested and enthused by their lessons and this manifests itself in many ways but the ultimate outcome is positive learning and positive progress. I for one do then subscribe to the blunt analysis or categorisation of 'good' and 'bad' behaviour. Why, because the latter is too blunt, too simplistic.

I also fear that rather than support the proposition that Ofsted is "hugely biased" the evidence offered thus far lends support to the viewpoint that underperformance in KS2, FSM, disadvantaged status' are used as an excuse for not striving to remedy this in KS3-4 and beyond. Indeed, the Ofsted stance on pupil progress against their achievements at point of entry into the secondary phase is intended to combat what can be construed as writing pupils off.

I would also invite consideration to the number of schools of all categories who have lost their grade 1 or 2 status because the high ability/more able pupils underachieve and/or too few middle ability pupils.

Human nature means that it is highly likely that some inspectors will err in aspects of the judgements that it simply not the same as stating that Ofsted the organisation or its operation per se is "hugely biased" one way or another. What can be said with some confidence is that there is and always will be room for inspectors achieving greater levels of consistency in their work (and the underlying training/understanding of the data they work with). In this regard the latest evolution inspection services will be interesting. That is to say, achievement without level and therefore no fine numbers driving RoL, the refocusing of Achievement of Pupils to Pupil Development. The latter is rather more than sophistry.

A Cooper's picture
Mon, 20/07/2015 - 07:42

This article in today's online version of The Independent is extremely interesting. It will certainly limit the income stream for many current Ofsted inspectors. No doubt some of the 40% that are now surplus to requirements will have to rethink their next career move.

The Independent:

Guest's picture
Mon, 20/07/2015 - 12:26

I think you'll find that the Additional Inspectors all work as self employed sub contractors; either as sole traders (freelance) or through their own limited company. They were not employed by Serco, Tribal or CfBT and from September will not be employed by Ofsted. Rather they will be sub contracted consultants undertaking inspections for Ofsted.

It follows then that the 40% already have a career path. It's called freelance educational consultancy and includes interim work.

Moving to the article:

1. The sums of money involved reflect what was paid to the agency for providing the Mocksted and not the amount that the colleague earned

2. I think you'll find that the majority of Mocksted style work was bought in via LAs.

3. Academy chains employ people to undertake advisor roles and these invariable attend Ofsted based training and then cascade this around the schools in the chain. This is also true of some LAs who train-up some of their advisors to support schools in preparing for Ofsted.

It follows then that the number of HTs that call in individual consultants will be significantly less than the article implies.

For me what is most telling is that notwithstanding mentioning the Eton sponsored free school, the article does not cover academies and free schools and focuses on LA schools. That is to say, while the DFE can take action against LAs and non-academies/non-freeschools it cannot tell an academy or free school sponsor how to spend its money. This I would suggest gives clear indication that what lies beneath this move is the government trying to hobble LAs and LA schools by not allowing them the freedom to spend from their budget on being prepared to meet the governments own education requirements, which of course then accelerates the process of forced academisation.

It is also somewhat disingenuous of the Independent to label all schools that decide to allocate what is in reality a tiny proportion of their overall budget on being better prepared for inspection as "unfairly boost Ofsted results". I would have thought that was wise of proper strategic leadership. Equally, getting a consultant in to deliver either a whole school style inset or work with a known weak area of a school is no guarantee of getting an improved ("boosted") inspection outcome.

Perhaps the real question here is 'just how closely allied to the government is the Independent?' I float this because this article is unbalanced, poorly researched and appears to target LA schools. After all, if an academy or free school is seen to be falling short of floor targets at worst they get shunted to another sponsor but if an LA school falls short it gets academised.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Sat, 25/07/2015 - 20:49

GOve was intelligent but dogmatic and wouldn't listen...Morgan is worse because her policies appear to be gleaned from her mates within the more obnoxious cohorts of self-righteous narcissistic ex- career women within the Mumsnet er.." think tank" ? Self serving and opinionated these people truly believe that , as they have a child, that they understand education and furthermore, that it should be remodelled soley for the benfit of their own children.

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