DfE development money goes to some familiar names, leaked list reveals

Janet Downs's picture

There are familiar names in the leaked list of winners for funding totalling £45m in the first round of bids for the Department for Education’s Teaching and Leadership Innovation Fund.

RM Literacy Ltd, run by Ruth Miskin, offers training in the use of phonics.  She’s influenced school minister Nick Gibb and advised the DfE on the primary curriculum. 

Her role as DfE adviser while providing resources led to concerns re possible conflict of interest.

RM Literacy profited from the government’s matched funding for phonics resources.  

EdisonLearning Ltd, the UK arm of EdisonLearning Inc, a US for-profit education provider, took over Salisbury School (renamed Turin Grove), Edmonton, in April 2007 on a three-year contract. 

Turin Grove is often cited as an example of how running a school for profit can work.  But the near doubling of exam results to 22% in 2007 would have been achieved by pupils starting exams one month after the takeover.  Nevertheless, EdisonLearning was given the credit.  Exam results had risen to 27% at the end of contract (2010).

EdisonLearning now provides school improvement services.  Its charitable arm, The Collaborative Academies Trust (TCAT), runs nine academies.  In March 2015, Ofsted criticised TCAT after focussed inspections.  Since then three of TCAT’s academies are good but one, Priorswood Primary School, Taunton, was recently downgraded from requires improvement to inadequate.  Ofsted said TCAT’s recent hands-on approach had ‘secured the school’s capacity to improve’ but TCAT had ‘been responsible for a period of decline’.

It’s unclear why funding should go to an organisation criticised by Ofsted for overseeing a period of decline.

Teach First (TF) trains teachers via an employment-based route.  Ten of twelve TF partnerships are outstanding overall and two are good.  To put this in perspective, the proportion of Initial Teacher Education (ITE) partnerships good or better at their most recent inspection is 99%.

Research (2016) found TF was an expensive teacher training method and TF participants were ‘more likely to have left teaching after two years’.  

Despite this expense, the government regularly praises TF.  The last two Teachers in Residence at the DfE had been trained via TF.  One, Robert Peal, is a vociferous critic of so-called ‘progressive’ teaching.  The most recent, Rory Gribbell, is a one-time Labour Party member who became active in the Conservative Education Society.  The appointment of two TeachFirsters with views which chime with Nick Gibb’s drew crticisim.

One of the tasks given to DfE Teachers in Residence is writing Nick Gibb’s speeches.  Perhaps it’s not surprising they so often praise Teach First.  

The Institute for Teaching is run by ARK and promotes Ark Teacher Training (rated outstanding – the grade shared by 34% of ITE providers).

ARK academies educate a higher proportion of disadvantaged pupils than the average and these do better than might be expected based on prior achievement.  But attainment for advantaged pupils is below average (see Chain Effects). 

ARK’s accounts (y/e 31 August 2016) reveal ARK’s aims ‘go beyond’ running a successful academy trust.  It wants to ‘develop programmes’ which will ‘spread ARK’s model' to non-ARK schools.  This includes Ark Teacher Training and Maths Mastery, a system of maths teaching highly-regarded by Nick Gibb.  But the EEF toolkit (Gibb is a fan) says mastery learning appeared to be ‘more effective’ when used occasionally or additionally.  This implies Maths Mastery should not comprise an entire teaching programme.  

The DfE has endorsed just one resource, Maths No Problem, for maths mastery matched funding.    The Maths No Problem website includes an endorsement from Ark Schools.  

ARK, with the encouragement of Nick Gibb, now has financial backing from the DfE to disseminate its methods to other English schools.  But ARK’s methods aren’t without criticism.  Blended learning for example, is seen by some as a means of replacing qualified teachers with IT.  And ARK’s micro-management of pupil behaviour can seem over-regimented. 

Anvil Education Limited is run by Tom Bennett, founder of ResearchEd which aims to align educational theory and practice. 

In 2015, Bennett was appointed to advise the government on behaviour in schools after dispensing advice as Behaviour Guru in TES.  His review of behaviour included a recommendation that training in behavioural strategies should be established by the government.    

Bennett was also chair of the Initial Teacher Training Behaviour group which included three heads of ARK schools and ‘secondee’ Ruth Miskin.   Its report gave an example of a sequence in ‘behaviour instruction’ for trainee teachers. 

As with RM Literacy Ltd, links between advice about teaching methods and the provision of resources by the one giving the advice, can give rise to concerns about possible conflicts of interest.

Schools Week approached the companies concerned but there was a ‘ten-day mandatory standstill period for public sector contracts’ which prevented comment.  The DfE told Schools Week there had been ‘open procurement’ for the first round but would say no more until standstill was over.

Education blogger Graham Brown-Martin, who leaked the list, says ‘Let the Freedom of Information requests begin’.

NOTES: Other successful bidders were the Teacher Development Trust, Honorary President, Lord Adonis (thought to be the inspiration for the late Ted Wragg’s Tony Zoffis); STEM Learning Ltd and the Institute for Physics. 


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