A new low in the corruption of our school system by marketisation and Academisation

Roger Titcombe's picture

Disappeared: the headteachers sacked and gagged by academy trusts

School leaders who don’t show rapid improvement in results are being ruthlessly dismissed – and silenced. Some say it’s because they refused to cheat.
See this Guardian story.

This is possibly the most serious example yet of the corruption of our school system by a combination of marketisation and the response of Academy and Free School MATS.

The ruthless pursuit of 'outstanding' status introduces perverse incentives that degrade the quality of teaching and learning replacing developmental approaches by 'red in tooth and claw' behaviourism. OfSTED makes this possible because its judgements are based on flawed, high stakes performance measures. The Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman was right to draw attention to gaming, cheating and the curriculum distortion that results, but what will she do about it? Don't hold your breath.

By compelling schools to be subject to a market in school choice, exercised by parents on the basis of simplistic school performance indicators in the context of privatised examination boards competing to sell their exams, curriculum and teaching methods have become degraded resulting in a significant real decline in educational standards despite the illusion of school improvement. The irony is that the 2010 Conservative-led coalition government under Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove had, unlike his New Labour predecessors, recognised this decline but Gove and his successor were ideologically and disastrously blind to its causes.

Much current teaching in schools that is commonly believed by the government to be ‘good’ is in fact ‘bad’ because it is ‘teaching to the test’ and does not result in cognitive growth.

Cognitive development is secured through ‘developmentalism’. Cognitive gains are achieved through a teaching and learning culture that celebrates mistakes. This approach is maligned in the DfE promoted GERM culture as ‘progressivism’ and is being discouraged in our schools.

This article by Professor Alastair Sharp is worth a re-read.


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Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 26/10/2017 - 11:51

By ''celebrating mistakes' I was referring to the universal principle that underpins all learning, not just pedagogy. I explain this with the help of Matthew Syed's book here.


However, teachers and heads have to be allowed to make mistakes too. If you don't experiment with different classroom and curriculum  approaches then there is no progress. Good schools are innovative schools, but only where 'innovation' does not mean implementing flawed ideology-based methods imposed by the bosses of MATs or 'extreme discipline' heads.

In my book 'Learning Matters',  Part 3 is entitled, 'Spectacular School Improvement' and it challenges the 'superhead' concept especially in relation to the GNVQ/BTEC 'vocational scam' invented and  promoted by the Blair government.  In the millenium 'noughties' there was barely a week that passed without the broadsheet celebration of one superhead or another (especially in the Guardian) who had 'turned round' a 'working class' school. Perhaps the most notorious example was the Perry Beeches debacle, which I researched at the time and reported in a 'Forum' article.


In my 14 year headship I made loads of mistakes, but hopefully learned from all of them.

I allowed an enthusiastic teacher to run a 'Brain Gym' class in the hope that it may have a small effect on academic attainment. As the late Philip Adey points out in his excellent book , 'Bad Education', it was utter drivel. There were other examples of 'brain science psychobabble' that I allowed teachers and sometimes whole departments to dabble with. The most notorious  is probably 'Learning Styles'  (eg visual, aural, kineasthetic etc).

However my biggest mistake was probably in relation to the argument that girls could benefit from being taught in single sex classes in subjects like maths. The theory was that girls were physically or psychologically bullied by the boys and so were inhibed from fully participating in lessons. In my school Heads of Departments were allowed considerable autonomy. They were expected to keep up to date with developments in their subject, support the development of their teachers and organise teaching and learning in accordance with what the department believed to be best practice for them. So some subjects were setted and some were  taught in mixed ability groups. In terms of GCSE the best performing departments were English, humanities and modern languages. The first two were 'mixed ability', modern languages was 'setted'.

In common with many inner urban comprehensives with a low mean SATs/CATs score entry, we struggled with maths attainment (but not science) throughout my headship. So in one year 10 year group, instead of having four maths sets based on ability, we had two 'boys' classes and two 'girls' classes. These too were based on ability but the ability range in the single sex classes was now much wider. Either this was a mistake in principle, or else the maths staff were not up to the challenges. I was the teacher of a lower ability girls' class. It was a nightmare. There were no studious peer group leader pupils of either sex to set a good example and I completely failed to dispel the 'stop going on Mr Titcombe and just tell us the answers so can learn them' culture. The top set classes fared no better and the experiment was abandoned, but not as swiftly as it should have been.

I would now take the view that sexist bullying may well take place in all mixed sex classes and may indeed  be a greater problem in maths and science, but the solution is to achieve a whole school anti-sexism and anti-bullying culture (which we had), but vitally to ensure that is was actively promoted in maths classes, as it certainly was in other departments.

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