Another proposed free school offers carrot to complete forms

Janet Downs's picture
The Phoenix Free School, a proposed secondary school in Oldham which hopes to open in September 2013, is offering after-school classes in reading for pupils aged 6-9 early next year. The classes will be run weekly and are free for the first term. All parents have to do to show interest in the free lessons is to complete a form. This is the same form as the one being used for parents who wish to register an interest in the free school.

Concerns about a free school offering an incentive were raised by Baroness Walmsley in the House of Lords on 15 March 2012 following a post on the Local Schools Network. She left a message on the thread: “I think these tactics are outrageous and amount to fraud. It just goes to show that the Liberal Democrats were right, when the Academies Act was going through Parliament, to ask that those who proposed to open one of these new schools should not be allowed to carry out the consultation. I’m afraid we failed to persuade the Government that this would risk distortion of the results.”

The question is: how many other free school proposals have offered similar carrots to increase evidence of demand?

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Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 19/04/2012 - 17:05

From your link Janet:

"Tom Burkard is one of Britain’s leading authorities on teaching basic literacy skills. If you’d like to discuss you child’s problems, phone him on 0844 870 7845"


I'm tempted to phone but judging by the sudden deletions of Old Andrew's tweets I suspect he won't want to talk to me. He seems to have dropped out of our conversation in the Free Schools group on linkedin. If anybody else is in the mood perhaps they could phone and ask him who Old Andrew is. :-)

What a small world.

I'll pass this one down the chain. Keep them coming.

Has anyone actually worked with Tom Burkhard? He doesn't sound like he has a clue about the real world of teaching first hand.

andy's picture
Sat, 21/04/2012 - 23:14

I am at something of a loss to read your comment, "He [Tom Burkhard] doesn’t sound like he has a clue about the real world of teaching first hand." I say because some two weeks ago now on your own discussion thread on Linkedin about Goves' bubble, Tom had several interchanges with you. In one of them he commented to you:

"You imply that those who want to start Free Schools have a narrow view of education, and little experience at the problems schools face these days. Well, I am not only a former teacher, but I have an MA in Education, and an offer pending for a visiting professorship. My closest friends include some of England's best teachers--highly talented individuals who have produced outstanding results in the face of the inanities incapsulated in the Gilbert Review. As educational publishers, we work with teachers on a regular basis, and revise our materials in consultation with them."

Neither you nor I may have worked with him but I cannot help but feel bemused by you implying he has no teaching experience when he has personally advised you of his experience and qualifications. In view of this your comment on this discussion comes across of being wilfully misleading through to being somewhat disingenuous.

Andy's picture
Thu, 19/04/2012 - 20:24

Janet: I share your concern about incentives and the ipad example is a classic. The Pheonix Free School offer of free reading lessons for 6-9 year olds could be categorised as an incentive but on the other hand a free term of synthetic phonics is not in the same gadget/gimmick league as an ipad. It could be argued that through the auspicies of Tom Burkard the school are offering both a taster of the approach and vision underpinning the schools views on literacy and promoting the benefits of synthetic phonics that has the potential to liberate young learners from being locked into an SEN category. So whereas the ipad is blantant free reading support is more of a service to the community.

Tom B also founded the Promethean Trust and co-founded the Sounds Foundation, so you may wish to have a surf of the fuss is about. Btw Tom B is a former SEN teacher so he may well remember days in the classroom - he will almost certainly have started in the mainstream before specialising - supporting students, teaching and of course the small group/1-2-1 contact.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 20/04/2012 - 07:49

The Promethean Trust which publishes the Sound Foundations books was removed from the Charities Register in May 2010. This is not made clear on the Trust’s website which says it’s been working with dyslexic children since 1989 (the Charities Commission says the Trust was registered in 1999).

The free school will offer intensive instruction in basic literacy using the Sound Foundations programmes which, according to the school's website, are "rapidly gaining recognition as the most cost-effective means of preventing reading failure." It's true that Gloucestershire County Council was very positive about "Bear Necessities" (part of Sound Foundations programme) for supporting pupils with reading and spelling difficulties at a cost of £100 per pupil when the Council presented an evaluation of the pilot scheme to primary SENCOs in March 2008. Four years seems a long time to "rapidly" gain recognition.

I'm not sure how far books with titles like "Apples and Pears" and "Dancing Bears" will be appreciated by secondary age pupils.

andy's picture
Sat, 21/04/2012 - 23:30

Your comments about the Promethean Trust and the Gloucester experience are noted with interest, thank you for sharing them.

Perhaps I could throw in a further quote form one of Tom's responses on Rebecca's Govian bubble thread on linkin, which may also offer further insight into the geographical spread of his work and support for synthetic phonics:

"I've been teaching basic literacy skills to some of Norfolk's most 'dyslexic' pupils for over 22 years. I've worked in schools with a lot of travellers and taught children from 'dysfunctional' homes. With our private pupils, we've faced a lot of hostile 'whole language' schools that were making our job a lot more difficult. Yet nonetheless, I can assure you that teaching kids to read is easy. It just takes a decent synthetic phonics programme (and there are lots of them), and some persistence and patience. Almost anyone can do it with relatively little guidance and support. Our programme, which is used in over 1,000 British schools, is almost always delivered by teaching assistants. Parents, dinner ladies and even Duke of Edinburgh award pupils have all used it to good effect.

This kind of teaching works. In West Dunbartonshire, Tommy MacKay has virtually eliminated reading failure with synthetic phonics. He led from the bottom, working in schools and convincing their teachers that all the usual excuses are just that--excuses. It took him 13 years, but since 2007 all of their pupils have been going up to secondary school with a reading age of at least 9 1/2, which is about the level that it takes to read (and understand) the Daily Mail. Several years ago I conducted a seminar with infant teachers from about 20 of their 34 primary schools. I have never met teachers anywhere who were so switched-on and confident. I really didn't have that much to tell them that they didn't know already.

West Dunbartonshire is one of the most impoverished LAs in Britain. If they can do it, what excuse do England's schools have? "

I appreciate that we are digressing from the thrust of the original issue but it is interesting that set against the impact of phonics in Dumbartonshire, Gloucestershire and Norfolk (and no doubt other locations), the main teaching unions seem opposed to a literacy tool that is clearly capable of unlocking children from the prison that is illiteracy.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 22/04/2012 - 09:47

andy - phonics is already used in the majority of English schools as the Eurydice report on the teaching of reading in Europe made clear. It is work on comprehension that is needed.

Your quote from Burkard says that West Dunbartonshire has "virtually eliminated reading failure" by ensuring that all pupils have entered secondary school with a reading age of 9 1/2. But the government expects pupils in England to enter secondary school with a reading level expected at age 11 (Level 4). In 2011, 84% of pupils reached Level 4, 6% didn't reach the level expected of a 7 year old, so the number achieving a reading age of 9 1/2 would be somewhere between 84% and 94%.

That is not to understate the value of the West Dunbartonshire study (link below). It recommended a "multiple-component literacy intervention" which is described as a "process" not an off-the-shelf product. The use of synthetic phonics was one of ten strands in the process which included, among other things, individual support and engaging parents. The evaluation said the programme created a "buzz" around reading which inspired not just schools but families. Burkard acknowledges this enthusiasm but attributes it to only one part of the intervention - synthetic phonics.

As part of the intervention programme, West Dunbartonshire used a low-cost commercial programme Toe-By-Toe. This synthetic phonics programme is criticised by Burkard on the Promethean website despite it being praised by the SENCO of the Costessey High School, Norwich, which, I believe, is the Norwich school where Burkard taught SEN pupils.

andy's picture
Sun, 22/04/2012 - 10:51

Janet: I am most grateful to you for the information and links, which although I've not had time to 'read' at leisure but what I have skimmed is very interesting indeed, so thank you.

On the basis that there is no one size fits all for anything in life - though there can be some strategies that are more effective for the majority than others - I am a great believer in a mulitple strategy approach, which in itself necessitates a combination of knowing what is available and then trial and error to find the best startegy/intervention for pupils. In this age of personalised learning why should literacy (or nurmeracy) challenged pupils not benefit from a personalised approach.

I bought the toe by toe programme for the SENCO in my last deputy head's position for use with our weakest Y6 transition and Y7 pupils. It was both well received and effective. I also used the Reading Matters programme, using trained volunteers from the local community and our own 6th form volunteers, with our stronger but still weak Y7 and 8s. This was also effective with some unexpected benefits linked to the use of community volunteers and growing an internal mentoring framework for some of our more vulnerable learners. This in itself reinforces the advantages of using multiple strategies.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 22/04/2012 - 11:56

andy - unfortunately the Government is fixated on one method - synthetic phonics. Synthetic phonics is important, essential even, for decoding, but decoding isn't sufficient alone. Reading is more than sounding out words phonetically, important though that is. And, as we've seen from the Burkard quotation you provided, research into reading strategies which include synthetic phonics is misused to show that synthetic phonics alone is sufficient when the research actually says it is part of a range of strategies. Annoying though this is, it becomes slightly sinister when the alleged underuse of phonics is used to browbeat English schools, especially when the criticism comes from a Government minister who wants to be perceived as being tough on illiteracy or from parties who have a vested interest in selling phonics materials.

The West Dunbartonshire study stressed the importance of involving families. This is corroborated by PISA who found that carers reading to children was a very important in encouraging competent readers.

And schools minister, Nick Gibb, is right to promote reading for pleasure. It's a pity that he spoils this iniative by repeating misleading information.

andy's picture
Sun, 22/04/2012 - 12:18

Janet: Perhaps the Government fixation is rooted in the connection between Gove and Tom B, the former praising the latter to the heavens. Not forgetting Tom B's connection with the Centre for Policy Studies. An intriguing sub question is, who is using whom here: the politician looking for a quick fix or the practitioner promoting their own product?

Within the Reading Matters programme we found that the community volunteers were motivated to step up to the plate because they had filial connections with the year group and/or close family friendships. This was great because ot meant the kids either knew or recognised the volunteer reading mentor and because the latter obtained a NOC qualification they shared that experience within the extended family. This resonates with the West Dunbartonshire experience. In a tenuous but sort of extended family context thew youngsters were also grounded/motivated by the 6th formers who shared with them the reasons why literacy was so important to them in working toward their aspirations.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 22/04/2012 - 18:32

"the connection between Gove and Tom B, the former praising the latter to the heavens"

Really - where? why?

I've been chatting to Tom over on linkedin and he sounded like a nice and well intentioned bloke but not somebody with any credible grasp of education policy. We chatted a little about how Gove consults on policy and Tom clearly didn't know what any of the processes or bodies for consultation are. He seemed to have proactively decided he was excluded from them all which is ridiculous.

andy's picture
Sun, 22/04/2012 - 21:26

Rebecca: I find it both deeply saddening and disquieting that you take the tone you do. You alleged that Tom B has no grasp on the "real world of teaching first hand", when you've already been told by the man himself that he was an SEN teacher (this necessarly means that he qualified and taught before specialising). He shares experiences with you on your Govian bubble thread, which you now choose to play down. You claim for yourself the attribute of being researcher and in the know about education policy and yet don't that Tom B is a member of the Centre for Policy Studies, which is where you will find the quote about him made by Gove. Go look for yourself and for goodness sake stop running people down all the time.

Between your comments on LSN and Linkedin I have to say that you are creating the impression of being someone who is duplicitous, manipulative and self agrandising. Debating, discussing and holding firm to what you believe is fine but doing people down simply for the sake of it or because they present views different to yours in my book is just plain unacceptable.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 22/04/2012 - 21:52

Given Tom's comments in the consultation and in the Free Schools forum I think my comments above are generous. Why do you disagree? Which parts of his contributions to the consultation Janet referenced do you think are good?

think they're shockingly underinformed and referenced and justified to a level I wouldn't accept from a first year BEd student.

andy's picture
Mon, 23/04/2012 - 11:09

Lolol. What an absolutely classic piece of Rebecca attitude. Again and again you cherry pick and employ avoidance tactics to dodge the issues. But the real Rebecca shines through here: the response to being confronted by answers to her questions she resorts to sheer malicious and personal attacks on the individual. This reveals a truly nasty personality.

It is also a classic example of your hypocrisy. On the Literacy and NHS commissioning v Free School policy conversations you lambast Ricky Tarr for taking the man not the ball, and yet here you are not just taking the man you target the man.

This is my last response to you on any issue in any forum.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 23/04/2012 - 11:42

I'm not sure whether Tom B has a teaching qualification. His views on teacher training are dismissive: "teacher training is basically training young people not to teach".

He worked for a time (three years, I think) in a Norwich comprehensive (Costessey High, I think) but he doesn't seem to have been the Sprecial Needs Coordinator (SENCO). SENCOs have to be qualified teachers.

It's difficult to discover his qualifications. The Oldham News think he's a US Navy veteran.

According to Oldham News the curriculum will not include geography as a stand-alone subject because 'Geography and citizenship will form part of history, with the school refusing to teach any current geography qualifications because they are considered to be “environmental propaganda”. ' However, this appears to be contradicted by the school's own website:

"All pupils will study English, Maths, Science, History and Geography. They will be able to choose other subjects, such as Foreign Languages, Music, and Art and advanced ICT skills. We will use advanced software wherever it is appropriate, and all pupils will learn basic ICT skills."

So languages, music, art and advanced ICT skills will be optional. This seems rather a narrow curriculum. No mention of RE.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 22/04/2012 - 22:23

If you want to compare that with the kind of work I do - here's an orignal PhD proposal I was working on last year
when I was thinking of finally banging off a PhD during the child focused years before I decided to focus on exploring and writing on forums instead.

In one of my forums (Math, Math Ed. Math Culture on linkedin) I've been facilitating discussions with many top international academics of education on the content of this proposal and we're now just starting to write some of the stable insights in Wikipedia.
Do please come and look at the underlying work in the forum to gain some insight into the work we're doing and my role in it.

I'm happy to link you to some of my academic articles over the last 10 years which have focused on the impact of communication technology in education and of course you can read and criticise my blogs.

I didn't exactly ask for E.G.West to be my parents best man (obviously) but he was and there you have it and I learned to type young and learned a great deal by typing my dad's papers and texts. I just did. I'm not trying to big it up or pretend it's anything it isn't it just is as it is.

If you want to pick apart my insights or comments on any area of education Andy feel free - you're genuinely very welcome. Please do so rather than attacking me -
"you are creating the impression of being someone who is duplicitous, manipulative and self agrandising" what's the point of that Andy? If you're going to criticise me for attacking people rather than issues take the log out of your own eye.

andy's picture
Mon, 23/04/2012 - 07:49

Rebecca I've no intention of being taken down a spurious line of obfuscatory diversion by yet more Rebecca centred agrandising. With the greatest of respect to the thoughts and legacy of the late Professor E G West, his connections to your family have absolutely nothing to do with what I said in response to Janet's comments nor to your questioning of the source for my comment about the Gove/Burkard connection. So for goodness sake keep his and his memory out of it.

As you clearly can't be bothered to look up the Centre for Policy Studies website I've done it for you:

"Michael Gove acknowledged that “Tom Burkard has done more than anyone living in the fight against illiteracy in this country.” "

The entry goes on to cite several publications:

He is the author of (with Martin Turner) Reading Fever: Why phonics must come first (CPS, 1996), The End of Illiteracy? The Holy Grail of Clackmannanshire (CPS, 1999), After the Literacy Hour: may be the best plan win (CPS, 2004), A World First for West Dunbartonshire (CPS, 2006), Troops to Teachers (2008), Ticking the Right Boxes (2009), School Quangos (CPS, 2009), (with Tom Cleford) Cutting the Children's Plan (CPS, 2010), (with Daisy-Meyland-Smith) Children behaving Better (CPS, 2010).

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 23/04/2012 - 09:58

Oh dear he's not associated with the 'Troops to Teachers' nutty idea is he?

Shame nobody bothered to ask any of the major teacher training providers about how people coming out of the forces are already supported in becoming teachers and what their needs actually are in practice before Gove got carried away with a weird idea not remotely connected to reality.

andy's picture
Mon, 23/04/2012 - 12:29

Hi Janet:

I've made the assumption that he has a teaching qualification on the basis of what's available on the net about him being a 'former SEN teacher'.

I'm not sure what to make of the quote about teacher training, which one can only assume is based on his exposure to/knowledge of ITT institutions. My experience was quite positive in what I thought was a well structured course but there appears to be plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that not all ITT providers were/are positive.

While I don't know for sure where the Oldham news got that from I would suggest that it is the section on the website, "Troops to teachers in the US".

Mr B wrote a book/article for the CPS on that subject in 2008, which Give seems to have picked upon with gusto. However, googling Mr B it appears that he is ex military but from the British Army (Royal Pioneer Corp):

With regard to the curriculum I, like you, am informed by the school website. I suspect that the RE will be one of the optional subjects about which the website uses the terminology "... able to choose other subjects such as ..." It would be interesting to see how they dodged delivery of RE as a statutory subject and in the location it purports to serve. That said, a former Head of Fir Vale school in Sheffield dropped RE in 2000/02 because he said it caused/was used by parents negatively and generated friction. He went on to run the school around, although I do know that RE has been back on the curriculum for a few years now.

I wouldn't attempt to speak on the other optional subjects but note that the school appears to be using ICT as an integrated part of the curriculum in KS3 and presumably likewise in KS4 unless a student opts for it as a discrete subject. But to be honest its difficult to unpick what the full curriculum will be because there is no explicit reference to it. As to whether what is known is best described as narrow or providing freedom through flexibility of choice, I suspect the jury must be out until the full curriculum is formalised.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 23/04/2012 - 12:47

If anybody is interested in the reality of issues associated with 'troops to teachers' they're welcome to get in touch with me and to chat through them. I could probably put them directly in touch with some of the ex-military personnel I've taught on their way to being teachers if that would help because their perspective on their experiences would be much more valid than mine.

In short the key thing that ex military personnel need is a variety of routes so that they can get precisely the training they need to compliment the skills they already have and ensure they are properly prepared for handing large classes of children in situations where the assumptions and surrounding systems may be very different to those they have experienced.

Some people coming out of the services have a relevant degree and some teaching experience. These people are often very well suited to in school training.

Others have a degree level of education but lack subject knowledge in the area why wish to teach so conversion course before a PGCE or in school training are ideal. The conversion courses are very powerful learning experience for trainee teachers at to be taught your subject in large classes according to the most respected methodologies as an adult is an opportunity most adults thrive on. Most lecturers take time to draw attention to the learning experiences of the trainee teachers and to draw the obvious parallels between their experience and those of the students they will be teaching.

Beyond that it's best to offer both a 2 year and a 3 year BEd or BA in education as some military personnel do not have a degree level of education and others have training which counts as part of a degree and can allow them to do a 2 year BEd.

It was really heartbreaking to see this issue being discussed at policy level in a way which was so detached from reality.

Andy I find your remarks to me to be offensive and untrue - in particular the accusation that I am malicious. I am not. I did indeed criticise Ricky for playing the man not the ball and have enjoyed chatting to him much more since he stopped doing that and has started embedding his comments in references instead. The purpose of my criticism was to make conversations here more intelligent and productive. It was robustly made because I'd made it more politely before. It's a criticism I make to people in forums pretty relentlessly because if you focus on the issues you get really great discussion and if you stray off into discussion the personalities you don't and potentially productive discussions are ruined. I'm not perfect Andy - I know what. We none of us area. But please criticise the specific thing I have done wrong to allow me to rectify it and move on rather than just laying in to me wholesale.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 23/04/2012 - 15:30

andy - in Tom B's own words, "In the three years that I taught special needs pupils in a Norwich comprehensive, I never once had to send a pupil out of the classroom for discipline. Of course, I was an 'unqualified' teacher: my only training was the military Methods of Instruction course I attended as a TA corporal. The Phoenix Free School will discard moral relativism and child-centred educational theory. 'Self-esteem' training is out: humans are quite selfish enough without this. Competition—now virtually banned in maintained schools—is in."

The last sentences display more prejudice about education than knowledge. They pander to stereotypes about state education particularly the supposed lack of competition. In every school I worked in there were competitions - inter-house and inter-school. And I wrote about the competitive nature of many activities in local schools in the thread below.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 23/04/2012 - 16:22

"my only training was the military Methods of Instruction course I attended as a TA corporal"

TA = Territorial Army - i.e. part time reserves.
Corporal = entry level soldier - never been promoted - not been through officer training.

andy's picture
Mon, 23/04/2012 - 17:42


Thanks for the xr to Tom B's article on Conservative Home. I have to say its not a place I usual surf :) perhaps I should start surfing all the major parties sites?! You've settled the issue of his teaching status and what appears to be an exclusive focus on SEN (not that that is an outright criticism rather it contextualises things).

I agree with you that his comments reflect a sterotypical perception that could be representative of either genuine ignorance or wilffulness (tactical ignoring comes to mind). I recall, as a parent of young children, that awful and regrettable phase in primary education where competition and there being no winners to avoid there being any losers and it seems Tom B is inappropriately or ven deliberately harking back to this.

Your comment prompted me to follow up the CPS report from Sept last year on Troops to teachers, co-authored by Guthrie, Burki and Burkard, which raised mixed range of response within me: from reassurance through to despair:

The report has some encouraging aspects but in broadbrush terms is littered with similar inappropriate stereotypes. I won't attempt to highlight all of the points that give rise to feelings of unease here because (a) it would be over the top, and (b) my perceptions will not reflect everyone elses (or be agreed by all). But a handful are:

1. Their perception of ECM and implied costs (I found that weaving the principles into the schools MO and lesson planning was effective and productive, and virtually cost free)
2. The reference to teachers being 'teachers' not "learning facilitators". For me using the appropriate blend of input and scaffolds as necessary allows teachers to facilitate learning and the placing of students at the centre of their own learning experience. This is also an ideal opportunity to weave in AfL strategies. All in all it is my experience that teachers who facilitate and lure pupils into their own learning are more effective than directive talk and chalk colleagues.
3. While I share Mr B's fears about the explosion of SEN labels and its impact on the majority of pupils, I by means go as far as he does in suggesting that practically all SEN is non-existent. His position appears to be that with the exception of Autism, some severe Dyslexia and Physical disability, SEN is down to illiteracy and poor teaching (with a some fault at the foot of the door of poor parenting).
4. I was appalled at the reference to 'personalising learning' as being separate lesson plans for each pupil, which is so from reality and practice as to be worrisome.

All that said, there are also many good points made in the report in relation to the m.o. of the school. It was also reassuring that Lord Guthrie stated in the foreward that the primary goal was to produce "good citizens".

The absence of any reference to whether any of the ex-service personnel will be degree/subject qualified and/or hold a formal teaching qualification. I accept that the government has removed this requirement for Academies and Free Schools but from a personal perspective am uneasy about this per se and ma not targeting Pheonix Free School.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 23/04/2012 - 16:30

Rebecca - the Centre for Policy Studies has reproduced the Oldham News item which claimed Tom Burkard was a US-Navy veteran. As Burkard is one of their Research Fellows, it's surprising that such an error should have made it on to the CPS website.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 23/04/2012 - 18:36

Corporal is not the lowest level - comment corrected below.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 23/04/2012 - 16:46

This is from the same article:

“No less than 16 TV producers have asked for rights to do documentaries. The interest from the media has been phenomenal,” said Mr Burkard, a former military instructor and lecturer.

Three claims:
"No less than 16 TV producers have asked for rights to do documentaries"
"Mr Burkard is a former military instructor"
"Mr Burkard is a former lecturer"

to add to

"Mr Burkard US Navy Veteran"

Is there any evidence to suggest that any of those claims are even remotely true?

Thank goodness Oldham has sensible councillors

Arsinh's picture
Mon, 23/04/2012 - 17:02

I don't really understand what this is all about but it reads as if Local Schools Network is engaged in a campaign of character assassination against this Burkard chap. I feel uncomfortable reading it.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 23/04/2012 - 17:46

Do you think that any of his claims as listed above are actually true arsinh? If so please say why.

I am not remotely comfortable with this either and would be exceptionally greatful for some indication that the architect of England's education policy has his feet on some kind of solid ground somewhere. I'm not being in anyway sarcastic Arsinh - it's beginning to look almost all Gove's education policy has been created by this man. Surely somebody, somewhere can confirm that he has been a military instructor or that he's been in the US navy or that he's been a lecturer or that he's had 16 TV producers asking for the rights to make a film about his new free school.

Or really that he has any significant experience in anything.

andy's picture
Mon, 23/04/2012 - 17:54

Hi Arsinh:

This all started after a query was raised as to whether Mr Burkard holds any formal teaching qualification and the extent of his classroom teaching experience. From there it has snowballed and grown topsy turvy.

References to his position in the TA are wholly irrelevant and inaccurate. That is to say, the lowest rank in the Army is that of Private. A Corporal is one step up and is a junior non-comissioned officer. The implied perjorative correlation of this to not having been promoted to commissioned officer is totally spurious. Within the armed forces the majority of its training staff are non-comissioned officers.

I understand why you feel uncomfortable because some fo the comments do not deal with the issue - broadly Free School incentives, education policy and qualifications - and instead focus on attacking the man himself.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 23/04/2012 - 18:24

Indeed. My apologies. If you're in the terras it would take typically 4-6 years to become a corporal. Again apologies for my mistake.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 23/04/2012 - 18:31

It was this document which aroused my interest in Tom Burkhard:

If you look at his evidence he dismisses the top respected professors with decades of respected international research behind them by quoting instead OldAndrew's blog. That seemed rather worrying to me. The discussions which have happened since have not been reassuring.

Arsinh's picture
Mon, 23/04/2012 - 18:30

I had never even heard of Tom Burkard until a few days ago. Calling him "the architect of England's education policy" is just silly.

I am disappointed that Local Schools Network have allowed their boards to be hijacked like this and sincerely hope that Mr Burkard doesn't find out about this thread as I am sure he would find it upsetting and unsettling.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 23/04/2012 - 18:35

Have you actually read this discussion and looked at the links Arsinh? It seems not. I suggest you should.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 24/04/2012 - 10:21

Arsinh - comments on LSN threads are allowed through unmoderated to encourage a free discussion of ideas although I'm sure they would be removed if they were racist, sexist or libelous.

This post was triggered by a concern about an incentive being offered by a prospective free school to gain signatures which could be used as an expression of demand. One of the proposers of this school is Tom Burkard who claims to have been a teacher of SEN pupils. His free school has received much national publicity in the media much of which describes him as a "teacher". Readers could misinterpret this and believe that Mr Burkard is a professionally-trained teacher - he is not as he admitted himself. It is not "upsetting or unsettling" to say so.

I have no doubt that Mr Burkard is sincere but that does not mean that questions about his training and experience should not be aired.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 24/04/2012 - 09:36

Here are some key references:

Some are suggesting that Tom Burkard has not written most of Gove's policies.
This suggests otherwise:

Some are suggesting he is not a key advisers to Gove:
This, with it's disturbing lack of credible references, suggests otherwise.

There's a radio interview attached to this article in which you can hear him explain that teaching will be excellent in his free school because they will use his wife's phonics method for the under 5s.

Does this not concern you at all Arsinh?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 24/04/2012 - 11:19

I have met Tom Burkard and have had professional dealings with him.

He has always struck me as an extremely impressive individual.
I know that he earned the confidence of ministers in the Blair government and is well respected by ministers in this government.

As to his qualifications - as I understand it he has a BA degree in History, an MA in Education and was in 2010 a D Phil candidate at the University of Buckingham, where I see he is now listed as a visiting fellow, so perhaps he's got his doctorate now.

As some of you noted, he did teach in a school for three years back in the 90s, but was not a qualified teacher. He has long been interested in dyslexia, founded a charity in that field, and was an early champion of synthetic phonics, playing a very important role in convincing Ruth Kelly and other Labour ministers to adopt it.

He is a wise old bird with some real achievements under his belt........ and doesn't deserve to be be patronized by munchkins.

andy's picture
Tue, 24/04/2012 - 12:30

Ricky: Thanks for the input - particularly as it is based on personal knowledge of the man as opposed to Googled information and that posted on websites such as Conservative Home, CPS and the BBC et al.

I am probably as guilty as any one else has been for fueling and spurious debate that is so far flung from the actual origin of the discussion as to warrant calling it to a halt. Yes, and albeit not related to the basis of the thread, there has been some interesting and useful insights into phonics as the panacea approach to illiteracy v multiple strategies (including family involvement). Within the massive digression for the core issue - incentives to sign up to express interest in a Free School - there has also been insights into people personal opinions about the Pheonix curriculum and its delivery, which is only to be expected.

But sadly there has also been blatant attacks of Mr B and I agree with others that one should take the ball not the man, although some preach that but spectacularly fail to practice it.

My only furrowing of brow in your comment Ricky is the second half of the closing sentence and the decision to be pejorative.

All in all, its time call the discussion a 'Norwegian Blue'. Just like the Python parrot it is dead.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 24/04/2012 - 13:42

"He is a wise old bird with some real achievements under his belt…….."
Do the CPS actually check the qualifications and employment of people who apply to be associates?
You've missed his claim to be a visiting professor at the University of Derby by the way Ricky:

In recent years I've been so shocked by the low level of experience and qualification of the 'education experts' in this government's major think tanks I don't think they'd be able to tell if somebody had real experience or not. Most of them seem to be straight out of university. They turn up at consultations and prattle away without seeming to realise they're totally missing the main points of discussion. It's like having work experience people there. I don't think they'd be able to tell the difference between a credible and respected academic of education (of which this country has some of the most respected in the world according to the international discussion forums) and somebody who does not appear to understand any of the mainstream respected references.

Tom Burkard made it clear in discussion just two weeks ago that he believes the state should have absolutely no role in education at all. Now that's all very well if you fancy a spirited chat over a few jars but it's not a view that's remotely connected to the reality of a complete system of education with a duty to the most vulnerable and nobody who's actually properly studied education or worked in education planning would suggest it is.

Honestly Ricky I know the academics and the reality of this stuff inside out and Tom Burkard clearly doesn't. I really don't know what else to say. I'm very shocked by this. I'm sure he is well intentioned but he doesn't understand his subject area.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 24/04/2012 - 14:05

andy - you are correct in saying that the debate has ranged far from my original post which did not mention the proposers. However, as you say, the discussion widened out and this included questions about the professional qualifications of one of the proposers. It also contained interesting digressions about the proposed curriculum at the free school and the teaching of reading.

And thank you, Ricky, for pointing out that Mr Burkard was one of those responsible for promoting synthetic phonics, important though they are, to the extent that other strategies for teaching reading, like the ones used in the West Dunbartonshire Study and the promotion of comprehension recommended in the Eurydice report on reading in Europe, have been downgraded in importance.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 24/04/2012 - 14:18


I do not think there is any reason why comprehension should be 'downgraded' by phonics.

Phonics should come first. Once children have mastered decoding, then other strategies come into play.

It would be silly to concentrate on comprehension with kids who are just learning to decode.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 24/04/2012 - 14:45

Ricky - at the risk of going completely off-thread, I did not say that "comprehension had been downgraded" but that the "promotion of comprehension had been degraded".

The promotion of synthetic phonics is extremely high-profile (Nick Gibb is always mentioning it). I made it quite clear that phonics is important but decoding alone is not enough. The excessive emphasis on synthetic phonics (important though they are) is drawing attention away from other important strategies. The Eurydice report on reading in Europe found that phonics teaching is already well-established in English schools although you wouldn't think so to hear schools minister Nick Gibb or Tom Burkard. Eurydice found that what was needed was more work on comprehension.

And the American research cited by Nick Gibb said that phonic awareness was not enough.

The West Dunbartonshire Study also recommended involving parents. This is crucial as described on the thread here:

If children are to become competent readers they need more than the ability to sound out words. And why shouldn't pupils understand while they are decoding? If they don't then they risk making no connection between the sounds they are making and their meaning. That would be mind-numbingly boring.

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 24/04/2012 - 21:10

I don't understand this Janet:

"If children are to become competent readers they need more than the ability to sound out words. And why shouldn’t pupils understand while they are decoding? If they don’t then they risk making no connection between the sounds they are making and their meaning. That would be mind-numbingly boring."

Isn't it standard to use things like a picture of a cat on a flash card when teaching C A T with phonics to children? Isn't that enough comprehension at that point in time?

I am still not quite sure what the opposition to synthetic phonics is. Is it fundamental or rather the emphasis? The offical government recommendations don't say only use synthetic phonics, they just say it should be a key common tool.

On the subject of special needs I certainly think there is a problem distinguishing real problems from pseudo ones, as written about by the teacher John Bald on his blog ( I have seen this myself with primary children diagnosed as dyslexic in one year of school, who then lose this diagnosis with a change of teacher and subsequent teaching, when the child learns to read. I am sure dyslexia is real I am not sure the reported rates are the real incidence.

What is the problem with the offer of free lessons as a measure of demand? If no one takes up the offer there is no demand, if people go there is demand.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 07:00

Ben - you are actually reinforcing the point I was making to Ricky who suggested that decoding came before comprehension. I said that a child reading (as opposed to sounding out words) needed to understand what s/he was reading. However, there is a place for presenting the sounds of letters in the teaching of reading. Flash cards in synthetic phonics, for example, stress the sounds (eg sss for S). This is important but it is NOT the whole part of a reading programme. The Rose report 2006, which strongly supported synthetic phonics made it clear that phonics, although important, was "not sufficient part of the wider knowledge, skills and understanding which children need to become skilled readers and writers."

You are correct that the DfE advises that synthetic phonics is part of a wider range of strategies. This message seems to be lost of schools minister, Nick Gibb, who promotes synthetic phonics with fundamentalist zeal. This leads to less emphasis being given to other important parts of a reading programme. The article below gives a clear, concise summary of what this means and links the findings to Rose:

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 07:11

Ben - thank you for the link to John Bald's blog. I found "Phonics, Reading and Language Development - a note from a parent, and serendipity" particularly interesting. It highlighted the way that pronouncing words needs more than phonic awareness - there are questions are stress for example (eg "catastrophe" and "catastrophic") which can't be solved by sounding out the word alone.

English is not a phonetically regular language - decoding is a valuable tool but reading is more than that.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 07:17

Ben - finally, thank you for asking the question that was contained in the first post. However, you are mixing up evidence of demand for the free lessons (which were only free for the first term) with demand for the free school. The form to access the free lessons was the same one as the form for registering interest in the free school. The free reading lessons, therefore, could be viewed as an inducement to complete forms which would then be used to show "demand" for something else.

As was made clear in the original post, this ploy is not without precedent. A proposed STEM academy offered an I-Pad prize as an inducement to complete expressions of interest forms. It was this that prompted Baroness Walmsley to ask her question about such inducements in the Lords. She expressed regret that the Academies Bill had not contained a clause saying that evidence of demand for free schools should be collected by a disinterested third party. I would support that.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 25/04/2012 - 13:26


What do you make of this?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 26/05/2013 - 14:50

It's opening.
What was it 14 TV companies vying for rights to create a documentary about the opening?
Or does my memory mislead me?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 26/05/2013 - 14:54

Ricky I notice that you said you'd seen that Tom has an MA in education. Please can you tell us where you saw that?

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