Wrong on almost every point: The Times view on state primary school success

Janet Downs's picture

State-funded primary schools are doing so well that ‘wealthy, ambitious parents’ are saving private school fees and opting for state-maintained primary schools instead, The Times wrote In a leading article last Saturday.

The Times listed reasons it believed were behind the success of English primary schools.  The first was academization which allowed ‘greater autonomy to replace underperforming staff and allocate funds without the interference of local councils’.

But academies form only about 30% of state-funded primary schools.  Rather than escaping local authority ‘interference’, 70% of primary schools appear happy to remain under LA stewardship.  And LAs haven’t controlled schools since Local Management of Schools began in the late 1980s.

Academies’ ‘greater autonomy’ is an illusion.  Schools in multi-academy trusts (MATs) only have as much freedom as MAT trustees allow them. 

The Times gives credit to Michael Gove.  It was he who ‘toughened Sats’.  But Sats have no educational value.  Rather than increasing educational quality, the emphasis on Sat results has negative consequences: narrowing the curriculum, encouraging drilling, increasing pressure on pupils and staff, gaming* and, at worst, cheating.

‘Cultural shifts’ are also a factor, The Times claims.  Teaching attracts ‘idealistic, motivated millennials who want to make a difference’.  But these qualities can’t be described as a cultural shift.  Teaching has always attracted such people.   Unfortunately, they don’t always remain.  Retention, as well as recruitment, remains a problem.

Teach First is in the vanguard, The Times implies.  It does a great job in ‘recruiting bright young people to work in disadvantaged schools'.   Graduates entering Teach First ‘are often instrumental in improving the extra-curricular offerings of state schools’.   But only about 5% of teachers in English state schools are Teach First.  It’s rather a stretch to imply this 5% is largely responsible for any improvement in after school activities which have, in any case, been around for decades.

The ‘most startling indicator’ of state school success, however, isn’t any of the above, The Times says.  It’s the publication by ’high society magazine’ Tatler of an annual guide to state schools**. 

As ‘wealthier parents’ start opting for state education, state-funded primary schools will be able to ‘offer another traditional advantage of private schools: the opportunity to mix with the offspring of ambitious middle-class professionals’, The Times adds.

Leave aside the dubious implication that the only children worth mixing with are those whose parents are middle-class professionals, surely the biggest advantage for children from a wealthy background in attending a state school is that they don’t just mix with those the Tatler describes as ‘People Like Us’?  It’s the advantage of moving outside a privileged bubble to find that People Not Like Us aren’t to be avoided after all.


*It will only be a matter of time, surely, before we hear claims of ‘off-rolling’ in primary schools.

**I can’t find one for 2019.  The last one seems to be for 2018.


CORRECTION: 5 June 09.34  Latest figures show nearly 70% of primary schools are not academies.  I have updated the original 80%.

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Matthew Bennett's picture
Mon, 03/06/2019 - 17:44

So Teach First are making primary schools safe for People Like Us?

Let's look at who funds the operation turning out these 'idealistic, motivated millenials' who are so much more 'effective' than properly-trained, experienced teachers -- for the two or three years that they stick around, anyway.

Teach First's donors include:


  • collapsed in 2008, due to massive exposure to subprime mortgage-based securities; total bailout funds amounted to nearly $500bn
  • one of five banks which have just been fined $1.2bn by the EU for rigging the foreign exchange markets

Bank of America Merrill Lynch

  • Bank of America received over $300 billion in bailouts
  • last year BoA Merrill Lynch was fined $442 million by the state of New York for fraudulent activity relating to its electronic trading business


  • in 2012, agreed to pay a $1.92 bn fine to authorities in the US for laundering money on behalf of drug cartels and terrorist networks


  • in 2012, fined £290 mn for fraudulent activity in the foreign exchange markets
  • in 2014, fined £26 mn for manipulating gold prices
  • one of the five banks just fined $1.2bn by the EU

Goldman Sachs

  • paid $1.5 bn to settle a lawsuit relating to its handling of mortgage-backed securities, acknowledging that it defrauded investors
  • recently fined £34 mn by the FCA for misreporting transactions

And so on. This is by no means a comprehensive list, either of the crimes committed by the above, or of the other white-collar criminals who are TF's 'corporate partners'.

John Mountford's picture
Tue, 04/06/2019 - 18:08

The Times leader is a pile of crap. It's another piece written by someone with zero knowledge or understanding of education, especially of the importance of schools being in a position to recruit and keep well trained teachers eager to take their learning forward in the profession.

By well trained, I mean (by way of a start) young graduates who have been introduced to the idea that first and foremost they need to know a shed load about children's development over the 0-18 age range, then that they need a secure subject knowledge base, the composition of which will depend on the age group and subjects they will teach and a commitment to ensuring their continuing professional and personal development. After almost half a century directly involved in schools and teachers, I can tell anyone open to knowing, that gaining a top level degree is just the beginning of the process of becoming a teacher. The problem with recruiting through Teach First and other quick-fix schemes currently favoured by the dim witted politicians who delude themselves with the idea that they know what they are doing (even in political matters it would seem in these times) they know best. When they talk too often, too loudly and without thought there is little wonder they are able to convince busy newspaper and other reporters that they know what they are talking about.

As Matthew might agree, we learn far more about people and organisations from the friends they keep and those that support them than from listening to their hype.

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