How Gove’s schools ‘choice’ agenda denies debate and transparency to parents


by Guest    
8:55 am - July 25th 2013

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by Jonathan White

This government appears to prefer faith-based policy-making to the inconvenient complexities of evidence.

Jonathan Portes has noted that the Tories appear to operate a curiously faith-based economics, Iain Duncan Smith assured us that he ‘believes’ his policies are working and no amount of evidence that Free Schools and academies have little positive benefit will stop Michael Gove imposing them on our communities.

The government’s education policies are sold to anxious parents as increasing “choice”. How this works out for parents in practice is a very different matter.

In Waltham Forest for example, some local parents have been sufficiently scared by the shortage of school places in London to call in two Free School sponsors: Oasis Community Learning and Tauheedul Free Schools, both religious organisations.

Both promise to extend choice and quality in the borough, yet the Oasis chain’s academic record is below the national average and, crucially, below the borough average. Plus there is no need for another single-sex girls’ school let alone another faith school in Waltham Forest. These things don’t appear to worry the DfE.

The process whereby these schools got ‘preapproval’ from the DfE, accompanied by triumphant press releases, was a travesty of democracy.  Both collected supporting signatures through a survey that asked if anyone fancied a new school in the borough, together with false claims that there was no alternative.

The Local Authority does not want the Free Schools, the head teachers don’t want them, the teaching unions certainly don’t and they’re supported by only a tiny minority of parents. In spite of this, Gove has merrily rubber stamped the proposals, content, apparently that he understands the needs of the borough better than anyone who actually lives there.

Unaccountable Free Schools imposed on the borough by the Secretary of state and two religious organisations without any public debate or transparency do not equate to “choice”.

In fact, there is a genuine choice to be made. The Local Authority has a plan for delivering the secondary school places using its community schools as far as possible. Michael Gove has noted this and makes clear that he reserves the right to put in his own choice regardless.

The local authority is now being supported by a broad-based campaign comprised of local parents, teachers, residents and trade unionists.

Our Community, Our Schools was set up to oppose the Free Schools, but the experience of campaigning against this grotesque policy agenda is widening its horizons and developing this into a local campaign that unites parents, teachers, residents and elected councillors, arguing for democracy and equality in education. Michael Gove’s policies are dogmatic and antidemocratic, but ironically, they may also be forging new progressive alliances for education.

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“The Local Authority does not want the Free Schools, the head teachers don’t want them, the teaching unions certainly don’t and they’re supported by only a tiny minority of parents.”

Why should it matter what the head teachers or teachers unions think? Schools should be run for the benefit of parents using them, not producer interests in other schools. As for the local authority, is it funding them?

Schools should be run for the benefit of children, not to satisfy share holders or those who wish to recruit followers to their gods.

The Local Authority does not want the Free Schools, the head teachers don’t want them, the teaching unions certainly don’t and they’re supported by only a tiny minority of parents.

Proof of the pudding and all that: if no-one locally wants these schools, then no-one will go to them. But saying that the current educational vested interests don’t want competition really isn’t a good reason for them not to happen.

The government’s education policies are sold to anxious parents as increasing “choice”. How this works out for parents in practice is a very different matter.

You don’t really say how or why it’s different. If previously there were x local schools, and now there are x+2, then surely there is more choice for parents?

4. Man on Clapham Omnibus

Faith based thinking is usually prevalent in cultures where knowledge is lacking or not assimilated into scientific understanding.
Neither of these elements are lacking so one must conclude that what Gove et al are attempting to do is to shoe horn everything and everyone into a hitherto unrecognised order.
What use are the current metrics if the goal is over the horizon. Teachers and the like are merely expressing angst with changes to their own changing relations with the profession and their paymasters. As such they are acting as the conservatives.

But the goal is pretty easy to understand and is probably best described as the survival of the fittest. And why not? Isnt this really an acceptance that the state (in fiscal crisis) can no longer butress the excesses of capitalism on behalf of the poor. Should it even want to?

The interest in faith based education is a recognition of the role of religion in maintaining a stratified social order.

In this world,lets face it, the ‘thickos’ (as determined by the new tests at 11) will be shunted off to cheap lower standard education whilst the ‘cream’ can be whisked off to fullfil a higher educational (and ultimately economic)purpose. It’s a vision of the 50′s (1950′s) where
everything was much more rosey and everyone knew their place. We all knew how to treat foreigners too!(the poorer ones that is)

You’ve got to hand it to them ;these Eton folks have really got their finger on the pulse.

In my area there is a shortage of places particularly for those with special educational needs. This hasn’t been helped by the move to academies who can flex their muscles and deny places to SEN children. Free schools therefore provide an opportunity for some of these families to get their children educated.

If LA’s and teachers have a problem with this then I suggest that they start making proper provision for these youngsters particularly those on the autism spectrum.

Unfortunately where a SEN child can’t get a school place, it seems that some LA’s have become too reliant on using poorly resourced home tutoring services which often only amount to a few hours a week. The only other option for some of these families is to home educate and opt out of the system. Not exactly choice is it?

Now there may be many sound arguments as to why free schools may be wrong but until proper provision is put in place, free schools will continue to remain attractive to families whose children are out of the system.

6. Tubby Isaacs

Tim J,

Few points there.

1) If there’s a need for extra school places, then there needs to be a proper local consultation about how to provided. What happens is that the DfE all but tell you they’ve chosen the type of school that’s coming.

2)Choice to work properly needs a surplus of places, and I don’t think anyone’s expecting that in London. When two shops are competing, all the customers can migrate to the better of the two shops. That doesn’t happen with schools- hundreds get stuck in the less good school. That school then costs more per pupil and has to cut stuff. It’s hard to turn that around.

3) I think Waltham Forest have done well with schools, as London schools generally have, so they’re not a bunch of lazy producers keeping out people who are going to improve things.

“Unaccountable Free Schools imposed on the borough by the Secretary of state and two religious organisations without any public debate or transparency do not equate to “choice”.”

So you can choose not to send your kids there if you so wish.

“In fact, there is a genuine choice to be made. The Local Authority has a plan for delivering the secondary school places using its community schools as far as possible.”

Or you can have the LA deliver all schools, and not have a real choice.

jonathan White must have tied himself in metaphorical knots to deliver those two lines in one article.

DYSTOPIA? OR REALITY?

I have a business. I borrow too much, I go bust, my employees lose their jobs, I declare bankruptcy. The business has gone. The customers lose out.
I have a business. I have shareholders. They determine what I sell and how I sell it. The shareholders want bigger dividends. The customer loses out.
I have a business. It is popular and well-run. A rival buys me out. I am well-rewarded. The new business sacks employees and lowers the wages of the rest. A new business model is used. It is poor. The business is closed and its assets transferred to the parent company. The customer loses out. Everyone else is out of work.
I have a business. I hardly pay taxes, yet my funding comes from the taxpayer. I am well-rewarded. The shareholders and executives are well-rewarded. The customers are not happy, but who cares?
I had a business. The customers liked it. A man came from London. The business was taken over. The customers complained. They were ignored. This is customer power?
I have a business. I compete with other businesses. We used to be a part of the same business. We could share ideas to help customers, but we are now competing with one another. The customer loses out.
My business used to be open to all customers. Now we choose the most suitable customers. This is customer choice, apparently.
Shareholders and accountants determine how my business works. They use PR people to tell customers want they ‘need’. We used to consider the needs of the customers.
My parent company receives its funds from the tax payer. It invests this money overseas. The customers lose out, but the shareholders don’t.
My parent company invites politicians to supplement their meagre salaries by working for it. In addition, they appoint our executives to places in the House of Lords. Now, they can more directly influence govt. policy. Good for customers?
My business was local. Now, one man controls my business and thousands of other businesses. This is democratic?
Once, customers could find out how I run my business. Now, they cannot. This information is protected.

9. Tubby Isaacs

“Or you can have the LA deliver all schools, and not have a real choice”

The LA’s role isn’t “delivery”, it’s oversight, and has been since Kenneth Baker. If you have a complaint about a free school or academy, at present you have to write to Michael Gove. As David Laws and Michael Wilshaw have said, there’s not the capacity to oversee what is now thousands of schools from Whitehall.

Given the number of places needed in London, I think choice (in terms of large numbers of surplus places) is unlikely. But if it does happen, then LA-oversight schools aren’t all the same- some are religious, some single sex etc, some specialise in particular areas. The “bog standard” thing isn’t really very fair.

If there’s a need for extra school places, then there needs to be a proper local consultation about how to provided.

Why? If there’s sufficient local demand to set up a Free School, then that’s what should happen. Calls for ‘proper local consultation’ basically mean that the three groups you identified, LAs, existing schools and the teaching unions, should be able to determine whether a new school gets built or not.

That’s rather what this entire reform is designed to avoid.

If you have a complaint about a free school or academy, at present you have to write to Michael Gove.

Well, surely first you’d write to the school itself and its board of governors. That’s how the independent sector works too – you’re actually giving parents more power and making schools more accountable than when complaints get shuffled off to the local authority, who can then cheerfully ignore them as they’re two steps removed from the school itself.

“If there’s sufficient local demand to set up a Free School, then that’s what should happen.”

There’s always going to be sufficient local demand to set up a school – how this is done is irrelevant to most people. If you offer a free school they will take it.

I’d argue it shouldn’t be irrelevant. The government is almost certainly on the road to opening the whole lot up to commercial providers, to create a system with the same procurement/contractual problems that now plague the rest of the public services.

“Calls for ‘proper local consultation’ basically mean that the three groups you identified, LAs, existing schools and the teaching unions, should be able to determine whether a new school gets built or not. That’s rather what this entire reform is designed to avoid.”

Partly correct – it’s designed to prevent *democratic* local authorities managing the local schools system.

This offers several benefits for central government, not least of which is removing the ability of Local Authorities to control most of their local schools, while leaving them with official responsibility for its failures, particularly any resulting lack of places less desirable pupils.

12. Man on Clapham Omnibus

This whole notion of choice is a chimeraof the indulgent middle classes. Its not generally the choice of the students ,its a choice for the parents. What we need is quality outcomes not choice. Furthermore what we dont need is the blinkered notion that good education necesarily comes from good schools. Poverty has a huge impact on educational achievement. Good educational outcomes are not encouraged by the Government forced removal of the poor from London to ‘up North’.

Moreover, is it really ‘choice’ to inculcate the innocent with facile deliberations of religious texts in tax payer funded Religious schools. Differing relious communities living side by side – makes for such harmony as world examples abound.

Yes, during the Labour years it became very clear what was meant by ‘parental choice’, if you could afford the house prices within the best catchment areas, then you had all the choice in the world, if however you could not, then you had the choice of ‘take it or leave it’.

14. Tubby Isaacs

“Calls for ‘proper local consultation’ basically mean that the three groups you identified, LAs, existing schools and the teaching unions, should be able to determine whether a new school gets built or not. That’s rather what this entire reform is designed to avoid.”

LAs have a duty to provide school places- not what I’d call a vested interest. They have been banned from opening new schools. There are established ways of doing local consultation- governments frequently get taken to court for not doing them properly. Of course they can be ignored, but at least there’s a process there. The impact assessment for each free school had to be dragged out of Gove by FOIA.

What power do teaching unions have? SATs, the National Curriculum, Ofsted, Academies, Free Schools- all opposed by at least the two biggest unions. Happened anyway. The idea they can veto a new school is ridiculous.

15. Tubby Isaacs

“Well, surely first you’d write to the school itself and its board of governors. That’s how the independent sector works too – you’re actually giving parents more power and making schools more accountable than when complaints get shuffled off to the local authority, who can then cheerfully ignore them as they’re two steps removed from the school itself.”

Yes, you’d go through the school first. But bear in mind that the easiest way to improve results is to stop poor kids or special needs kids from going to a school in the first place. The most famous academy, Mossbourne, has been caught pulling strokes on this front and had to be taken to court to get it to do the right thing. A decent LA (and lots are decent) would have been following up and saved the cost of litigation. There must be others who don’t have access to legal advice.

I think you’ve believed too much of the “schools run by bureaucrats” line of Gove’s. LA schools are run by the head and governors. Just like free schools and independent schools.

16. Derek Hattons Tailor

@4 “Faith based thinking is usually prevalent in cultures where knowledge is lacking or not assimilated into scientific understanding”

Absolute nonsense. Some of the worlds most gifted scientists (Newton, Galileo, even Einstein had a faith of sorts) have been religious. By modern standards almost everyone educated before the 1980s went to a faith school. By contrast, the generations educated in the post 80s secular state system have produced nothing of scientific value

In the London borough where I live, all the maintained secondary schools have opted to become academies so parents now have no choice as between academies and schools managed by the local council. Seeing as how this borough regularly comes at or near of the top of the league table for Local Education Authorities in England based on the average attainment in the GCSE exams, I’m not sure the absence of choice matters very much.

18. Avoid Nutters

16.
I think that the operative words are “Faith based thinking”.
Galileo had a telescope and a curious, intelligent mind that went beyond the religious dogma.
Tennessee had Scopes.
Try telling what you have posted to the deCERNing scientists.

19. Tubby Isaacs

“Seeing as how this borough regularly comes at or near of the top of the league table for Local Education Authorities in England based on the average attainment in the GCSE exams, I’m not sure the absence of choice matters very much”

Hang on, how many of the academies were outstanding as LA schools?

20. Tubby Isaacs

” By modern standards almost everyone educated before the 1980s went to a faith school. By contrast, the generations educated in the post 80s secular state system have produced nothing of scientific value”

Funny then that those church pews have been so empty for so long…

19

“Hang on, how many of the academies were outstanding as LA schools?”

The cluster of some half dozen maintained selective schools in the borough were and are among the best schools in the country. Two maintained selective boys within walking distance of where I sit achieve better average A-level results than Eton. After my son left one of those schools, I learned that Chris Woodhead, at one time a notorious chief inspector of schools, had attended the school.

A couple of weeks back, the school had its annual open day. So many visitors wanted to look round that a queue stretched up the road and special parking arrangements for visitors’ cars had to be made 500m away in a local park.

Btw as I recall Blunkett, as education minister, introduced the practice of paying supplementary education grants directly to schools to ensure that schools actually received the money because some councils were wont to divert the cash to other purposes.

Gove’s motivation is to encourage schools to become autonomous by becoming academies funded directly by central government. Just as some local education authorities tend to stay at the top of the schools league table year after year, others tend to stay at the bottom. I share the view that some councils believe there are political advantages in maintaining poor schooling standards.

22. Derek Hattons Tailor

@ 18 Indeed. I was responding to the opinion that “faith based thinking” and scientific thinking are mutually exclusive, when they clearly are not. Your opinions are seem based on half baked stereotypes and you are obviously neither religious nor a scientist. If you had half a brain you would realise that both are ultimately about asking questions.

23. Tubby Isaacs

“I share the view that some councils believe there are political advantages in maintaining poor schooling standards.”

I’ve not heard that one.

I believe that plenty of LAs had 1 or 2 sink schools they didn’t care very much about. And I can understand why the central government wanted to come in over the heads of the councils. One of the best things Blair did was to say that wasn’t good enough, instead of John Major who shrugged his shoulders and said “the sixties, eh?”

Shame we ended up with the Oasis Trust and all doing, instead of a crack DfE team.

24. Avoid Nutters

22.
Oh dear.

Bob B: Gove’s motivation is to encourage schools to become autonomous by becoming academies funded directly by central government.

This is his motivation. I agree. His motivation for this is threefold:
1) To smash the local authorities stranglehold on any involvement in their local schools and make schools directly accountable to the DFE i.e. ultimate control.
2) To smash the teachers pay and conditions agreement. Newly qualified teachers had better stick in 80 hour weeks and suck up to their heads like crazy now otherwise they will stay on that “graduate” salary of £20,000 for a few years.
3) To destroy the teaching unions and “influence” but, as a previous poster has mentioned, what exactly is their influence when everything they are complaining about is or has happened!

I am sure Gove still thinks staffrooms are full of trots plotting the downfall of the right wing brigade – it’s hilarious!

The serious, non funny part though, is not one of the above reasons for autonomy have anything to do with improving the lives and education of children. The changes may benefit, sure, but there is little research to back it up. It is purely ideological as Gove eyes up his leadership challenge after DC doesn’t secure a majority.

Playing political football with the education of our children – well done everyone.

26. Derek Hattons Tailor

@ 25. Not trots exactly but a certain kind of vaguely progressive, vaguely liberal and decidedly politically correct middle class 30 something woman. They are anti streaming, anti excellence, angti competition, and deeply misandrist. I know this because two of my children are currently being “educated” by them – if you can call wall to wall food pyramids and climate change an education.
Whatever their politics, the fact is most are awful teachers who see themselves primarily as instruments of social change, and almost anything which replaced them would be an improvement. And quite how the left – who have been using education as an idealogical experiment since the 1960s – can accuse anyone else of using education for political means, is beyond me.

How do we account for this report in the FT in January: London schoolchildren perform the best: “London schools have improved so rapidly over the past 10 years that even children in the city’s poorest neighbourhoods can expect to do better than the average pupil living outside the capital.”?

Recap: According to the last census in 2011, 37pc of London residents were born abroad.

26 DHT,

I agree that playing political football with education is not wholly limited to Conservative Governments. Every Government, for the last fourty years or so, has come in with this revolutionary idea of “we must raise standards in education.” Completely forgetting that the last person who was secretary of state was trying to do the same thing. I strongly feel that, as nearly everyone went to school, then everyone is an absolute expert on what they think should happen in schools, how they should be run, what should be taught e.t.c. We all have our own experience of school and instead of viewing it as a small cross section of the whole picture, we wax lyrical about our own experiences.

“a certain kind of vaguely progressive, vaguely liberal and decidedly politically correct middle class 30 something woman”

Sure some of them are like that. But all of them? Every single teacher is like that? No teachers have views from the right of the political spectrum? No teachers are from different cultures, different races, different backgrounds? You really believe that no schools have competitive sports any more and ban anything that might hurt the children?

Academy schools can employ people to teach your children who have no formal teaching qualification. Are you OK with that? All teachers are rubbish so anything is an improvement? Be careful what you wish for DHT…

Bob B
It is interesting how London’s schools have done so well. There has been a huge amount of targeted interventions which has paid dividends. Dare I suggest a higher immigrant population may lead to children valuing education as a privilege rather than a right that maybe some more indigenous children just see as something they have to do ? It is interesting that the article again highlights that it is the white working class which are falling behind (and even more so outside of London.) But for me Bob, are these reforms, and the millions of pounds it has cost so far, going to improve things? Is this improvement in the capital down to schools being given more autonomy?

As for ethnicity and the GCSE results of school students eligible for free school meals:

Just over a third of teenagers from the poorest homes achieved five A* to C grades at GCSE, including English and maths, last summer, data from the Department for Education (DfE) shows.

Some 34.6% of pupils who are on free school meals – meaning their families earn less than £16,000 a year – obtained the grades. For white, British-born pupils, the figure was lower – just 28.8%. For boys alone, it was 26%.

In contrast, almost three-quarters – 73.5% – of Chinese pupils on free school meals were awarded five A* to C grades, including English and maths. Every group, apart from those from traveller, Gypsy or Roma families, performed better than white, British-born children.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/feb/10/gcse-results-ethnicity-school-meals

Compare this striking conclusion from the researches of Professor Robert Plomin:

“GSCE results turn out to be strikingly heritable — 60 per cent, when at that age, 16, IQ is only 40 per cent heritable. So the reason why children’s GCSE results vary is more to do with their genes than their environment.”
http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/8970941/sorry-but-intelligence-really-is-in-the-genes/

31. Robin Levett

@Derek Hatton’s Tailor #16:

Some of the worlds most gifted scientists (Newton, Galileo, even Einstein had a faith of sorts) have been religious.

Both the first two were in eras and contexts when not having a religion was not an option.

Galileo I’ll give you, although even he didn’t let his faith interfere with his science.

Newton had some very odd religious views. His scientific writings, great as they are, took second or third place behind his alechemy an his attempts to re-interpret the Bible to provide “scientific” insight. How much greater a scientist could he have been without those diversions?

Einstein had no faith in a personal god of any kind. If you want to call him religious, you’ll need to redefine religion. He wrote:

It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropomorphic concept which I cannot take seriously. I feel also not able to imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere. My views are near to those of Spinoza: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order and harmony which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly. I believe that we have to content ourselves with our imperfect knowledge and understanding and treat values and moral obligations as a purely human problem — the most important of all human problems.

and:

I do not have the professional knowledge to write a scholarly article about Spinoza. But what I think about this man I can express in a few words. Spinoza was the first to apply with strict consistency the idea of an all-pervasive determinism to human thought, feeling, and action.

32. Robin Levett

@Derek Hatton’s Tailor #26:

Please don’t mistake anecdote for evidence; or I’ll tell you about my daughter’s teachers (in the state sector).

As for “anti-streaming”; why would one hold back the brightest in any particular subject by forcing them to study with their less able classmates. The relevant question is whether they are “anti-setting”?

11-16 comprehensives did immense damage to schooling standards because in many LEAs that structure meant the majority of students in the most senior classes were going to leave schools and education at 16 on their way to work or to worklessness, as they have few marketable skills. The educational values of that majority inevitably tended to pervade the schools.

One of the great advantages of selective schools is that the senior classes are comprised of 18 year-olds committed to educational values. The sad fact is that in Britain popular opinions accord little value to education. Compare France where the general expectation is that almost all school students will be sitting the Baccalaureate exams:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baccalaur%C3%A9at


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