When will Michael Gove take responsibility for failing Free Schools or Academies?


9:18 am - October 7th 2013

by Natalie Bennett    


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Free Schools and Academies are currently imposing a revolution in British education, but at great cost to many pupils’ education and public funds.

When local authorities had oversight, they were expected to understand what was going on, keep an eye on spending and step in if anything started to go off the rails. But what now?

The Al-Madinah free school in Derby was subjected to emergency closure, all of its pupils sent home for “health and safety” reasons, while it be given the lowest possible rating by Ofsted. Separately, there are investigations about possible financial irregularities in the letting of contracts at the school.

And a knighted superhead in the terminology of the tabloids, has pleaded guilty to six counts of false accounting and been sentenced to two years’ jail, albeit a suspended sentence, relating to a reported £900,000 in payments to him.

Meanwhile, at the Quintin Kynaston Community Academy, where the Department of Education concluded there had been misuse of public funds, and the head resigned when her situation became “untenable”.

Given that these free schools are directly under Michael Gove, is he going to take responsibility and resign? Of course not.

Indeed, David Cameron went out of his way at Tory conference last week to gush about just how well Mr Gove was doing. But it is important that we look at the trend in what’s happening here: identify it and highlight it.

The importing of the ethos of the City and the financial sector into schools – that the ‘superhead’, some kind of ‘educational master of the universe’ can transform through their will and brilliance an entire educational community, and in doing so they have a free hand. Of course we know how well that ended in the City: fraud, mismanagement and chaos.

The idea of more freedom for heads could and should be a positive – if Mr Gove stopped trying to dictate teaching methods (such as phonics), stopped shoving children through endless exams as though they were sausages, and dictating what literary texts they should read.

But that doesn’t mean there doesn’t need to be oversight – which should be local and democratic. Schools are there for their communities –and they should be controlled by those communities, through democratically elected councillors.

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Natalie Bennett is leader of the Green Party of England and Wales
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And a knighted superhead in the terminology of the tabloids, has pleaded guilty to six counts of false accounting and been sentenced to two years’ jail, albeit a suspended sentence, relating to a reported £900,000 in payments to him…

Given that these free schools are directly under Michael Gove, is he going to take responsibility and resign? Of course not.

You think Michael Gove should resign because a man knighted by Tony Blair for services to education was guilty of fraud as a headmaster while Gordon Brown was Prime Minister? Ed Balls was in charge at the time – should he resign?

“–and they should be controlled by those communities, through democratically elected councillors”

No, not really. We need to move away from excessive political control and special pleading by religious communities.

3. Robin Levett

@Natalie OP:

And a knighted superhead in the terminology of the tabloids, has pleaded guilty to six counts of false accounting and been sentenced to two years’ jail, albeit a suspended sentence, relating to a reported £900,000 in payments to him.

I don’t want to nitpick, but Copland Community School wasn’t and isn’t a free school; it’s a foundation school.

4. Robin Levett

@Natalie OP:

I don’t want to nitpick, but Copland Community School wasn’t and isn’t a free school; it’s a foundation school.

…as was Quintin Kynaston for much of the period covered by the report which led to Jo Shuter’s resignation. It is now an academy, not a free school.

Still; one out of three ain’t bad;-)

Foundation schools also lack that local democratic control, but the piece is focused on free and academy schools because that’s the current ground of the debate. Without local democratic oversight, there’s greater risk of things going horribly wrong – and the only person with democratic responsibility is the Secretary of State. Can’t blame the local council…

@5

But – the examples quoted in your piece are ‘inaccurate’ and the point made in 1 you haven’t answered.

This doesn’t help your argument at all really.

7. Richard Carey

@ OP,

“The idea of more freedom for heads could and should be a positive – if Mr Gove stopped trying to dictate teaching methods (such as phonics), stopped shoving children through endless exams as though they were sausages, and dictating what literary texts they should read.”

I agree, and as a libertarian I stick to this view whether the blue party or the red party is imposing its will.

9. James from Durham

Phonics? Seriously? Does the writer have a problem with children being taught to read with the most effective proven methods? Bloody right, Gove, for all his many faults, should push this.

10. Robin Levett

@TONE #8:

The Gove revolution is necessary because…

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/secondaryeducation/10362749/Young-worse-at-maths-and-English-than-grandparents-and-behind-almost-every-other-nation.html

So, not necessary then?

We’ve discussed the OECD figures on this blog before:

http://liberalconspiracy.org/2012/07/30/are-english-children-less-able-to-read-than-years-ago-no/

TLDR: The statistical significance of the differences between the scores attained by nations near the top and England’s scores is virtually nil. So: our children 11-15 are pretty much as good as their contemporaries in other Western countries.

Try this report of an OECD international survey in Tuesday’s news:

England’s young adults trail world in literacy and maths
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-24433320

Of course, it is quite unfair to blame Blair, who had to worry about all those “liberal intervention” wars Britain got involved in, and Blunkett, New Labour’s first education minister, was preoccupied with Kimberly Quinn . . .

9. James from Durham
Were you taught how to read using systematic synthetic phonics?

http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/british-education-in-crisis-literacy-and-numeracy-skills-of-young-people-in-uk-among-lowest-in-developed-world-8866117.html

Money quote:”Indeed, they are the only ones in the western world to fare worse than their older peers in the tests in the basics.”

I’m glad to know that all that investment in education that Labour used to boast of had such impressive results. It really makes the deficit worthwhile.

A recap from the BBC website in May 2011:

The number of low-skilled workers born outside the UK more than doubled between 2002 and 2011, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The figures show that almost 20% of low-skilled jobs are held by workers born abroad, up from 9% in 2002.

Workers coming to the UK from eastern or central European countries were the biggest single factor in the rise.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13561094

Is it any wonder that employers prefer to hire workers who were schooled abroad? From the lead-up to that famous election in 1997, I can recall Blair urging the priority of: Education, education, education. And Gordon Brown toured the country saying how the new University for Industry (UfI) on the internet was going to tackle Britain’s chronic shortage of skills in the workplace. Whatever happened to that?

Fortunately, I no longer have the problem of finding school places for my siblings because they have grown up.

RL @ 10:

“So, not necessary then?
We’ve discussed the OECD figures on this blog before…”

Yes, we have; and the more the evidence mounts up, the more credible it becomes. And even if you question the other international comparisons, the finding that England is the only OECD country where recent school leavers register lower scores in tests than their parents’ or grandparents’ generation justifies Gove’s reforms of education.

In the run-up to the 1997 election which brought New Labour into government, Gordon Brown went around painting the vision of a University for Industry on the internet to tackle Britain’s chronic skill shortages in the workplace. What happened to that?

Head of University for Industry announced [BBC website 13 August 1998]

“A failed government scheme to offer UK university courses online has been branded a ‘disgraceful waste’ by MPs. The e-University was scrapped last year, having attracted only 900 students at a cost of £50m.

“Chief executive John Beaumont was paid a bonus of £44,914, despite a failure to bring in private sector backers. The Commons education select committee called this ‘morally indefensible’ but the government said the e-University project had ‘improved understanding’.” [BBC website 3 March 2005]

Btw what happened to that ambitious scheme for New Labour’s Individual Learning Accounts” to promote take up of courses in vocational skills?

Education officials who took short-cuts and ignored risks are being blamed for a learning scheme fraud which cost tens of millions of pounds. In the latest report on the scandal over Individual Learning Accounts (ILAs), MPs say the scheme was wide open to fraud. . .

The new report – from the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee – says education officials ignored warnings that the scheme was open to abuse.

MPs said officials were driven by the desire to cut red tape to attract new providers of courses and the desire to maximise the number of people coming forward for training. [BBC website 3 April 2003]
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/2913987.stm

The short answer to the question is:
Never.
However wrote the Independent piece does not know the difference between the UK and England.

Without going through the press reports linked in this thread, I doubt if the reference to parents and grandparents really means that they have compared each school leaver with tests taken by their father etc.
I wonder how many people who had above average grades in the 60s and 70s and went to university/college still live in England?
Gove and his fellows in Cabinet appear to want a low wage (or no wage), low skill economy so don’t hold your breath Natalie.

19. Robin Levett

@TONE #15:

Yes, we have; and the more the evidence mounts up, the more credible it becomes.

You can multiply zero by as large a number as you like – it still remains zero.

And even if you question the other international comparisons, the finding that England is the only OECD country where recent school leavers register lower scores in tests than their parents’ or grandparents’ generation justifies Gove’s reforms of education.

Even if this were true, only on the principle that “Something must be done; Gove’s reforms are something; therefore we must do Gove’s reforms (whatever they may be this week)”.

RL @ 19:

“You can multiply zero by as large a number as you like – it still remains zero.”

True but irrelevant, as the OECD data were never of zero-worth. Yes, there are or were some problems with incomplete data sets making comparisons less reliable, but the more often the survey is done, the more reliable the results become.

And why would the finding that England is the only OECD country where recent school leavers register lower scores in tests than their parents’ or grandparents’ generation be untrue?

21. Charlieman

@12. Ceiliog: “Were you taught how to read using systematic synthetic phonics?”

I think we need to ask broader questions, wider than one about a particular form of teaching. @9. James from Durham probably overstated the contribution of phonics in basic language teaching. The system does not work for all pupils; it might be the most successful overall, but it does not work for every child. Teachers need to be capable and permitted to use appropriate techniques.

Which brings us back to the OP. Children are awkward individuals; I have never met a parent who has not remarked about the unique character of the offspring. I have always replied politely.

Given the gawkiness, cussed nature and ‘unique character’ of children today, or of children at any time in history, I believe that collectively we need lots of different schools. The Comprehensive experiment of the 1960s failed (too many big schools) and we have suffered all the rest of Government-directed nonsense following. Parents just seek a school where son/daughter can go to school without any hassle.

There should be no wonderment that parents sign up their children for ‘different’ schools. Signing up is a signal that Comprehensive schools didn’t work. And bugger all else has worked either.

“…collectively we need lots of different schools. The Comprehensive experiment of the 1960s failed (too many big schools) and we have suffered all the rest of Government-directed nonsense following.”

Yes. Well said.

“…Comprehensive schools didn’t work. And bugger all else has worked either.”

Grammar schools worked very well, though selection at 11+ as problematic.

@18: “I wonder how many people who had above average grades in the 60s and 70s and went to university/college still live in England?”

For instance: Sir Jonathan Ive, Senior Vice President of Design at Apple Inc
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Ive

Or Sir Tim Berners-Lee?

@21: “…Comprehensive schools didn’t work. And bugger all else has worked either.”

Two maintained selective boys schools within walking distance of where I sit in a London borough attain better average A-level grades than Eton.

“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.” [Financial Times, 13 January 2013]

How come when 37pc of London residents were born abroad, according to the 2011 Population Census?

24. the a&e charge nurse

Not only does Gove not understand education, he does not know that he does not understand it.

He needs a good dose of Guy Claxton
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZObIqCwRsNc

In Claxtons book ‘What’s the point of school’ children are asked, ‘what are they learning’ – one says ‘page 38′, another says ‘I don’t understand the question’.

Current methods of assessment do little to reflect the intellectual capability of young learners.

23.
Sir Jonathan Ive lives in San Francisco whilst TimBL has homes in the USA and the UK so, what point are you making regarding my comment #18?

25

I was just citing examples of techie Brits who work abroad. As it happens, my son’s job is in San Francisco.

Compare this suggestion:

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, has called on the Government to be more accommodating to entrepreneurs by changing the rules of their visas.

Wales is convinced that with some amendments to the entrepreneur visa, London could become a capital for technology.

He added that living in London would prove an entirely more enticing prospect than living in Silicon Valley, California.
http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/wikipedia-founder-jimmy-wales-calls-on-government-to-make-london-tech-capital-8799111.html

23. Bob B: “Two maintained selective boys schools within walking distance of where I sit in a London borough attain better average A-level grades than Eton.”

Anecdotal reports tend to throw up extreme results.*

The secondary school geographically closest to me (bottom in the 2012 results table for Leicester) closed because it was crap. Most of the children now attend other non-brilliant comprehensives instead.

“‘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.’ [Financial Times, 13 January 2013]

How come when 37pc of London residents were born abroad, according to the 2011 Population Census?”

When it is deserved, I think that we should recognise good teaching. Well done to all — teachers, supporters, dinner staff, cleaners, and all who create a good school.

I didn’t mention parents. But they are probably the most important agents in education, unless a child is adopted by an external mentor. Given results of London schools, we can guesstimate that the ’37pc of London residents [who] were born abroad’ comprise many aspirational parents. So the question is how do we make aspiration a more universal attribute.

* Bob lives in Surrey London; the schools are good; kids will be awkward but the parents will sort them out.

George W Bush appointed a black woman, Condoleezza Rice, as Secretary of State. She argues that her appointment was unexceptional, that she won the job: her parents were achievers, and she worked to live up to their expectations of her ability and background. Condoleezza Rice’s family ensured that she had a great education and opportunity.

Colin Powell presented another unexpected black face amongst GWB appointees. Powell’s background is more humble than Rice’s. He found education in the army.

Anecdotes are interesting but rarely do they satisfy an argument.

22

‘Grammar schools worked very well’

So did children working down mines but we are living in a different environment which requires a different knowledge base. It seems to me that the main criticism of comprehensives is their size, so it would appear that the answer is to have more but smaller. And the most significant factor for the learning environment is the family which was mentioned @27.

23

‘London schools have improved so rapidly over the last 10 years’

Perhaps living in an area where there is a good chance of getting a job also encourages children to do well rather than dismissing education as a waste if time.

steveb @ 28:

“So did children working down mines but we are living in a different environment which requires a different knowledge base.”

A non sequitur. 1. children don’t make efficient miners. 2. What is taught is not the issue here: it is the need to have selective education.

“the most significant factor for the learning environment is the family”

Which belief explains why some extreme egalitarians have wanted to abolish the family. Perhaps it is true, but some studies suggest that the peer group is even more influential. In any event, genes trump any environmental factor.

29

‘genes trump any environmental factor’

So if genes trump any environmental factor why do we need grammar schools or any change to the existing system?

“So if genes trump any environmental factor why do we need grammar schools or any change to the existing system?”

Because:

“Britain has some of the lowest social mobility in the developed world – the OECD figures show our earnings in the UK are more likely to reflect our fathers’ than any other country”
http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2012/may/22/social-mobility-data-charts

I keep mentioning that I sit within walking distance of two maintained selective boy schools which regularly achive better average A-level grades than Eton. My son went to one. It was only after he left that I learned that this was school that Chris Woodhead – the notorious chief inspector of schools when Blunkett was New Labour education minister – had attended.

As for genes v environmental factors, we need to reflect on this:

White working-class British boys are in danger of becoming an “educational under-class”, the head of an influential think-tank said today.

Christian Guy, director of the Centre for Social Justice, delivered the warning after research showed the performance gap between white British boys on free school meals and the rest of the nation’s pupils had grown during the five years up until 2012. [Independent website, 3 September 2013]

Universities in England should be doing more to encourage applications from white working class boys, Universities Minister David Willetts says.

The group could be targeted in the same way as other disadvantaged groups, he told The Independent.
Boys are now out-numbered at university by girls.[BBC website 3 January 2013]

Comprehensive schools have failed the working class [Guardian website 4 January 2013]

31

It was really a rhetorical question, if genes really trump the environment and grammar/comprehensive schools are the environment, why would we need to change anything?

Also, the rest of the European Union are experiencing high youth unemployment. White working-class boys might be under-educated but they are not stupid, even graduates with good degrees are either unemployed or are doing menial jobs. Who wants to amass debts in the region of £30k when getting any job is unlikely?

32

“Also, the rest of the European Union are experiencing high youth unemployment. White working-class boys might be under-educated but they are not stupid, even graduates with good degrees are either unemployed or are doing menial jobs. Who wants to amass debts in the region of £30k when getting any job is unlikely?”

Lots of canards in that. Taking on inexperienced youth entails a higher risk for a private sector employer than taking on an experienced older worker. Also, importanly, with the new EU maternity and paternity leave rights, SMEs especially incur less risk in employing older workers who won’t be having (more) children and so won’t be taking maternity/paternity leave. In Britain, more than half private sector employment is with firms employing less than 250 employees.

Degree subjects, the quality of degrees and which uni all affect a graduate’s employment prospects. On average, graduates earn more than non-graduates so the debt is usually worth while – medics, engineers and economists feature well in graduate pay leagues.

All the evidence shows there is a particular problem with white, working class boys. The majority of undergraduate students in Britain are now girls – sadly, it wasn’t like that when I was a uni student back in the 1950s. There’s a prevailing macho culture among white working class boys which regards education as demeaning and that element often dominates the final year in comprehensive schools for 11-16 year-olds. And, of course, there is the lure of those professional football jobs paying £100,000 a week or more. One outcome is that we now have about a million 16-24 year-olds who are not in employment, education or training – the so-called NEETs.

The basic facts are that Britain has a lower rate of social mobilty than peer-group countries and England is sinking down the international league tables of basic skills:

“England’s young adults trail world in literacy and maths”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-24433320

31. Bob B
Woodhead was Chief Inspector of Schools 1994 – 2000. Cognita’s record in Wales is somewhat troubled.
Senior education officers at Cognita UK, a group run by ex-Ofsted chief Sir Chris Woodhead, were sent to St Michael’s School in Llanelli, Wales, to take part in “commercial espionage”.
http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/06/13/spies-sent-to-st-michaels-school-wales_n_1592508.html
Woodhead’s company closes school in Swansea because it had to compete with successful state schools.
http://www.thisissouthwales.co.uk/Ffynone-House-School-hit-standard-state-rivals/story-15051098-detail/story.html

steveb @ 30 & 32:

“So if genes trump any environmental factor why do we need grammar schools or any change to the existing system?”

Because if x trumps y, it means that x has more influence than why – not that y has no influence. So genes aren’t the only factor at work. They are one of several. Even if genes are the most important factor – accounting for 40%-70% of intelligence – other factors can have an influence, too. If you had more intelligence, you’d be able to grasp that.

How come children eligible for free schools do so much better at GCSE exams in London – as this national map shows?
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-22970674

“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.” [Financial Times, 13 January 2013]

By the 2011 Population Census, 37pc of London residents were born abroad. If genes are the decisive factor, then we have to conclude that the children of foreign migrants living in London have superior genes.

@Bob B – well the Chinese and Indians are well on their way to becoming the world superpowers, so TONE is probably right that white people are genetically inferior to their Asian contemporaries.

34

‘Even if genes are the most important factor – accounting for 40%-70% of intelligence’

Does this statement have any basis in science or is this another of your dishonest quotes. A reference would be useful.

36

“Well the Chinese and Indians are well on their way to becoming the world superpowers, so TONE is probably right that white people are genetically inferior to their Asian contemporaries.”

Relative population size is one major factor and market liberalisation another contributing to the size of China’s economy, which is now rated the second largest in the world having recently overtaken Japan’s economy.

Growth of India’s economy is being held back by a combination of regulation, protectionist practices and corruption. Before 1800, China’s economy was the largest in the world, perhaps amounting to as much as a quarter of the global total, but it got left behind with the industrialisation of European economies and America.

Try Wikipedia on: History of the race and intelligence controversy:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_race_and_intelligence_controversy

As I recall, when Arthur Jensen and Hans Eysenck in the 1970s reported that, on average, ethnic Chinese tended to score better in IQ tests than caucasians they were denounced as racist. But analysis in recent years of the attainment in the GCSE exams of those in ethnic groups eligible for free school meals usually ranks Chinese and Indian students at the top with poor whites near or at the bottom.

This was the reported outcome of one study published in January 2008 into attainment by ethnic goups in the GCSE exams of pupils eligible for free school meals:

Government figures show only 15% of white working class boys in England got five good GCSEs including maths and English last year.

Among white boys from more affluent homes – 45% achieved that level of qualification.

Poorer pupils from Indian and Chinese backgrounds fared much better – with 36% and 52% making that grade respectively.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7220683.stm

steveb @ 38:

“Does this statement have any basis in science or is this another of your dishonest quotes. A reference would be useful.”

Try for starters:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heritability_of_IQ

so am i the only one seeing “intelligence” as a hangover from the eugenics movement.
i would regard knowledge experience and confidence as the key issues for improving standards.


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