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IOE Blog


Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


Counting the cost of a fragmented school system

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 16 July 2019

Sara Bubb. 

In an effort to turn schools into academies too little attention has been given to constructing a middle tier oversight system that is fair and efficient for all.

This is an unescapable conclusion of our new study, Understanding the Middle Tier: Comparative Costs of Academy and LA-maintained Systems, which has uncovered the cost of England’s systems for overseeing academies and local authority (LA) schools. We found a complex and confusing picture that reinforces the Public Accounts Committee judgement that the Department for Education’s ‘arrangements for oversight of schools are fragmented and incoherent, leading toinefficiency for government and confusion for schools.’

The ‘middle tiers’ are the systems of support and accountability connecting (more…)

Are private schools better managed than state schools?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 1 February 2018

Alex Bryson and Francis Green. 
In recent years governments of all hues have urged private schools to sponsor state schools to help raise education standards. In 2012 Lord Adonis, who had earlier been Labour’s Minister for Schools, argued that successful private schools, whose “DNA” incorporated “independence, excellence, innovation, social mission”, should sponsor state academy schools. Subsequent Coalition and Conservative governments have adopted the same  policy with the 2017 Conservative Party manifesto  aiming for at least 100 independent schools to sponsor an academy or start a free school.
The policy is not evidence-based. Instead it has been assumed that private schools’ successes are founded on superior management. There is no doubt that, even allowing for the normally affluent social background of private school pupils, these children on average perform well in exams, compared to their state-educated peers. Private schools also deliver a broad curriculum and provide a full sporting and cultural education beyond the classroom. How do they do that? Most obviously, because they deploy hugely greater resources, and because the schools are able, through their pupil selection, to concentrate on a generally aspirational peer group. But neither of these advantages are supposed to be part of the sponsorship policy.
Rather, governments have presumed that private schools might convey the desired ethos of aspiration and excellence through improvements in management practices. In forthcoming research to be published next week in the National Institute Economic Review, we present findings from the first large-scale study to test the proposition that (more…)

The school bosses investigation: the deeper questions

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 5 August 2016

Ron Glatter. 
The accountability of academy chains, also known as ‘multi-academy trusts’ (MATs), is once more in the public spotlight. A Channel 4 Dispatches programme ‘How school bosses spend your millions’ aired at the end of July following a joint investigation with The Observer based on expenses claims released under the Freedom of Information Act. It alleged that chiefs of these trusts were wasting taxpayers’ money on unnecessary luxuries such as posh hotels and restaurants and executive cars.  (more…)

What do 'skills' mean for school governing bodies?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 2 June 2016

Helen Young
In a recently published article[i] in the Journal of Education Policy (JEP), I traced how governors with ‘skills’ are increasingly privileged over representative governors. I wrote about the ongoing devaluation of representative governors and of any hint of democracy in school governance. However, I did not predict that representative parent governors would soon be deemed entirely unnecessary as they have been in the recently published schools White Paper. In this the Government states:
“We will expect all governing boards to focus on seeking people with the right skills for governance, and so we will no longer require academy trusts to reserve places for elected parents on governing boards.” (p.51, my emphasis)
It is worth considering what ‘skills’ means. On the one hand, a remarkable number of the trustees of multi academy trusts have the skills of managing private equity and hedge funds. On the other hand, many would argue that being a parent requires a wide range of (more…)

Academisation: a cautionary tale from Holland

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 18 March 2016

Toby Greany and Melanie Ehren.

The schools white paper brings together recent announcements from the budget and the funding consultation as well as the provisions in the Education and Adoption Act to set out the next phase of school reform. The strategy is undoubtedly ambitious – in particular the aim to make all schools into academies by 2022 and the move to a National Funding Formula by 2019-20 – but is broadly consistent with the direction of travel towards a ‘self-improving’ system since 2010.
Given that direction of travel, many of the specific proposals in the white paper are focused on trying to address some of the acknowledged weaknesses of the existing system: for example through a concerted focus on building capacity in areas where school-led approaches are currently weak, to clarify a very different but still meaningful oversight role for Local Authorities, and to remove some of the perverse incentives in the accountability system.
What is the evidence that making every school an academy will make a positive difference (more…)

Subject to change: here we go EBacc again

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 4 November 2015

Chris Husbands.
The Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, has begun to flesh out plans to make the English Baccalaureate – English, Mathematics, Science, History or Geography and languages – all but compulsory for 14-16 year olds in England.
The idea that all pupils should study a common curriculum throughout compulsory schooling is hardly new. The concept of a ‘comprehensive curriculum for the comprehensive school’ underpinned David Hargreaves’s widely read and influential 1985 book The Challenge for the Comprehensive School – it was subtitled ‘culture, curriculum and community’. In 1988, Kenneth Baker’s National Curriculum embedded a national curriculum from ages five through 16 in statute. I was a secondary school history teacher at the time and remember turning out to earnest conferences of history and geography teachers who were – in most cases – relieved that government had achieved what our would-be eloquent arguments had not: to convince deputy heads responsible for option systems to make our subjects (more…)

The school autonomy debate won't go away – nor should it

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 8 October 2015

Chris Husbands
It’s one of the most difficult questions in education policy: how much autonomy should publicly-funded schools have. The debate has been re-ignited by Labour’s newly appointed shadow secretary of state for education, Lucy Powell, and the Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw. Lucy Powell, looking ahead to 2020, argued that there was a strong case for local authority oversight of schools, something the left of the Labour Party have held dear; Michael Wilshaw was sharp in his condemnation: this would “return schools to the middle ages: the horse has bolted on that one”; local authority responsibilities, he maintained, should be confined to admissions and safeguarding.
Long before he became Prime Minister, David Cameron argued that improving standards depended on giving real power to schools. (more…)

Lucy Powell calls for greater accountability of academy chains. More red tape or….?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 2 October 2015

Melanie Ehren.
During her first speech in post, Lucy Powell told her party’s conference in Brighton that academy chains would be made accountable. In her speech she doesn’t say what this accountability would look like, but obvious proposals would include inspections of the trusts in charge of academy chains and a greater monitoring role for the Regional Schools Commissioners. (more…)

Conservative education plans are poetic – but are they practical?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 28 May 2015

Chris Husbands.
This post originally appeared in The Conversation
Each year, the Queen’s speech marks the point where the poetry of aspiration gets translated into the hard slog of legislation and implementation. The Conservative manifesto for education was certainly bold and aspirational: firmly targeted at parents (the chapter on education is headed “giving your child the best start in life”), the document promised a “good primary school place for every child”, with “zero tolerance of failure”. It pledged that struggling and failing schools would be taken over, good schools – of whatever type – would be allowed to expand, and 500 new free schools would be established. (more…)

The next five years: five key opportunities for school leaders

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 20 May 2015

Robert Hill.
There’s no question that school leaders will face tough challenges in the coming years. But there is also a major opportunity to reshape the school system. This blog, the second based on my London Centre for Leadership in Learning lecture on 19 May, should be read alongside this set of slides.
The nature of the challenges is such that it is not possible for schools and their leaders to manage them alone. They will have to collaborate – whether that builds on what they are doing at the moment or takes them into new territory. (more…)