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Birmingham’s ‘Trojan Horse’ saga: partnership and trust are what are needed now

Blog Editor, IOE Digital9 June 2014

Chris Husbands
The inspection report is glowing: “This is an outstanding school… Teaching is outstanding overall… The curriculum is outstanding… Students behave exceptionally well in lessons…” In 2013, 75% of all its pupils attained five GCSEs grades A*-C including English and Mathematics, placing it in the top fifth of all schools nationally. Eight in 10 of its disadvantaged pupils achieved expected progress in English – a result comfortably above national averages. More than this, Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector visited the school himself and enthused that it was “doing fantastically well. Walking around the school and talking to children, they all appreciate being here. The students are so ambitious for themselves and that is so heartening”.
Just two years later the school is in special measures (PDF): attainment and the quality of teaching are now good, and the quality of leadership and management is now inadequate.
Readers may have guessed: this is Park View Academy in Birmingham, one of the 21 schools at the centre of no less than three separate probes: a co-ordinated OFSTED inspection, a city council investigation, and an investigation by a former head of the anti-terrorist branch. All stem from the charges that a well-organised ‘Trojan Horse’ conspiracy was seeking to transform Park View and other non-faith Birmingham state schools into Islamic schools.
This is a complex saga from which almost no-one involved comes out well. Despite attempts in some of the press to trail the story as a tale of failing inner city schools, inspection reports make it clear that at least several have been good or outstanding.
Despite attempts to link the story to the failings of an urban local authority, several of the schools, including Park View, are already academies: outside the control of the local authority, governed solely by funding agreements with the secretary of state. ‘Academisation’ may be a solution for struggling local authority schools, but it is a difficult policy to promote when schools have already made the switch.
And the complexities get more challenging. For a generation, governments have strenuously advanced the cause of parental influence in education. Under the current government, groups of parents who are dissatisfied with what is on offer from their local authority have had the right to self-organise to propose the establishment of ‘free schools’. But in Birmingham, it appears, some parents have self-organised in a quite different way.
And while schools’ role in community cohesion was dropped from the UK’s inspection framework, across the world schools are encouraged to build strong links and work with the grain of the community. For more than a decade schools have been encouraged to develop their own curriculum specialisms: today’s reports make it clear that in some cases curriculum autonomy has serious shortcomings.
Considerable – and understandable – concern has been raised about segregating boys and girls for assemblies and parts of the curriculum, but it is not too long since the Daily Telegraph and Guardian reported favourably on single gender classes in mixed schools, which, enthused the Telegraph, improved “self esteem… and enthusiasm”. For a century and a half, governments have tolerated or encouraged faith schools in the publicly funded education system. Catholic dioceses, for example, have argued strenuously for the right of Catholic parents and Catholic schools to exercise discretion over the teaching of aspects of science, religious education, sex education or abortion. In Birmingham, it seems, some parents took to extremes their aspirations for a faith ethos and faith practices in their local schools.
The evidence is that Park View Academy still achieves good examination results for many of its pupils despite severe deprivation. The inspected schools have not ceased to succeed for their pupils. But OFSTED also, now, find evidence of something more sinister in the targeting of schools by determined groups and individuals. The saga of the ‘Trojan Horse’ in Birmingham raises profound questions about developments which have become deeply embedded in education policy and practice::

  • How should schools balance their commitment to high attainment with a mission to enhance community cohesion?
  • Do curricular and pastoral practices matter if attainment is high? Politicians of all stripes have on occasion argued that the only thing that matters is results.
  • To whom and how should schools be accountable? There is a powerful trend in much policy debate that schools are fundamentally accountable to parents. How should school leaders respond to insistent demands from well-organised and articulate parent groups wherever they come from?
  • We expect schools to co-operate one with another – but should schools be required to co-operate with other schools from different faith traditions? Politicians of all persuasions have trumpeted the benefits of schools making their own decisions.
  • In an academised school system, in which schools are autonomous, who should monitor the practices – not simply the performance – of schools?

There are no easy answers to these questions. All the evidence is that managing urban school systems demands exceptional skills locally. Gifted local leadership, as David Woods, Chris Brown and I showed in our study of education transformation in Tower Hamlets, can make a real difference to outcomes, but it demands sophisticated skills and strategic planning.
What Birmingham schools now need is not the media blitz which is accompanying the publication of high profile reports, but something quite different: a determined and long-term focus on linking high performance with community development, commitment to working through local tensions and developing confidence and trust amongst all those involved. They need the heat taken out of the situation. Urban schools, as anyone who has taught in or worked with them know, always face difficult challenges. Addressing those challenges requires resilient and professional support.
Local interim executive boards; partnerships between schools, local and national authorities working to engage community groups; trust and effective leadership all need to be built to develop a consensus on what the schools – publicly funded and secular institutions – need in order to deliver high standards and win parental and community support. Among the last things Birmingham schools need right now are press headlines.
 

The self-improving school system: competing policies undermine the coalition's admirable aims

Blog Editor, IOE Digital6 March 2014

Toby Greany
On 18 March I will be giving my inaugural lecture on the ‘self-improving’ school system (there are still some places left, book here!) In this blog I want to set out some of the ideas I will explore in the lecture, focussing on the state of current policy. In a later blog I will identify some of things I think could be done to move us forwards.
In his speech at the North of England conference this January Charlie Taylor, CEO of the National College for Teaching and Leadership, talked about his aim of an ‘irrevocable shift’ towards a school-led, self-improving system by September 2016.
So what does the Government mean by a self-improving system? When you read The Importance of Teaching white paper, I think you can boil it down to four criteria:

  • teachers and schools are responsible for their own improvement;
  • teachers and schools learn from each other and from research so that effective practice spreads;
  • the best schools and leaders extend their reach across other schools so that all schools improve; and (by implication)
  • government intervention and support is minimised.

I am not convinced that either the system capacity or the policy conditions are yet right for an ‘irrevocable shift’ to be achieved, even by 2016.  My worry is that if the self-improving system becomes no more than a narrative device to justify the removal of central and local government support as quickly as possible, then a two-tier system could rapidly emerge in which strong schools thrive but large swathes are left behind.
In saying this I am by no means entirely negative, nor am I harking back to a centralised model of top down improvement.  There are a number of policies in train that do appear to be giving schools greater ownership of their own improvement, and many schools and teachers are responding energetically. These policies include the sponsorship of struggling schools by school-led multi-academy trusts, the concept of School Direct (although in practice its development has been problematic) and the work of many teaching schools.
So what am I worrying about? One key challenge for me is that the coalition government does not have a clear or coherent strategy for supporting a self-improving system to emerge. Instead ministers are following at least four different reform approaches at the same time (see table below). These compete with each other in the minds of school leaders, creating confusion at best and unresolvable tensions at worst.
Four narratives for the coalition’s approach for system improvement

The world class (no excuses) approach:We are raising the bar in every area and benchmarking ourselves against the best in the world – a new curriculum, more rigorous exams, less teacher assessment.  Ofsted’s new inspection framework and area based inspections are shining a spotlight on schools and authorities that require improvement, while its new regional structure means it can follow up to check that schools take action in response. Where a school is found to be failing we will broker a new academy sponsor.
Key quote:  “High-performing jurisdictions set materially higher expectations in terms of what they believe children can and should master at different ages…If our schools, and young people, are to become internationally competitive again we must learn from the best in the world”.
Michael Gove MP, December 2011
Key message for school leaders: Raise your game or accept the consequences.
The freedom to teach approach:Teachers should be free to get on and teach. We have given schools autonomy and freedom and we have focussed accountability on what matters: the quality of teaching. We have given schools greater powers on classroom discipline.  We have stripped away bureaucratic guidance and removed the requirement for teachers in academies to have Qualified Teacher Status. We have made it easier to sack poor teachers and pay good teachers more. We have raised the bar for new entrants to teaching and given schools a greater role in training new recruits.
Key quote: academies “will be free of any government interference, free to hire whoever they want, pay them whatever they want, teach whatever they want, and as a result we can demand higher standards”.
Michael Gove MP, November 2011
Key message for school leaders: We trust you – it’s all down to you.
The market based approach:It’s not the job of civil servants to tell teachers how to teach, so we have closed the quangos and are cutting one in four DfE jobs. We are reforming the funding model so it is fair and transparent and we have introduced the Pupil Premium to ensure equity. Our academies policy has freed schools from the grip of local bureaucracies. We are supporting new free schools, University Technical Colleges and Studio Schools so that weak schools are challenged to improve and parents and employers have real choice.
Key quote: “Hopefully, recent reforms will push the English system towards one in which the state provides a generous amount of funding per pupil which parents can spend in any school they wish…while the DfE does little more than some regulatory, accountancy, and due diligence functions.”
Dominic Cummings, Special Advisor to Michael Gove, 2013
Key message for school leaders: Choice and competition rule.
The system leadership approach:We want the best schools and heads to drive improvement. We have over 400 school-led academy sponsors taking on the most challenging schools. We are designating 500 teaching schools and giving them a key role in professional development and school to school support. We are designating 1000 National Leaders of Education and introducing payment by results so they focus on supporting struggling schools. We want to develop a champions league of outstanding leaders who can travel to the most challenging schools and regions to secure improvement.
Key quote: “At the heart of this Government’s vision is a determination to give school leaders more power and control. Not just to drive improvement in their own schools – but to drive improvement across our whole system.”
Michael Gove MP, June 2010
Key message for school leaders: The strong will inherit the earth (and make it better)

The first three approaches might enable an improving system, but not a self-improving system. Applying the government’s four criteria, they might make schools responsible for their own improvement, but they will not foster the sharing of expertise, capacity and learning or the better use of evidence. Partly in response to these flaws, the role of accountability in these models becomes over-dominant and punitive, setting up unrealistic expectations for what Ofsted can achieve and an unhealthy us-and-them dynamic between school leaders and the centre.
The fourth approach – system leadership – reflects the beginnings of a sea change in attitudes and practice in England over the past ten years.  Many of the best schools do now provide hard edged support to their peers, whether as an academy sponsor, teaching school or National or Local Leader of Education. These approaches do meet the criteria for a self-improving system and there is evidence that they can be effective.
But their potential is being undermined by policies enacted to foster the first three approaches.  Furthermore, in the rush for an ‘irrevocable shift’, the pace of devolution to system leaders is arguably too rapid, with too little attention being paid to building capacity.
One illustration of all this can be seen in the tensions at the heart of the Teaching Schools model:

  • how to marry individual school accountability with system leadership? The fear of losing their Teaching School status if Ofsted downgrades them from ‘Outstanding’ is preventing many school leaders from investing real energy in this model.
  • Are Teaching Schools a publicly funded good, or a solution for a broken school improvement marketplace? Teaching Schools are told to earn their income by meeting the needs of other schools, but are also heavily incentivised to deliver on policy priorities such as School Direct.
  • how to manage supply and demand for system leadership on a geographical and phase basis? As Ofsted noted in its 2013 annual report, there are large parts of thecountry with too few system leaders and no established culture of school to school support.

These tensions are all symptoms of the wider fault lines caused by incoherent policy on school system reform. In my next blog I will outline some of ways in which they could be resolved. Do come to my inaugural lecture if you would like to hear and discuss these issues in more depth!

Ofsted, school accountability and the most able students

Blog Editor, IOE Digital13 June 2013

Chris Husbands
OFSTED’s report on the progress made by the most able children in non-selective secondary schools has hit the headlines, finding that more than a quarter (27%) of previously high-attaining pupils had failed to achieve at least a B grade in both English and Maths. For the Daily Mail, this is evidence of the failure of the comprehensive system; the Daily Telegraph reported calls for secondary schools to set pupils from the beginning of year 7. The report is in practice – as reports always are – more complex than the press release headlines, but it still makes sobering reading: a significant number of those who do exceptionally well at the age of 11 do not perform to expectation by the age of 16.
The first observation to make is that whilst the report focuses on non-selective (comprehensive) schools, it includes some glancing references to selective (grammar) schools that suggest all is not well there either: in comprehensive schools, 35% of those who secured level 5 or above in both English and Maths went on to secure an A or A* at GCSE, whereas the figure was 59% in grammar schools. But this means that 41% of those who secured a Level 5 at age 11 and went on to selective secondary education did not secure an A or A* at GCSE.
For over 20 years in assessing English secondary schools, we have held schools to account based on the proportion of 16 year olds who move across a threshold of GCSE grade C or above. In accountability terms, there are no further incentives for schools to address the needs of their highest attaining young people. There are, however, many disincentives for schools not to address the needs of middle attainers. In these circumstances, it’s not terribly surprising that the needs of the highest – and, indeed, the lowest – attainers may have been neglected.
Much of the press debate has focused on the issue of setting or – a different concept entirely – streaming, arguing that grouping children by ability would address the problem. In fact, the evidence is much more nuanced on this. In practice, all classes turn out to be mixed attainment classes – the only point at issue is the breadth of the attainment span in any given class. Once this point is accepted, the issue is about how teachers provide for pupils of varying talents and attainment, and, though it has barely been reported, the OFSTED report stresses the importance of well-focused teaching, and the identification tracking of individual pupils.
And there’s a further point: over the same twenty year period, policy and press discussion has tended to divide schools into “successful” and “failing” schools. The OFSTED report on higher attainers demonstrates that it’s a lot more complex than this: it turns out that “successful” schools are often no more successful in meeting the needs of very high attaining pupils than less successful schools. And, for all the difference between comprehensive schools and grammar schools, if grammar schools are not securing the highest grades for two-fifths of their highest attainers, the observation holds there: they, too are just not doing well enough with higher attainers. Put slightly differently, it does not matter much which school you go to, but it may matter a great deal who teaches you when you get there. In English education, within-school variations in pupil attainment are more significant than between-school variations.

Let's replace our Fortnum's v Walmart system with a John Lewis model of schooling

Blog Editor, IOE Digital25 February 2013

Sandra Leaton Gray

Last week, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published an analysis of fair opportunities for pupils (PDF). Andreas Schleicher, its Special Adviser for Education, has said that social division represents a long term issue for the UK education system, and that there is distinct polarisation between the attainment levels of rich and poor pupils.
Using the example of London – where one-fifth of the country’s children attend school – Geoff Whitty and I found that children getting free school meals (a marker for deprivation) were very much more likely to attend poorly-achieving schools than successful ones.
The graph below demonstrates this. On the x-axis, we have plotted something the Government calls Families of Schools, based on official data and grouped according to shared characteristics such as attainment, number of children having free school meals and so on. On the y-axis, we have plotted the different types of school, as a proportion of the whole family: community, voluntary aided or controlled (usually faith schools) and foundation (funded directly by the State).
From the graph we can see that there are comparatively few community schools in the top performing Family, and a higher number of voluntary aided or voluntary controlled schools, in the case of this group, selective schools.
In contrast, all the schools in the bottom performing Family, where most of the children receiving FSM are concentrated, are community schools, and none are selective. (Data source: DfES, 2005).
sandrachart1
As these data are from 2005, we have revisited our earlier research. In the 2011 Families of Schools data, 2% of children in Family Number 1 (highest achieving, mainly selective schools) received free school meals (FSM), compared to 45% of children in Family Number 23 (lowest achieving, mainly community schools)..
So it is clear that the children suffering the most social and economic deprivation still have the least opportunity to attend academically successful schools. This is because the UK currently offers parents variable educational provision, usually depending on factors over which they have little or no control – for instance, whether the school is selective, its geographical location, or the family’s religion.
This variable provision has been described as a “spectrum of diversity” by academies sponsor Sir Bruce Liddington, but to some families it can simply seem confused and fragmented. In response to a situation where some children are “in” and the others “out” – a kind of Fortnum and Mason versus Walmart model of education, if you like – I propose a John Lewis model of schooling. In this model, all the main stakeholders play a part in its success, and it is designed to be mutually beneficial to all. Wherever you go in the country, you know what you are getting, and it’s reliable.
If it goes wrong, as is occasionally inevitable, other parts of the system step in to make sure your child is well looked after and that his or her education is attended to properly. In my John Lewis educational world, teachers would fraternize regularly and exchange best practice, pupils would learn to work in a schooling system where knowledge is pursued as a means to understanding rather than examination passes, and there would be a national consensus on what the education system is trying to achieve.
It’s time to ditch the language of division, where some people are “in” and some people are “out”, and reform our fragmented, artificially competitive education system. Instead we need to move towards the collaborative, high reliability schooling this country deserves.

If knowledge in education is sticky, how do we get it unstuck and flowing?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital14 January 2013

Chris Husbands
The report of the Pearson/RSA Academies Commission has been published. I was one of the commissioners and – as I have blogged before – the Commission provided a fascinating opportunity to look closely at the English school system changing at phenomenal speed. In May 2010 there were just over 200 academies; at the beginning of 2013 there are over 2000. Every local authority has at least one and in some local authorities, as far apart as North East Lincolnshire and Southwark, all secondary schools are now academies. As initial responses to the report indicated, academies have not lost their power to excite strong views from both advocates and critics. The Commission tried to get beyond the noise of proponents and opponents to ask hard questions about the dynamics of an academised school system,
Over eight months, and taking evidence in writing and orally from across the education system, the Commissioners sifted responses to try to consider the implications of academisation for school improvement, school autonomy, admissions, system development, governance and accountability. The Commissioners were agreed that academisation has enormous, transformative potential – academies have indeed injected vitality into schools. But the Commissioners also agreed that academisation – the extension of school autonomy alone – will not be transformative and those who argue that it will be are wrong.
Months of listening, and weeks of report drafting, of course, lead up to a single publication date, and, at the beginning of 2013, publication lands in the middle of a noisy, crowded landscape of social media, press releases and news briefings. It should be no surprise to anyone that an academic will be disappointed at the way work is reported, but I was taken aback by the ability of twitterers to summarise our 120 pages of report in 140 characters in a matter of hours, or even minutes, of the report’s appearance.
In fact, most of those who commented tended to see the Academies Commission report as a mirror, finding in it more of less what they wanted to find. We do say, and we did find, that we were hugely impressed not only by the energy, commitment and moral purpose of most academy head teachers and academy group chief executives, but also by their success in cutting through deeply entrenched local barriers to improving aspirations and provision. We also heard evidence suggesting real concerns about provision for vulnerable children, local accountability to parents and arrangements for appeals against academy decisions.  We heard evidence, often from school governors themselves, to suggest that academy governing bodies are often ill-equipped for the role which governing an academy – effectively making governors non-executive directors – involves.
Some academy groups and federations impressed us with their vision and their grasp of the reality of school improvement, but others left us apprehensive about their ability to provide a strong co-ordination role over geographically scattered groups. This is a report which is thorough and balanced, posing challenges at every level for schools, academy groups, local authorities, government agencies and central government. It would be a huge pity if its recommendations and challenges were lost in the noise of its publication.
One of the real treats of the launch was that Andreas Schleicher, from the OECD, joined us, both for the public launch and for a subsequent academic seminar. Andreas was able to put the report into an international context. The world’s best school systems are those with high levels of school autonomy. But as Andreas pointed out, some of the world’s worst school systems are those with high levels of school autonomy. Autonomy delivers quality only where independence is accompanied by an incentive system and a culture which embeds collaboration and so engenders school inter-dependence.
In a striking phrase at the launch, Andreas said, “knowledge in education is sticky” – it does not move around the system. The challenge posed by the Academies Commission is how an autonomous school system can build knowledge about success. We will not achieve the vision success for all if academisation simply produced archipelagos of excellence. One of the report’s recommendations is that no school should be eligible for an Ofsted “outstanding” rating for leadership unless it can demonstrate success in helping other schools to improve. This, at least, would incentivise collaboration.
School are working in a rapidly changing context. Academies – and the academisation of the school system – are with us.  The challenge now is to realise the quite proper aspirations for transformation.  Meeting the challenges for schools, for system leaders and for policy makers will involve more than using the report as a mirror and will involve serious engagement with inter-locking recommendations.
 

Academy conversions: why money doesn't always talk

Blog Editor, IOE Digital12 July 2012

Rebecca Allen
Thousands of primary and secondary schools have chosen to convert to academy status (the chart below covers secondary education). A survey by the think-tank Reform showed that financial considerations were the most widely cited reason for conversion, as predicted by many, including The Guardian.Pie chart showing share of pupils by school type in May 2012
The financial gains arise because academies can directly claim their share of the Local Authority Central Spend Equivalent Grant (LACSEG) (pdf) in recognition of the fact that as independent schools they no longer receive a number of services from local authorities (LAs), and must make appropriate provision for themselves or do without these services. LACSEG money is spent by local authorities on:

  • Educational disadvantage: pupils with special needs but without statements, behaviour support services, educational welfare services, 14-16 practical programmes, assessing free school meals eligibility
  • Educational enrichment: music services, visual and performing arts, outdoor education, museum and library services
  • Risk sharing across schools: coverage of long-term sick, termination of employment costs, redundancy costs, capital asset management
  • Shared administrative functions: school admissions, statutory and regulatory duties.

If financial considerations have indeed been a primary motivator for conversion, then is it also true that those with the greatest potential gains from conversion have done so in the greatest numbers? If this were true, then I suggest we should be able to identify likely converters using the following four criteria.
1.  Affluent schools within less affluent local authorities have most to gain from conversion
The share of LACSEG given to academies was calculated on a simple per pupil basis, yet a large proportion of LA services are used to support children with challenging educational needs. The smaller the local authority’s share of children from deprived backgrounds you take, the more you can benefit by taking your school’s LACSEG funding out of the central pot of money. Academy converters are indeed far more affluent (at under 9% free school meals eligibility for secondary schools) than the remaining state maintained sector (around 15% free school meals eligibility). It is also true that academy converters take a disproportionately lower share of the LA’s free school meals population.Histogram showing how academy converters take a lower share of poor pupils
2.  Potential benefits of academy conversion are highest in areas with a high LACSEG (as calculated by DfE)
Where a local authority’s LACSEG spending, as estimated by DfE on their website, is very high, local schools have the most to gain on a per pupil basis from academy conversion. But data actually show the local authorities that have lost the greatest numbers of schools to conversion are actually those with low LACSEG spending.
3.  Benefits should be highest in areas where the discrepancy between DfE-calculated LACSEG and ‘true’ LACSEG were highest
Many schools realised that they would receive a significant short-term windfall  from conversion because the DfE had incorrectly calculated the current expenditure on LACSEG services by local authorities. The discrepancy between calculated LACSEG and true LACSEG in an LA is anywhere between zero and almost £500 per pupil.* We might therefore expect that conversions were highest in areas where this discrepancy was particularly high. But the data show this isn’t so. In fact, some of the areas with the highest discrepancy in their calculation have had no secondary school convert to academy status (e.g. Islington, Barking and Dagenham, Hartlepool).
4.  Those in most financial need – with deficits or falling populations – should be most likely to convert
Some schools argued that they felt they had no choice but to convert to academy status to compensate for cuts in funding to their school. It is true that many schools have seen falling income year-on-year, but if this was an important motivator for conversion then those in the most financial need should have been most likely to convert. However, data show that those already in deficit in the 2009/10 financial year (the most recent for which we have all-England data) were no more likely to convert than others. Also, those with falling pupil populations were also no more likely to convert.
So, although those schools that have converted to academy status so far widely cite financial considerations, the characteristics of the converters are not as predicted if this were the sole consideration. What can we conclude from this? It is possible that many heads and governors do not have the right financial data to make the decisions about conversion, and had they done so, even greater numbers would have recognised the short-term windfall and so converted. Or alternatively political considerations for those sitting on governing bodies widely influenced the conversion decision, which is why more Conservative local authorities have seen the greatest rates of conversion. However, we should also not dismiss the idea that, at least in some local authorities, the sense of cohesion across local schools remains very high and that they value the quality of the services the local authority provides to help them provide schooling for children, particularly those in more challenging circumstances.
* Thanks to Chris Cook of the Financial Times for these estimates

The academies commission: a ringside view of a system negotiating seismic change

Blog Editor, IOE Digital6 July 2012

Chris Husbands
There is one thing we can all agree on about “academisation”. What an awful word! Otherwise there are few more controversial aspects of English education policy than academy status. The RSA/Pearson Commission on Academies, of which I am a member, wants to understand the implications of the rapid development of academies and to crystal ball gaze the future of an education system which is substantially academised. Chaired by former Ofsted Chief Inspector Christine Gilbert, the commission is taking evidence from a wide range of people, including head teachers, teachers, teacher unions, policymakers, politicians, academy group executives and parents.
The Commission is not asking whether “academisation” is a good or bad thing in itself, nor to address definitively the complex relationship between academy status and performance; instead, we are trying to understand what the dynamics of a substantially academised sector might be. 
That brings us face to face with challenging issues of educational and social policy. If schools are increasingly operating outside a local governance framework, who should exercise control over school place planning? At an extreme,  if academies are able to decline to grow in the face of local demographic pressure,  then the remaining local authority schools face the prospect of potential over-crowding. There are concerns about accountability and about the governance and management of admissions, particularly the admission and exclusion of vulnerable children.
One of the Commission’s major challenges is to recognise that academies have changed and developed since their introduction:
1. The first City Academy opened in 2002: Business Academy, Bexley was one of a new generation of schools intended to transform performance in areas of profound social and educational challenge. The model was clear:  new schools were established by business sponsors outside the structures of the local authority and in radically transformed buildings. These new academies were strategic investments in change, with freedoms to vary the curriculum, school year and staff conditions of service.
2. Over the next eight years, New Labour rolled academies out across the country. In the process, the original model (Academies Mark I), in which the vision of a single (often self-made) business partner drove the school, gave way to Academies Mark II, in which corporations, universities, charities, and, in some cases, local authorities themselves acted as sponsors. By May 2010 there were 203 academies, including every secondary in the London Borough of Southwark. These schools were self-governing under a funding agreement directly with the Secretary of State. Some – including the widely cited Mossbourne Academy in Hackney – demonstrated stunning success
3. After the 2010 election came  Academies Mark III. The 2010 Academies Act opened the status to all schools rated outstanding and good by Ofsted on a single vote of the governing body. Some 40% of all secondary schools are now academies, though as Machin and Vernoitt observed, schools applying to convert following the 2010 Act were “significantly more advantaged than the average secondary schools”.
This is the context against which the Academies Commission is working:  a substantially “academised” secondary sector and developments towards academy status in primary schools The idea of an academy is now complex.
4. To the first three types there has now been added Mark IV — “enforced converters” who have repeatedly failed to meet floor targets or have had weak inspection reports. There are, in addition, “free schools”, newly established by parent or sponsor groups but with the formal status of academies. 
 It’s not clear that the single term “academy” captures much about this complexity. The questions asked by the Commission will touch on profoundly held views about what schools are for and who should govern them. Such debates go to the heart of the way schools, and indeed communities, work, and the critical factors influencing the success of a school and the educational achievements of young people. Until we report in November, the Commission offers a ring-side view of an education system negotiating seismic change.

A school system ready for business

Blog Editor, IOE Digital14 May 2012

Stephen Ball
The House of Commons Education Select Committee recommendation for the introduction of performance–related pay (PRP) for teachers has sparked appropriate controversy and some unusual support and dissent. But of course this is not the first time we have been here. The existing “threshold” arrangements for teachers’ pay are the outcome of Labour’s failure to get PRP accepted by the teacher unions.
From the point of view of education policy the important thing is not to see PRP in isolation. Its reappearance has to be related to other policy trends and initiatives as part of a policy ensemble. That is, an interacting set of policies that have effects together. I am thinking of the introduction of new providers of free schools and academies, the creation of school chains, the awarding of contracts to run state schools to private providers, the possibility that free schools can employ untrained teachers, the refusal of some academies to recognise teacher unions and participate in national agreements on teachers’ pay and conditions, and the use of school examination pass percentages to construct league tables, set benchmarks for performance and identify “failing” schools.
Much depends on the fine detail but PRP looks like a further move toward a flexible workforce employed on short term, outcomes-based contracts, and a further diminution of the influence of teacher unions. Both of which are very attractive to existing school chains and private providers interested in taking on the running of state schools. By far the largest component of school budgets is staff salaries, if salaries can be tied more closely to contract requirements, and overall salary costs driven down by employing cheaper and unqualified teachers, then overheads and profits can be derived.
PRP is a further step towards an education system modelled directly on business methods and that is “ready” for commercial exploitation. And yet it is odd perhaps that schools are being encouraged to move to a system of remuneration that has served investment banks and the world’s financial systems so badly in recent times.

In selective Bucks, an academy goes comprehensive

Blog Editor, IOE Digital27 April 2012

Stephen Ball
Brian Jackson and Dennis Marsden’s seminal study of grammar schooling in Huddersfield, Education and the Working Class, was published by Penguin books exactly 50 years ago. Focused on the experiences of 88 working class children, it is about class mobility, class inequality and social waste, and what Jackson and Marsden describe as a “blockage” – selective education. The authors had both attended the grammar school which is at the centre of the research and Alan Bennett, another “local lad”, has acknowledged that the book provided the basis for his play The History Boys, which is set in Cutlers’ Grammar School, Sheffield, a fictional boys’ school.
What Education and the Working Class demonstrates is how thoroughly and insidiously – and damagingly, for some young people – the grammar school is a middle class institution, a “natural extension” of middle class home life as the authors put it. The grammar school was, and remains in a few places in England, a conduit of class advantage, a privileged site within which middle class cultural capital and economic investment in coaching and tutoring could be readily converted into qualifications and symbolic capital.
All of this has been rehearsed again this month in the admission by Buckinghamshire County Council that their 11+ examination carries an inherent bias which works in favour of “the affluent”. Perversely the Buckinghamshire revelation came about as a result of the insertion into the county system of a conversion academy, Highcrest, which will become the first comprehensive school in the County, with control over its own admissions policy.
Education Secretary Michael Gove announced in December that parents will be stripped of the right to object to the expansion of grammar schools, under a new school admissions code laid before Parliament. So it is ironic that one bit of government policy – support for grammar schooling – is being called into question by another bit – the extension of academy status to more, perhaps all, schools.
We might think about whether this says something about the lack of “thinking through” of policy by its makers or wonder how the support for grammar schools relates to the government’s other commitments to social mobility and tackling social disadvantage through education, or ponder what Jackson and Marsden might think about the fact that Buckinghamshire is getting its first comprehensive school 50 years after they argued in their book that the first step towards creating “open”, “bold and flexible” schooling would be “to abandon selection at eleven, and accept the comprehensive principle” (p 246). Who would have thought that the academies policy would be a vehicle for comprehensivisation?