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IOE Blog


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


Low fee private schools in developing countries: separating ideology from evidence

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 27 May 2015

Carolina Junemann and Stephen Ball
It was 15 years ago that James Tooley first drew attention to the significant number of very disadvantaged children in developing countries attending private, low fee schools rather than the free (or otherwise cheaper), public alternatives. But even now, nobody knows exactly how many of these so-called Low Fee Private Schools (LFPS) are out there – largely because so many of them remain un-recognised and uncertified by governments.
However, Annual Status of Education (ASER) Pakistan estimates that 59% of children in urban areas and 23% in rural areas were enrolled in private schools in 2012; Pratham estimates that in India 28.3% of children in rural areas were enrolled in private schools in 2012.
Advocates of low fee private schools tend to blame the public sector for their proliferation, arguing that parents are voting with their feet. (more…)

Education and the tyranny of numbers

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 16 November 2014

Stephen J Ball 
We are now, as Jenny Ozga aptly puts it, ‘governed by numbers’. Numbers in different aspects of our lives rate, compare and allocate us to categories. Numbers define our worth, measure our effectiveness, and in a myriad of other ways work to inform or construct what we are today. We are subject to numbers and numbered subjects. We also subject ourselves to numbers –  numerous apps are now available to monitor ourselves in real time in numerical terms – the mappiness app measures when we are happy. As the website explains: ‘The hedonimeters on the right display mappiness users’ happiness in real-time, compared against the all-time average’. From these data we can create a file, a case-history, make ourselves into an object of gaze and subject for improvement.
This is a relatively new form of governing which nonetheless has a long history. The word ‘statistics’, the representation of the social in numerical form, means literally, from its German origins, state numbers – the systematic collection of demographic and economic data by states. In the 19th century the state established its relation to and monitored ‘the population’ using numbers likes censuses (who, how many and where) and epidemiological records (Death Certificates – who died of what where). These were critical tools in the (more…)

Pasties, caravans and school buildings… U turn if you want to

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 29 May 2012

Stephen Ball
It is government U-turn season! We can now eat pasties straight out of the oven without paying VAT, sell-off our house and move into a static caravan, have secrets discussed openly – well in secret anyway, and 261 schools, out of 587 applicants, will be rebuilt or refurbished within the government’s re-vamped PFI (Private Finance Initiative) scheme – the Priority School Building Programme.
When the Coalition came to power they ended New Labour’s £55bn Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme but Education Secretary Michael Gove admitted recently that the manner in which this was done was “clumsy and insensitive”.
Of course PFI was not uncontroversial under New Labour. It involved construction companies, banks and management services companies building schools, hospitals, roads and other infrastructure, at their own cost, and leasing these back to the providers for a monthly fee, over 25+ years. In fact there are two fees, one for the building and one for the management contract to run the building, often held by different companies. These contracts, and the ownership of the buildings, are traded as financial commodities. Most of the builders have sold their contracts to banks or private equity companies, taken a profit and reinvested. The contracts provide a long-term secure income.  
The U-turn makes sense. The Coalition is seeking to stimulate the economy. It is keen to have new providers in the public service sector, and wants to reduce public sector expenditure in the short term. PFIs may offer all of that but they come with considerable transaction costs (contract writing and monitoring, investment in the design process etc) and there is an unresolved debate about whether in the longer term they are cheaper or more expensive than traditional financing and ownership by the state.
The new scheme will mean that yet more of the public service infrastructure will be privately owned, in some cases by overseas companies. And the BSF scheme did lead to difficulties for service providers. One school in which I have been researching has a member of staff permanently assigned to manage relations with its PFI contractors. Just before the last election a Department for Children Schools and Families regulation required that the school have yellow lines painted on its stairs to help visually-impaired students. The building contractor said it was not their responsibility, and the management services company said it was not theirs. But the building contractor forbade the school to paint “their” building. In the Coalition scheme the Department for Education has been working with the Treasury to reform the PFI model and provide a “cost-effective and more transparent” delivery of services. Schools will manage and control services such as cleaning, catering and security. But details of procurement and contracting remain sketchy.
The overwhelming response to the new PFI scheme is that it does not do enough for a school system that is literally creaking and bursting at the seams. Equally though it is important to bear in mind the longer-term implications of PFI for the future funding and ownership of the education system.

A school system ready for business

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 14 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

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 27 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?