White Paper – No Forced Academisation: More of a U-bend than a U-Turn

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I’m no plumber, nor am I a professional stunt driver, but I do know the difference between a U-turn and a U-bend.

Today Nicola Morgan announced that no longer would she be seeking to bring in legislation to force all schools to be or on the road to being an academy by 2020/22.

Predictably the twittersphere erupted with joy at this apparent U-turn. Except it is no such thing. The objective of full academisation remains. It will be achieved in other ways.

The press release making the announcement has some disturbing detail which people need to be aware of, especially as it shows this is by no means a U-turn.

Looking at the press release in more detail exposes the concession that’s really an admission that it was never going to succeed in the first place.

…the government is committed to every school becoming an academy. This system will allow us to tackle underperformance far more swiftly than in a local-authority-maintained system where many schools have been allowed to languish in failure for years.

So no change here from their direction of travel and their mistaken belief that academisation achieves improvements in schools faster than leaving them in LA hands, a claim that has been refuted time and again.

Since launching our proposals in the education white paper, the government has listened to feedback from MPs, teachers, school leaders and parents.

It is clear from those conversations that the impact academies have in transforming young people’s life chances is widely accepted and that more and more schools are keen to embrace academy status.

I don’t know about you, but either this is a sign of delusion or bad hearing. Where is the evidence to support these claims? All the feedback I’ve seen and read about is negative towards forced academisation, including many, many Conservative LAs and MPs.

The ‘listened to feedback’ is of course the important phrase. It’s Nicky Morgan’s hopeful ‘get out of jail free’ card. It’s not a U-Turn but, a listening government that cares about what the experts think and is willing to change things.

And now we come to the sting in the tail – the devil in the detail or whatever you wish to call it.

In addition, the government will bring forward legislation which will trigger conversion of all schools within a local authority in 2 specific circumstances:

  • firstly, where it is clear that the local authority can no longer viably support its remaining schools because a critical mass of schools in that area has converted. Under this mechanism a local authority will also be able to request the Department for Education converts all of its remaining schools
  • secondly, where the local authority consistently fails to meet a minimum performance threshold across its schools, demonstrating an inability to bring about meaningful school improvement

These measures will target those schools where the need to move to academy status is most pressing. For other high-performing schools in strong local authorities the choice of whether to convert will remain the decision of the individual schools and governing bodies in question.

And this is how they think they can achieve the full academisation without the need for legislation.

Having starved LAs of funding and making them pay for schools that wish to convert or absorb the debt of any school in deficit it forces to be an academy, it’s clear that many LAs will have a real problem. It’s likely that the leafy Conservative LAs will be far less affected by this than many other LAs struggling in areas of high deprivation etc. Cheekily they say that they will grant an LAs request for remaining schools to convert – and you can bet that they will shout out loud that they weren’t ‘forcing’ it was a ‘free (Hobson’s)’ choice.

The performance threshold will also be a smoke screen. Having seduced as many high performing schools as possible to convert – often with the lure of cash, what’s left is bound to be ‘underperforming’ so the system is gamed towards LAs ultimately losing their schools.

No doubt there will also be the spectre of forced academisation for schools that don’t meet the DfEs ‘targets’ (even though they can change a target to an aspiration on a whim and duck any requirement to meet it – I give you the National Broadband target and, today, the target for forced academisation becoming an ‘aspiration’).

Recall that GCSEs, and National Tests at KS2 have, by the DfE’s own admission become much harder, more rigorous. It’s likely that pass rates will fall. After all that’s what they wanted when they took office. Pass rates were too high, they said, artificially high as exams were dumbed down. This being the case, finding ‘failing’ schools will become much easier – especially, I suspect in the primary sector where the KS2 tests seem to me to be ridiculous for 11 year olds.

So why a U-bend and not a U-turn? It’s all about the direction of travel. In a U-Turn the direction of travel is reversed. In a U-bend the direction of travel of the water detours, but ultimately still it goes down the drain. It seems the DfE is willing to flush our education system down the drain in an effort to fulfil their education ideology – regardless of the evidence and even the protestations of their own more moderate MPs and supporters.

One thing is sure. This is a huge climb down and humiliation for the Secretary of State who only two weeks ago said  there is “no reverse gear” on the government’s plan to turn all schools in England into academies by 2020 well, she found the reverse gear on the legislation bus, but the academy car is still going in the same direction, no reverse gear there it seems.



An obituary: farewell to your Local Education Authority

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James Williams, University of Sussex

By announcing that all schools will be expected to become academies, George Osborne has foretold the death of local authority involvement in education.

Born on December 18 1902, Local Education Authorities (LEAs) will likely have their life support switched off sometime in 2022, by which time all schools will be expected to be on course to becoming academies. The local authorities will leave behind a number of precious local services, their future somewhat uncertain.

Despite their long life, LEAs have not been universally popular, making a number of enemies: the late Margaret Thatcher and former education secretary Keith Joseph, to name but two. Between them they killed off the Inner LEA, but the behemoth that was the remainder of the local education authorities remained.

The death of local education authorities then seemed inevitable after they lost many of their powers of control over schools with the 1988 Education Reform Act. For many years since, their role has largely been one of scrutiny and support, but for some this will be very badly missed.

This time, the Conservatives intend to deliver a fatal blow. But there are five ways that schools and children will lose out from the demise of local authority control of education.

1. A local champion for vulnerable children

Local authorities must currently engage with parents and schools to ensure that the right provision for every child is available locally. Ensuring the specific needs of every child are met is hugely complex and even local authorities struggle to meet their responsibilities at times.

As education is fragmented, there will be concerns over how parents will be able to negotiate the minefield that is school admissions, with each academy or trust being its own admissions body.

Legally, local authorities have the responsibility to provide a school place for every child. If every school is an academy, local authorities or councils will have no power to require schools to expand their intake or take on any child. Already, LEAs are warning that finding school places for all is becoming “undeliverable”.

Currently, parents can take a local authority to a tribunal if they feel the needs of their child are not being met. It’s unclear how this will work if the local authority in effect ceases to exist.

2. A local vision for schools

With the demise of LEAs, many schools will be run by multi-academy trusts (MATs) – chains of academies run by the same sponsors. Many trusts operate a number of schools, sometimes in different local authority areas. Some may know more about the local community than others.

The only answer the Department for Education has for under-performing academies or trusts is the transfer of schools from one trust to another. This is likely to increase, alongside the incorporation of standalone academies into existing and new trusts.

The governance of academy chains has been questioned, most recently by the current head of schools inspectorate Ofsted, Michael Wilshaw, who highlighted several underperforming MATs.

Ultimately, it is likely to be the vision of the trust, not the community, that schools will adopt – and parents will have to live with it.

3. Local forum for school improvement

School improvement arises from the efforts of people, not structures. A structural change will not deliver long-term sustained improvement in itself.

Local authorities have provided a platform for a range of collaborations between heads, teachers, various schools and local and national services. Admittedly, some authorities are better at this than others, but the setting up of a free market competitive model for school governance where academy trusts actively compete rather than collaborate cannot be a good model for mutual improvement.

4. Loss of essential services to schools

Local authorities provide many services to schools, from the vetting of contracts and human resources management, to payroll services and delivering expertise in commissioning, tendering and procurement. They also provide many support services from school transport and peripatetic music teachers, to anti-bullying advice and educational psychology services.

Pens poised for new contracts.

With academies funded directly by central government, local authorities will lose much of their funding as a result of the push to academise. This may well put some of these services at risk or increase their cost. If they are large enough, some MATs may be able to replicate the cost savings of local authorities by clubbing together and contracting such services. But small rural schools who depend on services offered by the council may struggle to afford them.

5. Learning from the past

The Conservatives have learned from Labour’s failure in the 1960s to completely eradicate grammar schools. The process of ending selection was resisted by some, most notably Kent, and the law never changed to ban or force grammar schools to close – it just prevented the opening of new ones.

They also learned from their own failure in the 1980s and 90s to abolish local authorities and establish more independence for some schools under what was called the grant maintained programme. Following Labour’s landslide election victory in 1997, a new act was passed in 1998 that reversed the grant maintained status of schools.

Putting these laments for the demise of the LEA aside, the evidence that academies are the best model for school improvement is severely lacking, especially for the poorest students. Research suggests that underperforming schools actually improve much faster under local authority supervision.

What the future holds for local authorities and education is extremely uncertain. The devil will be in the detail of the government’s planned legislation.

The Conversation

James Williams, Lecturer in Science Education, Sussex School of Education and Social Work, University of Sussex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A Spat with a SpAd Part 3: QTS, or not QTS, that is the question

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QTS or not QTS, that is the question.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and arrows of the DfE,
Or to take arms against a sea of Ministers,
And by opposing end them?

To die: to sleep; To teach
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That every DfE policy brings; ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death
When we have but lost to workload and stress
What dreams may come of being free to teach

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

With sincere apologies to William Shakespere

I never understood Hamlet when it was a set text in English at my grammar school. When I got the chance to take part in a production of Hamlet with the West Glamorgan Youth Theatre in 1976 (I was the Player King), I understood it so much better.

My first English teacher – who failed to inspire me,  was unqualified – he had a great Oxbridge degree, was a classics man through and through and I swear he wore a gown while teaching (I think that last memory is not real, however, gowns were worn for assembly). I passed the 11+.  When the grammar school was shut in 1972, a result of Labour’s blitz on selective education in the mid-1960, many of the teachers, including him, were re-deployed to the new comprehensives. He continued to teach as if it was still a grammar school.

I had a few other teachers who were ‘not qualified’ (many I didn’t know were not qualified until I spoke to a former teacher some years later about my time in secondary education and he told me who was and who wasn’t qualified).

I failed English literature, twice. My chemistry teacher wasn’t qualified – but I had extra tuition to get my O level (Grade C). My best teachers were the young ones, the ‘bright new things’ from the teacher training colleges.

But this anecdote is not the core of my argument for having qualified teachers over ‘unqualified’ teachers.

I have a much more pragmatic approach to the QTS vs No QTS debate.

Why wouldn’t we want our teachers qualified to enter a profession that is so important?

What on earth makes someone think that simply having a degree in a subject makes you suited to be a good teacher? Why would we not want teachers to be trained to understand how children develop and learn and what’s wrong with providing teachers with skills that will help them be good or excellent classroom practitioners?

A Job vs A Profession

Teaching is not just a job. I’m not going down the ‘vocation’ path (that’s not a bad path, but it doesn’t mean those with a passion for being a teacher and wanting to teach will make good teachers). Jamie Martin’s (@jamieamartin1) core argument is to ‘let Heads decide’. If they wish to hire someone to teach who has no formal teaching qualifications then let them.

Until Gove abolished the need for QTS in academies and free schools, all Heads could employ ‘unqualified’ teachers – they were called instructors. So, that choice already existed. This is not some new ‘freedom’ that Heads have been gifted by Gove. In some instances Heads found it very difficult to employ someone for a specialist role, or they had difficulty in getting a specialist teacher say for maths or physics. For the latter, they would try to get them on a training route to gain QTS, perhaps via the GTP route. If the specialism was really niche they could employ them as instructors. In the 1970s one of my school rugby coaches was a member of the then almost unbeatable Welsh rugby squad – he took us for rugby and nothing else. He did not fulfill the duties of a full teacher.

Here then is the difference, instructors could not fulfill the complete role of a teacher. All Gove has done is make it cheaper to hire ‘teachers’ by abolishing the need for academies and free schools to hire trained professionals. Perhaps he was fully aware that school budgets were due to be severely cut in time. Staffing costs are a school’s biggest expenditure. This makes it the area where most saving could be made, provided the law was changed to stop any form of early years pay progression and the need for any formal teaching qualifications. The evidence is that unqualified staffing is on the rise.

Teaching is not just a job, it is a profession. The difference between a job – something you ‘do’, where perhaps your training has just been about the ‘mechanics’ of the job the day to day stuff – and a profession is that a professional is educated about the profession and not only are they trained in what to do, they also understand why they do it and they are on a continuous path of learning, greater understanding and improvement.

Who needs training? A good degree is all that matters!

Talking to Heads myself, of course they much prefer trained staff over unqualified staff – no matter how good their qualifications in a subject are. There are exceptions, e.g. Richard Cairns of Brighton College, one of the top private schools, does not believe that QTS confers any/much advantage. He would prefer to hire Oxbridge graduates direct. As a private school Head he can exercise that choice freely – as can all other Heads at private schools. But is this because an Oxbridge or even a Russell Group degree prepares you better for teaching? Or is it more likely that those who have been to Oxbridge are better placed to coach those students in how to work the system to their advantage and get, like them, to Oxbridge?

Increasingly in my time in ITT I see private schools hiring more and more qualified teachers and putting staff through QTS. I do not see them decreasing the number of qualified teachers in favour of the good Oxbridge degree (or any other good degree for that matter).

Then came a bizarre part of my conversation with Mr Martin.

Well, the evidence from the many calls, e-mails and conversations I have daily with Heads and our partnership schools is that most state Heads (including academies) want qualified teachers. I know that our Sussex trainees have been employed in all schools types from top private schools (including Brighton College before Mr Cairns tenure) to high profile free schools, such as the West London Free School. Our employment rate, consistently over 90% with, often, 100% in Primary and many shortage subjects, show our trainees to be coveted by our schools.

I’d be interested if any Head could cite a case where excellent QTS NQTs were passed over for unqualified teachers – excluding of course because of any cost related reason. A newly qualified teacher would start on around £22,244 but the unqualified rate could be as little as £16,298. Mr Martin would also abolish these pay rates allowing Heads (actually governing bodies and MATs) to set their own rates. A free market with choice. But as Simon Jenkins argues well in a recent Guardian article, the free market and schools do not go well together.

But the thing that struck me most was the claim from Mr Martin that he didn’t favour extensive training. Why? Surely you would not want someone who is a professional to not have been trained? He cited many large companies that take people on without training and then train them on the job.

(the phrase ‘train on the job’ came up a number of times and I also refer readers back to part one where I show that uni training is as much on the job as school direct). He also mentioned soldiers, but as I reminded him you would not send a ‘soldier’ straight into a battlefield situation to ‘train on the job’ all soldiers have basic training as a minimum before they get anywhere near a battlefield or a conflict zone.

Earlier in the conversation, Mr Martin stated that:

It’s still politicians choosing how people are trained. Remember, School Direct is the favoured approach and any limits put on numbers are put on HEIs first and School Direct Last. Politicians are also still determining that more places should go to School Direct regardless of its success rate.

Do ‘Qualified’ Teachers Make Better Teachers?

It would be nice if there was research which showed that teachers who were qualified (i.e. trained and certified as teachers) had a more positive effect on student achievement than those who were not. One extensive piece of research which shows just that was carried out 15 years ago in the US. It concluded, amongst other things that:

Among variables assessing teacher “quality,” the percentage of teachers with full certification and a major in the field is a more powerful predictor of student achievement than teachers’ education levels (Darling-Hammond, 2000 p.32)

In other words, by all means strive to hire those with good degrees, even masters or PhDs if you like, but combine that with training and certification as a qualified teacher and you will get better teachers overall.

What About the Trainee Teacher – do they have a choice in this?

There is also a fundamental ‘missing element’ here – so far the conversation has been all about Heads (and teachers) choosing how teachers should be trained, with his insistence that School Direct is the preferred choice of some (many?) Heads – though evidence as to how many actually wanted the system initially is glaringly absent.

What about those who wish to train to teach – they must have choice also. Prior to 2010 they had choice and many choose the University PGCE route. The BEd route is often the preferred route to primary. Post 2010 their choices have actually been reduced. The massive switch of provision to school direct only, the capping of places for ITT in university in favour of school direct for popular routes e.g. English, History, PE, primary forces candidates to choose school direct even if it is their wish to train in a university. They often do this, seeing the benefits of M level study and not just (in some cases) QTS. Heads must also ‘choose’ school direct and bid for places in the hope that a university partner will support and deliver what they want – even if they do not really wish to take on the extra burden of administration etc. involved in school direct. It’s either that or hope that enough trained teachers come out of the system that they can employ.

The ‘free choice’ market, beloved by Mr Martin is also not really a free choice. There is evidence that a number of school direct teaching schools are pre-selecting those who they perceive to be the best trainees and signing them up to jobs while other schools, who may be in partnership, but who are not leading or teaching schools, lose out.

At present there is a teacher recruitment crisis and it was amply predicted by all sectors well in advance. The DfE even to this day ignores the evidence from all the teaching unions and Heads leaders – their response to the ‘crisis’ is, in the words of one twitter user (not a teacher I may add, but a school governor) ‘delusional’. In a BBC report on 11th January 2016 the DfE response to the teacher recruitment crisis is as follows:

A Department for Education spokeswoman said it had worked with the profession to “raise the status of teaching”, adding that that a record number of highly-qualified graduates and “experienced career changers” were now teaching.

She added: “But we are determined to go further, and recognise that some schools find it harder to recruit the teachers they need, which is why we are expanding the great Teach First and Schools Direct programmes and we are launching the National Teaching Service, which will mean more great teachers in schools in every corner of the country.”

I’m sorry, but this is a pitiful response to a national teaching recruitment crisis.

How does abolishing the need for any formal qualifications in teaching ‘raise the status’ of teachers? It does just the opposite.

Pay has been massively eroded with a further 4 years of a maximum 1% rise – a rise which some schools are withholding due to budget cuts.  This does nothing to ‘raise the status’ of teachers – again, quite the opposite.

The National Teaching Service – as far as I can see – is not about training more teachers, but taking good or excellent teachers from one school to place them in another.

Notice also, in the DfE comment, how university training routes does not even warrant a mention.

Teach First is still a very minor route into teaching and I doubt has the capacity to expand to adequately meet the crisis. And in all this chaos, the best recruiters, the majority recruiter with nearly 50% ‘outstanding’ provision, is being stopped from expanding and is being cut back, all so that Gove’s (now Morgan’s) reform can provide ‘choice’ to Heads – choice that they had before, but which now is no choice, but a forced position to bolster a flagging and failing route that was rushed and badly implemented. As I stated in Part 2, it’s no choice!

A Spat with a former SpAd Part 1

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It started innocently, but ended up as a very revealing conversation about Initial Teacher Training (ITT) and various other education matters. Jamie Martin (@jamieamartin1: former Michael Gove Spad, now doing writing and education consultancy) tweeted that schools have much more freedom since Gove’s reforms.

This is a claim that is often made, but also, is often refuted by Heads who claim that they are less free now than they were under the scrutiny of the Local Authority, or that reforms are forcing the curriculum being taught to a greater degree than ever before.

The twitter conversation was a long one, lasting many hours, across days.

There will be more than just two parts to this account, as to blog about everything in one go would be too onerous and take far too long. It is, of course ‘my take’ on the conversation.

In this part, I look at the claim that ‘schools are in charge of ITT.’ (as if that’s a new and a revolutionary notion) and that Gove removed ‘3rd rate courses based on inspections’

Who’s in Charge?

Schools, Mr Martin tweeted, are ‘in charge of ITT’.

So before 2010 who was ‘in charge’ of ITT? Certainly not the schools if Mr Martin is to be believed. Yet in all my time in ITT (18 years) the notion that Universities control ITT, that we are free to do what we like, comes as news to me.

Perhaps he meant that politicians were in charge of ITT  – that’s something I could agree with. I’ve lived through an ITT curriculum (don’t even go there it was a disaster and a mess), various sets of standards until we get to the current state of play. Each and every time, if we wish to maintain our accreditation for teacher training, we must adhere to what the government (and OFSTED) require from us.

Of course we can create individual programmes, but ultimately all teachers must meet the QTS standards and this is an award not made by the university, but by the NCTL (National College for Training and Leadership and its various past incarnations). The academic award, the PGCE, does not qualify someone to teach, it shows they have met the academic requirements for our Post Graduate programme.

There is also that old canard of ‘on the job training’ something School Direct will do that Uni may not (at least that’s the implication when it’s trotted out time after time). Again I was at pains to point out that 24 weeks of the training is ‘on the job’ with trainees mentored and coached in schools, teaching and doing all the things we expect teachers to do. Even then, the 12 weeks with us at Uni are not spent in ‘lectures’ – granted we do have a programme of set lectures, 1 hour per week (if that), but lots of these involve teachers, Heads and Senior Leaders as well as those of us who have migrated from the classroom to the University.

This year, my most popular ‘lecture’ to date has been on ‘edumyths’ slaying the notions of learning styles, brain gym, left/right brain ideas and other such nonsense.  At Sussex we also have a number of ITT tutors who are part time in school and part time with us working with trainees. How much more ‘on the job’ can we get?

Our steering committee – which drives our programme and any changes or reforms – is made up of Heads and teachers in partnership with University staff. It always has been since I moved to Sussex in 2003. It was in my last University post and at all the places I have acted as an external examiner in ITT across the country. The idea that schools are (just) now in charge of ITT and that this is a ‘new’ freedom is nonsense.

A major issue (and it still is to a certain extent) is getting schools to offer ITT places at all. In my time I’ve begged, sold myself (for CPD) or my books (at a very large discount) to get places. Schools are busy teaching children, they have so many pressures that being involved in ITT is sometimes the last thing they want or need (especially if OFSTED is looming). Luckily in Sussex we have the best partnership I’ve ever known, but even then, getting every student placed is an almighty task that can take months of work.

Gove’s reforms have closed 3rd Rate/poor ITT

Gove’s reforms, claims Mr Martin, stopped bad ITT courses running:

So the view was, under Gove, that there were third rate courses and the ‘old’ PGCE/BEd system was ‘awful’. There were no actual examples of these ‘awful’ courses, but claims that they had been ‘removed’.

When challenged, no actual courses that had been shut down were forthcoming from Mr Martin.

I named Bath as a casualty of the reform in ITT, but of course that was an ‘outstanding’ programme – the exact opposite of what was being claimed. Indeed following Bath’s exit another ‘outstanding’ provider left ITT – the Open University. Two outstanding providers shut their ITT provision as a direct response to School Direct.

So I had a look at all the ITT Inspection reports filed from 5th May 2010 – 1st January 2016. I looked at all providers (current and closed). I could not find a single OFSTED report on a University provider where provision had closed which was rated as a 3 or 4. What I did find was lots of GTP provision closed – we all had to close GTP as it was stopped dead awaiting School Direct.

I found some provision that was also rated as good or outstanding closed, Bath and the OU of course, as well as the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

I found that the Maryvale Institute had closed its RE ITT . This was rated as 4, but is not University provision and they only delivered RE teachers.

Interestingly I also found the Kent County Council EBITT provision report. This provision was closed, rated 4. This was the report that came out in 2014 after inspection of their School Direct provision. There was no formal university involvement in this that I could see.

It seems that the claims of ‘removing courses’ is baseless and actually undermines School Direct provision as evidenced by the Kent CC Inspection report

I have not had the time to check the OFSTED reports for all the closed provision in ITT since 2010, it would be interesting to know how many good or excellent GTP courses closed (that’s not to say they are not carrying on in a new reincarnated form under SD) and how many were grade 3 or 4 (also perhaps carrying on in a new reformed SD way, as yet not inspected).

It may also be the case that some providers closed courses rather than all their provision. I’m aware of many courses closing, not because of a bad OFSTED, but simply because the numbers given by the NCTL were laughable. This includes Geography provision at Sussex which, thankfully, we have now been able to revive.

As an example, let’s stick with RE and see how allocations decided closures rather than Inspection:

2010-2011 closures

  • Learning Institute: allocated 3 PGCE places
  • The Marches consortium: allocated 5

2011-2012 closures

  • University of Warwick: allocated 7 PGCE places
  • University of Hull: allocated 5
  • Maryvale Institute: allocated 8

2012-2013 closures

  • University of East Anglia: allocated 7 PGCE places
  • Oxford Brookes University: allocated 6
  • University of East London: 5 allocated

(The source of this can be found at: http://www.religious-education-wales.org/news/itt-pgce-secondary-re-allocations-by-teaching-agency-ta )

The infrastructure needed to support high quality ITT means that the income for just a few trainees will never pay the bills. Courses had to close regardless of how good (or bad) they were.

We Don’t Trust Experts – but is a novice any better?

I asked what expertise Mr Martin had in ITT or education, or schools in general. His reply was quite revealing:


So, no expertise, just a ‘belief’.

I support Mr Martin his statement that teachers and Heads do know better than politicians what should be happening in schools, including ITT. But so far he has not provided the evidence that it was Heads and Teachers en masse who were calling for these changes to back his claims. He also forgets that the vast majority of ITT tutors are themselves former teachers, senior leaders and heads – not career academics who have never had any experience in the classroom. He has no direct experience of education, teaching or teacher training other than talking to ‘grassroots’ teachers and visiting some providers.

Good, I’m glad they talked to teachers. But, and here is the problem, how were the teachers/schools/heads selected? What was the structure of such conversations? how were they recorded? How were they analysed? I could go on, but you get the picture. I never take advice on my writing from my mother as she is biased and has no expertise in education. She thinks everything I write and do is wonderful. Did Gove visit his critics? Listen and take on board their comments? Those from ITT and HEI he did commission to advise him he seemed to ignore as their ‘answer’ didn’t fit his ideas. He called the education academics who attacked his curriculum reforms ‘prejudiced’. He even by-passed and ignored his own appointed expert panel.

Mr Martin makes a partially valid point, that you cannot exclude someone from making comments or decisions just because they have no experience. The view of an outsider can be informative, revealing and interesting. But how much weight is given to such comments and how any suggestions for change are assessed and backed, by evidence and scrutinised by a cross section of those who it affects on a day to day basis is something to carefully consider.

‘We spoke’ is not enough evidence on which to base fundamental reform of a system, especially if it is so critical to the whole sector. The reforms were rushed. I do not accept that there was a systematic analysis of the sector with properly gathered evidence that was unbiased. If there was, then please let us ( The ITT and teaching community) see this mountain of evidence and see for ourselves how wrong we are. I’m sure the counter claim will be that there was much much more that we cannot possibly see or know about.

In part 2 I will look at the notion of how much ‘free choice’ Heads and others actually have when it comes to education.

The central tenet of Mr Martin’s claims that Gove’s reforms (being carried on by Nicky Morgan) are working and good is that Heads should be free to choose and decide. If only they could.

There’s a Dangerous Narrative About ITE That’s Harming the Profession

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Initial Teacher Education (ITE) in Universities was characterised by Michael Gove as being run by ‘The Blob’. People like me were all ‘apologists for failure’ and ‘raving Trots’. Life’s too short (as is this blog) to explore in detail the history of Tory Education Ministers’ mistrust of university involvement in teacher education. Over the decades, many attacks have been initiated, but this Government, and the previous coalition, really have tried to deliver a fatal blow and sever what they see as the serpent’s head of Marxist teacher trainers.

From asserting that the ‘theory’ we teach is ‘useless’, to being blamed as the main perpetrators of teachers using edu-nonsense and wacky progressive pseudoscience coupled with idiotic neuroscience in their teaching, ITE in universities has been saddled with all the blame. The onslaught has been relentless.

The Race to Recruit

Today, instead of a full-on attack of our methods of training teachers, (methods which OFSTED consistently say work and can deliver high quality teachers – what Gove once called ‘The best generation of teachers ever’) The current Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, through the National College of Teaching and Leadership (NCTL), has set up a race for recruitment where there is only one institutional loser – university provision.

Ultimately there will be many losers, schools unable to recruit high quality teachers, graduates put off teacher training who embark on another career and children who will suffer from high teacher turnover and possibly unqualified staff.

We have already seen university provision for PE stopped this academic year, less than a month after it opened. Now we are on the brink of shutting History provision, with English and, possibly, Primary following swiftly.

Schools who have asked for places under the new School Direct route can relax, they are in no danger of being shut down. Their provision – regardless of how good it is, how new it is, how effective or ineffective – is protected. There is excellent school-based provision out there, there is also some that is poor.

We hear a lot about the ‘law of unintended consequences’, where making a change can have a result you never intended, perhaps never envisioned. However, the NCTL and DfE have set up the ITE recruitment cycle this year using,  it seems, another ‘law’, the ‘law of intended consequences’.

Can this cutting of University Provision be anything other than deliberate?

I cannot accept that the NCTL and DfE couldn’t foresee the consequences of shutting off university routes, the most popular ones that often fill their places, while letting the unpopular places that never recruit to target overall as safe.

I cannot accept that intelligent people in charge of securing the supply of good teachers just did not envisage a situation where excellent providers would have their numbers cut off, almost at the drop of a hat.

I refuse to accept that they could not see that universities would have no option, if they have not recruited enough students to sustain a cohort once the axe falls, but to close the provision.

Conservatives Have Abandoned their Core Values, Simply to Destroy University ITE Provision

Cambridge is an outstanding provider. It naturally attracts some of the best graduates. It has long been the envy of other ITE providers because of the ease with which the Cambridge ‘brand’ coupled with excellent practitioners in teacher education will attract the best candidates.

I thought that the Conservative way was that of the ‘free market’ where those who offer a product that people want will succeed and those who don’t fail. I was under the impression that Conservatives were all in favour of ‘choice’ e.g. parental choice in where they send their child to school or a choice of private over state-maintained, academy or free school.

The new recruitment rules for ITE seem to defy all Conservative values.

The Age of Free Choice under the Conservatives is Over

No longer will graduates have a ‘choice’ over which ITE route they take, in many subjects it will be School Direct or nothing (I fear that many will choose ‘nothing’). Teacher training is becoming a ‘closed shop’, something that many Conservatives abhor.

The Free Market is Dead under the Conservatives

The current recruitment rules are specifically designed to shut down the most successful routes to ensure that the less popular route succeeds – almost at any cost, certainly at the cost of high quality providers.

Lies, Damned Lies and Ignore the Statistics

The narrative that justifies the wholesale reform of ITE recruitment is built on a bed of lies surrounded by a continuing narrative that misleads and misinforms.

Constantly the DfE ‘spokespeople’ and ministers talk about university training versus school-based training. The deliberate choice of words here is designed to infer that Universities somehow do not use schools or involve schools in ITE. Nothing could be further from the truth.

ALL initial teacher education takes place predominantly in schools.

ITE cannot take place without school involvement. In secondary ITE for example trainees must spend 120 training in schools, working with teachers, teaching children, being mentored by experienced teachers.

No University provider would gain any positive OFSTED grade if it ignored schools, did not have effective partnerships and did not involve schools in designing and implementing the ITE programme. No provider could ever achieve an ‘Outstanding’ grade without the strongest of school partnerships.

Universities Value their School Partners and their Input to developing excellent ITE provision

Schools regularly tell university providers what they would like to see in the training programmes, what sort of training they feel suits the partnership. Their knowledge and understanding is vital to our success.  We succeed because of our partnership, not in spite of it.

ITE teaches ‘useless theory’ to students

‘Theory’ in education is difficult. With my scientist ‘hat’ on I could argue that there is no such thing as ‘theory’ in education – there are ideas, concepts etc. But scientifically acceptable theory (as in an evidenced explanation of ‘how’ or ‘why’ of a natural phenomenon, which can generate testable hypotheses, confirmed by repeated and repeatable experimentation or observation that is valid and reliable), no.

It’s true we teach about Vygotsky, Piaget, Bruner, Bronfenbrenner, Maslow etc. But none of these is taught without criticism, as uncontentious and so highly evidenced that it could attain a ‘without exception’ status and must therefore be trusted and applied without question.

What’s important is that we teach trainees how to critique what they read, how to not take a face value something that’s been told to them.

We are not the wholesale sellers of ‘snake oil’ pseudo-educational activities.

I will not absolve all university ITE from having delivered ‘learning styles’ as a valid classroom pedagogy in the past, perhaps even now. That said I do not believe that the source of learning styles in teaching can ultimately be traced back to university ITE.

For the past 18 months, I have been informally trying to ask teachers where they hear about the ‘wacky’ classroom based edumyths and why they use them. Some do say they were taught about it during their training (often many years ago), but increasingly I am being provided with anecdotal evidence that such edumyths have in fact originated in business and often it is the ‘consultants’ engaged by schools to run INSET and CPD who are pushing such pedagogies. As Paschler et al (2008) say,

“There is a thriving industry devoted to publishing learning-styles tests and guidebooks for teachers, and many organizations offer professional development workshops for teachers and educators built around the concept of learning styles.” (p.105)

In my years in university teacher education, I’ve spent more time correcting edumyths peddled to trainees by teachers in schools than I care to recall.

In a bid to ‘prove’ that I (or indeed my university) ‘endorses’ edumyths. I have been called out on twitter for having some books on our reading list that do indeed have sections on Learning styles for example.

If we were to eliminate every book on education that contained something that teachers object to, the reading list would be very small. So small I doubt we would have one. What the critics never seem to appreciate is that books on education will always contain chapters/sections or ideas that are contentious. What is important is how the book is used and how we educate our trainees not to accept at face value everything that is written (or indeed said), but to critically analyse what they see, hear and read. In a book that ‘endorses’ (wrongly) learning styles, there may be 100 pages of excellent reading on other aspects of teaching and learning.

I am not a censor who tears out the pages I disagree with and I don’t believe that we should become censors in ITE.

In conclusion

I hope that Cambridge does not have to close any of its provision. I hope that no good ITE provider has to pull out of the ITE market (and that includes good School Direct provision and Good SCITT provision). I would prefer the DfE and NCTL supported all good ITE provision and routes into teaching and stop the negative narrative of there being two different routes into teaching – one based in schools and the other not.


Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R.  (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 9.3 103-119.

Accountability, but to whom and how?

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My views on the difference between responsibility and accountability have been quite pertinent . I first wrote on this in the TES almost exactly a year ago here and in part restated my views more here As our Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, defines what a ‘coasting’ school is, exactly who is responsible for the exam results achieved seems very relevant. I’m not going to tackle Morgan’s definition of coasting schools, that’s a whole other issue, but I am very uneasy that it seems to be based almost exclusively on examination success.

Having tweeted a link to my blog on whether cheating is endemic in our schools, I was pleased to see that many others agreed with my sentiment that the only person responsible for exam success is the person sitting the exam.

The blog was not an examination of the issues surrounding accountability and responsibility, but Robert Craigen an Associate Professor of Math, University of Manitobaa did, quite correctly, point out that while I had identified the ‘what’ I had not addressed the ‘to whom’ or the mechanisms for accountability.  “I see you address “for what” in the piece. I’m still curious about to whom? Parents EG? By what mechanism? Not assessments?”

Who should hold teachers to account?

The short answer to this is that teachers at various levels should be accountable to a range of people and ‘organisations’.

Classroom teachers will be accountable to their direct line managers for their day to day work, delivering the curriculum through the lessons they teach. Ensuring that they plan their lessons, deliver them, keep up to date with their subject knowledge and with any changes in the curriculum and, of course assess their pupils usually formatively as well as summatively. At key ages they also need to prepare pupils for public examinations . They will be accountable to parents through the dialogue they have with them either at parent evenings, through informal contact at the school gates, or more formal contact via letters and communications to the home.

At a higher level those with curriculum responsibility – that is responsibility for ensuring the curriculum is delivered, will be held accountable by their direct line managers in the senior management team. They will also be classroom teachers and so have the same accountability as already described above.

The senior leaders in a school have a responsibility to effectively run their school, to manage the budget, staff the school etc. Some of these functions are often delegated down (e.g. middle managers handling their own budgets for their areas of responsibility) and overall the Senior Leadership team should be held to account by parents and those organisations/authorities that provide the financial resource for the success of the school as a whole.

Beyond the school who has a say in ‘accountability’

Now things get very messy in my view.

Our system of education in England (I will avoid, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as their systems vary) is a ‘mash up’ of organisations that ‘run’ schools. Public bodies and private enterprise all have a stake in education and all want their say. From Local Authorities who used to govern all state controlled schools, through to private companies that run private schools as well as Churches, educational trusts (that run academies) and, now, some parent/private groups from football clubs to retailers and the firm that make JCBs that run free schools, technology schools, studio schools etc. Each of these bodies will want to hold teachers to account for the work that they do.

On top of all this we have national central government which, under a cloak of ‘freedom’ for schools is actually imposing strict controls on what children learn from the content of the curriculum to what subjects they should take in the public examinations.

Ultimately schools and their employees will be held to account by the government. Government has a key role here and much as we’d like the government to leave education alone, that is not going to happen. The best we can hope for is that they become the ultimate body that holds the system to account, but does not impose it’s ideological whims on us.

Governments are often here today, gone tomorrow, elected people. They are not necessarily experts in the fields over which they preside. Few secretaries of State for Education have ever worked as a teacher, one key exception was Estelle Morris who was a qualified teacher who did the job for some years. I do not doubt that politicians want education to benefit all children, but they should not impose their own ideologies on something they know nothing about.

I believe in local accountability. Everychild deserves a good school, every child deserves a good teacher. Where we have local accountability I believe things can be better managed and delivered. Knowing the context in which the schools operate, knowing the local situation when it comes to employment, opportunity etc. is vital. Centrally imposed structures that take little heed of local conditions cannot, in my view, meet the demands of the people.

So the next question is HOW do we hold schools to account?

Is it just about examination success or is there more to it than that?

Examination success is one factor for accountability; it is not the only measure of success.

When ‘assessing’ teachers too much is made of ‘lesson observation’. In my work with newly qualified teachers I have seen people destroyed by the ‘one off’ observation or judgement by observation only, forgetting that, in the job of teaching, how good you are is not just how well you perform in a class. We need a holistic view of teachers and teaching. We need to look at the work a teacher does across a range of indicators from how they plan, teach, work as part of a team, reflect, maintain their skills and knowledge base and interact with children, parents and other professionals. All these things to a greater or lesser extent (and others that I have no doubt I’ve missed off this list) determine the success of a teacher.

The same is also true for school success. We need a much more holistic view of what a school does and achieves for all its pupils, not just whether it meets an arbitrary figure of say 60% A* – C in a group of subjects.

Parent’s and children’s views of the school and how successful they think it is are important, so too are the views of other stakeholders such as employers.

At this point, I’ll admit that coming up with  a system of accountability that incorporates a holistic view of schools is very daunting, but surely we should at least try? Working out whose view is more/most important is also tricky. Many parents in some areas care little about their local school and probably wouldn’t bother to give a view. Employers want young people with specific skills for their company regardless of how specialised they may be (e.g. JCB is unlikely to rate a local performing arts school that produces talented dancers, singers and actors very highly when what it needs are engineers).

OFSTED, one of our current mechanisms for accountability, is having a very rough time at the moment with confidence in its judgements being quite low for many teachers. But I do believe there is a need for an inspectorate for schools. Again I would rather local inspectorates that understood the contexts etc. that schools operate within rather than teams from all over the country pitching up with no knowledge of the locality, other than having looked at reams faceless data.

This response to the questions of ‘who’ and ‘how’ is really just a knee jerk reaction to the pertinent questions raised by Robert Craigen. My belief is that we must first establish what we mean by responsibility and accountability – something I started to do last year. Once we establish those parameters, then we must move on to answer in full (with better, well-reasoned arguments) the questions of, To whom? and By what mechanism(s)? are teachers/schools accountable.

Is Cheating Really Endemic In Our Schools?

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800px-CheatingChannel Four’s recent Dispatches programme (June 15th) unveiled a (not so) hidden world of league table manipulation and deliberate cheating in our schools. What it exposed was not the odd problem, but systematic cheating by all parties from the point where a child enters our education system until they leave (hopefully) with a degree. From supressing achievement in baseline and other tests, to enable claims of higher than average progress for children with large scale copying of textbook content submitted as coursework. Our schools appear to be hotbeds of cheating. The manipulation of pupil registrations in school to artificially inflate GCSE or A level outcomes was also exposed. We were left with the impression of an education system in desperate need of reform and stringent control.

As a former teacher, now lecturer in education, I can say, yes there is gaming of the system when it comes to examination results. It’s not new. Twenty five years ago I recall, as a head of department, being told by senior managers to ensure that coursework was always ‘of the highest standard’ (that was code for highest possible grades) and to organise ‘coursework days’ (code for make them sit down and do it all). As teachers we didn’t write it for them, but perhaps our ‘guidance’ trod a fine line between helping and prescribing. I would sign up to ‘trial’ key stage three tests, knowing full well that the trial test would be very similar to the actual test. We would have a head’s up on what was coming up that year. Did I think I was cheating the system? No. I was merely taking full advantage of any permissible means that I could to bump up the grades for my school. My job depended on it. Falling results was an issue that could have cost me my job. Today the situation is worse with much greater pressure placed on Heads who transfer this down to Heads of Department and, finally, teachers.

The current mantra is that, ultimately, it’s the Head and the classroom teachers who are responsible for the examination results and the performance of the pupils.

I disagree.

Teachers are not responsible for the examination results. The only person who can be held responsible for the outcome of any examination is the person who sits it. This is where our system has gone wrong. We are foisting responsibility on the wrong people.

Teachers, Heads of Department and Heads should be held accountable for the education they deliver, but being accountable is not the same as being responsible. Schools must be accountable for what they teach (making sure they teach the correct specification for example), for the quality of teaching – ensuring that the teachers they have are properly trained, kept up to date etc. Heads must be accountable for the resourcing of their schools so that the staff and pupils have the right access to equipment, textbooks and materials. Teachers are accountable for the classroom environment, ensuring good discipline, planning, teaching and assessing the work that their pupils do. If the school delivers on all these things, they must also ensure that the pupils and parents are clear on their responsibilities. Parental support of the school and their own children is vital and, eventually, the children themselves must come to understand that they are responsible for their actions when it comes to working hard and revising for and sitting the examinations.

There’s a cartoon that I show trainee teachers. In the first panel, dated 1961 we have two angry parents waving an inadequate set of exam results in the face of a trembling child. ‘What’s the meaning of these grades?!’ they declare angrily. Move then to 2011 where the parents utter the same words, wave the same poor results, but this time, not in the face of the child, but the child’s teacher.

The biggest obstacle to tackling cheating and gaming of the system is the use of examination results and league tables as the main measure of school success. When teacher and school effectiveness is only measured by pupil progress and results, teachers will ensure that progress, whether real or not, is shown and that results will, by hook or by crook, improve.

It’s a fact of life that progression in learning is never continual, smooth and nicely incremental. It’s a bumpy ride that does not always move forwards, sometimes it goes into reverse. It’s also a fact of life that different cohorts of children, year on year, will perform differently in high stakes examinations, even when all other factors, such as the teachers etc. remain the same. School examination results should only be one factor in our accountability system. They should be looked at over time, say a five year period, not year by year. What we are now developing in our education system is ‘football manager/league syndrome’ where Heads are hired and fired, seemingly on the basis of a results blip and schools are ‘brokered’ across private companies, bought and sold like a faceless commodity with little or no reference to parents.

Choosing a primary or secondary school is a long term investment for children. Over five years the best schools can easily slip from ‘Outstanding’ to ‘Requires Improvement’. Assessing how good a school is shouldn’t rely on short-term exam data only, but a long-term holistic assessment of the education provision.