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B2 The School Revolution Briefing Autumn 2015

B2 Questioning the revolution – The School Revolution Briefing introduced

English education is in the middle of a Revolution, driven by the Conservatives and supported across the Westminster Bubble. All that currently exists is being undermined to allow a Brave New World to emerge. Starting from the government video The Schools Revolution, still the only official statement, this pamphlet looks at some of the key issues raised by the radical new agenda and its contradictions. The core of the Revolution – the Academy/Free Schools programme – is proposed as the means of raising standards. Independent observers cannot find conclusive evidence. The Education Select Committee of MPs drawn across all parties concluded earlier this year that

Current evidence does not allow us to draw conclusions on whether academies in themselves are a positive force for change… there is at present no convincing evidence of the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools. The DfE should commission such research as a matter of urgency”

The research has not been conducted. The need for this to take place before the Academies Bill 2015 operates is vital.

It is equally vital to examine the chains of schools, replacing Local Authorities (LAs), increasingly favoured by government who will not allow OFSTED inspectors to report on them. Democratically elected councils are inspected, why not chains of schools?

The ‘opt out schools’ are not the only key problem posed by the Schools Revolution. This pamphlet looks at the way schools are being turned into Examination Factories, dominated by test results, and at the contradictions in the Academy-Free School opt out programme. In theory this is about giving power to individual schools, but in practice is transferring power to unaccountable figures in national – and international – Chains of Schools. There are serious risks of schools running out of supplies of teachers, buildings and money. Additionally, Conservative election claims that school budgets are protected from austerity are now in doubt – the TES (28th August) reports estimates of cuts over the next five years of 12 per cent in real terms.

Undermining the rhetoric of freedom is a an agenda of government control, with Primary Schools ordered to teach phonics and Secondary schools to teach the Ebac. Far from being a Brave New World, how close is the Schools Revolution to being an Orwellian nightmare? Is it not time to suspend the Revolution for a Royal Commission on improving schools to avoid the profound risk of long term damage to English schools?

Further reading

Department of Education Comparison of Different Types of School, (DfE Website), July 14th 2014.

House of Commons Education Committee, Academies & Free Schools, HC 258 27th January 2015

Mansell Warwick, Education by Numbers, Politicos 2007

National Union of Teachers Exam Factories? Merryn Hutchings with Dr Naveed Kazmi, 2015

Wolf, Alison – Heading for the Precipice – can further and Higher education funding policies be sustained? Kings College London, June 2015

Further copies of this pamphlet and discussion material from SOSS, at enquries(at)soss.org.uk.

Published by the Symposium on Sustainable Schools, edited by Trevor Fisher. Editorial Board Richard Pring, Michael Bassey, Richard Sidley, Trevor Fisher.

C4 – Update – Improvement in the Inner City

This article was initially published in the SOSS pamphlet on London Challenge in March 2015. The world does not stand still however and Richard Sidley is working constantly with other governors on the issues facing the school – updates are supplied in this section of the site TF

Improvement in the Inner City – a practical example.

How to improve schools is an issue coming to many schools which can either have heavy top down intervention involving sackings and special measures – or a more collaborative approach. In my experience the collaborative approach works better, on the lines of London Challenge.

I am a Local Authority (LA) governor of 28 years standing of two adjoining, but separate infant and junior schools serving a socially deprived area in Stoke on Trent. This has white working class, Pakistani (third generation) and a growing East European local community. In addition by the summer term 2014, and prior to our OfSTED inspection, we had staff resignations, the challenge of filling these vacancies, against a background of poor attendance and attainment.

OfSTED gave us a “notice to improve” on the grounds of teaching and learning, attendance, behaviour, staffing and attainment. We felt fairly treated and even supported by the inspection team but, in reality, we are an HMI visit away from special measures.

The LA, which remains in control, seemed to offer only more learning reviews and mock OfSTEDs – they’d driven the staff into the ground and we feared for our future. On January 1st 2015 we had one qualified teacher – the Head teacher – that’s how bad it was! Recruitment was a priority obviously, but we had to offer a supportive environment to attract staff.

We have been given a chance with a link up with a local “outstanding” school run by a head teacher with an over view for two other “category” schools. The other schools were in Special Measures, the lowest category which involves serious changes. The lead school is a primary school serving a predominantly white working class council estate on the edge of the city. The scheme one run by the Department of Education precisely to link “Outstanding” schools with “Schools needing Improvement” where the head teacher is a National Leader in Education – as was the case here. The link offered an alternative to the previous LA model, and we accepted with a sigh of collective relief!

A supportive and collaborative model was put in place. This involves visits to the primary school by all infant teachers and support staff. We can visit our link school, and that means all teaching and support staff. More important is that our link staff will come to us and jointly plan, team teach, model teaching and work in pairs to drive up improvement in our school. Our head teacher has a mentor and much needed support and the governors too.

The infant school head is being supported by the head of the successful primary school. All the work on the post OfSTED action plan is shared with this head, as are decisions on staffing. The relationship is definitely one of support rather than one of the supporting head taking over the

running of the school which is why the word “mentor” is more appropriate than “super head”.

We all feel valued, because we work at the the sharp end of teaching and we share our professional expertise with colleagues who don’t work in a community where social cohesion is a pressing issue every day of the week!

But most of all we are part of a whole school Continuing Professional Development programme which is about school improvement and developing professionalism rather than imposing a punitive and judgemental model on a de-moralised workforce. There a clear link here with the London Challenge improvement model.

 

Richard Sidley