Arguments for Schools Privatisation: Is This Really The Best You Can Do?

The outraged reaction to the Government’s plans to privatise all our state schools by forcing them to become franchises of private companies called “Multi-Academy Trusts” continues apace. Tory councillors, the Financial Times and even the Economist have now criticised the plans. The response to the White Paper has been one of genuine shock that a government department could produce such an odious document of propaganda, fantasy and downright lies. Morgan was openly laughed at as she went to the NASUWT conference to explain to teachers that the recruitment and retention crisis has nothing to do with her own Government’s policies, but was because the unions were “too negative”. Oh dear. Meanwhile, however, the true believers, the hardcore of Govian Faithful (and more than a few people already benefitting personally from the largesse of MATs), are desperately thrashing around for arguments to justify or disguise the true motives : moving the education budget into private hands. I’ve collected their various attempts at arguments here, largely because, like Morgan at the NASUWT, I like to laugh at their vacuous stupidity. I’ve even marked them for you, using my own special scale. Feel free to disagree with the scores.

We’re just tidying up the system

This argument is that it’s inefficient or confusing to have both an LEA system and an academies system running alongside each other. So forcing everyone to become an academy is just an administrative convenience.

Let’s leave aside the fact this argument is coming from the people who actually created this fractured mess in the first place, and simply note this: roughly 20% of schools are academies; 80% are LEA-maintained. By far the least disruptive, and cheapest, way of “tidying up” would be to force academies back into LEA-overseen structures. So this argument is the equivalent of a swimmer making it 4 miles across the English Channel before realising dry land is immediately essential, and then deciding that the best course of action is not to turn around, but to swim the next 16 miles instead.

Illogical Rating: 10/10 for madness of “solution”. This has no logic at all. It’s the reverse of logic.

Detached-From-Reality Rating: 0/10 for recognising fragmentation, 5/10 for creating fragmentation in first place.

Total Score: 15 Goves

Messy-garden

The Education System after the Govians have “tidied it up”

Academy chains will bring higher standards

There’s nobody left in the world who knows anything about education who isn’t now aware that this is, well, bollocks. The Sutton Trust, the Educational Select Committee, even Ofsted – all have noted that there is no connection at all between “standards” and academy status. I mean, come on lads, you’re not even trying.

Illogical Rating: 8/10. The education policy equivalent of saying “If we repaint the car, it’ll go faster”

Detached-From-Reality Rating: 9/10. This statement is played on a recurring loop on tiny speakers implanted in the brains of Govians. It’s possible that they genuinely believe that the clear evidence that there is no impact on “standards” is some sort of NUT conspiracy.

Total Score: 17 Goves

wizard-of-oz-original1Gove, Osborne, Morgan and Policy Exchange head off to find higher academy standards

Schools will have greater autonomy and freedom in MATs

Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

No, stoppit. Really. My sides hurt.

Illogical Rating: 10/10. There’s no topping this one. Leaving a system where the school is a self-governing autonomous institution to be absorbed into a corporate entity where you lose even your legal existence. That’s greater autonomy, is it? Deary me…

Detached-From-Reality Rating:  10/10. There’s only two options here when someone makes this argument. Either they’re completely lost to the world, and believe Hogwarts is actually a real school somewhere near Huddersfield, or they’re the most cynical liar you’ve ever met. Neither is a good quality for someone directing our education system.

Total Score: 20 Goves

 

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Morgan gets a shock when she makes that “autonomy” argument again

MATs bring economies of scale

Economies of scale are savings you make by pooling functions, so not every school has to pay for its own back office requirements. They are usually said to occur when smaller organisations come together as a larger one. Now think on this for a moment. LEAs are larger than MATs, and this pooling of functions was precisely what they did before, er, the Government tried to stop them. So the argument the Government is making is that you will gain economies of scale by leaving a large organisation, and going into a smaller one. Hello?

Illogical Rating: 9/10. I’m knocking off 1 because they used an actual economic term. They didn’t understand it, to be sure, but they did use it.

Detached-From-Reality Rating:  5/10. At least it’s not complete fantasy to recognise that schools benefit from working together under the umbrella of a larger central organisation. It’s called a “Local Education Authority”.

Total Score: 14 Goves

3-Good-Better-Best-heretic

An economist attempts to explain concepts to a DFE Board meeting 

MATs allow teachers to be transferred to other schools to spread best practice

This one (from the White Paper) was raised by Sam Freedman, ex-Gove “Senior Policy Advisor”, this morning. It gave me a good chuckle. Some might argue that one of the problems Sam and his friends at Teach First have brought to the education system is the expectation that all teachers should be under-25, have no family commitments of their own, and should live in London. So you can see how he thinks the idea of a large MAT forcing a teacher to commute for hours, or move house (well, she’s under-25, she’ll be renting, and won’t have childcare issues, right?) to a school in a different area, might work out in his head. Sadly, his head isn’t the place most teachers live.

Of course, some cross-school teacher movement or advice does happen. The problem with basing the privatisation policy on it is (1) you don’t need MATs for it to happen – LEAs used to do this all the time through their advisory services which the Government has more or less killed off, and my own standalone academy does it with other schools in its local Umbrella Trust (I think it’s over-rated, but it still happens); and (2) it tends to work best when geographically concentrated, so that you’re not reliant on that very small proportion of the workforce who are completely footloose and fancy-free. Given that the same Govians arguing for this will also argue that MATs should NOT be geographically concentrated because this would create “a monopoly” which would “distort the market”, you start to see just how flimsy this argument is.

Illogical Rating: 2/10. There is some logic here. It’s a mad idea to base such an enormous policy on the concept that a few schools might find it easier to organise a teacher exchange or a spot of light CPD, but there’s not much illogical about it. The two points are for the failure to recognise that an individual teacher is an actual person. They can’t be in two places at the same time. So when you put that “outstanding” teacher in your other school, you remove that “outstanding” teacher from the first school. How does that work for your students and parents ? Oops.

Detached-From-Reality Rating:  7/10. Most teachers are older than this, have their own families, and are under the mistaken impression that they joined a school to teach in that school, as opposed to being conscripted into the army with no future control over their lives.

Total Score: 9 Goves

 clones

Policy Exchange and Teach First unveil their vision of the new MAT Empire teaching staff

It allows “Great Leaders” to emerge

Ah yes. Great leaders like Moynihan. And Martin. And Nolan. The only thing “great” about those greedy bastards is the “great” weight of their wallets after they’ve finished sucking cash out of our children’s classrooms. Let’s have more of them, shall we?

Illogical Rating: 0/10. It does indeed allow “Great Leaders” to emerge. And while it would be true to say that I’m yet to meet any teacher who thinks that the current problem with education is too little focus on a North Korean-style Cult of the Leader, it’s nevertheless logical that, without MATs, these robber barons wouldn’t be able to do what they do.

Detached-From-Reality Rating:  8/10. Define “Great” for me? Or explain why our schools will all be much better when we have a whole extra layer of non-teaching, enormous-salaried people with “executive” in their titles?

Total Score: 8 Goves

trump

This man will be looking for a Great Leader job after November. MAT Director, perhaps?

It’s not privatisation because MATs can’t make profits

Privatisation does not always look like the sell-off of British Gas in 1986. It is, at its most basic level, the transfer of assets, income streams, and economic activity from the public sector to the private sector. Which is exactly what is proposed here. LEAs are public sector organisations. MATs are private companies. I’m not entirely sure why Govians struggle with this. Oh, yes I am: it’s because they’re desperate to avoid people seeing the “Privatisation” word, because they know parents wouldn’t stand for it.

Moreover, there are many, many ways for the well-connected to make large amounts of money from MATs without ever recording a profit on a set of accounts. Large multinationals often claim to make no profits from their operations in the UK, yet strangely keep generating large amounts of cash for shareholders and the Director class. MATs will be able to do the same; quite a few already are. We’re already not short of examples, and Moynihan’s monumental greed at the Harris MAT is only the most straightforward of examples of self-enrichment from the backs of students.

Illogical Rating: 8/10. If it looks like privatisation, smells like privatisation, belongs to a private company, and allows well-connected men to become very rich by sucking cash from our classrooms, then it’s privatisation.

Detached-From-Reality Rating:  5/10. They know what they’re doing. Follow the money. With this mob, always follow the money.

Total Score: 13 Goves

'There you have it, gentlemen. The ideal anti-corruption three-pint self-regulatory business framework.'
That MAT “Accountability” policy, in full

MAT Bosses are Good People

The counter argument I expected to my original piece has already emerged. It goes like this: “You are criticising MATs for allowing unscrupulous people to benefit personally from the privatisation of our schools. Therefore you are saying that every person in a MAT is unscrupulous.”  This, of course is a logical non-sequitur. Not all bankers are greedy and corrupt, but their system allowed them to be, and plenty were. Not all privatised industry executives were greedy after the wave of 1980s privatisations, but their system allowed them to be, and plenty were. Not all MAT Members and Trustees are greedy and corrupt, but their system allows them to be, and plenty have been, and still are.

The argument “Trust me, most of the guys at the top aren’t crooks” is not a basis on which to establish an education system overseeing  £90 billion of public money.

It is a very good rule in life that the more public money you control, and the more power you wield, the greater the daily scrutiny and the more rigorous the checks and balances you should be subject to. Yet in education policy, we have designed a system in which the greatest scrutiny and openness applies to those with the least control over power and money – classroom teachers – and the least scrutiny and openness in MATs applies to those with the greatest access to power and public cash : the MAT Bosses. That is a recipe for corruption. And in saying that, I am not accusing all MAT members or Trustees of corruption. This is such an obvious point that I wonder at the motives of those who suggest otherwise. More chaff, perhaps.

Illogical Rating: 9/10. Me: “This new ‘no-discipline policy’ allows some students to act very badly, I think we should change it.” Govian: “Awww! You just said all students are bad people!”

Detached-From-Reality Rating:  2/10. Not much fantasy here. Just thrashing around trying to find a way to pull the curtain back over what has been exposed.

Total Score: 11 Goves

not hungry alwaysMAT CEO addresses the assembled teachers

 MATs can save small rural schools

This is a variant on the “economies of scale” argument above. It was being pushed today by Policy Exchange. The line goes : funding is being cut. Small rural schools can form a MAT, share “back-office functions”, and stay alive. The economies of scale angle remains a bit mad, given that no MAT of small rural schools could ever have access to the same potential for shared resources as an LEA. But let’s leave that, as there’s another issue, which is funding.

As we’ve established, individual schools don’t have their own protected budgets within MATs. The MAT receives all the cash and decides how to dish it out. In doing so, it can decide to push more funding per head towards Franchise A than Franchise B. However, if the MAT is a collection of similarly small rural ex-schools, then such cross-subsidisation would be pointless, as both Franchises A and B would be in the same position.

So cross-subsidisation is possible only if Franchise A is a small rural ex-school, while Franchise B is a larger school bringing more cash to the MAT budget. Ex-School B, however, might be miffed. The good news though, is that ex-school B doesn’t exist any more, they’re just a local office of the MAT, so the only way they can express that miffedness is to have the Head appeal: first to the MAT Board, and then to the Secretary of State. That’s right folks, a Head can seek to protect her ex-school’s share of the MAT budget by first appealing to her employers, the people who made the decision in the first place, and then by complaining about her employers’ decision to the Secretary of State. I expect the queue to appeal will stretch around the block, obviously.

Close observers will note that the only way this “protects” small rural schools is by removing cash from students in non-small rural schools. Here we hit a separate problem : MAT Boards don’t have a specific duty to keep ex-schools open. They do have a duty to manage their budget to achieve “Value For Money“. This is helpfully defined in the DFE’s Academies Financial Handbook as “Achieving the best possible educational and wider societal outcomes through the economic, efficient and effective use of all the resources in the trust’s charge, the avoidance of waste and extravagance, and prudent and economical administration.” It goes on, to define “economical” specifically as “obtaining an outcome for the least possible input of resources“. Now, maybe you think that these are words of comfort for small rural ex-schools in MATs with larger, more cost-effective ex-schools. I wouldn’t, if I were you.

Illogical Rating: 7/10 – a combination of “Couldn’t help small schools in MATs of just small ex-schools”, with “wouldn’t help small schools in MATs with larger schools” makes this a fairly doolally argument.

Detached-From-Reality Rating: 10/10. I can’t believe the Govians reckon that anyone’s falling for the line that every large urban school in the country is being forced into a private company because somehow some different private companies might help a few small rural schools.

Total Score: 17 Goves

 uk---cruising---shetland-isles-largeHarris announces economy of scale for its small rural branch. Savings on roof, walls, teachers, students…

Policy Exchange: the new market leaders in fantasy fiction

The Govian gnomes are beavering away in the bowels of Policy Exchange making up new specious arguments, and pumping out more downright lies, every single day. Yet each one is stripped away by the application of logic or reality. If you hear any new ones, send them to me, and I’ll mark them.

There’s a serious point to this, other than me having fun poking Govians, and it’s this : Occam’s Razor. This is the principle that, when you strip away the less likely (or downright silly) explanations offered for any event or action, whatever you have left is likely to be the true cause.

The Govian establishment are proposing what even they admit is a huge, monumental upheaval in education, using the hammer of primary legislation to force the great majority of our schools, against their stated will, into the arms of private companies. For such a huge policy, there has to be a huge explanation. Yet it takes very little effort before the offered explanations fall away:

  • We know it’s not about “standards”, because academies and MATs don’t improve standards.
  • We know it’s not about “freedom” or “autonomy” because MATs reduce freedom and autonomy.
  • We know it’s not about administrative reform, because there is a much easier, less expensive administrative reform available (returning all schools to LEAs).

So, having stripped away all those, what’s left ?

Privatisation.

This is about privatisation. It’s about who controls the money, and where that money goes. It is about removing the education budget from scrutinised, accountable public control, and placing it in the hands of unscrutinised, unaccountable private companies competing in a private “marketplace”. Many of these companies not only have strong links to the Conservative Party, but some hold official positions within the education policy-making structure at DFE.

Every other argument is demonstrable nonsense.

Privatisation? Of course it’s bloody privatisation.

 

 

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50 thoughts on “Arguments for Schools Privatisation: Is This Really The Best You Can Do?

  1. I think everyone is missing the ELEPHANT in the room.

    This inexorable drive to kill off our education system is not controlled by Gove or his sycophants, but the civil servants in the Department for Education. They have to keep coming up with bonkers new ideas to preserve their own jobs – new ideas – more need for staff. Why do you think all those statistics and changes of direction are needed – only – and purely – to keep hordes of highly costly Department for Education minions in work.

    An intelligent GOVernment would have reduced Department for Education staff numbers by 50% – this would release many thousands of highly trained (and costly) educationalists who could take up all those teacher posts created by the mass exodus from the profession. Oh, I forgot; these “experts” don’t know the first thing about actual teaching. After all, there is no need to learn “crowd control” just for sitting behind a desk.

    I could get REALLY annoyed by the education travesty flooring our nation, but having been successfully taught in the very effective chalk and talk era, I am too old now to get really upset.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No, I disagree here. While it’s been the case that civil servants at DFE have long learned that their job is to applaud Ministers’ thoughts, rather than offer cool professional advice, I absolutely don’t see them as the drivers of this.

      When I was there, I worked with a whole range of very intelligent, very thoughtful people who were often appalled at the more bonkers end of policy-making, but were trying to do the best job they could under the circumstances. The politicisation of the Department, with Tory Donors and Academy Chain bosses being given seats on the Departmental Board; plus the influx of clueless ideological zealots as SPADs; plus the use of external cults of true believers like the New Schools Network and Policy Exchange; has effectively destroyed the Department as anything approaching the professional department of state I used to work in.

      But I know that plenty of those ex-colleagues I left behind (who are still there), are suffering death by a thousand cuts of professional humiliation as they have to defend or promote these policies.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think we are actually agreeing with each other –
        I have no problem leaving the professionals in post; but the 50% got rid of should be the idealists who are driving these continual revisions to the curriculum. We should let teachers do what they are paid for – to teach and not spend half their time compiling statistics.

        Liked by 1 person

    • With respect, as I know a number of civil servants who work there, this is bollocks. The civil servants at the DfE also think these ideas are mad – they don’t devise them, are just forced to implement them. It is highly-paid SPADs, not common-or-garden civil servants, who come up with these loopy ideas. But more than that, it is ministers themselves who come up with the wacko ideas – contrary to Yes, Minister, ministers themselves like to force their ideas on the civil servants, not the other way around.

      FYI, a large proportion of civil servants at the DfE have previously worked in education, as teachers etc. So many do “know the first thing” about “actual teaching”. There has already been a huge cull of staff and few jobs exist outside of academies now, so staff who work there and have bills to pay may have little choice but to work on them.

      I agree with you we should be angry, very angry, about the changes – but you waste your fire power if you point at at blameless civil servants, and not the real culprits – non-expert, ideologically-driven Ministers out to implement a vanity project to “make their name”.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Another brilliant and inspired article. The source of the academisation plan is more sinister. It is the Global Education Reform Movement. It has its origins in the US. Bush, Blair and their advisers have their fingerprints all over it. It comes from the same ideological sources as the plan to invade Iraq in 2003. See

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/how-germ-is-infecting-schools-around-the-world/2012/06/29/gJQAVELZAW_blog.html

      There is an even more sinister historical parallel. See

      https://rogertitcombelearningmatters.wordpress.com/2016/02/13/educational-lysenkoism-is-blighting-the-english-education-system/

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    • Just signed up with your blog- excellent.. don’t underestimate the Gibb… or better known in some zones as the Gibb Gove Gimp!! Recently visiting a school near me he was challenging a 9 year who could not recite the kings and queens of England in order! Keep up the blog – it actually makes me and others less alone in our thoughts

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  2. Fantastic overview. Thank you. A few questions:

    – First, who is the real architect of the white paper? Presumably not Gove. If he had wanted to do this when he was still at Education he wouldn’t have been moved to Justice. Presumably it’s Osborne driving this, as it won’t be Cameron when it all kicks in in 2020-2 (assuming that Osborne thinks/thought he had a real chance).
    – Second, why does Morgan keep putting herself up for ridicule. Does she enjoy it? Does she have ambitions for an even bigger role, despite making such a hash of this one? Since she started out at the Treasury, does she see herself as Chancellor to Osborne’s Premiership? (The horror!)
    – Third, what will the DoE do with those schools that have not complied by 2020? Direct rule from Great Smith Street?
    Fourth, what was all that rumpus over the new curriculum for?

    On privatisation… 40 years ago there were two kinds of public sector provision: those we paid for as consumers (phones, energy, transport) and those that were paid for via taxes (health, education). Thatcher and her followers realised that while they could privatise the former and thereby remove the costs from government, they could not do the same with the latter. For these latter, as you say, It’s about who controls the money, and where that money goes. It’s no longer even ideology, it’s just personal.

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    • 1. Gove wasn’t moved because of policy disagreements. He was moved prior to the election because Lynton Crosby was aware that he was losing the Tories votes every time his name was mentioned or his face appeared on TV. Most teachers loathed him (still do), and there are lots of teachers and teacher relatives. He may not have written this, but it’s got Gove all over it. It’s why I still use the term “Govianism”, as shorthand for this tight ideological cult of zealots.

      2. I think Morgan is a bit thick. Not just because she’s scared to do the times tables questions which she demands of 11 year-olds. Or because she looks terrified whenever anyone asks her a question which she hasn’t been pre-programmed to answer. But because when she goes to NASUWT and blames teaching unions for the recruitment and retention crisis, I think she actually believes it. People look for conspiracies like “she deliberately provoked them to heckle so she can use the footage of confronting teachers to win Tory Party leadership votes”. But in my view, cock-ups are always more likely that conspiracies. I think she believes that, because her thought processes don’t go far past traditional privately-educated upper class Tory clichés about state schools and state school teachers. Just like Gibb: I know for a fact that he genuinely believes that everything in education was great until the 1960s, when it was spoiled by “trendy” left-wing practices, and Marxists in universities. These people are not very clever or thoughtful. The brains of the trust come from much closer to Gove and his coterie of ideological fellow-travellers at Policy Exchange and its environs.

      3. No, they’ll force them into existing MATs by order. But they’re hoping that more schools will jump before they’re pushed. I recall when my previous Head first started pushing his MAT idea, I argued against it and he kept repeating “well, it’s the direction of travel”, as if this was something irresistible. Bear in mind that MATs can create many “winners” in terms of greater status, cash and power from amongst people who are already in the decision-making ranks of schools. It’ll take a strong governing body and/or headteacher to resist the temptations.

      4. You’re assuming logic and consistency in Government policy-making. I once again refer you to the cock-up over conspiracy point above.

      Liked by 3 people

    • “Third, what will the DoE do with those schools that have not complied by 2020? Direct rule from Great Smith Street?”

      These will be so few LA schools that the local authorities Education Departments will have largely ceased to exist – so the schools will be forced to employ “consultants” to advise them and this money will be lost from Education. And of course each school will require individual reports as the connectivity and continuity (or overarching benevolence) of the Education Department will have been lost.

      I have seen some expensive advice supplied by so-called “consultants” – the worst one was one that analysed retail floor space in a small local town to make a point; but failed to notice the very large Tesco store – completely invalidating their costly conclusions. The “consultants” walked off with their money of course!

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    • Graham, I’m deliberately avoiding going anywhere near land and asset disposal, as I noted on my other recent blog. There are two reasons for this:

      1) I don’t understand it fully, and so don’t want to make errors.

      2) I think the fiendishly complex nature of it offers a wonderful dark pit of distraction for Govians who want to get into technical arguments about specific legal points, to direct the view away from the Bloody Great Big Obvious point that schools ARE going to be forced from public sector control to private companies. Sam Freedman (of the mention above) just tried this very thing on Twitter, posting about “Oh, these conspiracy theorists talking about asset-stripping”, clearly hoping for some turgid argument about property law which would end most people’s will to live. However, my argument is much simpler : there is enough cash flow in the Education Budget to make it attractive in its own right without having to lay hands on the ability to sell off public buildings and land. It’s the control of that cash flow which this is about. Accusations that opponents are wrong about “asset-stripping” are red herrings. More chaff, if you will.

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  3. The White Paper has Gove’s paw prints all over it. He may have left the DfE in person but his spirit remains. And one of his acolytes, Rachel Wolf, late of the taxpayer funded charity which pushes out propaganda about free schools and who recently returned from a stint at Murdoch’s Amplify company in USA before it went belly-up, has her feet under the table at Number Ten.

    Just in case anyone is in any doubt about what kind of organisation will run schools in the future, Gove told a Policy Exchange meeting just before the 2010 election he would let groups like Serco run schools (see here for link to YouTube clip http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/10/gove-is-in-favour-of-profit-making-companies-running-state-schools/%23sthash.hzb5uyax.dpuf)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This both made me laugh and taught me a bit more about this. A bit like schools should be I guess. .. First the NHS, now schools. Soon the whole country will be owned by companies run by George Osbornes friends

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  5. This there anything to stop a LEA from setting up a MAT for its remaining maintained schools and being the trustees for any schools that become academies?

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  6. Great post. The transferring teachers point reminded me of the Advanced Skilled Teachers who spread best practice within LEAs, sorely missed. As someone who isn’t interested in leadership roles it would’ve been a great career option for me and I benefited a lot from ASTs as a trainee and NQT.

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  7. This a funny and interesting read and I have a lot of sympathy for your arguments but I always end up coming back to the same point when it comes to teaching and schools – if it wasn’t broken it wouldn’t need fixing. And I’m sorry to say, from the standpoint of an informed parent it IS a broken system.

    I’m now a private reading tutor and I have a queue of anxious parents waiting for me to help their child to learn to read. The children are usually aged between 8-12 and have had several years of teaching and intervention behind them with little lasting impact on their reading ability. They’re usually unhappy, as are their parents. Some of them are assessed with ‘SEN’, some just a bit slower to learn, a bit ‘quirky’ maybe. After between 15-25 hours 1-to-1 instruction from a decent phonics programme, they are accurate, competent and happy readers. If the instruction in school was better in the first place I’d be (happily) out of a job, and the children would be saved years of shame and confusion.

    I came down this path through my own experience and determination to help my ‘dyslexic’ son. For the benefit of your readers what I discovered was:
    1. everything hangs off reading; if a child can’t read then they can’t learn other stuff easily
    2. (old) level 4B does not necessarily mean a child can read properly
    3. interventions won’t always work – like initial instruction, it really depends on the quality
    4. Letters and Sounds doesn’t cut it as a ‘decent’ phonics programme – there are MUCH better ones out there
    5. don’t rely on ITT to train you how to teach reading effectively, sort it out yourself if your school doesn’t
    6. even ‘outstanding’ schools will fudge and label a child if they don’t know how to fix a reading problem.

    There are primary schools out there that teach ALL their children to read so it CAN be done in all but a tiny handful of cases. Until teachers and head teachers (and their LA’s and their unions) are prepared to accept this and train to do it better, parents like me are left thinking ‘well, maybe academisation is worth a try because the status quo isn’t working’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is indeed a broken system. It has been broken by the imposition of the marketisation paradigm. Your particular concerns are reflected in this Guardian article of 29 March 2016.

      http://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/mar/29/academy-school-place-educating-essex-special-needs

      Marketisation is like ‘bloodletting’. The practitioners of this historical medical orthodoxy were entirely correct in recognising that their patients were ill and in need of treatment. The problem was not just that the bloodletting cure did not work, but much more seriously, that the practitioners were driven by an ideology that resolved these negative outcomes through the explanation that either the patient was too ill be cured anyway, or else that plainly not enough blood had been let.

      This is a powerful analogy that answers your point. Its relevance to education is further explained in this article.

      https://rogertitcombelearningmatters.wordpress.com/2016/02/01/why-mistakes-must-be-celebrated/

      You are right that there is a tension between recognising that the ‘system is indeed broken’, provoking criticism from the left of ‘undermining comprehensive education’, and my position that the cause of the dysfunction has its roots in the ideology of marketisation associated with the Thatcher and Blair governments, that now go back more than three decades, with the damage being hidden by a smokescreen of exam grade inflation and overwhelming propaganda uncritically accepted and promulgated by a supine media.

      You will find all this explained in fully referenced and evidenced detail in my book, ‘Learning Matters’, the sales of which have taken off since Osborne’s budget announcement of forced Academisation.

      http://www.amazon.co.uk/Learning-Matters-Mr-Roger-Titcombe/dp/149921300X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1420643559&sr=1-1&keywords=learning+matters+roger+titcombe

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    • I have found that reading has demonstrably improved over the last few years at our 150 pupil Local Authority First School. As former Chair of Governors and now a volunteer hearing children read for the last 15 years I hear great improvements – obviously to the credit of the teachers and classroom assistants – in that time the big change has been the introduction of phonics.
      By the end of year two (6/7 year olds) it is difficult to find a child that is not a fluent reader and ready for greater challenges.
      So for us, the status quo IS working well and we dread the introduction of privatisation and being ruled by a disinterested Head from a bigger school – as seems likely as our school (like so many others) is too small to function as an independent Academy.

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      • That’s great to hear but I’m afraid that’s not across the board. I also volunteer at a local ‘outstanding’ school as a listener to year 3 children and am still very concerned at the lack of both accuracy and fluency. There’s a long way to go still.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Anon – as a reading tutor who obviously deals only with those children struggling with reading, it doesn’t follow that your experience with these struggling children shows the system is ‘broken’. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot wrong with education in England – the OECD warned in 2011 there was already too much emphasis on exam results in England and this risks negative consequences such as teaching to the test, ‘gaming’ (aka cheating) and neglect of other important skills.

      These negative consequences could be avoided by removing the high stakes tests by which schools in England are judged. The answer is NOT to bring in wholesale academisation because it is ‘worth a try’. Quite apart from the cost (£0.5b on conversion grants alone), the evidence to date shows that academies as a group are no better than non-academies. The Education Select Committee said the Government should stop exaggerating academy success; the National Audit Office has found informal interventions such as local support are more successful in improving schools than formal interventions such as academy conversion.

      Why, then, is the Government so keen? See my post above 28 March 7.13 am for link to YouTube clip showing Michael Gove saying he would let Serco run schools in England if it wanted to do so. He was speaking at a Policy Exchange launch of its document ‘Blocking the Best’ which recommended running schools in England for profit. It said there was nothing in law to stop this happening – all that was needed was for state schools to become ‘independent’ and they could outsource their running to for-profit providers. Academies are technically independent schools.

      Liked by 1 person

      • There’s something wrong with the system if children who could be taught to read aren’t. Yes, other skills are important but reading trumps them all and there are still too many getting to secondary who cannot read fluently.

        Like I said, I have a lot of sympathy for the views expressed in the blog but if lots of ch are being failed by existing provision (and I propose that they are) then it’s hard to defend the status quo. I’m not convinced that academies are the answer but then LEAs haven’t been either.

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        • I do agree that LA provision and support for late readers may well have declined. It certainly has here in Cumbria. We used to have excellent provision including LA wide use of a scheme called ‘Reading Recovery’, which I think had its origins in New Zealand. We also had dedicated ‘Literacy Centres’ staffed by expert teachers which pupils needing extra support could attend on a weekly half day basis.

          My own former headship secondary school from which I retired in 2003, was closed in 2009, along with two other secondary schools to be replaced by what has turned out to be a disastrous Academy. My school had a much praised partnership with the Local Dyslexia Association in which we provided rent free accommodation in return for free access to specialist tuition for our pupils. This Dyslexia Centre provided services to primary and secondary pupils in the town.

          The Academy plan has without doubt coincided with (caused?) a large reducation in LAS support for these pupils.

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          • The efficacy of Reading Recovery has been questioned and as I said earlier, if you get it right in the first place you don’t need all that catch up support. Very costly in terms of staff, child wellbeing and learning hours lost.

            If you don’t know the schools that do it well then take a look at the Reading Reform Foundation – they often refer to schemes and schools that get it right ‘from the off’ or have a look at St George’s C of E primary in Battersea, London. In a very deprived part of London they get all their ch reading early on and consequently don’t have late readers, dyslexic-type reading problems amongst their pupils. It takes a lot of training of staff, dedication and hard work but it IS possible.

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            • Anonymous: St George’s CofE primary in Battersea is not an academy. 87% of St George’s Year 6 pupils reached Level 4 in reading, writing and maths in 2015 (national average 80%, Wandsworth average 84%). 27 other Wandsworth primaries equalled or bettered this score. Only three of these 27 schools were academies. I don’t see how converting these schools to academies would improve the reading of their pupils as they are already doing well.

              DfE-commissioned research last year found ‘Teachers were positive about phonics as an approach to teaching reading, and its contribution towards early reading development. In the majority of schools, however, other strategies alongside phonics were also supported.’ More details and link to the research here http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2014/09/gibb-claims-rise-in-number-passing-screening-test-is-down-to-relentless-emphasis-on-phonics-but-dfe-commissioned-research-contradicts-this.

              Re ‘first and ‘fast’ (it used to be ‘first, fast and only’, I believe), ‘A Systematic Review of the Research Literature on the Use of Phonics in the Teaching of Reading and Spelling’ by Torgerson et al considered the advice given by the Reading Reform Foundation (RRF) that synthetic phonics should be taught “first, fast and only”. This is what Torgerson and co-authors found:

              1 On the “first”, the authors found no research evidence to support this;
              2 On “fast” the authors found no experiments had taken place.
              3 On “only”, the authors found there was not enough randomized controlled trial evidence to support or contradict this suggestion (pp 55-56).

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              • I refer to St George’s because it achieves amazing results in spite of the challenging circumstances; most of Wandsworth borough is not similarly disadvantaged. What is also remarkable is the minimal number of SEN pupils – all the reading-related SEN and behaviour issues disappeared once they introduced a better approach and trained all their staff in a high-quality phonics programme – that’s c. 70% SEN down to almost none, from memory from my visit there. It’s a small school but I’m pretty sure the Sounds-Write programme has been introduced to bigger schools with similar success.

                No, I don’t think becoming an academy is a pre-requisite for making that kind of step change. My point was that if any school is failing to teach all its children to read (with all the resultant problems) then parents may feel that the current set up needs to change.

                Re: the research – there’s phonics and there’s phonics – some programmes are much better than others and achieve great results for ALL their pupils, providing it’s backed up by thorough training and good implementation across the whole school. I don’t know of any research that compares the results of different phonics programmes and impact on SEN – THAT would be more informative research imo.

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                • Anon – your original contention was ‘well, maybe academisation is worth a try because the status quo isn’t working’. The ‘status quo’ was the poor state of reading tuition in your opinion. But your example of a school which taught its children well was NOT an academy. Neither were 24 of the 27 Wandsworth schools which had good or better results. Academization has nothing to do with phonics tuition. Your suggestion that parents of struggling readers might think academization is the answer insults parents’ intelligence.

                  However, should you wish to look up research into phonics tuition, a start would be to visit the Local Schools Network and type ‘phonics’ in the search box. http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/ There are numerous articles with links to research papers into teaching phonics. Should that not be enough you can look at the Eurydice report (a lengthy tome) into the teaching of reading in Europe which found phonics was already embedded in the UK – it was encouraging comprehension which was needed. You could also read the Education Endowment Foundation’s toolkit on phonics (in its widest sense: phonics = analytic or synthetic) tuition – the technical appendix gives a meta analysis of research into phonics teaching.

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            • Anonymous – This looks to me like a claim that the use of certain teaching methods can overcome the statistical certainty of a Normal Distribution in the attainment of a representative sample of pupils in any trait or ability. I just don’t believe that any single approach can ‘cure’ all dyslexic type problems before secondary transfer. That is because learning is developmental in nature and the cognition of children develops at different rates in different individuals at different ages. I am all for schools using the most effective methods known to pedagogy, but I am sure that there there will always be some pupils that develop slower/later than others.

              Nor is it true that such ‘late developers’ are necessarily disadvantaged for life. I know personally a number of such individuals that that have not just ‘overcome’ the problem but gone on to become outstanding in their careers, One such now writes professionally in his very senior employment role.

              This also applies to children that read readily at a very young age without much teaching at all just by studying books. I know this happens as we have such a grandchild.

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  8. Wow! This is a staggeringly vicious propaganda piece. And rather poorly produced, at that. One question: even if “the worst comes to the worst” , which parent would not prefer the education standards of private schools to the majority of state ones which have let down so many of them? And without having to pay a penny ??? (as some parents have decided to do, in their desperation to provide the very best for their children?)

    When will the NUT face the fact that education is not for the benefit of teachers and their comforts, their conditions admittedly a very important issue), but for the benefit of… the children?

    The NUT, like the BMA etc., are a UNION.

    UNIONs work for their own vested interests, and, like the National Health sacred cow, have been callously WEAPONISED.
    The sooner all public “services” break free of the state machine, the better for everyone in its clutches.

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    • Oh dear. There are over 4000 academies in England. As a group they are no better than non-academies. That said, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which oversees the PISA tests that the Government worships found that UK state schools outperform private schools when socio-economic background is taken into account. The private schools ‘advantage’ is down to their advantaged and selected intake. And when these privately education pupils reach university they are outperformed by equally-qualified state-eduction peers. This outperformance isn’t seen at Oxbridge, however: there is no difference between the quality of degree earned by equally-qualified undergraduates from the private or state sector (see here for summary and links to evidence http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2015/09/state-pupils-continue-to-outperform-private-ones-at-university)

      Where, then, is the evidence that state schools which educate 93% of UK children have ‘let them down’? There is none. If children of parents who haven’t forked out £££££ to send them to fee-charging schools can outperform or equal the performance of privately educated children at university, then it suggests that money spent on private education is wasted.

      All taxpayers pay for children to be educated and you’re right they expect education should be broad, balanced, fulfilling and prepare pupils for the rest of their lives (not just employment). Education is a social as well as a private good. That said, the biggest threats to education in England are (1) the growing emphasis on exam results in a few subjects to the detriment of other subjects and skills, and (2) the removal of state schools from local stewardship to central control by the Secretary of State.

      Be careful what you wish for. If public services, health, education, emergency services, police ‘break free of the state machine’, then the electorate will find these services are being run by Serco, G4S, Crapita and the like whose main responsibility is to their shareholders not those they are supposed to serve. And just in case you think they might do a better job, look up how Serco ran the out-of-hours GP service in Cornwall, how Hinchingbrooke Hospital faired under private oversight, how G4S treated young people in its care facilities and how Serco is causing chaos in Lincolnshire after being awarded a £71m contract to run Lincolnshire’s HR, finance and customer services. After the G4S Olympic fiasco, the then defence minister Philip Hammond, said it showed that private firms were no suited for many public services. http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/08/g4s-olympic-fiasco-prompts-ministerial-rethink-about-private-sector-involvement-in-massive-projects

      Like

      • Clarissa – be careful what you wish for. If public services, health, education, emergency services, police ‘break free of the state machine’, then the electorate will find these services are being run by Serco, G4S, Crapita and the like whose main responsibility is to their shareholders not those they are supposed to serve. And just in case you think they might do a better job, look up how Serco ran the out-of-hours GP service in Cornwall, how Hinchingbrooke Hospital faired under private oversight, how G4S treated young people in its care facilities and how Serco is causing chaos in Lincolnshire after being awarded a £71m contract to run Lincolnshire’s HR, finance and customer services. After the G4S Olympic fiasco, the then defence minister Philip Hammond, said it showed that private firms were no suited for many public services. http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/08/g4s-olympic-fiasco-prompts-ministerial-rethink-about-private-sector-involvement-in-massive-projects

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    • Clarissa – I suggest you duck as there are sure to be some strong replies to your comments.

      Bear in mind that there is only so much money in the pot, provided by us as taxpayers. So after management fees and higher salaries (“in order to get the best staff”) have been taken out of this fixed sum – even less will be left for actual education than there is now.

      As we have found in our rural Academy, privatisation means staff cuts (so fewer staff in front of the children) and less choice of courses. Great if your child is good at Maths and English, but vocational courses are being hit to compensate.

      Do you really think that Private Education is better than the current State Education? Maybe – maybe not – but only at huge cost to the parents who pay for the “better” education. That extra money isn’t available under the “academisation” scheme.

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    • You take an anti-statist, almost anarchist, approach, Clarissa. Do you see no role for the state? One of the few requirements that the UK makes of its citizens (those who are parents) is that they should provide their children with education between the ages of 5 and (soon) 18. Are you against the requirement to educate, too?

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    • Best of luck Clarissa. I think you’ve either been drinking very deep of the Daily Mail Kool-Aid, or possibly you’re a Policy Exchange employee!

      In any case, I welcome all non abusive comments, but I’m not engaging with this, because I think the sentiments you express here are so far from reality that I may as well wander down to a local evangelical church and try to persuade the congregation to become atheists.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Clarissa – Oh dear. There are over 4000 academies in England. As a group they are no better than non-academies. That said, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which oversees the PISA tests that the Government worships found that UK state schools outperform private schools when socio-economic background is taken into account. The private schools ‘advantage’ is down to their advantaged and selected intake. And when these privately education pupils reach university they are outperformed by equally-qualified state-eduction peers. This outperformance isn’t seen at Oxbridge, however: there is no difference between the quality of degree earned by equally-qualified undergraduates from the private or state sector (see here for summary and links to evidence http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2015/09/state-pupils-continue-to-outperform-private-ones-at-university)

      Where, then, is the evidence that state schools which educate 93% of UK children have ‘let them down’? There is none. If children of parents who haven’t forked out £££££ to send them to fee-charging schools can outperform or equal the performance of privately educated children at university, then it suggests that money spent on private education is wasted.

      All taxpayers pay for children to be educated and you’re right they expect education should be broad, balanced, fulfilling and prepare pupils for the rest of their lives (not just employment). Education is a social as well as a private good. That said, the biggest threats to education in England are (1) the growing emphasis on exam results in a few subjects to the detriment of other subjects and skills, and (2) the removal of state schools from local stewardship to central control by the Secretary of State.

      Like

  9. This issue is producing a huge number of responses in the media from parents unhappy about the Academies that their children have been forced to attend, sometimes as a result of a takeover of a popular school by a Multi Academy Trust (MAT)

    This article has a possible solution.

    https://rogertitcombelearningmatters.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/a-step-by-step-way-forward/

    “Require parents’ referenda on the governance and control of Academies and Free schools if a threshold proportion of parents sign a petition according to a standard template. This would give local communities the democratic power to restore failing Academies to LEA control.”

    Who wants to start an on-line petition? There could more parents in favour of this than the government’s crazy plan to force all schools to become academies. If there were enough signatures it would force a debate in parliament.

    Like

  10. An excellent piece that I will be copying to all of our staff and governors. Ours is a local authority primary school, recently rated as outstanding. If we are forced to become an academy most of the staff, including the head teacher, will leave teaching. We have discussed this at length and feel that we have no other option. We all came into teaching to work for the public good NOT private profit.

    Liked by 1 person

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