Are Academy Trusts being told to poach high-performing local authority schools?

Given that my study of free school applications has stalled while I await the DfE’s legal battle to stop me getting the information I need, I decided to look for an alternative approach. Having stumbled upon the Targeted Basic Need Programme, where funds are given to local authorities for new academies, I began considering how providers were being chosen for these schools. As with my Free School studies, I decided to ask for public documents under the Freedom of Information Act. Partly I did so because I’m now horribly familiar with the process, but mostly because I don’t like the ethics of gaining documents via nepotism or as part of a ‘strings attached’ deal.
Among one of the bundles of information I received in a recent FOI-ing bout, I noticed an email from the DfE’s ‘Academies Presumption Team’. It was sent to a council considering Wey Education Schools Trust as the potential sponsor of a new school. It read:
This struck me as odd. “(T)hey have been advised that they should concentrate on encouraging high performing converters to join the Trust before we will consider them for London projects”.
But…why? Why is an academy trust being asked to encourage high performing local authority schools to convert into it? As far as I can see, The Wey Education Trust website doesn’t name any school that it runs. There appear to be no results. So why is the Academies Presumption Team asking Wey to encourage schools to convert into their management?
It’s one thing for academisation to remove a failing school from a local authority and place it in to the hands of a better provider. But this email suggests Trusts have pointedly been told they must go and ‘encourage’ (effectively: poach) high-performing schools from local authorities who presumably have thus far been doing a pretty good job. And if the Trust doesn’t follow suit, then they will be unable to begin new ventures.
This seems extraordinary. What benefit can there be to this?
As always, I hope that I’ve got the wrong end of the stick. So if someone has an alternative explanation, I’ll be all ears.

The Apology That Really *WAS* A Press Release

Two weeks ago I blogged about Michael Gove claiming he had an apology “confirmed in writing” from Action Fraud. The apology stated that Action Fraud were at fault for the mislabelling of a phone call about school fraud as ‘information’ rather than a ‘crime’ report.
I asked via an FOI request to see the apology. The DfE sent back a press release. I emailed (and rang) to check if the press release was the actual confirmed apology as described by Gove. The DfE reply suggests that it was. This strikes me as odd, but I’m willing to believe this really is the information the DfE holds.
Unfortunately, this still doesn’t explain precisely how the information came to be mislabelled. TWICE. (The first time when the phone call went to Action Fraud, the second time when it was checked over by the National Intel Bureau). Nor how Action Fraud came to review the documentation after Newsnight. (Did someone watching at home on the Friday night suddenly realise that they’d made a mistake?) But those are not questions for the DfE to answer.
On the upside, the Home Office is also FOI-able….

Are Free School Monitoring Visits going to be published?

I recently shared the results of an information request that revealed how Free Schools were getting monitoring visits from the Department for Education which appear to provide recommendations and feedback that would make the schools “Ofsted-ready”.
People were outraged that schools who are not paying for such centralised improvement services seem to be getting them for free, and others raised concern about the likelihood that monitoring visits were highlighting problems which were then ‘hidden’ before Ofsted arrived.
Yesterday, in response to the suggestion that one DfE monitoring visit labelled IES Breckland as ‘outstanding’ but then – less than four months later – a due Ofsted report has labeled it as ‘inadequate’, the Education/BIS Minister Matthew Hancock stated in an ITV interview that transparency around Free Schools is “better than not” having it and that such transparency was being given by the publishing of “those reports”. His suggestion seemed to be that the public had the right information because they had both the Monitoring Form AND the Ofsted report. But, at present, only one report is due to be released: the Ofsted one. I have no idea how ITV know about the monitoring form. As my prior post pointed out there is a massive warning written on the forms saying that the school must not share them with anyone.
I have therefore resubmitted a request to the Department asking for full reports to be published. I originally did this and was told that they couldn’t be released due to the need for the frank provision of advice. However, that exemption relies on a Minister agreeing that the need to give advice is not outweighed by a public interest. We now have a Minister suggesting, on TV, that release is important.
I am therefore hoping the DfE will reconsider their original refusal.

Should we be placing unqualified teachers in Inadequate schools?

One of my fears about Schools Direct – the government programme allowing schools to ‘train their own’ teachers – was the apparent lack of checks on school-based support and the situations participants might be placed in. I’ve constantly been told not to worry as only schools with training capacity will use the School Direct system. But the evidence suggests otherwise.
Eleven years ago, when TeachFirst began placing trainee teachers in ‘challenging’ schools, it quickly became obvious that putting trainees in ‘Special Measures’ schools was a terrible idea (and that those whose school go into the status during their traineeship need a lot of extra help). Schools that are barely functioning well enough to teach their children are rarely able to give trainees the mentorship needed. This problem led the government to require schools as part of their Special Measures conditions to stop hiring any newly qualified teachers – i.e. even teachers taking their first job after university-based teacher training. It was rightly felt that new teachers needed to be in a more supportive environment while they were still learning to teach, and that students in schools which may have been struggling for several years needed more experienced teachers.
However, the introduction of Schools Direct now means that schools rated as ‘inadequate’ can recruit, and apparently train, completely unqualified teachers. 
When I mentioned that this might happen, the common cry was: “Yeah, but they won’t”. Except, they are.
The Academies Enterprise Trust are currently recruiting physics teachers via Schools Direct.
Job at Winton Comm
One of the schools they wish to place a teacher in is Winton Community Academy.  Winton Community Academy is currently rated as Inadequate.
Winton Community Academy
In fact, Winton Community Academy was rated last December as being inadequate in every category, including teaching & learning, and leadership & management.
Even though the school now has a new Principal and much effort going in to turnaround, if TeachFirst quickly learned that trainees struggled in those circumstances even given significant external support from TF, how can Winton expect to provide an adequate training ground for a participant whose programme will depend on a team whose main focus will be (& should be) making up for serious decline in the educational provision of its students?
If schools are to be given responsibility for training, they need to use that power responsibly. For everyone’s sake involved I hope they learn the lessons of TeachFirst and decide that an Inadequately rated school is not the place to put a brand new trainee teacher.

Should TeachFirst add a pre-service year? (And post-programme support?)

Justin “Juice” Fong – Head of Internal Communications at TeachForAmerica (TFA) – yesterday wrote a blog describing upcoming changes at TFA and making his own suggestion for the future.

The changes should interest people in England because they echo concerns raised before about TFA’s sister organisation, TeachFirst.

As Juice explains TFA is making two big changes:

  • Introducing a ‘pre-service’ year for applicants applying to the programme while at university, and
  • Extending classroom support to 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th year participants as part of a drive to keep more people in the classroom

The pre-service year will allow undergraduates to take part in a year-long preparation programme while still at university. The details of how, where, what they will do are still to be knocked out, and it is certainly won’t be mandatory, but it signals TFA’s seriousness about ensuring participants hit the ground running, especially younger and more inexperienced ones.

The extended classroom support seems less interesting for TeachFirst, as its participants have always had second year, and some later year support. BUT a constant nag about TeachFirst is that its name somehow suggests it promotes people leaving after the two year programme is complete. (“TeachFirst, BankerNext, HAHAHA” is perpetually heard by anyone taking the programme. It’s not funny the first time. By the fifty-third time, it’s soul destroying.)

TFA does not suffer the same moniker problem, but its participants are accused of leaving the classroom early. As are TeachFirsters (whether they do or not is actually disputable). But as Fong says, the extended support that TFA is providing might start to disrupt that notion. He states: Teach For America aims to remove the mental breakpoint of two years and instead say to its teachers, “Stay in the classroom. The organization is set up to continue to support you in the classroom for the next several years.”

As mentioned, TeachFirst  has always provided second year support, and there certainly used to be a lot of provision for year 3 onwards. In my subsequent years I coached participants, taught at summer institute, took part in school visits, attended policy meetings, and so on. Those experiences developed my classroom skills and kept my learning thirst quenched.

As the organisation has grown it has been more difficult to keep a handle on opportunities, and I know it’s something that is still being fiddled with and reworked. Which is why I am interested in TFA’s move. They are being quite decisive about focusing on a reduction in retention and are making a specific statement of what will be offered. I don’t know if TeachFirst would be in a position to do something similar soon, I’m not even sure they might want to or should do it. After all, TF cannot do everything and it might be that their limited resources are best off served doing other things.

But I think it’s a positive sign from TFA, and I am glad they are trying to keep more teachers in the classroom. If nothing else, TeachFirst should watch the results with interest.

Awww...This is from the days before my Michael Gove worrylines.
Awww…This is from the days before my Michael Gove worrylines.

DfE FOI Slipperiness: When an 'apology' became a 'press release'

In a recent letter, Michael Gove claimed the DfE were not to blame for King’s Science Academy escaping police investigation for alleged fraud until Newsnight revealed the case. Gove’s thorough timeline (p.5-8) explains how the DfE had reported all relevant details to Action Fraud – a central police agency – back in April. Unfortunately, the report was mislabeled as ‘information’ rather than a ‘crime’ and this meant the police were not alerted to start investigation. After Newsnight, Action Fraud contacted the DfE, apologised for this ‘administrative error’ and passed it to West Yorkshire Police.
In the letter Michael Gove says “the apology was confirmed in writing”. I was intrigued by this, and wondered if it might explain how the mistake happened. Unknown to most people, in my previous life as a management consultant I did a stint working with Merseyside Police. On improving crime reporting. So I put in a very basic FOI to see if it would shed some light.
Here’s the answer I received:
FOI Relply
Yes. You read it correctly.
“The apology was confirmed in writing” appears to mean “there is a press release in which the apology is confirmed”. In my mind, that’s not the same thing.
I’ve tried contacting the DfE to find out who wrote the press release (was it them? or action fraud?), and to see if any other written confirmation exists. Ideally, a written apology. My clarification email has been treated as a second FOI request so is going to take up to 20 days to answer. I tried phoning the Department yesterday, but so far no answer is forthcoming.

The Berlin Wall Manifesto: For politicians serious about private schools

Last month the New Statesman ran a series of articles looking at the “Berlin Wall” divide between private and state schools. The headline essay was by historian David Kynaston, and his son George, who worked as a teacher in a Birmingham state school. Looking back over the past 60 years or so, they berated Labour for failing to deal with inequities between the two.
Respondents such as Andrew Adonis, Anthony Seldon, and I, gave our own thoughts. Adonis, for example, suggested private schools should enter the state system through academisation. I recommended we follow India and require privates to freely provide 25% of their places via random lottery.
Michael Gove also jumped in. He made a speech lamenting the “The Berlin Wall” between private and state schools, & also arguing it must be brought down. (Though it was a bit more rhetoric than reality). He also wrote a follow-up NS article in which he taunted Labour’s failure to grasp the problem, then completely neglected to address my policy suggestions.
But, worst of all, was the disappointment of Tristram Hunt. So far he has been entirely silent on the affair somewhat proving the Kynastons’ right that Labour’s lack of courage on this issue betrays their alleged left-wing leanings.
Subsequently, George Kynaston and I emailed one another, disappointed by Labour’s reaction and wondering how we could push politicians to be more serious. Gove can make endless speeches, but it’s pointless without action. Continued silence from Hunt is unforgivable.
George suggested that only if all the suggested policies were adopted would “The Wall” even begin to shift. He outlined them in one of his emails, and I agreed.
So, here is our Berlin Wall Manifesto. It’s for politicians serious about bringing it down. If they really want change, they will sign up to everything. Not just the soundbites. Not the favourites of their voters, or donors, or next door neighbour. ALL OF THEM are needed. Anything less is cowardice.


The Berlin Wall Manifesto: For Politicians Serious About The State/Private Divide

  1. Require private schools to sponsor at least one academy, and/or work in partnership with an academy provider, giving access to facilities and staff.
  2. Allow private schools to convert to state school status through the Free Schools & Academies Programme
  3. Make private school charitable status conditional on freely offering 25% of places via random lottery to the most vulnerable children. No academic selection allowed.
  4. Weaken the link between private schools and top universities by providing the highest GCSE scorer in each state school the opportunity to take a guaranteed interview at their choice of Cambridge, Durham or Oxford.
  5. Disclosure of private schools’ accounts to give full details of bursaries, charitable activities and their impact.
  6. Agree to take part in a Cross-Party Commission dedicated to finding the most practical way to fully implement these policies.

Are some of these difficult? Sure. Are they impossible? No. If we really want to, all of these could be implemented. So from now on any politician making claims about private schools will find me sticking this in front of them and looking for agreement. If serious, they’ll agree. If not, we’ll know that “The Berlin Wall” was a disappointingly convenient soundbite.
Related Posts:
Let The Private Schools Take 25% At Random
What I Learned From Writing About Grammar Schools