Educational press-reports-2010-Jun-Dec

A new GOVErnment brings in doubtful educational freedoms

    Michael Gove, secretary of state in the newly named Department for Education, took office on 12 May 2010 and quickly began to announce new policies. While it may seem pernickety for a website called free-school-from-government-control to speak out against a government that offers some schools some freedoms, I must insist that the educational measures being enacted by the Conservative/Liberal-Democrat coalition government lack the coherence of the strategy for educational advance put forward on this site.

Michael Gove is keeping SATs, league tables and Ofsted inspections but promises some revisions to each. He has written to heads of all primary and secondary schools inviting them to seek academy status with freedom: over curriculum, over teachers’ pay, from local authority ‘control’ (and support), and, if already judged by Ofsted to be ‘outstanding’, from further inspection. He is actively encouraging groups of parents to set up their own ‘free’ schools in shops and houses and tearing up planning laws which might prevent such use. He is abolishing the General Teachers’ Council. In effect he is taking teacher training away from the universities - which will kill off their Departments of Education. He has rejected Labour’s decision to extend entitlement to free school meals to more low income families. He is intending to have the national curriculum rewritten by experts in the subject fields, naming Niall Ferguson for guidance on history and Carol Vorderman for help with mathematics. Presumably this will be for the second tier of schools, the non-academies, particularly the primary schools which rely on the varied advisory services of the local authorities and so reject academy status.

These measures seem ideologically to amount to freedom for the able who want to run their own show and may blossom, but control for the rest who teach primary age children and in secondary schools the underprivileged, the deprived and the less able: a two-tier system reflecting conservative ideology of haves and have-nots as the natural order of things.

It is difficult to decide which items in the press to report here, but these three articles summarise some of the concerns expressed in the early days of the Coalition government.


Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, spoke out in the TES on 18 June under the above heading, with the subtitle: the Coalition’s mad academy plans could create a two-tier free-for-all that leaves state schools floundering

This is how she envisages the consequences for state schools:

    The vast majority of state schools currently ‘buy in’ a range of services from their local authority: financial services, audit, school improvement advice on hea;lth and safety regulations, legal advice, representation and employment support and – crucially for parents and pupils – the operation of a fair admissions system. But how, under the Government’s proposals, are local authorities going to plan their provision – including staffing and resources – for the start of the next school year in September?

    At present, they have no sound basis for calculating which schools will ‘buy into’ their services and, therefore, what resources, including staffing, they can afford to employ. The danger is that central services will be cut for those schools that stay in the local authority family – and because these schools are more likely to have disadvantaged intakes (and hence cannot pass the attainment threshold to be judged ‘outstanding’) the gap between them and their more privileged neighbours is likely to widen.Is this what the Government wants – ‘outstanding’ schools with privileged intakes to float off to a haven of independence while poorer schools with deprived intakes are starved of the resources they need? …

    And what, finally, of pupils? Here the Government’s plans are barking mad. Academies will be free to teach just what they like while local authority schools will suffer the burden of a rigid and narrow ‘facts-based’ curriculum … based on a rosy past of dates of kings and queens, rivers of England and phonics [which] fails to prepare pupiuls for life and work in the 21st century.

    Is that what the Government really, really wants? And if so, why?


Fred Jarvis, a former general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, expresses strong concern in the TES of 2 July under the above heading.

    The Lib Dems justify membership of the Coalition by arguing it is necessary to overcome the economic crisis. But on education, their leaders have tied them to Tory plans which have nothing to do with that crisis and which they strongly opposed before the election. These are the proposals for “free” schools and the transformation of primaries and secondaries into academies, which was not even mentioned in the Coalition’s “programme for government”. …

    The ministers have sought to justify their proposals by quoting Tony Blair’s call for “a system of independent state schools, underpinned by fair admissions and fair funding, where teachers are equipped and enabled to drive improvements, driven by the aspirations of parents”. But the proposed fast tracking of “outstanding” schools to academy status is a perversion of Blair’s academic policy.

    Gove’s central purpose seems to be to assume total control over the funding of large numbers of schools with the aim of removing the local authorities from any serious role in education, regardless of the chaos that would cause and the dangers it would pose, especially for primaries. How else is one to interpret his invitation to all schools to become academies? …

    Shirley Williams argued cogently in the Lords that primaries are crucial institutions that help to hold communities together, are heavily dependent on local authority advisory services and require the support of their community more than secondaries do, and need governing bodies that sustain and include members of the community.

Jarvis’s article carries the sub-heading: Good luck to rebel peers and bishops in their fight against Gove’s ‘ludicrous’ academy and free school plans.


Simon Jenkins, in The Guardian on 27 May writes, This dreary abuse of local democracy was tried by Thatcher and Blair. All people want is fair access to a good nearby school.

After fascinating glimpses into the recent ministerial bureaucracies (Patten’s 1993 act promoting grant-maintained schools had 308 sections, with 1,000 amendments added during its passage, all to regulate what were supposedly liberated schools. … In 2001, David Miliband as education minister was estimated by Hansard to have sent 3,840 documents to each school, embracing 350 policy targets), Jenkins writes:

    Whatever is wrong with English schools (always excepting London), it is not governance. People seem to prefer them run through some sort of local democracy and they want a fair admission system. Most schools and teachers welcome support in staffing and admissions from a local authority office. That is why so few opted out. “Freedom” is not an issue uppermost in most minds, while parents just want their local school to be good.

    If Gove wants to free schools of bureaucracy he should look to the beam in his own department’s eye. He can call off his hgealth, safety and employment mafias. He can disband, as he seems minded to, his curricular centralism. He can abolish more than one measly quango. He can use his spare money on the Liberal Democrats well-conceived pupil premium.

    Dreary abuse of local democracy is being mounted yet agaian to cloak a bid to “nationalise” schools. The key to better education must lie elsewhere, deep within these institutions, in their ethos, morale and staffing. Good schools are underpinned not damaged by civic commitment and civic pride.


This summer sees the retirement of three union leaders who have struggled hard over recent years to try to safeguard the education of the nation’s children while also seeking to protect the professional careers of their union members: John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, and John Bangs, head of education of the National Union of Teachers. Without knowing it, thousands of young people owe them much.


What was the outcome of the boycott?

Helen Ward reported in The TES on 9 July:

    The Government is to press ahead with key stage 2 Sats as usual in 2011, despite this year’s boycott. … The announcement has severely disappointed the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the NUT, which organised this year’s protest. …

    Official figures released this week show that 4,005 (26 per cent) of the 15,515 eligible maintained schools did not take the tests. The Government published a list of schools which took part in the boycott. …

    Education Secretary Michael Gove this week argued it was crucial the tests continued and would start next year on May 9, saying it was “unfortunate parents and pupils in the schools that boycotted the tests will not benefit from the information that can be taken from test results”. He added, “I accept there are flaws in the current testing system so I am committed to reviewing national curriculum tests”.

How did teacher assessments compare with test results?

In the first week of August teacher assessments were published alongside test results. Across England, for the three-quarters of the primary schools that took the tests, the average test result was that 81 per cent of 11-year-olds reached level 4 and the average teacher assessment (based on each teacher’s judgements of what a child has achieved by the end of the year) was also 81 per cent.

Helen Ward, reporting this in The TES on 6 August also noted comments by the general secretaries of the NAHT and NUT, and the Department for Education:

    Russell Hobby (NAHT new general secretary) said that now the KS2 teacher assessment scores have been proven to be rigorous, tests should only be used to inform teacher assessment scores – as they are in Year 2. “The fact the teacher assessment results are so similar is a good sign that we don’t have teachers making inflated judgements of progress. I think it justifies our stance and it is much cheaper than the system we have for Sats.” …

    A Department for Education spokesman said it was important to have externally marked tests to give parents information about schools because there was divergence between teacher assessment and test results at authority and school level …

But Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said that the relationship between teacher assessments and test scores was not the important issue. Her concern was publication of results and league tables.

    “If teacher assessment were to be routinely published it would run the same risk as the high-stakes tests, narrowing the curriculum as is evident from Sats results for English and maths.”

ATL and NUT join forces on SATs by publishing “Make Assessment Measure Up”

A report at tells that:

    The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the National Union of Teachers (NUT) have joined forces to call for an end to National Curriculum tests. They are calling for an independent review of SATs and want to see testing replaced with teacher assessment and school league tables to be scrapped.

    The paper states: "We believe that assessment involving all pupils should focus on enhancing their learning, not on evaluating schools. Other forms of evaluation should focus on institutional effectiveness. Sample tests should be used to help evaluate the education service as a whole. The replacement of current national testing arrangements at Key Stage 2 by moderated teacher assessment, together with sample testing, would benefit pupils, parents, the Government and teachers."

    Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the ATL, said: "Politicians need to understand that no assessment system can work properly if it is used for the kind of high stakes currently attached to tests and exams. They also need to look at the evidence; pupils progress better when they receive regular feedback on their work. While rethinking assessment the government should also rethink school accountability and invest in developing teachers, which is the only sure route to better achievement all round."

    Christine Blower, General Secretary of the NUT, said: "The fact that members in schools boycotted the Key stage 2 SATs this year, and that very many who didn't remain deeply opposed to the current high stakes testing system, is a very clear message to the Secretary of State. There is an opportunity to move forward on the basis of professionally acceptable assessment which will contribute to, not detract, from learning. I encourage the Secretary of State to seize that opportunity."

“Now is the time for schools to act over Sats”

In a letter to The TES on 10 September, Mick Brookes, recently retired general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers writes that Testing must be the servant rather than the master of the curriculum. He then gives a call to arms:

My challenge to colleagues in primary schools is not to wait for permission, but to decide now what it is you want for your Year 6 this academic year – and to stick to your guns. It is heartening to hear that primary schools are also not waiting to be told what curriculum they should have in place.

Children’s view: assessment useful, Sats not

An article in Education Guardian on 21 September by Lucy Tobin gives results of a survey of 1000 children and their parents carried out by Queen’s University Belfast for the Welcome Trust. It focussed on science Sats – shortly before Ed Balls abolished these, but the results are held to apply to all of these tests. Derek Bell, head of Education at the Welcome Trust said:

Children are more sophisticated than we often give them credit for. The survey results show that they understand why they need assessment, but they also understand the difference between a test that simply measures their ability, and one that gives them feedback and helps them learn.

In the survey, 95% of students said science assessment was “useful”, but only 10% said Sats were the best method for finding out how well they were doing in the subject.

Another concern flagged up is the burden placed on children to perform. All that time spent doing revision means schools end up losing the richness of the curriculum because Sats dominate everything, said Bell. The report also referred to the “largely negative” impact of Sats on children’s home life, with year 6 and 7 pupils reporting “feeling stressed or nervous, being made fun of or bullied over their marks, and even talking of assessment causing break-ups between friends.”

National Association 0f Head Teachers will not boycott Sats In 2011

The TES reported on 1 October (Irena Barker) that the NAHT has decided not to call for a boycott of KS2 Sats following the government’s promised review of assessment. Russell Hobby (general secretary) and Mike Welsh (president) have written to their members to explain this decision:

    This review is a genuine opportunity for the profession to shape the future assessment for all children. Participating in Sats is unpalatable. The choice before us is not whether the current regime is good or bad. If Sats were wrong last year, they are wrong this year. The choice before us is which strategy will best achieve a change to the present system. … We do think the ministers are open to persuasion, through the intellectual and moral case that we will make.

The National Union of Teachers is to decide later this month on its action. On its website it says:

    We know that the vast majority of NUT (and NAHT) members want to see the end of the iniquitous system of League Tables and SATs. We do believe that the boycott last summer is a major reason for the Government’s decision to conduct a review of primary school assessment and accountability.


William Stewart reported in The TES on 6 August that the Commons education select committee is to investigate Ofsted’s huge remit and its general performance and effect on schools.

    The inquiry will examine:

    • What the purposes of inspection should be (relating not only to schools but to all organisations, settings and services under Ofsted’s remit;

    • The impact of the inspection process on school improvement;

    • Ofsted’s performance;

    • The consistency and quality of inspection teams in the Ofsted inspection process;

    • The weight given to different factors within the inspection process;

    • Whether inspection of all organisations, settings and services to support children’s learning and welfare is best conducted by a single inspectorate;

    • Ofsted’s role in providing an accountability mechanism for schools operating with greater autonomy.

The new chair of the committee is the Conservative MP Graham Stuart. The committee is requesting written submissions by 8 October.

Osted chief under fire for ’insulting’teachers on SEN

Kerra Maddern reported in The TES on 17 September of the fury of teachers, heads and union leaders over the claim by Christine Gilbert, Chief Inspector, that the special needs label is a cover for poor classroom skills.

    Ofsted’s report says that half of the 916,000 children on the “school action” register – the first stage of support – should not have been identified as having special needs. Inspectors say effective identification of SEN and good quality extra help in schools is “not common” and this results in children developing needless problems.

    The report has triggered anger among the teaching unions. NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates, said it was “unacceptable to scapegoat teachers” for the failings in the “complex” SEN system. Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said inspectors were “insulting and wrong”, adding that the national curriculum was acting as a “barrier” to stop teachers responding adequately to the needs of children. … Russell Hobby, general secretary of the heads’ union the NAHT, said “SEN is not an easy thing to categorise: teachers see children every day, Ofsted saw them for one. If a teacher isn’t seen to fight for any advantages for pupils they will be condemned by parents – and there’s no teacher who wouldn’t try to get the best for their class. It’s easy for Ofsted to blame society’s failings on schools.” … Brian Lightman, general secretary of heads’ union ASCL, said the Ofsted report was “grossly unfair” to blame teachers who had been only following the guidance from the previous Government.


Education Secretary Michael Gove outlines process for setting up Free Schools

On 18 June 2010 the Education Secretary outlined the process for allowing teachers, charities and parents to set up new schools called free schools. He described Free Schools as independent state schools run by teachers - not bureaucrats or politicians - and accountable to parents.

The Government will make it easier to secure sites for new schools such as residential and commercial property without the need for ‘change of use’ consent. £50 million of the £201 million funding earmarked for the Harnessing Technology Grant project (for school IT systems etc) is to be re-allocated to provide capital funding for Free Schools up to 31 March 2011. The New Schools Network is to offer £500,000 of initial funding to help groups across the country get the support they need to start forming schools. The Network will be the first point of contact for groups who wish to start schools and will provide them with information as they go through the process and prepare their proposals.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said:

    The most important element of a great education is the quality of teaching and Free Schools will enable excellent teachers to create new schools and improve standards for all children. This Government believes that passionate teachers who want to make a real difference to education should have the opportunity. That’s why I am today inviting groups to complete a proposal form and enter a process to set up new ‘Free Schools’. …

    These schools will have the freedom to innovate and respond directly to parents’ needs. The new Free Schools will also be incentivised to concentrate on the poorest children by the introduction of this Government’s Pupil Premium which will see schools receiving extra funds for educating children from disadvantaged backgrounds. In this country, too often the poorest children are left with the worst education while richer families can buy their way to quality education via private schools or expensive houses. By allowing new schools we will give all children access to the kind of education only the rich can afford – small schools with small class sizes, great teaching and strong discipline.

Extracted from

“Gold rush tactics” as organisations try to cash in on free schools

Kerra Maddern reported in The TES on 30 July that organisations ‘touting for business’ are encouraging parents to sign up to free schools that do not yet exist. In one case, in Shepherds Bush, London leaflets were delivered to homes saying “A new primary school for your child! We are opening a new school in your area soon and we are enrolling now.”

John Bangs, head of education at the NUT, shortly before his retirement, said:

    This is a recipe for utter chaos in the education system. It is gold rush tactics applied to the education system. This is breaking the spirit of the procedure. It’s absolutely outrageous, never mind the adverse implications for neighbouring schools of parents getting these covert messages. It is touting for business before the Queen has given her consent. The Academies Act, including a clause establishing the idea of Free Schools became law on 27 July. An important amendment made in the parliamentary debate was to require the Secretary of State, in approving a free school, to consider the impact of the free school on other schools in the locality.

Maddern’s article also quoted Andy Slaughter, Labour MP for Hammersmith:

    There is no new primary school: there is only the idea of attracting children from existing schools and then applying to the Government for the money that goes to these in order to set up a new free school. He was concerned that this would inevitably act to the detriment of the existing schools.

Michael Gove accused of exaggerating interest in free schools

This was the heading to an article by Anushka Asthana in The Observer on 1 August. She wrote:

    Michael Gove faced fresh accusations of exaggerating the level of interest in his education reforms yesterday after it emerged there had been just 62 applications for his "free schools" policy.

    Before the election the education secretary said he wanted hundreds of parent-and-teacher groups to open their own schools. Once in government he told parliament there had been 700 expressions of interest to the New Schools Network (NSN), a charitable organisation helping to set up the scheme.

    But now it has emerged that fewer than one in 10 of those who were said to have expressed interest have applied. The figure was revealed by the Department for Education in a letter responding to a freedom of information request. A civil servant said there had been 62 applications.

Lib Dem call for boycott of free schools

In The Guardian on 10 August, Patrick Wintour reported that the lead education motion at the party’s forthcoming conference will urge parents not to support free schools, saying that they are socially divisive, likely to depress education outcomes and an inefficient use of resources in an age of austerity. Could be difficult for the Coalition!

GOVE AND THE FIVE FALLACIES "Academies and free schools are costly, unfair and incompatible with basic Lib Dem principles"

Peter Downs, a retired headteacher speaking at the Lib-Dem Party conference in September said that the substance of the Act we now have on the statute book is potentially a very significant threat to the stability, fairness and viability of our education system

He listed five fallacies which were subsequently published under his name in The Guardian on 21 September

    First, Gove is keen to liberate schools from “local authority control”. Local authorities do not control schools. They used to. … It is the head and governors who now make the vast majority of decisions. The authority is there to provide a whole range of services and support, including, most significantly, the cost-effective provision of enough school places. There is no justification for dismantling a structure that has an essential and invaluable role.

    The greatest interference today comes not from local authorities but central government: a highly prescriptive national curriculum and shelf-loads of guidance; an oppressive inspection regime; an obsession with targets and putting schools into categories; and a never ending stream of education acts.

    The second fallacy is the need for an upheaval in the school system because of parental dissatisfaction. The latest survey by the Department for Children, Schools and Families shows that 94% of parents are … satisfied with their children’s school. …

    Fallacy three is that changing the structure of the system raises standards. Research on pupil performance gives a different finding. Dylan Wiliam, from the Institutue of Education, says: it’s not the school you’re in that matters, it’s the classroom. So national efforts should focus on improving teaching and learning rather than administrative restructuring.

    Fallacy four is the idea that academies and free schools are part of the localism agenda. Nothing could be further from the truth. I quote from the department website: “The Young People’s Learning Agency will fund, monitor, regulate, and handle complaints about academies.” This isn’t localism – it is a massive centralisation of our school system.

    The fifth and most dangerous fallacy of all is the idea that principles of the marketplace can be applied to state-funded education. “Good” schools are expected to expand; “free schools” will provide competition so that underperforming or failing schools will have to improve their performance, or wither and die. Just as the supermarket drives the corner shop out of business, so it will be with schools.


Academies were introduced by the previous Labour government as an attempt to improve weak or underperforming schools by providing better resources, funding for improving buildings, independence from local authorities, and certain curricular and managerial freedoms. At the time of the general election just under 200 academies had been established. The Coalition approach is to allow schools rated as outstanding by Ofsted to be fast tracked to academy status.

The Academies Bill was presented in the House of Lords on 26 May; the day that the Queen’s Speech introduced the Coalition Government’s programme. Its stated purpose was to enable many more schools to become academies in England, the first to open in September 2010.. That same day, Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, wrote to schools explaining that the new academy programme would be open to all schools and invited expressions of interest. Local authorities are by-passed in the Bill and have no power to block schools converting to academies. The Bill was passed by 317 votes to 225 and received the Royal Assent on 27 July.

The website contains a detailed account of the new Act.

The brief debate in Parliament on the Bill was reported in The Guardian by Jeevan Vasagar and Allegra Stratton on 20 July

    The education secretary, Michael Gove, said yesterday that his plan to transform England’s schools was urgently needed to improve the chances of the poorest children, and claimed the country was falling behind the rest of the worldin science, literacy and maths. … He told MPs that the legislation would bring “new dynamism” to a programme that had lifted standards for all children and helped the disadvantaged most of all.

    Addressing concerns that his reforms will create an elite among state schools, Gove said that the academies will be required to help struggling schools. … He said he was building on plans by former prime minister Tony Blair to give academy freedoms to every school.

    Critics fear that the fast-tracking of outstanding schools will create a two-tier system.

Polly Toynbee, for example, in The Guardian on 20 July wrote that these rushed reforms are casual law-making by arbitrary diktat that will fail the poorest and fuel the rise of faith schools.

There was furious correspondence in a number of papers. Peter Newsam, who many years ago was Education Officer for the Inner London Education Authority (disbanded by Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1990) wrote in The Guardian:

    The constitutional innocence with which the precipitate passage of the academies bill has been treated is astonishing. It will give this and any future education secretary, in England, unprecedented powers, exercisable without reference to any elected body: opening a school whenever he wants; deciding where any individual school should be built; funding any school he likes on any terms he chooses, or, after due notice, ceasing to fund any school contracted to him whenever he likes. “Independent” academies and “free” parent-led schools are, of course, wholly dependent on the secretary of state for their annual grants and solely accountable to him. So they may find it prudent not to annoy him. The untrammelled concentration of power in the hands of a single government minister was what the Butler Education Act of 1944 , now effectively dismantled in a couple of days, was careful to avoid.


The axe fell on Monday 5 July. In the House of Commons Michael Gove, secretary of state, announced that the rebuilding or refurbishing of 715 schools across the country would be stopped immediately. Richard Vaughan, in The TES on 9 July reported that this was not a surprise but for many is a devastating blow. He reported Gove as saying:

    The Building Schools for the Future (BSF) scheme has been responsible for about one–third of all this Department’s capital spending, but throughout its life it has been characterized by massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy.

It is anticipated that this will save between £4 billion and £5 billion.

By 6 August, Vaughan had more to report:

    Michael Gove experienced the lowest point of his short political career last month when he announced to the Commons that he would be scrapping the secondary school rebuilding programme. … In the days after announcing the end of BSF something slipped . While there is undoubted support from some quarters for his reform agenda, it is surely an understatement to say that things have not all been going his way. …

    Grumblings turned into roars of derision once errors were found on no fewer than four successive lists of schools that were to lose out on rebuilding money. One minute heads and teachers believed that their school would be rebuilt; the next, their hopes were dashed.

While much acrimony about the building cuts has been directed at the Education Secretary, some of it could focus on the previous government and certainly at the officials in the department who have been responsible for creating a behemoth of bureaucracy. Speaking in the House of Commons on 5 July, (Hansard report) Michael Gove gave this account of the Building Schools for the Future programme as set up by the previous administration.

    The BSF process had nine meta-stages: preparation for BSF; project initiation; strategic planning; business case development; procurement planning; procurement; contractual close; construction; and then operation. Each of these meta-stages had a series of sub-stages. Meta-stage 3 - strategic planning - for example, had another nine sub-stages. Step 1 required local authorities to produce a strategic overview of the education strategy. Step 2 required local authorities to produce a school and further education estate summary. Step 5 required local authorities to produce another strategic overview - this time with "detail and delivery". Step 6 required local authorities to use the school and FE estate summary to develop an "estates strategy". Only once we had reached step 9 - once the Department for Education had given approval - did part 2 of the "strategy for change" become complete. This level of bureaucracy was absurd and had to go.

He went on to refer to some 60 official documents that anyone negotiating the BSF process needed to navigate and to the various senior staff that a local authority had to employ, in addition to:

    a project governance and delivery structure, normally including a project board of 10 people, a separate project team of another 10 people and a further, separate, stakeholder board of 20 people. They formed the core group supervising the project. Beyond them, local authorities were expected to engage a design champion, a client design adviser and a 4ps gateway review team - a group of people who produce six separate gateway reviews over the course of the whole project. It is perhaps no surprise that it can take almost three years to negotiate the bureaucratic process of BSF before a single builder is engaged or brick laid.

It seems that nearly everyone except the secretary of state realizes that enhancing poor environments encourages teachers and children to achieve better results.

Why is the fabric of a school important? A survey of 503 teachers carried out by the Teachers Support Network, the British Council for School Environment with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, between February and July, found that 96% said that a school’s environment influences pupils’ behaviour, while 26% of the sample considered that the design of the buildings in which they teach was poor in providing an effective learning environment. ( ) It seems likely that Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, does not share this view, since his ‘free schools’ can be set up anywhere – according to the Financial Times of 18 June in derelict hospital buildings, vacant banks and boarded-up shops. Whether he actually said that is not clear, but in the House of Commons on 21 June he said:

    I hope that the schools will be set up in a variety of new buildings and in some old buildings as well. If we examine what has happened in Sweden, for example, we see that many new schools have opened in libraries, disused university buildings and observatories. … I am sure we all agree that the most important thing about education is the quality of teaching and learning.

(Where the spare libraries, disused university buildings and observatories are in this country remains to be shown!) What Mr Gove doesn’t seem to recognize is that the ‘quality of teaching and learning’ depends, in part and for most pupils and their teachers, on the quality of the school environment.


Richard Vaughan in The TES on 12 November reported on the Department for Education’s just published “business plan” which included not only revision of teacher performance management regulations (which is in line with Michael Gove’s plans to rethink the existing teachers’ pay and conditions document) but also proposals to publish teachers’ pay, qualifications and sick –leave records on a school—by-school basis so they can be included in league tables.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the proposals demonstrated the deep-rooted contempt this Coalition government has for teachers. The negative attitudes which are clearly underpinning this proposal will leave a nasty taste in the mouth of a hard-working and dedicated profession.


The Observer 2nd editorial on 21 November put it cogently: What a spectacular own goal for Michael Gove. It said:

    School Sport Partnerships (SSPs) started working in 2000. They organised training, after-school clubs and competitions. A budget of £162m was earmarked to be shared between specially nominated “hub” schools in each area. Those schools then co-ordinated programmes for the rest. …

    Since SSPs became operational the number of children involved in inter-school competition has increased by 1.63 million; the number involved in competition within schools has increased by 1.15 million. There have also been increases in the numbers of children volunteering in sports activities outside school.

Michael Gove has scrapped it and, as might be expected, there have been enormous protests.

Then, on 2 December, came the news in The Guardian that Cameron orders rethink over school sports cuts after outcry


That was the front page headline in The TES on 19 November. An article by Richard Vaughan said that the Education Secretary has hinted that he plans to move teacher training into schools and shift money from university teacher education departments to headteachers. Certainly the future of the BEd and similar first degrees looks perilous and the PGCE may also be threatened. At present more than 33,000 entrants are trained at university and only 5,000 in schools. Michael Gove told The TES: The best teachers are those who are academic, but can also master the art of pedagogy. I call it a craft because it is something you learn in a work-based environment. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t require real intellectual accomplishment.

Curiously, a week later, Ofsted reported that University training outperforms ‘on the job’ training. While 47% of university-led programmes were rated as outstanding, only 23% of school-centred teacher training received the same grade.

But even more curiously, in the same week Michael Gove announced that unqualified staff can teach in his free schools. This is, of course, the situation in independent schools, but in mainstream state education QTS (qualified teacher status) is required.


Richard Vaughan, in The TES on 26 November reported on Michael Gove’s grand vision for England’s schools.

    The education secretary has spelt out the biggest reform to the education system for more than a generation, bringing about changes to everything from teacher training to discipline, school inspections, curriculum and assessment.

Vaughan summarises the White Paper as ‘Reform, review and reduce’. These are the main features:

    • Raise entry requirements for those entering teaching to second-class degrees;

    • Introduce teaching schools;

    • Reform exclusion appeal panels instead of abolishing them;

    • Trial new approach to exclusions, handing responsibility to schools;

    • Review the national curriculum and slim it down;

    • Introduce English Baccalaureate;

    • Reform Ofsted inspection;

    • Establish new GCSE ‘floor’ target of 35% pupils achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths (raised from 30%);

    • Establish new primary school ‘floor’ target of 60% pupils reaching level 4 in English and maths (raised from 55%);

    • Introduce a national funding formula;

    • Reduce school sixth-form funding to FE college levels;

    • Make more data on schools, such as funding and performance, available to the public;

    • Review key stage 1 and key stage 2 assessments.

Many of the details of this programme have not been worked out yet. Three comments made to the TES are:

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said: The Coalition should end its “obsession” with floor targets. Many schools work in very challenging circumstances, in some of the most deprived areas in the country – a factor that needs to be taken into account in evaluating schools’ performance.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, said: His plans risk leaving every school an island, divorced from the help and support of their local authorities. We are also deeply worried by the total confusion, incoherence and blatant contradictions which run throughout the government’s education policy.

Andy Burnham, shadow education secretary, said: Michael Gove is obsessed with ideological structural changes which will benefit the few, not the many. The Government has a plan for some children, but not for every child.

LEAGUE TABLES FOR FIVE YEAR OLDS: Gove to publish school-by-school results after just a year of formal education

This was the incredible and devastating announcement on the front page of The TES on 3 December heading a report by Helen Ward.

The proposal, contained in the Department for Education’s business plan, is to use the results from the early years foundation stage (EYFS) profile, which is completed at the end of pupils’ reception year. Four and five-year-olds are assessed on aspects of learning, including whether they can count to ten, blend sounds in words and understand that people have different beliefs. At the moment, the results are only published at national and local authority level. The Government said in the business plan that it will publish the results by school in order to “help people make informed choices”.

Professor Tina Bruce, an early education expert at Roehampton University, described the proposals as “absolutely terrible”. She said: The worry about the EYFS profile was precisely that it would put young children under pressure; if you start publishing results you do inevitably put them under pressure.


The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide evaluation of 15-year-old school pupils' scholastic performance, performed first in 2000 and repeated every three years. It is coordinated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), PISA claims to measure education's application to real-life problems and life-long learning in three competence fields: reading, mathematics, science. (Wikipedia)

Far eastern countries tend to come at the top of the rank lists: Shanghai (China), Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea. Finland is the top European country. Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Japan come in the next band. Germany, France, the USA and the UK come lower still. Their ranks and scores (announced in December 2010) for 2009 are as follows:

Maths: Germany, 16th, (513); France, 22nd, (497); UK, 28th (492); USA, 30th (487)

Science: Germany, 13th, (520); UK, 16th, (514); USA 23rd, (502); France 27th, (498)

Reading: USA 17th, (500); Germany 20th, (497); France 22nd, (496); UK 25th, (494)

As expected, the press had a field day on these results. The Daily Mail had banner headlines about it on its front page on 8 December, bylined Kate Loveys:


    In a devastating indictment of Labour, OECD condemns British education which is now inferior to Estonia’

    Britain has plummeted down worldwide education rankings in the last decade, according to definitive figures which shame Labour’s record on schools. Despite spending having doubled since 2000, the education of teenagers has ‘stagnated at best’. … Britain has now fallen behind such relatively poor nations as Estonia, Poland and the Slovak Republic in reading, maths and science.

The TES had a different slant on it. Its front page headline (10 December) was Pisa rejects claim that competition raises results

Richard Vaughan reported that the PISA document says categorically that increasing competition between schools will not boost performance across the system as a whole.

    While students who attend schools thatr compete with other schools for student enrolkment perform better than students who attend schools that do not compete with other schools, the cross-country analysis suggests that systems as a whole do not benefit from higher rates of school competition.

Vaughan commented that this conclusion will fuel criticism that free schools will benefit middle class parents who set them up, but do little for the disadvantaged. He also drew attention to the fact that in one aspect of these international league tables the UK excels: we have the lowest incidence of bullying in the world according to Pisa

In the same issue of The TES Peter Wilby wrote that We’d do well to take our slice of the Pisa with a large pinch of salt.. He pointed out that because of the cultural differences, ethnic and social differences, language differences and even climate difference Pisa cannot offer a guide to the relative success of school systems. … As a world cup tournament for education, Pisa makes about as much sense as a football world cup that awards points for fencing, archery and tiddlywinks.

This page was last added to on 14 December 2010