7 reasons why state schools do not need independent schools*
1 Different planet
Independent schools – especially the top boarding schools – inhabit an entirely different world. Their staff and students live in a bubble, divorced from the lives of ordinary people. This disconnect with reality can be betrayed in attitudes, values and behaviour that may be patronising or even offensive.
State schools exist to educate whole communities and to look after all their students. They are fundamentally inclusive. Independent schools pick and choose whom they recruit and retain. They are fundamentally exclusive. This difference is hard to reconcile and results in different mindsets, that can easily be misinterpreted as ‘low expectations’.
3 Different skill: different job
Independent schools have a binding contractual arrangement with the parents who pay the fees. Students are likewise sub-contracted to play their part. In state schools you have to win hearts and minds in a different sense and in all sorts of different ways. State school staff develop a different set of skills in understanding others, as well as fundamentally different work practices.
4 Social similarity, not diversity
Independent schools are about buying social exclusivity, alongside academic success. Not having to mix with the rest of the population means you are less likely to really understand and empathize with the lives of those unlike yourself, especially the most challenged or challenging. This was clearly demonstrated in the recent TV series Tough Young Teachers.
The products of independent schools, by and large, run the country. They dominate politics, business, the professions and the media. Independent schools are a fundamental ingredient in the divide that keeps the haves at the top-of-the-tree and the rest in their place. The gap is getting wider and wastes the talent of so many people. This is a moral issue and relates to the type of country we want to be part of.
6 The academic myth
Independent schools, by and large, educate and reward those who are well suited to written and spoken academic, abstract, intellectual work. State schools educate these types of students too, but also a huge range of others, often a majority, who find this type of work very difficult or who excel in technical, practical or applied fields of learning. This means state school staff understand and value a more diverse range of learners, their talents and achievements.
7 Incomparable economic model
The economics of state and independent education are poles apart, making many comparisons meaningless. Pupil-teacher and support staff ratios, facilities and financial clout are very different. State secondary schools may receive £5K/year per head, independent schools at least double that plus all the little extras for things like specialist kit and trips abroad. The full independent boarding package can be over £30K/year, when the average cost of state boarding is around £10K.
• For state schools, read non-selective, neighbourhood comprehensive schools
• For independent schools, read selective, fee-charging, day and boarding schools
• There’s a big difference between the top, well-known independent schools and the rest – but it’s the well-known names that David Cameron and Tristram Hunt have in mind as sponsors of state schools
Labour’s Policy Review, written by David Blunkett and endorsed by Tristram Hunt, is the first piece of substantial thinking on how the education system in England might look following the major changes under Michael Gove since 2010. It aims to create some coherence from the current ‘atomised’ system, where many schools have a direct relationship with the Secretary of State through funding agreement and draws on the collaborative approach of the London Challenge.
There are 40 main recommendations:
Local oversight and the spreading of best practice
1 Creation of local area independent Director of School Standards (DSS), to work across LA boundaries
2 Remit of the DSS – to facilitate intervention to drive up standards and broker intervention, as in London Challenge
3 Operational role of the DSS – to work with LAs and with new local Educational Panels
4 Public duty on LAs, schools and other providers to cooperate with the DSS in brokering collaboration
5 Community schools not currently part of a federation, multi-academy or sponsor framework should be encouraged to join a partnership, including the creation of a new Community Trust model for primaries
6 Kite-marking of educational support services – those not inspected by Ofsted
7 Creation of Education Incubation Zones, to test new practice and develop the school of the future
8 Schools free to move between partnership, federation, trust or academy chain
9 A more decentralised and appropriate model for Funding Agreements
Entitlement to high standards and fairness
10 A public duty on LAs to represent the interests of pupils and parents
11 Assess the level and use of the Pupil Premium
12 Reaffirm the need for teachers to be qualified (in publicly funded institutions)
13 New, revised independent careers advice, through Local Enterprise Partnerships
14 Clarification of the role of the Local Government Ombudsman and Office of the Schools Adjudicator, to cover all schools
15 Strengthening of the School Admissions Code
16 Strengthening monitoring of the Schools Admissions Code
17 Strengthening of the Office of the Schools Adjudicator and Fair Access Protocols
18 Coherent and consistent appeals framework
19 Local Authorities remain responsible for place planning
20 DSS to lead on the process for commissioning of new schools and places
21 Adjudicator to assess appeals on new school decisions
22 Open competition for new institutions
23 Same freedoms for all schools in key areas: ‘light-touch’ curriculum, school day and week, buying in services
24 Take steps to clarify the legal entity of schools
25 Greater transparency, including throughout the Freedom of Information Act and audited accounts
26 Private sector providers of educational services brought within a standard framework
The local area
27 Best practice made available to governors, including the application of Freedom of Information requirements
28 Greater support made available to governors/trustees
29 DSS responsible for ensuring that available ‘dashboards’ are being properly accessed and utilised
30 Accessible and consistent procedures for parental redress across LAs – and LAs to encourage the creation of Parent Teacher Associations
31 LAs to use their scrutiny function to monitor training providers and FE provision, with the aim of reducing NEETs
32 Urgent review into unregulated alternative provision
33 Clarification of the objective of Every Child Matters and the long term relationship between the DSS and officers of the LA
34 Inspection of Chains and Trusts
35 Inspection of wider LA education services
36 Curriculum advisory group to be established to report to the Secretary of State – to make recommendations on ‘light-touch’ curriculum
37 Clarification of the role of Ofqual – in relation to determining curriculum and syllabus content
38 Reconsideration of the decision to merge the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) and Teaching & Development Agency (TDA)
39 Revision of the role of the Office of the Schools Commissioner
40 Abolition of the role of Regional School Commissioners and greater inter-authority collaboration at regional level
It’s obvious really. Schools, like football clubs, are ranked in league tables. Headteachers, like football managers, have to go if they don’t get the right results. Welcome to the real world.
It doesn’t matter what happened last year – or last week; you are only as good as your most recent results. The idea seems to be catching on and was quite blatantly stated in my case: “Education is a business like football, in that it is based on results. If we had been in the Premier League we would have been relegated this year.1” In the real world of football, people lose their jobs all the time, and what’s good for the 92 professional football clubs in this country is obviously good for the local school. Or is it?
Firstly, most state schools are not football clubs who can choose all their own students. Players do not arrive and depart during transfer windows. Some aren’t really fit enough to play but have to go out on the field anyway. [2See this footnote for the full analogy – quite a moving tale, in my view]. Schools also have to contend with goalposts moving during the course of a season and frequent rule changes, sometimes announced in Sunday newspapers.
Schools may serve communities where students enter with prior attainment significantly below average (i.e. in the bottom 25% nationally3) or where there is significant mobility. These schools are not selective. They do not have a common entrance exam to get in or weed out likely under performers in the sixth form before they take their A-levels4. They do not throw people out for routine misconduct. Some, however, do have boards of directors and it is often they that draw the ire of the supporters when things go wrong, rather than the manager. I know this only too well, having played a small part in the fans fight to save my adopted team Brighton & Hove Albion from total oblivion in the late 90s5.
The team was distinctly average and many ofthe results dire, but the fans fury was focussed firmly on the chairman Bill Archer and his side-kick, a former LibDem MP, David Bellotti (below). Both thought they knew what the locals wanted but had lost contact with reality.
Secondly, last season in May I sat and watched with mounting gloom as the team I’ve supported all my life, Manchester City, performed dismally and deservedly lost the FA Cup Final 0-1 to Wigan Athletic. City fans consoled themselves with finishing second in the Premier League – not bad for a team that was in the third tier of English football as recently as 1999. The previous season we had won the Premier League in the best possible way imaginable, snatching the prize from local rivals United in the last minute of the season. City fans still idolised the manager Roberto Mancini. However, just two days after the cup final defeat, Mancini was sacked. City are now the richest club in the world, success is non-negotiable, Mancini had not met his targets – and after all, business is business.
What happened down the road at Wigan is similarly revealing. They promptly lost their next league match after the cup final and were relegated.
Despite this being a shock, their manager Roberto Martinez’s position was never in doubt. He enjoyed a different sort of relationship than the average football manager with his Chairman Dave Whelan, who believed in what they were all trying to achieve. Whelan is an ex-businessman but he was realistic. He knew that Martinez had done his best with the resources at his disposal and that Wigan played a clever brand of attractive football. He didn’t believe in success at any cost. The club was built on values that would endure the inevitable setbacks along the way.
Although he had made history at Wembley the week before, Martinez clearly hadn’t hit his targets – just like Mancini, in fact. Nevertheless, the question of him being sacked never arose, not even to Whelan the businessman. Martinez had been a successful manager at Wigan and before that at Swansea, and in many ways still was. Whelan stood by his man. In the end, Martinez landed a plum job and was ‘promoted’ to manage Everton. Like Wigan, the other two Premier League relegated sides, Reading and QPR, also retained their managers. In fact, of the 12 relegated professional clubs at the end of the 2012-13 season across four divisions, only two teams sacked their managers. In fairness to the analogy, in the surreal world of football management, most teams actually sack their managers during the season, rather than at the end, in an effort to avoid relegation after a run of particularly disastrous results.
Schools only really find out their results at the end of the season. There were two sets of results in my case. A-level results mid-August were “truly astonishing6”- the best ever, with 28 students heading to university. This is in a locality that had never even had a sixth form until we opened one in 2009. GCSE results in English a week later were down, with lots of D grades rather than Cs on the foundation paper. The 5A*-C (with English and maths) was down and the rest is history, as they say7. No need to have regard to what was playing out nationally with shifts in English GCSE results or analyse what happened in more detail8. The results were worse than predicted and the conclusion inevitable. Schools, it is said, can’t tolerate young people getting poor results as they only get one chance at an education. You can’t bounce back in education from relegation.
Professional football clubs are not really proper businesses. Most clubs would cease trading tomorrow if expenditure had to be covered by income. Decisions are often made based on emotion, in the heat of the moment or because boards come under significant external pressure. You wouldn’t run a school like that. Clubs like Brighton & Hove Albion are not alone in having to endure their most traumatic eras while being run by ‘businessmen’ from the ‘real world’. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the type looking to make a fast buck or the ones who wish to massage their egos. It doesn’t have to be like that though, as Dave Whelan at Wigan demonstrates.
Schools certainly aren’t conventional businesses either. They are non-profit making , they don’t answer to shareholders or directors who hope to gain financially or professionally. They don’t make short term decisions based on ‘the bottom line’. They don’t make products but they do have multiple goals and an impact that is hard to sum up in one set of results. They should be directly accountable to the local communities they serve. And of course, they still need to be run in a business-like manner – and there the choice is still between the Dave Whelan style or the ruthless style employed at Manchester City. Which is more sustainable in the long-term is a matter of debate.
Schools do have something slightly in common with football clubs, being one of the few places left in society where the same people come together regularly in large numbers for a common purpose. But of course schools have a much more important over-riding moral mission to work for the common good. The church, the scouts and guides, the trades unions and political parties have all seen a dramatic decline in mass membership. In an increasingly fragmented, sometimes individualistic culture, state schools are still there, plugging away day in day out in doing the best for their communities.
The real heroes in education are the people turning up every day to walk into classrooms and schools to inspire the next generation. These are the adults who work with all young people – including those who have a lot more on their mind than whether they did their geography homework last night. How the staff sustain themselves every day to do this is a mystery, but it must have something to do with an unflinching belief in shaping the future for young people. ‘Making a difference’ is a cliché, but that’s what the vast majority of people came into teaching for.
Contrary to what one might read in the Daily Mail or Telegraph, the vast majority of state schools are not in crisis – they are doing a great job and are very popular with parents and students. The great value of schools in 2013 is that they epitomise the very best of human values – of fairness, compassion, aspiration and togetherness, as well as achievement. They nurture and sustain the human spirit. Without that, targets, results and league tables risk reducing our national education debate to the banalities of football manager syndrome. There is a lot more at stake here than the manager’s job, out there in the real world.
1 Wiltshire Conservative Councillor Mark Connolly, former chair of governors of Castledown School, Wellington Academy governor 2009-13 and Bristol Rovers fan, Salisbury Journal, 5th September 2013 http://goo.gl/aeOeEK
2Letter to Andover Advertiser, 12th September 2013 http://goo.gl/Z78zqk
3Intakes in the state system are analysed according to prior attainment in year 6. Significantly below national average is the label for the bottom 25% of schools on prior attainment.
4If your AS level isn’t up to scratch you’re out, Daily Telegraph, 29th August 2013 http://goo.gl/3XSxz8
5 Brighton rocked by civil war, Independent, 29th October 1996 http://goo.gl/edzSov
6 Quote from chairman in Wellington Academy press release – A-level results, 15th August 2013 http://goo.gl/DakyCC
7Wellington Academy press release GCSE results 2013, 29th August 2013 http://goo.gl/F0JIZv
8Brief summary of GCSE English results 2013 http://goo.gl/iBfdZa
Following Stephen Twigg’s launch of Labour’s education strategy at RSA a week ago, Michael Gove penned a lengthy reply (see links below).
Tristram Hunt, part of Twigg’s shadow team, took issue with Gove’s query over his qualifications to teach in Stoke a number of times during his @EducationFest speech at Wellington College over the weekend.
Footnote: this type of correspondence has an honorable tradition in the semi-legendary year long letter writing exchange – subsequently published as a booklet – between Fred Jarvis of the NUT and the then Prime Minister John Major in 1992-1993. As Lord Adonis pointed out @EducationFest @Wellington College on Saturday, John Major had the same three priorities as the Blair government – namely education, education, education – only Major said he had them in a different order!
Michael Wilshaw @EducationFest noted two Ofsted reports published last week
Summary of changes and Association of Secondary and College Leaders’ (ASCL) guidance on the new STPCD: ASCL 94_guidance_on_STPCD
General guide to what the Schoolteachers Pay Review Body(STRB) does and how the STPCD works: ASCL Guide to_the_STRB and STPCD
Our current appraisal policy: Appraising teachers performance – Jan ’13
Teachers’ Standards: Teachers standards