Green Paper: Schools that work for everyone

1 Jan

I        Preamble

On 12 September, the Government published the Green Paper, Schools that work for everyone, which the Department for Education (DfE) has taken off the websiteThe deadline for responses was 12 December 2016.   We now have to wait on the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, to give the nation a steer on where she wishes to go from here.

The Green Paper proposed a number of recommendations which, if implemented, will affect four discrete institutions:

  • Independent Schools
  • Universities
  • Selective Schools
  • Free Schools which are faith orientated

The proposals were issued against the background of increasing pressure on school places – especially good ones.  Primary numbers grew by 11% between 2010 and 2016. This will feed into the secondary sector for the rest of the life of this Parliament.   The most recent projections are that the primary school population is estimated to increase by a further 174,000 (3.9%) from the current year to 2020.  The secondary school population will rise by 284,000 (10.3%) over the same period.

While the Green Paper made it abundantly clear that the government would continue to support schools with the Pupil Premium Grant to promote the education of the most socially deprived children in our system – i.e. those entitled to free school meals (FSM) and in care – it expressed government concerns that those children whose families just fail to qualify – i.e. the just about managing (JAM) – were being short-changed.

Children entitled to FSM come from families in one of these classifications. Those in receipt of

  • Income Support
  • Income-Based Jobseekers Allowance
  • Income-Based Employment and Support Allowance
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Universal Credit

This effectively means that if either parent/carer is earning more than £16,190 annually, the child does not qualify for FSM.  In January 2016, the national average for those entitled to FSM was 14.3%. The government is, however, worried about children in families on modest incomes who do not qualify for such benefits but are, nevertheless struggling financially.

Information on the educational achievements of such children is opaque as it melds with data on those who come from well-heeled backgrounds.  Accordingly, the first two questions that the Green Paper posed for us were as follows.

  • How can we identify such children?
  • How can we better understand the impact of policy on a wider cohort of pupils whose life chances are profoundly affected by school but who may not qualify or apply for free school meals?

So what plans does the government has for the four groups set out above?

II       The Detail

(a)        Independent Schools

Independent schools with capacity and capability will be expected – in recognition of the benefits they derive from their charitable status – to do the following.

  • Sponsor academies or establish free schools in the state sector where the government will meet the capital and revenue costs but where the independent schools will have responsibility for securing their success.
  • Offer a certain proportion of places as fully funded bursaries to those who are insufficiently wealthy to pay fees.  The number of such places will be considerably higher than that currently offered at most independent schools.

Not all independent schools will have the capacity to produce the above goods. Accordingly, the government suggested in the Green Paper that the smaller ones would be asked to fulfil one or more of the following functions.

  • Provide direct school-to-school support with state schools, which could be through staff exchanges, teacher development, personal support between heads of department and, generally, the sharing of good practice.  Joining Teaching School Alliances, the Green Paper posited, was the best way to make contributions to teacher development.
  • Support teaching in minority subjects which state schools struggle to make viable, such as further mathematics, coding, the classics and languages i.e. Mandarin and Russian.
  • Ensure their senior leaders become directors of multi-academy trusts to give strategic steer and leadership and provide experienced staff to be governors.
  •  Provide greater expertise and access to facilities such as science labs and sporting facilities, and music and drama.
  • Provide sixth-form scholarships to a proportion of pupils in each year 11 at a local school.
  •  Help students with their university applications.

(b)       Universities

The Green Paper acknowledged that some of our universities provide excellent support to schools. For instance, King’s College, London, opened a specialist sixth form college – King’s College London Mathematics School – under the Free Schools programme – to encourage young people across London with talent in mathematics to pursue highly academic options.  As a consequence, 100% of KCLMS students received an A* or A grade in mathematics in 2016 with 83% gaining the A* grade!

The Royal Society of Arts Academies have an effective partnership with Warwick and Birmingham City Universities.   The universities are planning to develop a range of opportunities to include the following.

  • Pupils will participate in activities at the universities. University subject specialists will visit and give talks to the pupils.
  • The universities will promote continuing professional development at the academies and support them in research and evaluation.
  • University staff will target those academies which have relatively low numbers of students going on to Higher Education (HE) with subject-specific access programmes for those at Key Stages 4 and 5.
  • The universities will increase the understanding of the students, parents and teachers of the application process and the financial arrangements, including sources of financial support for lower-income families.

However, the government believes all universities could and should play a direct role in raising attainment in schools to widen access. Accordingly, the paper proposes that the following requirements would be made as a condition for allowing them to charge higher fees.

  • Establish new schools in the state system for which capital and revenue funding would be made available and/or
  • sponsor academies in the state system.

In addition, universities would be asked to consider the following.

  • Support schools through being members of their governing bodies or academy trust boards.
  • Assist with curricular design, mentoring of pupils and other educational support.
  • Provide human resources, teaching capacity – for example in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) – and finance support.

(c)        Selective – i.e. Grammar – Schools

Currently, there are 163 grammar schools in England educating 166,000 students – i.e. 5% of state secondary youngsters.  Ten local authorities have a wholly selective system and another 26 LAs one or more grammar schools.    Legislation prohibits the creation of new selective schools and debars non-selective schools from becoming selective.    However, existing selective schools – subject to the Secretary of State’s approval – can expand through annexes on- or off-site separate from the main school provided that the offer to students is fully integrated with the teaching and learning in the rest of the school.  For instance, the ex-Secretary of State Nicky Morgan permitted Weald of Kent Grammar School to expand in Sevenoaks.

Grammar schools are popular with the parents of pupils who secure places.  The Green Paper did not say how unpopular they were with the rest.  There is no denying that grammar schools provide excellent education for students of all income groups who attend them.   Ofsted has judged that 99% of selective schools are good or outstanding.  Of these, 80% are outstanding as compared to 20% of comprehensive schools.  However, 2.5% of students in selective schools are eligible for free school meals compared to 13.2% in all state-funded secondary schools.   This begs the question: “Will we be discriminating against the most disadvantaged by increasing the number of grammar schools?”

Notwithstanding, the Green Paper pressed on with its belief that grammar schools would open up opportunity for all.  Accordingly, the plans include the expansion of existing grammar schools (which does not require primary legislation) making available dedicated funding of up to £50 million a year for this purpose.

Additionally, the Paper sets out the following proposals for comment.

  • Permit the establishment of new selective schools by removing the existing restrictions on selection subject to meeting certain conditions.  These will be a new cadre of free schools which could have 100% of its intake on the basis of ability.
  • Permit existing non-selective schools to become selective.

The Green Paper proposed “a menu of options to ensure that new or expanding selective schools contribute in a meaningful way to improving outcomes for all pupils”.   The measures are to be as follows.

  •  The (new) selective schools would take a proportion of pupils from lower income households.
  • Establish new non-selective secondary schools (where new selective ones are created) with capital and revenue costs paid for by the government.
  • Establish feeder primary schools in areas with higher density of lower income household to widen access with the capital and revenue costs paid by the government.
  • Cause the selective schools to partner with existing non-selective schools within a multi-academy trust or sponsor an underperforming and non-selective academy.
  • Ensure that youngsters have the opportunity of joining the selective schools at different ages i.e. 11, 14 and 16.

In an attempt to demonstrate even-handedness, the Green Paper set out sanctions for the new selective schools if they under-performed.  These were to be as follows.

  • Remove access to any additional funding streams.
  • Remove the right to select by ability either temporarily or permanently.
  • Restrict access to growth.

Existing selective schools would be expected to take on responsibilities to support children at non-selective schools. Strategies would include the following.

  • Selective schools were to engage in outreach work to raise aspirations, improve educational practice and promote wider access.   These schools will be expected to work with neighbouring primary ones to identify individual pupils – especially the socially disadvantaged – who could benefit from targeted activity. This could be done through teacher and pupil exchanges, shared resources and/or financial support for transport and uniforms.
  • Selective schools would have to ensure that the pupils they admit were representative of their local communities – giving priority to pupils entitled to the Pupil Premium Grant.

On a tangential matter, Multi-Academy Trusts would be able to introduce a selection criterion on ability for those academies that are outstanding as hubs and centres for the ablest pupils with a view to providing a more challenging and targeted curriculum.

(d)       Faith Schools

Altogether 7,000 out of 20,000 state-funded schools in England are faith schools.  The vast majority are either Church of England (67%) or Catholic (29%).  Faith schools and academies are allowed to give preference for admissions when oversubscribed to children who espouse their faiths.  Voluntary aided faith schools, including those which converted to academies, are able to select up to 100% of pupils on the basis of faith.   Faith schools, however, may choose to open up a proportion of places to children of other faiths or none.

New academies and faiths schools – opened under the Free Schools programme – have a cap on faith admissions of 50% of places.   The purpose has been to promote inclusivity.   The Green Paper questioned the effectiveness of this arrangement and hinted that it had done little to promote community cohesion.  With minority faiths, i.e. Islam, Judaism, Sikhism and Hinduism, the intake is predominantly from similar ethnic and religious backgrounds.   Additionally, the admission arrangements have had unintended consequences with the Catholics, because those espousing Catholicism refuse to set up schools where they would be compelled to take children from other faiths.

Accordingly, the Green Paper proposed that scrapping the 50% rule for new free faith schools by creating the following criteria for them.

  • Sponsors for free faith schools will have to prove there is a demand for school places from parents of other faiths.
  • New Free Schools will be required to have twinning with other schools not of their faiths.
  • Sponsors will be required to consider setting up mixed-faith academy trusts, including sponsoring underperforming non-faith schools.
  • Require the governing body of a new Faith School to appoint an independent member or director who is of a different faith or no faith at all to secure a wider perspective beyond the faith that the school espouses.

III     Commentary

The first point to make is that a Green Paper is a tentative government foray to test future legislative waters – a consultation document tossing up policy proposals for debate and discussion.   While it makes government proposals on a given issue, the government is uncommitted to translate it into legislation.   Previous Green Papers have come to nothing, a recent one being on special needs.

However, the outcome of a consultation on a Green Paper could well result in the government publishing a White Paper, which will then spawn an Act.  The White Paper is authoritative and unpacks a complex issue setting out government’s thinking on the action it wishes to take in the future.

Should we, consequently, take Schools that work for everyone seriously?   Absolutely.  At the time of writing this, the Department for Education did not reveal how many responses it had received from the stakeholders and other members of the public on the proposals.   However, judging from press reports there is considerable disquiet about the document.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the government has antagonised three of the four groups being asked to do more with less – i.e. universities, faith schools and independent schools.   The proposal to expand selection, however, succeeded in the government making many enemies out of former friends.

Leading the charge is Sir Michael Wilshaw, the former Chief Inspector of Schools.  He sharply warned government that opening up more grammar schools would be “a profoundly retrograde step”, which would damage disadvantaged children. He added that grammar schools’ record of admitting children from poorer backgrounds was “pretty woeful”.   Selective education worked against the poorest children, he remarked.

In an interview with The Times Educational Supplement, Sir David Carter, the Department for Education Commissioner, who oversees the academy system, warned against introducing selection within Multi-Academy Trusts.  In particular, he highlighted two challenges.

The first was around parental choice. “…if you demarcate one of your schools as being the centre of excellence, and my child, for whatever reason, could not get a place in the centre of excellence, the school I have chosen becomes the school I can’t go to anymore,” he said.

The second involved supporting the most-able children.  “I think the best MATs I work with have a really secure model for how they develop their able children,” he said. “Actually changing the structure of how education is delivered in a MAT might get in the way of that.”

Professor Tom McLeish, Fellow of the Royal Society and Chair of its Education Committee said; “New research commissioned by the Royal Society shows that in wholly selective local authorities, students receiving free school meals (FSM) achieve lower grades in GCSE mathematics. In these areas, there are also fewer FSM students taking double or triple science GCSEs. These are subjects which open doors for young people.

“…..We support the Government’s commitment to ensuring all students fulfil their potential regardless of their backgrounds.  However, we are concerned that the approach to selective education outlined in the Green Paper may only support the small number of high ability disadvantaged pupils who do attend selective schools at the cost of disadvantaged pupils who do not.

“Schools that work for everyone must place priority on ensuring that all young people receive high-quality science and mathematics education which equips students with the skills they need to prosper in a rapidly changing world.  Irrespective of the role of selective schools in our education system, our schools must support students from every background to fulfil their potential.”

James Bowen, Director of the National Association of Headteachers Edge, a teaching union for middle leaders, fulminated in a TES article, stating “Surely children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) should be central to educational policy.  But it is now quite clear that they are not. A document entitled Schools that work for everyone that does not mention children with special educational needs and disabilities, as is the case with the government’s Green Paper, is difficult to take seriously.”

The education data website, SchoolDash, carried out an analysis in the dying days of 2016 of the effects of grammar schools. It found that:

  • disadvantaged pupils were underrepresented in all grammar schools but particularly in partially selective areas;
  • the GCSE performance of low and medium ability pupils was slightly worse in fully selective areas than among otherwise similar schools in non-selective areas;
  • non-selective schools in selective areas tend to have lower entry rates in certain subjects, such as geography, chemistry, English language, English literature and history (compared to similar non-selective schools in non-selective LAs);
  • at 16, there were slightly higher progression rates from key stage 4 to key stage 5 in selective areas compared to otherwise similar non-selective areas; there were also higher rates of progression to sixth forms and lower rates of progression to further education colleges;
  • selective areas show higher rates of progression from state schools to the most selective universities; and
  • in selective areas, a much lower proportion of pupils attend private schools.

The research may be accessed in full at Do grammar schools work for everyone?

In their annual survey of governors, the National Governors Association (NGA) and The Times Educational Supplement (TES) discovered that 78% did not agree with the government proposal to expand selection and 82% of secondary school governors would not introduce selection in their own schools/academies.

In 2010, Michael Gove, then Secretary of State for Education, published the White Paper, The Importance of Teaching.  The thrust of the paper had little to do with teaching and everything to do with school structure.  He opened the floodgates to academisation.

The nomenclature of this Green Paper issued by Justine Greening, the present Secretary of State, is Schools that work for everyone.   Will what she proposes create good education for all? The evidence suggests that it will do anything but……

We are living more than 32 years after George Orwell wrote his famous 1984, where he invented the language, Newspeak  In Newspeak, words took on new meanings, generally the opposite to what they were meant.

I am also reminded of Humpty Dumpty’s exchange with Alice in Through the Looking Glass, when he said, referring to the meaning of “glory” as being “a nice knock-down argument”, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

The evidence is self-evident: selective schools are not going to work for everyone.  Rather, they are likely to disadvantage those who need the most help.  However, the government appears to be resolute about going back to the future, even though the nation’s most vulnerable will be severely damaged.  The Labour Party – the opposition in Parliament – has an impotent and ineffective leadership and the nation is preoccupied with Brexit.     Would this be a good time to bury bad news by scrapping the Green Paper or will the government slip it into legislation?  Time only will tell.

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