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Returning to Schools and Academies – Advice to from the NSPCC

27 Aug

Returning to school after over five months is going to be tricky if not daunting – for all – headteachers, teachers, administrative and support staff, parents and most of all, the children.   Following the lengthy lockdown, pupils will be dealing with new school rules, routines, classrooms, classmates, teachers and, in some cases, even new schools.

For many, these changes will inevitably create anxiety, given the ongoing threat of COVID-19 and new school social distancing and hygiene measures. More so again if they, or other family members, have been shielding until recently.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has produced excellent guidance for parents and schools/academies, on the safe resumption of schooling, an edited version of which is set out below.

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London institutions leading the charge to elite universities

27 Aug

Three academies in London – wrongly dubbed by the press as schools – and Newham Collegiate Sixth Form Centre, a selective state ‘school’ in a deprived part of London, are leading the charge in securing places for their pupils at Oxbridge and top-flight US universities.

Brampton Manor Academy in Newham – the second largest secondary institution in Newham and one of the poorest local authorities in the country – opened its sixth form in September 2012 with a view to increasing the rate of deprived pupils entering Oxbridge and other elite Russell Group universities.  It is doing this with great aplomb.   In 2014, one pupil received an offer to Oxbridge.  In 2018, the number increased to 25.  About 67% are the first in their families to attend university and 50% have been in receipt of free school meals. In 2019, 41 pupils progressed from the sixth form to Oxbridge.

In 2020, 51 pupils (for pupils from 11 to 18 years old) were offered places at Oxford and Cambridge for September 2020.  Over the last three years, 100 Brampton pupils mainly from minority ethnic and socially deprived backgrounds received offers of places from these two universities.

The sixth form at Brampton is selective.   In the last academic year, 2,000 to 3,000 applications were made to the lower sixth form.  All candidates were interviewed, and several turned away.

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Autonomy vs Accountability

18 Apr

For as long as I can remember, education has been vexed with the twin rivalries of autonomy and accountability. They appear to be in constant strife with each other.   There was a time when the nation accepted that educationists, especially teachers, knew best, and left them to get on with the job of educating our children – i.e. to be autonomous.   However, there were problems.

I           The downside of autonomy

All was not well in “the secret garden”.  This unease was given body during an epic moment when the late Prime Minister Jim Callaghan, in 1976, spoke at Ruskin College, Oxford.  He referred to “legitimate public concern about trendy teaching methods, to “unease felt by parents and others about the new informal methods of teaching, which seem to produce excellent results when they are in well-qualified hands but are much more dubious when they are not”.    In other words, Callaghan wished to introduce a measure of accountability.

His speech sparked off the Great Debate.  Parents were to be given more information and rights.  Ultimately the national curriculum for England and Wales was imposed on schools and central government began to assume considerable educational powers and control on what was taught, including the pedagogy deployed, and how the impact was to measured.

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Members’ role at the top of the Multi-Academy Trust

4 Jan

When the two schools I used to clerk in the recent past decided to convert into academies and join together (in holy matrimony) to become a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT), I found the role of the top tier of the structure was “as clear as mud”.  The National Governors’ Association has now provided excellent clarification setting this out in its paper, Academy trusts: the role of members. The full explanation can be accessed only if you become a member of the NGA, something that is becoming a must for a school or academy.

In every MAT, there are three tiers of governance.  In the top tier sits the members.  Trustees are below that and governors on the third.  What separates these tiers and their functions?

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Academy Trust Chiefs’ salaries continue to soar

17 Aug

I        Schools Week throws light on runaway salaries

It’s unsurprising that both, the producers and consumers, of educational policy and practice in the United Kingdom, especially in England are transfixed by the exorbitant salaries many Chief Education Officers of Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) are drawing, given that the country’s schools and academies are going through financial straits.   In March 2018, Schools Week published an article based on an analysis that the magazine carried out of the MATs where each had at least 20 academies in them.  The results make compelling reading.

There were huge variations between the salaries of men and the per pupil funding of each MAT.   The headline information was as follows.

  • The highest paid CEO was Sir Dan Moynihan of the Harris Academy Trust at £440,000 annually – £10,000 per academy.
  • The CEO who secured the highest pay rise was John Murphy of the Oasis Community Learning Trust who went from £180,000 to £205,000 – £4,183 per academy – a 14% rise.
  • The lowest paid was John Mannix at Plymouth Cast Trust at £55,000 annually at £1,527 per academy.
  • The lowest paid per academy was John Coles of United Learning at £160,000 annually and £3,018 per academy.

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Carillion collapse throws schools/academies into disarray

20 Apr

On January 2018, Carillion, the Wolverhampton-based company founded in 1999, was liquidated.  The company which sponsored a Multi-Academy Trust in Thameside with two academies – Discovery and Inspire – also provided schools and academies in the country more than 32,000 lunches daily, facilities management (to 875 schools/academies), cleaning 245 schools/academies and maintaining the mechanical and electrical operations and fabric of 683 schools/academies.

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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?

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Ofsted Annual Report 2015/16

1 Jan


Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools (HMCI), published his fifth and final Ofsted annual report on the education system in England on Thursday, 1 December 2016.  He retired 30 days later.  In presenting the report, Sir Michael said “a world class education system is within our grasp – but only if serious capacity challenges are urgently addressed”.

Sir Michael stressed that a north/south ‘geographical divide’ meant the ablest pupils in the North and Midlands were less likely to reach A/A* at GCSE. He said: “Standards can only truly be considered high if they are high in every part of the country and for all pupils regardless of background or ability.”

However, his report is, in the main, positive.    The country’s schools/academies, he avers, had made progress over the last five years. Educators could be justly proud.  “Young people are getting a better deal than ever before,” he said.  School/academy leaders responded well to the changes in the system.  The decision to replace the “satisfactory” judgement with “requires improvement” led to schools/academies upping their game, making a greater effort ensuring that pupils are offered the very best possible education.     Of the former 4,800 satisfactory primary schools/academies, 79% were now good or outstanding and, of the previous satisfactory secondary ones, 56% were good or better.

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The Education and Adoption Act and the Rise of the Regional School Commissioners

9 Apr

I        The contents

On Tuesday, 23 February 2016 the Education and Adoption Bill 2015 completed its passage through Parliament. The Act

  • empowers the Secretary of State to convert every school judged ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted into a sponsored academy;
  • enables the Secretary of State to intervene in maintained schools considered to be underperforming, and constrains local authorities from doing so in some circumstances;
  • expands the legal definition of the ‘eligible for intervention’ category to include ‘coasting’ schools, and allows the Secretary of State to intervene through a range of measures including requiring the school to become a sponsored academy; and
  • enables intervention in academies on the basis that they are ‘coasting’.

When the Act was journeying through Parliament as a Bill, the definition of “coasting” was applied only to maintained schools but this was altered by the government following pressure from the House of Lords.

The details of how the Act’s provisions will be implemented will be set out in a new version of the Schools Causing Concern guidance. The DfE consulted on the drafts of both, this guidance and the proposed ‘coasting’ definition, in late 2015. The outcome is expected to be published in the near future.

In addition, the Act

  • gives power to the Secretary of State to issue directions, with time limits, to school governing bodies and local authorities to speed up academy conversions;
  • places a new duty on schools and local authorities in specified cases to take all reasonable steps to progress the conversion;
  • requires schools and local authorities in specified cases to work with identified sponsors towards ‘making academy arrangements’ with those sponsors;
  • removes the requirements for a consultation to be held where a school ‘eligible for intervention’ is being converted to a sponsored academy.

Government amendments tabled in the Lords and carried into law will require a new sponsor to communicate his/her plans for a school to parents.

Speaking in the Commons on 23 February 2016, Schools Minister Nick Gibb said that, although not precluding those who choose to consult on a planned academy conversion, the law would end the current “rigid approach that allowed vested interests to prevent sponsors from taking decisive action and to delay the process of transformation”.

The government is planning to use its powers of intervention through the eight Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs). The initiative was taken as a practical response to establishing an intermediate cadre of “civil servants” between Whitehall and the growing number of academies.

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The “Governance” of Multi-Academy Trusts

9 Apr

I        Preamble

A Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) is a group of semi-independent schools – formally called academies, which have clubbed together.  The trust is accountable to the Department for Education.   There are now about 5,000 academies in the country.  Altogether, 48% of these are in some kind of group arrangement.  Local authority maintained federated schools are not unlike MATs.

With government determine to convert every single school into an academy, it is, perhaps, apposite for us to give some thought and time to reviewing how a MAT should govern.

A MAT is a single legal structure that is responsible for several academies within it.  A board of trustees/directors governs the MAT.  However, more often than not, it delegates considerable powers to local academy committees/governing bodies.  An academy trust has articles of association, the legal governing document that sets out the composition and procedures for the academy trust.   However, this must not be confused with the scheme of delegation that every MAT should have to clarify the roles and responsibilities of

(i)         the trust body;

(ii)        the body that has oversight of an academy;

(iii)       the chief executive; and

(iv)       the headteacher of each academy.

With the local authorities in a kind of financial free-fall, schools have had to find other ways of operating in collaboration with one another.   They do it mainly through MATs or federations to

  • pool and deploy resources more efficiently;
  • share professional expertise and learn from one another;
  • offer career opportunities for talented and/or ambitious staff members;
  • improve the quality of education for the pupils; and,
  • ultimately improve pupil progress and achievement

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