You cannot fatten a pig by weighing it!

-John Dewey American Philosopher and Educationalist on assessment

The most recent branch meeting held by the Adel and Wharfdale Labour party included a discussion on education led by Andy Bowes, in this post we try to sum up what was said, and invite comments on the subject.

Sir Michael Wilshaw’s very recent comments that England’s largest academy chains have “serious weaknesses” reflect the presentation from a former teacher educator about the condition of the current English education system. 

The chief inspector signalled out some of the worst performing MATS. (Multi Academy Trusts). The chains hoarded £110 millions whilst letting down thousands of children.The chains manifested the same weaknesses as some of the local authority schools they had replaced. One chief executive blamed the parents for poor attendance and pupil failure. The academy programme was supposed to bring rapid improvement but this is not seen in many academy trusts. This reflects Sir Michael’s earlier comments following an inspection of academy trusts in which clearly states that it is the way in which schools are managed and led which is significant and not how they are labelled. It also confirmed the view of the select committee where chair Graham Stuart noted “there is no clear evidence that academies raised standards.”

As he approaches retirement Sir Michael’s integrity is being undermined by the Tories. Eric Bolton, a former chief inspector, wrote in The Times recently that he was chilled to learn that, according to the Secretary of State  the new Chief Inspector should be “more aligned to the Government’s approach.”

Bolton argues that no one will ever take HMI seriously again.

Academies have a reputation for alleged gaming of the system. There are also some very serious complaints of cheating which the meeting considered. Examples of weaknesses in corporate government in some local academies are now evidenced in the press. Here thousands of local children are denied access to the funding we provide for Education through a host of dubious practices. Chief Executives often earn much more than the Prime Minister. These salaries seem unjustified. There is a developing tradition now in England of paying totally unjustified salaries to underperforming executives. Education seems to have been infected by the greed that is a feature of corporate banking. We now have league tables, inspections, competition and, overload in initiatives and directives. It is clear that this could be a significant factor in recruitment difficulties and challenges for local authorities.

This was reflected in our candidate’s contribution to the discussion. Paul Wray outlined some of the restraints and difficulties which are damaging the opportunities of children across Leeds. Leeds cannot now build new schools and parents are sometimes allocated places in schools many miles from where they live.  

Andy reviewed the outcomes of our education system re the OECD league tables to reveal the decline in UK’s position in basic skills. In 2012 the UK was 26th in the rankings of schools in mostly OECD countries. In 2015 in a global league table we were in 20th place. In these tables he noted that Vietnam was 17th and Sweden had experienced a massive drop in their position. It has been argued that Sweden’s drop is because this country developed the same model the Tories are now advocating—FREE Schools.

Andy presented evidence from the Sutton Trust to demonstrate that the
Education system was unjust. He noted the dominance of some fee paying schools and Universities in providing opportunities.

Wealthy parents can ensure their children enter the top professions. He noted 7/10 judges and 7/10 generals were educated privately yet the private sector makes up only 7% of the school population.

The meeting progressed to consider the future for our children.
Duncan Smith blames the poor for being poor. Our party has wanted to change capitalism Duncan Smith wants to change the poor. Labour is supposed to have fuelled a dependency culture.
Andy used evidence from the child poverty action group, the IFS and the Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. Andy demonstrated ways in which Labour protected poor families in the UK from poverty unlike to Tories. “Labour took families out of poverty and the coalition and the Tories have PUT THEM BACK IN AGAIN.” He noted the massive rise in poverty predicted by the IFS and referred to damage this will inflict on the life chances of children in Leeds.

We are expecting overall a fifth of UK children to be living in poverty by 2020. The Spirit Level research demonstrated than not only was poverty a feature of failing societies but income in equality in societies was a determining feature. In the UK children had the lowest level of well being in the countries studied. UK children had the greatest experience of conflict in their lives and social mobility is almost non existent. Income inequality in the UK remains one of the highest amongst the OECD countries.
We are way behind Finland. Our children experience the worst childhood among the rich countries. None of our prestigious children’s centres were
closed by our courageous Labour council. South Oxfordshire closed 44 and threw Dave’s mum out of a voluntary role she enjoyed and which was of unique benefit to all the children she cared for.

There were many supportive contributions from members here. A school teacher member was very angry as he outlined the ways in which academies are failing many children. A member was concerned how teachers were being bullied and their integrity and sense of identity and professionalism were undermined. Paul suggested we might need to return to some very basic considerations of  what we all want from our schools.

Andy Bowles argued for a much more research based approach to educational development. “For too long ideology has dominated education in England.”
He was most concerned that based on no evidence, little research and insignificant trialling the academy programme was implemented. The academy programme was developed on a wing and a prayer, he thinks. Are we now facing the consequences of a grotesque overspend without any positive significant change.
No further educational development should be considered without planning, trialling and researched based evaluation before national roll out. No more whimsical ideas. We need to win the trust of our supporters in Education and our schools just as we do on the economy. We could make a good start by electing Paul Wray to represent us on Leeds City Council.

Andy suggested you visit these websites for more information

Sutton Trust


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