Unqualified headteachers? Welcome to Michael Gove’s educational dystopia . .

Pimlico Primary, a new free school in London, made the news this week for hiring a  27 year old as the head teacher ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-22016045 ).  27 does seem a rather young age to take responsibility for a school, although an outstanding candidate with 5 years of experience in the classroom and as a deputy head could take the role and make a success of it.  Except this appointee has none of those things. Anneliese Briggs does not have a teaching qualification. Yes, that’s right, a school is hiring a headteacher who is not really  a teacher.

How in the name of feck did we get to this sorry state of affairs? I have nothing against Ms Briggs personally, and I think she is probably a victim in all of this caught up as she is in the ideological blitzkreig which Michael Gove is waging against state education.

Apparently what makes Ms Briggs suitable to be the leader of a state funded school (so we pay her salary), is her experience with the ‘cultural literacy curriculum’ of E. D.  Hirsch. Hirsch’s emphasis on the systematic teaching of facts and his creation of a curriculum which appears to follow a logical order has been the doyen of Gove’s eye for many years now, offering as it does a veneer of theoretical credibility to his curriculum reforms which are leading to a bloated and fact-heavy curriculum.  I too have experience of the concept of cultural literacy as a curriculum, and cutting the chase I can let you have my expertise for free right now, the cultural literacy curriculum is a load of old tripe.

Briggs was no doubt involved in Civitas’s ‘anglicisation of E. D. Hirsch’s curriculum ( http://www.coreknowledge.org.uk/coreknowledge.php ).  Maybe she even helped draw the wonderful diagram below, with its *amazing* insights into how a school curriculum is not just about core knowledge, but also about the school’s ethos and values.  Not that the diagram is wrong or anything, it’s just that it’s so glib and patronising.  The whole thing reeks of posh kids holed up in a London office thinking they have all the answers to education because they can draw a pretty diagram using PowerPoint.

It’s hard to know where to start with the debunking of the snake oil drenched chicanery of ‘core knowledge’, there’s just so much to go at.  But how about you just pause reading and quickly outline the story of Gawain and the Green Knight (from the top of your head, no Googling it). I don’t want you to quote from the original, just tell what the story is, and what it’s meaning is within Christian thought.

No doubt you rattled that off easily, but if you had trouble, then bear in mind that Civitas recommends that Year 5 children are familiar with the legend of Gawain and the Green Knight.  And if you teach in a school using the core knowledge sequence then you can’t miss this out, as the theoretical foundation of cultural literacy is that it is impossible to acquire later knowledge unless each interim step has been achieved. So miss out Gawain and his jolly green mate, and you’re stuffed when it comes to year 6 and you have to learn about ‘The legend of Culhywch and Owen’.. it will make absolutely no sense whatever to you. *

Gove, and his previous school minister Nick  Gibb have been obsessed with curriculum reform, because the curriculum seems, to the education outsider, the one thing you can grab hold of in education and change to impose your will on schools and bring the unruly teaching profession to heel.  But if  you’ve worked in education for even a short time (ie longer than Ms Briggs), you will soon learn that the curriculum is only part of the complex picture of education. Driving up standards and the quality of learning is not all about changing the curriculum, especially if your conception of the curriculum is a list of stuff to be taught and learned, rather than a more progressive view of the curriculum which is rooted in what we know about learning and child development.  Andrew Pollard writing of the pernicious influence of Hirsch’s ideas on the new national curriculum pointed out that  the new curriculum ‘neglects the way children learn’ ( http://www.ioe.ac.uk/64559.html ), but his views were ignored by Gove. Pollard has decades of experience in education and published his first book on primary schooling in 1985. If he was 27, had spent a few years knocking around in a think tank and spent a few hours once in a school, maybe he would have been listened to.

This whole story summarises what Gove is doing to UK state education.  He is using his pet free school project to create chaos and uncertainty, and undermine the professionalism of teachers in the most cynical of ways.  No doubt, Pimlico Primary will have lots of help from the DfE once opened (although we probably will never know how much as previous FOIs to determine levels of spending on free schools have been ignored or bypassed), so it will be a success and Gove can confidently declare that not only teachers not need to be qualified, but head teachers don’t need to be either.  And so the assault on state schools will continue as more are driven into the academy chains of the Tory backers and primed for profit making.

Welcome to the topsy turvy world of Michael Gove’s education dystopia, a nightmare from which we may never awaken.

* Just for the record I had to study Gawain and the Green Knight at university, but I never really got on with it, so I missed the lectures and tutorials and in the exam answered on Chaucer instead. I still have no idea what Gawain and the Green Knight is about, I know a Knight is involved and he is green, but my ‘core knowledge’ fizzes to a halt then. Thank god cultural literacy was not invented when I was a student or would have been stuffed for any literature written after 1370 which would have had serious ramifications for my degree .

It wasn’t so I graduated with a 1st.

Profit-Making State Schools, Why this is a terrible idea (part 2)

In profit warning part I ( http://bit.ly/WCI8ut ) I argued that neoliberal pressure to allow schools to make profits were absolutely nothing to do with raising standards or improving outcomes for students. The motivation behind allowing companies to cream off profits from running state education is purely about profit and the enrichment of the elite who will own the largest stakes in these companies.  If profit making companies are allowed to run schools, then standards will actually drop as they have done in the liberalised markets for energy and rail.  Nor will the tax-payer make any savings, as the government will fund these schools places at least the same level as non profit-making schools, and pressure from neo-liberals may even create the same kind of distortions we are going to see in the NHS as ministers bend over backwards to create favourable conditions for profit making for private enterprise.

Allowing market forces into education will not work for many reasons.  When people talk of market forces and competition, it is interesting to probe what particular markets they are holding up as successful and vibrant examples of the capitalist genre. One such ‘market’ is food retailing and the domain of the supermarkets. It is true that competition to win the ‘weekly shop’ has led to unprecedented choice and value for Britain’s shoppers. The large supermarkets constantly innovate to get us through their doors, and for those resistant to the might of the big chains, many towns offer alternatives such as traditional markets, organic outlets and so on.  As an example of competition and the profit motive driving up standards, it is hard to argue with food retailing, although the bullying tactics of the large supermarkets in squeezing margins out of their suppliers such as dairy farmers do reveal how even this text-book capitalist template has its negative consequences*.

Schools are not supermarkets; education is not food shopping.  If Tesco was a school, you would get to visit the supermarket as prospective customers on an open day and the manager would show you a powerpoint presentation of the facilities, for this is mostly what happens when parents set out to choose schools. If you liked it, you could put your name down and if successful you would then be allowed to shop there for the next 4, 5 or even 6 years. You’d better hope you made the correct choice, as you would only be shopping there and you wouldn’t be able nip along to another school to take account of a special offer, or a juicy 3 for 2 deal.  You could transfer to another supermarket if they had a spare slot for a customer and you could bear doing all of the paperwork.  This is the fabled ‘choice’ held up by Neo-liberals as the consumer pay off for accepting a privatised alternative to a state service. The choice here though is nothing but a chimera; you can’t shop around, split your shop up to get the best value or stop going to a particular store altogether as you can do with your weekly shop. Once the decision is made, you are captive, and captive customers can do nothing to influence the quality of the service they get.

Profit making schools will probably do many things to ensure that they deliver a healthy profit to shareholders and senior management of the parent company. Firstly, as a school’s main budgetary outlay is staffing, particular the cost of teaching staff, they will seek out the lowest paid teachers (those with little experience), and whenever possible employ unqualified teachers on the lowest wages. Michael Gove’s announcement in July 2012 that unqualified teachers can now work in academies and free schools suddenly makes sense, paving the way for a way for profit making chains to commence the profit-seeking race to the bottom.

Profit making schools in Britain may also look to the Charter Schools of America for handy tips on how to boost the bottom line.  Reports on the Noble Network of Charter Schools in Chicago ( http://on.msnbc.com/WWxtrK ) reveal how they see parents as nice little earner on the side, and have created a system of ‘disciplinary charges’ to fine parents of students they believe have broken school rules. Some students have racked up hefty fees for their parents for what seems like trivial infringements.  The potential for abuse here is astonishing.  Schools needing some extra cash can simply mete out detentions to students (whether justified or not), and then soak the parents for ‘administration fees’. The ultimate irony is that a student with a poor disciplinary record is far less likely to be offered a place at another school, so the family is trapped into handing cash over.  Schools will also no doubt be tempted to inflate other costs for parents, the school trip could no longer be a cost-neutral exercise, but have a hidden surcharge to boost the coffers, and the uniform could only be bought from the school, again with added margin to rip off the parents and enrich the schools shareholders.

The blind belief in the power of the markets, despite the overwhelming empirical evidence of failure in energy supply, rail transport and so on is a very real form of coercion through which the state forces people to accept a second-rate service simply to increase the wealth of a narrow elite.  Profits created are either the result of cartels (as with energy), or state funded monopolies (rail, and education if that ever comes to pass) being handed tax payers’ money. Nor does the state itself shrink as most free market advocates would wish, as government still has to fund these services through general taxation and have regulatory oversight to correct the most egregious failings of these quasi-markets create.

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* This was written before widespread contamination of Beef by Horsemeat was discovered in UK and Irish foods. Rather than modify the blog, I merely ask the reader to reflect on how the failure of the supermarket supply chain impacts the arguments made here about the perfectibility of markets.

This blog was originally published on The Backbencher

Tony Little, the head of Eton, shares his insights into building character and resilience

Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 21.29.35According to the Daily Telegraph, Tony Little, the headmaster of Eton is to give advice to state schools on how to build ‘character and resilience’ and share with them insights on how children can make the most of their opportunities. (http://bit.ly/Wo9cM0)

Here is a quotation from the article

Eton’s headmaster highlighted a range of methods used at the school to help foster character and resilience amongst children, including:

* A range of school societies where students are charged with booking high-profile speakers.

* Tutorials – including those with pupils of different ages – where students develop speaking and debating skills.

* Developing stronger, more trusting relationships between teachers and students by encouraging staff to do more sport, music and other extra-curricular activities with pupils.

These are of course amazing insights into how to make a supportive school. There is absolutely no way that the feckless idiots who run state schools would ever have thought of running a sport or music club to build confidence. That idea would never have crossed their minds.  Once the 3.15 bell sounds the teachers are hot-footing out of the school gates in their battered Fiat Puntos either to go the pub and drink themselves stupid on cheap lager, or straight to a Communist Party meeting where they can share Trotskyist fantasies of the defenestration of Michael Gove from the second storey of one of his beloved academies.  And who would have thought that a tutorial where a student gets targetted help from a teacher could help build their speaking and debating skills?  Tony Little has shown even in these 3 short bullet points that he has a masterful grasp of education, that his school is genuinely innovative, even revolutionary in its approach. These educational insights are like manna dropped from heaven for the troglodytic state sector; just like the ambassador in the Ferrero Rocher advertisement he is ‘spoiling us’ and  his intervention is surely set to make a major difference to state education, and if he has to wait even a year longer for his knighthood then this is a travesty.

Luckily for those of you benighted lot who work in the state sector, I have managed to get a copy of his keynote at the ‘character and resilience’ building event. The audience is mostly teachers and management from state schools.  Leaking it is clearly, ‘not good form’, but in the interests of the wider public good I have decided to publish some extracts.

Speech beginneth here…

Welcome to Eton School. Founded in 1440 by Henry VI, this school is the best in the world. Many of you in this room probably dreamed of coming here. After having chatted with a few of you over coffee, I can assure you that you would have been really welcome here (as long as your parents were excessively rich and could afford £30,000 fees per annum).

But I am not here to talk about Eton. No I am here to share with you the secrets of how we build our boys into the strongest, most resilient people they can possibly be.  The education secretary (Mr Gove) has shared with me the problem of state education. It appears that none of your students have any backbone, they are feckless, idle, brittle individuals unable to withstand the rigours of life and lacking in even the basic talents to get on. And you teachers in the state sector are clearly unimaginative fuckwits unable to solve even the most basic of educational problems without having them spelled out by rich blokes like me. It reminds me a bit of the British Empire, but that’s material for another lecture….

Our boys are not like your boys (or girls). Our boys are men; even before they are boys, they are men. Let me share with you some of the ways in which we build them into well-rounded resilient individuals, the kind of people to lead this country back to greatness and conquer all on the international stage.  The chief value we instil in our boys (sorry men), is one of complete resilience. Only the other day one of the house masters told me of an incident. He had found a boy sitting on the stairs to his room looking sad. When he asked him why he as sad, the boy held out his phone.  It was an iPhone 4.  This poor boy had a phone which was at least 6 months out of date, and all of his classmates had iPhone 5 (the big ones with the fuck-off 64mb memory), yet fate had dealt him the cruellest of blows and he did not have this latest phone.  But did this boy give up? Did he break down? No, after a bit of a pep talk from the house master he took his iPhone 4 and declared proudly that he was happy to have this phone and he would make the best of his situation whilst he could.  And this is the spirit which makes up the Etonian, the stiff upper lip, the ramrod backbone, the refusal to let personal tragedy get one down.

This ‘make do’ attitude is prevalent right across the school.  As you some of you may be aware, we only have a 9 hole golf course at the school, whereas nearby Wellington has an 18 hole course.  For any other school this dent to the pride would be terminal, it would be a situation never to be recovered from, but somehow here at Eton we can rise above the physical assets of the school (limited though they are), and look to a higher spirit guiding us.  I imagine many of you …. “colleagues”  also teach in schools where your golf courses only have 9 rather than 18 holes. Some of you will be saddled with swimming pools which are not Olympic size, so your boys will struggle, like ours do, in a purpose built, heated, all year round 25M pool. And what I say to you is this, dig deep and build the character of your students with lots of one-to-one time exploring the life of the mind and intellectual pursuits.  You should spend, as our tutors do, at least 2 hours with each boy per week, over a cup of warming cocoa and a buttered slice, getting to know them and tailoring a curriculum exactly to their needs. You will find this approach brings real dividends.

Thank you very much for visiting Eton to see how we do things here. Now if you could all leave quickly by this back door here, we would be very grateful. We’re not trying to get rid of you or anything,  tt’s just we have some prospective parents coming round in an hour or so and the place smells, erm, smells a bit of ‘chav’.  We obviously would like to get the servants in to give the place a good airing. Don’t get me wrong, I like the common people as much as the next fellow, it’s just I’d rather not have my school reeking of them.

Speech endeth, and hapless state school educators declare themselves amazed by the results produced at Eton with such meagre resources. They vow to return to their schools and start music and sports clubs forthwith. 

Upon returning to their schools they realise this is a really stupid bloody plan, as Gove has already sold off their playing fields and any musical based nonsense is not included in the eBacc, and if they don’t make the grade with that then Gove will have them converted to an academy quicker than they can say ‘enemies of promise’.

Dead White Men: Michael Gove and the New National History Curriculum

Portrait in oils of Michael Gove

Michael Gove is at the centre of another controversy. This time it’s over his planned new National History Curriculum.  A ‘leak’ to the Daily Mail over the Christmas period led them to write ‘Some of the greatest figures in Britain’s past are to be restored to their rightful place in history, thanks to an overhaul of the school curriculum.’ (link – warning this takes you to the Daily Mail site)  Gove it seems is no fan of some of the figure in the old (New) labour history curriculum, including William Wilberforce (leading light in the campaign to abolish slavery), Mary Seacole (Jamaican nurse who showed extreme courage in the Crimean war), and Amy Johnson (you know, the one with the plane).  Instead Gove is insisting that schools teach first and foremost the history of England through its Kings, Queens, and major political and religious figures.

To seasoned education observers, the obsession with ‘the curriculum’; can sometimes get a little tedious. Although the curriculum specifies the content which is to be taught, it’s a very reductive viewpoint indeed which equates learning only with content. Learning is a process, and being a historian is a lot more than being able to rote learn the dates of every British monarch.  Far more important are the skills of weighing up conflicting evidence, creating narratives and understanding how events are linked.  History is after all, just a collection of narratives; this is given away in its very name! Figures such as Seacole are very useful to history teachers; they illustrate how people can overcome prejudice (in Seacole’s case both racial and gender based), to achieve remarkable things.  Most of what we learn at school we forget, but stories such as Seacole’s have the potential to inspire young people.  This is far from being an inclusion of the ‘PC brigade, or the loony left’ as the charge from Gove goes, but rather an opportunity to examine a fascinating period in British history and the prevailing social attitudes.

It is telling that the figures which Gove wants taught are from the monarchy, the church and mainstream politics (Churchill, Nelson etc).  Gove’s history curriculum sits proudly on his shelves in plush red leather with gold-tooled lettering.  He is clearly impatient with the stories of ordinary people who challenged the status quo or fought for social justice, or women (like Johnson), who took on male dominance in a field like aviation and proved themselves equal if not better to men.  Kings and Queens (of Britain) rule by divine right (this much I learned in my history lessons). God *tells* them they are in charge and this supremacy cannot be challenged in the earthly order. This suits Conservative ideology very well, it shuts down the narrative of uppity commoners getting to big for their boots. Studying the monarchy is an exercise in knowing your place and the lives of common people, their struggles, the battles they fought to achieve a modern democracy disappear from view. So Gove’s history curriculum is purpose built to reinforce, albeit on a very subliminal level, the agenda of his government, which is proving itself to be the most reactionary and socially regressive in living memory.  Cameron’s cabinet is dominated by white men with an unshakeable belief they were born to rule, so it is very fitting that the history curriculum is stacked in a similar manner.

In specifying so closely which figures are to be taught in History lessons, Gove shows himself to be quite the control freak, eager to wield his power so his particular take on history is the one played out in the exercise boards and whiteboards of the countries’ school.  But if he is a control freak, he’s a hugely conflicted one as his flagship free schools don’t have to teach the national curriculum, nor do any of the academies. They are free to teach whatever they want, they can base their entire history curriculum on Malcolm X if they wanted to.  Gove’s tenure as education secretary has been nothing but a mess of badly thought out policies and ideological blindness.

Ex-teacher to set up investment bank in Hackney

A former teacher is spearheading a plan to set up a brand new investment bank in Hackney using apes instead of people as a traders. It is the first time that an attempt to use Simians to gamble with other people’s money has been made, and experts are split as to whether it will be a success or not.

Adam Wanner-Sense decided to launch the bank after reading a statistic that investment bankers could get filthy rich with as little as 11 seconds work a day.  Adam explains ’35K for the average teacher is shit money anyway, I want people at my new bank to all be in the top 1% of earners, and my plan to use apes to make the trades is fool-proof’.

The plan has already attracted opposition from investment banks in the nearby City of London who are adamant that the bank will take much needed money away from them.  At a meeting, one banker Chetwyn Montague-Pretzel (the 3rd) said: ‘The evidence from other countries where teachers have set up investment banks is disastrous,, they know nothing about what we do, there is no way a teacher can understand the complexities of banking. And even if they did and made a shed load of cash like we do, how can we be sure they would spend it on the right kind of things, like Simply Red CDs, cocaine and Porsches?’

When asked about his lack of experience in running an investment bank, Mr Wanner-Sense said: ‘my complete and total lack of experience in investment banking (indeed any kind of banking) should not be a cap on my aspiration to run a trillion pound hedge fund right here in Hackney.  For too long, low expectations and a culture of failure has been accepted here, but we are going to change that .  We sat round a table and did some quadratic equations and we are sure our business model is 100% sound.  Basically we take the money from people’s pensions funds and savings, we then skim off a huge chunk for ourselves and give the rest to the monkeys and they tap away on computer terminals, “”investing”” it. If it all goes to plan we’ll be loaded’.  When asked to comment on what would happen if all of that money was lost as a result of poor lending decisions, greed and weaker regulatory oversight than that which applies to a mother’s union coffee-morning, Mr Wanner-Sense said: ‘that’s a good fucking question but we thought of that too. If we lose all of the money, we get on a plane to somewhere exotic and the UK taxpayer will step in with billions of extra money to save the bank because by then we’ll be too big to fail; it’s what the apes call a ‘win-win’ situation.

Hackney Free Bank opens on 1st November.

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Image of man with monkey courtesy of ross-hawkes, licenced via Creative Commons, available here http://www.flickr.com/photos/rosshawkes/5529772412/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Going home at 3pm..

Michael Wilshaw has weighed in again with another media friendly pronouncement on teaching (http://bbc.in/OQ80vk). In a move which has sparked a predictable backlash from teaching unions, Wilshaw the head of OfSTED and the most senior teacher in the land, outlined how teachers who did not teach well, or who left early (at 3pm was the cut off he used), should not be entitled to pay rises. An excellent analysis of Wilshaw’s strategy when he talks to the media can be found on Chips of Brookfields Blog (http://bit.ly/P9lG5Z) and Bansi Kara has written with insight and precision about why Wilshaw’s strategy ignores the reality of what happens in school and the basics of how you motivate people (http://bit.ly/TiuSLy).

At one level this is just another piece of populist grand-standing from Wilshaw, an interview with theTimes destined to please the Daily Mail readership and setting up Gove nicely for his conference speech to the Tories in a week’s time.  Ignoring it is probably the best strategy.  But the image Wilshaw paints of lazy teachers driving out of the school car park at 3pm is calculated to raise the hackles of anyone who thinks teachers work too short hours, have long holidays and an all round cushy number, and can increase the antagonism between the teaching profession and the wider public.  Gove has been waging a war on state education since he became shadow secretary for education, and Wilshaw’s interview seems peppered with sound bites which could have come straight from Gove’s mouth, which they may well have done!

Wilshaw clearly shares his politics and views on teaching with Gove and as the months go by the partisan nature of this appointment appears ever more striking.  Michaels Gove and Wilshaw (and wannabe ‘Michael’ Nick Gibb) all appear to have had the same lobotomy: a surgical operation to remove their creativity, imagination and ability to base their policies and pronouncements on facts and data, and a replacement of the resulting void with a fetid stew of authoritarian myopia and half-arsed sentiments from Rudyard Kipling.  That the most senior politicians and leaders of education in this country can be so lacking in real insights in how to improve education and so bereft of meaningful policies is a national tragedy.

Wilshaw’s explanation that his inspectors will mark down schools which give pay rises to teaching staff without justification is not only unworkable, it also contradicts the essence of Gove’s reforms to state education.  Gove has put all of his political eggs in the basket of academies and free schools*, and central to this policy is the right for academies to set their own pay and conditions for staff, even employing teachers without qualifications if they want to. So Gove’s policy seems to trust absolutely management of a school to promote those worthy teachers and reward performance accordingly, and Gove is eager to brandish the word ‘autonomy’ whenever he is championing his academy policy. But then Wilshaw comes along and contradicts this. Is he seriously saying that his inspectors are going to inspect a school and then drill down to the level of detail where they ask the Senior Management to justify the salary of individual teachers and mark them down if this justification does not satisfy them.  This is of course will be impossible and even if it were, this will be a government agency intervening right at the heart of a school’s management and staffing structure.

Michael Gove cannot have his autonomous cake and eat it.  His talk is all of autonomy and letting schools run themselves without let or hindrance by the local authority, but his actions and policies very clearly point to exactly the opposite situation, the micro-management of schools by proxy by OfSTED.  His policies are confused and contradictory and in Wilshaw he has found an unquestioning attack dog to further his agenda.  The sooner both Michaels are removed to a position where they can no longer influence English schools the better.

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*in terms of legal status, free schools and academies are the same thing. Free schools are just academies which are far more likely to be run by religious extremists or Tory journalists than regular academies.

Image is creative commons, available here and used with kind permission of Goat’s Greetings on Flickr. Original image has been cropped.

Anthony Seldon and his lavish praise for Michael Gove

Wellington College
An average comprehensive school

Anthony Seldon the Master of Wellington College has written a piece for The Daily Telegraph titled “The Grades are down, well done to you all“. In this piece he celebrates the reduction in the pass rate for GCSEs and hails this as a victory for Michael Gove and Nick Gibb (the schools minister) and their determination to halt the grade inflation which he argues has robbed the GCSE of its validity.

The level of patronisation in the early part of the piece is extreme.  Seldon scripts it as if he were giving the send off at a speech day where the glittering riches of the Wellington clientele gather on the immaculate lawn to celebrate all that is great and good about themselves. But for the thousands of ordinary, working class kids who failed to get a C at GCSE because the exam boards changed the grade boundaries in the middle (yes the middle) of the assessment period, this tone of paternalistic self-congratulation and barely concealed gloating at the fall in pass rates is likely to ring hollow.

Seldon’s cheerleading for the Gove regime at the DfE is a real toe curler too. Especially as he parts company so early with any of the actual facts about what Gove is doing to state education.  He soon settles down into parroting the frequently held opinion that academies and free schools are: ‘given freedoms enjoyed by their independent-sector colleagues.’  Seldon is reproducing exactly the Gove mantra here that bog standard schools are in the thrall of the Local Authority and are unable to innovate or even change as they are held down by the dead-hand of local bureaucracy.  I simply do not believe this to be the case, and I don’t think heads (from either LA schools or academies) believe so either. If heads at community schools felt stifled in their attempts to innovate I rather think that a few of them would have popped up by now to tell their story. Conversely most schools which have converted to academies have done little radical in the way of innovation. Changing the uniform and logo don’t count here, I mean innovation which actually uses these much vaunted freedoms in creative and genuinely new ways. Some academies of course have innovated, but many of the ‘dash for cash quick convertor academies’ have simply undergone a change of name and legal status and business has remained much the same.

By linking Academies with the independent-sector, Seldon faithfully and masterfully reproduces another central plank of the Gove master narrative on schools, namely that the social class of the students is irrelevant when it comes to results.  Gove is impatient of arguments which cite poor social backgrounds as an excuse for educational underachievement (and nearly all educators would join him broadly in this assertion), but in seeking to remove social class so completely from the picture the argument becomes futile.  Some schools in poor areas have students who come to school hungry; the growing evidence of school age children who rely on food banks (http://bit.ly/RKuSDs).  Students may also come from chaotic home backgrounds, have to cope with domestic abuse and drug and alcohol addiction from parents and carers and many of them will be carers for members of their family. Many will not have a space in the home where they can study or store their books, and access to a computer and an internet connection, something which the middle class now see as vital as having an inside toilet, may also be lacking.  Middle  England is hurting too as the recession deepens like a coastal shelf and job losses, house repossessions and a general lack of security amongst white-collar families is something that state schools are dealing with on a regular basis.

Fees at Wellington begin at £27,000 per year.

Seldon and Gove’s arguments, which eradicate social realities from schooling, are a subtle yet vicious form of class warfare. By eradicating social class from the education picture, despite overwhelming research evidence that it has a massive impact on achievement, Gove and Seldon can settle back with their glass of Pimms and look smugly at other schools and ask ‘why are they not achieving what we are?’.  The truth is that the social class of students and their socio-economic status is not an excuse for poor performance, it is a sodding REASON for poor performance and many schools in the state sector manage to take students from poor backgrounds and raise their attainment way beyond what it should be by dint of creative teaching, pastoral interventions and hard work. And this has little to do with whether they are academies or LA schools.  Wellington has almost unlimited resources to throw at any educational challenges which may come its way, one-to-one tuition to bring stragglers back up to par, extra lessons and so on will all be a natural part of the regime. Luxuries which state education cannot afford.

Towards the end of the piece Seldon reveals  a little more as to why his joy at the lowering of success rates for GCSE is so unalloyed. It turns out that students at Wellington don’t actually bloody do GCSEs anymore. Instead they follow the middle years International Baccalaureate where teachers ‘set their own tests under a framework overseen by the IB’.  No wonder Seldon can be so upbeat about the whole GCSE debacle, his merry band of 1%ers have totally escaped the shit-storm created when Gove pressured the exam boards to rejig the grade boundaries and they are progressing into the sixth form before you can so much as say ‘ya, ya ya’, and ‘here’s another cheque for 30 grand bursar’. Seldon urges other schools to follow this IB programme in the same way as a posh uncle would urge you to take up lacrosse.  So far out of touch with Gove’s real agenda of centralised control  is he, that he honestly believes that state-funded schools could get away with switching to an exam regime where the TEACHERS write the exams for the kids. Now I am not a betting man, but if I was I would stake my house on the fact that Gove would never allow teachers at state schools to set their own exams for students at age 16 and have these results as the basis for league table positions.

As Jane Austen may well have written: “Seldon, very Seldon, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; Seldon can it happen that something is not a little disguised or a little mistaken.”