Posts Tagged ‘GCSEs’

Private Schools Choosing Easier GCSEs

December 31, 2018

I found this very interesting little snippet in today’s I for 31st December 2018 about private schools doing the easier version of the GCSEs. It runs

Private schools have been accused of “cheating the system to inflate results” after exam figures revealed the number of pupils opting for “easier” GCSE exams. Three quarters of International GCSEs entries – seen as less rigorous than new GCSEs-were from independent schools in 2018. (p. 2).

Somehow I’m not surprised. Market forces mean that in order to attract pupils, they have to get good grades, especially with the parents demanding ‘value for money’. But I can remember when I was at Uni there was a scandal about some private schools allowing children, who in fact had never attended the school, to sit exams in them as a way of artificially inflating the number of pupils getting good grades.

A friend of mine, who went through private education system told me that the wealthy send their children there not so much for the education but for the useful connections they’ll make with the other children of the rich and well-off. And I don’t doubt it for a minute. It explains how BoJo and the other old Etonians get their prominent positions in industry and the media despite a glaring lack of any intellectual ability. I’ve also heard that in fact the education at the private schools is much narrower than in the state sector: the children are basically taught how to pass exams and get into Oxbridge, rather than acquire knowledge for its own sake. And I also remember the I carrying a story about an official report which said that students educated in state schools also tended to outperform the private school boys and girls at university.

The public school lot clearly are resorting to cheating to try and maintain the illusion that they offer a better education, and the children of the rich and power are more intelligent than the rest of us comprehensive school kids.

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Book Review: The Great City Academy Fraud – Part 2

July 13, 2016

Academy Fraud Pic

Francis Beckett (London: Continuum 2007)

Poor Staff Conditions

Both New Labour and the Tories have regurgitated endless amounts of Thatcherite verbiage about ‘choice’, when hyping their schemes to take education out of the control of local authorities. In fact, parents and teacher frequently have little choice over how academies are run. The funding agreement gives the power to make decisions regarding school management to the sponsor. These agreements get rid of all but a token representative from the parents and school staff on the school governors’ board. The staff governor may not even be a member of the teaching staff. They are free to set their own pay, terms and conditions, and are outside the regulations governing the conduct of teachers. New Labour was early faced with public opposition when they announced that teacher employed in academies would not have to belong to the compulsory professional body that makes sure teachers are actually fit to teach children. Blair and his team boasted that this was all part of the freedom academies enjoyed from the regulations binding conventional schools. Somebody pointed out that if this regulation was unnecessary, then surely it should also be repealed for ordinary schools. And if it wasn’t, then the regulation should be enforced in academies. At that point, New Labour decided that the regulation did apply, and backed down.
Several of the academy chains, including one run by 3Es, won’t recognise trade unions. These have massive staff turnover, including headmasters. Some of these are hired for truly eye-watering sums. One head, who formerly ran the King Solomon Jewish school, was taken on by an academy for £120,000. This chap eventually left as his experience running a faith school did not prepare him for the problems of coping with a mainstream school, whose children were taken from a variety of ethnic and faith backgrounds.

Refusal to Take Difficult Pupils

Conditions for pupils may not improve either, especially for children with behaviour problems. Academies have tried to keep up their appearance of improving standards frequently by excluding some of the most difficult children, who may find their school career, and their entire lives, wrecked as a result. One school managed to excluded 246 or so of its student population of 700-odd. Beckett provides a couple of cases showing what happened to some of the unlucky children, who were expelled. Except that, technically they may not be. They can exclude someone in a particular manner, so that it’s not technically an exclusion. And if it’s not technically an exclusion, then the Local Education Authority does have the statutory responsibility to find another school for them. This happened to a lad, ‘Jack’ – not his real name – who was excluded, and effectively confined to home for five months. The lad suffered from depression anyway, which was made worse. His mother reported that he then spent all his time in his room, not coming out even for his meals. Another boy, who was excluded, also found that no-one else was prepared to take him on. He ended up not doing his GCSEs. He did manage to get a vocational qualification at a local college, but as this is not an academic qualification, he will suffer at finding a job, and be unable to get into university.

And it isn’t exactly fun and games for the teachers, either. They’re frequently only hired on six month contracts, just in case they start getting a bit too settled and too powerful. One woman was assaulted by a boy in her class. He was not expelled, and the woman understandable felt anxious about going back to work. So she took a little bit more time off. Only to find that, as she was on a six-month contract, she was not paid for the extra time.

No Choice for Parents and Local Authorities

And parents and local authorities have also been penalised if they refused to get in-line and ‘on message’ with the Blairite diktats. Local authorities are expected to consider building academies when trying to renovate and improve schools in their areas, and the onus is always on changing to an academy. If a local authority refuses the government’s command to turn their school into one, the government responded with a scorched earth policy. No further money would be forthcoming for that area’s schools.

And Blair was both doctrinaire and personally vindictive towards those schools that refused to bend, or stubbornly remained ‘good’ in Ofsted reports. Documents revealed under the Freedom of Information Act show that Islington Green School, which Blair was desperate to close, were actually rated good by the school inspectors, despite Chris Woodhead, the-then head of Ofsted, declaring that it was failing. There then followed a long campaign to have the school closed and transformed into an academy. Quite why is unknown, but Beckett speculates personal spite on the Warmonger’s part. The Blairs lived in its catchment area, but they sent their children over the other side of London to be educated at the London Oratory. The press seized on this, and the Dear Leader was embarrassed. So it looks like the school was failed for political reasons, to make it seem less like Blair wasn’t sending his children to it purely for reasons of personal snobbery.

In other areas, parents were subject to full set of New Labour spin and vilification if they put up protests against plans to close their schools and turn them into academies. One man, who was part of a campaign to save his local school, came under personal attack in the subsequent court case to save the school from closure. He was a member of the Socialist Party, what used to be the Militant Tendency, when it was part of the Labour party. And so New Labour seized on that, and claimed that he was only opposing the academy plan because of his political opinions. Not true, but that was how the local New Labour party spun it. Their Labour MP also sent out a very carefully worded letter to her constituents, that asked them to tick two boxes. One said that they were in favour of raising school standards involving a transfer to academy status. The other box said that they were not in favour of raising standards through academy status. Or something like that. It was carefully phrased to make it sound like the only way to improve standards was through changing to an academy. If you weren’t behind it, you weren’t in favour of improving school standards. It was the New Labour educational variety of the old leading question, ‘Do you still beat your wife?’

Book Review: The Great City Academy Fraud – Part 3

July 13, 2016

Academy Fraud Pic

Francis Beckett (London: Continuum 2007)

Academies and the Curriculum

There are also major concerns about what academies actually teach. Beckett writes from a secular viewpoint, and is very sceptical about the involvement of the churches and evangelical groups in running schools. He states that there may be a democratic argument to be put forward in favour of handing schools over to religious organisations, but this has not been made. Instead, he cites quotes from Peter Vardy and the Roman Catholic spokesman for education in Scotland, McGrath, who regret that the churches have relinquished schools to the state. He shows how the churches, including the Church of England, are trying to get into education with the aim of indoctrinating a new generation of believers. Beckett isn’t entirely opposed to religious involvement in schooling. He has nothing against the traditional compromise, in which schools offered religious education and an act of daily worship, but were otherwise left to get on with things. But the religious character of some of these schools does become a problem, such as their refusal to employ staff of a different faith, or when most of their pupils are non-Christians, such as Muslims. Or when the Christian ethos is expected to get down into lessons like pottery. Peter Vardy and his organisation are a matter of considerable concern, because of Vardy’s determination to teach Creationism as an acceptable scientific theory, which has been criticised by the Royal Society, amongst others.

It is not just the religious organisations that present problems with the subjects taught at academies. Sponsors are also able to set the curriculum, and so this reflects the particular interests of the businessman or organisation sponsoring the academy. In academies run by particular firms, the emphasis may be on those skills the firm requires, even though several of them have denied that they are in fact doing so. Beckett makes the point that these firms are effectively training ‘the worker bees of industry’ for tomorrow. Where the sponsor is a sports club, the academy, naturally enough, specialises in sport. The result is that subjects like technology and business are favourite subjects with sponsors, but ordinary, valuable subjects like English, Maths and languages, for which there is also a need, are much less well represented.

Driving Down Other Schools

Beckett also describes how academies also work to drive down the other schools in their areas. Academies may received massive funding from government – like £37 million – while something like £2 – £6 million may be granted to maintain the other state schools in the area. Academies thus may become the favoured choice for parents. They are also highly selective. There is evidence that very many of the academies expel difficult pupils, thus passing them on to the conventional state sector. Many of them also opt to select 10 per cent of their intake according to ability. Or they may choose to take them by banding. In this instance, children are divided into three bands of above average, average, and below average educational performance/ capacity. Schools following this method of selection take equal numbers of all the above bands. However, as academies were designed to raise standards in areas where there may be considerable deprivation, the lowest bands may fill up very rapidly, because of the way poverty brings down educational performance and expectations. So the new academy doesn’t take on all the ‘failing’ pupils in its deprived areas. Several of the academies in deprived inner cities targeted not local parents, but those further out in the leafy suburbs, who could be expected to be more affluent and send brighter, more capable pupils to their schools.

The Poorer Performing Schools Doing well In Spite of Disadvantages

And some of the schools that were declared ‘failing’, and slated to be turned into academies, actually were performing very well under circumstances over which they had no control. One of these schools, for example, was in an area where there was a large number of refugee children, none of whom were fluent in English. This school, however, had high staff morale, and provided value for money in the considerable improvement it made on these children’s grades from a very low base. This was before ‘value’ was taken into consideration, however, and Blair and his minions decided that the school wasn’t performing well enough.

No Improvement over State Schools

It is also very unclear whether academies provide any value for money or improvement over conventional state schools. Beckett presents a number of stats, which show that at one time, 11 out of 14 academies were in the bottom 200 schools. Where they did improve, it was quite often through transferring the less academically able pupils from GCSEs to GNVQs, which count as four GCSEs in the stats. When this is accounted for, the supposed superior performance of academies simply vanishes. And some of the improvements are simply achieved because vast sums of money were thrown at a failing school. Any school would have improved under these circumstances, and it’s a good question whether these schools would have improved more, if they had been under proper LEA control.

Academies and Cash for Honours (and Tony)

One of the book’s chapters is on the individuals, that Tony Blair took on board to sponsor the academies. As with so much of Blairite New Labour, there was more than a whiff of corruption about this. Money changed hands, so that sponsors could get a seat in the House of Lords or some other honour. One member of the department dealing with setting up the academies found the full force of the law, when he was caught in a sting operation by the Sunday Times. He had supposedly offered a lady journalist, posing as potential sponsor, the possibility of various honours. He was then arrested at 7.30 in the morning, and flung in jail on potential corruption charges, his career in government at an end. Meanwhile, the Blairite spin machine went into overdrive, with various Blairites, including David Miliband, declaring that no such sale was taking place. But politics was deeply involved, as many of those sponsoring academies had made generous donations and loans to the Labour party. Several of these were under investigation by the rozzers.

Book Review: The Great City Academy Fraud – Part 4

July 13, 2016

Academy Fraud Pic

Francis Beckett (London: Continuum 2007)

Academies: A Lesson in Failure

Beckett makes it very clear that academies are a failed policy. They don’t bring the improvements they are touted as bringing, and the scale of their failure is shown by the way that New Labour was determined to change, expand and prop up the system. They were originally intended to improve and turn around failing schools. That has stopped, as they are now the preferred choice for building schools. The ‘city’ part of their names has also been dropped, as that was considered to link them too closely with failing inner city schools. So now they’re just ‘academies’. He states that they are an attack on the 1944 requirement of local authorities to provide education for all children in their areas. Local authorities are now required to ‘commission’ schools, not provide them directly or run them. He also cites a New Labour crib sheet to provide spin doctors with the answer they need for critics of the system, which states that they are to take schools out of the control of Local Education Authorities, which are to be destroyed.

The Return of the 11 Plus

He wonders why the system is being promoted, when it is so obviously a failure. He speculates that, apart from undermining the 1944 education act, it serves another purpose: the return of channelling the less able into vocational education. He notes that before the abolition of the 11 Plus, the educationally able were supposed to go to grammar schools, while the less academically gifted went to technical colleges to learn manual or technical trades. This is coming back, with some academies specialising in GNVQs for their less academically gifted pupils. The private school, which became an academy, meanwhile is definitely retaining GCSEs, and will specialise in languages. So it’s effectively hanging on to its grammar school status, even if it is not, technically, a grammar school any longer.

Beckett states that the return of vocational education and what is effectively the 11 plus is not a policy any socialist party can openly admit to pursuing, and so Blair was bringing it in through the back door of the academies.

What Should Replace Them?

In the last chapter, he discusses what should replace academies. He acknowledges that they were set up to answer a real need – that of failing schools, some of which were in appalling conditions. He argues that there is a need to reform and abolish Local Education Authorities. There are too many of them, and some of them are very small, too small to be effective. Furthermore, less and less power and importance is being given to local authorities anyway, and education is just one of a number of services local councils provide. But he is impressed with how much people care about education, and how much time and energy local people invest in their schools. He therefore argues for the creation of Local Education Councils, whose members are democratically elected, with wide powers over the schools in their areas, and which are outside the stifling tangle of local government regulations. These LECs may choose to approach sponsors, but they would have ultimate control over the schools, not the other way around, as it is now with academies.

My own feeling is that academies are being promoted for much more cynical reasons by the industrial and political elites. They give power to industry, which then gives money to the political parties. It’s another part of the corporatist corruption of politics in Britain and also in America, as many of the companies seeking to set up academies over here, were also involved in setting up charter schools up on the other side of the Pond. Those angling to get a cut of the action in the academy chains include one Rupert Murdoch, through his sideline in educational publishing (don’t laugh).

Academies and Nicky Morgan’s Lies

This mess needs to be cleaned out, and cleaned out now. No new academies are to be built, and I fully agree with Beckett that ways need to be explored to return those that have been to full state control. They are a massive failure. So far 25 academy chains this year have had to be taken over by the state. But you wouldn’t know that from Thick Nicky Morgan’s interview on the Beeb, where she consistently refused to answer his question, and just kept repeating what she’d been told about how unfair it was to keep failing schools open and deny parents the opportunity of seeing their children succeed in an academy. As we’ve seen, this is rubbish. Parent’s ain’t presented with a choice so much as a command: you will get an academy, whether you like it or not.

It’s high time to throw out academies, and the Blairites and Tories with them.