Meanwhile piecemeal privatisation of our public assets continues. The DfE peddles the lie of school autonomy but offers grants of an extra £75k to set up more academy chains. Will any of that cash be spent on school improvement, teachers or even children? No, it is destined to line the pockets of the unaccountable MATs, their lawyers and accountants. Now Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, has recommended replacing volunteer school governors with paid board members.
The DfE admits that not all academies and free schools are necessarily better than maintained schools but it has allocated £12m to recruit advisers to extend the programme. These advisers, answerable to unelected Regional Schools Commissioners, will replace the DfE’s discredited, tax dodging, bullying academy brokers.
But does the u-turn on tax credits show that even the Tories are susceptible to public pressure? It is time to build on the work of trade unions and existing campaigns – those that expose child poverty, protect comprehensive education, defend adult education and fight privatisation. We need a national conversation about education and we need a national education service – truly comprehensive for all from cradle to grave.
Education campaigner and author Janet Downs has called on Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to think about the wording of the latest Ofsted report on the failing school IES Breckland in Brandon, Suffolk.
The school, the only one in the country run by a for-profit company has been in special measures for nearly two years and operates at a loss. The latest Ofsted report moves the school to the ‘requires improvement’ category. However the report states the low GCSE results at IES ‘must be considered against pupils’ low starting points and the turbulent period that the school has been through in the past two years’. Downs points out that at two free schools in Beccles and Saxmundham run by Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust have had the same rider applied to them. This, Downs points out, is in contrast to other schools in the country such as those that might be categorised as ‘coasting’ in which the governments ‘no excuses’ policy is enforced.
Ofsted’s report on the school states that the quality of its teaching, learning and assessment, the personal development, behaviour and welfare of pupils and outcomes for learners still required improvement.
According to figures in Schools Week the school’s educational service provider, IES International English Schools UK Ltd, had cut its losses by almost 80 per cent last year, it was £271,041 in the year to June 30 last year and was cut to £54,773 this year. The company’s turnover increased from £77,650 to £103,212 during the same period and, following revelations in Schools Week that debts of £307,369 owed to Swedish parent company IES Sverige AB were written off last year, only £76,725 of debt was written off in the latest financial year.
The Truth About Our Schools: Exploding the Myths, Exploring the Evidence, by Melissa Benn and Janet Downs, is published by Routledge.
Schools in England face unprecedented cuts according to figures from Camden NUT Secretary Andrew Baisley. This follows cuts imposed by the government over the last five years that have seen many services slashed and around ten percent reduction in the budgets of sixth forms. In the new round school budgets could see reductions by as much as eight and a half percent by 2020. Inner city London areas could be hit harder, up to 24 percent in boroughs such as Southwark, Camden and Tower Hamlets.
The figures are based on calculations taken from the latest forecast from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Tory Fair Funding campaign. Education spending has not been cut in this way since the mid 1980’s when spending was dropped by 4%, and between 1994 and 1996 when it was cut by 3%.
Education activists met those cuts by setting up FACE (Fight All Cuts in Education) which severely challenged the John Major government.
In the light of this Jeremy Corbyn’s call for a National Education Service is one we welcome. The Anti Academies Alliance believes that setting up of a national campaign for education to fight both the cuts and the fragmentation of the education system caused by the academy programme would be essential to achieve this goal.
In 2012, it was one of just three countries surveyed by the OECD that reduced inequality while improving its math scores. The great “Pisa shock” led to what has now been called the “great turnaround” in German education. So, does Germany, with its complex and fragmented education system, and school days that have traditionally stopped at lunchtime, have a lesson or two to teach other countries?
Rankings of countries based on how well their students perform in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) always receive a great deal of attention from the media and politicians. But PISA rankings, produced by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, are limited when it comes to evaluating the quality of education systems and their efforts to improve children’s lives.
The rankings tell us, for example, that 15-year-olds in Germany and the US perform better in mathematics than students in Peru or Indonesia. Yet we also know that income per capita in Peru and Indonesia is way less than that in Germany and the US.
So is it fair to compare education systems operating in such different socio-economic conditions? How would these education systems perform if they served students and operated in countries with more or less similar socio-economic characteristics?
In studies of how well individual children do and the “effectiveness” of individual schools, pupils’ socio-economic characteristics are now ritually taken into account. The same reasoning can be extended when comparing countries’ education systems.
Our research has measured the effectiveness of education systems by adjusting the performance of students who take the PISA tests for the socio-economic context. The effectiveness measure is obtained by calculating the difference between how well students in the education systems ranked by the OECD actually perform, and how they should be expected to perform due to the socio-economic characteristics of students, schools, and countries.
In the graph below, those countries with values higher than zero – towards the right-hand side – have 15-year-olds who perform above expectations in mathematics, meaning the education system is effective. Those below zero, to the left, indicate ineffective performance.
PISA 2012, effectiveness of education systems in mathematics performance. Note: Albania and Lichtenstein were removed for missing data in the economic, social and cultural status index and sample size restrictions. Author provided
The results show a different configuration of countries’ performance once the socio-economic context is considered. For example, Turkey, Thailand, and Indonesia are effective systems, once results are adjusted in this way, although their absolute performance in the PISA tests is below average. Conversely, the US, Sweden, and Norway are among the least effective systems if socio-economic context is taken into account, but exhibit higher absolute performance scores.
There are also systems that perform highly according to both absolute scores and for effectiveness once their performance is adjusted for socio-economic context – such as Hong Kong, Korea, and Chinese Taipei. Others have both low absolute performance scores and effectiveness measures, such as Argentina, Jordan, and Qatar. And there are also systems which perform within their expected range, such as Mexico, Spain, Finland, and New Zealand.
Taking wealth into account
The second graph below shows the relationship between absolute mathematics scores in PISA 2012 and effectiveness measures, adjusted for socio-economic context. Those education systems that perform well in absolute terms do also tend to be more effective, but the relationship is not perfect and there are considerable differences between the two.
For example, absolute mathematics performance in Norway and the US is similar to performance in Portugal – but Portugal is effective and Norway and the US are not. For their socio-economic context, Norway and the US perform below what can be expected, whereas Portugal exceeds its expected performance. You could argue that for their advantaged socio-economic conditions, the US and Norway could perform considerably higher than they do.
Which countries are most effective? PISA 2012, math absolute scores versus effectiveness scores, adjusted for socio-economic context. The horizontal line at 0 separates effective from ineffective systems and the vertical line at 500 score points indicates the OECD average. Albania and Lichtenstein removed for missing data. PISA 2012 data., Author provided
It’s clear that some countries perform very differently when their socio-economic situation is taken into account, whereas others perform more or less the same. For example, performance in Mexico, Spain, Finland, and New Zealand practically does not change after the socio-economic context is considered.
Better than expected
But performance is much higher than expected in Thailand, Turkey, and Portugal. Put differently, these systems would score higher in PISA rankings if it took into account the socio-economic context of the countries.
There are, on the other hand, systems such as Norway, Sweden, the US, Israel, Greece, Jordan, and Qatar that perform worse than expected. It seems that comparatively, these countries could perform better considering the available economic resources and the socio-economic characteristics of the student populations they serve.
But there might be other cultural and economic factors, such as the distribution of economic resources, that condition the results of effectiveness and are difficult to change through reforms to education policy.
The PISA results tell us how countries perform in absolute terms. But
looking at how effective education systems are according to their socio-economic context offers a complementary perspective.
Viewed this way, it is possible for an education system operating in relatively disadvantaged conditions, such as Indonesia, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam, to perform better than one with higher performance according to PISA rankings but operating under more favourable socioeconomic conditions, such as Iceland, Norway, the UK, the US, and Sweden.