‘Why do rich people think they can tell us how to run schools?’

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation hit the news again recently after the Rand Corporation issued a damning verdict in its final report on the foundation’s Teacher Effectiveness Initiative. All credit to Rand for not attempting to sugar a bitter pill the size of a golf ball by concluding, laconically, that the initiative did not achieve its goals for student achievement or graduation, particularly for LIM (low-income minority) students.

The US has a famously optimistic, positive view of philanthropic giving, but when the $212 million that the foundation contributed had to be supplemented by another $363 million from the US taxpayer, then a rethink about whether or not this constitutes philanthropy seems in order.

The same situation exists in the UK, albeit on a much-reduced scale. The Sutton Trust spent a mere £5.6 milllion last year but is arguably the most influential educational organisation in the country. It is, in essence, the vehicle for private equity millionaire Sir Peter Lampl’s social mobility philanthropy, backed up by central government funding and money from other charities, including the Impetus Trust and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, although it’s not easy to work out where the money comes from.

However, it’s not actually the financial aspect of this kind of activity that interests me. I’m far more intrigued by the apparent naivety that fuels it. The Rand report’s recommendations on the Gates Teacher Effectiveness Initiative must be the most expensive in educational history. I could name a good number of colleagues I’ve worked with, on numerous national and international educational programmes, who could have saved them the trouble.



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