Education for the future of Jordan

Here’s the first blog on this subject from Professor Trevor Male who is beginning a project in Jordan.  Stay tuned for more.

 

I am in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan this week starting work on a project funded by the Queen Rania Foundation.  The task is to examine best practice worldwide and produce a set of options for school councils and parental engagement, which form part of an education strategic plan for this nation.

Jordan is a small(ish) landlocked country bordering Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Israel.  In July 2017, the World Bank re-classified Jordan from an upper-middle income country to a lower middle- income country.  There are no natural mineral resources or other natural advantages, so its future prosperity will depend almost entirely on the talents and enterprise of its people.  As of 2010 (the latest estimate available), approximately 14% of the population lived below the national poverty line on a long-term basis, while almost a third experienced transient poverty.   This has had multiple effects on education as children from poor families may be less likely to attend pre-primary education and the burdens of indirect costs (clothing, transportation costs and the need to work to supplement family income) may contribute to non-enrolment, non-attendance and even drop out at the primary and secondary levels.

In addition to these factors, Jordan faces challenges associated with the huge influx of refugees fleeing the violence in Syria and now provides support for more than 1.3 million Syrians.  As would be expected this does place extra demands on the education system and labour market, in addition to other national services and infrastructure.  The challenges are compounded by the continuing rapid expansion in Jordan’s population, which is expected to increase by 1.4% per year for the next decade. Consequently, increasing demands for school and further education places are feeding growing numbers into the labour market.  Whilst this expansion provides a unique economic opportunity for Jordan because the working population will exceed the dependent population for the next twenty years. Nevertheless, based on current projections, there will be a need for over 660,000 new jobs over the next decade, if the national target of 8% unemployment is to be met.  One consequence of this situation is that the kingdom developed a National Human Resource Development Strategy in 2016 which seeks “to invest in our citizens’ education and training to create a generation of forward-looking young people, who are equipped with the skills necessary to analyse, innovate and excel” (King Abdullah II).

Education has been determined as the key to transforming these demographic challenges into opportunities for growth and development, with significant changes being required across Jordan’s education and training systems.  In turn this led the Ministry of Education to devise a strategic plan to address these issues, which was published in 2018.  This is where I appear in the picture as providing “the consultancy service that an international expert will be providing to the Ministry of Education (MoE) to support its goals of having all schools actively engaging parents and working in active partnership with their local communities by 2022”.

What I have discovered since arriving here just two days ago has been unexpected as I had not done my homework on this country and assumed ‘Middle East = must be rich’.     So yesterday I reviewed the documents and today talked to people who work in the schools’ sector.  What I witnessed here is a huge lack of building provision, specially to accommodate Syrian refugee children many of whom are taught in the camps, or in evening schools.  It is not uncommon for schools to be in inadequate rented accommodation and to be double shift i.e. one building with two school populations. They are also short of materials and quality teachers.

Patently the country is not rich and thus sits right in the frame of reference provided by this blogging service in that here is a country determined to overcome social injustice, even when the increase in poverty can be blamed partly on unexpected immigration.  Despite the impact of the influx of Syrian students, however, the Ministry is committed to ensure access and equality towards the vision of “Education for All”, equity in the realms of both gender and special needs, improving enrolment rates, accommodating all age groups, providing a stimulating educational environment and developing awareness and health programmes.  It has been a generous response by this largely Muslim population that puts Brexiteers to shame.

Meet Trevor Male

Parliamentary committee describe ever increasing exclusions from schools in England as a ‘scandal’.

In this blog Trevor Male provides an update on the latest developments about excluding some children from schools in England.

Just a day after I published my last blog in the last part of July ‘The phenomenon of ‘off-rolling’ in English state maintained schools which is widening the social divide’ the parliamentary Education Select Committee released its own report which described the ever increasing exclusions as a ‘scandal’. So, time to update my last blog with the very latest news.

For those of you not familiar with the way in which the UK parliament works, it has standing committees – drawn from all parties – which look at various aspects of state provision and report accordingly. Typically, these Select Committees can summon witnesses and ask for submissions from interested parties on the chosen topic. As such these reports tend to avoid political bias and are usually very robust pieces of research.

This parliamentary report looked at the ways in which alternative provision was seemingly being abused by a sharp increase in the number or permanent exclusions from mainstream schools in England.   The purpose of alternative provision is to meet the needs of a wide-cross section of the pupil population, who will often arrive with complex needs and vulnerabilities and not all of whom have been excluded. In this case, the committee report appears to have been triggered by significant evidence and concerns about the over-exclusion of pupils, many of whom end up in alternative provision.

Bastions of inclusion

“Mainstream schools should be bastions of inclusion”, concluded the committee and “intentionally or not, this is not true of all mainstream schools”.   The BBC analysis of the report showed pupils being excluded at the rate of 40 per day, however, with the bulk of those coming from secondary schools (83%) and the greatest proportion coming after Year 9 (i.e. during the final stage of their secondary education).

Exclusions can be:

  • Permanent, where a pupil is unable to stay at their current school;
  • Temporary, where a pupil is not allowed to attend school for a certain number of days;
  • Internal, where a pupil is placed in isolation and segregated from the rest of the school

Just as I reported in my previous blog there has also been an alarming increase in ‘hidden’ exclusions ranging from those whose parents have been encouraged to take their child out of school voluntarily to children being separated from their peer group and ‘taught’ in isolation. Sadly, the committee also received evidence of schools deliberately failing to identify children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), seemingly for financial reasons.

We also heard that schools are justifying permanent exclusions of pupils with SEND, by claiming that they will get the support that they need in alternative provision, and exclusion will speed up the assessment process.34 This then leads to pupils with SEND being left for long periods of time in alternative provision while the assessment takes place, which does not mean that a child’s needs are being met. (2018 Select Committee Report: p 10)

Finally, greater awareness of pupil’s mental health and well-being was resulting, it seems, in more children being identified as needing support which mainstream schools and wider support services are not able to provide. Nevertheless, children with such difficulties were often still being excluded.

 

Reasons for permanent exclusions

What we are witnessing in England, therefore, is a dramatic increase over the last three years of permanent exclusions with a rise of some 40% being recorded. Persistent disruptive behaviour was by far the most common reason for permanent exclusions with the effect being felt most by disadvantaged groups, but those being referred to alternative provision also include children identified as SEND, those with mental health issues and those with undiagnosed difficulties.

The analysis of exclusions seems to reflect a growing social divide with very poorest pupils, those on free school meals, being four times more likely to receive permanent exclusions than other pupils with the figures also showing that black Caribbean pupils have an exclusion rate three times higher than the school population as a whole. Meanwhile children with special educational needs support are almost seven times more likely to be permanently excluded than pupils with no SEND and boys are three times more likely to be permanently excluded than girls.

Partly the reason for rising exclusions, suggested the Select Committee report, was a shortage of funding for schools which limited their ability to be responsive to need, but there has also been an increase in zero-tolerance behaviour policies.

The evidence we have seen suggests that the rise in so called ‘zero-tolerance’ behaviour policies is creating school environments where pupils are punished and ultimately excluded for incidents that could and should be managed within the mainstream school environment. (Ibid, p 11)

The report also provided evidence (as I did in my previous blog) that government’s strong focus on school standards has led to: 

… school environments and practices that have resulted in disadvantaged children being disproportionately excluded, which includes a curriculum with a lack of focus on developing pupils’ social and economic capital. There appears to be a lack of moral accountability on the part of many schools and no incentive to, or deterrent to not, retain pupils who could be classed as difficult or challenging. (Ibid, p 14)

This latter point is significantly supported by evidence from children who highlight exam stress and subject choice, along with negative impacts of social media, as impacting on their mental health and well-being.

The press for academic attainment

The committee report concludes that the press for academic attainment has probably placed stress on schools to demonstrate sustained and enhanced levels of performance on an ever-narrowing curriculum:

An unfortunate and unintended consequence of the Government’s strong focus on school standards has led to school environments and practices that have resulted in disadvantaged children being disproportionately excluded, which includes a curriculum with a lack of focus on developing pupils’ social and economic capital. There appears to be a lack of moral accountability on the part of many schools and no incentive to, or deterrent to not, retain pupils who could be classed as difficult or challenging. (Ibid, p 14)

Consequences?

It is too early to say whether the evidence will lead to change in practice. What we do know is that the process of ‘off-rolling’ I described in my previous blog is illegal. The problem, however, is that “the exclusions process is weighted in favour of schools and often leaves parents and pupils navigating an adversarial system that should be supporting them” (Ibid, p 40).

The report concludes with numerous recommendations to government for change, including establishing a Bill of Rights for pupils facing exclusions. My best guess?   This will disappear in terms of government priority because of the forthcoming Brexit and disadvantaged and vulnerable children will continue to be denied access to high quality provision in mainstream schools. I will be delighted if I am wrong.

Meet Dr. Male

The phenomenon of ‘off-rolling’ in English state maintained schools which is widening the social divide.

A key challenge for school leaders, who are pulled in many different directions by various stakeholders and policies, is the prioritizing of interests.  Professor Trevor Male describes some of the challenges facing headteachers in England.

 

In my last blog Papering Over the Cracks in the System published at the end of March, I hinted that some schools and multi-school organisations were exploiting the state school system by conveniently placing challenging students into alternative provision so their attainment outcomes (generally lower) did not damage the headline performance figures. In other words, such organisations had found ways to deal only with students who would enhance overall performance in terms of attainment and reputation. This objective, I argued, could be achieved in many ways, but especially through the removal of troublesome students through a process of ‘off-rolling’. Sadly, this process has been shown to be on the rise and is now one which is becoming a matter of grave concern, leading to a close focus from the state education system on how alternative provision is being (mis)used when seeking to establish and maintain performance outcomes that are deemed acceptable in a high stakes accountability environment.

A very recent research report by two of my colleagues ‘Hierarchy, Markets and Networks’ attracted headlines and major coverage in national newspapers as it appeared to demonstrate that high performing and improving schools are accepting fewer children from poor backgrounds. In fact, the Sunday Observer headline was: ‘Tory education revolution has fuelled inequality in our schools’ when reporting on the key findings from a four-year investigation. The system was now pushing schools and their heads to prioritise “the interests of the school over the interests of particular groups of, usually more vulnerable children”, with some schools being found to be engaged in “aggressive marketing campaigns and ‘cream-skimming’ aimed at recruiting particular types of students”. The full report can be accessed via the hyperlink above, but for this blog the key issue is the concept of off-rolling which seems to be decreasing the life chances of children from poor back grounds and widening the social divide in England. So, what is the concept of off-rolling and to what extent is it being witnessed?

‘Off-rolling’ happens where a student is encouraged off the roll of a mainstream school in an informal exclusion in which the school’s best interests have trumped the pupil’s. School league tables, broadly speaking, only measure those who remain on the school roll in January of Year 11, giving schools a perverse incentive to lose pupils who would bring results down (Education Datalab). My first foray to establish something more concrete about this phenomenon was in March with an article in my LinkedIn account entitled ‘Fixed term exclusions on the rise?’, for which I appended this appropriate photograph.

In the post I cited the report from the Times Educational Supplement which drew attention to the actions of one academy chain which had been accused of contributing to a “meteoric rise” in exclusions in some of the areas where it operates.  That article itself pointed to concerns raised earlier in the year in an Ofsted report which raised concerns about the high rates of fixed-period exclusions in the North of England. At the time of writing the academy chain was not releasing the figures relating to exclusions, but I argued it did appear that we were seeing concrete evidence of gaming the system by managing the school population.  Since then I have done a little more research.

In June of this year Ofsted published its own blog on ‘off-rolling’ in which they had analysed data on pupils who leave their state-funded secondary school before the end of key stage 4. Over 19,000 pupils (some 4 per cent of the Year 10 population) did not progress from year 10 to year 11 in the same state-funded secondary school, with only half re-enrolling at another school.  Children with special educational needs, children eligible for free school meals, children looked after and some minority ethnic groups were all more likely to leave their school, they reported. Whilst several possible, legitimate reasons were offered, the evidence shows a more than doubling of students with special educational needs who leave their school between years 10 and 11 and more than a quarter of all students that leave their school going to state-funded alternative provision/pupil referral units. The incidence of this possible ‘off-rolling’ is not evenly spread across the sector, they indicated, with a higher proportion of schools in London seeing movement of pupils compared to other areas of the country. Academies, particularly those in some multi-academy trusts, appear to be losing proportionately more pupils than local authority schools. Conversely, local authority schools seem to be taking on proportionately more pupils.

Pupil movements between year 10 in 2016 and year 11 in 2017

 

The issue is not related to just the final year of secondary schooling, however, with some 22,000 students leaving mainstream state schools at some point between Year 7 and Year 11 and not being recorded in state education again, most of whom were considered as vulnerable. Education Datalab recognise that some of these students will have moved to independent schools and others will be receiving a broad, effective education through home-schooling estimate. Nevertheless, around 15,400 students were either not recorded as having taken any final key stage examination, or, if they did, whose results did not count towards any establishment. Whilst some 50-60% of this group may have left the English school system by having moved to one of the other home nations, having emigrated, or, in a small number of sad cases, died, it is estimated the other 6,200-7,700 pupils remain in the country who do not have results that counted towards any establishment.

Off-rolling exists, so what should we be doing?

At the time of writing this blog the government is considering several mechanisms to ensure that schools would retain accountability for students they send to alternative provision or exclude, but have stopped short of saying that the changes would go ahead (Education Datalab). Sam Strickland, a serving headteacher, mounts a strong defence of the process of permanent exclusion in his blog of June, 2018, arguing that most “exclusions and the system of checks and balances surrounding them is so stringent that a Head may as well exclude themselves than exclude a student if there is insufficient evidence in place to do so”.   Nevertheless, he does recognise that it is possible for devious headteachers to utilise the permanent exclusion to enhance their exam result outcomes. Strickland calls for balance and offers a list of non-negotiables that would warrant exclusion.

Perhaps the real problem lies with the impact of high stakes accountability illustrated by Greany & Higham in their report which illustrated increased pressure for schools to perform against measured targets as student level data is used nationally to hold them publicly accountable, allowing the state to continue to steer the system from a distance and to increasingly intervene and coerce when and where it deems necessary. The research showed schools reporting a constant need to focus on national exam results and to prepare for the possibility of an Ofsted inspection. Many headteachers argued that this now demands greater consistency and self-policing, with more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of school leaders agreeing with the statement ‘making sure my school does well in Ofsted inspections is one of my top priorities’. As a result, they conclude, case study school leaders regularly felt incentivized to prioritise the interests of the school over the interests of certain groups of, usually more vulnerable, children.

My question is – in what ways are such actions subscribing to the comprehensive ideal that was the nation’s vision for schooling in the latter part of the previous century? That ideal is perhaps best summed up in the quote from Maurice Holt: “education should be accessible to all pupils regardless of capacity or background, and ‘worthwhileness’, in that the curriculum has to be of defensible value so that it enhances the future lives of its students”. Where is sustained accountability and a school-led improvement system taking us?

At a personal level I remain shocked at the seemingly callous nature of a school system which repeatedly undermines the life chances of already vulnerable children. My only solution is for all actors to subscribe to the notion of student achievement, rather than merely attainment and provide children with an education (not schooling) that equips them for life. I am still aligned to the four pillars of learning presented in the UNESCO report of 1996 Learning – The treasure within: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be and would love to see them enacted in practice, rather than debated in principle.

I will close this blog with the hopes and aspirations of Edward Timpson who is leading the Department for Education’s exclusions review in England:

No parent sets out on that journey wanting or believing their child will be excluded from school. Yet in 2015/16 the parents of 6,685 children in England faced that realisation. Why?

That is the question, amongst others, my review of school exclusions is seeking to address. It isn’t about whether we should or shouldn’t have school exclusions, as sadly there will always be occasions where, despite being used, as the Secretary of State said, as a last resort, exclusion is the only viable route left to take. It’s about understanding not just why in 2015/16 0.08 per cent of children were permanently excluded from state funded schools in England, but why, as the Government’s Race Disparity Audit revealed, for some groups of children, including black Caribbean and Gypsy Roma and Traveller children, those with special educational needs, pupils eligible for free school meals, children in need and those in care, the rates of exclusion are much higher. I want to learn too about the approaches schools take to avoid exclusions and support those at risk, such as working with other local schools on managed moves to another local school, which can act as a fresh start with the right support for children at risk of exclusion.

That means considering carefully the drivers behind exclusion and looking in depth at current practice. We need to establish how schools and supporting agencies work together in relation to exclusions and whether (or not) it is effective in improving outcomes for those children.

Perhaps he could start by making sure making sure that schools focus more on the success, happiness, well-being and future capability of its student population as adults than whether it does well in Ofsted inspections. What do you think?

Meet Dr. Male

Papering Over the Cracks in the System

Trevor Male, Director of the London Centre for Leadership in Learning at University College London, critiques changes to the state funded school system in England.  He presents the background to the challenges school leaders face with regard to issues of social mobility. This discussion reminds me of Raj Chetty’s recent work at the Center for Equality of Opportunity at Stanford.  Paula

 

Can the changes to the structure of the state-funded school system in England enhance social mobility?

The headline from the most recent state of the nation report on social mobility in the United Kingdom, published at the end of last year, is that there is no overall national strategy to tackle the social, economic and geographical divide that the country faces. The report from the Social Mobility Commission (November 2017)[i] decried a ‘lamentable social mobility track record’ and demonstrated that individual chances for young people to achieve adult success were overly reliant on where they were born or lived. The government response has been to publish a plan for improving social mobility through education[ii]. I will argue in this blog that the ability to enact aspects of that reasonably well funded plan in England may be compromised, however, by changes to the structure of the state-funded school system and because of the motives for bidding for such funds.

Changes to the structure of the school system in England

England has its own school system, which differs in structure from the other three countries that together form the United Kingdom (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Since 2010 there has been a determined attempt by central governments to shift the locus of power and control away from local democratic control in England, mainly through a process of academisation. For those readers not familiar with the notion of an ‘academy’ these are state maintained independent schools which formerly were run by elected local authorities. Following their introduction in 2002 as a designed intervention in parts of the country where schools exhibited chronic student underperformance, they grew steadily in number through the rest of the decade to a total of 207 academies by 2010. [If you want to find out more about the genesis and subsequent growth of academies I refer you to a background briefing paper I published in December, 2017 – http://www.lcll.org.uk/publications.html].

In 2010, however, we saw a new coalition government formed which demonstrated a determination to turn as many schools as possible into academies under the guise of developing a school-led improvement system. By 2015, and following the election of a Conservative government, the move to academisation was deemed to be the major education policy, with all state-maintained schools expected to become academies by 2020. Whilst this requirement has subsequently been dropped due to there being a less stable Conservative government in power following the 2017 election (triggered by the vote for Brexit in 2016), nevertheless it remains the preferred government outcome for all state maintained schools to become academies. By the beginning of 2018 the number of academies open, or in the pipeline, were just over 8000 out of a total of some 21,000 schools in the country. The number of schools disguises the impact, however, with 65 per cent of secondary schools now being academies. There is a good chance, therefore, that approximately half of the school population is within academies. Whilst those numbers are not clear, what is apparent is that we have a dual system of state funded schools in England, comprising academies and maintained local authority schools.

A lamentable track record on social mobility

Meanwhile, the UK is a deeply divided nation in terms of class, income, gender and race, but the factor receiving greater focus through the work of the Social Mobility Commission is geographic in nature.   Through the application of an index which assesses the education, employability and housing prospects of people living in each of England’s 324 local authority areas it has shown that large parts of the country remain ‘cold spots’ in terms of social mobility, with no evidence of that having changed over previous decades. The most recent report shows five million workers – mainly women – in a low pay trap with only one in six of those workers having managed to find a permanent route out of low pay in the last ten years. At the other end of the labour market professional staff continue to be unrepresentative of the public they serve, with only 6 per cent of doctors, 12 per cent of chief executives and 12 per cent of journalists coming from working-class origins. The Social Mobility Index reveals a growing gulf between major cities (especially London) and towns and other areas that are being left behind economically and socially limited.

The initial government response has been the identification of Opportunity Areas, for which funded strategies have been established[iii]. The 12 areas identified so far are in a variety of settings – rural, historic market towns, post-industrial towns and coastal areas – but all feature a common theme: young people from disadvantaged backgrounds face far higher barriers to improved social mobility than those who grow up in cities and their surrounding area.   The areas most affected can be seen in the following figure:

 

More funds have now been found since the identification of opportunity areas, however, to expand the response through education. The range of central government grants now available totals c£800m which is being made available to parts of the school system over the next two the three years. Certain conditions are applied to each grant application which are designed to ensure funding is appropriately targeted, but in the main the response to continued disadvantage is to be through school-led improvement mechanisms rather than through the local authorities.

The challenges of addressing social mobility through education

Although there are obvious logistical issues associated with the management of multiple grants, the critical concern is the lack of strategic oversight of the state-funded school system that is a product of successive government policies since the introduction of the Education Reform Act of 1988. Following the second world war there was an intention to establish a social welfare state in the UK which provided health, education and social care to all its citizens. The 1944 Education Act was a part of that overarching policy and set up a national system of education that was to be delivered locally and, originally, through a system of local authorities who were elected democratically. The first break in that pattern of intermediate government was in 1988 when, as part of the legislation, schools in England were given direct control over their student related funding. This process was known as the Local Management of Schools (LMS), with some schools also being allowed to leave local authority control completely and become Grant Maintained Schools (GMS) and receive their school funds directly from central government. What has followed for the next 30 years has been an inexorable erosion of the control and contribution of the local authority to school improvement, coupled with a reduction in their capability to sustain their remaining schools effectively.

This is a significant factor as the 150 local authorities no longer have the capability to be strategic in relation to the support, advice and guidance they give to state-funded schools. The process of academisation has atomised the national system, meaning there is no longer much in the way of local delivery. Instead, a system of Regional School Commissioners (RSC) was established in 2014, with a national commissioner to oversee their work following two years later. There are eight RSCs whose principal job is to coordinate the academies within their region (and across the country), but as things stand until very recently they were the only government mechanism to have any overview of the coherence of the state-funded school system. Clearly the work of 150 local authorities could not be covered by the eight commissioners, so other mechanisms have been devised to provide the necessary strategic management of the school system. We now have 33 sub-regional improvement boards (comprised of RSC, local authorities, diocesan boards and teaching school alliances) which are expected to ensure consistency across their part of country, especially in terms of identifying where support is needed for schools which are not performing to expectations. There has also been the appointment of Regional Directors of Delivery (RDD) from the Department for Education and Coordinators for Opportunity Areas. What is notable is that none of these intermediate government structures have been elected, effectively stifling local democracy. The question that emerges, however, is whether such a system can have any effect on social mobility?

A school led response to social mobility

The direction of travel favoured by the Department for Education and its component parts, such as the RSCs, is to persuade schools to collaborate and federate through the supporting the development of multi-academy trusts (MATs) and teaching school alliances (TSAs). Normally a MAT will have a lead academy which will set up a trust by which all member schools will be governed. Currently these vary in size between a single academy (with permission to expand to become a MAT) to the largest which has 81 schools. The promotion, and to some the extent the management, of academies is a responsibility of the RSCs who are now seeking for MATs to have a local, rather than national, footprint[iv]. Teaching school alliances are normally led by a school deemed ‘outstanding’ which is a designated teaching school (i.e. it can run its own teacher training programmes which lead to recognised professional qualifications). Again, they vary in size, but are more of a soft federation than a formal structure, with each school retaining its own identity and governance structures.

As indicated above, by December 2017 the government had issued a plan for improving social mobility though education with a report entitled ‘Unlocking talent: Fulfilling potential’. This was statement of policy based on the personal statement of Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education, that “everyone deserves a fair shot in life and a chance to go as far as their hard work and talent can take them”. Whilst this is a laudable ambition it is undermined by two key factors: the (probable) inability of a school-led system to effect endemic improvement in student attainment and achievement and the longevity of government ministers. In fairness to Justine Greening it was not her fault that Theresa May, Prime Minister, decided to remove her from post as part of a government reshuffle triggered by Brexiteers, but it is an example of short-term political gain overcoming a desire for long-term substantive change. The consequence, however, is that the policy may not be championed by the new incumbent who is likely to have other priorities. That accident of political history aside, the fundamental question, remains as to whether the new dual system of state-maintained schools evident in England can deliver on this social mobility agenda.

Can a school-led improvement process lead to systemic change?

The early signs are not promising with evidence of multi-school organisations frequently seeking to address chronic situations by either changing the school population or reducing the intensity of public scrutiny. The most common approach to dealing with challenge in terms of student engagement is to remove them from mainstream schools, either through a process of exclusion or through restructuring of the school federation to relocate students to alternative provision. Exclusions, either permanent or resulting in home education, are rapidly increasing with one local authority (ironically in a ‘cold spot’) reporting a five-fold increase in the last year[v] from a typical figure of 80 to over 400 students.   Another, perhaps more subtle way of avoiding the challenge of overcoming sustained underperformance, and thereby lack of social mobility, is the reorganisation of the multi-school organisation to remove the outcome of some students from the public accountability gaze engendered by the focus on student attainment. In keeping with most countries, especially those seeking valediction of their school system through international league tables such as PISA, England is seemingly obsessed with equating ‘good’ schools with outcomes of student attainment as measured by standard tests. To sustain high proportions of success it is possible for multi-school organisations to remove the scores of lower performing students from their average scores through relocation to other types of provision. New types of schools, created by the Academies Act, 2011, is one such way of shifting the accountability focus.   The introduction of University Technical Colleges (UTCs), for example, could allow for a less scrupulous interpretation than intended by the legislation whereby troublesome teenagers are directed toward vocational education rather than traditional academic qualifications.

The final question that emerges, therefore, is why should any federation of schools wish to engage in improvement activities in the quest to enhance social mobility through education when recent history has shown individual schools and multi-school organisations demonstrating self-interest rather than holistic strategies for equality of opportunity? There is no doubt that the policy of enhancing social mobility through education is clearly an objective underwritten by high moral values, with which few members of the school workforce in England would disagree, but is it likely? It is still much too early to be anything other than cynical at this stage, but early indications from the round of bids that have been submitted for the various funding sources now available show two trends. The first is that the bids are led by the usual suspects, the perennial harvesters of additional funds, and the second is that favoured bids are those that focus on STEM subjects rather than more esoteric aspects of education of a young person that affects their motivation and attitude towards learning. Let us hope my cynicism is unfounded.

Meet Dr. Male

[i] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/662744/State_of_the_Nation_2017_-_Social_Mobility_in_Great_Britain.pdf

[ii] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/improving-social-mobility-through-education

[iii] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/plans-launched-to-drive-social-mobility-in-opportunity-areas

[iv] Some of the early academy chains were entrepreneurial in nature and exhibited a national footprint. These have been seen to be problematic in terms of cohesion and consistency, producing overly demanding managerial responsibilities. Some chains are resizing or regionalising to counter these issues.

[v] The name of the local authority remains anonymous in this paper, but follow-up questions are welcomed from readers.