Money, Money Money

Emma Bishton's picture
The DfE, it turns out, must have lots of money after all. As it has apparently approved the opening of two Seckford free schools in Suffolk - in Beccles and in Saxmundham.

As has been shown many times on this site before, there is overwhelming opposition for these schools in the area - in Beccles in particular, proving the Free School consultation process to be nothing but a paper exercise. These schools aren't needed. Suffolk are already mid-way through a schools reorganisation which these new schools are disrupting totally. The educational offer at these schools is excessively narrow and offers nothing (unashamedly!) for those pupils who don't feel happy in a solely academic environment. The establishment of these new schools is clearly to the detriment of existing schools as there just aren't the numbers of pupils to go around in this ageing population, and the County Council has announced that it cannot continue to provide transport as it does now to catchment schools in these areas, because the DfE insists that it must provide transport to the free schools. In the case of Beccles, the Tory leader of the council and the Tory MP even opposed it. The headteacher-designate of Saxmundham resigned this week even before the school got approval. And to cap it all, the Seckford Foundation has been derided widely for its inability to engage in meaningful consultation or debate locally or indeed to answer basic questions about its offer.

Nothing in these bids offers an interesting education proposal, a provider in whom we can be confident, or an opportunity to meet rising demand for school places. Aren't these requirements of free school applications? Surely, in the number of proposals received by the DfE, there were at least some that met the need for increasing capacity in other areas of the country, and didn't require funding to support them opening with numbers expected to be a third of their PAN? So much for austerity.

The Seckford schools do of course represent the opportunity for Michael Gove to introduce a competitive market and an unashamedly old-fashioned education - without the inconvenience experienced in other areas of there being no available spare school buildings with which to conduct his experiments. If the Suffolk situation shows anything, it is that planning to meet educational demand in a way which is cost-effective to the pupil and the taxpayer, and takes account of local opinion, is no longer on the DfE's agenda. Suffolk County Council have been complicit in all this, as it would not have taken much to stand up and say "Please spend the money on free schools where more schools are actually needed". But they didn't, sadly, and their ability to plan for the needs of the children in this county will be lessened all the more because of it.

The Seckford Foundation have tucked away the announcement on the free schools page of their website, and the regional newspaper (EADT) has run the story. But there's nothing on the DfE website. Are the DfE perhaps embarrassed to be seen, at this time of cuts, spending millions on unproven schools no-one needs just because they can?
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Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 27/05/2012 - 10:02

Perhaps the Government is embarrassed by the poor quality of the consultation document issued by proposed schools which they are now allowing to open. The consultation paper for the schools contained grammatical howlers, incorrect information about EBacc and the admission that any pupil deemed not capable of gaining a C in English would be offered a diet of "functional skills". This gives the impression that any pupil on target for a D or below isn't capable of engaging with English Literature, poetry, drama and novels - no, they must have functional skills.

And these schools are supposed to be the Governments "shock-troops" which will smash complacency in all other schools in England. I think this strategy is summed up by Colonel Blimp, "Gad, Sir! Lord Bunk is right. The govt. is marching over the edge of an abyss, and the nation must march solidly behind them."

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 27/05/2012 - 14:59

Well that's two more very good secondary schools which will be devastated.

Is anyone keeping track of the number which are being devastated by the pursuit of the Ebacc and those which are being destroyed by special measures?

A few weeks into special measures the typical body count (stress / collapse / anti-depressives etc.) of teachers at a secondary is about 50. The teachers who are left are struggling to cope with the huge reduction in the quality of teaching being forced by the new policy of every lesson being taught with regular mini-plenaries and full plans while their teacher spouses are at home on suicide watch combine with new absolute rules about never going to talk to senior team when there are issues which they need support to resolve. The state of the school will, of course, decline rapidly while the results in the Ofsted reports increase along the tried and tested route and then the inspectors and those administrating the regime will leave with absolutely credit for the wonderful job they have done just as the rest of the middle class students do. Of course the inspectors will be back to earn some more money out of the resulting horror story.

Just some of the delights the affected secondaries in Suffolk will have to look forward to as this is what happens to schools with sudden massively declining numbers they have no support in adjusting to. The headteacher-designate is wise to get out. No doubt many more will follow.

If anyone remotely doubts my description of what is going on just go and ask the best teachers in any school involved in or around special measures what is going on.

andy's picture
Sun, 27/05/2012 - 16:29

One one hand I agree that Free Schools should not be approved in areas already served by schools providing a high quality education tht also have sufficient capacity to offer places. On the other hand, if this is not the case and sufficient parents desire a Free School then that meets the criteria of the policy.

I notice that neither Free School website specifically states that pupil not interested in or capable of attaining the EBacc will be barred. What both schools say is that they will specialise in the EBacc. If this what parents are desirous of then that's their choice, if not they'll choose an existing school.

A quick scan through the DFE perfomance tables site indicates that of those schools with published data The Denes if the strongest but still not hitting the VA par 1000 for best 8. The others are vulnerable and significantly below par on the best 8 and have issues with attendance:

Sir John Leman

The Denes

Benjamin Britten

East Point Academy - Too early for stats.

Pakefield - No stats available

It is just possible that if the existing schools were performing to a minimum 1000 VA on best 8 or higher then there would have been insufficient parental will expressed for the Free Schools.

With the small cohort sizes of each Free School I doubt that two existing schools will close but can see that there is a possibility of restructuring.

Not every special measures scenario is a horror story and is often the case that on coming out of the measures a school was strongly good. And, yes, I've been in a school in that situation and also worked with schools that went through and came out the otherside. Yes, it can be stressful and, yes, each persons experience is different but I for one do not recognise the anecdotal description given here.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 27/05/2012 - 16:45

Surely the point is that this is a criminal waste of money - if there are issues with the other schools in the eyes of some local parents, it would be much cheaper to work with those schools to ensure that they continue to improve to meet the needs of all local children. That said, it would appear that the existing schools command considerable parental support in the area already which is presumably why so many people, including local Tory politicians, have expressed grave concerns about these free school plans.

Jeremy Rowe's picture
Sun, 27/05/2012 - 20:53

Thanks, Fiona - when you look at the progress we have made, and our history of achievement for all, we should be confident that the support of our community will continue. Having said that, we will not take it for granted & will continue on our journey to
excellence. If it falls to us to expose unwanted free schools as white elephants, so be it!

andy's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 06:04

Fiona: For me the key focus is neither the money nor and personal agenda to 'save' comprehensive schools', it is the children and their educational opportunities that matter.

andy's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 06:39

Jeremy: And that is the response that Free School policy is aimed at getting. It may not be the most sophisticated tool in the box but competition tends to bring about about and improvement based change.

Good luck in achieving your goals.

Ian Goodyer's picture
Sun, 27/05/2012 - 20:50

I live in Beccles. Not only is the free school not wanted or needed, it is also difficult to imagine a more wasteful start-up. For two years, the school will be based in a hastily converted primary school in Lowestoft. In 2014, the enormous investment required to achieve this will be scrapped, so the free school can relocate to Beccles. The move to Beccles will require a further huge input of resources, as an existing middle school is converted to the specifications demanded by the free school.

The DfE has consistently refused to allow public scrutiny of the documents produced by the company tasked with carrying out the public 'consultation' into the free school, and the Seckford Foundation simply refuses to respond to legitimate requests for information. Far from carrying out an adequate survey into local demand, a single questionnaire, containing just two ambiguous questions was circulated over a year ago. Since then a number of significant changes have been made to the free school offer and its location has changed, yet no attempt has been made to gauge the response of local people. Officials at the DfE have been obstructive and dismissive and have failed to observe their obligations under the Freedom of Information Act.

I can't help but feel that Beccles has been treated as an example, 'pour encourager les autres'. If Gove and Co can get away with such a blatantly wasteful and destructive project in Beccles, then what hope have the rest of you got? That at least is the message the DfE appears to want to broadcast. Demoralising, yes, but we fight on.

andy's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 06:14

Ian: I well understand your frustration at what you see as the potential damage to existing schools and the flaws of the FOIA that has too many loopholes to allow recipients of requests to withhold information. That said, the Free School process has eligibility criteria regarding parental support and one must assume that these have been met in order to get approval. The sad fact is that this is not the level and scope that you consider you appropriate but this doesn't mean it hasn't been met.

The accommodation issue is a tangible concern for the impact on students but it is also well known that the funding does not run to new build schools and thus approved Free Schools have to source their own.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 11:14

I live in Beccles.....

Are we to understand by this that you are an ordinary Joe, a civilian, a disinterested member of the general public? This would certainly accord with other descriptions of you in the press and online.... 'parent'..... 'Worlingham resident'..... and so on.

Or, can we reasonably infer from your Twitter handle 'Justified Left' that your political alignment matches your typographic alignment? And was the Ian Goodyer who used to be on the teaching staff of Pakefield Middle School any relation?

I only ask because there is a world of difference between ordinary Suffolk residents saying that a free school is unwanted and unnecessary and left-wing activist teachers saying the same.

It's a credibility thang.......

Georgina Sait's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 12:00

Can I ask what you think the difference is between an ordinary Suffolk resident and one who isn't? You seem to have taken a disproportionate amount of interest in an individual without actually addressing any of the issues. Can I suggest you use your postings to come up with some real arguments as to why we should be pleased about Beccles free school. Otherwise I suggest you take your personal remarks back to the playground where they belong.

Ian Goodyer's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 17:16

Andy, you state: "the Free School process has eligibility criteria regarding parental support and one must assume that these have been met in order to get approval." A lot hangs on the rigour of these criteria and on that word 'assume'.

The criteria for the Beccles bid required only establishing that an unspecified level of parental 'demand' exists, with no need to distinguish between vague 'interest' and firm commitment. The Seckford Foundation's survey (if we can dignify it with that name) asked respondents to agree to one of two statements, either that they 'would' send their child to a free school, or that they would 'consider' sending their child. At the time the survey was carried out, the message coming from the steering group was that the free school would occupy the old middle school building in Beccles, and many of those most closely identified with the bid clearly saw it as a way of saving the middle school as Suffolk went through with its School Organisation Review. Over a year later, not only has the latter aspiration been firmly quashed, but the school will not be based in Beccles for its first two years.

Considering the massive amounts of money and the substantial investment in resources required to establish the free school, I would have hoped that the DfE would demand rather more in the way of analysis and assessment, than a crude survey conducted to establish interest in a set of proposals that were no longer on the table. Based on my previous existence as creative director in a London communications agency, I know one wouldn't consider launching a new dental floss, let alone a new school, on the basis of such flimsy evidence. What's more, the Seckford Foundation refuse even to disaggregate the responses to their questionnaire; they simply lumped it all together and gave it equal weight. this is a tired old marketing trick, but apparently one the DfE are happy to go along with.

When he asked the DfE if there was any lower threshold, below which the free school would be deemed non-viable, Jeremy Rowe was told "No". Essentially, the government appears to be happy to underwrite even the most undersubscribed and unnecessary school proposals as long as they advance Mr Gove's policies.

In truth, the Seckford free schools express the ideological obsessions of a thin stratum of society, while funneling copious amounts of public money in their direction. This has nothing whatsoever to do with local needs or democracy.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 12:10

Well Georgina,

I would have thought that the point was clear enough and that that there would be no need to spell it out. But since you ask so politely, I'll oblige.

The free schools issue is one that is currently being used by leftist activists for the purpose of mounting an ideological assault on the government. These activists are not much interested in debating the actual merits of free schools or academies.

It therefore helps to know whether someone is a genuine 'civilian' or is parti pris.

What if, for instance. someone were to wade in who had previously been associated with the useless, inefficient BSF scheme that Michael Gove quite sensibly abolished? Might that fact affect their judgment?

Georgina Sait's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 12:28

I asked can you tell me why I should be pleased about Beccles free school, and you answer with a very general post about politically motivated campaigners. You obviously have no local knowledge apart from what you can glean from the internet. You seem to fancy yourself as an agent "Ricky Tarr" maybe you should stick to fantasy of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and leave the reality to others who actually care about their local communities.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 13:04


Do you have local knowledge about Beccles?

What is so particular about that knowledge that makes it unavailable to all those who live outside Beccles?

(...ah, thought not.)

You ask why we should be pleased about the Beccles Free School:

1. Because it is a school set up in response to parents' demand, as opposed to political/bureaucratic diktat.

2. Because it will afford an extra measure of choice to parents in the area. Those who, for instance, do not wish to send their kids to the John Leman High School (beacause they don't like the school's culture or the cut of Mr Rowe's jib.... or whatever) won't have to.

3. Those who want their children educated in a school that concentrates on traditional academic subjects now have one to hand.....

4. Because Seckford's experience at running a successful independent school can be made available to the community as a whole.

Ellen's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 13:22

"Leftist activists" like the local Conservative MP Peter Aldous and the Conservative Leader of the County Council Mark Bee, who has urged parents to vote with their feet and send their children to Sir John Leman. The people of Beccles, including me, are largely Conservative voters. We just know that a town this small can't support two schools and we want SJL to be safe.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 13:49


Sir John Leman is a school seemingly without problems. It has FSM levels well under the national average, Only a tiny proportion of its pupils have English as a second language. It is sited in a delightful part of Suffolk.

Yet the performance of SJLHS is markedly worse than that of Stockwell Park school - one of the roughest inner London comps, drawing its intake from an estate where gang culture is rife.

Time Sir John Leman had a prod up the backside, no?

Ellen's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 14:02

True, Suffolk schools should be better, but the move to two-tier is part of the plan to improve things. That is the plan that SJL had to improve. At best the free school will mean we will never know if shutting the middle school had the effect intended. At worst, it will cause SJL to decline as the Ebacc kids go off to the free school and we end up with a sort of grammar/secondary school divide in the town just because a handful of parents want it that way. What about the 2000 who don't want it? We don't seem to count for much.

andy's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 16:16

Ellen: I do not accept your comparison between the EBacc and Grammar Schools; let alone the impact you so clearly fear. If any of the existing schools want to counter the unique selling point of the Free Schools (i.e. the EBacc) then they are perfectly at liberty to adjust their curricular model to ensure that students work towards it. Indeed, if they wanted to counter the EBacc all they have to do is adopt the Mod Bacc created by the Archbishop Sentamu Academy in Hull. This embraces the EBacc and then extends down through the vocational and ability range to offer students a qualification that contributes to VA Best 8 and affords employers with certifcates personal and workplace orientated skills.

May I also suggest that the creation of a new pejorative label, "Ebacc kids" for student is insensitive and unhelpful. It will be the parents with children finishing Year 6 that opt into the Free Schools for what I deduce to be two main reasons: (1) the 11--16 factor and (2) a parental preference for the EBacc. So please don't label the kids based on your personal opposition to Free schools and the EBacc.

The bottom line is that if local parents don't want or like the Free School educational offer then they won't send their children and the schools will wither on the vine. It must also be said that the existing schools involved only have themselves to blame for their predicament: They could have adopted the more logical 3-tier KS based model but didn't. They could have formed soft/hard federations between secondary schools and feeders but didn't. They could have gone for the 2-tier system but all fell out over the loss of school identities and undoubtedly unspoken vested interests. Along comes an alternative that must meet a predetermined parental desire criteria and everyone is up in arms. The time for the status quo has gone and hard decisions have been passed-up. It strikes me that the situation there is an unholy messy quagmire because of in-house fighting and indecision. But none of that should get in the way of improving the educational opportunities and provision for the children.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 16:21

"1. Because it is a school set up in response to parents’ demand, as opposed to political/bureaucratic diktat.

2. Because it will afford an extra measure of choice to parents in the area. Those who, for instance, do not wish to send their kids to the John Leman High School (beacause they don’t like the school’s culture or the cut of Mr Rowe’s jib…. or whatever) won’t have to.

3. Those who want their children educated in a school that concentrates on traditional academic subjects now have one to hand…..

4. Because Seckford’s experience at running a successful independent school can be made available to the community as a whole."

Does anyone else remember the days when the interests of children were consistenly put at the heart of education policy?

I think this is why Michael Gove caught everyone by suprise. No one has ever decided that education policy should serve the interests of parents and organisation rather than the interests of children before.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 16:41

"Yet the performance of SJLHS is markedly worse than that of Stockwell Park school – one of the roughest inner London comps, drawing its intake from an estate where gang culture is rife.

Time Sir John Leman had a prod up the backside, no?"

An unneeded free school opening is not a prod up the backside Ricky. It is just a horrific disaster which will destroy SJLHS.

Stockwell Park's results are created with the help of state of the art buildings and 'labour academy' levels of funding. Instead of creating a free school Michael Gove could give SJLHS those resources and they could achieve the incredible results Stockwell Park do - for all students.

Martin Campbell's picture
Sun, 27/05/2012 - 21:21

@andy Seckford have made it clear in public meetings that all pupils will be required to study the same EBacc curriculum whether they are capable of it or not. They described the weaker pupils studying EBacc subjects they were not good at as "collateral damage".

The main cause of the low VA scores identified by the Suffolk school organisation review was the 3-tier system. For the first two years of KS3, pupils were taught in middle schools and not Sir John Leman, The Denes or Benjamin Britten. The switch to 2-tier will allow these schools to improve these results as well as making them fully accountable for them.

Quality of education was not a reason cited by the free school proposers, they mainly grew out of anti-2-tier protest groups who saw free schools, in my view misguidedly, as a way to save the middle schools. Seckford took over these proposals and imposed their own solution.

andy's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 06:36

Martin: Your quote relating to students who do not achieve EBacc will be "as good as 'collateral damage', is at best thoroughly unprofessional and at worst abhorrent to the point of indicating an organisation not fit to run a school. I suggest that if this is a verifiable verbatim quote then it is a powerful weapon - even at this late stage - to bring real pressure to bear. The schools openly advertise that they follow the EBacc at the heart of their curriculum and thus it is not untoward that they are open about it in meetings. This is their unique selling point and will either attract or put off potential parents. It is then not a reason to criticise them or try to stop them from opening.

The 3 to 2 tier debate has always been a thorny one that provokes fierce argument between proponents and opponents alike. I've seen it as a parent in Portsmouth and teacher in Northumberland. However, to say that Seckford Trust has "imposed" its "own solution" is a skewed perception in that others may argue that they have introduced an option/an alternative for those parents who want to avoid the 3-tier system. From a distance I cannot help but wonder why the middle and secondry schools didn't choose to go down the soft/hard federation route to help imporve K3-4 attainment progression?

PS For at least two of the secondary schools attendance is also key factor obstructing their student attainment outturns, and this is unlikely to be rooted in the 3-tier issue.

Rachel's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 07:47

Andy, just for clarification - the schools Seckford propose are *not* middle schools. They are 11-16 schools and not an alternative to a three-tier system. Attendance issues increase with year of school, so upper schools' data (for age 13-16) always looks worse when compated to national averages of standard secondary schools (11-16). And I would argue that a two-tier system with children in school from the age of 11 will help with an ethos of attendance too.

But nobody denies there is a lot of work to be done in Suffolk schools. Unfortunately, the free schools are proving to be an expensive distraction from the main task of improving the schools we have. Worse, they could inflict damage on some of these schools by cutting their funding and their capacity to improve.

andy's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 11:08

Rachael: Apologies if I did not make my point clearer but I was suggesting that the 11-16 Free Schools presented parents with an alternative to the 3-tier system. Viewed from that perspective they are not, as Martin stated, "imposing" their "own solution". Rather they provide a way out and into a 2-tier system.

I disgree that attendance gets worse the older the student. I also disagree that the 3-tier system is the only reason for the VA. Liecestershire runs 3-tier but do it KS and Northumberland is the same as Suffolk but not all their schools underperform (e.g. Cramlington, Ponteland). Under the fragmented 3-tier it was extremely difficult to achieve robust KS3 SATs results but since the demise of KS3 SATs it should be a little less up-hill to achieve in KS4.

Free Schools may well be a distraction but they don't have to either a financial or performance distraction. They can be used by parents as a foil to get behind existing schools and help them uplift performance (e.g. concrete/tangible home support to esnure their child(ren) attend and complete homework/revision, have a regular routine etc).

Georgina Sait's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 13:26

Sorry everyone- I don't go on here often so the name Ricky Tarr meant nothing to me a short look on google made me realise this individual spends most of his or her time commenting on this forum- I won't dignify anymore posts with a response.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 13:36

How pompous of you to imagine that your replies might 'dignify' anything at all.

Before you go, do tell us whether you are the GS who used to work for the unlamented BSF? (I thought she washed up in Derby, not Beccles....)

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 16:49

Ricky you have to be careful about digging to aggressively on forums. People defending Michael Gove's policies have organised campaigns to systematically discredit people who post about reality in a way which undermines them - which is what these people are clearly doing. Hence people get scared. I carry on regardless but can only do so because I'm not connected to a school which will be damaged.

Ricky these poster do sound like ordinary people talking about the real world to me. Please engage with their points rather than spouting your own dogma. They have a right to be upset and worried - what right to you have to be upset or angry about their concerns? Don't be. Just either talk to them by trying to answer their points or ignore them.

andy's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 17:02

Ricky: I do believe you've been upbraided for having the temerity of engage with people who engage with you. How could you do such a thing?! But for goodness don't get paranoid about the groups you might be engaging with ... ;)

Georgina Sait's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 16:06

I don't know who you think I am or what BSF is but I have reported your comments to the people that run the sight I find your actions intimidating and intrusive.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 17:09

This is a good forum with light moderation Georgina, which means that little action will probably be taken but the issue will probably resolve over time. I hope you guys stay around. It's lonely out here. I'm not from Suffolk by the way - I'm from Cumbria.

Ricky appears to be from Westminster and Andy is a pro-free schools person in general.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 29/05/2012 - 06:37

Georgina - please keep posting. If anyone has been spending time googling to find if your name can be linked to a left-wing organisation, a teachers' union or, gasp, BSF*, then you can be sure you're making valid points. Keep on making them.

*Building Schools for the Future - a scheme introduced by the last government to rebuild or refurbish every secondary school. Mr Gove abandoned it within weeks of becoming Secretary of State for Education.

andy's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 17:24

There you go again Rebecca, jumping in with both feet not for getting mouth engaged without brain. I am neither pro nor anti Free Schools or any other type of school. Read the full range of my comments not your usual cherry-pick what you want and then distort it.

I am profoundly pro the best learning and educational experience possible for our young people.

Tabbers's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 17:55

This debate rather reminds me of the research that said that boys do best in mixed gender classes and girls in single gender classes.

The situation here is the most able do best in selctive environments and the least able (according to many on here) do best with the most able in their classes.

Can't have it both ways.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 21:55

"The situation here is the most able do best in selctive environments"

Have you got any evidence for that? I disagree.

Tim Bidie's picture
Tue, 29/05/2012 - 06:34

There is plenty of evidence that the academically inclined do better via academic selection.

The adoption of streaming in non selective schools seems to back that up.

‘According to our basic estimates, a 10% increase in the proportion of students selected in elite school at age 11 in an area is followed by an increase of about 4% in the number of students who pass national examinations at age 16 and an increase of about 7% in the number of students who pass national examinations at age 18.

These effects encompass not only the direct effect of attending grammar school for the
marginal entrants, but also the indirect effect arising from the change in school context in both elite and non-elite schools. Overall, this paper provides an unambiguous piece of evidence that widening access to the more academic track can generate very positive net effects.’

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 29/05/2012 - 06:51

"The adoption of streaming in non selective schools seems to back that up."

Nope. The adoption of streaming by comps renders it unnecessary.


Yes - sending more kids to grammar schools improved academic results in the days when those in the alternative schools were not offered the opportunity to study academic subjects. So what? Why on earth do you think this research has and relevance now?

andy's picture
Tue, 29/05/2012 - 07:59

Tim: What you propose is still relevant today and can be seen in the vast majority of schools that take provision for their academically gifted and talented pupils seriously. It is also true that Rebecca herself is on the record as saying elsewhere on LSN that she would never ever recommend teaching GCSE Maths in mixed ability groups, which must mean they are streamed/setted by academic ability.

Tim Bidie's picture
Tue, 29/05/2012 - 07:20

Eminent academics from the Paris School of Economics in )ct. 2011 found this research, confirming the benefits of academic selection, conclusive because: 'The attractiveness of this experiment is that the de-tracking reform is the only change that occurred during the period of interest. Most educational expansion reforms have several very different components whose effects cannot be separately identified.'

I would be very interested to see your evidence for your assertion that streaming makes academic selection unnecessary.

andy's picture
Tue, 29/05/2012 - 07:57

"... in the days when those in the alternative schools were not offered the opportunity to study academic subjects."

I do not recognise or accept this unsubstantiated comment. I went to a secondary modern school in the 60s and had a raft of GCE 'O' level options available to me (e.g. English Lang and Lit, Maths, Science, History, Geography, RK) and unless I am mistaken these were and still are academic subjects. Indeed, all of them featured on the local Grammar Schools curriculum.

Emma Bishton's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 18:05

I'm finding this all rather depressing. The point is that vast amounts of money are being spent on a few children (or perhaps more accurately a few parents) at the expense of a very large number of other children.

And the rationale given for this is that it will somehow improve standards, irrespective of any assessment of local issues and opinion or analysis of the application of any evidence about the merits of competition in education in a rural area such as this.

Find me someone involved in this debate who isn't "profoundly pro the best learning and educational experience possible for our young people"! Those of us who have to keep busting the utopian view of free schools by pointing out its obvious disadvantages care about it too. That's why we persist, despite the difficulties and frustrations that arise from constantly being seen to say 'no'.

andy's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 21:26

Emma: There is an insurmountable conundrum at work in this scenario. It is clear that maintaining the status quo of existing provision is not an option for the future of the young people involved (now and in the future). Thus change was and is necessary. The problem is that all change within this context comes with a price tag. It also stirs up support and opposition- that's just the nature of humans dealing with change.

As I outlined in an earlier comment it strikes me that the Beccles situation has arisen through inertia amongst the educational community, which has ultimately led to a furtile ground for the latest scheme (i.e. Free Schools). The under performance has been part of the landscape for many years and yet no-one has tackled it: not the LA nor the existing schools nor the communities they serve. I deduce that from the absence of any move the change to a 3-tier system based on KSs or a move to Federations or a determined move to 2-tier. It is then this regrettable inactivity that underpins what you all lament now. Based on the Northumbrian experience I don't doubt that some of the issues will be common: parents wanting to hang on to the Infant and Middle Schools (chiefly for nostalgia and group identity); teacher fearful of losing their jobs in restructuring; LA leaders lacking the determnination and aptitude to deal with the necessary change management; and fear of change.

Considering the size of the Free Schools it is unlikely that they will cause the devastation you (and others) speak of, but they may well serve to be a significant spur to the existing schools (including the parent base).

I'm not sure I can go along with vast amounts of money either. To refurbish - even extend - existing buildings is likely to be a cheaper option that building from new and probably comparable to the cost of extending existing secondary schools to cope with a change to a 2-tier system. From this perspective the cost issue becomes far less relevant - almost to the point of potentially cancelling itself out.

I also that I find your use of quoting what I said to Rebecca unworthy of you in that you knowingly and deliberately take it out of its original context to imply something completely different.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 22:05

"It is clear that maintaining the status quo of existing provision is not an option for the future of the young people involved (now and in the future)."

Have you read Sir John Lehman High's Inspection Report? I suspect you couldn't have created that comment if you had.

"As I outlined in an earlier comment it strikes me that the Beccles situation has arisen through inertia amongst the educational community, which has ultimately led to a furtile ground for the latest scheme (i.e. Free Schools)."

Why do you think that? Other commentators suggest it has arisen because Suffolk has lots of the type of parents this policy is aimed at, empty school buildings and organisations like the Seckford foundation who fancy diversifying and Gove has created a policy targeted at them rather than at children which no-one expected.

"Considering the size of the Free Schools it is unlikely that they will cause the devastation you (and others) speak of, but they may well serve to be a significant spur to the existing schools (including the parent base)."

As posters have pointed out Beccles is not big enough to sustain two secondary schools. Can you provide any example whatseover of a school being 'spurred on to greater things' by suddenly losing a big chunk of their children for reasons beyond their control?

Andy have you read any of the conversations which have already taken place about this issue? You seem to be woefully underinformed and to be trying to invent possible scenarios which justify the free school but bear no relation to the facts which have already been established.

Peter Stempel's picture
Mon, 28/05/2012 - 22:18

I'm sorry, but there is no "insurmountable conundrum" here. There is a substantial surplus of school places in Suffolk. Schools in and around Beccles are good and improving. The free schools will divert funding and resources from existing schools, while costing millions of pounds of taxpayers' money. All this is to satisfy the wishes of a tiny minority of parents who have managed to get their way because they happen to have the backing of the state.

Sure, Suffolk CC have made a complete hash of their Schools Organisation Review, and this has allowed a predatory outfit like the Seckford Foundation to stake its claim to local amenities and huge sums of public money. The vacuity of Seckford's claim to be representing local wishes is exposed by the fact that all four of its proposed free school are clones of one another – the same curriculum, timetable, structure etc. What a coincidence that parent groups in four separate locations all wanted identical schools! And control will rest with the Seckford Foundation and not with local communities.

You are having to engage in all sorts of contortions to evade the simple truth that adding an unplanned and ill-coordinated scattering of hyper-expensive new schools to a system that is already facing falling pupil rolls makes absolutely no economic sense. It also undermines attempts to successfully plan for the future and allow other changes to work themselves through. This scheme is a disgraceful waste of money and a direct attack on local democracy.

andy's picture
Tue, 29/05/2012 - 07:50

Peter: The conunudrum I referred to is that not matter which way you cut it change costs money. Suffolk appears to faced with a situation wherein the choices are go 2-tier, restructure the 3-tier into KS based schools e.g. KS1-2, KS3 and KS4 or (and I'm not entirely sure that this still available) creating a soft or hard federation between existing school. All of these carry cost implications. The Free School route also incurrs costs but these are refurbishment and where necessary extending the footprint of existing buildings and would therefore be broadly comparable to the other options. I do not therefore see the justification for claims of the Free Schools being "hyper-expensive".

What I have done is outlined the pre Free School options that have been sidelined, overlooked or spurned by the LA and existing school HTs/Governing Bodies/Parent Communities. Options that if acted on could have avoided the current issue and angst. I have also touched on the strategies required to counterpoint/combat the Free Schools. Strategies that if deployed with professional vigour and enthusiasm could cause the Free Schools to wither on the vine. I fail to see then that my position fits the characterisation of "contortions".

By outlining what I would suggest are balanced observations I fail to see, as at least one other poster has attempted to do, that I am pro Free Schools.

I recognise that the topic is still a hot potato but no matter which way you cut it the LA and existing school hierarchies only have themselves to blame for making insufficient moves to remedy the situation in previous years. Indeed, without the approval of the Free Schools it could be argued that the inertia caused by the stalemate generated by conflicting parties would simply continue. So as Jeremy Rowe implied on 27 May above, existing schools have got to take the fight to the Free Schools and the community. This means through the classroom, through performance and working collaboratively.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 29/05/2012 - 08:03

"Eminent academics from the Paris School of Economics in )ct. 2011 found this research, confirming the benefits of academic selection, conclusive because: ‘The attractiveness of this experiment is that the de-tracking reform is the only change that occurred during the period of interest."

Said eminent academics seem not to have felt that funding levels may have been a change which might have impacted on attainment.

They don't sound very eminent to me.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 29/05/2012 - 08:04

And if you have good top sets you don't need selection/ separate schools for the most able.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 29/05/2012 - 08:09

But if you select out the children who are already academically able at 11 you no longer have those good top sets in the other schools so those who mature later or have mixed attainment (good in some subjects - weak in others) can't come on rapidly.

Tim Bidie's picture
Tue, 29/05/2012 - 08:12

I have provided evidence: 'Eminent academics from the Paris School of Economics in Oct. 2011 found this research, confirming the benefits of academic selection, conclusive because: ‘The attractiveness of this experiment is that the de-tracking reform is the only change that occurred during the period of interest.'

You offer no evidence to support your assertions on streaming.

andy's picture
Tue, 29/05/2012 - 08:23

At its most basic its called parental choice. Within the constraints of eligibility criteria parents have the freedom to choose (e.g. go private if they can afford it, support their children in Grammar School entry, stick with their local state provision).

It is unforgiveably appalling to blythely label all children who do not go private or get into the local Grammar as not good with that that implies. What a champion of education you are to write off all those students who still go to achieve A*-C as rejects and not good enough to be in top sets. I am left feeling with a deep feeling of incredulity at your statement that outside of Kentish Grammar Schools the Kent state schools have no gift and talented or able children. The non-Grammar schools have no top sets.

Another classic of engage fingers on keyboard well in advance of engaging ones brain.


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