Conservative Home article: soundbites fall like snowflakes in a blizzard

Janet Downs's picture

If free schools were aimed at empowering parents then they've failed

‘The very basis of the free school programme is to empower parents and teachers who want to set up their own school,’ writes education secretary Damian Hinds in Conservative Home.

But most free schools are set up by multi-academy trusts not parents or groups of teachers.

UTCs/studio schools included in number of open free schools but forgotten when results are discussed

There are now 450 free schools,’ claims Hinds.  This is only true if he includes University Technology Colleges (UTCs) and Studio Schools. 

Hinds continues: free schools are ‘among the highest performing state-funded schools in the country.’  If we’re talking about Progress 8, then the top performers also include every other type of school.  

If Hinds wants to boast about exam performance in free schools despite the sample being too small to come to a reliable conclusion then it’s equally valid to say 20% of free schools entering pupils for GCSE in 2017 were below the P8 floor standard.  That’s more than any other type of schools barring UTCs and Studio Schools.   These two institutions, while included when ministers boast about the number of free schools, are quietly forgotten when results are discussed.

Academization and free schools no better or no worse than other types of school

Returning academies and free schools 'back to local authority control would be to turn the clock back on the successful education reforms we have enacted,’ writes Hinds. 

But academization and free school policies haven’t been successful.  These schools are no better or no worse as a group than LA-maintained schools.  But they’ve cost billions, caused upheaval and stripped LA schools of their legal identity if they joined a multi-academy trust. 

Hinds regurgitates soundbite about 1.9 million more pupils in good or better schools

Turning the clock back seems to be a recurring theme.  Ratcheting up the rhetoric, Hinds said Labour’s ideas ‘would be to turn the clock back on the 1.9 million more children at good or outstanding schools.’.  

No evidence post-2010 reforms caused rise in proportion of good or better schools

There’s no evidence that the dizzying reforms since 2010 caused the rise in Ofsted ratings.   Radio 4’s More or Less* interviewed Laura McInerney, former Schools Week editor, abut the ‘ratchet effect’ caused by Ofsted inspecting schools less than good more frequently while taking a softer approach with good schools and almost ignoring outstanding ones.  This focus on schools less than good has encouraged a ‘drift up to good’. 

In any case, comparing Ofsted ratings over the years is almost impossible because Ofsted criteria have changed.

Not that this deters ministers from using the data to claim that post-2010 reforms have caused a rise in the proportion of good and better schools when it’s a ‘statistical artefact’, nothing to do with government policy.



The third, and mercifully final article, about Hinds’ Conservative Home article will appear in the next few days.

*downloadable here, 06.47 onwards. 

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