More money for schools from the Co-op

The Co-op, what I still think of as that little corner shop on the high street, has announced a multi-million pound plan to expand its Co-op Academies Trust programme, and wants to treble the number of schools it sponsors.

Co-op to turbo charge academy schools plan
The Co-op is already the UK’s largest corporate sponsor of Academies, having opened three in the last year to take its current total to 12. Under the existing strategy, the Co-op takes over predominantly weak schools in economically challenged communities in the North, putting in place ambitious turnaround plans.

This announcement has made its rounds across the news websites, including The Sun.

Co-op plans to take over 28 more failing schools after turning around 12 academies
The group, best known for its stores and funeral services, took on its first academy in Manchester in 2010.

This one, from the Yorkshire Post newspaper, adds it on to an article about its announcement of a nationwide scheme to stock local products in its stores.

Co-op announces plans to support local producers
“W​e want these businesses to thrive in our communities and so we don’t seek exclusivity for instance – our ambition is for our stores to be at the heart of local life, connecting communities together and offering great quality products when and where our members and customers need them​,” he added.​

[…]

The ​Co-op ​said its a​cademies have enjoyed huge success, with a strategy designed to empower teachers and young people to work together for a better education and a better community, in line with the Co-op’s own values.

Tes.com emphasises the geographical aspect of the news.

Co-op ‘turbo-charging’ academies sponsorship in bid to boost the North
The announcement comes after a report by Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield last month highlighted that children from poorer homes in northern England face an education gap that starts before school and widens over time.

The Northern Powerhouse Partnership has also called on businesses in the North to do more to help close the skills gap with the South.

The Telegraph’s account is from a more financial viewpoint.

Co-op returns to profit as it bounces back from bank woes
The Co-operative Group’s boss shrugged off the chaos afflicting Britain’s high streets as the mutual announced it had returned to the black after selling its stake in the troubled Co-operative Bank.

The company, which runs food shops and funeral parlours as well as offering insurance and legal services, made a pre-tax profit of £72m in the year to Jan 6, up from a £132m loss the year before.

[…]

The Co-op also announced plans to sponsor 28 academy schools in the next three years in addition to the 12 it already has. It hopes to hire 250-300 workers from the schools by 2022, but Mr Murrells said the move was based on its aim to “do good in society” rather than for business reasons.

This must be all too much for the Independent. Yes, the Co-op’s doing well at the moment, but it won’t last.

Co-op: Roaring back and in the black but is it just a bit too busy?
That sort of thing is what might make long term watchers of this institution shudder. Just a bit. It has uncomfortable echoes of what the business used to do in the bad old days when it was cursed with executives who, as eventually became clear, were much better at politicking and unveiling grandiose plans with great fanfare than they were at business.

Nudge the parents to nudge the children

Here’s an interesting idea from a school wanting to help parents better engage with their children’s experiences at school.

How nudges can help parents to get more involved in their children’s learning
After hearing Tom Middlehurst speak at an SSAT National Conference 2017 of the effectiveness of sending ‘learning prompt’ messages to parents in schools, we decided to give it a try. We used text messages to generate discussion between our students and their parents/carers, ensuring our nudges were action–focused, with a clear timescale.

[…]

Informal feedback has been very positive. From my discussions with students the day after each text I’d estimate 30% have talked about it at home. A few unintended consequences have emerged:

Parents making their child revise that evening simply because the text nudged them to think about it.

Some students reported having more learning conversations in the weeks following the texts.

Parents feel more equipped to ask follow-up questions on subjects such as the similarities between Banquo and Macbeth.

(I’ve repeated the word ‘nudge’ too many times in my head and now it doesn’t make sense anymore nudge nudge nuj nujj)

Ofsted grades not fit for purpose?

A very interesting read about the need to move away from Ofsted grades.

Five reasons to ditch Ofsted grades
I reckon that in 50 years time, we will look back at the current Ofsted-grading era as one of the big educational blackspots of history. Serious educationalists and policy makers will laugh in knowing horror … at the extraordinary folly of a defunct inspection regime that involved sending a tiny team of people to schools they’d never been to before for a day or two to evaluate them against a massively long list of criteria and give them an overall one-word judgement. All of this while also projecting a national illusion that these judgements made by different people were fair, accurate, reliable and consistent across time and across the nation. And all of that alongside the delusion that this actually made for an ever-improving education system. Ho ho.

[…]

5. Every School Requires Improvement. Finally, isn’t this just the most obvious thing; all schools require improvement. Wouldn’t it just be so much better if we took all the labels off the reports, forced people to read them and left all schools with a record of their areas of strength and areas for development? Sure, we need a category for ‘below the line’ – and a separate process for dealing with urgent safeguarding failures – but even here I would argue that it should be called something that suggested maximum support was on its way, recognising the challenges at work – not the pejorative Jack Boots of ‘inadequate’ that just kicks everyone in the teeth.

The challenges and rewards of an inner city school

Even though I’ve worked in a school for a couple of years, I still consider myself new to the sector, after working in universities and colleges for almost 20 years. They’re quite different now, from how I remember mine.

A news team visited an inner city school in Leeds, to share the types of difficulties and opportunities some schools face these days.

The school with 72 languages
Every week we hear about the huge challenges for schools up and down the country – from funding cuts, to talk of a recruitment crisis. Calendar was invited into one particular school – where students speak 72 different languages. It provides many challenges for the Co-operative Academy – in Burmantofts – one of the most deprived areas of Leeds. Not least how to teach children – many of whom do not speak any English – the curriculum.

The dedicated teachers at the Co-operative Academy
The Co-operative Academy in Leeds is in one of the poorest and most diverse areas in the city. Here 75% of students don’t speak English as their first language. And more than 60% are eligible for pupil premium funding – for those with low incomes. That’s more than twice the national average. It means teachers here have a very difficult – and sometimes upsetting – job on their hands. Here’s the second of Helen Steel’s special reports.

Raising aspirations in inner-city school
In the final of a three-part series by Calendar reporter Helen Steel, we see how staff at the Co-operative Academy of Leeds – in one of the most deprived inner-city areas of the UK – are determined to raise aspirations.

So it’s not just the students that cheat

The Guardian reporting on a Sunday Times story.

Thousands of teachers caught cheating to improve exam results
Nearly 2,300 malpractice offences were committed by staff in educational institutions offering OCR exams between 2012 and 2016, according to data obtained through a freedom of information request by the Sunday Times. More than half of the teachers committing malpractice offences were accused of providing “improper assistance” to students taking exams. In comparison, there were 3,603 cases of candidates being caught cheating over the same period.

Read more on The Times website (if you’ve bought a subscription).

Thousands of teachers caught cheating in exams
Teachers cheat in exams nearly as often as pupils but escape with far lighter punishment, according to figures that OCR, one of the country’s leading exam boards, tried to suppress. The scandal has come to light after the information commissioner ordered OCR to answer questions from The Sunday Times.

And here’s The Telegraph, not to be outdone, wanting to remind us of its own investigative journalism.

Thousands of teachers caught cheating in tests as MPs demand transparency from exam boards
The disclosures come after an investigation by this newspaper last year uncovered an exam cheating scandal embroiling senior teachers at some of the country’s leading independent schools. The scandal, which resulted in the Government ordering the exam regulator Ofqual to launch an inquiry, saw teachers at Eton and Winchester College dismissed for leaking details of upcoming test papers to their pupils.

No going back to school?

The academisation cliff-edge: ‘You’re handing your school over for adoption and there’s no changing your mind’
So what can you do if you join and it’s not working out? Well, not a lot. The journey from maintained school to academy is a one-way ticket. No pressure, governors, but you’re signing your school over for adoption and there’s no changing your mind, no going back. You sign over your legal rights, your assets and your future to the MAT. Your school is no longer run by 15 enthusiastic local governors and the SLT, it’s overseen by nine people based 40 miles away who have only visited a handful of times.

This article, from a parent governor of a primary school in Derbyshire, makes for alarming reading. He’s certainly very anxious about the “choiceless choice” before him. Is it really as bleak?

Capita? As in SIMS Capita?

Here’s one of several articles about Capita’s profit warning announced today:

Capita shares plunge 35% after outsourcing giant announces shock profit warning and rights issue
New chief executive Jonathan Lewis, who took up the role on 1 December, said “significant change” was needed to get Capita back on track. He said an “immediate priority” was to strengthen the group’s balance sheet, with plans to raise as much as £700m in a rights issue, as well as slashing costs after finding “significant scope” for savings and aims to sell off unprofitable businesses.

Some have the shares dropping by as much as 45%, but this headline caught my eye:

Capita collapse could create bigger headache than Carillion’s demise
A potential collapse of Capita could create an even more of a headache for the public sector than Carillion since it is the biggest supplier of local government services in the UK, according to Tussell data. “If Capita were to fail the ensuing political fallout would make Carillion look like a tea party,” said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.

Too big to fail, surely?

Academies shmacademies

Didn’t have them in my day, of course, but academies are all you ever hear about now. A change for the better and a force for good, or privatisation by the back door? As ever, I’m finding it’s more complicated than that. Coming from the HE sector, I’m not so familiar with the politics here, so here’s a round-up of some of the news stories that have caught my eye.

First there’s this, about central government’s plans to take every school in England out of local government control.

Every English school to become an academy, ministers to announce
Concerns have already been raised about whether there would be enough good sponsors to take on schools. With many more schools facing academisation, that task will be even greater at a time when some academy trusts are facing criticism for under-achievement. MPs sitting on the education select committee announced this week they would be launching an inquiry into multiple academy trusts after a series of Ofsted inspections raised concerns.

Those plans were unveiled in the budget, of which more here.

Budget 2016: The 5 things schools need to know
#1 Every school to become an academy. Every state primary and secondary school will be expected to have either become an academy by 2020, or to have an academy order in place to convert by 2022. Osborne has already indicated that schools which fail to meet these criteria will face “radical intervention”.

And here.

Budget 2016: School days to become longer as all schools forced to become academies
Mr Osborne will tell MPs he is allocating an extra £1.5bn in the Budget to increase classroom standards to help pupils match the levels of their international counterparts. English secondary schools will be invited to bid for a slice of that money to enable them to stay open after 3.30pm, offering up to five hours a week of additional classes or extra-curricular activities. The cash will enable around a quarter of secondaries to be open later.

I wonder if that invitation to extend the curriculum is in response to the perceived shrinking of it following EBacc. But back to academies. People seem quite negative about them, so I thought I’d look for a more positive opinion.

This Budget will liberate schools from the tyranny of local authorities
It’s impossible to say definitively that this improvement is due to academisation, but that was the provisional conclusion of the House of Commons Education Select Committee which produced a report on academies last year. There’s plenty of international research showing the effect of competition in public education is positive.

It does seem easier to find more negative stories than positive ones, though.

Government under fire for secrecy surrounding key decisions about academies and free schools
The DfE argued that releasing the information would prejudice the conduct of public affairs and said “it is considered to be commercially sensitive information”. Scott Lyons, joint division secretary for Norfolk NUT, said: “Parents should be worried, especially in the light of proposals to get rid of parent governors. How are people going to be able to challenge how academies are run?”

‘Never look where their hands are pointing’: The hidden parts of the white paper
Forcing freedom on schools is bizarre. Planning not to enforce it until 2022 is even stranger unless you are hoping that people will do the hard work for you, and convert before you even need to pass a law. While that battle is being fought, however, remember the other 37 policies, plus these oddities, will also be on the go.

‘They’ve gone bonkers’: Tory councillors angry with academy plans
Perry, who also speaks on a national level as chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, has always been open-minded about academies. But on forced academisation, he said it was like an entire class of children being kept back for detention just because one or two have misbehaved.

Headteacher promises ‘non-corporate’ academy chain if forced to convert
“Any Huntington academy will focus upon improving the quality of teaching and learning above all else, to the benefit of our children, just as our parent wishes,” he said. “If you begin and live by those values then whatever decision you make about academisation, because clearly it is inevitable, then you have a chance of doing something good.”

Academy trust lauded by Cameron in ‘serious breaches’ of guidelines
Government reports raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest involving Perry Beeches academy trust and companies linked to some of its senior administrators. They also found problems with the number of pupils declared as eligible for free school meals.

I’ve never worked in an academy before this one, and I have to say there is a positive and upbeat approach here, one I wouldn’t expect to find if I believed everything I read in the media. There is a definite mismatch between what I’m seeing and what I’m reading.

And some other people, at least, think the future could be bright for academies and multi academy trusts:

How can MATs be more than the sum of their parts?
How can Multi Academy Trusts realise their potential in a rapidly changing educational landscape so that they become more than the sum of their parts and make a contribution to system leadership that transforms education as we know it?

Better data? We’re all in it together

As someone relatively new to this sector and keen to check I’m going about things the most effective way, I was greatly interested in this new report from the Independent Teacher Workload Review Group, as it claims to “have developed recommendations to eliminate unnecessary workload in the recording, inputting, monitoring, and analysing of data”.

Data Management Review Group report: Eliminating unnecessary workload associated with data management
This report from the Data Management Review Group sets out principles and recommendations to reduce the workload burden on teachers. It calls on all parties in the education system to reduce the unnecessary burdens of data management by ensuring that every data collection has a clear purpose, and that the process is as efficient as possible.

Whilst the report does suggest some sound principles for effective data management — be clear on the purpose, identify the most efficient process, ensure the data is valid — I was disappointed there weren’t more recommendations that I could really get my teeth into and run with.

It was certainly interesting to read their suggestions for the DfE, including a call to “bring forward the release of both validated and unvalidated data to as early as possible in the cycle so it is available when decisions are taken to prevent unnecessary duplication by schools” and a recommendation that they should “reduce the number of different log-ins schools need to use simply to access and share information”. (All to be accepted, apparently.)

I felt, though, there was little I could directly take on board, as most of it was either just common sense and already taking place, or outside my sphere of influence.

But perhaps that was their point; for us to make any headway in increasing data management efficiency, we have to accept we’re all in this together, from the DfE and Ofsted, to local authorities and governing boards, not just data managers and teachers.