Tag Archives: England

Education reform in England

David Eddy-Spicer

David Eddy-Spicer

To get a handle on the extent of reforms introduced in England by Michael Gove, the former Minister of Education, we asked David Eddy-Spicer to share with IEN some of what he has observed while he has been a Senior Lecturer at the University of London’s Institute of Education. Eddy-Spicer returned to the US recently to take a position as Associate Professor at the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia.

This summer, I left one academic post for another, returning to America after six years in England. The person who had the greatest influence on my experience of education policy and schooling over that time also traded in one post for another this summer. In a Cabinet reshuffle, the former UK Minister of Education, Michael Gove, stepped down after four years to take up duties as Chief Whip. The post of Chief Whip was made most famous fairly recently in the original British House of Cards, a TV series that went viral when Americanized with Kevin Spacey in the leading role. Sentiment about Gove and his legacy are about as heated and mixed as the sentiment the protagonist of House of Cards managed to stir. Gove had few friends among my academic colleagues in the education establishment, whom he referred to as ‘The Blob’, a term popularized by a former Chief Inspector of Schools in England. The school leaders I was fortunate to work with were for the most part perplexed, confused and anxious about the changes that Gove introduced. In an Ipsos MORI “State of Education” survey carried out this spring, three-quarters of school leaders expressed dissatisfaction with the current government’s performance on education, with almost half (46%) saying they were very dissatisfied and only 8% saying they were satisfied. The reaction among teachers has been even more pitched against recent government policies, especially changes to the curriculum and the mandatory adoption of performance-related pay.

As unpopular as Gove has proven to be among academics and educators, he and his Department were extraordinarily effective at initiating widespread change in the structure of schooling in England. I was astounded at the pace and extent of change the Department for Education managed to orchestrate since he assumed his duties with the election of the Coalition Government in 2010. There is no doubt that the changes he oversaw have radically altered the landscape of English education in a span and to a degree that is unimaginable in a country like the US where the power resides at the district and state levels.

The policies that were of greatest concern to school leaders in the Ipsos MORI poll had to do with the rapidity with which and the ways in which school autonomy has been promoted. The recalibration of the relationship between the state and schools began several decades ago; however the current government has greatly accelerated the push for schools and school groups to become independent of local government control. The Department for Education has encouraged schools graded as ‘outstanding’ and ‘good’ to convert to state-funded independent schools, known as ‘academies’ in England, similar to charter schools in the US. The promotion of academies occurred through a relatively modest financial incentive as well as the promise of greater operational freedoms, including hiring and firing of staff, the school timetable and even, to some extent, control of the curriculum. But it also entailed diverting funds from the middle tier, the local educational authorities, so that good schools, “converter academies,” would have direct access to state funds in exchange for their entering into a direct relationship with the Ministry. At the other end of the educational quality spectrum the lowest performing schools were required to become “sponsored academies,” that is schools under the sponsorship of an outstanding school or, more frequently, a non-profit ‘academy chain’ or educational management organization. (For-profit academy chains are not allowed under current law.) Government policy also gave groups of parents, educators or non-profits, including religious organizations, the possibility of creating new schools, “free schools,” modeled after a similar initiative in Sweden. The net effect of these changes resulted in the development of a significant number of academies, particularly at the secondary level.

Numbers and Percentage of Academies among All State-funded Schools in England

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 7.45.08 PM

(Data drawn from UK Government National Statistics, Schools, pupils and their characteristics: January 2014, Tables 2a, 2b. See also, UK Department for Education, Academies annual report, academic year: 2012 to 2013.)

It is too early to tell what the impact on student outcomes, school performance and system dynamics will be over the long haul. I have been part of a group of researchers funded by the British Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society to look into the effects of these structural reforms. Initial results so far, published in a special issue of the journal Educational Management, Administration and Leadership raise concerns about equity, access, and control of the educational system now in a new era in which local government has a far more constrained role in education.

With national elections looming in the spring of 2015, it’s clear that the current coalition won’t hold, but it’s not clear what will arrive in its place. Will Michael Gove be remembered for his hubris, akin to the House of Cards protagonist, or will he be remembered for spawning a self-improving school system? Some aspects of change appear to be irreversible at this point, especially changes to local government. One thing is certain–structural reform in England brings into sharp focus a host of questions about state-school relations, the professional responsibilities of school leaders and educators, and the role of non-state institutional actors in what has been a public service. How to learn from these lessons is the good work that my colleagues in ‘The Blob’ are undertaking as we speak.

David Eddy-Spicer

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Teacher Quality in India, England, Finland, and Sweden

A quick scan of the recent news on teacher quality illustrates the continuing debates over the best strategies to develop the most effective teaching force.  In India, a recent panel discussion suggested there is a divide between those who call for greater focus on attracting the most promising candidates by elevating the status of the profession, raising salaries, and establishing guidelines for professional responsibilities, and those who call for updating teacher training programs so that candidates will be better prepared for the challenges of the profession.

In England, the strategy of using financial incentives and higher standards for professional entry to increase the quality of the labor pool has been in the news again as the Mail Online reports that the number of job applicants for teaching training positions in math and physics in particular has “collapsed.”  Two years ago the UK Education Secretary, Michael Gove, sought to improve teacher quality by withdrawing funding for teacher training to students who achieved only the third class honors degree. The measure put the country in line with other high performing countries, such as Finland and South Korea, but the story reports that the cut-off score contributed to over 700 teacher training vacancies in math and almost 400 in physics. Related reforms include an increase in the number of candidates training in schools rather than teacher training colleges which Geoff Whitty discussed in a recent IEN post. ICTScoop also describes a project designed to recruit new teachers help improve literacy and numeracy in underserved areas as “getting off to a slow start.”

At EDUCA 2013, Thailand’s annual conference for teacher professional development, Pasi Sahlberg explained Finland’s approach to teacher quality. The government has accomplished this by funding teacher education, recruiting the best candidates as teachers, and giving teachers more time to prepare for classes. While what Sahlberg calls this “Less Is More” approach often emphasizes teacher preparation and recruitment, Sweden is experimenting with further investments  in professional development. For example, with funding provided by the European Union, a new project will provide coaching and observation support for teachers in select schools.

England

Return of the O-Level: Gove announces radical plan to scrap GCSEs ‘to ensure UK has a world-class education system’ but  lack of consultation angers Lib Dems  
Shipman, T.  The Daily Mail (21 June 2012)

A leaked document from the Ministry of Education indicates that Education Minister Michael Gove wants to reform the examination system to return to a two tiered approach that Margaret Thatcher’s conservative government abolished over 30 years ago.  The so-called right wing media has depicted the British education system as failing, although criticism about the state of the education system has surfaced from all sides in light of the leaked document — from within the Conservative Party as well as from Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Coalition.  (Clegg said Gove’s proposal would “turn the clock back” to the 1950s.)  Those opposed to the two tiered examination system argue that this system would contribute further to educational inequality, halting social mobility amongst the nation’s poorest children.

The following video summarizes Clegg’s opposition to Gove’s proposal:

England

Teachers could have pay frozen after poor school inspection reports
Vasagar, J.  The Guardian (30 May 2012)

The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) has announced that teachers could have their salary frozen after school inspections under new measures aimed at linking teacher salary to classroom performance.  According to Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, Ofsted will “consider whether there is a correlation between the quality of teaching and salary progression.”  Inspectors will look at anonymized data to ensure that school heads are using performance pay to increase standards.  Some government officials have called for such reforms to discourage weak teachers from staying in the field.  But, Christine Blower, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, believes the measure would be detrimental to the teaching profession: “Performance management is supposed to be about encouraging teachers in developing their skills, not about judging pay or comparing pupil results…Teaching is a collegiate profession and this is a divisive, unrealistic and simplistic way of looking at how schools work.”

The following video highlights the methods and keys behind the new Ofsted observation of teachers to determine quality and pay:

England

On the money?
Vaughan, R.  Times Education (5 June 2012)

“Education providers have thrown their weight behind Michael Gove after he announced that free schools could be run for profit if the Conservatives secure a second term in office.”  Gove believes that schools could “move toward” a for-profit model.  While the for-profit model is unlikely under the current coalition, Gove said the quality of education would be “augmented by extending the range of people involved in its provisions.”  Although teacher unions have expressed outrage at Gove’s proposal, Sir David Bell, who had been education’s highest-ranking civil servant until this year, now supports the measure.  Bell “said that the profit motive should be trialled in some of the country’s most underperforming schools before it was rolled out elsewhere.”  Others, like Trevor Averre-Beeson, founder of Lilac Sky Schools, an approved academy sponsor that runs the management of two schools for profit and is to take over two more from September, support Gove’s proposal.  “It seems completely appropriate that if we do something successful, such as raising pupil attainment or getting a school out of special measures, we would get a bonus on a performance-related contract,” Mr. Averre-Beeson said. “And if we don’t, we would get a fine. I think it makes the running of schools more accountable.”  Supporting the measure for the profit motive in schools, a Times Education Supplement opinion piece reads, “So come on, Mr Gove. Make everyone happy. Stop being coy. Allow for-profit providers to run schools. You know it makes cents.”

Gove’s thoughts on a wide-range of educational issues, especially issues related to school privatization and accountability, are addressed in the following video from an oral evidence session for the UK’s Education Committee:

England

Democracy at risk in education?
Merttens, R.  Open Democracy (28 May 2012)

Debate around English educational policy makers plans to adopt aspects of policy from Singapore, mostly due to Singapore’s continued and consistent performance in testing (especially Mathematics), abound.  Ruth Merttens, a professor of primary education and the Director of the Hamilton Trust, argues the importance of local and national context when looking to apply policy across borders and warns against the adoption of policy that undermine the strengths within the English approach to teaching and learning.  Regarding memorization, for example, she writes, “I and many others in education enthusiastically advocate both a greater emphasis on memorisation and rote-learning within the mathematics curriculum, and also for more time in the school day to be given to mathematics. However, we are aware that this focus on memory runs counter to prevailing cultural mores, where the need to ‘learn things by heart’ is increasingly diminished by the ubiquitous presence of hand-held and ever-accessible technology. Control of these cultural behaviours is not, alas, within the remit of schools.”

England

Great Teachers: attracting, training and retaining the best
United Kingdom Parliament (1 May 2012)

The Education Select Committee has released its ninth report with a set of recommendations on teacher training and retention. The committee recommends that Performance Related Pay be introduced in England as a way of increasing the attainment of students by rewarding and retaining the most ‘effective’ teachers in the profession.  Other studies, including this one conducted by the RAND Corporation in New York City, have called into question the effectiveness of teacher merit pay for improving student academic achievement.