As a parent, and part time teacher in Oxford schools, I have witnessed first hand the failed introduction of a promising, but flawed, model of learning to support the most disadvantaged kids in Oxford City.
Specifically commenting on the KRM mathematics intervention, this post will argue that Oxford City Council has failed to engage with schools and the communities they serve to assess the value of this programme, and let down teachers, TAs, parents and kids.
Having recognised that results were spectacularly bad in a city the size and with the advantages of oxford, the city council spent an unknown, but substantial amount of money, on an unproven, disruptive and poorly delivered model of intervention for literacy and mathematics in schools in the city. Recent trumpeting of success by the council cannot hide the unresolved issues, especially in Maths .
Now, I am often a fan of radical approaches, and even of taking risks in education. However, I have also learned to fail quick and learn fast, and to expect rigorous assessments, on a range of measures.
I have only seen the maths aspect of the KRM approach, so all my comments are based on this alone.
I have attended ‘training’ by the KRM team, used it in class, looked at the results, talked with colleagues, parents, and both mine and others children about KRM. In the absence of any real objective, peer reviewed research in the programme, I have had to draw my own conclusions. While KRM Maths is not without merit, and I would accept that it has done some good, I believe any project which focussed on improving the dire results in the city would have done the same amount of good! Here are my comments on the weaknesses of the KRM programme as I have seen it:
1. The evidence for the effectiveness and quality of KRM was / is almost non-existent.
2. The intellectual underpinnings of the KRM (maths) approach are weak and founded on a collection of theories that are only held together by overvalued Intellectual Property.
3. There is some good in the KRM maths system, but the extremely poor quality of the CPD and ‘support’ materials have considerably reduced the impact of the intervention.
4. Kids are bored of KRM. Most teachers hate it. Most of the headteachers are unconvinced. Parents have found it to be a huge barrier to engaging with their kids work at school.
5. The basis of the delivery model is that the KRM approach to maths must be kept ‘pure’, out of the hands of TAs and parents, and that the model is inflexible.
I could (and would be happy to) go into more detail on any of these points, but the biggest problem with KRM maths, for me, came when the creator of this approach, Jonathan Solity, stated that the success of their intervention could only be assessed by KRM measures. This worried me enormously, and led to this post.
If the education team at Oxford City were to talk to parents,teachers and kids …and look into the poor quality of the training, support and principles of this approach, rather than scrabbling about for a quick fix to up results in the short term… then they would ask for their money back, and invest it into proper teacher CPD.
Oxford County Council -KRM Maths does not add up. Just ask the kids!
Small ‘c’ conservativism, coupled with decreasingly politicisation, and a misty eyed view of the past, means that the profession is falling into the hands of aggressive ideologues like Mr Gove. We need a positive and progressive alternative that is brave and embraces change.
And for those teachers for whom their practice IS political, and believe that it is all the fault of ‘evil Mr Gove’, lets look at Labour. Without an alternative narrative of social justice Labour is failing in developing a progressive education policy: very depressingly stating that their policy is all about reducing ‘Risk’. This is partly because most educational advisers and teachers are too conservative to imagine their way toward a fairer and more progressive profession. Afraid of bravery, afraid to fight for a more just education. Heads in the sand. Not a great strategy for coping with change.
In other words…conservative.
You disagree? Most teachers want less government interference, for things to left as they are, and for there to be less pressure for change. Leave us alone, and let us get on with it, and everything will be fine. When we assess ourselves using our own measures, we are doing really well. Right?
I think the identity of the profession is being locked into a deeply regressive direction or, at best, stasis. Largely as a result of sustained attack by government, but also due to a fundamental misunderstanding of change and how to respond to it.
Change is a constant. A profession that has become so defensive as to be automatically against change, and unable to rethink their role, has lost its way.
I know this post is going to bring me even more grief than the last one, and I am likely to have to follow up with s series of qualifications to the broad brush strokes I am painting here (rhetorically) and to explain my personal position better. But, I am not going to apologise now; though, for the record, am not a Tory, do not like their politics and hate Mr Gove’s vision of education.
Until 3 years ago, I had never been accused of being a Tory. Yet, because I want to see our state schools system develop, embrace and evolve new pedagogies and practice, this name-calling has increasingly clouded the broader debate I am engaging with. I did like the opportunity / challenge Gove laid down to us to do better… And tried (unsuccessfully- perhaps fortunately- though it nearly broke me) to open a new school in Oxford based on the principles, pedagogy and equity our group believed in. The good news is that the XPSchool, school21 and others are out there proving the ground. But they are too few, and struggling to make a bigger impact.
What I think it boils down to is that too many teachers are responding to the call for the education system to change by arguing that the system (as is) works. Well, not only do I disagree, I disagree on a philosophical level. All living systems are flawed, and the pressures to change and evolve (the Red Queen Hypothesis) are what sustains any ecology.
I also believe that, apart from a few notable exceptions, most schools and teachers are struggling to engage their kids, and to do right by them.
Yes, we need more investment, more professional development, a broader assessment regime, a more formative inspection system…This is a list that is not wrong, and we can all add to it.
But, these could just be more ways to reinforce the status quo.
I believe we need an education system that provides a personalised and engaging learning experience for all children, not just the few who live in the right postcode or who have advantages of birth. Our current fudge does not do this. The crisis in headteacher recruitment is indicative of a system no one wants to lead, at the local level.
So, I want change? Hell yeah. Even if it risks jobs, the familiar, and (dare I say it) even the quality of some kids education. Yes! How can I justify this (assuming I have to) to all my angry colleagues who are frowning their way through this rambling post?
Because I think positive change happens with disruption, when smart people embrace the opportunities to make things better.
Because I share the analysis that, despite the bullshit about international measures of assessment, our stats on pupil destination data, increasing SEN, Wellbeing (obesity, depression, etc) show that our kids are not getting a broad and balanced education that prepares them for life
Because unfairness (regional, class, race, gender) in our education system is getting worse
Because too many kids are being failed by our current approach not to make it worth trying to scale up proven models of success that shift the paradigm of school.
Because most of our schools have barely changed in 40 years
Because teachers are being asked to do more and more, better and better, for less and less.
Surely this zero sum game is one we should step out from
Let’s get back to the vision we have for education.
I want a state funded, equitable, appropriate, modern school for my kids and their peers. We all do. We don’t have one.
So, if I side with the disruptions, this does not make me a Tory or libertarian. It makes me a progressive socialist. With enough of us prepared to look up from the trenches and inform/shape a drive for change we might get there in partnership with our communities, rather than in conflict with our politicians.
We just need more people to speak up. Where the hell are the rest of you?
What is a ‘teacher’? Are those with a QTS the only people who can help children learn?
Have all the people you have learned from had QTS? Didn’t think so. Which brings me to my motivation for this blog post. I have been hugely disappointed by the level of debate from teachers, about the place of non-QTS ‘teachers’ in schools. It would be great if this was as simple as the binary policy issue that the politicians want it to be – but it ain’t.
I am in favour of people ‘teaching’ in schools who do not have QTS (Qualified Teacher Status). This puts me at odds with many people I’d call my fellow travellers – so let me get a few things clear first.
- I am on the opposite side of the fence to Mr Gove on almost everything
- I believe in a powerful and strong teaching profession.
- I believe that expert pedagogy should inform and shape educational experiences in schools
- I expect and demand that there should be high standards of Teaching and Learning in all classrooms.
- The current administration has taken the attack on teaching and the working conditions of teachers to new levels of antagonism. This is unforgivable, even when it builds on policies started by Labour.
That said, I do not see why teachers have allowed themselves to be pulled into this crazy attack on the paper tigers that are ‘unqualified teachers’. It suits the parties to try to create clear water between their vacuous and too-similar education policies – but do we really need to join in?
Firstly, no one is seriously suggesting unqualified teachers will be in charge of primary classes all day, every day, all term. Most of the suggested uses are in secondary schools, in very specific areas, mostly at KS4. In many ways, this is just organising, encouraging and extending what happens, even in primary schools, where local experts are brought into the learning space we call school: such as piano teachers, or artists/poets in residence.
For example, you might have an engineer working with a physics A’level group in every 3rd session, to build and contextualise understanding of light as a carrier of data in fibre optic cables.
To have a regular and dependable relationship with someone who can enliven learning and engage young people is NOT an attack on the profession! Yes the profession is under attack, and is deeply defensive, but this is the wrong reaction.
Teachers should be confidently welcoming this development, as it strengthens the value of a teacher as a pedagogue – rather than just an instructor or broadcaster of facts. I do NOT agree with Mr Gove about most things, and totally disagree with his views about what constitutes a proper education – and his view about the primacy of (certain) facts. We need teachers who are qualified in schools who are pedagogues – but we should also have room for those who bring other skills.
Yes, there is the issue of what to call a person who teaches, if not a not a teacher with QTS, but I am not going to get into that issue in this post. I have been amazed, however, at how many QTS teachers I know who have become unreasonably vociferous and demeaning about those qualified in other areas who want to help kids learn, just because they ‘dare’ want to ‘teach’ kids – and, therefore, might be referred to as ‘teachers’!
Those arguing in the #QTSdebate use the example of doctors to show how ‘mad’ the use of ‘unqualified teachers’ is. But this shows a simple lack of understanding of the complexity of the health care system we all depend on. A GP is a general practitioner, who depends on a wealth of health care experts to help them shape and deliver the care for a patient. You might need a phlebotomist, occupational therapist, mental health nurse or prosthetist – none of whom are doctors. The doctor shapes and informs the individual care pathway for each patient.
Teachers should be more confident in embracing the professional role as the expert in pedagogy, creating the learning pathway, and assessing the needs / potential of each pupil.
There is the argument, much discussed today in #QTSDebate, led by the fantastic Laura McInerney , that if someone wants to ‘teach’ in schools they should be prepared to train and qualify as a teacher. Firstly, many do and even more will – through programmes like TeachFirst – and I welcome this, of course. However, not everyone wants to become an expert in pedagogy.
I was fortunate to have an immunology research scientist in class recently, via Science Oxford and the STEM Ambassador network. She was brilliant – and willing to come in more regularly. Her employer (a hospital trust) would have been open to this, and part of the value she brought to the Yr6 kids was that she was working on this out of school – it was real and it mattered. She did not want to be a teacher – she wants to study and share her knowledge of immunology to improve public health. We worked together to shape the learning and assessed it together. Science Oxford are one of many organisations I have spoken to who would like to make these sorts of visits built into the timetabled learning in a school year – not just ‘one-off’ special visits.
It seems fair to pay for this, and schools should be able to attract, retain, and manage those experts that they can demonstrate would add value to the learning of their kids.
Laura asked about how we maintain standards with these ‘non-QTS’ people in class – and I think the answer is clear – which is that is what all the quality structures in a school would do, from lesson observations, planning, all the way to Ofsted. These people would have to prove their value – and would be subject to proper assessment, in partnership with the teacher – who would be ultimately responsible.
I know that there is a whole debate about the role of informal learning, and about the wealth of people we can learn from, especially those out in the ‘real world’. I feel that this important debate has been lost in the fight over ‘unqualified teachers’ – and we should more confidently pull the discussion back towards it. Does it really matter to kids and parents who ‘teaches’ their kids?
I think most parents want their kids to be taught by the best possible people, and for them to do it with care, passion, and to enable all children to learn.
Finally, I am not a natural blogger – I do not write well. I prefer face-to-face debate and Twitter – so apologies for this long, poorly structure and rambling post. I do not post it expecting the arguments not to be ripped into – but please allow me to clarify before asserting what you think I am saying if a point seems a bit vague. Thanks for reading this far.
TeachFirst, the education charity, are offering £20,000 , and more, for innovative education projects, to make a difference to those kids who need most help. Be ready to pitch your idea, and prepare for some worthy competition!
Over the past few months I have been very lucky to be part of the Teach First Innovation Weekends, as a dragon, judging the pitches. This was an accelerator programme for the Innovation Award. Thanks to Ayd Instone, who helped make the days full of innovation and positive energy, and for getting me involved!
Anyone can enter, you don’t need to be a TeachFirst grad. And the weekends proved that! I saw the full range, from teachfirsters still training, to experienced publishing professionals, parents, governors, and many teachers.
Though there were clearly highlights and some rock solid projects that I am looking forward to seeing happen, my overall impression was that the calibre and enthusiasm was incredibly high. I had a great time, and hope to be able to support a few of these brilliant people to make the difference, and to ‘Do the Do’ they created. It chimes perfectly with the whole point of creat_ED, the event I helped run at the Barbican this Summer. I am really pleased that so many of the Teach First Innovation weekenders came along! We need more social entrepreneurs!
So, if you have an idea to transform educational outcomes why not pitch for the innovation award. Worst case, you’ll have tried something of importance, and met loads of great people and learned more. Best case, a salary, office and support to make your vision come true. Teach First say:
We are offering up to £20,000, two salaried positions, and a wealth of experience and support to the winning individual or team, to support the development of the best ideas for social enterprises that will make a real difference to the state of education in the UK.
You have till the 19th of August – so get going!!
I know there have been detractors of TF, mainly based on misconceptions, wonderfully cleared up by Laura McInerney here! (BTW If you don’t follow Laura – as @miss_mcinerney on twitter, you should!!) But, given the renewed debate about the politics of this movement in the US, I cannot help but feel it is more important for more of us to get involved, and expand the range of influences on this organisation that has already proved itself to be a powerful catalyst for educational reform, to support the most disadvantaged in our schools.
What are you waiting for??
(Declaration of Interest Note – I was not paid to be a dragon, though they did cover my travel expenses and gave me a bottle of wine to say thanks.)
The Innovation Unit has started a new project to find a way to increase the amount of innovative schools opening in the UK. I am pleased to say that they have asked me to be involved, partly as this project has come about after a series of conversations and some gentle lobbying following a blog post I wrote earlier this year.
Following the rejection by the DfE of the free school proposal I have been involved in for Oxford, ONSchool, to open in 2014, I have found that there are many other groups, like ours, who felt that the process was tougher for those who proposed a school with particular features, such as project based learning. Whether this is true or not, our story was written up in The Guardian as part of a deeper questioning of whether the government really wants innovation at all. Groups like mine needed to share and support each other better, and find the help they needed. I was not the only one who felt that way.
David Jackson, Partner at the Innovation Unit was also enthused about the potential of free schools to help transform the wider system, and he will be leading this project for the Innovation Unit. So, what will we be doing over the next few months:
- Firstly, I will be gathering Innovative Free Schools (IFS), to share experiences, and find out more about what they need. If you are involved in a free school group that seeks to open a school in 2015 that has features such as project based learning, please get in touch.
- I will also be talking to organisations who might want to work with free school groups, school providers and charities, to help connect them together. We will be selecting partners who have a proven, innovative model of education.
- Finally, we are looking for organisations who might want to support The Innovation Unit in this work and, again, I’d welcome any contact on this matter.
Beyond that, David and I will be building a network of groups and schools that have opened, to share experiences and support each other. More on this soon.
Clearly, there is a lot to be done to clear up what we mean by Innovative, but the Innovation Unit are the right people to be leading on this.
We hope that this work will pave the way for more of the change that many of us feel is long overdue to take place in more of our communities and for more children to get the education for their futures that they deserve.
I have been getting to grips with the fantastic insights into the reality of opening a new school offered in a fascinating new report commissioned by the National College for School Leadership : Establishing and leading new types of school: challenges and opportunities for leaders and leadership
The NCSL report can be found on their website (which you need to log in to access).
I was fortunate to meet one of the authors of this review of Free Schools, UTCs and Studio Schools. John Dunford, who is also Chair of Whole Education, was part of a discussion about the lack of support for free school groups seeking to offer a more ‘whole’ and forward thinking model of education. Our meeting timed with the publication of this report which had found this to be a challenge for schools already approved and open.
I’d urge all freeschoolers and those considering being involved in new schools to read this, but I found a one of the key recommendations particularly interesting:
“The Department for Education and its advisers should require from the promoters of free schools a less detailed plan, concentrating on the strategic aspects of plans for the school and not requiring the promoters to specify details that should properly be the role of the principal when appointed. “
As anyone who has been involved in the writing or assessment of a free school application will tell you, this one seems very obvious. The DfE criteria – though vague in of themselves – seem to be interpreted by the DfE officials to be a requirement to detail every aspect of school life and the education plan, specifically, is expected to be much more than strategic or illustrative. The impact of this simple problem are well explored by the report and the findings should be tough reading for the DfE Free Schools team.
There is much, much more in this report worth reading – but one of the findings that is implied throughout this document, and made more explicit by John when I met him, is that despite the potential for innovation, most of these new schools are not doing anything new or innovative and are too isolated. They are struggling to live up to their promise. The isolation forced by the process of opening, the lack of time to coordinate with other local schools and LAs, and the pressures of the timeframes involved all mitigate against effective start up.
It also seems that the lack of a network for new schools (and the confusion caused by the poorly named New Schools Network!) has meant that new schools are finding that they are alone and unsupported.
I recently received an email from a free schooler whose school is due to open this September, consoling me on our free school rejection from the DfE. Tragically, she says:
” It may seem gutting right now, but perhaps you have had a lucky escape.”
This highly skilled group have a Principal Designate – with lots of experience – yet are clearly struggling despite having the ‘support’ of the DfE to open a new – much needed – school. The NCSL report points out that this sort of struggle is all too common, but the truth is often hidden from view – due to the reality of trying to present a capable and effective school to their new ‘community’. Yet, there are communities for schools that could be helping them – not least the NCSL.
Whole Education could be the sort of network that could harness the power of these new schools, and combine it with the experience of their members, to support them and the wider system to make more progress in how we educate and ‘school’ our communities.
This post is part of the preparation support for a session I will be running, called ‘Being Creative in a Digital World’. If you’d like to invite me to talk to your team about creativity, education, technology and innovation, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those who I am going to be talking to, this post should give you a sense of what is coming, and what to do beforehand.
The workshop is designed as interactive and practical workshop which will allow you to develop ways in which you can use the digital space to stimulate creativity, generate ideas, solve problems and learn. We will explore how to create a personal learning network through which you can remain current, stimulate new ideas and adapt rapidly.
Outcome: To share ideas and tools to release creativity, where / when it seemed hard before.
Method: Pre-reading/watching/listening – followed by interactive presentation and discussion session.
Before the session, please take in at least two of the media below, considering the following questions:
- What does ‘Creativity’ mean to you?
- Which sorts of obstacle to creativity do you experience at work?
- When do you find yourself being most creative’?
- Alone or in a crowd? What role do others have in your creative moments?
- Is creativity possible in ‘normal’ life and while doing mundane tasks?
Finally, for those who do not mind a little explicit language, here is a link to a clip from the Channel 4 comedy TV series – Nathan Barley – which I think was a cruel and funny satire on the ‘creative’ industries. Creative leaps come from strange places, and inspiration for new ideas and trends can emerge from taste makers who read the ‘Zeitgeist’ ,… But, this clip is a reminder of what happens to unleashed ‘creativity’ in the wrong hands.
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
- Scott Adams (American cartoonist)
“The air is full of ideas. They are knocking you in the head all the time. You only have to know what you want, then forget it, and go about your business. Suddenly, the idea will come through. It was there all the time.”
- Henry Ford (American industrialist)
“Speed is absolutely key to creativity. The more time it takes to create something, the less likely you are to create something.”
- Patrick Stump (American musician)
“Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can plan weird; that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”
- Charles Mingus (American jazz musician and Civil Rights activist)
“Creativity is contagious, pass it on”
- Albert Einstein (German theoretical physicist)
The Learning Without Frontiers Summit London has been canned. Graham Brown-Martin has been canned from LWF. The reasons for these unfortunate changes are still yet to emerge, and I do not want to spend time eulogising Graham (others will do this better) or speculating why this happened.
I want to propose something positive – to continue the vision in a new event.
The reality is there is now a huge gap in the calendar for those of us involved in evolving, informing, and disrupting educational norms for the benefit of our young people. Not only has an essential event in the calendar been taken from us: with the opportunities to hear from leading voices, see best practice, play with new devices and tools, and (most of all) network; but the distinct vision of the event is in danger of being lost.
My view is that the success of LWF, and it’s forebears, Handheld Learning and Games Based Learning, all of which I have been lucky to attend, had very little do with the venue, speakers and formal agenda.
It had everything to do with the challenge and disruption implicit in the way the event was established by the founder, Graham Brown-Martin.
The irrepressible Graham Brown-Martin has always been determined to push the boundaries of what a formal education conference can be – and to drive as much energy for transformation into the education system as possible. Graham made mistakes and upset a few people on the way. Like all innovators,…right?
BUT, he always shared the warmth to support great educators who are helping demonstrate the value of a progressive education for the future our children will be co-creating. Highlights include seeing Derek Robertson and the Consolarium gang storm South and make us all #jealousofScotland, and Dawn Hallybone inspire teachers everywhere to get gaming!
I was inspired to by LWF to bring disruption and offer new positive educational futures to the families of Oxford, and have led a proposal for a progressive new school for Oxford City - ONSchool. I know many other people, in schools, communities, business and policy, inspired to do something amazing by the power of the vision of Graham’s events.
So, where next? I think we need to hold onto the vision Graham established, and hold a new event, on an unconference / barcamp / teachmeet model – where the same sharing, networking, playing can happen.
We don’t need elaborate spaces in expensive venues, big name speakers, bijou lunch plates, and huge corporate partners – with the associated high ticket prices! Let’s have less sitting and listening – and more making and doing.
All we need is the vision, and a space to explore what it means in the work that we do. So – I propose we continue this. I would love to work with others to make it happen.
The NSN to provide a forum to work through the School Provider model
Progressive Education Alliance
In a previous post I argued for more school providers to step up, for Free Schools groups to work with to deliver their vision for a progressive education. The NSN guidance notes say that the provider model is “where the Academy Trust outsources either back-office functions such as HR, or the day-to-day running of the school, to private companies, whilst retaining strategic oversight of the school’s direction.”
Although our free school proposal for a new secondary school in Oxford has been working with a private company who would like to bid to be our full provider, if approved; our group wants more choice in the ‘market’ of provider – and especially from those with expertise in educational innovation.
Two events this week have coalesced my thinking into a clearer view of what we need.
On Monday, I was part of a team from the ONSchool team who went to a mock interview at the NSN, in preparation in case we are called by the DfE in March. We were drilled on all aspects of our bid and, somewhat surprisingly, we enjoyed it! We need to work on some areas, but we felt that we did pretty well. That said, one area that the panel pushed us on was our decision to opt for the provider model – and how this mapped to our vision and ethos for an innovative local school. They asked some tough questions such as about lines of responsibility between the school provider and the role of the Principal. We had answers, but based on our best guess as there is no clear guidance on how this model can work. There is not enough clarity in the advice about the provider model from the DfE or NSN, and no one to help us work it out. There is no real framework for organisations to work to or precedent to learn from. After the interview, and after the lovely feedback from the panel, I made a plea – which the expert panelists seemed to agree with (though were careful not to say too clearly in front of their paymasters)- for the NSN to step up and provide a forum to sort this out!
I will be following up with Katharine Howell, Head of Advisory Services at the NSN, about this. I know that the NSN are nervous of stepping into this area, yet more and more groups want this advice! All they need to do is provide the forum for this to be discussed and worked through… right? So…
NSN – Please provide the support to free school groups wanting to follow the school provider model that we desperately need – and soon!
The second event was meeting Ben Gibbs, from restart-ed, an education consultancy. Ben is also on the board of Whole Education. I challenged Ben, with his hat as board member at Whole Education and position having worked closely with the RSA and other similar orgs, to answer the question as to why none of these organisations, with such progressive values, have yet stepped forward into supporting free schools more directly. We need groups like these, to balance the involvement of churches and for-profits, with a values based education.
In doing so, I expressed clearly what I wanted to see and Ben helped me to tease this out!
The Progressive Education Alliance – A School Provider for Free Schools
- I want the progressive organisations involved in education to provide an umbrella company with shared values (such as Whole Education, RSA, Innovation Unit, Cooperative College, ASDAN)
- To have associates and staff able to add capacity and capability to a free school
- To collate the wider pool of expert innovators in education into an associate programme
- To provide the channel to the wealth of research, best practice and support ‘out there’
- Make sustainable CPD available and frameworks to support iteration in delivery
- To bring value for money solutions for technology rather than only proprietary systems
- To find the best suppliers for progressive education (from Catering to Awarding bodies)
- To offer HR and back office function
- To provide a channel for partnerships with charities and local bodies
- To be founded as a cooperative
- This organisation should NOT seek to impose anything on a school trust – but to provide the education expertise, the capacity and capability to run the school (as and when needed).
Ultimately, free school groups have a clear vision and ethos for their local solution, and should be ultimately accountable for the school. However, we all need help and even the best provider cannot do it all and will bring in help. Great schools are all about an empowered network, so why not just make that explicit! We need more choice – so let’s create it – or at least provide the basis for other to do so.
I propose a ‘round table’ meeting to discuss this and, if you want to come, or have comments, please let me know, below.
We need more education providers – NOW!
There are too few school providers working with free schools, and almost none that are in any way innovative and progressive. This must change.
We need a counterbalance to religious groups and for-profit organisations who are circling closer and closer around our evolving education landscape. Change is needed, but without diversity – we are at risk of going back in time and losing the potential for genuine local positive change in outcomes for our young people.
I am involved in a free school application for a new mainstream secondary school in Oxford – ONSchool. We have a clear vision for a great local school, building on Personalised Learning Relationships, Wellbeing, Community and Digital Technology. We are committed to Project Based Learning and a democratic ethos. The school is needed, as there is a growing need for school places, with over 200 needed by 2014 – growing to over 900 by 2018. We have submitted our detailed application to the Department for Education and are waiting to hear if we are invited to interview. It has been a tough journey so far, and we are still working while we wait.
Although we know that there are schools all over the world doing what we want to do already, we recognise the scale of the task before us: IF the Department for Education were to approve our plans. So, we have chosen to follow the school provider model, as our group – passionate and full of experience and expertise to offer the opening of a school though we are – recognise that we need the support of an expert organisation to support the opening of a school that delivers on our vision and ethos from Day 1.
The steering group see ourselves as, in part, a governing body in waiting – and want to get on with opening this much needed school with as little fuss and fanfare as possible. We are in it for the kids – not for our egos (unlike some, we have no books to sell or media profile to grow!)
People like Toby Blume have written, in compelling terms, about how hard the process of opening a free school is for ‘normal’ people. And, even if we had sufficient expertise in our team to open and run a school, we felt that there was significant strength to be gained in this model. We believe that the idea of holding a provider to account and working in partnership to deliver our ethos and vision is a powerful driver for ongoing development (iteration) in the way that ONSchool would serve the community.
I know there are people who have fears about ‘for profit’ organisation using this as a back door into state education. We share many of these concerns. Yet, at the moment, most of these fears are unfounded. No school provider working with a free school can turn a profit on these contracts, yet! But this might change after the next election. We hope to secure a provider while we have the ‘upper hand’ in the negotiations – and to find an expert group to work with us that share our vision and are not just in it ‘for the money’.
Which brings me to my complaint. Where is the choice?
We have spoken to Pearson and Kunskapsskolan, who come closest to matching our vision for education – but we’d like more choice! Pearson have helped us, on a pro-bono basis – and they have been brilliant. We’d love them to put themselves forward, if we were approved, to be part of the procurement process. That said, we’d like to talk to others – and to have more choice for our community and our vision – but we cannot find them!
We are not the only group with this problem. I have spoken to lots of free school groups desperate to work for a more progressive, transparent, democratic and innovative education – but cannot find the help to do this!
Why haven’t education charities, and organisations that support innovation in education got involved? I don’t want to embarrass too many of them – but SURELY groups like Whole Education / Innovation Unit / Cooperative College , and their ilk, should be stepping up? What about universities, the foundations (such as Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science) and others who ‘believe’ in educational change? Why aren’t more of them stepping up?
Is it about the money? Was (the wonderful and late lamented) Mike Baker right, that the financial returns just are not good enough? This should only bother those organisations whose purpose is to make money!
It is true that there is NO PROFIT to be made in free schools – but rather than bemoan the fact that for-profits are trying to fill this gap – we should be asking why the non-commercial organisations are not stepping in!
In the ‘academisation’ ‘market’, church groups are taking miniscule service charges for being involved in the running of schools – supporting school independence and local vision and providing essential services.
Clearly, they are doing this because they want a foothold for god, and faith, in schools, and the lives of our young people.
Why aren’t those organisations that ‘believe’ in progressive values and a modern education committing themselves as much as the religious communities?
Is it about the free schools policy and the reputational issues of getting involved? Mr Gove, and his party, are no longer the only supporters of free schools and the Labour party looks set to continue the policy. There is cross party support for introducing innovation into the school system.
Surely organisations that encourage schools to take risks and harness their independence (like the Innovation Unit) should be ‘walking the walk’!
I think that this hesitancy, this fear, this unwillingness to put resource and commitment behind a chance for substantial positive change risks destroying a genuine and essential energy that could significantly improve our education system.
We want more choice for potential school providers.
So – what exactly do we, in the ONSchool team, want?
We want an ethical organisation that understands our commitment to community, transparency and to cooperative governance principles.
We want an expert organisation that can bring a track record in applying personalised education and maintaining innovation.
We want an active organisation that uses digital media to exceptional effect – who are already part of communities of practice on Twitter building on switched on events like Teachmeets.
We want an aware organisation that understands our commitment to wellbeing- as a taught programme to improve the outcomes for our young people and their futures – not just as a way to deal with kids when things ‘go wrong’.
We want an organisation that will take the time to commit to our local vision for ONSchool - not at the expense of local existing provision but in partnership with Oxfordshire’s educators.
We want a committed organisation that is in this for the education of children – and they should get a fair financial return for their input. We are not biased against commercial organisations – and will chose an organisation based on their capability to support our vision and ethos. That said, given the complexity of the political landscape – would like to be able to talk to those who put our shared vision above financial returns.
So – where are you? Do you work in an organisation that works for educational innovation? Why haven’t your organisation put yourselves forward as a school provider for free schools? I’d love to hear and understand – so please share and comment.