Tag Archives: Ofsted

The ‘Free Schools’ vanity project has wasted millions when the government said there was no money to spare

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The Tory ‘Free Schools’ vanity project has been a complete disaster, with more than £51 million wasted on new schools that failed to meet inspectors’ standards or proposals for schools that were cancelled or withdrawn.

A report compiled by the Labour Party shows that £50m has been spent on free schools either declared inadequate by the education standards watchdog, Ofsted, or requiring improvement. A further £1.043m was spent on applications that were cancelled or withdrawn.

Of the 79 free schools opened in the first and second waves of the Michael Gove project, no less than one in three have been declared inadequate or requiring improvement by schools watchdog Ofsted. This compares with one in five schools overall – that’s including the institutions that ‘Free Schools’ were expected to outperform.

It is noteworthy that, according to shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, the number of “inadequate” schools is equal to the number employing, as teachers, people with no teaching qualifications – one in three.

Worse still, the government has been caught trying to “massage” the figures. The example provided to us by a report in The Independent shows that the Hartsbrook E-Act Free School in north London, declared inadequate by Ofsted, was given a new name and number. This means the school appears as closed, even though it is now operating under a different name (Brook House Primary School), with the same head teacher and pupils in the same location. The re-designation means it won’t be inspected again until four terms have passed.

That could be disastrous for pupils, who by then will have spent almost another quarter of their primary school career in an environment that has been declared substandard, simply to save the government from embarrassment.

It seems the pupils aren’t the only ones who need to learn how to grow up and act in a mature and responsible manner!

Overall, primary ‘Free Schools’ are underperforming in reading, writing and mathematics, in comparison with the rest of the state sector.

It gets worse: Of those free schools whose 2013 national-curriculum test results were published, all bar one underperformed compared with the rest in their local authority and the national average.

Is this the revolution announced so boldly in the Coalition Agreement?

“We … believe that the state should help parents, community groups and others come together to improve the education system by starting new schools,” it told us in 2010.

“We will promote the reform of schools in order to ensure that new providers can enter the state school system in response to parental demand; that all schools have greater freedom over the curriculum; and that all schools are held properly to account.

“We will give parents, teachers, charities and local communities the chance to set up new schools, as part of our plans to allow new providers to enter the state school system in response to parental demand.”

Which parents demanded this?

Free Schools also offered the opportunity to employ unqualified people as teachers. The Tory-run Education Department claimed this was a way of bringing in expertise that would not otherwise be available – now we know the facts.

‘Free Schools’ have been an expensive waste – not only of money, but of time and the potential of the school pupils they have failed.

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Gove is desperate to avoid fallout over free schools

Underqualified: This Labour Party campaign meme highlights the drawbacks of Michael Gove's foolish and expensive 'free school' experiment.

Underqualified: This Labour Party campaign meme highlights the drawbacks of Michael Gove’s foolish and expensive ‘free school’ experiment.

The country has been concentrating on government sleaze for the past week or so – and this is a mistake. We should also monitor government incompetence and thankfully Michael Gove is around to provide plenty of it.

He wants organisations that are part of his struggling ‘free schools’ pet project to receive special fast-track attention – to avoid the political embarrassment that would be caused by their failure.

Last year the project was rocked by the failure of the Al-Madinah Free School in Derby, and the resignations of unqualified head teachers at Pimlico Free School in London and Discovery School in Crawley. Vox Political discussed all three at the time.

The Discovery School was one of four that were declared inadequate by Ofsted and closed down at the end of March.

Last week, The Observer revealed that Gove wants to hush up any further damaging revelations by ensuring that problems are tackled before Ofsted can publicise them.

The article stated: “It suggests that party political considerations are now driving education policy a year ahead of the general election.”

Quite. It is also a sharp reminder of how far the Coalition government has deviated from its original claim, to be uniting “in the public interest”.

The plan adds extra pressure to the Education department, where morale has already plummetted due to Gove’s determination to employ his own advisors, to overrule the expert advice provided by civil servants in favour of ideologically-motivated dogma.

It also shows that Gove is giving preferential treatment to his pet project. State schools go into special measures after receiving a ruling from Ofsted that they are inadequate – and can remain there for more than a year.

More damaging still is the fact that many of the problems with free schools have nothing to do with education, but are organisational in origin. According to the article, these include: “Operating in temporary sites without a clear permanent home; new, inexperienced and often isolated trusts needing to upskill themselves to run a school for the first time; instability in principal appointments and senior leadership teams.”

So when you hear that your child’s school has been under-performing because it has been deprived of resources and support from the Department for Education, just remember that this has happened because we have an Education Secretary who is more concerned with hiding his own inadequacies – problems that could have been avoided if he had concentrated a little more on the details.

On the basis of this term work, Mr Gove, we’ll have to give you an ‘F’ – for ‘Fail’.

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Why is Tristram Hunt in the Labour Party?

'U' for effort: Why should parents vote 'Labour' if Tristram Hunt won't repair the disastrous harm that Michael Gove has been inflicting on our school system - and our children's future?

‘U’ for effort: Why should parents vote ‘Labour’ if Tristram Hunt won’t repair the disastrous harm that Michael Gove has been inflicting on our school system – and our children’s future?

According to shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, Labour will not repeal Michael Gove’s major – useless – changes to the British school system if it wins the next election. In that case: Why vote Labour?

Gove has proved to be the stupidest education secretary of recent history. His divisive ‘Free Schools’ vanity project is a disaster that has increased costs for children who must get their education miles away when there is a school next door to them, while standards of teaching have plummetted at the new establishments – with unqualified teachers and calamitous Ofsted inspection reports.

Not only has he created appalling imbalances in the school system, but Gove has also de-stabilised his own department, bringing in unqualified ‘advisors’ to overrule seasoned civil servants on major decisions. The result has been wide-scale demoralisation, with many experts leaving the profession, their experience lost forever.

The agenda, as far as it is possible to see one, seems to be to maim the state education system so badly that it will be unable to compete with privately-run schools on any level, meaning the sons and daughters of the rich will be able to beat state school pupils to the choicest jobs.

Now, Tristram Hunt – whose political beliefs appear to be so amorphous that he could belong to any one of the major political parties – says he won’t sort out any of the problems Gove has been creating. He says that would be “tinkering”.

Many of Gove’s reforms “built on” Labour ideas, he told the BBC.

Those were bad ideas, Tristram. For a man who is supposed to be well-educated, you don’t seem to notice much, do you?

We currently have a system stuffed with so many kinds of school it must be impossible for parents to work out what’s best for their pupils, even if they have a decent choice available to them.

In practice, it seems, there is little difference between them as none seem capable of providing the education that people need. As a writer, I have seen the quality of written English nosedive over the past 30 years. Tristram Hunt will do nothing to change that. So why vote Labour?

Instead of having Free Schools, academies, grammar schools or whatever silly name people want to give them, why can’t we just have schools?

Hunt does put forward some useful ideas in his BBC interview but – having seen what he thinks of the Gove policies – it is hard to have faith that he can carry them out adequately.

He says the Free Schools policy has been wasteful in adding new places where there is already a surplus – and any new schools should be built where there is a shortage.

Also, Labour would put resources into technical and vocational education in a change from previous policy – which attempted to funnel half of school leavers into university, whether they deserved the extra education or not.

These are practical ideas, but if the system is not based on solid principles, they will not make any difference at all.

Mr Hunt is himself an educated man and must be made to see that his policies are ridiculous. He should receive a ‘U’ for effort and be made to take his exams again.

And, while Ed Miliband is putting people like this on his front bench, the question remains: Why vote Labour?

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Free schools: More Lib Dem sound and fury with no significance?

Bottom of the class: Conservative dunce Michael Gove simply won't learn the less of the Free Schools disaster. Nick Clegg has - but too late to avoid accusations of political opportunism.

Bottom of the class: Conservative dunce Michael Gove simply won’t learn the less of the Free Schools disaster. Nick Clegg has – but too late to avoid accusations of political opportunism.

It seems hard to believe that the Coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats has suddenly descended into “open warfare” (as the Observer describes it) over Michael Gove’s ‘Free Schools’ programme.

This is a shame, because the idea is fatally flawed – as we have seen over the last week. Would a Free School pupil even be able to discern the origin of the quotation that has been butchered to create today’s headline?

If any parent in the country does not know by now that the Al-Madinah Free School, serving 400 Muslim pupils in Derby, received the lowest marks possible from inspectors – in every category – last week, then they need to be told. Inspectors railed against the fact that teachers were not trained and condemned the school as “dysfunctional”. Which, of course, it was. It was a place run by amateurs according to their ideology, rather than a professional organisation set up to get the best from its pupils.

The trouble is, Michael Gove’s Education Department is run along similar lines.

We now know that two unqualified head teachers have quit after criticism – Annaliese Briggs, 27, who was appointed head teacher of Pimlico Free School in London despite having no qualifications, resigned after only three weeks. And Lindsey Snowdon quit the 60-pupil Discovery school in Crawley after Ofsted said she “lacks the skills and knowledge to improve teaching”.

Nick Clegg is expected to turn against the Free Schools policy in a speech this week, saying unqualified people should not be allowed to teach in state-funded schools and that parents need more reassurance about standards and the curriculum. He will say there must be national standards and controls on which parents can rely.

The Observer expects Clegg to say: “Frankly it makes no sense to me to have qualified teacher status if only a few schools have to employ qualified teachers…  I believe that we should have qualified teachers in all our schools.”

He will also ask: “What is the point of having a national curriculum if only a few schools have to teach it? Let’s teach it in all our schools.”

The BBC expects him to say: “Parents don’t want ideology to get in the way of their children’s education.”

Michael Gove’s idea is that head teachers of academies or Free Schools should have the freedom to employ untrained teachers, in the same way that private schools hire “the great linguists, scientists, engineers and other specialists they know can best teach and inspire their pupils”.

Can anyone else see the flaw here? If these great linguists, scientists etc are already teaching in private schools, they won’t be going to the Free Schools as well. There simply aren’t enough “great” professionals to go around, and those who really are great will be working, not teaching. Otherwise the plan will harm the economy, won’t it?

Needless to say, Labour is enjoying the split immensely. This morning the party’s whips tweeted: “FACT CHECK: Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems have supported Free Schools at every stage, first voting through [the] enabling leg. In Academies Act 2010 and in Education Act 2011, where [the local authority] thinks there is a need for new school in [its] area it must seek proposals to open Free School/academy. #twofacedclegg”

Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt, who put his own foot in his mouth over this subject when he said he supported Free Schools last weekend, showed how he has modified his views to bring them into line with the public by saying:  “I’m delighted Nick Clegg has realised the dangers of an ideologically-driven schools policy. We would be happy to work with him to reintroduce accountability, proper standards and qualified teachers in all our schools across the country.”

Bravo. Better late than never.

But his intervention – and the negative response of the Conservatives, who say Clegg is “fundamentally misunderstanding” the Free Schools concept, who blocked his attempts to change the system before it was enshrined in law, and who will continue to block any such plans for the 18 months of Coalition government that remain, may change the Lib Dem leader’s mind.

He can only promise to put his suggested changes into the next Liberal Democrat manifesto, and will face accusations that he is imitating Labour and trying to distance his party from the bad publicity generated by a policy he previously supported.

And let’s all remember that this speech will not be made until Thursday, giving Clegg plenty of time to consider the impact of the parts he has released, and maybe withdraw or alter them. It won’t be the first time a Liberal Democrat has said one thing and then done another!

Whatever happens, it seems clear that the concept of Free Schools is now not so much a political ‘lame duck’ as an albatross. The public will not forget the disasters of the last week, and they will lay the blame firmly on Michael Gove and the Tories – who are sticking to their plans.

Some people never learn.