Warwick Mansell's Blog

A fortnightly blog by the education journalist Warwick Mansell exploring current education news and policy. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the NEU (NUT Section).

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Education policy’s age of patronage? Questions about how influence and funding are parcelled out

8 November 2018

School cuts campaign cuts throughA few weeks ago, a contact got in touch to talk about a project in which he is involved. He and colleagues had been interested in working with schools in one of the government’s “Opportunity Areas”: disadvantaged parts of England where ministers have made some cash available for school improvement projects.

The disgraceful waste of money that is forced academisation

19 October 2018

School cuts campaign cuts throughThe staggering juxtaposition of two facts looms over the often bitterly-contested controversies which have been bubbling to the surface around England after a school fails an Ofsted inspection.

They are as follows. First, since the passing of the 2016 Education and Adoption Act, the government has been required to turn any school which fails an Ofsted inspection into an academy.

Is Ofsted now just a vehicle for an ideological, or even commercial, agenda?

27 September 2018

School cuts campaign cuts throughAmanda Spielman’s statement last week on the curriculum was peculiar, for all some good points which generated headlines.

First, the good bits. The chief inspector’s “commentary” on the curriculum won headlines for what looks a welcome, and long overdue, admission that Ofsted inspections have added pressure on schools to teach to the test.

Home education and “get-tough” behaviour policies: two sides of the same coin?

13 September 2018

School cuts campaign cuts throughAre statistics which show a sharp rise in the number of children being home educated the flip side of yet more revelations which have emerged in recent weeks about “get-tough” approaches to discipline in schools? I suspect the answer is ’yes’. Some have criticised the media coverage of, for example, academies with large numbers of temporary exclusions. Yet the other side of this debate, questioning the impact on pupils in the round, needs to be heard.

Why is Ofsted treating the behaviour debate so one-sidedly?

18 July 2017

School cuts campaign cuts throughHas English education reform got it in for children? Is it in danger of producing brutalising behaviour regimes, where pupils become scared into submission by the authority figures now running schools? Are they sent the message: conform now, or get out?

These questions appear bleak. But versions of these worries seem increasingly common, as I come across them in investigating individual goings-on in schools.

Even to pose the questions above seems likely to invite either a murmur of acknowledgement or cries of derision, such is the polarisation of opinion around whether what have been classed as “zero tolerance” approaches to behaviour management are appropriate or not.

Ofsted reports can’t bear the weight being placed on them

29 June 2018

School cuts campaign cuts throughAny school – and in a saner education policymaking environment, any politician – would surely treasure the public vote of confidence which appeared recently on a crowdfunding page for a local authority primary on the edge of the Peak District.

“Gamesley Community Primary School, in one of the most deprived areas of the country with many children receiving additional support for health, social and academic reasons, is a success story,” reads the page.

Let’s debate schools’ lack of freedom in multi-academy trusts

14 June 2018

You can almost picture the conversation, at least in the kind of school policy nerd circles in which I often find myself exchanging opinions.

“School-by-school autonomy? Handing headteachers and their governing bodies more freedom to run schools as they see fit? That’s so last century.

Less academic pupils missing out as vocational options get squeezed?

25 May 2018

School cuts campaign cuts throughIs an overly narrow conception of social justice – if it can be called that – among policymakers and those around them starting to feed into pupils’ real-life experiences, with consequent negative effects on many of them?

The thought occurred this week as I researched and wrote about two schools, with close links to ministers. Both are in the process of changing their offers to pupils.

The academies policy is flagrantly anti-democratic

10 May 2018

School cuts campaign cuts throughIn recent years, an argument has been deployed in defence of turning all English state-funded schools into academies, in doing so removing them from the auspices of elected local councils. It runs as follows.

Why do we need local democracy to be influential in the way our schools are supervised, goes the question, when local elections often don’t change anything? Councils can remain controlled by the same political party for decades, even when their schools are doing badly.

The seven deadly sins of a marketised education system

26 April 2018

School cuts campaign cuts throughI had a strange moment the other day, en route to a discussion in the Houses of Parliament about academies.

Suddenly, I imagined myself in the shoes of Lords Agnew and Nash, the two businessmen – both Tory donors – who are the current and previous academies ministers.

The confusing world of academy governance

29 March 2018

School cuts campaign cuts throughAcademy governance, like so much about the academies policy in my view, is in a mess.

I gathered more insights into this on stumbling across a set of Department for Education (DfE) data which, again like so much of this policy as I seek to investigate it in detail, turned out to contain more than a hint of the ridiculous.

So there is a spreadsheet on the government’s “Get Information about Schools” website which provides the governance records of every academy in England (and another one which does the same for non-academy schools).

Synthetic phonics – show us the evidence!

15 March 2018

School cuts campaign cuts throughPolicymaking in a vitally important field of English education has been captured by the views of one man: the schools minister, Nick Gibb. Few in the field would see this as news. But its implications do need considering.

Anyone in any doubt should consider what went on at an event last month, held at the Department for Education (DfE), where the Government sought to offer details on a range of recently-announced initiatives in the sphere of English teaching for children aged up to seven.

New times tables check: what’s the point?

22 February 2018

School cuts campaign cuts throughThe incongruity of last week’s announcement by Nick Gibb really hit home on a half-term walk last week with my children.

Here I was, wondering how this latest in a seemingly ever-lengthening list of new assessments would impact on my son, who is in reception now so is in line to take them, when his six-year-old sister started talking about the subject.

Are schools' managers solely responsible for their success?

9 February 2018

School cuts campaign cuts throughThis time of year has become known among a few of us who look out for these things as academy results season.

That is not a reference to exam results, by the way, but – in perhaps a telling commentary on the (globally unique) focus of English education policymaking in the past 15 years – academy financial data.

Questions about the free schools policy mount up

25 January 2018

School cuts campaign cuts throughNearly eight years into Conservative-led governments whose defining policy has been to try to limit public spending, it is extraordinary to be writing about a flagship scheme which seems to be risking taxpayers’ funds alarmingly.

Academies feel the squeeze as funding cuts bite, accounts reveal

12 January 2018

School cuts campaign cuts throughSchools are facing serious budget pressures over the coming years, as the impact of rising pupil numbers, barely-resourced buildings overheads and the uncertainties of the new national funding formula kick in.

Who says this? Some of the largest organisations within the government’s flagship academies scheme, that’s who.

Seeing the bigger picture in international test results

15 December 2017

School cuts campaign cuts throughNick Gibb, the schools minister, must have been delighted with last week’s coverage of some marginal gains for England, in international reading tests for 10-year-olds.

MAT model means end to local management of schools

07 December 2017

School cuts campaign cuts throughIt has been a centrepiece of Department for Education speeches, particularly from the schools minister, Nick Gibb.
England is entering into a new era of school autonomy, with headteachers freed from local authority and even Department for Education strangulation - as it is implied - to take forward their own professional visions. The vehicle for this has been the academies scheme, it is claimed.

Never forget the impact of poverty in debates about education policy

21 November 2017

School cuts campaign cuts throughArguments about the detail of education reform consume a lot of time and energy, especially, in my experience, on social media.

Concerns about cronyism in a quasi-privatised education system

6 October 2017

School cuts campaign cuts through

Last autumn, someone came up to me at a conference to admit, rather sheepishly I thought, that she was a multi-academy trust chief executive.

Private tuition: What does it do to performance data? What does it do for students?

21 September 2017

School cuts campaign cuts through

New data, setting out the proportions of pupils receiving private tuition outside of school, were seized on last week for differences they showed up in levels of take-up by ethnicity, region or socio-economic status.

Controversies at flagship chains prompt questions about academisation

28 July 2017

School cuts campaign cuts through

Some of England’s most high-profile, well-connected academy trusts have been facing serious controversies as term ends, this blog has learned. It is important to document this, as academisation continues relentlessly on the ground.

SATs’ effects on children’s education: who cares?

13 July 2017

A Curriculum for All?

Occasionally, as I guess many people do, my wife and I think about doing something radically different. How about taking the kids on a world tour?

It might be a little disruptive to their education – it would certainly interrupt our careers – but surely this would be balanced by the huge learning opportunities in such a never-to-be-forgotten experience.

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