Thursday, 10 June 2010

False economies

I have not been especially critical of the initial cuts announced by Michael Gove in his departmental budget. At a time of financial retrenchment - whatever the arguments about the timing of the £6 billion cuts - every department will have to find its savings. The quangos that he has earmarked for abolition - the QCDA, Becta and the GTC - have never really lived up to their potential, although the Secretary of State may underestimate the costs of delivering some of their services through other means. I have also been no fan of the academic diploma, and can see the merit in using underallocated funds in the education budget to reach the £670m target.

However, there is one cut in the list that he published earlier this week that is a false economy: the cut in the High Performing Specialist Schools programme. Amounting to a mere £7 million in savings, the cut sends a negative signal to heads and governors that there is no reward for improving standards and no additional support available for important system leadership roles such as becoming a teacher training school or extending subject work in languages or science.

Indeed, so closely aligned is the work of the HPSS programme to many core objectives of the coalition programme, from good schools helping weaker ones to school-based teacher training and strengthening academic subjects that one would have thought this a programme to be built upon not undermined. Indeed, if Gove is serious about wanting his new outstanding academies to work with weaker schools, a combination of the incentives in the HPSS programme and the National Leaders of Education is precisely what he needs. With limited resources, the Government needs programmes that deliver genuine value. Come the Spending Review, Gove should think again.


Fred Kapoor said...

Good post! It is always good and useful for us of all, especially if we are involved in the business activity to see a realistic econmic insight.
Thanks for sharing.

Jonathan Savage said...

Interesting. Do you have a view as to where the challenge is going to come from for Headteachers under these reforms? QCDA gone - no challenge about curriculum; BECTA gone - no challenge to poor ICT procurement or usage by schools; OFSTED's role is waning - no challenge to approaches to management, teaching and learning (and probably no visits to schools that are 'oustanding' anyway; also - it is just possible that OFSTED's influence had some hand to play in improving schools?); GTCE gone - no challenge regarding teachers' pay, terms, conditions (and, as we all know, the power of the teaching unions are also waning); if your school becomes an academy, then democratically elected bodies have no voice and provide no challenge, instead you get Trustees (unelected and who knows what level of challenge they'll provide); the role of HE institutions in initial teacher education - going, and likely to be significantly reduced given Gove's comments this morning. So no challenge to what might be incestous teaching practices which might be lacking in many respects.

All in all, these reforms seem to suggest one thing: Headteachers know best and should not be challenged. This is not a healthy situation in my view.

Conor Ryan said...

Jonathan - I agree there is a difficult balance to be struck. Let's take each in turn. I don't think QCDA provided 'challenge' on the curriculum: in fact it often argued for reducing challenge when it was the exam regulator. BECTA did some good establishing the grid for learning, and negotiating managed services deals for schools: I think there should still be some kitemarking and procurement pools to do this, and that was one of the areas where I think alternatives will need to be found. The regulatory role of the GTC was never used as well as might - but it will need to remain. The challenge in future will need to be there: I think Ofsted's new inspections offer it, and should continue (there needs to be clarity on when outstanding schools would face inspection); league tables and external tests remain crucial; and there should be a continuation of floor targets like those from the National Challenge. I also think, as I argue elsewhere, that there should be strong incentives for outstanding academies to be system leaders. I would also bring back a version of the school achievement awards. With a combination of those strong levers - and greater freedoms - I think a reasonable balance could be struck. But it does need that balance.