Like it or not, schools are being converted into academies – that’s anti-democratic

Jacqueline Baxter, The Open University

As children head back to class this week, another school will be opening its doors for the autumn term as an academy – in spite of opposition from parents and the community. From early September the Hewett School, a secondary school in Norwich, will form part of The Inspiration Trust, a not-for-profit charity which runs a chain of academies. In yet another blow for democratic governance the school is the latest in a long line to be converted against the wishes of many of its parents and the governing body, raising renewed questions about the democratic governance of the English education system.

As in the case of a number of other schools graded inadequate and subsequently turned into academies, it is only a short time ago that the Hewett School was judged to be “good” by schools inspectorate Ofsted. In May 2013 it received a “good” report in all areas – an improvement on its previous grade of satisfactory – with teaching graded as good and sometimes outstanding. But in November 2014 the school was placed in special measures after a follow up Ofsted inspection.

A monitoring visit paid to the school in February 2015 showed that although there were still outstanding issues, progress was being made. A follow up visit in May 2015 confirmed that the school was making reasonable progress towards the removal of special measures. But in March 2015 the Department of Education (DfE) had already informed the school that it was to constitute the governing body as an Interim Executive Board (IEB) and that it was possible that the school would become an academy. The final decision, that the school would be academised and taken over by The Inspiration Trust, was made in August 2015.

Of the parents that participated in the consultation, 4:1 were against it. In some cases respondents to the questionnaire accepted conversion to academy but questioned the process, the lack of choice of sponsor and a failure to communicate effectively why such a decision had been made.

A pervasive sense of dissatisfaction with the choice of sponsor was a key reason why many were so against it being turned into an academy. The reasons given for this in the consultation were: “perception of the ethos of schools in the trust, political links of the trustees, the governance arrangements of the trust and lack of accountability.”

The Inspiration Trust has been linked to controversy. The trust, headed by Dame Rachel de Souza, ran one of three schools that were the subject of an investigation by Ofsted following allegations in 2014 that they had received prior notification of inspection dates due to De Souza’s position as both a “superhead” of the three schools and as a part-time school inspector. This raised questions about the detrimental effects of employing practising headteachers as inspectors. In January 2015, the schools were cleared of wrongdoing by an independent review of Ofsted’s original investigation.

Convert or close

The government’s academisation project took another leap forward earlier this year when the education secretary, Nicky Morgan, announced her intention to address the problem of “coasting schools”. The government plans to convert these schools – who fail to ensure that 60% of pupils gain five A* to C grades and don’t have a “credible” improvement plan – to academy status. This is in spite of the fact that to date there is no convincing evidence that the current system of academies improve performance.

Morgan and Cameron continue the academy drive.
Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

As the education and adoption bill – the legislation seeking to implement Morgan’s proposals – makes its way through parliament after the summer recess, the outlook for coasting schools that resist conversion looks decidedly bleak.

Resistance against “forced” conversion is not a new phenomenon. The Anti Academies Alliance contains a catalogue of conversions of local authority-run schools into academies that were bitterly opposed by governors and parents. Many within education and outside of it are opposed to the highly politicised nature of conversions and the lack of evidence that these conversions are in the best interests of the students.

Holding school commissioners to account

Tensions surrounding the whole area of forced academisation are also reflected in the new system of local accountability, set up by the government in response to the public and political outcry surrounding the so-called “Trojan Horse” affair in 2014, and fears over an Islamic extremism agenda in Birmingham schools. The affair exposed the dearth of local accountability that prevails in many regions of England, caused by an erosion in funding and consisted media attacks undermining public trust in local education authorities.

Under the new system, eight regional school commissioners (RSCs), appointed by the DfE are advised by a headteachers board made up of four elected academy heads and “experienced professional leaders” to provide sector expertise and “local knowledge”.

The scheme immediately provoked questions following the announcement that one of the key performance measures for RSCs was the number of academy conversions they had each achieved within a given period. Although this may yet be reversed, the whole area of school commissioners, how they are held to account and how they manage the vast areas that fall within their remit, is still not clear.

The relationship between regional commissioners and headteacher boards is also fairly vague and is contained in a single line on the DfE website which states that:

Each RSC gets support from a headteachers board (HTB). HTBs are made up of experienced academy headteachers who advise and challenge RSCs on the decisions they make.

What is not clear is what power headteacher boards have to veto any decisions made by a regional commissioner.

The whole system of accountability in education is worrying to say the least. It is far from clear how the current arrangements are fit to ensure that those in leadership positions are abiding by the seven principles of public life: that they are acting in the public interest with integrity, objectivity, openness and that in their leadership roles they are acting in accordance with these principles.

Parliament’s education select committee is now starting a inquiry into how RSCs will be held to account, and will also explore their relationship to Ofsted, individual schools and local communities. It is hoped that MPs’ findings will do something to provide clarity in the increasingly muddy and obfuscating system of educational accountability in England today.

The Conversation

Jacqueline Baxter is Lecturer in Public Policy and Management at The Open University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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School Governor survey Please spare 10 Mins to take part

Please take 10 minutes to take part in a survey on school governing .

School governors can you spare 10 mins for an anonymous survey? I am researching school governor roles and identities

School Inspection

 

For the past two years I have been working on the ESRC funded programme : Governing by Inspection . The project, led by Professor Jenny Ozga of Oxford University,  This three-year research project, funded by the ESRC and the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) compares the use of school inspection as a form of governing of education in the three systems of Sweden, Scotland and England, in the context of current changes in inspection practices in Europe (see : http://www.education.ox.ac.uk/governing-by-inspection/). The project has involved a number of publications (see my publications page) and latterly a book , due to be published by Routledge in September 2014: Governing by Inspection (Grek,S and Lindgren,J, 2014) London. Routledge.  You can find more information on our conference presentations on my Conferences page.

My forthcoming conferences include a presentation at :

The changing face of school inspections; theories and practices

Invited European inspection symposium 3-4 June, 2014

http://www.ips.gu.se/english/isi-tl/

Venue: Department of Education and Special Education, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Visiting Address: Pedagogen A, Västra Hamngatan 25, Gothenburg
Conference fee: No conference fee will be charged. Travel and subsistence expenses are covered by participants.


The European School Inspection research consortium is delighted to invite you to a symposium in Gothenburg in June 2014 to share new research and practitioner evidence, enhance our understanding of (the impact of) school inspection and discuss ways in which inspection can be enhanced.

The symposium will centre stage a number of high profile studies on different inspection models across Europe, and help us learn about the mechanisms of impact of these models.

This symposium will present for discussion the major findings of a large comparative EU-study from a wide range of European countries. In particular, the role of key inspection methodologies which positively impact on schools will be considered. In addition the symposium will include inputs from important stakeholders working in the inspection field across Europe (e.g. the Standing International Conference on Inspectorates of Education, SICI), bringing together researchers and practitioners to exchange research evidence and identify good practice.

The Symposium will focus on the following themes:

  • Models for analysing the impact and effectiveness of school inspection
  • Emerging trends, policies and procedures in European Inspection
  • Key inspection methodologies which are effective in driving change
  • The role of school self evaluation in the inspection processes
  • The danger of unintended, negative consequences of inspection
  • The impact of national context on the development of inspection policies

 

Education Policy and The Media 

 

As part of my work into education policy and the media, I will be presenting the paper below at The European Education Research Conference in Porto 2014 ; details of the paper are as follows:

ID: 1932
23. Policy Studies and Politics of Education

Topics: NW 23: The politics of policy making in education
Keywords: media, inspection, policy, academies

Inspection by Media: the role and function of the media on education and inspection policy in England

Jacqueline-Aundree Baxter

The Open University UK, United Kingdom

Presenting Author: Baxter, Jacqueline-Aundree

The role of the media on international education policy has been recognised for some time now (Anderson, 2007); not least in terms of the often powerful impact it exerts not only on education policy but on public service policy more generally (Wallace, 1994,Hall, 1997). Education inspection is now employed by a number of countries both within and outside of Europe, to govern complex education systems (Grek, Lawn, Ozga, & Segerholm, 2013). InEngland in common with other OECD countries (see Rönnberg et al, 2012), school inspection is the focus of a great deal of media attention, particularly since the inception of the current inspectorate, Ofsted, in 1992. Since The Conservative /Liberal coalition took power in 2010, the media has increasingly been used to criticise the extent to which the inspectorate is being used to fulfil the government’s education agenda; raising questions about the extent to which its judgements can be said to be impartial (Baxter, Rönnberg, & Ozga, forthcoming). This paper draws on media discourse theory (Negrine,2013) to employ a case study approach to examine the ways in which The Academies Act 2010 (Parliament, 2010) and the policy advocated by the act is linked to media coverage of inspection. The legislation develops a policy which began under the previous Labour Administration, and is aims to encourage the further development of an education system in which state schools assume financial and curricular autonomy. Sampling from 3 national newspapers: The Times, The Guardian and The Independent, the study analyses 200 articles on inspection which make indirect and direct reference to the act. Using a framework for media analysis (Baxter et al forthcoming) , the paper explores how media coverage of inspection within the period 2010 to 2013 is framed in terms of the act .(Negrine, 2013) .The research questions examine: how the media shape their coverage in order to appeal to the public; what news values are employed in order to colour and condition stories in ways that make them acceptable and persuasive to the public; and finally : how news stories are cognitively framed in order to create links between education policy and public understandings. The paper concludes that in linking inspection to this policy, the media potentially exert considerable influence upon the ways in which this policy is understood and received by the public.

Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources Used
The study draws upon 100 news articles from 3 National Newspapers published within the time period 2009-present, which make reference to both inspection and academies. Using a framework for media analysis (Baxter et al forthcoming) the project examines a) What news values are employed to colour and conditions stories in ways that make them acceptable and persuasive to the public b) How are these news stories cognitively framed in order to create links between education policy and public understandings of inspection and academies c)To what extent the three newspapers both justify and criticise this policy via their reports on inspection d)What implications do media crafting and presentations of stories on inspection and the academies project have for the future of education policy in this area ?

Conclusions, Expected Outcomes or Findings
The findings are expected to reveal :  a) What news values are employed to colour and conditions stories in ways that make them acceptable and persuasive to the public b) How are these news stories cognitively framed in order to create links between education policy and public understandings of inspection and academies c)To what extent the three newspapers both justify and criticise this policy via their reports on inspection d)What implications do media crafting and presentations of stories on inspection and the academies project have for the future of education policy in this area ?

References
Anderson, G. L. (2007). Media’s impact on educational policies and practices: Political spectacle and social control. Peabody Journal of Education, 82(1), 103-120.
Baxter, J., Rönnberg, L., & Ozga, J. (forthcoming). Inspection in the Media. In S. Grek & J. Lindengren (Eds.), Governing by Inspection: Embodied Regulation. London: Symposium Books
Hall, S. (1997). Representation: Cultural representations and signifying practices (Vol. 2): SAGE Publications Limited.
Ozga, J., Baxter, J., Clarke, J., Grek, S., & Lawn, M. (2013). The Politics of Educational Change: Governance and School Inspection in England and Scotland Swiss Journal of Sociology, 39(2), 37-55.
Negrine, R. (2013). Politics and the mass media in Britain: Routledge.
Parliament. (2010). The Academies Act 2010.  London: HMSO Retrieved from http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/32/pdfs/ukpga_20100032_en.pdf.
Rönnberg, L., Lindgren, J., & Segerholm, C. (2012). In the public eye: Swedish school inspection and local newspapers: exploring the audit–media relationship. Journal of Education Policy, 28(2), 178-197.
Wallace, M. (1994). The contribution of the mass media to the education policy process. International Journal of Educational reform, 4(2), 124-130.
Wallace, M. (1996). Guided by an Unseen Hand: The Mass Media and Education Policy. In K. Watson, S. Modgil & C. Modgil (Eds.), Educational dilemmas:Debate and Diversity: Vol.3.Power and Responsibility in Education (Vol. 3, pp. 147). London: Cassell.

The Roles and Identities of School Governors in areas of High Socio Economic Deprivation 

My work into the roles and identities of school governors looks at the changing face of school governing in England and Wales – specifically those working in areas of high socio economic deprivation.

 

 

Governing their future: the roles and identities of federation school governors in areas of social deprivation Project Summary.

Duration:

2 Years.

 

 

 

The project, based at The Open University UK looks to investigate the roles and identities of volunteer governors working in areas of relatively high socio economic deprivation, (1% above the average Free School Meals indicator) and whose schools form part of a federation. School governors are under considerable pressure to perform within an environment in which, increasingly they find themselves governing autonomous schools (academies or free schools), with no support from Local Education Authorities. A recent Parliamentary enquiry into the role of volunteer school governors (Parliament, 2013a, 2013b, 2013c), found that not only were governors confused about their role, but they were also being asked to undertake far greater responsibilities than they have ever, in the history of school governing, been asked to take.(Sallis, 1988). In addition to this, they are, under the 2012 Inspection Framework, facing increasingly stringent levels of regulation and failure to reach the necessary standards has profound consequences for both schools and governors (Baxter, 2013, 2014). But it is not only the shifting notions of accountability that place great pressure on governors: new forms of schools such as federations and academy chains, mean that governors often find themselves responsible for more than one school.(Baxter & Wise, 2013). This too has implications for the ways in which they carry out their role and also how they are placed in relation to the community/communities which they serve.

Governor recruitment has always been challenging, particularly for schools located within areas of high socio economic deprivation (Francis, 2011; Mortimore & Whitty, 2000) and this project builds on the previous work of the PI into school governing and inspection and investigates how governors feel about their roles and function. Specifically the objectives of the study are to:

1

  1. Increase understanding of the ways in which the governor role is located in the wider context of educational governance.
    2. Identify factors contributing to and preventing positive governor group and individual working identities, motivation and job satisfaction in areas of socio economic deprivation
    3.Recommend areas for targeted intervention and development, particularly in the area of identity/role performance and individual and group efficacy.
    4. Identify particular challenges in the governing of federations.

Methodology.

The project draws upon interviews with governors and head teachers from three federations based in the North East of England. All three federations have !%+ more than the national average of pupils on free school meals. The interviews will each last one hour. The study also draws on quantitative data which is being supplied by Ten Governor Support. The data draws on 41k governor questions on aspects of governing. The Analysis will link the responses across all schools in England with above average on the FSM indicator with the qualitative interviews in order to respond to the research questions.

My work into school governors is also linked to the work of  Visiting Research Fellow Dr Karine Vignault from The Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal . She is looking  at practices involving Patients Ressources  in the governance of health organizations as a new site of citizenship. In order to:  1) to identify the ways in which PR are currently defined and produced as subjects of public action, with a particular emphasis on the network of relationships in which they are embedded and which they contribute to create; 2) to foreground the effectiveness of these assemblages in terms of the power relations that they enable, notably through the mobilization of notion of expertise.

The research will be conducted via an ethnography of the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM), an important university hospital centre which is currently experimenting with ways of including PR in its governance (especially in quality management committees), in order to ascertain: What are the conceptions of the  Patients Ressources that are circulating? What are the representative claims at play in discourses and practices involving Patients Ressources? How does the dilemma between authenticity and expertise operate in/through the recruitment and training of PR? How do emotions come into play?

(Patients Ressources (PR) in French; are recruited and trained to voluntarily support other patients through their trajectory of care and/or to participate in the governance of health organizations. )