Bedale’s Bog Standards

Gabriel Chevallier’s Clochmerle is clearly not on the reading list at Bedale High School this term. If it were, the school’s management team may have been able to predict that a new toilet access policy might not have ended well.  Instead, a policy designed to limit ‘free’ access to the toilets to specific time slots prompted a pupil protest, starting in the girls toilets, then spilling out on to the school playing field.   The police were called; they determined, unsurprisingly that it wasn’t a matter for the police.  The school responded by fixed term exclusion of some 38 pupils.

Local news agencies broke the story on Friday 10th March.  The Harrogate Advertiser ran with Police called during student protest at Bedale High SchoolRichmondshire Today went with a  no less  descriptive headline:   Students protest about toilet breaks at Bedale School.  Predictably, the story made it to some of the Nationals, ensuring some unwanted, but warranted publicity for the school.

The protest was a response to recent changes in school rules which included altering the access arrangements to toilet facilities. The toilet access being one of a number of rule changes brought in by the school following a recent Ofsted inspection which concluded the school “requires improvement”.  A statement from the school, issued on the day of the protest, appears to be an attempt to clarify the toilet policy.  The statement also positions the school as reasonable,  reducing the protesting pupils’ actions disrespectful disobedience, thus justifying the school’s actions in excluding the miscreants.  Here is an extract:

“the school has reminded students that toilets are freely accessible during specific periods at lunchtime and break time but that students who need the toilet during lessons, or need access for medical reasons, will always be given access on request. Toilets are therefore accessible at all times.”

However, the wording of this statement, along with reports regarding the prosaic reality of this policy suggest something more problematic.   It appears there are gradations of accessible referred to here.  The school use the term ‘freely accessible’ when referring to the ‘time slots’ allocated for pupils to undertake acts of personal hygiene.   News sources have reported that the toilets are ‘open access’ between 11.05 and 11.25.  The school’s newsletter informs its pupils that the toilets will be open again from 13.10, five minutes before afternoon school starts.  While the assertion that “toilets are therefore accessible at all times” appears to suggest that human rights are being upheld, there is something more going on here involving the control of pupils, their bodies, and expectations of discipline and obedience.   Some reports suggest, that while the toilets may not be locked outside of these hours, pupils have to be escorted to the toilet.  Perhaps, there is a specific job role here?

There are a number of perspectives we can use to make sense of what has occurred .  From a Marxist perspective Bowles and Gintis (1976) suggest that the school functions to socialise children to thinking that hierarchies are normal and natural, and so learn to be obedient and subservient.   Unable to negotiate a resolution the pupils turn to protest, for which they punished and reminded who is in charge, as the school reminds us:

“Unfortunately, a small group of students have attempted to undermine our work to improve the ethos at Bedale High School.”

According to Bowles and Gintis, schooling thus corresponds with the world of work.  We could also look towards Foucault (1991) to consider the ways in which the school timetable operates as a disciplinary mechanism.  Time is used to regulate the body, and the body becomes the target of power.  In short, the school toilet is a site of spatial politics (Millei and Imre, 2016) where children are trained and civilised  (Elias, 1978).

Another problematic aspect of this incident was the report that some pupils could claim access to the toilets at any time, for medical reasons on production of a ‘medical card’.  If true this is a peculiar form of inclusive practice in the sense that it calls out the disabled, or ‘leaky’ body as requiring ‘special’ treatment, a theme that is explored in more detail by Slater et al (2016).  A dose of dis/ability studies and training in non-discriminatory practice might be in order.

Finally, this display of pupil protest is not unique, there are a wealth of examples from the history of pupil protests and strikes, many in response to punitive actions and material conditions in schools and classrooms.  These could have been studied to inform a more  dialogic process and productive resolution.  Teachers, study your own history.

Continue reading “Bedale’s Bog Standards”

Teachers these days, they don’t know they’re born

Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted is in the news this week after a speech at Brighton College’s Education Conference in which he claimed today’s teachers do not know what stress is.

Wilshaw knows what stress is.  He measures it by his father’s experiences:

“Let me tell you about stress. Stress is what my father felt, who struggled to find a job in the Fifties and Sixties and who often had to work long hours in three different jobs and at weekends to support a growing family.

So, in emphasising his ordinary roots, Wilshaw reveals a belief in a hierarchy of stress.  A stress hierarchy is an appealing concept, particularly to those who want to trivialise the stressful experiences of others.  Stress is however, relative, and dependent on a context.  I wonder if  Wilshaw’s father’s generation were told by their elders that as they had not experienced the horrors of the Great War, they could not possibly know the meaning of stress.

Wilshaw concedes that his father does not have a monopoly on stress, as he himself has experienced it:

“Stress is what I was under when I started as a head in 1985 in the context of widespread industrial action. Teachers walking out of class at a moment’s notice, doing lunch duty on my own every day for three years because of colleagues who worked to rule…”

So Wilshaw does recognise that stress is relative.  However, his understanding of the context in which stress can occur is clearly limited.  The “context of widespread industrial action” can only be understood with reference to the context in which this “industrial action” was taking place[1].

Wilshaw claims his stress was caused because colleagues did what they were contractually obliged to do, and, unlike him, no more.  This does not fit with his claim of “[t]eachers walking out of class at a moment’s notice”.  If those teachers were not contractually obliged to cover lunch ‘duties’ any reasonably intelligent head teacher would be able to envisage the possibility of no cover.

Of course, what Wilshaw is highlighting in this anecdote is goodwill, hence his call for teachers to “roll up their sleeves and get on with improving their schools, even in the most difficult circumstances”.  Yes, the pupil premium may be plugging school budgets, buildings are not being repaired, and school transport budgets may be slashed, but this is the twenty-first century, so lets make do and mend!    Wilshaw felt able to say all this at Brighton College, this says something about his tolerance for injustice.

It is worth reading his speech in full from the Ofsted website.

Continue reading “Teachers these days, they don’t know they’re born”

Educating Essex

A new series, Educating Essex begins on Channel 4 this week.  It is the latest in a recent trend of ‘fly on the wall’ school documentaries, such as Jamie’s Dream School, or Gareth Malone’s Extraordinary School for Boys.    Some of these documentaries have been predicated on the belief that schools are failing at least some of their pupils, presenting dramatic, over simplified solutions.  In contrast, Passmores Academy, the subject of  Educating Essex has been judged outstanding by Ofsted.   According to Vic Goddard, the head teacher of Passmores, part of the reason he gives for allowing the cameras in, is to give people an insight into what really goes on in a “normal school”.

The series promises to capture some of the mundane reality of a comprehensive school, and Vic Goddard is no doubt correct in his prediction that some people will not like what he and his team are doing.  He appears to be genuinely committed to dealing with the everyday challenges his school faces, while aiming at positive outcomes for all Passmores’ pupils. This series should be a reminder we don’t need to look to celebrity endorsed quasi-experiments to find caring committed teachers who can make a difference.

Ruairi is too bright for Loxley Barratt

Borsetshire must have more than its fair share of private schools and privately educated pupils if The Archers are anything to go by.  We know this because school choice, once again, features in the storyline.

Ruairi Donovan has been through a lot in his short life.  He is the son of Brian Aldridge from his extra-marital affair with the lately departed Siobhan Hathaway/Donovan.  She died from cancer, in 2007.  Upon her death, Brian’s long-suffering, but immensely strong wife, Jennifer agreed to take him on. Bewildered, little Ruairi  arrived at Home Farm. The decision about his schooling then, was that, if possible he should attend, the local primary,  Loxley Barratt.  It would be too traumatic to be packed off to boarding school so soon after loosing his mother and being transported to Ambridge.  They had missed the application for school places, and, as the fictional school at Loxley Barratt was fully subscribed, they had an anxious wait over that summer to see if a place became available.  They were in luck. Ruairi has settled.

Fast forward nearly four years, such fears have evaporated, and now boarding is being seriously considered for this eight year old.  So, in other words, Brian and Jennifer are perusing the education market place.

They appear to have an abstract notion that private is better than state.  They are not so much dissatisfied with Loxley Barratt as convinced that it is not good enough for Ruairi, referring to some unsubstantiated claim that his teacher wouldn’t expect him to complete all his homework.  Brian and Jennifer are articulate, why don’t they exercise their cultural capital by speaking to Ruairi’s teacher to find out what this story is really about?

Educational expertise is not wholly trusted by Brian and Jennifer.  Instead they are engaging in a class based process of school choice.   Brian did remark that it is an increasingly competitive world out there; he wants Ruairi to have the edge.  In other words, he wants to ensure, understandably, the reproduction of his social class advantage.

It could be argued that they are engaged in a process of matching Ruairi to the most appropriate school (Ball, 2011). Firstly, this can be seen in their  decision to go private on the basis that Ruairi is bright, and therefore, presumably too clever for the state sector.  Secondly, we heard their rejection of private day schools on the grounds of the amount of traveling involved, which, Jennifer in particular felt would be too much for young Ruairi.  Lastly, boarding school was felt to be appropriate for Ruairi because of the activities on offer, he would surely enjoy these, and to deny him these opportunities as a day pupil wouldn’t be fair.  So, it is in Ruairi’s best interests to board, he has been matched to this type of school.

Jennifer has also been consulting the grapevine (Ball and Vincent, 1998), to help with the decision making. Thus far, this has involved phoning Elizabeth Pargetter as to her opinions about local boarding schools.   Ball and Vincent describe the kind of information that Elizabeth might be able to offer as hot knowledge.  Elizabeth might be able to describe her feel for a school, with this helpful to the Brian and Jennifer, supplementing the cold of official knowledge they have already obtained from the schools’ websites and Ofsted reports.

The rationales presented by Brian and Jennifer suggest that there is no alternative for Ruairi.  He must be educated privately, and, no doubt he will be. Of course, there is an alternative, but this is ignored in Jennifer and Brian’s thought processes. Their decision making is presented as normal, natural, what all parents go through, not the class based process that it is.

When the time  comes for secondary school choice to be made, they could utilise the grapevine to seek out the hot knowledge of Jill Archer.  She would advise them, as she did her own daughter, that: There’s nothing wrong with Borchester Green.

Continue reading “Ruairi is too bright for Loxley Barratt”

New term at Waterloo Road

The 7th series of Waterloo Road enables renewed opportunity to examine a popular construction of comprehensive schools. Waterloo Road is a stereotypical comprehensive; it is urban, it is working class, it is struggling to improve standards, pupil behaviour is unlikely to be graded outstanding, and a number of the teachers are portrayed as incompetent. Thus, it should be seen as undesirable, a place unsuited for educating the future generation. Yet, it is estimated that 4.91 million people tuned in to watch the first episode in the new series last Wednesday night [1]. There is clearly something attractive in the undesirable comprehensive school.

A pupil we had never seen before, Ali Redback,  left her newborn baby in the changing room.  Her decision to leave him in this location meant that someone was likely to find him, sooner, rather than later.  The baby’s chances of survival were also much greater having been left in a findable location[2].   As it turned out, the finder was the new site manager, Rob Scotcher.

In a departure with convention, the staff at Waterloo Road did appear to contact the emergency services, but it was the police, not a team of paramedics that arrived to take charge of the baby. When a pupil asked why the police were at the school, Eleanor Chaudry, the new English teacher offered the rationale that “a serious crime had been committed”.  She is, technically, correct (child abandonment is a criminal offence, however, in appeals at least, police tend to focus on the welfare of the mother rather than a potential prosecution[2]).

Thus, Eleanor Chaudry is constructed as a  character unsympathetic to the lives of the pupils she teaches.   We also know this because Tom Clarkson described his new colleague as “Maggie Bloody Thatcher” in reference to her right-wing political activities.  It is possible that this character was created with more than a passing reference to Katharine Birbalsingh, the author of To Miss with Love. Birbalsingh was enthusiastically received by the Conservative Party conference in 2010 because she ‘exposed’ the apparently failing comprehensive system. Katharine Birbalsingh is an experienced teacher, a former deputy head, and, whether you agree or disagree with her understanding and analyses of her teaching experiences she does appear to have genuine empathy with her (now former) pupils. Eleanor Choudry, judging by the comments she made in this first episode, does not.

Meanwhile, Head teacher, Karen Fisher, identified AIi as the mother of the newborn, and Kyle Stack came forward, believing himself to be the father.  Christopher Mead, who has not always demonstrated the highest standards in sexual politics, gave advice to Kyle on his sexual responsibilities. It is safe to assume that Mead is unlikely to be a fan of Nadine Dorries’ proposals identified in Sex Education (Required Content) Bill 2010-11.

Such curriculum content as recommended by Dorries would  have been inappropriately out of touch with the pupil’s reality in this case. It transpired that Kyle was not the father.  The biological parent, was, after all,  Ali’s stepfather, Callum.  Upon this revelation, Chris, committed an act which might have earned him respect among some.  He punched the paedophile stepfather square in the face, sending him to the ground.  Mead’s justification for this act was that people like Callum are monsters.  If only they were Chris, it would make them much easier to spot.

As ever, not much teaching went on.

Continue reading “New term at Waterloo Road”

When Satisfactory is not Satisfactory

Declining standards of pupil behaviour in UK schools makes good news copy, especially when that behaviour can be used to justify increasing the powers of teachers to discipline pupils.  This week, the apparent declining standards of pupil behaviour in schools was in the news following the publication of statistics on Behaviour in Schools, relating to school in England.

There is no doubt that the current Government sees behaviour and discipline in schools as important.  Elsewhere on this blog I have discussed the eagerness with which Michael Gove, the current Minister for Education embraces school uniforms as a means of raising standards, including behaviour.  Additionally, there are a number of consultation documents on behaviour and discipline available on the Department for Education’s website.

The Guardian reported that Nick Gibb (Schools Minister) was concerned by the statistics, as they revealed that behaviour was judged to be no better than Satisfactory in 20% (one fifth) of schools.

Which means what?

The recently released statistics are based on Ofsted inspections, which, using the familiar Ofsted nomenclature judge behaviour in schools to be either Outstanding, Good, Satisfactory, or Inadequate.

Without knowing the detailed criteria which Ofsted uses to determine their judgement it is not immediately apparent what types of behaviour might constitute Outstanding, as opposed to Good and how they both differ from Satisfactory.  It is however, the judgement of Satisfactory which is the most interesting term.  It can be stated with reasonable confidence that the term Satisfactory means, well, just that. The implication however from Nick Gibb’s apparent concern over these figures is that Satisfactory actually means something else.  Unsatisfactory perhaps?

Ofsted do have another judgement reserved for those schools in which it has judged behaviour to be less than Satisfactory.  That judgement is Inadequate.  Surely the Minister should be focusing his attention on thee schools, not on those schools where behaviour is considered Satisfactory?

So, how many schools are judged to be Inadequate?

Without wishing to diminish the problems that schools, pupils, teachers, parents, and communities face poor pupil behaviour,  the answer is, a relatively small number.  The statistics as at December 2010, reveal:

  • 25 Primary Schools were given a behaviour grade of Inadequate (0.1% of all English primary schools)
  • 32 Secondary Schools were given a behaviour grade of Inadequate (1% of all English secondary schools)

Putting the two figures together, 57 (or 0.28%) schools were judged to have Inadequate levels of behaviour.

What about good behaviour?

The news attention does appear to be on the rather strange concept of ‘no better than’ Satisfactory.   However the key points are clearly stated on the first page of the Statistical Release.  They reveal that:

  • 94% of primary schools were judged to have either Good or Outstanding standards of behaviour
  • 82% of secondary schools were judged to have either Good or Outstanding standards of behaviour

Those figures, apparently do not make such a good newspaper headline.

The Department for Education also details the figures by local authority, as well as providing figures for special schools, and pupil referral units.

Michael Gove introduces the Schools White Paper

The Department for Education has appropriated a range of technologies to get its message across, following on from the previous Labour administration, the Department for Education has a YouTube site.  Its visual appearance is somewhat more sombre than that of it’s predecessor, the DCSF. Perhaps this indicates a greater emphasis on substance, rather than style. Or, perhaps, that is what we are supposed to think.

With the launch of the Schools White Paper, comes Michael Gove appearing on video introducing it. You can watch the video here.  It leaves you in no doubt as to what the key themes of the Schools White Paper are.

The White Paper is, as Gove tells us, called The Importance of Teaching

Firstly, this refers to the quality of teachers.   The Government is committed to raising the prestige of teachers.  That sounds unproblematic, on the face of it.   Note, however, the emphasis on the quality of teachers, not teaching. The White Paper invites us to believe that improvements in schools will be as a result of good quality teachers.   Presumably that implies that good quality teachers practice good quality teaching.  But this is not merely a semantic point. Good quality teachers will be identified through their degree classification.  Graduates will require at least a 2:2  in order to receive government funding for initial teacher training.  This might not appear to be a bad thing, after all, we want teachers who know their subject and can demonstrate this at degree level.  However, it does suggest that the qualities that are required to become a good teacher, exist, and are fixed before initial teacher training takes place.  In reality, given the popularity of many PGCE programmes, this level of selection is likely to have being taking place for some time. However, as a result of these proposals, providers of post-graduate teacher training programmes will now no longer be able to provide a place to a potentially excellent teacher who has less than a 2:2.

Secondly, there is the power that is to be given to teachers.    Again, this sounds unproblematic.  Teachers will be able “to take control of the learning that goes on” and will be given “new powers to take control of order and discipline in the classroom”.  If teachers are important, this sounds reasonable, let them get on with teaching, and, while they are at it they can get on with disciplining children.  How very generous of the Government to give teachers power.   So, let us problematise this. Can power be ‘given’ to teachers in this sense?  I doubt it.  Unless the Government genuinely sees that it has nothing to do with education, and will disband the DfE, and never again propose education policies,  it still has power, and it can just as easily take back this so called power that it is giving teachers. 

Alongside this new power, is freedom.  As the webpage for the Schools White Paper states, schools are to be  “freed from the constraints of central Government direction“.  The Schools White Paper, presumably, should not be seen as an example of  that “central Government direction”.   

So, there it is, teachers have power, and schools have freedoms, and, there is no “central Government direction”.  Except that “central Government” is pressing for the teaching of synthetic phonics, and the introduction of the English Baccalaureate.  Testing remains, with a new “age six reading check”  to be introduced, inspections remain, and minimum “floor standards” will be imposed on schools. The curriculum is to be reformed, with a focus on “essential knowledge”.  We can accept that teachers have new powers, and schools have freedoms, however, they have these as long as they implement this Government’s policy

The ‘academy’ list

The list is out.  That is, the list of schools who have registered an interest for further information on the process to become academies.

There are, in fact, two lists. 

One is a list of primary and secondary schools, deemed by Ofsted to be outstanding.

The second, is a list of primary and secondary schools, which Ofsted do not deem to be outstanding.

Far from being a list of schools who intend to become academies as soon as possible, these are lists of schools who have registered with the DfE for further information on the process of acquiring academy status.

The lists were only made public following freedom of information requests.  This is interesting, given the rhetoric of great parental involvement and accountability coming from the current government.

A scan of national and regional press reports covering the release of this information might lead you to believe that all the schools on these lists are applying to become academies.  They aren’t, or at least, there is no way of knowing whether these schools are planning to push ahead with academy status.  The DfE has not released that information, so, at present we have a list of schools which have requested further information, and that is it. Again, the government’s commitment to ensuring freedom and accountability does not extend to allowing parents the knowledge of which schools are applying for academy status.

Francis Beckett – The Great City Academy Fraud

You expect Beckett to provide a critical analysis of education policy, and this is what he does in The Great City Academy Fraud.  It is a critique of Labour’s Academy programme, examining the reality behind the spin.  While some of the arguments against Acadmies and their performance might be found elsewhere, this is a useful source which tells the stories of some Acadmies, and, it gives us a glimpse of how schools might look in the future with more involvement from businesses.

This book is not new, having being published in 2007.  Since then, of course, there has been a General Election. Labour, who were responsible for City Academies are no longer in power.  However, Beckett’s analysis of City Academies remains an important contribution to debates on school provision, especially so in the context of the Conservatives’ proposed Free Schools.

Academies were introduced by the last Labour Government as a part of their committment to improve educational standards.  Designed to replace ‘failing’ schools, particularly in deprived inner city areas, Academies would be sponsored, by businesses, faith groups, individuals, or charities.  These sponsors were expected to contribute £2 million to the cost of setting up an Academy, estimated at £10 million.  Academies would be outside of the control of LEAs, with running costs payed by the Government.

The book begins by comparing Academies with City Technology Colleges (CTCs).   These were created  by the last Conservative Government in the 1980’s.  They were to be sponsored by and owned by businesses or churches and were to be independent from LEAs.  As they were targeted in deprived urban areas, they were, in particular to be independent from Labour controlled councils.   CTCs were not a success, there was limited interest from any big sponsors, and money was often not forthcoming from those sponsors who did get involved.  In order to prop up the policy, the state then had to fund the CTCs, which had not been the attention.  Additionally, CTCs were more generously funded than other state schools.  The policy was quietly dropped.

At the time, Labour did not support CTCs, promising to take them back into LEA control if they got into power. They did, of course, get into power, in 1997.   However,  in 2000 the Labour Government announced the City Academy programme. 

Beckett sees little distinction between CTCs and Academies.  The mistakes of the CTCs, he claims, were destined to be repeated, the lessons of the failed CTCs not learned.

While Academies were designed to replace ‘failing’ schools, Beckett argues that many schools which were closed, were not, in fact, failing schools, at least by the assessment of Ofsted.  Beckett takes apart the political claims for Academies.  In terms of private sponsorship, only small proportions of the escalating costs of Academies has come from sponsors, and some sponsorship is ‘in kind’, yet the so-called sponsors still own and control the schools while the state continues to fund them.  Then there has been allegations of honours in exchange for so-called sponsorship.  He discusses concerns over the involvement of and motivation of religious organisations.  Unions have been sidelined and timetables changed, with the effect that pupils and teachers don’t get to interact outside the classroom. The buildings too come under scrutiny as not being fit for purpose.  All of this could be overlooked, perhaps, if Academies were shown to work.  Beckett however shows that this has not always been the case, some of the schools they replaced were not failing anyway, and in some Academies attainment has fallen, while others have received damning Ofsted reports.  Where attainment has risen, it is alleged that this is because Acadmies are using GCSE equivalents to ensure they rise in the league tables.  Yet, they have continued to receive generous state funding; if these had been ordinary state comprehensive schools, they would have been closed, and replaced by Academies, according to Beckett.

Beckett’s analysis does have implications for the Conservative’s Free Schools.  These can be started by parents, but in reality are likely to be run by businesses or other organisations.  If they are to be a flagship education policy of the current Government then the pattern from the Academies is likely to be repeated.  They will require generous funding from the Government at the expense of other local state schools.  The businesses, religious organisations or charities which are contracted to run them will have great control over what goes on inside them (not the parents, despite the Conservative promises) yet there will be very little accountability.  The result will be, as Beckett has claimed to have been the case with Acadmies, will be increased educational inequality.

The Great City Academy Fraud is published by Continuum.

Academies: Gaming attainment targets?

Academies are part of the UK Government’s attempts to raise standards of educational attainment in areas where levels of educational attainment have been poor and educational aspirations, low. 

Academies can be seen as part of the Government’s attempts at promoting social justice in some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the country. 

Academies are also high profile. 

Consider the Nottingham Academy , the largest school in Europe which opened its doors in September of 2009 accommodating its 3600 pupils on three campuses.  Sponsored by the Greenwood Dale Foundation Trust, it replaces 3 schools, one, Elliot Durham a comprehensive school which was badly underperforming in terms of the percentage of pupils gaining 5 A*-C grades at GCSE. One of the other schools it replaces is Greenwood Dale (the sponsoring school), it had dramatically improved its GCSE grades but was, unsurprisingly over subscribed.  The hope is that the success of Greenwood Dale can be applied to this new school, and that by launching as a ‘new’ school with a smart new Uniform and name, the baggage of the old  failing school can be ditched at the same time.

Academies are however not without controversy.  They can and have been sponsored by charities, the co-operative movement, other schools, Universities, and by businesses.

Consider the  Kings Academy in Middlesbrough, it is sponsored by the Vardy Foundation, associated with Sir Peter Vardy, a well known Christian who subscribes to creationism.  Academies have therefore attracted criticism because business involvement is thought to represent a ‘mortgaging’ of our educational future.  Additionally, in the case of the schools sponsored by the Vardy foundation, their involvement has led to concern over the inclusion of creationism in the school’s curriculum  (see the Guardian on this).  This concern goes wider than the way science may be taught in schools sponsored by the Vardy Foundation, but goes to the heart of the involvement of businesses in education.

Yet, despite the criticisms the Department for Children Schools and Families (DCSF) is keen to demonstrate the success of Academies.  According to the DCSF they are often oversubscribed and GCSE attainment in Academies is rising at a faster rate than in other schools.  This appears to vindicate any criticism of Academies.

Except, it is not that simple.

Academies may be engaged in a process of ‘gaming’.  Gaming is a concept which refers to the way in which players (Schools or Academies) make rational decisions which bring them advantage.  In other words, they play a game to win.  A report published today by Civitas suggests that the apparent success of Academies in raising standards may be the result of practices may be pushing some pupils into vocational courses in order to raise the percentage of GCSEs attained at A*-C.  This could be described as gaming.

In its blog Civitas asks if the success of Academies is a sham.  The problem is, that while most Principals surveyed felt  that their Academies were doing well or very well, detailed breakdown of the attainment is not available (Academies are exempted from the Freedom of Information Act) and just over half of the Principals felt that Academies should have to break down their results by subject, as do other state schools?

It is suggested by the Civitas Research that much of the apparent improved pass rate at GCSE is accounted for by qualifications considered ‘equivalent’.  As today’s Guardian reports some of these qualifications have been described by Ofsted as being of “doubtful value”.

Civitas suggests that the gaming which may be happening is “impoverishing the curriculum of the already deprived” given that Academies are targeted in deprived communities with the aim of raising educational standards and aspirations.

The problem is we do not know how much ‘gaming’ is going on, however in an A*-C economy where vocational qualifications are regarded as GCSE equivalent it is hardly surprising that Academies promote this route for those pupils who they consider are not going to succeed with conventional GCSEs.