Day 190 – A Step-Change in Educational Standards

If councillors vote to support the conclusions of the 200+ page report, then they will succeed in creating a step-change in educational standards in Bedford Borough.

Unfortunately, they will be a step downwards, as every authority has shown during and immediately after the change. Results then take years to return to where they were pre-change, with no guarantee they will actually be higher.

In the meantime, a generation of children will received an impoverished educational experience, not just in terms of Mr.Gradgrind’s average GCSE results compared to those for whom grammar schools are available, but also with middle school teachers whose morale has fallen so much they are seeking to leave Bedford or the profession, with crowded and unsuitable primary accommodation, and with upper schools trying to build, accommodate new pupils and staff, and cope with the demands of compulsory post-16 education, all at the same time.

One of the most damaging aspects will be to our generally excellent lower schools – the section of the report which deals with this side of the funding is very dense, speaking in financial tongues and generally trying to hide the problems from its readership. Sir Humphrey always used to say that was the best way to get something past a Minister – hide it in the bottom of a red box!

Funding for the lower-primary change is very low and what is now clearer is that:

1. There is no funding for any new equipment for new primary classrooms, with furniture/ICT/equipment needing to be imported from existing middle schools presumably.
2. No funding for any externals – for example adapting playgrounds or sports fields.
3. No allowance for toilets, cloakrooms, corridors or practical/group spaces.

This last one is most important. Page 121 of the report says that 7560 square metres of space will be needed for 126 new classrooms – which is 60 square metres each.

This of course, has not considered room for anything else but the standard classroom space of 56-63 square metres. Guidelines for space requirements in schools are available here.

We have always said that funding was a huge problem – and now that the details are being examined, none of us are particularly surprised that the report was not published until only 12 days before the Full Council vote.

There are now only 10 days left – and the only people that can change this are the councillors. Contact them all and tell them what you think…and encourage everyone else to. The only way that this proposal will get voted down is by pressure from you.

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5 Responses to Day 190 – A Step-Change in Educational Standards

  1. KDev says:

    I was amazed at the section on primary schools in the report. The absolute legal minimum, not even the DCSF recommendation. All those facilities now available to years 5 and6 in middle schools gone, dedicated music suites, sports facilities etc. Just bare new classrooms proposed for the lower schools. I will bet that this was not the picture painted by the Officers to Lower School headteachers!

  2. Martin Hamilton says:

    Fred,
    Can you help us with this. Is this one of the things that the report has tried not to say? I am sure the Primary Capital Program is also about delivering transformation – not the bare minimum surely. My vision is that the PCP should be delivering what it’s supposed to – is that capital replacement, transformation, more specialist teachers at the higher age range in other words what middle schools are already doing and my daughter is benefitting.

    She has a sports field next to her school not half a mile away (Castle Lower I am referring to) and specialist sports teachers. She has really benefitted from that in away that would never show up in the narrow GSCE debate.

    References are the Rose Report and Cambridge Primary Review – both recent academic contributions.

    One of the problems of this debate is that now the censored mayor’s blogg has gone there seems to be no-one except Fred Bagnall who is prepared to engage in debate in a really critical way through a public forum – what a pity – seems like another democratic deficit to me together with the ludicrous amount of time the council has given everyone to digest all the new stuff.

    So Fred please tell us what you think.

  3. Fred Bagnall says:

    OK, here we go and then I think that should probably be it from me.

    What to do?
    Now is not the time for bleating about the quality of the consultation document or the inevitably of the outcome or issuing blanket how can they say that statements. It is not time for belief arguments. It is time to look critically at the proposals and identify the shortcomings. It is also time for solid, referenced evidence.

    Look for instance at the first part of today’s SMS blog. “Results then take years to return to where they were pre-change”. The pages numbered 180-181 in the report present statistics that show authorities improving within 5-6 years. Where are the statistics to show how bad they were between times? Unless they are presented outside of this report councillors will never see them and officers will point to the data in the report that shows a mid-term improvement for the greater good. It may take more than an unsupported claim like the above to convince councillors to oppose change. There are simple, strong reasons for them to support change, amongst which are:

    1. The desire to conform to standard national practice.
    2. The desire to get funding from Government to enhance our schools
    3. The fact that unless this proposal is approved said funding will probably be lost.
    4. Their paid professionals have come to the considered view that change is necessary.
    5. Their upper and lower school heads want the change.

    They may perhaps oppose change because:

    1. They think council tax might have to rise by an unacceptable amount.
    2. They respect the majority of respondents who oppose change.
    3. They do not believe the review document.

    But we have reached the point, rightly or wrongly (and now is not the time to discuss), where it has almost become a search for reasons not to change as opposed to reasons to change. Where are the references that show we are looking in the wrong direction and that per capita revenue funding, parental support, quality of teaching staff, internal school practices etc are the issues that need addressing and not structure at all? Where are the statistics that raise doubts about results improving with a structure change? Not just selective quotes, but information from referenced sources that councillors can read and reach the same conclusions from. They have to really doubt that the over-arching reason to change structure is correct and then the short-term disruption (or show the documents that demonstrate it is longer), cost doubts, ability to execute concerns etc can all be allowed to defeat the proposals.

    (KDev hold your silence on these if you like but I suggest get them out in front of councillors, better late than never)

    The review document sets the agenda and is robust in places, it cannot simply dismissed as propaganda, it needs to be countered.

    Funding for changing to primaries has been targeted by SMS today and there must be much more that can be identified. For example, to build on something I mentioned on Wednesday, on page 107, David Sawyer, now the portfolio holder, asks, “what worked well and did not work well” in other authorities that changed. This is not really covered in the review document despite assurances that it would be. What are the stories that are not been told to coucillors and where can they read them?

    A concerted effort is required of 3-tier supporters to discredit rather than smear the review document and for a response document to be made available to councillors. Just because you know about something do not assume that councillors do or that they will look to find it in one of these blogs from weeks ago or anywhere else. Give it all to them in a document they can consider and refer back to easily. Posts can be made here or evidence emailed to SMS and SMS may wish to consider compiling something, or they may not…

  4. KDev says:

    Fred, I do not hide the references to the evidence I quote. I just got fed up with you asking for the same thing. I am not a die hard believer in any school system – just give me the evidence. All of this was available to the Council Officers; they chose only to give a partial view of the evidence in their Report. They also have access to data that DCSF will only show to LA (KS1 results from other LA). The Middle school heads have produced a rebuttal document based on the Consultation Document, as you suggest with references, and it has / will be circulated to all Councillors.
    The DCSF data showing that 4 out of the 5 cases of change leading to improvement has already gone to Councillors showing the full data set – and it shows that 4 out of the 5 suffered drops in attainment over several years (not what the Officers carefully selected). The very worse case of spin in the Report is the statement on the response of Lower School parents – it has to be read very carefully to understand that 59% wanted to retain Middle Schools (Page 72, bullet point 3).
    Here are the references from my previous statements:
    “9 factors before “structure” change”
    Configuring schools: A review of the literature, Wayne Seller, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto Northwestern Centre, August 2004.
    “The evidence supports the view that delaying the move from elementary school helps to reduce dips in transfer. There is less of a case for arguing that the dips are cumulative so that pupils attending a three tier system of schooling are permanently disadvantaged”
    Suffolk School Organisational Review, Galton, 2006. (Proffessor M Galton, Cambridge University)
    “The evidence from Suffolk used to support 2-Tier can be used to argue that 3-Tier is better”
    Symonds, Cambridge University, 2007.
    “School performance is highly linked to socio-economic status”
    Professor Richard Webber, UCL.
    “Results are primarily driven by pupils and teachers”
    Professor Peter Tymms, Durham University.

    Independent review of the primary curriculum, Professor Jim Rose, DCSF 30 April 2009.
    The Cambridge Primary Review, October 2009, University of Cambridge Faculty of Education.

    DCSF data for attainment and budgets from:
    School and college achievement and attainment tables (formerly performance tables)
    Strategy and working practice Finance and funding Information for local authorities Section 52 various years
    It is very hard to reference No Evidence, no published work showing that 2-tier is better than 3-tier. Only the statements by Ministers, checked by their officials and supported by DCSF and OfSTED confirm that there is no evidence to show that a change to 2-tier will bring an improvement in Educational attainment in Bedford Borough, so we only have Hansard. This has been completely ignored in the Report.
    In addition, no attempt is made in the Report to analyse if there are any other factors which may be causing the apparent lower performance of Bedford’s schools, the Officers jump straight to it must be the structure. Looking at our Statistical Neighbours (SN), from DCSF data, there are 4 possible causes:
    a. Structure, (unlikely according to Ministers and very low probability in the academic research)
    b. The effect of private schooling, 23% in Bedford compared with 8% average in our SNs.
    c. Selective schools, 6 of our 10 SNs have selective schools.
    d. Annual school budgets, from DCSF Benchmarking Tables for 2008-9 it can be seen that the more you spend per pupil the better your attainment at GCSE. In 2008 Bedfordshire allocated £197 per pupil less than the England average and £137 less per pupil than our better performing SNs. For such soft data there is a remarkably high correlation between annual spending pp and GCSE attainment. Bedford’s results were just about what you get for the money you spend. Spending pp is in the Report but spun: (Page 178 para 15)
    “It has also been suggested that Bedford Borough’s performance is a result of being funded at a lower level per pupil than statistical neighbours. In fact, at an average of £3998 per pupil, funding of schools in Bedford Borough is higher than four of its statistical neighbours and lower than six of them.”
    Avoiding the evidence that 5 of those that spend more have significantly better GCSE results. The 6th is Milton Keynes, in 2008 still recovering from their school reorganisation.
    So the Officers know about the information but are hiding its true meaning.
    I naively expected some professionalism from the Council Officers in the final Report.

  5. JamesD says:

    Fred,
    Thank you for assistance.
    Unfortunately the 5 reasons you give for councillors who support the change may not be open to persuasion by evidence, however easily available:
    1. The urge to conform to national practice – a dominant trait in most government and local government organisation. You don’t get promoted by bucking the system.
    2. The desire to get government funding to enhance your schools – We all want this but 2 years of BSF and PSP briefing which excluded the Middle School staff and governors has tied in with the self interest of Upper and Lower school Heads who seem prepared to accept collateral damage for the future of only their schools.
    3. The fact that if the proposal is not approved said funding will be probably lost – the last 2 years of spin that BSF money relies on change seems to have worked in some cases. The evidence that Officer’s have retracted this statement, that DCSF Ministers have approved 3-tier solutions in other Authorities is being ignored. If the Officers do not have a fully prepared case ready for the 3-tier option then the Council should get rid of them.
    4. The paid professionals have come to the considered view that change is necessary – this is a fundamental hurdle as Councillors are used to working with and taking the advice of these Officers. However, the Officers were all recruited by the late Mayor and previous CEO to carry out the change, they have supported it against all the evidence, they have pushed the case to the legal limit. The Consultation Document and the Report are completely one-sided. If the proposal is rejected the position of most of the hierarchy in the education department will be untenable.
    5. Upper and Lower school heads want the change – see my comment on 2. Upper schools have always wanted all of the funds, they are at the end of the system most open to scrutiny and criticism. However, the statement by an Upper school head that he would go ahead with the change without the support of government funds must call the judgement of at least one of their group into question. The Lower school heads have been influenced by two pressures: self interest for their own funding and the implied threat of closure if you don’t conform, “it’s a done deal”.
    So we are facing the same problems as all other Authorities where the change of school structure has been forced through against the wishes of those most affected – parents and carers with children in school or about to start school. Recourse to the courts and loss of all funding for 10 years or moving our children and grandchildren away from an educational and financial disaster so well demonstrated by Northamptonshire and Suffolk.

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