Equivalents and exclusions boost results rather than education

Things are beginning to look grim for the future of Roke Primary, where parents, governors and staff fear that the public asset of the school, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, is about to be handed over by education secretary Michael Gove to a Conservative party donor – despite Roke being neither a failing school nor on special measures.

The messianic minister: Michael Gove. Not good with statistics

Messianic minister: Michael Gove. Not good on stats

On Friday, just before the half-term, officials from the Harris Federation turned up to measure up Roke and count its technical equipment, just like home-buyers measuring up for new curtains before they move in.

Except that Harris won’t have to pay a penny to take over the school.

The Harris Federation has also issued some glossy brochures to Roke parents. It is an interesting approach by the Department for Education to “public consultation”: allowing the body that is supposed to be taking over the school to run the consultation.

“It’s not much like a consultation at all,” said one parent from the Kenley primary, “it’s more like a sales brochure, with information about what Harris intends to do once they take over.”

Appeals to the local MP, the absentee Lord Bletchingley, have proved useless (no surprise there), while an approach to the Conservative MP in neighbouring Croydon Central, Gavin Barwell, who happens to be Gove’s PPS at Westminster, met with the lame excuse that he can do little because “I’m just a bag-carrier”.

That’s an unusual attitude from someone who normally wades in, often uninvited, on all sorts of matters in Croydon South and Croydon North when it might be expedient to his political career.

The not-so-hidden agenda in all this is that Harris desperately needs a half-decent primary school to shore up the intake at its Harris Academy Purley – Haling Manor as was. And Gove, Barwell and others have willingly obliged, putting political dogma and donations ahead of the interests of Croydon children.

Harris South Norwood: using "equivalents" and exclusions helps boost its league table performance, rather than good education

Harris South Norwood: using equivalents and exclusions helps boost its league table performance

Because despite all the rhetoric from Gove, the former Murdoch newspaper hack, Harris academies have a pretty lacklustre record when it comes to exam results.

Harris academies have two basic techniques to “improve” educational standards:

1, exclude pupils in the bottom 25 per cent of achievement, or who perhaps have English as a second-language, or have other issues with social deprivation. This is particularly effective, since it eliminates their results from any league table assessments. It does nothing for the education and life chances of a vast swathe of our teenagers, however.

2, Get as many pupils in the school as possible to take empty qualifications, things like BTecs in frisbee throwing, especially those “equivalents”, certificates that count for two, three or even four GCSEs, because this helps bolster the academy’s rating on the league tables. What it does not do is equip those youngsters with the sort of meaningful or useful qualifications that they can present to potential employers.

For an education minister who is so determined to drag education back to the 1950s, and who places such great store in applying high “standards” in our schools, the reality is that Gove’s approach to academies is based on double standards, putting public assets into private hands and writing off the futures of thousands of youngsters.

All the statistics reproduced below were taken from Department for Education (and its predecessor) or Croydon Council’s websites, and shows that Harris academies in Croydon are far less successful than is often presented.

Take Harris at Crystal Palace as an example: in 2009-2010, the only year for which figures are available, they were the fifth highest for school exclusions.

Take Harris South Norwood as another example. In 2011, 75 per cent of pupils attained five or more A-C GCSEs or equivalents, including maths and English – the third best of all Croydon’s state schools.

But if you take the “equivalents”, that is the non-GCSE qualifications, out of the results, then only 46 per cent of pupils achieved the magic goal of five or more GCSEs at A to C grade, seeing the academy plummet to 15th of Croydon’s 22 state schools. Hardly a paragon of achievement after all.

The South Norwood school roll makes for worrying reading, too. At a school where the yearly intake should be around 200, at the end of Key Stage 4 (for 14 to 16-year-olds, those sitting GCSEs), for the years 2008, 2009 and 2010, there were only 105, 91 and 95 pupils. In a borough with a chronic lack of school places, where had all the Harris Academy’s pupils gone?

In 2009-2010, South Norwood had the highest number of permanent exclusions in Croydon.

What was once Haling Manor: the school was Croydon's fastest improving, until Harris took over its running

What was once Haling Manor: the school was Croydon’s fastest improving, until Harris took over its running

When Harris took over Haling Manor, as shown by the statistics, it inherited the most rapidly improving school in Croydon. A school that had such a bad reputation that in 1995 it was half-empty had, by 2008, become over-subscribed.

From a dire low of 16 per cent of pupils achieving five A to C grades at GCSE in 2002, by 2009 that figure had risen steadily to 79 per cent. In 2008, Haling Manor had risen to eighth best among Croydon’s state schools and academies.

Using the government’s own measure of CVA – contextual value added – to follow the improvement a school had managed to achieve with a pupil’s grades through their career, Haling Manor went from 980.9 in 2005 to 1037.2 by 2009 – among the top 3 per cent in the whole of England, and the second best in Croydon. It is also the sort of improvement in performance that most Harris academies can only dream about attaining.

But someone, somewhere, decided that none of this was good enough, and in September 2009 brought in the Harris Federation to take over the school on Pampisford Road, offering a funding agreement in which £18 million of public money was put up, alongside not a penny from Harris.

Since May 2010, when the Conservatives did not win the General Election and Gove was installed as education secretary, according to a government website article, sponsors have not been required to make any financial contribution to the establishment of an academy, and are not required to establish or support an endowment fund either.

Do Kenley tax-payers support giving Roke School to a millionaire carpet salesman, or would they rather that public money be used for providing appropriate educational resources for the children of Croydon?

Sadly, that seems to be an entirely rhetorical question, as Gove appears determined to hand our money – and the education of our children – to his cronies and donors.

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6 Responses to Equivalents and exclusions boost results rather than education

  1. Please help Roke Primary fight forced academy and the imposition of the Harris Federation. Don’t let them have our school on a plate. Please sign our petition http://www.tinyurl.com/saveroke

    Read the full Roke story at http://www.saveroke.co.uk

  2. Brilliant exposé of the cascade of malpractices by ‘sponsors’ (a euphemism if ever there was one) and the DfE to cement the transfer of taxpayer money and State assets into private hands. It is a criminal abuse of power : http://www.educationreform.co.uk/Live/index.php?Id=281

  3. The education creative accounting game is actually much worse when you look at the EBacc results.

    The EBacc requires students to show that they have a broad education in terms of GCSEs, it was introduced with no real announcement so had the effect of catching schools out. The brilliance of it is that it shows Croydon schools in a completely different light from the results that they had had plenty of time to manipulate through GCSE equivalent qualifications.

    Parents and employers want and need children to get a broad set of GCSEs at 16, so that they are ready for a knowledge-based global economy and can access higher level qualifications and well paid jobs. No one tells parents that students will struggle to progress beyond GCSEs with C grade qualifications and GCSE equvalents.

    In 2011 the EBacc results threw up the following:
    Addington HS 1%
    Arch Bishop Tennison 30%
    Coloma Convent 61%
    Edenham HS 8%
    Harris CP 38%
    Harris Purley 8%
    Harris Norwood 2%

    Norbury Manor 14%
    Oasis Coulsdon 7%
    Riddlesdown 22%
    Shirley High 14%
    St Andrew’s 9%
    St Joseph’s 11%
    St Mary’s 1%
    Archbishop Lanfranc 21%
    Thomas More 2%
    Virgo Fidelis 25%
    Westwood 13%
    Woodcote HS 27%

    We have an educational crisis going on here… Employers are telling community groups that they cannot get the quality of employees that they need in Croydon. Changing school ownership is not going to in itself change these educational outcomes. Pasi Sahlberg’s study of the Finnish education system made one thing clear, that if you want to raise educational outcomes you have to take the community with you.

  4. Education and health are both in crisis: and both are micro-managed by politicians and their so-called expert advisers.

    At the moment we have an education secretary who wants to march us back to the 1960s in terms of the curriculum, despite the fact that doing so will leave the vast majority of our young people even less able to find a job.

    After the next General Election we will have a new Secretary of State with a different bee in his or her bonnet.

    I used to think that education vouchers were an ultra right-wing solution designed to promote private education at the expense of the public sector. Now, I’m not so sure.

    Schools, like health, are much too important to be left in the hands of politicians, who will manipulate statistics to justify decisions that are good for them. They are likely to be using schools and hospitals to feather their own nests in terms of seeking political influence, promotion or party funding.

    We don’t need an army of overpaid public servants administering our schools or our hospitals. We need each school or hospital to be run by a small number of people who have a proper understanding of day-to-day requirements: led by a head teacher or a matron respectively.

    And we need a proper standard of independent inspection – which we don’t have at the moment. We are constantly hearing about failing schools and hospitals that have coasted through so-called inspections.

    The system must be flexible enough to allow parents or patients to choose one school or hospital over another. And if that leads to a well-run school or hospital needing to expand, while a poorly-run one has to close, so be it.

    Head teachers or hospital managers who provide a poor service deserve to lose their jobs; that’s a discipline that concentrates the mind wonderfully.

  5. derekthrower says:

    Excellent article and comments highlighting the fantasy metrics used to justify the fragmentation of local education and the diverging of taxpayer income streams to private companies.

    What is never commented about this Coalition is their claims to support decentralisation but from what we see of Ofsted and Gove’s Education Department is a never ending application of centralising power to pursue an ideology without evidence base.

  6. anncreighton says:

    The takeover of Roke by Harris sounds all too familiar.

    I was at the “consultation” for Haling Manor. It sounds the same as the procedure for Roke – run entirely by Harris, with a cameo from Lord Harris himself.

    Older students came prepared to make the arguments for Haling Manor as a fast-improving school that did not need taking over. As an exercise in teaching those students that consultations are rarely about anything but what has already been decided, it was a master class. As an exercise in democracy, an utter failure.

    It is no wonder that people are so turned off by ‘politics’. Harold MacMillan, a former Conservative Prime Minister, suggested that Thatcher’s governments had sold off the family silver – this government is just giving away what is left.

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