Who’s making money out of education?
Before 1997, I’m not sure that I could name anyone who was a civil servant or special adviser in the Department of Education. During the first phase of the 1997 Blair Government, Andrew Adonis and Michael Barber became more prominent as the backroom engine of change. Andrew Adonis and Michael Barber went on to other roles, Barber most recently with Pearson Education, but also operating on a global educational scale.
Ruth Miskin was an adviser to the Government when the National Strategy for English was being disseminated. At the same time, she was instrumental in developing a scheme (Read, Write, Inc) that fitted with the requirements of the National Strategy. She has also been very high profile within the Michel Gove-supported Systematic Synthetic Phonics scheme.
Michael Gove, supported by his Special Adviser, Dominic Cummings, introduced free schools into the school environment, as well as rapidly expanding the Academisation programme, increasing the number of CEOs and senior staff. Recent stories about heads of academy chains and headteacher salaries reaching astronomical levels tell a tale of personal benefit, even within schemes that are supposedly “not for profit”.
Lord Nash is both an education minister, elevated in 2012, and the head of an academy chain…
Toby Young, another Gove supporter, despite being a non-educationist ran a Free School and is to be head of the New Schools Network.
Many of the above would no doubt claim not to be taking money out of education, but by earning, in some cases, significant salaries, they are certainly making money out of education links.
Michael Barber phoned me up…
I had written to the Department for Education outlining a concern that had been an issue since SATs were introduced; whether level 3, 4 and 5 meant the same things at Infant, Junior or Secondary School.
As levels were criterion based, in theory they should have been progressive and in Maths and English, I would argue that they were. However, the Governments in their wisdom, had chosen to extrapolate from the KS2 SAT results and determine expected outcomes at KS4 across all subjects, which led to many happy hours discussing this with Secondary colleagues, at transfer. We were active in moderation and, over time, colleagues within the cluster began to agree standards, especially in Maths and English. Of course, with staff change, often we had to start again, from scratch.
I was called to the phone one day by my admin support, to discover Michael Barber on the phone, wanting to discuss the issue and share thoughts. It was a very pleasant half hour, which indicated a closeness of thinking and an encouragement to keep working on our moderation projects.
And that was as far as it went… As a mere headteacher, I was just a minion, with an idea.
Textbooks and testing
These two areas are ripe for exploitation. There’s a regular income to be made from testing, particularly as this is formalised at 11, 16 and 18.
Textbooks came back onto the agenda endorsed by Tim Oates, group director of assessment research and development for Cambridge Assessment, who was also an architect of the current National Curriculum. Cambridge Assessment operates the university’s three exam boards. Tim worked with Sir Ron Dearing on the 1995 review of the National Curriculum, a very significant piece of revision.
Publishers like textbooks, especially as they are updated and reprinted regularly. It’s interesting to browse the University bookshop and see last year’s version of a required book in the second hand bins. Textbooks are regularly being argued as better than random internet searching, which is probably a good use of time, but prescribing sites to access and read would seem to be a good, free equivalent.
However, it’s not that long ago, 2013, that a publisher proposed every child having a pre-loaded tablet, effectively carrying around their textbooks.
The NC, from 1987 to 1997 was certainly very broad, balanced and relevant to children.
National Strategies altered the dynamics, as did assessment models such as Assessing Pupil Progress, developed through the National Strategies. APP was supposedly created to give a broader picture of a child’s abilities than the SATs tests, supporting Teacher Assessment. It was cumbersome, demand heavy on teachers and focused on such small changes that it diminished the curriculum. However, I always felt that it could be a useful diagnostic tool for children whose progress in learning was concerning. Identifying and addressing gaps is a significant aspect of that.
Developing, disseminating and evaluating Government initiatives costs money, that diminishes the available pot of money for the schools’ budget. Every novelty can become effectively a scam. It was recently reported that the free school budget, set up by Michael Gove, had overspent by £1 billion.
Today sees the allocation of £250 million for Grammar School expansion.
Employing CEOs and Executive Heads of chains also costs.
With Lord Nash and Sir Craig Tunstall costing the best part of the equivalent of up to 30 classroom teachers, and multiples of a Prime Minister salary, the scale can be quite mind boggling.
We have seen centralisation of thinking on a grand scale over the past twenty years. It can sometimes seem as if thinking, in education, is the remit of a few people at the top, with minions employed to do their bidding; a little like the Oompa Loompas of Charlie and the Chocolate factory.
And yet, the whole of education is premised upon a class of children working with a teacher, whose role is to be the minute by minute thinker in the classroom, leading learning and ensuring that each child is enabled to make the maximum progress within a time scale. We need them to be the lead thinkers in education and that sometimes needs time to think. Teacher thinking time could be bought from saving some of the costs at the top.
It needs something of a business rethink, to ensure that the money is effective in the classroom, not just at the top.
We don’t need well paid “shadows”.