Education and Adoption Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) (EAB 14)

Executive summary

1. The prime purpose of this Bill is to further (if it were possible) impose an unproven ideology on schools, namely that academisation is the only solution for schools which need support in order to improve the quality of the education they provide. As the DfE is, at this moment, re-brokering academy sponsorship for a significant number of schools because of poor performance and support from their existing sponsor, and as a significant number of schools are identified as requiring a change of sponsor, ATL asks: what provisions are there in the Bill to establish comprehensive and effective support mechanisms to improve individual school performance? Beyond forced academisation, the policy cupboard is bare. Government and parliament should be embarrassed that the Bill means that the system acts not to guarantee the best interests of children but acts to support political ideology.

2. The Bill brings in an arbitrary and unclear diagnosis of coasting and a panacea of academisation when there is no clear evidence that the medicine works. This is made clearer when we look at the major role being played by the Regional School Commissioners (RSC) in selecting academy sponsors for schools and in determining budgets. The very reason for existence of the RSC is to increase the number of academies and the number of schools converted remains one of their key performance indicators [1] . The best interests of children and communities do not appear to be the priority for RSCs, whose remit is driven by ideology not judgement and evidence. Whilst some academies have improved learning outcomes, many haven’t, yet it is unlikely that any school which comes to the attention of the RSC will remain as a community school. Any commission with these powers must be neutral.

3. Evidence shows there are no guarantees that academisation will benefit pupils. But the process, even the prospect of academisation, is not impact neutral. Changing the school structure is likely to be disruptive to existing pupils and parents alike. Teaching and learning suffers when change is imposed rather than teachers being the owners of school improvement – unsettling and deprofessionalising the school’s workforce in this way does not serve the interests of pupils preparing for exams. Rather than tinkering with school structures the government should be funding intervention in schools in the form of targeted support agreed in conjunction with the school and the local community. Our vision for reform of the inspection system in England shows how this could work. [2]

4. Given the lack of evidence supporting widespread academisation, the speed with which this bill is passing through parliament lacks justification. Legislative scrutiny will be weak as a result. It is remarkable that the Bill committee has not taken evidence from any of the unions representing teachers, only from the head teacher organisations and we would welcome the opportunity to discuss the Bill further with the Committee.

Who we are

5. ATL, the education union, is an independent, registered trade union and professional association. We recognise the link between education policy and members' conditions of service. Our evidence-based policy making enables us to campaign and negotiate from a position of strength. AMiE is the trade union and professional association for leaders and managers in colleges and schools, and is a distinct section of ATL. We champion good practices and achieve better working lives for our members.

6. We help members, as their careers develop, through first rate research, advice, information and legal advice. ATL is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and Education International (EI). ATL is not affiliated to any political party and seeks to work constructively with all the main political parties.

ATL policy

7. ATL remains unconvinced that academy conversion is suitable for all schools or that the academies programme is working. The Education Select Committee has concluded that it is too early to say whether academies are a positive force for change, and we know from the Public Accounts Committee that 18 academy chains were prevented from expanding further because of concerns about standards in their schools. In addition, data based on both ‘best eight’ and ‘best eight including equivalents’ scores, of all local authorities (100) and chains (20) which had at least five secondary schools in September 2013 shows that three of the 20 chains achieved significantly above average value added in 2014, but nine were significantly below average. Whereas 13 of the 100 LAs achieved significantly above average, but only 10 were significantly below average. [3]

8. ATL remains committed to improving educational standards across the board and believes that this is best achieved by making the profession attractive to graduates with fair reward and the recognition, by the political class and the media, that the constant undermining of the teaching profession is very damaging to educational standards. Academisation is a diversion from the core role of educating for both the teachers and school management as they need to develop, discuss, agree and implement a whole raft of HR policies. Distractions over pay, employment security and career progression are not side effects to be written off when academisation offers no guarantees for pupils of a better education.

9. The previous coalition government’s workload challenge demonstrated clearly that teachers and school leaders are burdened by unsustainable workloads which, combined with an absence of effective career long professional development, results in large numbers of teachers, at all stages of their career, leaving the profession. The teacher recruitment and retention crisis, more than any other cause, will negatively affect educational standards and it is this issue which the government should tackle rather than extending, yet further, its obsession with school structures.

10. A recent study by National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) looks at how performance in academy secondary schools compares to performance in similar non-academies, in an attempt to find out whether becoming an academy has led to better progress for pupils than they might have made otherwise. The report has three key findings:

· progress between Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 outcomes on a range of performance measures, is higher after two years in sponsored academies compared to similar non-academy schools.

· there was no significant difference in attainment progress after two years between converter academies and similar non-academy schools. Converter schools tend to be higher performing schools already, and have been open for a shorter period of time.

· attainment progress in sponsored academies compared to similar non-academies is not significantly different over time when the outcome is measured as GCSE points, excluding equivalent qualifications such as BTECs. This suggests that sponsored academies either use more equivalent qualifications, or that their pupils do better in them. [4]

Coasting Schools

11. ATL believes it is essential that there is a clear definition of what a coasting school looks like so there is consistency in outcomes. There must be no confusion about the criteria applied to a school before it falls into this category. The evolution of the definition of what the Secretary of State believes is a coasting school was chaotic. First the Secretary of State thought that it was not important for the Bill, then an arbitrary definition emerged at the second reading and then a third when it is realised that the definition will not work immediately. This is a result of the government’s haste in presenting the Bill and speeding through the legislative process without allowing time for proper deliberation.

12. Local Schools Network has estimated that at least 2,833 schools currently fall under the Secretary of State’s evolving definition of coasting. Of the 814 potentially coasting secondary schools 22% are sponsored academies and 20% converter academies. [5] What is of more concern is that of the potentially coasting secondary schools, 125 (15%) had a Best 8 value added measure above the national average. These 125 schools serve some of the most deprived communities and successfully support their pupils in making significant progress. How can the proposed definition be fair when it ignores this achievement?

13. Defining a coasting school in this way is difficult and will become increasingly so over time. Each cohort sitting GCSEs for the next six years will have experienced a different curriculum and qualifications system to the one before; even if all cohorts were made up of an identical group of students comparing progress between cohorts fairly would be impossible.

14. Experience shows that when tests and examinations are changed there is a drop in performance while schools work out what’s needed. This is followed by an increase over a few years as young people and teachers learn how the tests work, before the results settle down.

15. Our children come from a wide range of backgrounds and cover a huge ability range; within schools the makeup of cohorts can vary enormously year on year. Therefore a sudden change in attainment data does not always signify academic progress; sometimes it is a reflection of the divergent makeup of successive year groups. Putting too much weight on one change would ignore this reality and the challenges of measuring pupil progress and attainment. The new progress 8 system will not recognise that each child is an individual but will consider them only as a data point in relation to an average score.

16. We rightly expect schools to treat their pupils as individual children, providing personalised teaching and learning opportunities to help them flourish. Our accountability system is at odds with this notion and including any measure of pupil progress in a coasting school definition will create a harmful incentive to view children as data points and scores, not as unique individuals.

17. For the first three years (before the use of progress 8 as the measure) the focus will be on absolute outcomes – 65% A* to C passes at GCSE and 85% level 4 in English and maths at KS2. The reality is that there are many schools, particularly those with socially advantaged intakes, that will achieve these absolute outcomes but will be coasting, because, given the quality of their intake, they should be achieving much better. There is every possibility that these schools will escape the coasting category, but that schools with disadvantaged pupil intakes, which are doing everything they can to improve the life chances of their pupils, will be subject to yet another accountability measure which names and shames them, but gives them no adequate support. We question whether there is any academic evidence to suggest that three years is a statistically significant period on which to be able to make this judgement.

18. We must return to who will be making the decision that a school is coasting. This should not be left to the RSCs as they have a politically driven agenda which means that the community, parents, pupils and school staff cannot rely on them to provide an objective analysis and determine what is in the best interests of the pupil’s education.

Warning notices

19. Schools must be given the opportunity to improve and time to receive the support that they need to achieve the standards the pupils deserve. When a school is issued with a warning notice by a local authority the local authority can deploy additional resources to target the failings of the school and turn it around. This Bill does nothing to allow for sufficient time to be given for a school to address concerns before being forced into academy status.

20. ATL is concerned that the Bill gives the Secretary of State the authority to override a warning order issued by a local authority and issue one of her/his own. An additional concern is the removal of any appeal procedure or representation mechanism for governing bodies against warning notices issued.

Duty to make academy orders

21. ATL is concerned that the Bill places a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to make an academy order when a school is identified as eligible for intervention. We believe that this is too blunt an instrument and that there must be a process by which the decision to convert a school is not automatic and certainly not taken by a politician remote from the local community with deliberately little consideration of circumstance and need.

Consultation

22. ATL strongly believes that schools are a local community asset. They play a vital role in the community in bringing together families from across the area. It is essential that the voice of the local community is heard when any decision is made on the future of a school.

23. If the Secretary of State finds the current method of the local community ‘obstructive’ then we need to find a better way of ensuring that their voice is heard and listened to. If we want parents to play an active part in their child’s education then they must be involved in decisions being made about their local school. ATL suggests that the Bill is amended to allow for the inclusion of a consultation and appeal process. This process should be consulted on so that all sides have confidence in the process.

24. It is also worrying that the local governance of the school, either the local authority or the governing body, will have no say at all in the sponsor assigned to the school. Under the current provisions of the Bill they must simply agree to the decision made by the RSC and fully cooperate in the process. We must retain an element of local accountability in the academisation process and this can only be achieved if the local authority and governing body are responsible to the parents at the school. Again, ATL urges the Committee to consider amending the Bill so that local accountability remains.

Equalities

25. ATL is concerned that the data on academies shows that they are not as diverse or inclusive as community schools. The latest statistics show that:-

· fewer pupils are eligible for and receive free schools meals in academies than in community schools; [6]

· fewer pupils from the BAME community attend academies than community secondary; [7] and

· fewer pupils in academies have English as a second language, compared with community schools. [8]

26. There remains a duty on local authorities to find a place for all pupils within their area. If the academies refuse to take all pupils or exclude those that are difficult to teach then there will remain just one school within an area which will be where all of these pupils will be forced to attend.

Conclusion

27. This Bill is being rushed through the parliamentary process in undue haste. With the lack of evidence that the academies programme works and improves the education of pupils, there is no justification for this. Previous mass academisation projects following legislation rushed through parliament have being criticised for being costly, lacking any test of value for money and being poorly overseen by government. We have seen academy chains and individual schools challenged for their financial probity and academic record. This Bill must ensure that there are sufficient robust safeguards and mechanisms in place before we hand the remaining community schools over to academy sponsors.

July 2015


[1] Schools Week, Commissioners must convert schools, 19 December 2014

[2] ATL, A new vision for inspection of schools, March 2015

[3] DfE. Measuring the performance of schools within academy chains and local authorities SFR 09/2015, 19 March 2015

[4] NFER and LGA, Analysis of academy school performance in GCSEs 2013, October 2014

[5] Local Schools Network, Morgan targets almost 3,000 schools as "coasting", 29 June 2015

[6] DfE, School Lunch take-up Survey 2013 to 2014, January 2015

[7] DfE, Schools, pupils and their characteristics January 2015, 11 June 2015

[8] Ibid

Prepared 7th July 2015