Thursday, 18 December 2014

Abuse of statutory power: Lewisham education department lacks objective evidence for the Sedgehill IEB application


SUMMARY

1.    This blog is a forensic analysis of Sedgehill’s performance against the formal entry conditions for deploying a S60 intervention set out in statutory guidance from the DfE.  I ask whether Lewisham LA are even allowed to use S60 when assessing these entry conditions.

2.    My findings lead me to personally view this action by Lewisham’s head of Education as abuse of a statutory power.

3.    I see no evidence-backed case whatsoever for deploying this S60 IEB intervention against Sedgehill school. 

a.    Not a single one of the six optional entry conditions for S60 set out in statutory guidance from DfE appears to have been met unequivocally, though the guidance is very ambiguous and so open to manipulation (I have attempted to transparently use my interpretation of the DfE guidance).  Two (progress below median, and sudden drop) can be argued as being met, but I argue these fail the ‘reasonable’ test.

b.    Sedgehill does not stand out as an outlier in absolute terms compared to Lewisham peers or national peers

c.    More importantly Sedgehill appears to be performing well when controlling for the very high %FSM cohorts, compared to Lewisham peers and the nonsensical set of 55 national schools used by Ofsted as comparators.

4.    DfE formal guidance refers centrally to “the standards that the pupils might in all the circumstances reasonably be expected to attain;”.  All the circumstances for Sedgehill, in my view, mean that the pupils reasonably are not underperforming so appallingly as to warrant the replacement of the leadership team (high %FSM; high %boys; cohorts who took a bad set back in their early KS4 years under the old leadership team; a radical change in GCSE style and measurement in ‘14)

5.    DfE guidance for s60, and the processes involved, must be made far more testable and fair in order to protect other schools against attempted abuse of power.

CONTEXT
Skip this section and jump to ‘CHECKPOINT’ if you know the story so far.

Lewisham LA wants Sedgehill to do better.  Specifically, they want Sedgehill to do better at getting higher results for kids on free school means (FSM – the educational proxy for ‘disadvantaged’).  The main criticism is that these kids are ‘too far’ behind the non-FSM cohort. 

Sedgehill also wants Sedgehill to do better.  It has been doing better for several years, both against its own results and against the flat improvement trajectories of other Lewisham schools.  But it started in a really bad place before the current leadership team joined, and so had a long road to travel.  An autumn 2013 Ofsted inspection revealed that the leadership and behaviour was rated as ‘good’, but that the school needed to get better at maths and needed better results overall still.  No one disagrees with that, and the school thinks it has a compelling plan in place to achieve it.
Lewisham local authority this autumn ’14 decided that the school was not improving fast enough for their liking, and they expressed a vote of no confidence in the likelihood of the school improving fast as a result of recent enhancements to the  school improvement strategy.  Lewisham decided they had a better idea than the school’s governing body’s own idea.  They have a view that to accelerate Sedgehill’s improvement, they should remove the entire governing body and head teacher (the ones who have already turned the school around from a total car crash), turn it into a sponsored academy, accountable directly to DfE (financially and in terms of results and improvement – i.e. ‘off lewisham’s books’) and they have picked a celebrated Academy and Head Mark Keary at Bethnal Green to be the sponsoring academy.  Basically, completely rebuild the school’s governance and leadership team mid-way through the academic year.  No, I’m not kidding – Lewisham honestly say that this will be good for the pupils, rapidly and sustainably.

Lewisham asked the school what they thought of that idea, and the school researched it in great detail including visits, but decided their own idea would deliver more improvement, faster, and also not cause massive disruption to existing pupils.  The school also noted that the current GCSE cohort (the first cohort not to have started school life under the old sedgehill leadership team) is already on track for a barnstorming 65% A*-C(inc english and maths), thanks to the existing team’s improvement plan execution.  They basically said “we’re not broken so there’s no need to fix us thank you”.
For details on why the school formally thinks Lewisham’s idea is not fit for purpose, see http://www.sedgehill-lewisham.co.uk/uploads/document/Consultation_response_on_establishing_an_IEB_at_Sedgehill_school.pdf .  See my previous post on how Lewisham has still refused to reply to the obvious challenge that the mid-year smash-and-rebuild will do more harm than good and so not meet the objective of rapid sustainable improvement ( http://uk-youthviolence.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/lewisham-la-still-dodging-central.html ).
The very next day after the school refused to comply with Lewisham’s preferred idea, Lewisham deployed a ‘section 60’ intervention as set out in the DfE’s guidance for ‘schools causing concern’, which DfE published in May 2014 (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/schools-causing-concern--2).  It transpires Lewisham’s head of education in fact threatened this action if the school did not agree to her idea for the school to be torn up and rebuilt mid-year (as an academy).  I’ll leave you with the question – should a statutory improvement power be wielded as a threat, or merely implemented when judged it is fair and proportionate to the circumstances?

CHECKPOINT
Okay well done for getting this far.  We’ve seen that Lewisham have deployed a drastic power, ostensibly to secure rapid improvement.  And we’ve seen that the school thinks it has a compelling improvement plan in place that is set to deliver record GCSE results this summer, after which no local authority could dare or succeed to deploy a crisis improvement power.
So now let’s look at that power in detail to see whether the power is being used in the way that it was intended.  It may be relevant to note that four years ago, the same Lewisham head of education attempted to force through an academy conversion at the same school Sedgehill, but was blocked by the governing body and was not very happy at all with that outcome. 

Abuse of power?
I would personally (I stress this is my own view, not one I’ve tried out on other parents or the governing body) consider it to be an overt abuse of statutory power if a head of education at a local authority were to deploy the power without unequivocally meeting the usage entry conditions for that power

So let’s look at the formal S60 entry conditions.

Here’s where it gets tricky so go grab a coffee.  The DfE’s official guidance on using this drastic power is so appallingly ambiguous and subjective that I feel the guidance should be torn up and rebuilt mid year!  But hey it was published and so it is gospel.  To help you see the fluff, I’ve put in red font every phrase/word that needs further definition in order to be fully fair and objective. 

For example, if you were to receive a performance objective at work, would you be happy with something like “your work must be better than an unacceptably low level – it must be equal to or better than what is expected”?  That would mean your boss has undisputable say so that you can’t challenge – all she has to say is she expected your work to be better, and then she can sack you in line with her published objective.  Ridiculous right?  No-one would get away with that?  OK here’s the DfE guidance:

A warning notice may be given by a local authority in one of three circumstances:
1. the standards of performance of pupils at the school are unacceptably low and are likely to remain so unless the authority exercise their powers under Part 4 of the 2006 Act; or,

2. there has been a serious breakdown in the way the school is managed or governed which is prejudicing, or likely to prejudice, such standards of performance; or,

3. the safety of pupils or staff at the school is threatened (whether by a breakdown of discipline or otherwise).

The definition of what constitutes “low standards of performance” is set out in section 60(3) of the 2006 Act. This is where they are low by reference to any one or more of the following:
I. the standards that the pupils might in all the circumstances reasonably be expected to attain; or,
II. where relevant, the standards previously attained by them; or,
III. the standards attained by pupils at comparable schools.
For the purpose of this guidance, “unacceptably low standards of performance” includes: standards below the floor, on either attainment or progress of pupils; low standards achieved by disadvantage pupils; a sudden drop in performance; sustained historical underperformance; performance of pupils (including disadvantaged pupils) unacceptably low in relation to expected achievement or prior attainment; or performance of a school not meeting the expected standards of comparable schools.;

Not one of these terms is defined in the DfE document, which I think is a shocking state of affairs. 

So is Sedgehill’s performance “unacceptably low”?
Firstly, it's impossible to say because the DfE's conditions are unmeasurable.  I’m going to look past the disgracefully unclear entry conditions that are wide open to abuse (for now… DfE I’m looking at you!).  So let’s attempt to assess the school against each poorly defined, ambiguous and intrinsically subjective entry condition in turn:

1.    “standards below the floor on either attainment or progress”.    NO (attainment) YES (progress – but this measure would put half of britain’s schools under S60 intervention)

a.    Attainment: The floor for ’13 and ’14 results was set at “40% of pupils achieve five or more GCSEs at grade A*-C”.  Sedgehill got 53% in ’13 and 44% in ’14 (with 65% projected for ’15).  So Sedgehill are above the floor.

b.    Progress: the rules the DfE have set in their ‘floor’ definition (http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/performance/fs_13/index.html ) are that a school has to beat the median score for %pupils making ‘expected progress’.  I don’t have these figures but suspect sedgehill will be below the median score – and by this definition (median) exactly half of all schools in Britain will also be below the floor – I don’t think this an ‘acceptable’ justification for deploying a S60 intervention!!

2.    “low standards achieved by disadvantage pupils”.  NO - TBC

a.    I have no idea how to assess this as ‘low’ isn’t defined.  Sedgehill’s FSM cohort performed worse than the rest, yes, but that is a national rock solid correlation – see DfE website “Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are far less likely to get good GCSE results. Attainment statistics published in January 2014 show that in 2013 37.9% of pupils who qualified for free school meals got 5 GCSEs, including English and mathematics at A* to C, compared with 64.6% of pupils who do not qualify.”  I think that Sedgehill has beaten that 37.9% score for its FSM cohort, but can’t confirm yet. 

3.    a sudden drop in performance;” YES, but NO:  Sedgehill saw a big drop in ’14: 44% down from 53%, but DfE and Ofsted have advised LAs not to use the drop in ’14 as evidence for any action, because of changes in how the measures were calculated, and changes in the exam styles.  There was a ~7% points drop seen nationally.  And I understand this was a specifically difficult cohort who started school under the old leadership team and had a very bad start to KS4.

4.    sustained historical underperformance;” NO

a.    There’s no definition for ‘underperformance’ so I’ll assume they mean the ‘floor’ again.  In ’11,’12, ’13 and ’14 Sedgehill was above the floor for GCSE results.  That is sustained not-underperformance.

5.    “performance of pupils (including disadvantaged pupils) unacceptably low in relation to expected achievement or prior attainment” IGNORE

a.    I have no idea what is unacceptable, nor what is expected, nor what is performance.  So this measure is basically illegal because it is unquantifiable.  Also, see (2) above.

6.    “performance of a school not meeting the expected standards of comparable schools”: NO

a.    I’ve no idea what is ‘expected’.  We could pretend it’s the ‘floor’ thing again.  And now probably the most crucial bit – which schools should we compare Sedgehill against?  What is ‘comparable’?  Well, let’s look at the two attributes that really matter, because those attributes are indisputably linked with educational attainment nationally:

·   %FSM (remember national GCSE stats are 37.9% FSM make the grades vs 64.6% non-FSM)


b.    So, I think it would be fair to compare Sedgehill against schools with a similar %FSM cohort and %boys.  I’d also suggest an urban setting and size of school.  Sadly I don’t have time or data for this task.  But I have looked at the set of 55 schools used as official comparators on the Ofsted ‘dashboard’ (see http://uk-youthviolence.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/sedgehill-ofsted-performs-unfair.html ) and I find it a grossly unfair comparison – but even by that silly group Sedgehill is doing better than many schools with an FSM share of 20-50% - sedgehill was at 54% for that year compared. 

I saw the same trend for the small group of Lewisham schools – Sedgehill is not an outlier. 

So I think Sedgehill is not in any way a dramatic outlier or underperformer when compared with similar or even less challenging FSM schools.  On the boys thing, Sedgehill has had an unusually high %boys, which again will mean it is unsafe to compare too directly against schools with far more girls who perform better, and it will tend to make Sedgehill results look worse than they are, taking this into account.
 
SUMMARY

6.    I see no evidence-backed case for deploying this S60 IEB intervention against Sedgehill school. 

a.    Not a single one of the six optional entry conditions for S60 set out in statutory guidance from DfE appears to have been met unequivocally, though the guidance is very ambiguous and so open to manipulation (I have attempted to transparently use my interpretation of the DfE guidance).  Two (progress below median, and sudden drop) can be argued as being met, but I argue these fail the ‘reasonable’ test.

b.    Sedgehill does not stand out as an outlier in absolute terms compared to Lewisham peers or national peers

c.    More importantly Sedgehill appears to be performing well when controlling for the very high %FSM cohorts, compared to Lewisham peers and the nonsensical set of 55 national schools used by Ofsted as comparators.

7.    DfE formal guidance refers centrally to “the standards that the pupils might in all the circumstances reasonably be expected to attain;”.  All the circumstances for Sedgehill in my view mean that the pupils are not underperforming so appallingly as to warrant the replacement of the leadership team (high %FSM; high %boys; cohorts who took a bad set back in their early KS4 years under the old leadership team; a radical change in GCSE style and measurement in ‘14)

8.    I therefore personally view this action by Lewisham’s head of Education as abuse of a statutory power.  I also think it is inappropriate behaviour to wield this power as a threat.

9.    DfE guidance for S60, and the processes involved, must be made far more testable and fair in order to protect other schools against attempted abuse of power.

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