Thursday, 18 December 2014

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


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.

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 .  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 ( ).
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 (  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?

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 ( ) 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 ) 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.

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.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Sedgehill... Ofsted performs unfair comparison that ignores a key factor: %FSM

Ofsted offers a summary view for every school. Sedgehill can be seen here .  It is a concise report that shows some of the key measures for the school.  But crucially it also adds a comparison to a list of so called ‘similar schools’. The list is here
I found that Sedgehill has been compared against a list of 55 schools that I don’t find to be similar in one very important respect: % Free school meals.  It also includes two GIRLS SCHOOLS and two GRAMMAR SCHOOLS who unsurprisingly have good results and so skew the data.  But I trimmed those ridiculous four out to look at the rest and see where we sit.
I decided to go through the data, build my own spreadsheet and plot %A*-C(inc English&Maths) against %FSM.  This was all for the summer 2013 GCSE results.

What I found was:
  1. (this is already well known) there is a very clear trend/correlation between exam results and %FSM in the set of schools Ofsted compared us against.  Lower %FSM, higher exam results (note the concentrated cluster to the far top left), and vice versa. There are some notable exceptions: once the %FSM goes much above 50ish, the results seem to go up!  As if these schools are free to develop a FSM-centric strategy that helps get the best out of the kids maybe?  But crucially, the vast majority of  the 20%-50% FSM set of schools underperform relative to the trendline for the whole set.
  2. Sedgehill had 54% FSM for the ’13 exam cohort.  I’ve put that in a green ring so you can see. You can see that out of the 55 ‘similar’ schools, only FIVE of this comparison set had higher %FSM than us!  What Ofsted have scandalously done is compare us to schools that have almost all got a much lower level of deprivation:
    • 23 of the supposedly 'similar' schools had FSM 20% or below!  That’s almost half the comparison set.
    • 12 had FSM 12% or below – these are ‘wealthy’ schools that bear no comparison to ours whatsoever.
That, I think is a deeply flawed methodology, considering it is well known what the link is (to quote the 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.”
So, by comparing apples with pears, they make Sedgehill look like underperformers.  Whereas if you look at my chart you see that:
  • Sedgehill was actually bang on the GCSE results trend line compared to the other schools in the set, meaning that once you take into account the high %FSM we have, we were doing as well as most schools.  We were not by this measure underperforming at all.  We were not, however, performing highly either, and that is an aspiration that I’m sure we all share – we want to be above that red line in the set of schools who do very well despite their high %FSM cohort.
  • Sedgehill was in fact doing better than most of the schools with %FSM in the 20-50% range – you can see them clustered well under the red line. That means we outperform a lot schools who are less disadvantaged than us!
Why am I boring you with this geekery?  It's just more evidence for my central point: Lewisham is acting on a groundless case.  The Lewisham education department has launched a 'section 60' intervention against Sedgehill, and based it on an allegation of 'unacceptably poor performance'.  But as Martin Powell-Davies has shown Sedgehill was one of Lewisham's most improving schools during the last few years.  And now I've shown that compared to a set of schools around the country Sedgehill is actually doing unusually well considering the extremely high % of kids eligible for Free School Meals.  (It would be interesting to repeat this FSM/GCSE comparison for just Lewisham schools).
As far as I can tell, Lewisham has launched this section 60 intervention without any justifiable basis in facts.  I actually think that this is bordering on wrongdoing: 
  • They are using 2014 GCSE data as the centerpiece of their argument, when the Dept for Education expressly said that '14 data cannot be directly compared to previous years.  This point alone should ring dodgy alarm bells!
  • They are ignoring the 2013 Ofsted findings of good leadership
  • They are ignoring the great A level results delivered by the same leadership and teaching team
  • They are ignoring the informed views of parents and children and teachers
  • They are ignoring their own Borough stats that show Sedgehill as one of the strongest/only improvers in Lewisham
  • They are ignoring the effect that the high %FSM has on attainment*
  • They are ignoring the amazing results forecast for 2015 - 65%
  • They are ignoring the detrimental effect that will come from the disruption if an IEB is imposed on a school that does not support it.
  • They are ignoring the offers of increased partnership activities with the existing challenge partners
*Some of you may be thinking "yes BUT isn't the whole point that we need to get better results from disadvantaged kids?" Well yes of course that's a point.  But all I'm focused on at the moment is that Lewisham have singled out a school that is not performing anywhere near badly enough to warrant the use of this extreme intervention. 

And, crucially, there's no sign that Sedgehill are heading that way either.  If they were, as a parent of a year 7 just started there, do you think I would be supporting the current leadership team??  It's time for Lewisham to come to the table and look at a compromise way of working TOGETHER to make further improvements.  Share in the success story.  There's no shame in changing your minds, if your priority is the wellbeing of Lewisham children.

[update after publishing.  It seems Ofsted use "pupil level prior attainment data" to group and compare 'similar schools' - see .  That is not 'similar schools'.  It is 'schools whose pupils achieved similar attainment in a different school when they were younger'.  I wonder how many people know this.]

Friday, 12 December 2014

Lewisham LA *still* dodging the central question about Sedgehill school

I've had a reply to my challenge letter shown in the previous post on this blog.  Of my three questions, I'm satisfied that they have at least answered two.  Key points on those:

  • There seems to be no further formal appeals route (though in terms of process they have yet to get permission from the secretary of state to implement the IEB.  I'm sure they've politicked that bit behind the scenes already but the point stands)
  • Lewisham are confident that Ofsted back their view, because it was in fact Ofsted who rejected the governing body's appeal against the warning notice.

However I note that crucially they chose not to answer the most central question I posed: "Why you think the extreme disruption this will inevitably cause will achieve better outcomes for the children."

All parties in both camps agree that improvement is required. That is not in question.   This whole row comes down to two critical differences in opinion:

  1. The school thinks it is on track for rapid, sustainable, improvement, under existing arrangements including a detailed improvement plan already supported by another high performing school.  The LA and Ofsted both think it is not.
  2. The school, its parents and its children (this feels like the more important groups!) believe that on balance the imposition of an IEB, particularly with no support at all from all the key groups, will do far more harm than good in terms of exam results.  They also think it will destroy the roundly applauded ethos and pastoral care that the school is known and loved for.  The LA have refused to reply to this challenge (see the text below)
I'll draw your attention to formal guidance given to (local authority) clerks to governing bodies when applying for permission to implement an IEB  (my emphasis), taken from :

"The LA should be able to demonstrate... that recovery / improvement is more likely as a result of the IEB being established"

There is strong evidence to the contrary.  But so far the LA is silent and must come forward on this point.

Finally, I note with interest one little sentence in today's reply: "The risk that this may lead to intervention by the Department for Education is too great. None of us would want that to happen."  

I do wonder what MS Sulke means by this - I'm trying to think what could be worse than what the LA is already proposing.  But I can imagine how it would be awkward for the LA.  I hope this is not part of their incentive set here.

Text of today's reply:

Dear Mr Mann


Thank you for your e-mail to Frankie Sulke on 10th December 2014.

You ask about our grounds for issuing the warning notice and the appeal process. We served a warning notice under Section 60 of the 2006 Education and Inspections Act on 24 October 2014. We have a duty to do so in a range of circumstances, including where we consider there are unacceptably low standards. This is not disputed by the governing body of the school. They agree that current outcomes are too low, pupils do not make sufficient progress and that the achievements of those pupils for whom the school receives a pupil premium (some 55% currently) are unacceptable.

However the governing body challenged the warning notice, which is their right to do so. Consequently our warning notice was reviewed by Ofsted.

In the course of this review they scrutinised the evidence received from the Chair of the Governing Body and from the Council and also reviewed the most recent inspection reports and published performance data. This then gives us very good insight into Ofsted’s current thinking, which I believe addresses your second question.

This is what Ofsted said in rejecting the appeal against the warning notice: “Improvement has not been consistent, rapid enough or sustained over time. Consequently, this review finds that the scale of issues facing the school is significant and raises concerns with regard to the capacity of the school to raise standards sufficiently and rapidly.

“The grounds for issuing the warning notice are justified and proportionate. The standards of performance of pupils at the school are unacceptably low, and are likely to remain so.”

I do not believe in these circumstances that Ofsted would be happy to wait a bit longer, as you suggest we should do, without further inspection. Rather, it is very likely that the school would have been subject to a 'no notice' inspection by Ofsted. These have recently been introduced for schools which are particularly causing concern on their data. The risk that this may lead to intervention by the Department for Education is too great. None of us would want that to happen.

Neither do I think that armed with this full knowledge, we can or should wait to act. The Council has a duty to all the children and young people who are educated in the borough and we feel very strongly that for the sake of the progress of the pupils attending Sedgehill now and in years to come, decisive action must be taken to address the very real challenges the school faces.


Margaret Anderson

On behalf of Frankie Sulke
Executive Director for Children and Young People

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

My letter to Lewisham concerning their intention to oust Sedgehill school's governing body and head.

Most of the planet will not be aware but there is a growing battle raging around the future of a south London school.  Sedgehill is a large (~1400) community school who achieve amazing results from a cohort which includes kids coming in with below-target achievement out of primary school.  Their sixth form is going from strength to strength.  And crucially they provide Education with a capital E: they produce animated, engaged, confident aspirational citizens who are allowed to develop whichever strength they happened to be born with - even if it isn't always a strength which leads to 5 A*-C (including English and Maths).

In summer 2014 the school's GCSE results dropped considerably, but the drop was the same or less bad than a huge proportion of all schools in Britain, on account of a dramatic change in the style and content of the GCSE papers.  Read this link to get the full story on what the local authority (Lewisham) has decided to do about it, and to form your own view on whether the LA just wants to make a change at Sedgehill and is using this dip in results as an excuse to abuse the powers they have:

In summary, they are using a niche power reserved for a school in collapse (ejecting the governing body and headteacher; imposing an Interim Executive Board; and converting to an academy under Bethnal Green's sponsor academy - all this against the overt will of the GB, the parents and the children and teachers) If you like Twitter search on the #Savesedgehill hashtag to get more context.

I'd simply like to share a letter I just emailed to Frankie Sulke's team (head of Education at Lewisham), after my specific qus were unsatisfactorily replied to with a copy+paste of yesterday's statement from Lewisham (

"Thanks for your response, but I would prefer a rather more personalised response.  Your statement does cover some of my questions, but the following three remain unclear to me.
1. What the appeals process is. I have now learned that the imposition of the IEB was only possible after you issued a ‘warning notice’.  And that the warning notice can only legitimately be issued under certain very specific circumstances. I would like to know what the appeal process is against that specific decision to issue a warning notice, as I fear it has been issued in error/without a defensible evidenced basis.

2. Why you are going beyond the existing framework of ofsted inspections/actions.  In your statement you strangely imply that you know what Ofsted is currently thinking about Sedgehill, and what it might conclude if it visited again. Assuming Ofsted is independent, all you and I can possibly know right now is what was written in the Autumn 2013 report. The parents and governers both think the school is on a safe sustainable trajectory to lasting success. The imposition of an IEB will radically destabilise the whole fabric of the school.  I believe you should back out of this process and leave it to Ofsted and the governing body, but provide the excellent support that your education department is equipped to provide. Furthermore an IEB, by its very definition, is reserved for a collapsing school, where a radical change would be welcomed by the parents and children. Look closely into Sedgehill and you will see that not one of these groups thinks Sedgehill is anything other than a growing success story that simply has not yet come to fruition.  Look at the Ofsted ‘Parent View’ and tell me that it is not abnormally positive compared to even some star schools. 

3. Why you think the extreme disruption this will inevitably cause will achieve better outcomes for the children. Please answer this question.  I foresee guaranteed downside if an IEB and new head are imposed against the will of the parents, governors, teachers and children. In exchange for this guaranteed downside I have no evidence to believe that an IEB and new head will deliver an upside over and above what the current team is already on track to deliver, sustainably. On the other hand, if you leave the current team in place but support it meaningfully rather than combat it, you will get the outcome that you want (improvement in GCSE results and higher uptake)but without probably years of trauma and disruption that will in my opinion lower the achievement of children who have to live through the transition.

I fundamentally believe that whilst you have the best intentions at heart, the solution you are proposing does not stand up to logical scrutiny, has no democratic mandate as it is unsupported by all groups, and will definitely cause far more problems for yourselves than it may solve.

I offer you a challenge.  Come back in September 2015 after this year’s results.  Look at the projections for the cohorts lined up behind them.  Look at the next Ofsted report.  And go from there.  Basically wait a bit longer.  If you are right and the current team fails to deliver on their projections, you will find you have the support you need.  If you are wrong then you can safely disengage and let Sedgehill continue to grow in success.  What is there to lose?
I ask you – why would I be saying all this, as a parent of a year 7 pupil, when I obviously want the absolute best for him?  Unless you also have children at Sedgehill, how can you think your view should override those held by parents?  Parents pay the taxes and give the mandate to Ofsted and the elected local authority to act on our behalf.  If you are acting against all of our wishes then something fundamental has broken down and ultimately will not prevail.
Tom Mann

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A wider compulsory school curriculum?

Here is a copy of the response I posted today to a DfE consultation on the future of 'Personal Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE)'.  This consultation was promised in the Schools White Paper The Importance of Teaching, and the thrust of the DfE view seems to be their well-established preference for localism: giving each School a lot of discretion on what PSHE should contain and how they deliver/assess it.

I support the DfE ambition to improve the quality of PSHE, but I would advocate the opposite approach - I recommend making more of it into compulsory curriculum in order to reduce inequality in life chances amongst young people.

I entered it under the name of my fledgling organisation 'Communities Understanding and Reducing Violence (CURV)'.  This post relates to my views on the key aspects of positive parenting -


‘Supplementary parenting’

Of all the children in the UK, the majority are given a great start in life with access to all the social skills, wide education, insight into the employment market etc. that they need. They get it from their parents, carers and/or extended family.

Of the rest of the relatively disadvantaged child population, a tiny proportion at the far end of the spectrum are so badly abused and neglected that they are discovered by safeguarding agencies, and physically ‘re-parented’ by being taken into care. Existing structured public sector provision currently gives this cohort what they need assuming the care arrangements are of a high standard.

But the proportion children remaining in between those camps are left in the care of adults who are to a greater or lesser extent either not equipped, not available, or not interested in giving their children the grounding and life skills they deserve in order to access genuinely equal opportunities for employment and happiness. This is the cohort that needs the most additional support, education, encouragement from someone other than their parents/carers.

So where do these under-supported children get this ‘supplementary parenting’? In practice they typically just don’t receive it, other than those who are lucky enough to discover/get referred to a good third sector organisation. The only other place they can realistically receive the additional support and learning is in schools, where they will spend about 16,000 hours of their young lives in the direct care of trained adults.

Wider curriculum

So, exactly what do we mean by supplementary parenting, and can/do schools provide it? The ability to read, write, handle numbers and other ‘hard’ subjects is only a small part of a young adult’s education and ability to capitalise on employment opportunities, and yet these are the only parts of the curriculum that are compulsory for schools to teach. In fact, ironically, the missing life skills that these children need are often precisely what causes them to fall behind in even these mandatory subjects.

At CURV we believe that schools should have a compulsory duty to teach a wider curriculum to all their pupils. It is not reasonable to expect schools to attempt to identify a subset of their pupils who need this wider education; indeed were they to do so they would risk criticism for positive discrimination, and could create divisions amongst pupils that would provide more fuel for conflict and bullying. We think that a form of wider education should be made compulsory for all children in all schools, and that a significant investment should be made in developing this curricular topic into a valuable collection of life skills that will fill the vacuum left by ineffective parents.


We think the most obvious structure for this wider curriculum is the existing PSHE banner. Interestingly this already has one compulsory aspect: s3x education, which is a frequent topic on news media pages. Presumably this was intended to meet a narrow goal such as reducing teen pregnancies, but irrespective of its genesis this shows there is precedent for making crucial wider education topics compulsory.

Cost/Benefit considerations

What might the cost impact be – financially or otherwise? And what would the benefit counterfactual be? Our opinion is that the benefits outweigh the costs, and even if it were cost neutral it would be a positive step towards greater equality and social justice in the UK. We recognise that this aspiration for wider compulsory curriculum is at odds with the DfE’s current drive in the opposite direction, seeking to reduce and simplify compulsory education in order to raise standards. However we would nonetheless ask the DfE to consider the arguments set out below.


• If PSHE was more formalised into dedicated lesson time, then this would inevitably have to come out of time currently spent on the hard educational skills – reading, writing, maths etc. In schools who already struggle to make the requisite progress through the various Key Stages, this extra strain could just be the straw that breaks their back.

• Teachers, governors and school leadership teams would have to adapt their training and planning in order to bring this properly into play.

• One could argue that this would attract still more unwanted controversy, the likes of which surrounds s3x education. But we think this is unlikely, given that we’re talking about pretty unremarkable themes like understanding credit cards, coping with difficult emotions, rights and responsibilities, understanding exploitative advertising, and other such entirely positive and impartial topics (see reference list at end).

• There will be resistance to this becoming statutory on the grounds that it is difficult to assess attainment for these topics. Whilst we recognise that this is the case, we do not think this should be a reason to deny children the chance for an equal opportunity in their lives. A workable solution can always be reached with the right incentives in place.


• A strong contribution towards more equal opportunities throughout the child’s adult lives, which works directly towards existing aims around social justice and equality, and directly addresses many of the very issues that are emerging in the aftermath of the disturbances in summer 2011.

• Improved pupil engagement/attendance, thanks to their feeling increasingly like the institution cares for their wellbeing;

• Improved behaviour and relationships in school and outside, as children learn to understand their feelings and develop empathy towards others;

• Improved learning of ‘hard topics’ (that could more than outweigh the lost time), thanks to a stronger mental linkage from the hard skill to a more tangible life outcome (e.g. % for credit), and thanks to improved behaviour in those topic classes;

• A strong contribution toward reducing future harmful occurrences of domestic and public violence (including gang violence) in the child’s older life, which are all core aims of most governments and high on the coalition government’s agenda.

• Increased ‘disclosure’ of safeguarding issues: in discussing emotions and topics like violence or anger, it is common for abused children to present telltale symptoms of their abuse, or to approach the teacher with an anecdote that causes concern. This would work directly towards well embedded aims of reducing harm against children and reducing domestic violence.

• Improved public health including reduced usage of illegal and legal drugs.

• We believe that the ‘lucky 50%’, who would already get some of this wider learning from their home environments, would not be at a disadvantage or excessively bored. They would be able to contribute their own learning into the classroom forum, and they would learn from each other’s particular strengths.


In the spirit of looking at alternatives, one option could be for schools to run free, optional after-school or lunchtime clubs, supported by best practise resource support outlining the suggested curricular coverage. This would allow children or carers to self-select and allow only the most in need children to attend. Again, our concern here is that this could risk having some taboo associations, and also would quite probably not be attended by the most in need children given that they typically suffer from a strong sense of disengagement with institutions including schools. So in practise this could well end up perversely further supporting already advantaged children and exacerbating the problem rather than reducing it.

Note: It’s worth noting that currently there is one category of ‘special educational need’ (SEN) that refers to difficulties in behaviour and handling emotions. Schools are duty-bound to provide specific services to these children, but we do not view this as a substitute for the wider curriculum we advocate. This SEN provision is reactive, and intended primarily to restore a child’s behaviour patterns to within acceptable norms. What we are advocating is a proactive programme of wider education from the outset, of which behavioural expectations/emotional literacy form only one part.

CURV's suggested list of PSHE topics:
1. understanding credit cards and loan companies,

2. exploring interpersonal behaviour norms/parameters in the UK workplace,

3. coping mechanisms for difficult emotions, and understanding the nuances of different emotions

4. knowing rights and responsibilities (e.g. as regards police Stop and Search),

5. understanding exploitative advertising and media – how it works, why it is used, how it can affect our self-esteem and mental health

6. understanding bullying and how to cope with it. Conflict resolution.

7. careers advice that sets out the true spectrum of employment/self employment options

8. understanding criminal disclosure (criminal rehabilitation act 1974) and what it means for employment chances

9. some aspects of citizenship (knowledge of how to engage)

10. understanding different types of relationships and understanding what constitutes abuse or violence

11. Some of the existing health/mental health aspects of today’s PSHE framework, especially usage of legal/illegal drugs, and the importance of sleep and food.

12. How to achieve: incentives and influence as opposed to instruction and dominance. How to organise and plan. Self discipline. Routine.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Useful interview-based report on the psychology of gang violence.

Well done the Home office for daring to actually ASK some incarcerated violent gang criminals what they think, how they see the world, why they are violent, why they were in a gang.  Who gives a damn whether it's right or wrong, what matters is that we UNDERSTAND them.  If you don't know how  machine works, you can't fix it, and if you try, you'll probably break it even worse!  Know thine enemy etc.

For the enlightened, there's nothing surprising in here, but then it's really nice to get backup for your analysis.  I've always wanted to interview prisoners, but the wife won't let me...

Draw your own conclusions for what this means for violence reduction policy, and share this link!

Monday, 25 January 2010

Stop blaming capitalism: look in the mirror and DO something about it.

I feel the need to say something to the people who are angry at the big bad capitalism boogyman, and at his slaves of evil, the (investment) bankers. Some of these people occupy a legit moral highground, but I suspect most are base hypocrites.

For those who like a summary instead of wading through text:
a) capitalism is only successful and prevalent because it best mirrors our human condition – namely that we have a tendency to knowingly let others suffer more - if it means we get to individually suffer less. Us or them. Dog eat dog. Individuals, collectively, *are* capitalism - so *we* are the boogyman.
b) the bankers are only doing what all the greedy consumers (that’s us lot) have rewarded them for doing: helping companies lower prices to the consumers, and increase returns on savings.  The reason they get such massive bonuses is only because there isn't enough competition in their market - because the entry barriers are too high for new competitors.
c) Time vs Money: how our own self-interest, through capitalism, keeps us too busy to do anything except making and spending money.  That's why it's a brilliant mass population control device.
c) Consumer power: how, finally, it is still in our collective power to make a massive difference, legally, without even doing very much - by playing the system at its own rules.

On Capitalism
Capitalism is not a thing with its own mind and an odd shaped body, like the fabled Haggis that roams scottish highlands with legs shorter on one side than the other so its body can stay flat when walking cross-slope.

Shell, the oil company, shafted the Ogoni people of Nigeria (never forget Ken Wiwa snr, and well done jnr). But OOH look Shell petrol was at the time 3p cheaper than BP, so let's not think about that too much. Tesco and Primark (and the rest) exploit Indian child labour for clothes manufacturing. But WOW look how cheap their jeans are, so let's not think about that too much. McDonalds burgers. Nike shoes. Etc etc. Tiny, individual, self-preserving decisions taken by all of us, played out 60 million times every day in the UK. There's your problem: the sum total of all that activity by us individuals IS 'capitalism'.

The 'system' doesn't go off and do bad things all by itself.  We are capitalism. Every time we put price over ethics we are the BEAST.  Every time we buy luxury goods instead of giving to charity we are the BEAST.  Fair trade tea is more expensive than other unfairtrade teas. Do you buy fairtrade tea? If you regularly criticise the ethical impact of capitalism, I hope you do buy fairtrade tea.  Do you check the procurement chain of clothes that seem oddly cheap (Tesco, Primark, etc etc)? 

On Bankers
OK so that's capitalism. Now for the bankers. Let’s have a little look at what an investment banker (IB) does, and for whom, and why. The two main activities I’d like to talk about (simplistically) are :
a) helping companies buy eachother in order for the new merged company to cut costs and prices whilst making more profit; and
b) helping companies raise money for expansion, so they can increase turnover.

If an IB does her job properly, the client's company will become more profitable because INDIVIDUALS will buy their cheaper, more easily accessible, products more than before.  INDIVIDUALS will notice that their FTSE rating is soaring and they will buy shares in that company for a good personal investment such as a pension.  INDIVIDUALS will get better products, for less money, and those lucky enough to have savings will get higher returns.  None of that would have been possible without the hated IBs. 
I am hoping that some of you are starting to feel a bit hypocritical in your loathing of IBs and 'the system' by now.

On Bankers' Bonuses
OK so we understand that they are doing a vital job in the machine that makes us more wealthy as individuals (either by growing our investments or lowering our shopping bills)...but still we feel the need to hate them because they get huge bonuses while children are dying in the third world and people are unemployed in the UK.  Well, I agree it doesn't seem right does it.  Beyond an amount of money, more money seems meaningless, vulgar, unfair.

But here are some balancing thoughts:

a) If a banker gets a £2million bonus, the UK government gets £800,000 in tax. Goody.
b) If a banker employed by an american investment bank gets a £2million bonus, the UK gets £800,000 in tax paid for by another country and possibly 1.2million injected into UK economy!  That's like selling two  million £1 "I love London" t-shirts to tourists (assuming they were made in UK).  Goody.
c) If there were more IBs, there would be more competition, each Investment Bank would make less profit as the market saturated and bonuses would be lower.  But starting an investment bank is a bit harder than opening a nail salon.  You need a LOT of dough up front, you need all the network contacts (time to learn to play golf), and you need some very niche and closely-guarded knowledge.  Taken together this is called 'high entry barriers'.  So if you want them to get lower bonuses: start up an investment bank and undercut their fees.  Oh and you'll get really rich too and of course you will donate ALL your surplus cash to charity right? 

So how much is enough to live on?  Read on:

On Greed and Need
I saw a facebook post once complaining that the current system is based on greed, not need. Umm… that's right! That’s not just the current system - it is what it was founded on, that’s what it has always been based on. You could say that capitalism should just be a mechanism for allowing people to get what they 'need' at the lowest price... but over time a large part of the economy became the provision of what people 'want' (see previous post on socially sustainable capitalism ).

Need is domestos, a roof, food. Want is nintendo DS, £200 trainers not used for sports, sky tv, luxury items like designer watches etc. Inbetween is some hard to defines that are kind of both.  But there is a clear section of the UK GDP accounted for entirely by WANT.  Take my personal 'little problem' with radio controlled flying machines...I think I would not die or be a lot less happy without them - but  I dearly love them, tinkering with them makes me happy.  So that's kind of a need...but really we all know it's a want. 

The self-reinforcing brilliance of today's retail culture is this: the media have convinced us (and we have convinced ourselves) that because we work so very hard all the time, we 'deserve' or 'need' a bunch of things that are blatently 'wants'.  Physical needs are easy to define - but psychological needs are open to manipulation...want can morph into need!  They also convince us how to look.  They consistently sell an image of acceptable appearance, and then sell a product to help us move from our self-hating reality towards that ideal:

So these days we 'need' an expensive hobby to help us 'relax' - because otherwise we will become too stressed by the pace of work... but the only reason we work so hard is to pay for the expensive hobby (that went on the credit card).  We need nice clothes and eye-cream to feel better about ourselves, to boost our self-esteem...but the main reason we feel low is that we live unfulfilling self-centred bean-counting lives...or because our parent(s) didn't give us high self-esteem because they were too busy pleasing themselves and deservedly relaxing after a hard week's work.  We are the system!  And no-one is teaching kids how to spot this manipulation and defend themselves against it psychologically.

Joseph rowntree foundation had a crack at sizing 'need' here (note: these are AFTER TAX and housing is NOT included):  It came out at about £8K for a lone adult - let's say £14K including a £500/month apartment - and £30K for a couple with 2 kids in a £1,000/month house.  So in theory a couple earning more than £50K before tax is fine.  So if a charitably-minded couple earns £100K then they should give £50K per annum to charity in one way or another. No Sky TV.  No anti wrinkle cream.  No happy-hour pissups with old friends.  No holidays to speak of.  No new curtains every year etc etc. 

Where am I going with this?  Well it's the same theme again.  I am trying to get the blowers of hot air, the trumpeteers of anti -capitalism, to recognise the reality of their professed belief system.  Until you drop some of the trimmings of a need-satisfying consumer life and spend it on improving the lot of other people, don't you dare criticise anyone else, nor criticise the system that meets your consumer 'needs'.

On Time vs money: how can we do something about it?
Back in the day we had more time but less money to spend on activities to fill the time. Now we have the money for the activities, but we don’t have the time, because we use it all up earning the money. We used to be soul rich but money poor, now we’re money rich but soul poor.

Consequently, people have less and less time to spend on anyone but themselves and their immediate families (if the families are lucky). Cost of living is so high now (driven up by our own purchasing and speculating, please don’t forget, not by some cloaked enemy) that it is nigh on impossible for a family to live on a sole income (which used to be the norm). And even then childcare is so expensive the average mum spends 95% of her after-tax income on childcare (childcare price driven up by excess demand from not-single-mums queueing up to go back to work and earn extra money for the ‘want’ side of the economy, and by increasing numbers of single mums who have no choice but to work, on the ‘need’ side of the economy).

So when we tell eachother on web forums and in the pubs “we need to DO something, not just talk about it’, the question that springs to mind is “and WHEN will we do this magic activity??”

Lunchbreaks? No, have to meet ex-colleague for burger and wine (want), or the boss won't let you out for lunch. Evenings? No, too tired after working all the hours god sent, and cleaning the dump the kids turned your house into.. Weekends? No, that’s the only chance we get to go to the shops cos we’re at work all week, or that’s when the dedicated parents among us spend time helping shape their kids into responsible healthy and approximately sane citizens for the future.  (Or we're too busy getting smashed at the football game). OK then, let’s work for a charity, or start up a charity!! Hmm, the pay isn’t so good over there, and the job security is dodgy as it depends on competed-for funding... tough to take a paycut.

So WHO can make a difference?  We’re left depending on:
a) non-parents who put others’ needs ahead of their own desires,
b) parents who use their tiny bits of spare time,
c) people who work for, or start up, charities/social enterprises,
d) that group that USED to represent the most politically active group on the planet, STUDENTS. Where have the students gone? Where have Bob Dylan/Marley lyrics gone?  Now we have that prat Burke singing about how she's strangely drawn to bad boys, gee that'll really help.

Capitalism keeps us quiet and dumb
Can it be a coincidence that the era that has seen a massive increase in general wealth levels in the UK has been accompanied by an era with the most political apathy? Capitalism, for a governing body, is the most fantastic construct for limiting civil unrest (as long as the economy is growing…). It means people voluntarily trap themselves, through debt, in such a busy life that they have no time left for protest or political engagement. By getting ourselves in debt to the absolute max, we are left needing to work flat out to service the debt, no time for anything else.  What about those without debt?A wealthy man has got the most to lose and so is the least likely to rock the boat.
So a healthy economy means a quiet, submissive population. By that measure however, those with the least to lose in the UK should be the most politically active. Capitalism's killer flourish has been to silence even the poor by convincing them that if they work harder, smarter, they can earn more in today's meritocratic society.  They are sold a story that there are no limits, no prejudices anymore: nothing to protest against.  You are what you do, life is out there for the taking: just work more hours (and sign up for another 0% credit card).

Consumer power: it's up to us!
That’s right kids, we are lying in a bed that our country has made. I was going to say ‘we all made’ but then I suspect/hope that rather a lot of the readers of this post are the few who are finding time to make a difference, whilst sipping a cup of fairtrade tea... After all why would you be swotting away on political/idealist posts when you could be watching sky tv or polishing your mercedes? As for me, I'm a bit of both. By the time I 'woke up' (despite my parents' warnings) I was knee-deep in debt (but not waist or neck deep mind you). So that limits the amount of 'difference' I can make for now. But I'm working on it.

To quote Michael Jackson - start with the man in the mirror. 
  • Pay more for your clothes if you pity the sweat shop employees,
  • pay extra for free-range meat if you pity the battery hens,
  • pay more for your fairtrade tea. 
  • Research the fuel suppliers and boycott the inferior players. 
  • Pressure your company to improve its diversity profile - or go and work for a better company
And guess what: if we all did that, the ethically unsound would go out of business and so would be forced to raise their game in order to compete.  It really is that simple.  Like chocolate?  Kit-Kat recently went fairtrade: so (assuming you like the things) just buy them instead of other choc bars:

In the grand scheme of things, modern global capitalism is incredibly young.  It makes people fabulously rich but it is incredibly vulnerable and fragile.  In a facebook era, in an era of enlightenment following increased personal financial wellbeing, all that remains is for us to manipulate the capitalist framework in order to achieve our goals.  If we are furious at the European grain mountains while whole nations starve to death, then an entrepreneur needs to find a trade solution that taps into this steep gradient.  We can blow all the hot air into forums that we can manage, but I believe only finding a way to make people rich will provide the fuel to solve large global problems.  Basically, I think we should accept global capitalism as inevitable, and on the large part beneficial to many, whilst working on making it serve more people by redistributing the money from the top of the tree.  Not all of it - the top dogs need fat pay to drive the machine - but just make it work better for more people.

One problem is that mass boycotts fly in the face of consumer choice.  Let's say I could prove that Shell was the most un-ethical and un-green of all the UK petrol suppliers.  Assuming we could spread the word via t'internet, it would require several things:
a) people to fill up elsewhere even if less convenient
b) people to pay more if Shell is cheaper (it isn't)
c) people to get their milk and eggs elsewhere if Shell is the only petrol+supermarket model (it isn't)

It doesn't seem too much to ask.

One of my pie-in-the-sky pipe dreams is to set up a large-scale labelling system/website that informs consumers which brands are the most this or the most that, to suit their 'thing'.  Hot on climate change?  Particular about child labour? Prefer companies who invest profits in charities?  My website would tell you who to buy from.  If it got big, it would actually drive change.  If we all ditched Shell petrol for 2 straight months they'd be badly dented.  One small problem: they might lay off loads of UK staff in redundancies - but in theory they should get work in the other brands as they grow to accomodate the new surge in business.

It won't always be dearer
My closing thought: the bigger the fairtrade market gets, the lower their prices will become.  If we all switched to fairtrade tea, the prices would drop and we wouldn't have to face the hard decisions any more.  The prices are only high because not enough of us buy their products!  Catch 22 that only requires some faith and mass will-power to break.  Want to make a difference?  Go out and shop intelligently (and tell your mates).  Remember - the mass action model is vital: if one or two do it, they will pay more money for their beliefs, and not make a difference...but if we can make a movement, the dream can come alive.