On 2/12/12 the Public Accounts Committee sat in session taking evidence about the expenditure on the Dfe’s much vaunted Academies program. One of the main supporters and advocates of the Academies and Free School’s policy is Rachel Wolf, previously head of the New Schools Network who gave evidence to the panel. She spoke very succinctly and with great determination about her belief in the program’s mission to raise standards and the comparisons in possible organisational structures to the education system in the United States.
Her evidence can be found here:
Her vision of how the system will evolve over the next few years is clear.
I would expect that in five years, you will have self-creating middle tiers, which are school chains. I think that within five years, there are going to be very few academies, and certainly free schools, across the country that are not in groups of schools
We know the Dfe is planning substantial cuts to its staffing numbers and is currently reorganising internally to best manage the demand, alongside it’s sub-department the Education Funding Agency, of thousands of Academies and Free Schools that no longer report or receive guidance from, a traditional middle tier of bureaucracy such as a Local Authority. Wolf sees monitoring and accountability at this level being replaced by the expansion of Chains or Federations of Academy providers. Currently Academies are run by larger charitable trusts who may oversee education establishments at all Key Stages. Wolf envisages these coagulating into larger chains of establishments who, through competition between brands and the strong threat of closure if baselines are not met, would improve outcomes.
In education circles, her views on how education should structure itself in the UK are well known but it was still gave me a jolt to hear them so soon after the recent Education Committee hearings on Careers IAG for young people.
Let’s imagine that future landscape that Wolf describes and how Careers work would fit into that.
Today’s starting point isn’t perfect. There are a multitude of providers open to students at each transition point of 16 or 18 which help offer choice through competition but this is still diluted through traditional and institutional promotion of the establishment’s own offer in the next key stage. It doesn’t happen 100% of the time but it happens enough that a Secretary of State very adverse to legislating rules for all did just that (with a slight twist of his arm admittedly).
So here’s some things I think would happen in this scenario:
1) Some chains would tie in employers to only working with their schools and colleges and offering exclusive apprenticeship routes for their students. There is already talk of the cash strapped FE sector closely working with specific employers to sponsor colleges. Current UTC’s proudly display their employer links on their promotional material and there is an increasing expectation on FE Colleges to provide clear routes into employment.
2) As a follow on from point 1 – Career guidance and marketing will become more intertwined as, where there are chances to input new student cohorts into the chain establishments, the promotion of employ-ability or HE destination statistics will be key
2) As an overall comparison method though, destination measures as a league table or yardstick measure for secondary schools will become pointless extremely quickly as students will only move from establishment to establishment within the chain. The movement for students between different chain establishments between at each transition point will be minimal (perhaps students moving home etc) as each chain protects its income streams.
3) Competitors who run alternative Sixth Forms or FE Colleges will not be permitted to promote their institution in schools run outside their parent chain. Local Authorities will stand in the background, wringing their hands over the lack of coherence in their area, but will be ultimately powerless. We have a Statutory Duty which is mostly ignored now by small, mostly self-reliant schools. Once they become part of a bigger chain, responsible for funneling a cohort each year into the next establishment to continue the funding, the Careers Duty will become a minor footnote in education policy.
4) Voucher systems might play a part in this. It’s a policy that is probably a long way away in this country but if the child/parents are giving the purchasing power of a voucher led system then the need for each chain (or brand) to be associated with “employ-ability” will accelerate at pace.
Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, Micheal Gove said:
“only last week I was talking to Arne Duncan, the reappointed Secretary for Education in Barack Obama’s Administration, and he outlined to me how important it is that the two of us work together on a reform programme identical in every detail, to ensure that, however well we have done in the past, we do yet better in the future on behalf of all our children”
So, be under no illusion, this is the model that is coming and, without stringent, clear and monitored regulation, there are large difficulties for the world of Careers guidance within that model.