Thursday 28 February 2019

Draft #2 A middle man is a middle man is a middle man...

Academies. Built on promises, promises which ultimately concluded with: promises of a better education system for the UK. Promises of better schools. Promises of “No more failing schools”! No more mediocre!  But what is really happening behind the closed doors of our local ‘Academised’ Community Colleges and Schools? 

Since 2000 and the coalition government, the goal was to replace underperforming and ‘failing’ schools by giving them more autonomy. What this meant was that school leaders were given a wad of cash to distribute how they saw fit... however, unlike the previously LA supported schools, they would have to generate income year on year, much like a business.

Parents were invited to welcome in the new age of academies. In deprived and desperate areas of the UK, the Government gave a golden carrot to Head teachers and gave them the power to be free from the Local Authority's (LA) ball and chain.  Some official lines were: “Academies, operating in England, are publicly funded independent schools... Academies benefit from greater freedoms to help innovate and raise standards" and "These include freedom from local authority control, the ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff, freedom around the delivery of the curriculum and the ability to change the lengths of terms and school days” (1). 

Freedom equals innovation. 
Freedom equals greater success.

The LAs, it was implied, are failing the school system, letting down our children by inadequate support and by wasting tax payers money. It was stressed that by giving Headteachers of Academies more power, over pay, conditions and curriculum, children would do better in school. Quite how this would work - the mechanics of the scheme - were (and still are) a grey area.

However, freedom also equals responsibility.
Freedom from Government support.
Freedom from local authority support.
And so, LA support teams were at risk of losing their jobs. And they did. Subsequently, the LA ‘businesses’ became privatized and some staff saved their jobs. Others moved onto pastures new.

This left Academies having to pay separately, from their wad of cash, for the ‘newly privatized’ support systems. This included important external provisions like educational psychologists, educational welfare officers, caterers and so on. 

Hang on. Companies bought and privatized LA provisions? Yes. Those local authority provisions that were judged 'inadequate' and failures to schools were bought up by private firms. Who saw that coming? Not me. 

But Babcock, for example, did. Babcock is a private firm which as well as education services also specialises in Nuclear warfare, with a finger in the pie of NHS privatization and the privatization of National Rail. According to their own website,, “Babcock International is a multinational corporation headquartered in the United Kingdom. It specialises in managing complex assets and infrastructure. Although the company has civil contracts, its main business is with public bodies, particularly the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence and Network Rail.”

The company invested in ‘buying up’ LA services (which were deemed corrupt and failing) and then charge schools for a private service. These services, which would have previously fallen under the LA remit and would not have cost the schools more than an annual subscription, suddenly became expensive extras they can’t always stretch to. 

It’s kind of like paying your taxes and having access to an annual subscription to a medicine you need and then being told that they’ve stopped that deal. That your taxes no longer include that medicine. Then they say they’re going to give you a lump sum of money, to help (which by the way also has to be used for other people’s medicine). But that each month’s subscription is going to cost you three times as much... it doesn’t take a maths specialist to work out that the lump sum is quickly going to run out and that you’re going to have to make difficult decisions about whether to buy the medicine (which you need) and/or who to buy it for. So it’s kind of like that but also not at all like that. Because I could also just be describing what is happening in the NHS, couldn’t I?

Anyway, after underperforming Academies were not improving in this scheme, in 2010 the Government encouraged schools that had been rated Outstanding to become academies themselves. Then they could ‘buddy up’ with local underperforming academies to form Mutli-Academy Trusts (MATs). Suddenly the status of Academies rose - there were, for once, Outstanding Academies... not achieved quite the way we were sold it, but achieved by signing up more schools that already held an Outstanding OFSTED rosette.

Under the MAT (multi-acadmy trust) initiative, a group of schools - or rather their governors - appoints a CEO (usually a previous Headteacher) who oversees all the schools, as well as all of the Head teachers and subsequent staff and students. What they actually do is beside the point. And what they actually earn, according to Sir David Carter (ex-south was regional CEO) is “good value for money”.

Suddenly that wad of cash provided to the Academy, by the Government, has been used up by paying for another level of management, putting schools into a deeper deficit - which is further exacerbated by cuts to Government spending in schools (in real terms). I won’t go into this right now - I am sure you’ve seen the headlines?

What about those promises? To “innovate and raise standards”? 

The truth is, despite the introduction of CEOs, MAT coordination between schools (which actually already happened and was managed by the LAs) and pie in the sky aim to reduce poorly performing schools, the education system is struggling. Really struggling.
You may have seen the BBC program ‘School’? If you didn’t, I’d recommend you watch some of it for a flavor of the system as it stands today. Maybe you read the recent Guardian article (other newspapers are available) about a Stockport school's Headteacher and Governors finding no other choice but to close early every Friday? This is as well making HUGE cuts to vital school services. (2)

These highly paid CEOs are not radicalizing education or driving up results and performance. Head teachers are forced to make cuts, but where? From experience and anecdotes and reports like the one above, it is the lower end, the ‘under achievers’ and the special education sector, post-16 and extra-curricular that are hardest hit. A national attempt to keep schools at the top of the league tables mean Headteachers are unwilling to let their results slip and so high performers, higher previous attainers and in particular, closing the gap between girls and boys, are the main foci.

This is not the reality of the Academy dream, I am certain. Or at least I am hopeful.
When the coalition Government chose this course for our community colleges and schools I am sure they didn’t imagine that Academies would fail. The really shocking thing, for me at least and I am sure for others, is that they are lying about the value and progress of Academies. Through the freedom of information act you can access the results of academies. You can also read some concerns about it in a bbc article from 2016 here:

The findings from a recent report by the Education Policy Institute are very interesting and are based on evidence. It was led by independent investigators and experienced educators - see page 2 for their impressive roles and responsibilities (3). “Our evidence points to an initial (and significant) improvement in GCSE scores in the year prior to and after becoming a sponsored academy. However, we cannot attribute this trend to anything that may have been implemented by the academy sponsor – as it, in part, occurred before academisation. It may however be a result of the incentives generated by the academisation policy, which the government may well argue is a success in itself. Alternatively, it could be that these schools were improving in any case (perhaps as a result of competitive pressures or other interventions targeting schools likely to be subject to ‘forced’ sponsored academy conversion), and so the fact that they became academies is not relevant. Further analysis is required to try and establish whether there is a direct, causal impact of a school becoming a sponsored academy on attainment.“

A new White Paper proposal, laid out in 29th April 2016 version, read: “The White Paper proposes that local authorities would no longer maintain schools, and an all academy system would be created. The proposed system would include:
  • Most schools becoming part of multi-academy trusts (MATs);
  • A reformed role for local authorities, focusing on duties such as ensuring sufficiency of school places, supporting vulnerable pupils, and acting as a champion for parents;
  • A new legal framework for an all academy system.”
When under discussion in the House of Commons, Government officials raised their concerns that seem to have been silenced over the years: “The proposals have proved highly controversial.  In particular, questions have been raised about the desirability of such large-scale reforms in the context of other challenges, the impact on local democracy and teachers’ pay and condition of an all academy system, and whether sufficient MAT capacity can be created to provide a high quality academised system.  The question of whether academy status is in itself a boost to school standards has also been a key focus of the debate.”
One more thing to consider. If Academies are the education system for the future - to bring UK education in line with the most successful in the world: essentially the use of MATs has been awarded the golden globe of education (despite no evidence of a positive impact) - then why have the Government needed to set up the The Regional School Commissioners?

What’s The RSC? I’ll let explain: “the commissioners are part of the government’s middle tier of accountability for academies, brought in last September and tasked with tackling underperformance and boosting the number of academy sponsors... In December, in a written answer to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, the DfE’s permanent secretary Chris Wormald gave the estimated running costs for the RSCs and their offices for the first year as £4.5 million.”

A middle man is a middle man is a middle man is a middle man.

Goodbye education funding.

Goodbye promises.

Sunday 24 February 2019

The Digital Age in the Anthropozoic era

The Digital Age in the Anthropozoic era

Through our TV screens, cinema, magazines and newspapers, in Science, environmental news and photographs from space, or even just walking along the main road of a city or town you know well, there is proof enough that we are - and that humans have and always will be - having a huge and often detrimental effect on the natural world.

In the late 1800s a phrase was born: Anthropocene. Italian geologist Stoppani reportedly coined it in an acknowledgement that humans were increasingly having an influence on the ‘Earth’s systems’. This is called the Anthropozoic era: ‘the current geological age defined by human activity having the greatest impact on the climate and environment.’ What can we define as the greatest impact?

In 2014 The Guardian published an article showing satellite images of a dried up Aral Sea Basin as a side effect of over production of cotton due to demand. In the article, Transy Hoskins blames “The fashion industry” as being “linked to the environmental devastation in the Central Asian inland sea” ( But there’s no smoke without fire - consumers as well as producers all need to take a long hard look in the mirror and accept responsibility for the damaging effects fashion greed is having on our world. Much of this I have discussed in a previous blog post ( Fortunately, there are people and movements making a change: opting for up-cycled fashion, second hand fashion and reusing material rather than producing new.

David Attenborough has taken to the stage to hammer home the message about protecting the natural world - ok, rather than hammer he sort of gently serenades us with a soft, sad soliloquy. The serene but serious tone of Attenborough is being relied on. As the token spokesman he has been called in to relay to the general and generally adoring public (who doesn’t love and respect Attenborough?) that humankind is destroying the earth and it’s ecosystems. Wiping out entire ecosystems without even noticing, he once stated matter-of-factly in an interview with Prince William. The most pertinent message was delivered in Blue Planet II, watched by millions; it was credited with highlighting the issue of plastic pollution and pushing it up the political agenda. 
Conversely, critics of Attenborough claim that those documentaries dodge the more fundamental problems, like industrial fishing and overconsumption. One such critic, George Monbiot - a commentator who is also admired and whose work is acclaimed by many - states, “By downplaying our environmental crisis, the presenter’s BBC films have generated complacency, confusion and ignorance.” He even goes so far as accusing “Attenborough’s environmentalism [of having a] coherent theme, it is shifting the blame” (David Attenborough has betrayed the living world he loves, The Guardian online 7 Nov 2018).

Can you blame a person for trying? According to Monbiot (who was, since 1985, working in the department that has made most of Attenborough’s programmes), you can. By shifting the blame.

Attenborough, scientists abundant and activists are all reaching out to the public and politicians to listen and act. They reach out through TV programs, the internet, social media. But how does the digital world and the new digital age play a part in this Anthropocene? 

Marshall McLuhan famously cited that all media are now ‘bodily extensions’ due to the increasing use of media as central to human life. Media theory has taken a ‘mediality’: it now exists as the place in the middle of or in between all things. When you consider this in a practical sense, about where and when you rely on media, it’s hard to disprove this theory. The innovation, interaction and immersive world that the digital age has to offer its users promises of a future of development, rapid change and virtual reality. There is an illusion of control, power and progress. But what does this all mean, in Attenborough’s reality?

At the cost of rainforests, poisoning water ways and plastic waste, we can now celebrate Healthcare which has improved dramatically.  As a direct result of digital developments, it promises up to 75% of developed nations having digitalized records and more autonomy over heir health care and access to treatment in the near future. However, according to, “Reaching the most disadvantaged and truly transforming their circumstances requires a significant shift in mindset.” In terms of business, technology is seen to be advancing not only corporate purpose, but smart-automation (as well as killing jobs, its creating them and changing the skill sets employers are looking for) and “Global wealth”, which “has increased since the beginning of industrialization in the early 19th century” ( 
Consider the use of the internet - the old, beep beep beep routers and modems are gathering dust, relics of a not-to-distant past. You can now access infinite possibilities from the flick of a finger, a tap of a tablet and from the comfort of your phone, which conveniently fits in your pocket. Who’d have imagined that in post-World War 1946? The first computer - catchily named ENIAC and measuring a humble 1800 square feet - is a far cry from the adept, sleek and shiny handsets we have today. For a more comprehensive list of the changes in IT development I recommend you read this:

With most people having access to the internet and immeasurable mounds of information, are we able to deal with this information correctly? Are we ready for having the world at our finger tips? And what does it mean for the world?

Proust explored the idea of reading. We are not predetermined, genetically, to read. We are predisposed to have and acquire language. We are genetically programmed to be able to and to want to communicate, orally or otherwise. But to read we have to be taught. Maryanne Wolf, in her book ‘Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain’ (2008) offers an idea about how and why the brain works or doesn’t work when we try to learn to read. 
In chapter one, she describes her thoughts about the “Google universe” that her children, and increasingly all of humanity’s children, are growing up in: “Will the constructive component at the heart of reading begin to change and potentially atrophy as we shift to computer-presented text, in which massive amounts of information appear instantaneously?” She also wonders whether the old and the new can exist harmoniously side by side, “can we preserve the constructive dimension of reading in our children alongside their growing abilities to perform multiple tasks and to integrate ever expanding amounts of information?”  Interestingly, she poses ideas about why the dyslexic brain may be better suited to a futuristic world of technology - as designers, creative thinkers and visually strong people, they could flourish in a computerized multi-modal world.

So what does the technological future hold for humanity? We can read widely and delve into the ether as much as we want and as far as we like, or dare to go... but the only way we will truly know the answer to this is to live the life we choose and the life that has been chosen for use by our predecessors - the inventors and the surrealists, the artists and scientists, the teachers and students. And if, in the meantime, we can use our technological advancements to reduce the impact of humanity on the climate and environment, I am all for it. Otherwise we’ll need to coin a name for a post-geological world defined by humanity’s destruction of the Earth’s systems.

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