Khadeem Duncan-Banerjee: School reform. Why we need more and better multi-academy trusts.

14 Feb

Khadeem Duncan-Banerjee is Founding CEO of Amadeus Learning Partnership and a Board Director at Nene Education Trust (NET).

The Department for Education has released the latest Consolidated Annual Report and Accounts for the Academies sector in England. One of the significant risks to the Academies policy sighted in the report is “a risk of there being an insufficient number of high-quality sponsors and MATs (multi-academy trusts) available, in the right geographical areas, to support underperforming LA (local authority) schools, and to take on underperforming academies that are transferred from their previous trusts”.

I believe this risk is going to increase greatly as we continue to see an astonishing number of schools across the country dropping two or even three Ofsted inspection grades under the new education inspection framework.

Combine this with growing issues about headteacher recruitment and retention, the effects of Covid-19 and the need for many MATs to focus on improving the challenging schools they already have in their flock, and you have something of a perfect storm.

The department has tried to mitigate these risks. The report draws our attention to credible interventions such as the Trust Capacity Fund (TCaF), encouraging more good and outstanding schools to become sponsors (though the reality is many of these schools may not be Outstanding for much longer), and providing leadership and development for MAT Leaders.

I feel however that in order to find solutions for the future, it would be wise to review and learn from successes in our past; and to consider how we can render these to help solve challenges coming over the horizon.

Pre-2010, Sponsored Academies were a major policy of the Blair Government. A successor to City Technology Colleges (CTCs), they were first established in 2002 to transform education outcomes for schools in areas of high disadvantage with historic underperformance.

As alluded to in the name, these schools were sponsored by a range of individuals and organisations including philanthropists, businesses, charities, education foundations, independent schools, universities, etc. There was a requirement for the sponsor to commit up to £2 million towards their project, but this was waived in 2009 to encourage more potential sponsors to come forward. Schools could either be sponsored individually or in groups (then known as ‘academy federations’). Many of our strongest and most successful Multi-Academy Trusts began their journey in this way including ARK, Harris Federation, Dixons Academies Trust, United Learning and many others.

The expertise and support brought to the table by sponsors, combined with excellent academy leadership and governance, resulted in incredible improvements in school standards, educational attainment and proved to be very popular with parents.

Sponsors helped to drive innovation, and developed a culture and ethos of high aspiration and achievement which permeated every aspect of the school and its community. Sponsored Academies also had subject specialisms, which enabled greater opportunity for them to work with their sponsoring individual/organisation to develop a highly unique and industr- led curriculum that could be underpinned with real investment in facilities and opportunities for learners.

Considering performance data from this era, a DfE publication in 2007 concluded that “the proportion of pupils getting five good GCSEs including English and Maths in [Sponsored] Academies rose by 6.2 percentage points in one year – six times the national improvement rate” and “the proportion of pupils in [Sponsored] Academies getting five or more good GCSE passes has doubled, compared to their predecessor schools five years ago (an increase from 21 per cent to 42 per cent)”.

report from the National Audit Office in the same year found Sponsored Academies admitted “higher proportions of deprived children than live in their immediate area, and nonetheless are improving at a faster rate than schools nationally”; that Sponsored Academies were “popular with parents and staff”, and that “taking account of both pupils’ personal circumstances and prior attainment, on average, [Sponsored] Academies are improving performance at GCSE and national tests substantially better than other schools”.

The programme had its challenges. Progress was not always uniformly seen across the board, and some schools took longer to improve than they perhaps should have done, considering the investment and resources they were in receipt of.

However, on balance this policy was a major success, and was further expanded and developed by the Coalition Government in 2010 under Michael Gove.

So what can we learn and how can we use it to support our efforts in the future? My recommendations to policy makers are that they should explore how we can utilise the expertise, innovation, ambition and potential opportunity for investment from such sponsors as philanthropists, businesses, charities, education foundations, independent schools, universities, etc to establish new multi-academy trusts that can turnround schools in challenging circumstances that have suffered from historic underperformance.

This should be done through sponsors working with local highly successful educationalists to form new MATs which, through their leadership personnel and governance arrangements, can demonstrate to the department how it will ensure the transformation of the schools within the trust.

A sponsor could also identify an already established strong school or Academy Trust to work with that can bring school improvement capacity to support transformation. Either way, I believe that looking beyond our sector to work collaboratively with credible individuals and organisations that want to give back to their communities, improve social mobility and help shape the workforce of the future can only be a good thing in our mission to transform the life chances of every child and young person in our country.

Peter Chadlington: It’s time to make gambling safer and protect the vulnerable

7 Nov

Lord Chadlington is a businessman.

The recent tragic revelations about Sir David Tang underscores that gambling does not respect age, economic circumstance, or social status. Any incipient addictive behaviour can become uncontrollable but, unlike alcohol or drug misuse, gambling is often a secret, lonely addiction which can be pursued online with just a smartphone for company.

Secret, that is, until the gambling gets out of control. As Public Health England (PHE) recently reported, gambling often results in bankruptcy, family breakdown, higher mortality and, all too often, suicide – particularly amongst young people. PHE also reports that gambling harm costs £1.27 billion every year, adding further to the overwhelming weight of evidence that the eagerly anticipated Government review is urgent and must be far reaching in its proposed actions.

We have had enough talk about this subject. It really is time for action. Besides the recent PHE report, we have reports from the National Audit Office; the invaluable reviews of the APPG on Gambling Related Harm which have led to important steps in legislation, particularly over minimum stakes in FOBT’s; several select committee reports – not least the excellent report from the House of Lords Select Committee; and powerful media campaigns led by the Daily Mail.

There is also increasing evidence from elsewhere in the world – particularly Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, and in the relaxation of regulation in some states in the USA.

Simple desk research points to at least five key action points which will determine whether the Government review is a real step in addressing a national health problem which has been allowed to fester far too long.

First, the gambling companies must be responsible for funding the necessary change. There should be no demands on the public purse. Personally, I am quite content with a voluntary agreed levy – somewhere between one per cent and three per cent of gross gambling yield (GGY) – but failure of all the licensed gambling companies voluntarily to contribute must lead to legislation.

Second, good law must be based on solid research conducted independently of the gambling industry which must have no hand in its priorities, its subject matter, or its execution. We need independent longitudinal research and prevalence surveys as soon as possible.

But we also need specific work on such subjects as the link between gaming and gambling, the effects of gaming on children and whether this could lead to addictive gambling in later life. This work should be commissioned and reviewed by an independent body. As a Trustee of Action against Gambling Harms, I can confirm that many research organisations will not work in this industry unless the funding is “clean” and distanced from the industry itself.

Third, we need an end to gambling promotion – including all advertising – on and offline. This normalisation of gambling is insidious. When tobacco advertising and promotion was severely curtailed in 1965, many in the media and sport – remember the Benson and Hedges Cricket Cup? – believed that the financial impact on their businesses would be catastrophic.

But they soon found new ways to generate revenues. The gambling industry spends billions on advertising and promotion, so their research must show that these vast budgets encourage punters to spend more and more money? If not, why do they spend the money? And if the gambling companies are really interested in the wellbeing of the nation, why don’t they share their research on a strictly confidential basis with the Government?

Fourth, we need education in schools alongside the sensible programmes which help children and young people recognise the dangers of tobacco, smoking, drugs, and alcohol misuse. Gambling is certainly as big an issue amongst the young as any one of these other addictive activities.

Fifth, there will always be those who, despite best efforts, find they cannot beat the gambling habit. Only around three per cent of people with a gambling disorder seek treatment. Now that gambling is in the NHS long-term plan, we will, within a couple of years, have 15 clinics countrywide. Eighteen per cent of those in the UK with alcohol dependency issues are in treatment. We should set ourselves at least the same target for gambling dependency. However, always remember, there are 62,000 children with gambling problems and there is only one Young Peoples Gambling NHS Clinic.

The Government should welcome all these initiatives because they contribute to the levelling up agenda. The PHE report confirms that the biggest gambling problems are outside London and the South East with the highest prevalence in the North East and North West.

I support Peers for Gambling Reform, which is the largest interest group in the House of Lords, formed to see through the recommendations of the Gambling Industry Select Committee, although comments in this article are my own responsibility. I, like Peers for Gambling Reform, am not in favour of banning gambling, but I am in favour of making it safer and protecting the young and vulnerable.

And this is a unique moment – perhaps once in a lifetime – when the Government can act decisively working with the grain of political and public opinion.

David Gauke: If Johnson goes for a Brexit trade deal, as he should, he should also go for a further implementation period.

7 Nov

David Gauke is a former Justice Secretary, and was an independent candidate in South-West Hertfordshire at the recent general election.

It is time to talk about Brexit again.

Understandably, the country’s attention has been focused upon the second wave of Covid-19 and the Government’s response to it. And in the past few days, many of us have welcomed the chance to change the subject and follow every twist and turn of the US Presidential election. But it is all too easy to miss the fact that the next week will be one of the most important in the protracted saga of the UK’s departure from the European Union. Just this afternoon, the Prime Minister is speaking to the President of the EU Commission.

We are so used to deadlines whooshing past with little or no practical consequence, there is a temptation to be complacent about the EU’s position that, for a free trade agreement between the UK and the EU to be ratified in time to take effect by the end of the transitional period, such agreement would need to be concluded by 15 November. After all, the Prime Minister has previously said that talks would need to conclude by 15 October in order to reach a deal and – save for a brief and rather unconvincing walk-out – the parties carried on talking.

This time, however, the difficulty is that we are not dealing with a deadline imposed for political reasons in order to focus the minds. We are now at the stage of running out of time to go through all the practical hurdles to ratify any agreement amongst member states and the European Parliament.

The stand-off remains as it has been for months. The two sides remain some way apart of the level playing field provisions, particularly on state aid, and how any agreement is enforced. In addition, the economically irrelevant issue of fish continues to be contentious.

Progress has been made on many of the technical issues, but on these fundamental points the talks have stalled. Both sides have given some ground, but will have to move further. And the side that is going to have to move the furthest will have to be the UK. If Boris Johnson wants a deal, at the very least he will have to accept something which recent leaders of the Conservative Party would consider to be desirable regardless of the EU implications – a robust and independent state aid regime.

I do not know whether the Prime Minister will decide to go for a deal. As far as I can see, it is not clear that he knows himself. Making decisions is not always a strong point for Johnson, and he made one big difficult decision a few days ago by re-imposing a lockdown. Now he has to make another.

At one level, the decision should be straightforward. The right to waste public money by subsidising loss-making businesses has never been a demand of most Eurosceptics, save for a few Bennites, and was a non-issue in the 2016 referendum campaign. (Johnson has praised the EU on this point.) He went to the country in 2019 promising he had a deal: failing to conclude an FTA looks like a failure of competence and a breach of trust. An already fragile economy will suffer a further blow.

However, it has been reported that the Prime Minister is ‘emotionally drawn’ towards a WTO Brexit. Why might that be? It is possible that he believes that any constraint on decision is an unacceptable suppression of sovereignty, but that suggests a purity of view that would make a free trade agreement with anyone impossible.

The politics and the Prime Minister’s perceptions of his own self-interest may tempt him to turn down a deal. Nigel Farage is relaunching himself (again) and is ready to cry betrayal (again) which will panic plenty of Conservative MPs (again). Johnson will also be aware that he has taken on many of his Parliamentary colleagues over the Government’s response to Covid-19 – he might not want to take on many of the same people on a second issue. And – a point I made back in February  – even a deal will cause economic disruption. If the Prime Minister agrees to a deal in the next few days, he will have to proclaim a triumph, but also explain to businesses that time is running out to prepare for it being much more difficult to trade with the EU.

The evidence that – even with the thin deal we may get – the end of the transition period will damage the economy is growing. On Thursday, the Bank of England pointed out that the UK’s trade and GDP will be adversely affected in the first half of 2021, even with a deal. On Friday, the National Audit Office published a report expressing concerns that UK business will face widespread disruption in 2021 because of failures to prepare for post-Brexit borders. A deal will help because it might provide an opportunity to ease rules in particular circumstances but the fundamental problems remain the same.

The approach of the Government has been to blame businesses for not being prepared. Some businesses may have been complacent about the consequences of the end of the transition period, but they can hardly be blamed when the Government, until relatively recently, has not been able to provide details of our future relationship and presented this moment as an opportunity. It simply is not. At a practical level, leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union only makes it harder to trade with the EU.

The Prime Minister might be tempted to try to escape responsibility for the predicament that he, more than anyone, has got us in. He could collapse the talks, and blame the EU for the consequences that the country will face in January. We saw how Brexiteers rather enjoyed the prospect of the talks collapsing in mid-October. A bitter dispute with the EU which could last for years would be truly thrilling to some. And quite a lot of the public would swallow mendacious claims for the reasons of the negotiations breaking down. In terms of the next few weeks, walking away from the talks might be the easier path to tread.

It would also be grossly irresponsible. In the medium term, it would not be possible for Boris Johnson to escape responsibility for a decision that will have a major impact on many people’s lives and livelihoods. The timing could not be worse with the economy already shrinking and businesses restricted in what they can do because of Covid restrictions for at least four of last nine weeks until the transition period ends.

If the Prime Minister wants a soft landing for Brexit, he will need to make concessions, but he needs to do more. Time has run out to prepare properly for 31 December. Even at this late stage, he should ensure that his deal has a further implementation period of another 12 months. A combination of Covid and the Government’s failure to prepare the nation for the realities of Brexit means that ending the transition period at the end of the year will cause even greater problems than necessary. A responsible Prime Minister should seek to prevent that from happening. He should get a deal that gives everyone time to implement it.

Tim Ambler: How to replace quangos

8 Oct

Tim Ambler is a writer, academic and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute.

Westminster governments have for years festooned themselves with public bodies, collectively barnacles on the ship of state. This summer, Michael Gove said, in a much touted speech: “we surely know the machinery of government is no longer equal to the challenges of today.”

The Public Administration Select Committee and the National Audit Office have also complained of the lack of any clear taxonomy of these “arm’s length bodies” (ALBs) and their excess number. To govern well, the Government needs to strip itself of quangos and other bodies that are not part of governing at all.

Over 30 years ago, Robin Ibbs created executive agencies to provide government departments with specialist units to deliver policies. Crucially, their performance should be measured against pre-defined quantified targets and reported annually. They are essentially part of governing.

Other ALBs include quangos – both independent and not independent of government at the same time.  Whitehall and ministers are confused by which ALBs are truly part of the executive and which are independent.

Ofqual, for example, is an independent regulator and the Secretary of State should not have overruled its judgement.  Public Health England, however, is an executive agency and Matt Hancock was wrong to claim he did not have direct control.

The NHS is, technically, a quango and that is clearly nonsense. If being part of the government is more important, they should be “executive agencies”; if being independent is more important, they should be accountable to another branch of state.

Government, or the “executive”, is only one branch of the state – the others of note here being the legislature and judiciary. Democratic accountability derives from Parliament, our elected representatives; the executive is only democratic to the extent that it is accountable to Parliament.

The word “independent” needs clarification in this context. Individuals and quoted companies are independent of government, but still have to do what the Government tells them to do.  Governments govern.

In the case of ALBs, it means managerial independence. Government sets their objectives: what they should achieve, but not how to do so. When Gordon Brown famously gave the Bank of England its independence in 1997, the Chancellor set the objectives (the target rate of inflation), but not how they should be achieved; the setting of interest rates moved from the Treasury to the Bank itself. The BBC’s objectives are laid down in its charter, and the funding, as with all ALBs, is a matter for the government, but the BBC itself has managerial independence.  All ALBs falling into this category are “public corporations”.

The Cabinet Office lists 16 “non-ministerial departments” and 185 quangos. In a report released by the Adam Smith Institute today, I propose reclassification as either executive agencies, or as public corporations answerable to a branch of the state other than the executive, merger with another body or its parent department, privatisation, or closure.

Regulators and ombudsmen are also supposed to be fully independent of the executive and should therefore, like the National Audit Office, be answerable to the first branch of the state, namely Parliament. Furthermore, economic regulators were only created to transition their markets from state monopoly to competition and then depart. Ombudsman bodies should take over this function as part of continuing to ensure fair play for consumers. Tribunals should be part of the third branch of the state, namely the judiciary.

This leaves a fourth category: national assets such as parks and museums, which are neither governing us, and therefore should not be part of the executive, nor do they fit into the judiciary.

The legislature is not geared to supervise each one of these bodies. A clear taxonomy for all public bodies demands a further branch of state to supervise these public corporations, here termed “Guardians”. These would be answerable to Parliament, and therefore be democratically accountable.

Commons’ Select Committees already approve the appointment of the chiefs of major ALBs, although some consider they make rather feeble use of that authority. Ideally, both the Government and select committees should agree appointments.  The logic of this paper is that the Government should have the casting vote in the case of executive agencies, and select committees in the case of public corporations and other bodies reporting directly to Parliament.

Executives should focus on governing – no easy task. The current Government is considering how it should be streamlined to do so most effectively. This paper, and especially the proposed taxonomy, is a contribution to that discussion. While savings are not the objective of the exercise, we estimate that streamlining the quango state could mean nearly 34,000 people off the taxpayer payroll, and a saving of £3.25 billion a year.

As a result of abolishing all quangos, we are left with the following taxonomy: four branches of the state – Parliament, Government/executive, Judiciary and Guardians, the last three all reporting to Parliament.

In this paper’s analysis, the first group would be 30 (NAO, Ombudsmen and Inspectorates) and the existing 24 Ministerial Departments would remain with 69 executive agencies. 34 tribunal and court services would be added to the Judiciary and the Guardians would supervise 86 public corporations.

This taxonomy clarifies the role of each public body and removes those that should not be part of government. The public have been clear for years that the quango has got to go, today then comes an idea that delivers that and a more accountable system. A more slender and nimble government meets Gove’s call for better government too.