It may have been half-term, but this week has been surprisingly lively on the education news front.
Thursday saw the publication of a major report on free schools by the Sutton Trust and the National Foundation for Educational Research, which concluded that the schools have so far failed to live up to the programme’s original vision.
Cast your mind back to 2010, when the Conservatives were bidding to return to government under David Cameron.
Free schools were integral to his vision of the ‘Big Society’ – building communities where citizens had ownership and control over their local services.
The schools were supposed to be parent-led institutions and incubators for educational innovation.
However, Thursday’s report found that only one-in-five free schools had parents involved in its inception, and that only one-third of the schools have demonstrated a novel approach.
The findings follow a Tes investigation last month, which revealed that the number of parent-led free schools has been in decline for each of the past six years, to the point where none opened in 2017-18.
Idiot guides for schools?
Elsewhere, Ofsted chiefs past and present grabbed headlines this week. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the former boss of the inspectorate, said that schools reliant on supply staff should receive an “idiot’s guide” to ensure teachers “can’t go wrong”.
He said this was needed because the battle to recruit enough permanent teachers had been lost. “The teacher-shortage issue is not going to go away…we’re never going to have enough teachers,” he explained.
Many people thought that Sir Michael’s replacement, Amanda Spielman, would be a more low-key chief inspector, but she has confounded this expectation.
Earlier in the week, appearing at the Hay Festival in conversation with Tes editor Ann Mroz, Ms Spielman said that Ofsted was currently unable to carry out “full scrutiny” on many of its visits and that it was “pretty tough” for it to do its job on a “shrinking budget”.
After last week’s critical report from the National Audit Office, many people will see that as a veiled bid for extra funding.
'External scrutiny' unwelcome
This week, Tes also revealed that the Department for Education is refusing to say which steps it has taken to ensure that the minister who oversees academies avoids conflicts of interest with the academy trust at which he remains a trustee.
The DfE said it could not release information about the arrangements to prevent Lord Agnew becoming involved in conflicts of interest with the Norfolk-based Inspiration Trust, which he founded in 2012, because it “may invite external scrutiny, which would distract from the effective operation of his office”.
Lastly, Friday saw the publication by the government of key stage 1 tests in English reading, English Spag and maths. If you want to consult them, you can find the materials here.