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Robin Alexander, head of the Cambridge Primary Review and prominent British educator, learned that the conservative Education Minister wants to bring a US charter leader to run the British school inspectorate, called Ofsted. He was not happy. He knows what corporate reform is, and he doesn’t want their leaders in Britain.
“A check on the touted names makes it clear that the search is less about talent than ideology. The reputation of every US candidate in which the Secretary of State is said to be interested rests on their messianic zeal for the universalisation of charter schools (the US model for England’s academies), against public schools (the equivalent of our LA-maintained schools), and against the teaching unions. This, then, is the mission that the government wants the new Chief Inspector to serve.
“Too bad that the majority of England’s primary schools are not, or not yet, academies. Too bad that Ofsted, according to its website, is supposed to be ‘independent and impartial’; and that Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills is required to report to Parliament, not to the political party in power; and that he/she must do so without fear or favour, judging the performance of all schools, whether maintained or academies, not by their legal status or political allegiance but by the standards they achieve and the way they are run. Too bad that on the question of the relative efficacy of academies and maintained schools the jury is still out, though Ofsted reports that while some truly outstanding schools are academies, many are not. And too bad that the teaching unions are legally-constituted organisations that every teacher has a right to join and that, by the way, they have an excellent track record in assembling reliable evidence on what works and what does not.
“When we consider the paragons across the pond who are reportedly being considered or wooed in Morgan’s search for Michael Wilshaw’s successor, mere ideology descends into dangerous folly. One of them runs a charter school chain in which the brutal treatment of young children in the name of standards has been captured on a video that has gone viral. Another leads a business, recently sold by the Murdoch empire (yes, he’s there too), that having failed to generate profits in digital education is now trying to make money from core curriculum and testing. A third is the union-bashing founder of a charter school chain that has received millions of dollars from right-wing foundations and individuals but whose dubious classroom practices have been exposed not just as morally unacceptable but, in terms of standards, educationally ineffective. A fourth, yet again a charter chain leader, has published a proselytising set text for the chain’s teachers tagged ‘the Bible of pedagogy for no-excuses charter schools’ that, according to critics, makes teaching uniform, shallow, simplistic and test-obsessed. Finally, the most prominent member of the group has been feted by American and British politicians alike for ostensibly turning round one of America’s biggest urban school systems by closing schools in the teeth of parental protest, imposing a narrow curriculum and high stakes tests, and making teacher tenure dependent on student scores; yet after eight years, fewer than a quarter of the system’s students have reached the ‘expected standard’ in literacy and numeracy.
“As head of Ofsted, every one of these would be a disaster. As for the US charter school movement for which such heroic individuals serve as models and cheerleaders, we would do well to pay less attention to ministerial hype and more to the evidence. In England we are familiar with occasional tales of financial irregularity and faltering accountability, and of DfE using Ofsted inspections to bludgeon academy-light communities into submission. But this is as nothing compared with the widely-documented American experience of lies, fraud, corruption, rigged student enrolment, random teacher hiring and firing and student misery in some US school districts and charters, all of which is generating growing parental and community opposition. Witness the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools and this week’s nationwide ‘walk-in’ in defence of public education. Yet the culture that American parents, teachers, children and communities are combining to resist is the one the UK government wishes, through Ofsted, to impose. Ministers believe in homework: have they done their own?”