Apr 2008 18

Ed Balls, the Children and Schools Minister, announced yesterday that head teachers from successful grammar and faith schools will be ‘encouraged’ to take a more active role in the management of failing schools. This ‘encouragement’ will come in the form of new system of ‘rewards and incentives’, with the potential for some of these ‘super-heads’ to earn over £200,000 a year.

The logic behind many political decisions is often confounding, but this must rank as one of the most depressing examples. It also confirms the suspicions that Ed Balls is a dangerously inadequate Secretary of State.

Needless to say, the unwritten law of public sector pay dictates that once the bar is raised in this way, the pay of all will steadily rise. But what is more important, and more worrying, is that presented with the fact that grammar and faith schools do better than other state schools, Mr Balls has chosen not to consider why this really is – the fact that such schools represent the most independent part of the state education system – but to focus instead on ‘rewards and incentives’ for 500 individuals.

There is no question that successful head teachers offer a valuable resource, and their experiences and methods should be shared.  But luring them into more active involvement in the administration of failing schools is not the answer to the UK’s education problems. The reason why these head teachers are able to be successful is that they run those schools that are most free from the obsessive meddling of both central and local government – grammar and faith schools. These head teachers are the nearest thing the state sector gets to genuine ‘head-teachers’, to a chief executive of a school, rather than an embattled bureaucrat struggling to implement the endless stream of government initiatives.

The sub-text of Mr Ball’s announcement is that there is a shortage of decent head-teachers. In this he is right. But simply relying on stretching the few successful ones we do have over multiple schools side-steps the real and pressing issues that cripple the education system.  Head-teachers need more independence, not more money, and the governments’ refusal to accept this ensures a continued sub-standard education for thousands of children. 


  • Hardeep_Singh

    I must agree, Ed Balls really is one the most depressing examples of political spin and showmanship over substance. He’s clearly a master graduate from the Blair school of management, what a shame.
    What’s even more disillusioning is the fact they give him these critical roles which to him are nothing more than rungs of the political ladder yet to those he treads upon it’s a pivotal feature of these childrens’ lives.
    New Labour have little if any idea about governance and this merely illustrates that the point further. Money is the easiest answer they can find and it also plays well to the ears and minds of the electorate. Unfortunately as we’ve seen countless times in the last decade huge maounts of money don’t guarantee anything not even the minimal level of service and/or delivery. Therefore I cannot see why more money on an already rotting system would help in any way.
    I concur that political independence for headmasters, schools and quite frankly numerous other public servicees is desperately needed. Why on earth do government feel they know better than experienced professionals? Would the government start telling generals how to shoot a rifle? Well the way Labour are going I’m not even 100% sure about that! Politicians being relatively unremarkable shoudl confine their affairs to the more strategic movements of the country and not be so embedded in the micro level management of everything from what sandwich we eat for lunch to the car we drive.
    If this political class so was great they wouldn’t be able to hang around in politics too long before being lured into the private sector. Unfortunately they lack significant skills and at best can only go onto PR companies for more shady goings on.
    Ed, you havent’ addressed anything with regards to education and you’re not fooling anyone. The issue of grade inflation with ‘no marking’ systems designed to artificially pass as many people as possible along with rampant gang culture demonstrate your ineptitude. The lack of respect that decays so many schools and spills over into these children’s home life is another difficult yet vital issue you could address but sadly we’d have more luck with Jade Goodie heading that task force!
    Why don’t you go back to the treasury and figure out ways in which raid people’s hard earned private pensions.

  • Perry

    Excellent note. Such good sense.
    And how like a politico of limited, nay, narrow vision, to confuse autonomy with the ‘ . . obsessive meddling . . . ‘ of state control.

  • LevBronstein

    “But what is more important, and more worrying, is that presented with the fact that grammar and faith schools do better than other state schools, Mr Balls has chosen not to consider why this really is – the fact that such schools represent the most independent part of the state education system.”
    This is far too simplistic an argument. The main reason selective schools do better is that they necessarily select pupils who have the most educational cultural capital and therefore, due to sociological correlations, those with parents with the most financial capital, to help nurture their child’s education materially at home in all number of ways. You simply need to look at the general demographic of pupils at selective schools to see this.
    Independence may well be a good thing, but it was the Tories who abolished LEA’s setting the curricula (and introduced a National Curriculum) and essentially centralised the running of state schools in the first instance. The Union’s are calling for greater independence in the sense of managing schools so that they respond to local needs of all parents, teachers and children – but for the benefit of everyone, not just an elite as the TPA would endorse.

  • Hardeep_Singh

    I don’t any call for de-centralisation can be attributed to that much bounded keyword “elite”, far from it. What it does do is give schools, parents and pupils the breathing space to get on with education. Why can’t all state schools be as good as these independents? That’s the real question and one which this government (after more than decade) has failed to answer, that by the way is a child’s entire schooling timespan.
    Further it’s not the parent’s fault for living in a certain area and it’s not their fault for sacrificing much in order to provide their children with the best education and start in life.

  • fiona plymouth

    The problem about schooling is that private schools are misunderstood, they benefit from being able to get rid of teachers and of pupils who affect progress. My experience of private schools is that they do have dross pupils ( poorly educated parents /dysfunctional families / rebellious and badly behaved ) and they can not always select …. they need money. They also have some dreadful teachers ….. neither of these last long they are removed. When problems like maternity leave threaten to upset GCSE classes then great care is taken. My daughter had three teachers team teaching her English GCSE year ( private school ). It worked. Why does the state sector fail ?…. schools too large, powerless heads, puplis believe there is no sanction to enforce good behaviour … they are quite right. They miss detentions, break school property, insult teachers, with little to deter them. This constant chasing of poor behaviour prevents teaching and learning … the results are evident. Ed Balls has no idea how important it is to prevent minorities from ruining the resources of the many. Grammar schools, faith schools are prized, hard to get to, easy to be removed from because they are oversubsribed, I recall the face on a recalcitrant grammar girl being told …. ” No you do not have a right to remain in this school no matter what and indeed if you continue your behaviour be aware you may find yourself looking for a new school.” She spat out the my- rights- crap and two days later was suspended.