How to Outsource UK State Schools effectively

Last week, I reblogged a Guardian article entitled “Teachers in England to strike over pay and pensions”. In my reblog, I asked the following open question:

Should the UK Government start outsourcing public education to improve quality and secure better value-for-money?

John Gelmini argued that before considering outsourcing there was a case for urgent and radical reform. I rebogged John Gelmini’s article entitled “Twenty ways to avoid outsourcing of Public Education in the UK“.

Regular readers will know that this blog has consistently questioned both the severity and effectiveness of reform from David Cameron’s Government; so whilst, I broadly agree with the broad thrust of John Gelmini’s argument, I do not believe that David Cameron’s Government has the stomach to deliver the reforms proposed by John Gelmini.

Where does this leave us?

Well, I believe that at the margin, there is a case for outsourcing to the private sector, or partially outsourcing, elements of public education in the UK. Let me illustrate the point referring to state schools in England & Wales.

Firstly, I need to share my political bias.  Most critically, I lean towards Libertarian, rather than authoritarian. Simply, when the state cannot delivery effectively, I believe there is a case for dismantling the state delivery system. I am not questioning state funding of state schools (which is another issue), I am questioning the effectiveness of state delivery of state schools.

Let me use the Wikipedia definition of UK state schools to pick up some key themes in England and Wales to develop my argument:

Let me try to target where I see the weaknesses in UK State Schools.

Firstly, I believe that the National Curriculum has been a huge failure, and bureaucratic monster. Originally designed to help parents with objective criteria to compare schools, it has failed to provide minimum levels of educational attainment in English and Maths across the UK. I would favor dismantling the National Curriculum, as an immediate alternative, schools should have greater freedom in adopting the National Curriculum, like the example of Academies.

Secondly, I believe that Local Authorities have been spectacularly ineffective in managing effectively state schools. These schools technically called  “maintained schools” make up the majority of the Government budget. Key features are too much bureaucracy and teachers’ unions with too much power; the result is that the UK is ranked 44th in the international league table.

So what would outsourcing look like? Well, I am not proposing a new division for major outsourcers like Capita. I am actually proposing a radical switch to  Academies and the dismantling of the maintained schools managed by the Local Authorities.

The key features of Academies are (source Wikipedia):

  • Academies are established in a way that is intended to be “creative” and “innovative” in order to give them the freedoms considered necessary to deal with the long-term issues they are intended to solve.
  • Each academy has a private sponsor who can be an individual (such as Sir David Garrard, who sponsors Business Academy Bexley) or an organisation (such as the United Learning Trust or Amey plc).
  • These sponsors are intended to bring “qualities of success” to academies, again to help them change the long-term trend of failure in the schools they replace (known as predecessor schools).
  • In return for an investment of 10% of the academy’s capital costs (up to a maximum of £2m), the sponsor is able to influence the process of establishing the school, including its curriculumethos, specialism and building (if a new one is being built).
  • The Department of Education has recently become more flexible about the requirement for this financial investment in a move to encourage successful existing schools and charities to become sponsors.
  • The sponsor also has the power to appoint governors to the academy’s governing body.
  • Academies typically replace one or more existing schools, but some are newly established.
  • The remainder of the capital and running costs are met by the state in the usual way for UK state schools through grants funded by the local authority.
  • Academies are expected to follow a broad and balanced curriculum but with a particular focus on one or more areas with current specialisms include science; arts; business and enterprise; computing; engineering; maths and computing; modern foreign languages; performing arts; sport; and technology.
  • Academies can select up to 10% of pupils by aptitude for the school’s specialism in a way similar to specialist schools.
  • Although academies are required to follow the national curriculum in the core subjects of maths, English and science, they are otherwise free to innovate, although they still participate in the same Key Stage 3 and GCSE exams as other English schools (which effectively means they teach a curriculum very similar to maintained schools, with small variations).
  • In terms of their governance, academies are established as companies limited by guarantee with a governing body that acts as a Trust.
  • The governors also act as the Trust’s Board of Directors (they are legally, but not financially, accountable for the operation of the academy).
  • The Trust serves as the legal entity which the school is part of, and the governing body oversees the running of the school (although the day to day management of the school is, as in most schools, conducted by the principal and their senior management team, who are appointed by the sponsor).


Here are some practical suggestions to pave the way forward:

  • Every year, close the worse performing schools; target the bottom quartile of the Local Authority “managed schools”.
  • Provide enormous fiscal incentives to promote Academies
  • Dismantle the National Curriculum
  • Encourage strongly qualified teachers from overseas
  • Fire consistently under-performing teachers, and withdraw their license to teach in the UK

Any thoughts?

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8 responses

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  6. Dr Alf makes good points about removing schools from local authority control because it is because of the collective failure of local authorities and what passes for the teaching profession, that we are now 44th in the world in terms of State education.

    Looking more deeply into this failure, we see a number of common characteristics:

    –Boys from traditional working class backgrounds, the so-called C1s,C2s, Ds and Es, doing much worse than girls and leaving school with few or no qualifications of any kind

    –Lack of discipline within the school to the point where teachers can be abused, injured or attacked and a teacher who defends themselves robustly or tries to physically restrain the errant pupil will be sacked

    –Disruptive pupils being allowed back into the school after multiple incidents of appalling behaviour and imposed on schools which wanted to expel them, by the local authority

    –Examinations deliberately dumbed down to the point where a trained Armadillo could pass them

    –“Everybody must win prizes and be a winner” pushed as a concept so that children’s feelings are not hurt.

    This obscures the fact that real life has winners and losers which means that that child is not ready for work, life, future study or citizenship

    –Too many female teachers and not enough strong role models that boys, particularly boys without fathers or absent fathers, can relate to

    –Unfit and lazy pupils who are effectively couch potatoes at home through hours of communicating on Facebook and playing computer games like Angry Birds, Splinter Cell and World of Warcraft

    –Nutritionally deficient and poorly cooked school meals rendering pupils unable to study or concentrate properly

    –A growing underclass of pupils with feckless parents who send pupils to school without food (breakfast), claim poverty and then expect the school or the teacher to feed their offspring.
    Where this does not happen pupils often fall asleep in class

    –Over large classes in schools in areas of high deprivation thus causing the teacher pupil ratio to be out of kilter so that the underperforming pupils fall further and further behind

    –Large numbers of pupils from different ethnic backgrounds whose primary language is not English,flooding into schools in areas where immigration is out of control.

    In one Peterborough school which had previously been closed and then reopened by the City Council, 189 languages are spoken other than English

    –Money which should be spent on schools wasted my profligate local authorities with overpaid and mendacious Chief Executives on pet projects,non jobs, junketing and waste

    –Trendy teaching methods involving “differentiation”,”wow factor” and even using pupils as part of the teacher selection process with the power to refuse appointments to prospective teachers whose lessons are regarded as boring

    In this regard, whole class teaching of the kind practiced in all the 43 competitor countries with better education systems at State level than ours, has been abandoned

    –120,000 dysfunctional families turning out children who are disruptive,lacking in proper food, parental love, parental guidance (the parents are incapable of providing it) or any concept of right and

    Neither the Government, the media nor local authorities is prepared to look at this problem and the effect that the presence of such disruptive pupils has on the educational prospects of other pupils who have the misfortune to have to be in the same lessons

    –Head Teachers concealing bad behaviour from OFTED Inspectors by placing disruptive pupils into pupil referral units and other places for the duration of the OFSTED inspection thus massaging out of existence bad behaviour, because OFSTED Inspectors are there only to assess classroom teaching,pupil attainment,lesson planning and the like

    –Disruptive and abusive parents verbally and physically abusing teachers who then leave the profession on the grounds of stress

    –Using classroom assistants and teachers not qualified in the subjects being taught to teach subjects that they often know nothing about

    This is done to save money but in the end costs money in dole, results in NEETS (ex pupils not in employment, education or training)

    –Poor teacher quality with at least 20,000 incompetent teachers still on school payrolls
    In addition to these problems there are the social problems of:

    –Too many illigitimate births (1 in 5),the highest in Western Europe

    –Too much divorce–The highest in Western Europe

    –Pupils with mothers who have a series of “fathers” and “Uncle John’s” who do not care for the child, sometimes engage in violence and physical abuse against the mother and the pupil and are not known to local authority social services,thus falling outside the scope of the 120,000 dysfunctional families who are known about

    –Drug taking and substance abuse by pupils

    –Schooldays too short to cover what pupils need to learn

    –Philosophy and language teaching in relevant ,export friendly languages not taught enough

    –Parents going on holiday during term time due to their fixation with holidaymaking and the pricing policies of travel companies

    –The teaching profession and head teachers all trying to pretend that they are doing a great job and that the solution is to give them even more money for what they like to call “excellent teaching practice”

    The National Curriculum which Dr Alf mentions was brought in to ensure that everyone was taught
    to a minimum standard at a time when no-one really knew the extent of what was being taught.
    He would like to scrap it whereas my approach would be to broaden it, improve it and then extend the school-day to a minimum of 8 hours plus 2 hours of compulsory homework plus Saturday schools and much less holiday for everyone until we catch up economically and educationally,with our major competitors.

    Outsourcing the management of the school to external providers, outsourcing the building of the school, grounds maintenance, cleaning, procurement/supply chain is fine but at present our State Schools are failing to deliver the basics, so we need an improved and extended National Curriculum and a clear-out and wholesale replacement of trendy and incompetent teachers and heads.

    Dr Alf’s more liberal approach will work in places like Sweden, Finland and Denmark which are well run countries with educated and very polite populations who have better wealth equality than we do.
    In the UK, whilst I would prefer a more liberal, gentlemanly approach it is clear to me that we are so uncompetitive as a country and that these problems are so dire, that direct and ruthless action is needed immediately to turn things around and ensure that we do not fall further behind.

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