History will mark out the government’s education reforms as one of the most significant periods of change since the introduction of the Butler Act.
Within four years, over half of all secondary schools have been freed from local authority control: the number of secondary Academies has risen from around 350 to over 3,500, while the number of primary schools choosing to convert to Academy status has now overtaken their secondary counterparts.
So far 174 Free Schools have been opened, the vast majority in areas of deprivation where they are turning around the futures of pupils who attend: 75 per cent of these schools have been rated outstanding or good by Ofsted. Another 140 Free Schools are planning to open their doors by the end of the year.
All this has taken place in the face of concerted opposition from the Labour Party, who have sought to jettison the legacy left by Tony Blair and Andrew Adonis’ Academies Programme. ‘Standards not Structures’ has become Tristram Hunt’s familiar rallying cry: it’s all very familiar of circa 1996, and perhaps unsurprising that Hunt, an unashamed Blairite, should decide to take a page out of the New Labour copybook.
Yet even Tony Blair admits now that “this was fine as a piece of rhetoric; and positively beneficial as a piece of politics. Unfortunately, as I began to realise when experience started to shape our thinking, it was a bunkum as a piece of policy. The whole point is that structures beget standards. How service is configured affects outcomes.”
Already there are signs that the expansion of Academies is driving a change in standards: in particular a return to the study of core subjects such as the sciences and modern languages. 84 per cent of pupils study science in converter academies compared to 80 per cent of pupils in Local Authority schools; 55 per cent took a modern languages GCSE, compared with 48 per cent in local authority schools.
But it is another change, quietly introduced without fanfare, that I believe will be recognised as one of the most effective policies that has helped to transform the educational offer that a pupil is given. Back in 2010, the number of pupils taking the core subjects of English, Maths, the sciences, a modern language and history or geography at GCSE had fallen to just 22 per cent – down from 50 per cent in 1997. After the requirement to study a modern language had been scrapped in 2003, 170,000 fewer pupils were studying any language after 14.
The introduction of the English Baccalaureate, a measure of performance that includes five of the core subjects mentioned above, has stopped this decline dead in its tracks. Back in 2010, just 22 per cent of all state funded schools were entered for these subjects. Three years on, 35 per cent of all state-school pupils took the EBacc: this equates to 72,000 more pupils taking core subjects.
This year, according to a survey of schools by Ipsos-MORI, the percentage of pupils taking an academic core at GCSE will have risen back to 48 per cent, close to the pre-1997 level. This has meant, for These top-line national figures are extremely welcome, but they fail to recognise the transformational effect that the EBacc has had on schools themselves.
New data that I have obtained from the Department of Education, however, reveals the impact that the EBacc has had on raising standards.
- In 2009/10 over 50 per cent of all schools- 1,554- fewer than 10 per cent of pupils achieved the EBacc. This has now been reduced to 763 schools- over 25 per cent of schools.
The number of schools in which over 50 per cent of pupils achieved the EBacc has risen from 163 to 240, while in 36 per cent of all schools, over 25 per cent of pupils obtain the EBacc, compared to 20 per cent in 2009/10.
These figures demonstrate the silent revolution that the EBacc has effected in schools, reversing the decline in core subjects, and instead placing them at the heart of the curriculum.
There is still much more to do, however the introduction of the EBacc has created a measure that is radically transforming schools’ behaviour, with a dramatic upsurge in the uptake core subjects. The next stage must be to highlight those schools and local authorities where resistance to change remains stubborn.
The EBacc has acted to expose the local variation in performance, a gap that must be closed. It is unacceptable that in some local authority areas, all in London, at least half of pupils entered the EBacc – Wandsworth, Westminster, Barnet, Harrow, Hounslow, Richmond, Sutton and Kingston. In Kingston, Richmond and Sutton, more than 40 per cent of pupils achieved the EBacc.
Compare this with Middlesbrough, Sandwell, Knowsley and Barnsley, where fewer than 20 per cent of pupils entered the EBacc. Sandwell was the only local authority areas where fewer than 9% of pupils achieved the EBacc, while in Tristram Hunt’s own local authority, Stoke on Trent, just 14 per cent of pupils obtained the EBacc.
Any further education reform must not tolerate the current situation of local authorities allowing educational failure to continue under their watch. With the EBacc, we have a measure that will continue the pressure for change, highlighting underperformance and transforming the education of pupils in some of our most deprived areas who, let down by their local authorities, deserve better.