Researchers back Gove school reforms

16 Jan 2012

A landmark study of English secondary schools has backed Government education reforms – but with strong caveats.

The team of education experts from The University of Manchester who carried out the research, say elements of the Education Secretary’s reforms that support greater school autonomy, encourage partnerships and establish national teaching schools are encouraging.

However, without proper regulation of the emerging education market, warn the team, the gains are likely to unravel, putting some children’s prospects on the line.

Without some form of local coordination, they say, poor attainment and attendance among some groups, segregation of some ethnic minority students, and difficulties in teacher recruitment in schools facing challenging circumstances are all likely to continue.

The researchers were unusually embedded in 14 secondary schools over five years, working alongside teachers to identify and implement changes to improve the chances of those pupils who miss out, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The findings are published by Routledge in a new book, ‘Developing Equitable Education Systems’.

Co-author Professor Mel Ainscow from The University of Manchester said: “There have been consistent improvements in our national education system over recent years, but too many children still miss out.  It is clear that Michael Gove recognises this and is making it a priority.

“In the schools in our study we noticed how impressive the staff’s commitment was to this same agenda.

 “Even in the most challenging schools, we found capable people who wanted to do more.  The problem was that external factors, including the requirement to comply with centralised national strategies, limited their efforts.

 “It seems to us that the Government’s policy of establishing networks and partnerships as part of the teaching schools initiative is an encouraging step in the right direction.”

“However, the Government’s policy of ‘setting schools free’ is very dangerous without some new form of local coordination: we need more regulation of the market.”

Comparing the situation with that of other countries, he added:  “The UK still compares badly on educational equity internationally because progress runs up against brick walls beyond the school gate.

 “The OECD, for example, reports how we are failing disadvantaged groups attending hard-pressed urban schools.

 “We must also remember that even in the most successful schools there are often groups of learners whose experience of schooling is less than equitable.

 “We must avoid situations where the improvement of one school leads to a decline in the resources available to, and subsequently the performance of, others.”

One successful example of local coordination, say the team, is the three-year Greater Manchester Challenge, which resulted in unprecedented improvements in test and exam results, especially among children and young people previously regarded as unreachable.

Also directed by Professor Ainscow, the scheme brought together schools and colleges, local authorities, community organisations, businesses and universities within a new approach to educational improvement, led locally by groups of successful headteachers.

The structures put in place by the scheme - families of schools, school to school partnerships and teaching schools - are now coordinated by a group of 25 head teachers from across the city region.

Professor Ainscow said: “Last June, the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, argued for a ‘culture of collaboration’ to address educational underperformance, particularly among disadvantaged groups of learners, referring to the Greater Manchester Challenge as a way forward.

 “Children in our poorest neighbourhoods have been failed for decades by successive policies – but we have shown there is a way of turning things around.”

Notes for editors

Developing Equitable Education Systems’ is published by Routledge and authored by:

  • Mel Ainscow, Professor of Education and Co-Director of the Centre for Equity in Education in the School of Education at the University of Manchester.
  • Alan Dyson, Professor of Education and Co-Director of the Centre for Equity in Education in the School of Education at the University of Manchester.
  • Sue Goldrick, Researcher for the Centre for Equity in Education in the School of Education at the University of Manchester.
  • Mel West, Professor of Education and Head of the School of Education at the University of Manchester.

Professor Ainscow is available for comment

An electronic version of the book is available

For media enquiries contact:

Mike Addelman
Press Officer
Faculty of Humanities
University of Manchester
0161 275 0790
07717 881567