Friday, 23 January 2009

PWC Report on BSF

This has appeared having a publication date of December 2008. The full report can be downloaded from here. This is the teachernet website run by the DCSF. It has the following upbeat summary of the report.
'The report shows that BSF is making good progress, that there is increasing belief in all stakeholders that it will deliver strong benefits for teaching and learning, and particularly from schools as they actually go through the programme. There is strong evidence of satisfaction with their new buildings from the staff and pupils of the first four new BSF schools opened.'

Strange then that the actual report should say:
'.. staff ... were generally less knowledgeable than other stakeholders of the aims and objectives of BSF for their school, or the potential for the programme to have longer-term educational impacts.' and, 'Schools should review their communication strategies in order to ensure that the processes used to inform teaching staff are effective'.

I suppose if staff had known almost nothing at the last review then it would be fair to say they have an increasing belief in the strong benefits. Or perhaps the DCSF doesn't include staff as a stakeholder group?

I found these headline findings very interesting.
  • 'BSF managers and directors in four of the 11 LAs interviewed stated that they did not provide funding to schools to enable them to implement BSF.' Although the remaining 7 did provide funds. I would have thought all schools would need financial support to undertake all the very necessary preparatory work for BSF. The report says 'Most [heads] said there was a shortfall, sometimes a large one, between LA funding received and the actual costs they had incurred' and so it goes on to recommend better funding. I've seen a very great deal of capital investment in schools be less effective because of a failure to invest in human resources. ICT put in to schools where staff receive insufficient training and support is just one example. So this is a particular disappointment.
  • The effectiveness of the LEP (Local Educational Partnership) as a tool for delivery of BSF is examined. I find it very concerning that this was reported, 'Given that ICT provision and maintenance is one of a number of key responsibilities of the LEP, it is surprising that only one-fifth of headteachers (20%) agreed or strongly agreed that the use of a LEP for ICT provision and maintenance and other related services would be a good thing, and that negative responses were higher than for other questions ... (at 21%).' BSF has been a trojan horse for the imposition of managed ICT services in schools. This is an experiment. The evidence for the effectiveness of managed services in schools is limited at best. (See for example the Becta research I posted about here.)
  • The views on the LEP itself were also worrying. 'Just under one fifth of headteachers overall (19%) thought that educational interests would be adequately represented in the LEP, with a higher number of positive responses from Wave 1-3 schools than from Wave 4-6 schools (32% and 13% respectively).' So even in the wave 1-3 schools two-thirds of the heads interviewed were not able to be confident that educational interests would be paramount to the LEP. If I was running Partnership for Schools (PfS - the quango steering BSF) I'd be very worried by these numbers!
  • Further 'A small number of interviewees expressed concern that the contracting company might be too dominant within the LEP (reflecting the fact that the LEP model is 80% private, 10% BSFI and 10% LA controlled).'
So overall not the terrific success the teachernet website claims.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Specialist Schools

News reports of research don't always represent it as faithfully as they might. Just a moment ago I was looking at the BBC rss feed on education and came across the following headline 'Specialist schools' value queried'. I clicked through to the full article that explained;
'The success of England's specialist schools is an illusion, with the extra money they receive and intake being the crucial factors, according to a report. A University of Buckingham report said the system had led to schools with names that "did not mean very much". It said 2007 research suggested pupils at schools specialising in music were more likely to get A grades in physics A-level than those at science schools. ' 'The authors of the latest study say specialist schools appear to do better because poorer performing schools were not granted specialist status. Professor Alan Smithers said: "All the SSAT's (Specialist Schools and Academies Trust) comparisons amount to is that if you take effective schools and give them extra money, they do better than less effective schools without extra money."
The study showed, he said, that the extra money pumped into specialist schools, as well as their intake of pupils, had the biggest impact on results.'
Goodness I thought this is pretty damning so I went to the University Of Buckingham's website and downloaded the report. That the title of the report is 'SPECIALIST SCIENCE SCHOOLS' is quite surprising. The authors are chiefly interested in the decline in numbers of young people choosing A Level Physics.
'Since 1990, physics entries, based on the annual returns of what is now the Joint Council for Qualifications, went down from 45,300 to 28,100 (38.0 per cent decrease), while total entries went up from 684,100 to 827,700 (21.0 per cent increase).' 'In this report we investigate what has prompted schools to choose particular specialisms and what contribution they are making in their nominated subjects. In particular, it has as its core questions: (1) are science schools increasing participation in physics at GCSE and A-level; and (2) are they improving performance in physics at GCSE and A-level?'
Given these objectives it is hard to understand how the headlines from the BBC came out of the research. The report itself isn't a very impressive piece of work. For example the attention grabbing comparison of Music and Science Specialist Schools looks unconvincing when there are only 12 Music Specialist Schools being compared with 159 Science.
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