- Research blog
Presented by Jon Coles, Group Chief Executive of United Learning
Chaired by Lord Lucas, Member, All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education,
with panel contributions from Sam Freedman, Director of Research, Evaluation and Impact at Teach First, and Richard Harman, Chair of the Headmasters' & Headmistresses' Conference (HMC) and Headmaster of Uppingham School
When: Wednesday 19th August 2015, 6.15 for 6.30 to 8.30pm
Where: 2 Lord North Street (Great Peter Street entrance), Westminster, London SW1P 3LB
Transferable expertise and contextual realities: does the independent schools sector really have all the answers for state school improvement?
Faith in the capacity of the independent schools sector to effect improvement in state school provision has been an enduring feature of the policy debate about how to raise pupil attainment for many years. Since the introduction of the Academies programme, securing independent school leadership and resources for the most challenged schools in particular has been a key part of the government’s strategy. But is this faith well placed?
Jon Coles, Group Chief Executive of United Learning, argues that this strategy is flawed and has had far-reaching, negative consequences for the effectiveness of England’s school improvement strategy. In his experience it is in fact unusual to find a great teacher from an academically selective school that performs as well in an inner-city comprehensive school where pupils' attainment on entry is well below the national average. Equally, excellent academy teachers are often ill-suited to the private-school classroom. In other words, context really matters in education.
Though the personal qualities required are not completely different, in Jon’s experience this is all the more true at the leadership level. ‘Once you've spent 20 or more years of your career successfully leading one type of school, you have acquired a set of behaviours for school leadership that are well embedded and thoroughly learned. Changing those behaviours and habits to suit another context is not easy.’
At this event, Jon and panellists explored the implications of these contextual realities for the prospects of system-wide school improvement, for policy-making generally, and for the relationship between central government and autonomous state schools.
TES coverage: 'Get out of your comfort zone,' state school leaders are told
TES (31st August)
Adi Bloom reports on CMRE event with Jon Coles, Richard Harman, Sam Freedman, and Lord Lucas considering ways towards a more productive relationship between state and independent school sectors in England.
Opinion piece: ‘A new force for cross-sector collaboration’
Independent Education Today (1st September)
James Croft reflects on central government tendency to overlook contextual realities in its optimism about the transferability of independent school leadership expertise for state school improvement.
About the speakers
Jon Coles is Group Chief Executive of United Learning, which position he has held since 2012. Prior to this, he spent much of his career in the Department for Education, including four years on the Board as Director General for Schools and then Director General for Education Standards. Previously, as Director of 14-19 Reform, he led work to raise participation post-16 and attainment at 19 and reduce NEET numbers. As Director of London Challenge, Jon was responsible developing and implementing the strategy to improve secondary education in London, which also led to similar approaches in other parts of the country. During his time at the Department, Jon was responsible for various Green and White Papers and for taking the 2002 Education Act through Parliament.
Sam Freedman is Director of Research, Evaluation and Impact at Teach First, where he is responsible for evaluation and optimisation of Teach First’s impact. Previously he was an adviser to the Department for Education. Prior to this he was Head of Education at Policy Exchange, where he oversaw an extensive research programme on increasing choice and competition in the school system, and on increasing the supply of good teachers. He was previously Head of Research at the Independent Schools Council (ISC).
Richard Harman is Chair of the Headmasters' & Headmistresses' Conference (HMC) and Headmaster of Uppingham School. Richard began his teaching career at Marlborough College, where he taught English and Drama, before a move to Eastbourne College. He progressed from Head of English to Housemaster of a Sixth Form girls’ house, to a member of the senior management team, before becoming Headmaster of Aldenham in 2000 and then Uppingham in 2006.