Firstly, it presumes too much about ‘the north’ and ‘the south’. Secondly, the idea that a small number of London-based schools and Multi Academy Trusts have a ‘stranglehold on the best teaching talent’ is simply odd. Finally, the suggestion that ‘what’s required is for the best MATs to make their way up north, and to take their best teachers (and their ever-successful recruitment drives) with them’ ignores a huge amount of what we know about schools and schooling across the UK.
So, firstly. ‘The north’ is a commonly agreed geographical area. It exists, and to talk of the north makes sense. It is an area which most British people would recognise; it would be a contrarian who would argue that modern day north did not include most of the area south of Scotland and north of a (very rough) line between the Humber and the Mersey estuaries. ‘The south’, in the meaning used in this piece, doesn’t exist. It’s used here as shorthand for ‘London and the South East’, and clearly doesn’t include areas such as the South West and East Anglia, which are most certainly not in the north*.
What’s more ‘London and the South East’ is so fundamentally different to the rest of the country, in so many different ways, that it almost impossible to sum up briefly. Those who go to school in the capital are systematically different to those who go to school in the rest of the country, never mind the north, so the comparison is meaningless. GCSE results have improved across the entire country (see the graph below, adapted from the graph on page 12 of this 2014 report for an overview). Whilst inner London has seen the biggest improvement in recent years (outer London has always been one of the best areas for GCSE results), it started a) at a lower level, b) the spread between areas has reduced considerably, and c) the improvements in Inner London secondary schools have been seen across the board, whatever their organisational structure.
Secondly, ‘hugely successful Multi-Academy Trusts and pioneering Free Schools’ seems to mean – at a guess - Harris Federation, ARK Schools, Michaela Community School and West London Free School, and maybe a few more. In total, this is around 30 or so secondary schools, give or take. The recent EPI report on school performance in Multi-Academy Trusts and Local Authorities lists 6 MATs in the top 20 LAs/MATs at KS4, representing just 33 schools, whereas LA schools account for 112 schools in the top 20 LA/MATs (most are in London, naturally, for the reasons described above). Harris Federation don’t even feature in the KS 4 top 20, coming in at 24th out of 174 different multi-school groups.
The idea that this small number of schools, less than 40 of 4,000 secondary schools countrywide, about 0.01 of the total, almost exclusively based in one of the most expensive, most unaffordable places in which to work in the entire country, which is systematically different to the world 100 miles from Piccadilly Circus, has a ‘stranglehold on the best teaching talent’ is simply misguided at best, and insulting at worst.
The suggestion that the north needs to be saved by London–focused MATs in shining armour is patronising codswallop. As the author admits, primaries across the country are doing a good job, according to Ofsted.** Why on earth anyone would think that a future in which ‘swathes of good and outstanding primaries in the north will need to be swooped up’ and that ‘the north (is) a ripe fruit waiting to be picked‘ is anything other than a massively disruptive disaster waiting to happen to perfectly well-run schools is anyone’s guess. And I’d imagine that quite a few people - many of the Head’s Roundtable for a start - might want to argue with the unsupported and quite frankly risible statement that, ‘If MATs make their way north, it might also help to end the deafening silence from northern schools and teachers in policy discussions.’ Certain policy discussion might only involve Teach Firsters, Politicians and Civil Servants speaking broad RP, but there many which don’t, and reasons why many which do speak RP and know little outside the capital.
If this is the best that the ‘best and the brightest Teach First (has) to offer’ can suggest, then heaven help us all. Who knows, there may be good reasons for schools to work together in a Multi-Academy Trust structure - feel free to chip in in the comments if you do - but none are forthcoming here. This looks like a suggestion for a power grab and little else. If you are based in London and you want to work in the north, you have nothing to lose but your metropolitan arrogance. But take care before you presume you know better than those outside the capital, and be careful who you might offend if you patronise the 15 million people who live and work in the north.
*To his credit, Jonathan Booth, the author of the School’s Week article acknowledged this point when I asked him about it: