Dear Nicky Morgan: schools don’t work like the SAS

Writing in the Guardian, Michael Rosen tells Nicky Morgan that rather than parachuting in teachers to improve an individual school, she should let local schools work together for all pupils

The moment that you ministers say you’ve got plans to “improve schools”, we parents prick up our ears. It’s as if you are offering us a magic present: we can imagine it’s anything we want. If we think the kind of schooling we had was rubbish, we can make that part of the present. If we think schooling now is awful, we can make that part of it, too.

If you imply schools are not good enough, by saying you’re going to make them better can be any old personal kind of “better” that I might conjure up: children should be more polite, sit in rows of desks facing the front, spell properly, know their times tables, compete to get into grammar schools, have more exams, wear uniforms, know more facts, wash behind their ears and be able to recite The Charge of the Light Brigade.

Whether you are, or are not, saying this is beside the point. That phrase “improve schools” is the perfect election-friendly catch-all.

In actual fact, it’s beset with a logical problem: our children attend “a” school. We want that school to be as good as it can possibly be. The question is, does improving that single school “improve schools”?

And does creating a new school, with a great stack of new resources, trumpeting itself as better than the rest, “improve schools” in that area? I mention “area” because this is how most of our state-school educated children live. They live in an area.

I have yet to see evidence that proves that one good school in an area, or one new school, “improves” those around it merely by being good.

As a parent, all I’ve ever noticed is that that school becomes a parent-magnet: parents compete to get their child into that one school and some kind of de facto selection takes place, which inevitably means reverse selection for the other schools in that area…

More at: Dear Nicky Morgan: schools don’t work like the SAS


Michael Rosen goes on to contrast Nicky Morgan’s initiative for an ‘elite’ group of teachers to be parachuted into (and then back out of) failing schools in SAS style with what he sees as the more collaborative approach the London Challenge.

However, what do you make of the suggestion above that improving one school does little or nothing to improve schools more generally in an area? Is it a valid argument?

Please let us know why/why not in the comments or via Twitter…

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Categories: Policy.


  1. A few years ago, two LSE researchers painted a ‘relatively positive’ picture of academies established under Labour and found results in neighbouring schools also rose.  
    I argued that correlation wasn’t necessarily causation.  The improved results in neighbouring schools could also be caused by grade inflation, substituting GCSEs with vocational exams, teaching to the test or improved teaching which didn’t necessarily have anything to do with close proximity to an academy.
    In 2012, Gove said converter academies drove up standards in English schools.  But the evidence did not exist – the DfE cited USA and Sweden but the evidence didn’t show their charter or free schools had had much effect.
    In March last year Policy Exchange said free schools helped pupils in surrounding schools.  But the report was contradictory in places and actually showed no such thing (see Henry Stewart  Policy Exchange’s report inspired my take on ‘Imagine’
    A more serious analysis of Policy Exchanges’s report is here:

  2. TW

    Many parents, unlike the government, can see perfectly well that creating an unnecessary additional school in an area likely leads to all the schools not having enough students to finance a full range of subjects.

  3. TimAnchorhouse

    SchoolsImprove If it’s an academy that cherry picks it students it helps neighbouring schools to fail so They can be forced to be academies

Let us know what you think...