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Exposed: The Downing Street teacher reception where academies reigned supreme

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A Downing Street reception for school teachers hosted by the prime minister last month was an “ideological love-in” at which staff from academies and free schools outnumbered those from maintained schools five to one.

Theresa May and Damian Hinds welcomed more than 100 “high-performing” teachers to Number 10 on May 21 for a celebration of their “hard work and dedication”.

But the guest list shows that 80 per cent of attendees were from mainstream academies, despite the fact academies make up just 35 per cent of schools nationally. Just 15 per cent of invitees teach in mainstream local maintained schools.

The PM should have a fairer cross-section of schools at her receptions

The Department for Education claims invitees were nominated by school leaders and MPs, and has denied any suggestion of bias.

But Mike Kane, the shadow schools minister, accused Downing Street of hosting an “ideological love-in”, and one union leader said the government was on the defensive over its education policies.

“The PM should have a fairer cross-section of schools at her receptions,” Kane told Schools Week.

“I don’t think it’s representative of the school system at all,” agreed Dr Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union. “It’s an example of a government in ever-decreasing circles talking to their friends in schools, and it appears you can only really be friends if you’re an academy.”

Bousted said that by hand-picking whom ministers meet, the government will avoid hearing “difficult stories about how schools are struggling”.

Dr Mary Bousted

“If you only ever get to talk to your supporters, the danger is that you only hear what you want to hear,” she said.

But Mark Lehain, the director of the New Schools Network, who attended the event, defended the government, and welcomed the move to celebrate teachers. Hinds, he said, has made a “big deal” of his support for a “diverse” school system.

“It’s so easy to forget that places like Downing Street and Whitehall belong to us,” he added. “Events like this are lovely for teachers, and the more they do the better.”

Teachers from 134 schools were invited. They include staff from 107 mainstream academies, 20 community, voluntary-aided and foundation schools, three special schools, one alternative provision academy and one sixth-form college. Schools Week was unable to obtain school type data for two schools on the guest list because several schools share their names.

There were 61 primary schools, 63 secondary schools, seven all-through schools, one post-16 institution and one special school which admits pupils aged seven to 16.

At their last inspection, 62 of the schools represented at the reception were ‘outstanding’, 57 were ‘good’ and five were ‘requires improvement’. Just one ‘inadequate’ school was on the list.

Mark Lehain

Of the schools represented, 30 are in London, 27 are in the midlands and 23 are in the south-east. 15 schools in Yorkshire and the Humber were invited, as were 12 in the north-west, 10 in the south-west, nine in the north east and four in the east.

Guests included staff from several academies with close links to the government, like West London Free School, set up by ex-NSN director Toby Young, and Michaela Community School, which was co-founded by the Brexit minister Suella Braverman.

Charter Academy, the controversial Great Yarmouth school run by academies minister Lord Agnew’s Inspiration Trust, was also on the list, as were King Soloman Academy and Reach Feltham, two schools regularly lauded by ministers.

A DfE spokesperson said the government is “very proud of our diverse school system and the great teachers working hard to improve education for every child”.

“Any suggestion of bias is simply untrue,” he added.



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6 Comments

  1. It’s not surprising the reception included the usual suspects: WLFS, Michaela, Inspiration (director Lord Agnew), ARK, Mark Lehain et al. Neither is it surprising that academies dominate.
    Promotion of academies increased rapidly post 2010 (although deception about them occurred as soon as they began under Labour). But this promotion exploded after 2010 with ministers constantly praising academies/free schools and sneering at ‘council-run’ schools (still the majority).

  2. Mark Watson

    This is the second time SchoolsWeek has professed itself to be surprised that a political party meets people who share its beliefs/aims etc.
    When Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell hold receptions, how many Hedge Fund Managers, CEOs of utility companies or other representatives of ‘big business’ go along, or are they dominated by Uncle Len and his mates?
    This is what happens, has happened and will forever continue to happen. It’s called reality.

    • From FT, 2 March 2018

      ‘Of late, McDonnell has seemed to cut a more pragmatic figure, sipping tea with asset managers and sharing football banter with Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England. The day before our interview he was meeting business leaders in Birmingham. The previous week he was at the London Chamber of Commerce… He even attended this year’s Davos, albeit to offer a warning about the “political and social avalanche” set to hit the world elite.’
      It seems our shadow chancellor is more likely to meet business leaders than Downing Street is likely to meet reps from non-academies.
      https://www.ft.com/mcdonnell

      • Mark Watson

        Come on Janet, that’s not the same thing at all.
        Selectively commenting on who a politician has been seeing, to fit the narrative of a journalistic article, is not analogous to a back-slapping political bean-feast where politicians (of every colour) invite those people who align with their policies.
        Following on from SchoolsWeek’s article of a couple of weeks ago I could talk about how Damian Hinds had visited “five maintained schools. one community special school and a pupil referral unit.” Of course that’s not a fair overall representation, but you get the point.

    • Mark – you’re right that political parties reward their supporters with receptions at Number Ten when in power. But the reception described above was for ‘high-performing teachers’. Leave aside the problem of deciding who is a ‘high-performing teacher’ given that schools not individual teachers are graded. However chosen, the majority shouldn’t be picked from a favoured group. Neither should they have a high number of individuals known for their support of government policies and who’ve regularly been named in speeches, press releases etc.