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Vote Leave campaigner and Tory donor behind Parents and Teachers for Excellence campaign

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One of the two directors behind the Parent and Teachers for Excellence (PTE) movement was a key figure in the official campaign for the UK to leave the EU, Schools Week can reveal.

Jon Moynihan, a venture capitalist and chairman of the finance committee of Vote Leave, is listed alongside Dame Rachel de Souza, chief executive of Inspiration Trust, as a director of PTE.

The organisation, launched yesterday, pledges to shift the education debate from the “elites in Whitehall” and mobilise parents and teachers to make the case for education reform.

Moynihan – who has donated more than £70,000 to the Conservative party – was on the board of Vote Leave and a vocal figure in the campaign.

He also donated £60,000 to Vote Leave, according to Electoral Commission figures.

He was described by the Daily Mail as one of the group’s “most media-friendly faces” and regularly appeared in national media promoting Brexit, including in The Telegraph and on the Today programme.

Moynihan was the executive chairman of PA Consulting, a firm that specialises in management consulting, technology and innovation. He is now co-principal of Ipex Capital, the high-technology venture capital arm of PA Consulting.

PTE is refusing to name its financial backers, and would only say it is being funded by a “small group of philanthropists”.

The organisation states it is “strictly non-partisan”, but concerns of some social media users – who have highlighted that its members have links to the Conservative government – will be further fuelled by the disclosure of Moynihan’s position in the organisation.

Schools Week has been told PTE will be run as a company, rather than a charity, so that it is not bound by rules restricting charities from undertaking political campaigning.

We are creating a movement that will recruit and mobilise parents and teachers

The campaign has been orchestrated by James Frayne, communications chief at the Department for Education under Michael Gove, and Rachel Wolf, a former adviser to David Cameron. Wolf will also sit on the group’s advisory council.

Frayne was also a former director at think tank Policy Exchange and communications manager at think tank Reform.

The campaign has drawn parallels with what is known as “astroturfing” – the practice of masking sponsors of an organisation to push a public relations campaign as a grassroots movement.

While at free market think tank Reform, Frayne is credited with setting up a similar organisation in the NHS, Doctors for Reform.

The group claimed to represent 1,000 medical practitioners, but again did not disclose its funding.

Schools Week understands one such campaign, the StudentsFirst movement in America – an education reform group that pledged to empower parents – had “impressed” PTE’s strategists as the “right way to take the debate to ordinary people”.

Read more: Pro-academy campaign group launched by ‘superhead’ Rachel De Souza
Read more: Pro-academy campaign group launched by ‘superhead’ Rachel De Souza

But Wolf said the situation in the UK was very different. Where the US was focused on getting reformers elected, PTE would instead focus on building a coalition of heads, teachers and parents “to push the things they think are important”.

The group has already gained an influential backing with its advisory council including some of the leading lights of education reform (full list here).

De Souza, a “superhead” who is credited with founding the campaign, said it was time to move the education debate from the “elites in Westminster and Whitehall”.

“We are creating a movement that will recruit and mobilise parents and teachers from across the country to make the case for change.”

But having de Souza as the public face of a campaign to empower parents could prove divisive.

The Inspiration Trust was accused of ignoring the wishes of parents when it took over the Hewett school, in Norwich, despite protests and an independent consultation finding most of the respondents were hostile to a takeover.

The trust said the consultation represented only a small number of parents, adding its plans for an extended day to deliver sport, performing arts and music enrichment – one of the PTE’s core principles – were widely welcomed.

The group’s members will now use national and local press and education events to push the case for reform. It will also try to mobilise more parent activists to join their cause (there are currently six on the council).

The PTE website will also publish research notes. The first two published on Wednesday focused on effective discipline policies and the benefits of academies and free schools.

A recent government proposal for parents to trigger the sacking of an academy sponsor has not formed part of PTE’s thinking so far, but Schools Week was told they would be open to helping parents push for change – when needed.

A PTE spokesperson also confirmed that it would steer clear of the grammar debate, adding that it was focused on what happens in the classroom.

 

 



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12 Comments

  1. PTE is a lobbying group passing itself off as a grassroots campaigning group of ‘parents and teachers’. It is not a grassroots movement: five of the advisory council are from De Souza’s Inspiration Trust, three are from Harris, two were associated with the New Schools Network, one is a Tory Lord and two are linked with right-leaning Policy Exchange.
    Laughable that Dame Rachel should claim she’s moving the debate away from ‘elites’. The advisory council includes a Dame, a Lord, a knight of the realm, a former Deputy Mayor for Education and culture of London. Hardly non-elite.

  2. Nick Corston

    Well fancy that!

    Whatever side of the EdDebate you’re on (or heaven forbid, trying to find some middle ground in all the muddle and mud slinging), you have to give it to SchoolsWeek for this piece of investigative journalism that is sorely lacking but much needed in Education.

    PTE have clearly “had enough of experts” too.

    I’ve had enough of organisations that don’t really ‘do what it says on the can’ and hide behind almost Orwellian doublespeak and cheap misdirectional tin hat jokes and accusations.

  3. (1) The PTE ‘research’ paper on ‘The benefits of Academies and Free Schools’ is a puff piece. It perpetuates the myth that academies have more freedom. Academies in chains can actually have less autonomy than LA-maintained schools. And although PTE cites various international surveys about the benefits of school autonomy, it ignores the fact the OECD found UK schools had a greater level of autonomy than in most other school systems over allocation of resources, employment of staff and spending the budget. That was in 2010 before mass academy conversion had even started.

  4. (2) The PTE ‘research’ paper on ‘The benefits of Academies and Free Schools’ trumpets the high proportion of academies with outstanding status over LA-maintained schools. A House of Commons briefing paper (Number 07549, 29 April 2016 downloadable here: http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7549 ) confirms this but notes that more LA-maintained schools are rated as good ‘at primary and secondary level and overall’. It also says academies are ‘more likely’ to be judged inadequate in all phases. PTE ignore the ‘good’ and ‘inadequate’ data.

    • And hardly surprising given the encouragement and additional funding given to outstanding schools to fast track them to converting which a significant number of outstanding secondary schools took up. Nothing to do with academisation, they were already good schools under the LA system.

  5. (3) The PTE ‘research’ paper on ‘The benefits of Academies and Free Schools’ cites the London School of Economics report showing the ‘Academy program significantly improved pupil performance’. But PTE omitted to say the research only referred to academies set up under Labour. Neither did PTE report the LSE finding that the rise in performance was accompanied by a rise in the quality of intake. Nor did the PTE note the anger of Professor Stephen Machin, one of the authors of the LSE report, that their findings had been ‘wrongly used’ to support the conversion of ‘better than average’ schools including primaries (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2012/apr/09/labour-academies-research-coalition-programme). It now appears the LSE findings are being used to promote mass academization and more free schools.

  6. (4) The PTE ‘research’ paper on ‘The benefits of Academies and Free Schools’ cites ‘The Rising Tide’, a report by Policy Exchange which claimed free schools raise performance in surrounding schools. But both PTE and Policy Exchange ignored a warning in ‘The Rising Tide’ that correlation isn’t causation.
    http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2015/03/policy-exchanges-rising-tide-creates-a-splash-but-leaves-only-a-damp-patch

  7. PTE ‘research’ paper into ‘enrichment in a longer school day’ cites the EEF toolkit as saying pupils can make up to two months’ progress per year targeted before or after school activities are used properly. That’s true, but the EEF described this effect as ‘low’ and said ‘It might be cheaper and more efficient to attempt to use existing time more effectively before considering extending the school day.’
    Setting homework at secondary level was found to be far more effective than an after-school programme in making progress (up to five months). Also collaborative learning and feedback. https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence/teaching-learning-toolkit

  8. PTE ‘research’ paper into why schools need effective behaviour policies offer much good advice. But effective behaviour policies aren’t confined to academies. The authors imply improvement in behaviour only happens when ‘poor-performing schools with behaviour problems’ become academies. This is not true.

  9. The PTE ‘research’ paper into ‘Why we need a knowledge-based curriculum’ pushes Core Knowledge, a US-based curriculum which has been tweeked for the UK as Core Knowledge UK. The books accompanying the series are published by Civitas as ‘What Your Child Needs to Know’. One of the editors of the first book was the short-lived head of Pimlico Primary Free School, Annaliese Briggs. Pimlico Free School is part of the Future Academies which was set up by John Nash and his wife before he was made a Lord and became schools minister in the Upper House.
    The ‘research’ paper plugs ‘direct instruction’ but the research base (3 citations) are old and one, the National Reading Panel, refers only to teaching reading and vocabulary. It recommended that ‘Vocabulary should be taught both directly and indirectly’ (p 4-27). https://www.nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/nrp/documents/report.pdf