Way back in the early 1990’s, in a Politics seminar that formed part of my degree course, I asked my tutor what was the most effective form of electoral system. “What result do you want it to give you?” was his reply.
Ever since then I have viewed surveys and interest group “research” with great suspicion. While the “findings” of think tanks are a gift to media outlets in this rolling news age, it is always as well to check sample size, methods and, critically, the aims of the group publishing them.
Yesterday, while doing my weekly trawl of local school and related group sites, I came across an invitation to participate in a survey “to help New Schools Network (NSN) influence policy makers nationally” on the Facebook page of recently approved free school group “The Ongar Academy”. The shared link didn’t actually describe its purpose in those terms however, the exact post was:
“We asked parents in the East of England what they thought about schools in their area – now we want to hear your views. If you’re in #Essex (sic) take part in our short online survey for a chance to win £30 in Amazon vouchers”
For those unfamiliar with NSN, they were formed in 2009 by a former adviser to Michael Gove, Rachel Wolf, with the express purpose of championing and helping to establish “free schools”. A year later, one month before the policy became law, they were awarded £0.5M to advise the Department for Education and have maintained their role ever since. Their Wikipedia page is here:
As readers of this blog may have gathered by now, I have rather firm views about schools in our area so I clicked on the link.
Apparently Essex has “some particular educational challenges”. Reading the short introduction it appears that, as early as next year, the region will need 2,600 primary school places and that “over 1 in 4” primaries are not rated “good” or “outstanding” by Ofsted (or, if you prefer, nearly 75% do enjoy that rating). The main concern, however, seems to be that “Over 250 new schools have been created across the country but only five of these new schools are in Essex.”
Parents responding to the survey are then provided with seven questions to answer. Four are of the first five are tick box responses on your children’s current schools. The final two canvass your view on whether you would “welcome” or send your child to a “new school” (the term free schools is not used) that “might provide extra places, help to raise standards, or offer greater choice.” (my emphasis)
Regarding the sample of this survey, do note that completion of it requires that the responder signs up to the NSN newsletter. I decided that I could unsubscribe after the first e-mail is sent to me so I pressed on, I suspect many may not wish to do so.
I admit to being puzzled at how this is going to provide new primary school places by next September. If that is where the local need is, why have NSN been opening secondaries?
Maybe the fact that we have a need for so many primary places indicates that waiting for parents to ask for them is not the most effective way to match provision to numbers of pupils? If memory serves, the local authority used to have a statutory duty to plan ahead to ensure provision matched actual demand. How have NSN improved matters?
But I’m forgetting my tutor’s advice. Perhaps that is not the purpose of the survey. What result do they actually want?
There is a general election next May which will have a serious bearing on whether there is any need to pay for advisers on and champions of free schools. I’m sure it is intended to share the conclusions from the survey before then. Perhaps we will read that “research shows” that there is “overwhelming demand” for “new schools” in the coming months?
So is the survey a genuine attempt to establish new local primary places by next September or is it, as trailed “to help New Schools Network (NSN) influence policy makers nationally”?
I await the conclusion with interest.