The 11+ even more unfair due to Covid 19 – and Bucks Council still has no answers

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17 October 2020

I wrote to Bucks Council in May asking what they were going to do about the 11+ this year as disadvantaged children were going to be even more disadvantaged because of the disruption to their education due to Covid 19. No answer.

So I wrote to the Leader of BC, Martin Tett, last week to see if he knew the answer. No response so far.

The letter has gone in the press and Labour councillors are also asking questions – so you never know, perhaps we will get a response. The full text of my letter is below.

Dear Councillor Tett,

In a few weeks, thousands of school children in Bucks will be taking the Secondary Transfer Test, commonly called the 11+. They will take it after months of disruption to their education.

The 11+ disproportionately selects children for grammar schools from more prosperous families, who are white and who go to schools in more prosperous areas. It also disproportionately selects children from private schools rather than state schools in Bucks. And it disproportionately selects children from outside Bucks.

In short, children who have all the educational advantages, including private coaching, are disproportionately selected to go to a grammar school - all of which are assessed as excellent by OFSTED.

Children who are educationally disadvantaged are disproportionately selected to go to a secondary modern school, about half of which are assessed as good and the other half assessed as less than good.

Needless to say, children who go to grammar schools are more likely to get good GCSEs, A levels and go to university. And they earn more money thereafter.

The majority of children in Bucks, including disadvantaged children, are losing out in comparison to their peers in counties with comprehensive education.

You know all this – or ought to as the evidence is overwhelming.

A report from the Social Mobility Commission last month for example put Bucks at the bottom of a list of places which provide opportunities for children to improve their lives. The report identified the divisive educational system in Bucks as one of the key factors that prevented disadvantaged children for getting on.

This year disadvantaged children are going to struggle even more to pass the 11+. For months, many disadvantaged children will have had virtually no academic education because they will have lacked access to online learning and/or lacked family members who were able to provide home schooling.

It seems amazing that A-levels and GCSEs were cancelled and outcomes decided on teachers’ assessments. And yet, the 11+ carries on.

BC was asked back in May what procedures would be in place to ensure this disproportionate impact would not prejudice disadvantaged children. Councillor Cramer, your Cabinet member for Education, said at that time that she was not able to give a clear answer, merely saying that the Buckinghamshire Grammar Schools Group (BGSG) "were working with the GL assessment board to find some solution in this situation".

I wrote over a week ago to Councillor Cramer asking if a solution had been found – and, if so, what that solution was. I got no answer.

BGSG’s website does not mention this problem. It merely says the delay in holding the 11+ “will allow more time for children to settle back into school”. But for disadvantaged children, it is not just a matter of settling in. For them, it is the sheer impossibility of making up for months of lost education before they sit the 11+ and their future schooling decided. 

I know that BGSG are responsible for the test itself. However, BC arranges for the test to be taken in BC’s primary schools. This must be seen as some kind of endorsement by BC of the validity and fairness of the test.

So I will repeat my unanswered questions to Councillor Cramer:

• Is BC satisfied with whatever solution BGSG found?

• Is BC sure that this year the test will be fair?

• Would BC like to stake its reputation on the outcome of the test?

Still no news on the 11+

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17 May 2020

I asked in my blog below (3 May 2020) whether the Bucks grammar schools were going to set the 11+ this September; it is generally agreed the closure of schools due to the coronavirus will put disadvantaged children at an even greater disadvantage than before in taking the test.

I asked the question to Conservative Councillor Anita Cranmer, Bucks Councils Cabinet member responsible for Education and Skills. She responded very promptly and helpfully and, as I normally do, I intended to blog the response equally promptly.

However, then the Prime Minister said he intended to ease the lockdown, including re-opening the schools.

So I thought I would wait a few days until it was clear when the primary schools in Bucks were re-opening. Because then it would be possible to see how many weeks primary school children would have missed.

But it looks as if I could wait a long time before it is clear what is going to happen. Some local authorities are not going to re-open on 1 June as the Government proposes, some presumably will. There is no news from Bucks Council.

Even if the schools re-open, it is not clear how many children will attend as attendance will be voluntary. Some disadvantaged children will attend but others might not, particularly if it would put them or their families at risk due to health issues.

So the uncertainly will continue.

In the meantime, registration for the 11+ is open and there is nothing so far to suggest any changes will be made to mitigate the effects of the school closures.

This is the response I received from Councillor Cranmer:-

“Thank you for your courtesy in writing to me to advise me of the quote you made. I very much appreciate that.

In response to Robin’s question I answered as follows…

“Councillor Robin Stutchbury asked education Lead Cllr Anita Cranmer what the council is doing about the possibility of postponing the 11-plus exams taking place in September, and if they do go ahead, what procedures are in place to ensure disadvantaged children are not prejudiced.

She said: “I can’t give you a very clear answer but what I can say to you is the Buckinghamshire Grammar Schools Group [TBGS] which are operating this testing process are co-operating and working with the GL assessment board to find some solution in this situation.

“It hasn’t been completed yet and none of us know what it will be.”

Cllr Cranmer confirmed a registration portal where parents apply for their school of preference has now opened.

She added: “That does two things: first of all, it shows we are going forward in a positive way and on the other hand it shows us what numbers we have going forward into the secondary selection.

“There are very good online resources available to all so we would urge all parents to act as if life was normal and they were going forward into a selection process.

“We would hope that if there are families who do not have access to online learning, which is readily available, that they could alert us to that because there is a programme being put out whereby tablets are being loaned to students who don’t have access to them.”

The programme to loan disadvantaged children laptops so they can access on-line learning is a Government scheme. Local authorities were asked to distribute the laptops as quickly as possible from 20 April.

Judging by the Government’s performance so far on delivery, I think disadvantaged children will be lucky to get a laptop before they go back to school.

Is the 11+ going to be held in Bucks this year?

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3 May 2020

School children have been off school now for 6 weeks and they are likely to be off school for at least another 4 weeks – a total of 10 weeks. This includes 3 weeks of school holidays so, on the best scenario, children will lose 7 weeks of school time before the summer holidays.

Disadvantaged children are entitled to go to school during the pandemic. However, the majority of disadvantaged children have stayed at home like their peers.

School closures adversely affect children’s learning and development. And there is evidence that the impact is more severe for disadvantaged children. During closures, the gap between the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and their peers widens.

Bucks is one of the few counties that still runs a county-wide 11+ test for entry to its grammar schools. (Now called the Secondary Transfer Test and taken when most children are 10).

The 11+ is intended to assess academic potential.

We know that children from more affluent families are far more likely to pass the 11+ than children from poorer families. For example, 2 years ago not one pupil in six primary schools in the more deprived areas of central Wycombe passed the 11+. And yet 30 - 40% of pupils in some primary schools in the more affluent outer villages passed the 11+.

The average pass rate for central Wycombe schools was 6%. The average pass rate for the other schools in Wycombe district was 23%,  

So if you believe in the 11+, you have to believe that children in affluent parts of Wycombe are four times more likely to have the academic potential to go to a grammar school.

You have to believe that the fairies sprinkled over four times as much fairy dust on babies outside Wycombe as inside.

In fact, the evidence shows that the 11+ assesses the social class of the parents rather than the academic potential of their children. It also assess the amount of money the parents are able and prepared to pay for coaching their children to pass the 11+.

If you want to know more, follow the blogs with the pictures of the fairies below.

So, this year during the closures, disadvantaged children will fall even further behind their peers with their education and development - and disadvantaged children will be even more likely to fail the 11+.

So the question is - are the Bucks grammar schools going to set the 11+ this September?

If they are, how are the grammar schools going to take into account the disproportionate impact of the closures on disadvantaged children?

On the other hand, if the 11+ is to be cancelled, how is Bucks Council going to allocate children to the secondary schools?

I’m not the only one asking these questions. Councillor Robin Stuchbury has already asked Buckinghamshire Council what is happening. The sound quality on Zoom wasn’t very good but I think Councillor Cranmer, the BC cabinet member responsible for education, said she was looking into it.

Of course, now the grammar schools have been privatised, it’s up to the directors of the grammar schools what test they use for admission; parents and taxpayers have no say on the 11+.

But I think this would be a wonderful opportunity to see the back of this pernicious test, once and for all.

Decisions on Bourne End School taken in secret with no accountability to parents

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22 March 2019

On 2 July 2018, Sharon Crombie, the Executive Headteacher of Wycombe High School, wrote to the parents of pupils at Bourne End Academy (BEA).  She told the parents that BEA would no longer be run by Wycombe High School Academies Trust.

BEA had been in special measures for years and was still assessed as “requires improvement”. Despite being bailed out by the Government to the tune of £150K, the Trust had failed to turn BEA round. It was now applying for Government funding to expand the grammar school and it was dumping BEA.

BEA was transferred to an academy chain called E-ACT. BEA is now due to receive hundreds of pupils from Burnham Park Academy, another school in Bucks run by E-ACT. E-ACT propose to close Burnham Park Academy (see blogs of 6 February 2018, 8 August 2018, 21 December 2018 and 2 February 2019).

I make no apology for returning to the issue again, because it illustrates the lack of accountability in Bucks for major decisions affecting the education of our children.

Parents used to be able to put their concerns to their local councillors. If they didn’t like the response, they could ask questions at Council meetings, they could protest directly to their councillor and ultimately vote for someone else to represent them.

But with the privatisation of secondary education, Bucks County Council has washed its hands of any responsibility for secondary education. The academies are private companies and accountable to their shareholders and members.

So who do parents and taxpayers hold accountable for decisions like the transfer of BEA? Because surely it is reasonable to ask why BEA, a struggling school, was transferred to a poorly performing academy chain? Surely pupils of BEA - who had been to an inadequate school for perhaps all of their secondary education - deserve better?

Here’s the questions which we should be able to answer:

- Who in the public sector decided BEA should transfer to E-ACT? Who was responsible, when the decision was made, for ensuring that the education of the pupils of BEA was protected and that the taxpayer got value for money?

- What was the rationale for that decision? What other options were considered? What does the cost benefit analysis of the various options say? Where is the impact assessment of the transfer on pupils?

- Who was consulted in making that decision? And what did the consultees say? In particular, what did BCC say about the transfer because, despite its denials, it is responsible for scrutinising the provision of education in Bucks and for ensuring that all pupils receive a good education.

One of my colleagues has spent months asking Sharon Combie, E-ACT, BCC, the Regional Schools Commissioner and the Department for Education for the answers to these questions using Freedom of Information requests. The responses have been evasive and inconsistent and many documents have been redacted to the point where they are meaningless (see picture).

One of the foi responses from the Department for Education

The Department of Education’s explanation for the redactions is given below.

So here’s what I think are the answers to the questions, in so far as it is possible to make any sense of this as a resident:

- Lord Agnew, a minister at the Department for Education, took the decision to transfer BEA, a struggling school, to E-ACT, a poorly performing academy chain. He would have done this on the recommendation of Martin Post, the Regional Schools Commissioner

- There is no publicly available rationale for that decision; there is no evidence that a rationale was ever recorded.

- The Department for Education does not hold any document which considers any option other than the transfer to E-ACT. It holds no document assessing the impact of the transfer on pupils. There is no evidence that any other option was ever considered, no evidence that the costs and benefits of the transfer were ever analysed and no evidence that the impact of the transfer on pupils was ever assessed.

- BCC was consulted. BCC officials say it registered its concern about the transfer to the Regional Schools Commissioner. The Commissioner’s office says it has no record of any comments from BCC.

- No other consultation took place – no consultation with parents, no consultation with surrounding schools and no consultation with residents.

In effect, the decision was taken in secret, on the basis of private discussions which we are not allowed to know about. And BCC let them get away with it.

In short, the private sector academies can pretty well do what they like – and no-one is accountable to the residents, the parents and the pupils.

Explanation for the redactions from the Department for Education

In relation to your request, a minister has decided that, in their reasonable opinion, full disclosure of the information in scope of your request is likely to have these prejudicial effects and therefore the exemptions in section 36 apply. Section 36 is a qualified exemption and therefore the department has also carried out a public interest test to determine whether the public interest lies in disclosing or withholding the information.

While there is a general public interest in openness and transparency, full disclosure would demonstrate to the public that we have been thorough and fair when making our assessment. However, it has been decided that it would not be in the public interest to release the requested information in full. This is because the information in question was written on the understanding that it has a specific, closed audience so that the advice provided within could be of a free and frank nature for the specific purpose of the transfer of Bourne End Academy. If the information was to be released in full, it would limit the ability of the department to provide free and frank advice to schools and multi academy trusts, which would limit the effective conduct of public affairs.

11+ pass rates for Wycombe schools – the statistics speak for themselves

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26 February 2019 (amended 5 March to include Disraeli School) 


Below are the pass rates for the 11+ exam for state schools in Wycombe. The pass rates are for the 2018 entry to secondary education. The average pass rate for Wycombe is 10%.


The schools are listed in ascending order of pass rate. The schools in red are in central Wycombe. Central Wycombe has higher rates of deprivation than schools outside Wycombe.


All of the schools in central Wycombe have pass rates of 10% or below. All of the schools outside central Wycombe have pass rates of 14% and over. The average pass rate for central Wycombe schools is 6%. The average pass rate for the other schools is 23%


If you believe in the 11+, you have to believe the Fairy Godmother sprinkles over four times as much fairy dust on babies outside Wycombe as inside.

School name                                              No Tested                       Pass %

Ash Hill Primary School                             30                                       0

Cadmore End CE School                              5                                       0

Hannah Ball School                                    23                                       0

High Wycombe CE School                         26                                       0

Lane End Primary School                           21                                       0

Meadows School                                         17                                       0

Beechview School                                        23                                      4

Millbrook Combined School                       52                                      4

Kings Wood School                                      59                                     5

Castlefield School                                        49                                      6

Oakridge School                                           42                                      7

St Michaels RC School                                52                                      8

Disraeli School                                              55                                     9

Foxes Piece School                                     22                                      9

Highworth Combined School                     57                                      9

Carrington Junior School                            50                                    10

Hamilton Academy                                      78                                     14

Loudwater Combined School                     29                                     14

Manor Farm Junior School                         57                                     16

West Wycombe Combined School            23                                     17

Hazlemere CE Combined School               28                                     18

Widmer End Combined School                   28                                     18

Downley School                                             49                                     35

Tylers Green Middle School                        60                                     42


Total                                                             935                                      10%


P.S. My thanks to colleagues who provided the stats, although I take responsibility for any errors.

Academy chain is consulting on the closure of Burnham Park School

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2 February 2019

On 5 Feb 2018 (see blog below), I wrote about the continuing financial and educational failures of E-ACT Burnham Park Academy. 

It is managed by an academy chain called E-ACT which has been criticised for: 

- Poor financial management 

- High turnover of trustees 

- Pupils from low-income families making less progress than equivalent pupils achieve nationally. 

- Slow progress and low Key Stage 4 standards in their secondary schools.

In 2016, OFSTED assessed E-ACT Burnham Park Academy as inadequate and it was put into special measures. It was re-assessed by OFSTED in July last year and found to be making progress.

Unsurprisingly, the school is not popular; only 21 pupils applied last year, at a time when the number of secondary pupils is increasing. The school has a capacity of 700. Only 235 places are filled.

On that basis, I concluded a year ago that E-ACT must be losing money running the school and asked how that could be sustainable.

I also asked if anyone, such as Bucks County Council, was scrutinising what was happening and ensuring pupils had stability and quality of education? Or was it all to be left to market forces?

There was no answer from BCC.

On 8 August 2018 (see blog below), I wrote about the continuing financial and educational failures of another academy – Bourne End Academy (previously Wye Valley School). At that time, the Academy was being dumped by its sponsor, Wycombe High School, which had failed to turn the school around, and it was being transferred to E-ACT.

Again I asked BCC if it was going to intervene and scrutinise what was happening – in this case, the transfer of a failing school to a poor academy chain. Bucks County Council has a statutory responsibility to do so but it washed its hands.

One of the local councillors – Mike Appleyard – is also the BCC cabinet member for Education. He didn’t reply.

The other local councillor, Councillor Tony Lee, said he was concerned about the situation at Bourne End Academy and said he would take a more proactive approach.

On 17 January 2019 (see blog below), I blogged about two grammar schools - Wycombe High School and John Hampden Grammar School – which are consulting about the expansion of their catchment areas to Maidenhead.

BCC had nothing to say about this either.

On 30 January, E-ACT started a consultation to close E-ACT Burnham Park Academy as a mainstream secondary school. It proposes that Year 11 pupils would stay on the site until this September to continue working for the GCSEs; other pupils would be offered a place at Bourne End Academy (now Bourne End E-ACT Academy).



If you believe the provision of secondary education should be driven by market forces (as the Conservative Party does), then this all makes good sense.

The grammar schools offer an outstanding education; they are rich and successful and therefore their expansion to Maidenhead is right; successful businesses expand when market forces dictate. It is just unfortunate that they can only offer a place to a minority of children who live at Burnham Park i.e. mainly those whose parents can afford coaching.

Comprehensive schools in Berkshire, just over the county line from Burnham Park and Bourne End, also offer an excellent/good education on a non-selective basis. So what does a sensible parent do in Bourne End or Burnham Park if their child fails the 11+? They will do everything possible to get their child into a comprehensive school in Berks rather than a failing local secondary in Bucks.

Again it is just unfortunate that the children of parents who are not clued up will end up going to a failing local secondary school – perhaps for their entire academic life as has happened to pupils at Burnham Park Academy.

It is just unfortunate that these are the children who probably need more educational support than their peers and it is these children who will lose out.

But that’s life under market forces. And there’s nothing anyone can do about it. There is no-one to complain to and no-one accountable. Only the ballot box at the next election.

At least half the secondary schools in Bucks offer a less than good education. Those schools on the border with other counties are going to see their popularity wane. They will face competition from comprehensives in other counties. They are going to face (or are facing) the same problems as Bourne End Academy and Burnham Park Academy. Market forces will dictate they will close. (Let’s see how Bourne End Academy fares over the next few years. Will an influx of pupils from Burnham Park Academy save it?)

So no surprise – market forces will lead to local secondary schools in Bucks closing while the grammar schools will expand. Clued up and pushy parents will take up places at comprehensives over the borders. Disadvantaged children will have no choice but to go to their local and probably failing secondary school.

Market forces will lead to more travel and stress for Bucks pupils in competing for a good education.

Wouldn’t it be much better if every child had a local school, which they were entitled to attend and which provided an excellent education? Wouldn’t it be better for the child, their parents and the environment?

Wouldn’t it be better if the provision of schools – and school places - was planned by a competent body which was locally accountable and democratically elected? Like a local authority?

Wouldn’t it be better if we had local councilors who actually cared?

Wycombe children have an even worse chance of getting into a grammar school as the grammar schools extend to Maidenhead

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17 January 2019

Two grammar schools in Wycombe are currently consulting on major changes to their catchment area. These schools are Wycombe High School and John Hampden Grammar School. Consultation ends on 31 January and 27 January respectively.

The proposed extensions to the catchment area are large, extending over the border of Bucks to cover the district of Maidenhead as well as the district of Wycombe. (Incidentally, I think the catchment area of Sir William Borlase Grammar School already extends over the Bucks border into Maidenhead.)

You won’t find these consultation documents widely advertised – in fact you might be hard pressed to find the consultation documents at all. The links to their proposals are below.

Now in order to respond to the consultation you would expect the grammar schools to explain why the extension is proposed – and why extend to Maidenhead. But no – not a word of explanation.

Indeed it is not even clear from the John Hampden documents that the catchment area is changing.

So are we to make our own assumptions?

Are we to assume that the grammar schools are undersubscribed and need a bigger catchment area to fill their places? Surely not. Haven’t the grammar schools enough applicants to fill their schools twice over?

Are we to assume the grammar schools are short of talented applicants in Wycombe? Surely not. Aren’t there more than enough talented children in Wycombe?

Or are we to assume the grammar schools are simply looking to expand their operations and make a bigger profit from the public assets they have been given? Because that is what a company would do, isn’t it? And all the grammar schools are companies now.

Well, if the grammar schools don’t explain and we can’t think of other reasons, then perhaps we have to assume the grammar schools have embraced the free market and are out to expand.

And are we to assume the grammar schools have chosen (or been directed) to Maidenhead because that is the Prime Minister’s constituency and she is very keen on grammar schools? Are we to assume she has used her position to make it happen?

Because if the grammar schools don’t explain and we can’t think of other reasons, then we just have to assume the Prime Minister has used her influence to the advantage of her constituency. I have a vague idea this is against the Ministerial Code.

And where will this end? Are the grammar schools looking to expand to Henley, or Slough, or Reading? Or London or the South East or the whole country? Or even abroad?

Are they looking to become national academies competing with the independent and public schools? Because the grammar schools are now funded by contracts with the national Government. They haven’t really got anything to do with Bucks any more – have they?

You would also expect Bucks County Council to have considered and commented on the consequences of these changes for children in Bucks. But I can’t find that explanation either.

For example, does this mean there are less places at the grammar schools for children in Wycombe in particular and Bucks in general? Only about 12% of children in Wycombe pass the 11+ anyway (and only 5% in Wycombe town). But does this mean they now have to compete for places with children in Maidenhead?

Already about 30-40% of places are filled with children from outside Bucks. Does this mean that even more places will be filled with children from out of county?

Children who do not pass the 11+ exam stand a 50:50 chance of going to a less-than-good secondary school. BCC has clung to the two tier system of grammar schools and secondary schools on the basis that parents who have got enough money and can pay for coaching for their children, stand reasonable chance of getting their children into a grammar school. And a grammar school is seen as nearly as good as an independent school - and it’s free.

But now that excuse is going. Grammar schools aren’t funded and managed by BCC anymore; they are funded and managed by the Government. They are increasingly going to be open to children outside Bucks – and all that will remain for the vast majority of children in Bucks are the failing and under financed secondary schools.

You have to ask what BCC think about these proposals. As far as I can see, the answer is nothing – they simply don’t care about the education of children in Bucks.

Great minds find alike on Bourne End Academy

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21 December 2018

In my blog below of 8 August, I set out the chain of events when Bourne End School was dumped by Wycombe High School and handed over to a failing academy chain.

Janet Downs researched the events separately and found a similar picture. She also discovered that the Department of Education bailed out Bourne End School in 2016/7 to the tune of £150,000.

Sharon Cromie, Executive Head of Wycombe High School Academy Trust didn’t mention that to parents when she announced the transfer to E-Act academy chain the next year. She said the school was in ‘very good shape’.


See Janet’s article at

While BCC pays so little attention to SEND children, the money comes rolling in for two of the grammar schools in Bucks

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10 December 2018

The national press says the education system is failing children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

However, none of the committees of Bucks County Council, including the Children’s Select Committee, have considered the education of SEND pupils for over a year. BCC seems completely distracted by the continuing failure of their Children’s Services and their cuts to their early help services.

So I thought I would suggest some areas of concern to the Children’s Select Committee which it might like to consider when it gets round to doing a bit of scrutiny on SEND children.

I asked BCC how many SEND pupils were not receiving the support set out in their SEND statements or Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs). I thought this was an important and fundamental question as the statements and plans are legally binding.

The answer is BCC doesn’t know.

BCC said “We aim to ensure that the needs outlined within all plans are met. It is not otherwise possible to answer this question, the SEN team would need to look at every pupil’s record (we have 4200 cases) and contact all schools and partner agencies.”

This is a staggering admission of ignorance.

BCC has no idea to what extent it is complying with over 4000 legally binding agreements and says it has no system for doing so.

Perhaps BCC needs reminding that it is required to check a child’s progress at least once a year after a statement is made. This annual review includes a meeting with parents. Surely it would be simple to ask during the review whether all the needs identified in the plan had been met? And if not, record the fact?

The Select Committee might ask why BCC is not monitoring its compliance with the law in this area.

BCC also sent me the links to numerous tables on SEND pupils. One of these shows that there are 2876 SEND pupils in Bucks. What I don’t understand is how the SEN team has 4200 cases and yet there are only 2876 pupils in Bucks. Some of the “cases” may be young adults but does this mean that over 1000 SEND pupils living in Bucks are being educated outside Bucks? The Select Committee might ask if this is correct.

BCC also sent me information about the High Needs Block Funding for SEND pupils. The funding increased by 10% last financial year. Trouble is, the eligibility for this funding was extended to 0-5 year olds and 19-25 year olds so it is impossible to tell whether this was a real increase - or even a cut. The Select Committee might ask.

BCC also informed me that, as at 1st January this year, 20 SEND children were waiting for places at school and the average wait for those 20 children was over 3 months. The Select Committee might ask why this happened and what is the situation now

Finally, the Select Committee might ask why such a high proportion of children in Pupil Referral Units in Bucks are SEND children – nearly 50%.

Perhaps the Select Committee might start scutinising the education of SEND children now?

Still it’s good to know that while BCC pay so little attention to SEND children, the money comes rolling in for two of the grammar schools in Bucks.

Are children with SEND in Bucks getting the education they are legally entitled to?

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29 October 2018

There’s been considerable press coverage recently about children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) being failed by an educational system in crisis.

1.2 million pupils – 15% of all those in England – have some kind of SEND. 250,000 (3% of all pupils) have SEND statements or education and health care plans (EHCP), a legally binding document detailing the additional support that the child needs.

Here’s what’s happening nationally:

- demand for specialist support is soaring and threatens to bankrupt local authorities;

- parents of children with SEND are increasingly locked in lengthy disputes with councils; - many children with SEND end up without the support to which they are legally entitled, and are out of school for months – even years;

- appeals to the educational needs and disability tribunal have nearly doubled in the past two years. Parents are successful in 90% of tribunal hearings;

- the ombudsman says he is worried about the level of council failure within the SEND system. He found in favour of parents in eight out of 10 cases;

- the SEND crisis is being felt in schools already struggling with an 8% real-terms reduction in funding since 2010. The cuts to teaching assistants, specialist support and pastoral staff have removed much of the support for SEND pupils in mainstream settings;

- SEND pupils are also losing home-to-school transport, speech therapy and one-to-one support.


So I tried to find out how Buck County Council is coping with this crisis. However, I couldn’t find any reports about SEND provision going to BCC’s Cabinet or Select Committee for at least the past year.

Well, I thought, at least there must be some BCC performance targets for SEND provision. Surely there must be a target for delivering the legally binding EHCPs?

Well I found one corporate target relating to SEND provision. The target is to issue (not deliver) 32% of EHCPs within 20 weeks. In 2016, BCC was issuing over 50% of plans within 20 weeks so I have no idea why the percentage has been set so low.

Now, BCC is not even achieving 32% and performance is flagged up as amber.

Disappointing though this was, it was even more disappointing to find no corporate target for delivery of the ECHPs.

I just find this staggering. Some of the most vulnerable children in Bucks, who are struggling with mental and physical illnesses, disabilities, and behavior problems, are almost certainly not getting the educational provision they desperately need and to which they are legally entitled.

BCC should be monitoring how many children are not getting the provision set out in their ECHPs, how they are being failed and why.

BCC should be monitoring how many children with SEND are waiting for school places, and how long they have been waiting. But apparently not.

I may have got this completely wrong and BCC Councillors are carefully scrutinising the Council’s performance. Perhaps they’ve got it all under control. I’ll ask.

Perhaps the SEND crisis has passed Bucks by.

Or perhaps Councillors don’t want to know - or don’t care.

Tony Benn’s 5 questions on the grammar school takeover

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10 September 2018

This is my response to e-mails from Stephen Box, Executive Head Teacher of Insignis.  Insignis runs Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School and Princess Risborough School (see blog of 31 August below).


“Dear Stephen 


Thank you for your prompt responses in which you say you did not write to continue a public discussion and ask me not to publish your comments.  You say you are happy to discuss further privately - but not on a public website.  


I won't publish your comments but I will publish this, my response.  


Many years ago, Tony Benn, a Labour MP, said there were five questions you should ask a powerful person - "What power have you got?  Where did you get it from?  In whose interests do you exercise it?  To whom are you accountable?  And how can we get rid of you?"

It looks as though you - and presumably the other five company directors of Insignis - aren't prepared to have a public discussion or even provide any public information about the takeover of Princess Risborough by Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School.  So perhaps it is worth asking you Tony Benn's questions.  

  1. You and the other company directors of Insignis have the power to affect the lives of hundreds of young people as well as the power to use tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers' resources.    Is this right?  


  1. Where did you get this power from?  For example, who decided Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School should become an academy and be set up as a company?  Who decided that that company should become Insignis and become a Multi-Academy Trust?   Who decided that the company should take over Princess Risborough School?   Who decided the company should be run by its current six directors, and that Gaynor Bull should be its Chairman?   Were these positions advertised?  


  1. In whose interests does the company exercise its power?  I understand that companies limited by guarantee act in the interests of its members.  However, according to the Government website, the 3 members of the company are Gaynor Bull, the Chairman, Mark Hardy, another director, and David Griffiths, who resigned as a director last December.  All very odd.   Perhaps you could explain the legal position?


  1. To whom is the company accountable?  I assume someone is monitoring compliance of the contract Insignis has with the Government.   But I understand the company is not accountable to any locally elected body, far less to the parents or pupils or the local taxpayers.   We can't even ask the company for information because it's not covered by the Freedom of Information Act.  So who is the company accountable to? 


  1. Finally, how do we get rid of Insignis, or one of its directors, if we feel there are grounds for doing so?  I know the company can close itself down if it wishes and/or walk away from a failing school.   But how do we - the voters, taxpayers, parents, and pupils - get rid of Insignis, and its directors, if it, or they, are doing a poor job?

Perhaps Insignis might like to tell us its plans for running the two schools to the benefit of both. 

You are right is saying that I oppose selection for secondary education.  I think it divisive, discriminatory and there is no evidence that the 11+ is effective.   So perhaps the best way to run both schools would be to abolish selection and merge the schools into one comprehensive.   Now that would be a radical solution.

Kind Regards

Linda Derrick”



Princess Risborough School – it’s another grammar school takeover

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31 August 2018

My blog of 23 July about Princess Risborough School (PRS) went online on the Bucks Free Press website (

Peter Rowe, PRS’s Head Teacher, responded to my concerns about the finances of the school:-

PRS has an agreed deficit with the Education Funding Agency and a recovery plan that shows us being back in the black in two years’ time with a new community sports centre fully paid for.

 As we join Insignis Trust in September they will ensure there are no cash flow issues which could cause operational difficulties.

“Whilst funding is incredibly tight for all schools, PRS is not in an exceptional situation”.

A county council spokesman added: “We are aware that PRS will be joining the Insignis Academy Trust as from September 1, 2018. Parents and carers were notified.”

Which is all very odd.  What neither of these responses mentions is that Insignis Academy Trust was previously known as the Sir Henry Floyd Academy Trust, set up as a company in 2011.  At the moment, Insignis, a Multi-Academy Trust, only has one school – Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School. 

In practice, this is a takeover of PRS by the grammar school.    

The track record for grammar schools taking over secondary schools in Bucks isn’t great.  As you can see from the blog below, Wycombe High School tried it with Bourne End Academy (BEA).  BEA’s OFSTED assessment only improved from “inadequate” to “requires improvement” – and that took 4 years.   And then Wycombe High dumped BEA.  

But let’s be fair.  Perhaps this takeover may work out OK.  Perhaps Insignis has got the skills and experience to turn PRS around quickly.  After all, Insignis has got a healthy balance sheet running a surplus of about £1.5 million last year and with net assets of over £14 million.   So Insignis is well able to bail out PRS. 

Mind you Insignis’ last report envisaged that these reserves would be used to invest in Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School.   But it seems a good idea to me to sort out PRS’s cash flow issues first.  I’m sure the parents at the grammar school won’t mind. 

It’s good to know from the County Council that the parents and carers at PRS were informed about the takeover.  I’m not sure who these carers are but wouldn’t it have been even better if the parents had been consulted rather than informed?  But I suppose parents don’t have a say in the future of their school any more. 

I assume that parents at Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School have been informed that it will have to subsidise PRS for a while? 

It’s also odd that neither of the School’s websites mentions the takeover which takes place tomorrow.  Surely this is big news for both schools? 

And it’s odd that Peter Rowe, PRS’s Head Teacher, didn’t mention he was on the point of leaving.  PRS has an Interim Head Teacher while the Head Teacher of Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School becomes the CEO of Insignis.   

Bourne End School – dumped by Wycombe High and to be handed over to a failing academy chain

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8 August 2018

Many of the schools in Bucks are in financial trouble.  I have blogged about some of them, including Princess Risborough, Sir William Ramsay, Holmer Green and Burnham Park (below).  I have had no feedback from any of these schools. 



This is the story of another non-selective school, formerly known as Wye Valley School.  It too is in financial trouble. 

In 2013, Wye Valley School was put into special measures.  The next year it was converted to an academy, Bourne End Academy (BEA) and taken over by Wycombe High School Academies Trust (WHSAT).  WHSAT also manages Wycombe High School, a girls’ grammar school in Wycombe. The latest OFSTED assessment for BEA is “requires improvement”.

According to the latest accounts (up to August 2017), things seemed to be going alright.  WHSAT aimed to expand to 10 schools and 5000 pupils.  It was operating with a small surplus of £110 with over £30 million of net assets. 

There were a few warning signs.  The Trust had considered taking on a local primary school which was in special measures but decided it was too much of a financial risk. 

The Trust were also aware of the financial risks from BEA’s continuing unpopularity with pupils.  Whereas Wycombe High School more than filled its places, BEA was only 72% full (down by 5% from the previous year).    

The message was clear.  Schools get paid on the number of its pupils.  If the school doesn’t fill places, it doesn’t get the funding, it has to cut staff, the school struggles to keep up standards and it becomes even more unpopular.  It is a vicious circle – unpopular schools are a financial risk.  

Then on 19 June, the Executive Headteacher of WHSAT, Sharon Cromie, wrote to parents to consult about an expansion of Wycombe High School.  She proposed to bid for some of the £50 million being made available by the Government for extra grammar school places.   

Then on 2 July, she wrote to parents and pupils to say the Trust was dumping BEA.   These are my words of course.  What she actually said was

“The popularity BEA is now experiencing is a testament to all that has been achieved.  We can all be proud of this local success story and note that all the signs, including predicted data, indicate that BEA is poised to go from strength to strength and is in very good shape. 

 It is therefore with sadness, but realism, that WHSAT must recognise that now is the time for Bourne End Academy to be part of a larger Trust that has the financial capacity and resources that a small local Trust of two schools does not. In this way, BEA can keep moving forwards”.

This of course is nonsense.  BEA is not a success story.  How can it be when it has taken nearly 5 years to get from special measures to “requires improvement” – still not good enough.  Moreover, not one child at BEA who was classified as a low prior achiever obtained a GCSE in Maths and English at Grade 4 or above last year.  (Cressex Scool by comparison got 11% of its low prior attainers to Grade 5 and 21% to Grade 4). 

Ms Cromie predicts that 165 pupils will start at BEA this September.  However, to achieve that number, BEA will have to fill its last places from pupils who choose the school as its 4th preference.   The school continues to be unpopular with pupils.

But the big question is if BEA is in such good shape and WHSAT’s declared ambition is to expand to 10 schools, why would it dump BEA? 

Well, it doesn’t take long to conclude that Wycombe High School Academy Trust has not been successful in turning BEA around.  BEA is a financial risk.  Neither is WHSAT a big success at being an academy chain and expanding across Bucks.  It looks as though it is drawing its horns in and focusing on the expansion of the grammar school.   

Parents and pupils of BEA might like to know that Ms Cromie was paid £120 – 130K in the year ending August 2017 as Executive Headteacher of WHSAT.


Meanwhile we learn BEA is to be transferred to a new multi- academy trust.  And guess what?  It’s going to an academy chain called E-ACT – the very same chain I blogged about on 6 February 2018 (below). 

Far from being able to provide the “financial capacity and resources” which Ms Cromie says are necessary for BEA to move forward, E-ACT was required by the Department of Education to reduce the number of schools it managed because of its poor performance. 

8 out of its remaining 25 schools are currently still rated as “requires improvement” or worse. One of these, Burnham Park, remains in special measures.   Burnham Park remains, understandably, a very unpopular school for pupils: only 15 pupils put the school as its first preference last year for its 140 places. 

So a transfer of BEA to E-ACT can only increase E-ACT’s financial risks; it would have at least 2 schools below capacity and operating at a loss.  

In addition, recent DfE and Ofsted reports on E-ACT have identified a number of failings, which include:

Ø  Pupils from low-income families making less progress than equivalent pupils achieve nationally.

Ø  Slow progress and low Key Stage 4 standards in their secondary schools.

Ø  High turnover of trustees within the MAT.

Ø  Poor financial management.

So, unless someone called the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) changes his or her mind, I think BEA will get none of the help it needs in transferring to E-ACT.

A whole cohort of children at BEA will have gone through all their secondary schooling getting sub- standard education. 

Bucks County Council could help.  It has a responsibility to “work closely with the relevant RSC and local partners to ensure schools receive the support they need to improve”.  BCC actually has a grant from central government to help them fulfill these responsibilities.

Local authorities are required to raise any concerns it has about an academy’s standards, leadership or governance directly with the relevant RSC.

However, Sarah Callaghan, BCC’s Director of Education says that WHSAT’s decision to dump BEA is “a matter between Wycombe High School and the RSC; it is not something that BCC were consulted upon or had involvement in”.  The replacement of WHSAT by another MAT, “is a decision made by the RSC, in which the Local Authority has had no involvement at all”.

So BCC has a responsibility to ensure BEA has the support it needs to improve.  BCC is paid to do this.  But the Director of Education says it is nothing to do with BCC.   

I do wonder if the Cabinet member for Education and Skills  knows his Director had said it is nothing to do with BCC. 

Because he is both the county and district councilor for Bourne End.    I’ll ask him.   I wonder what his constituents would say – if they know of course.



Auditors flag up doubts about ability of Princes Risborough School to continue as going concern. Does anyone care?

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23 July 2018

A couple of weeks ago, Aylesbury Labour Party asked for ideas for campaigns it could run.  I wouldn’t have thought there was any shortage of things to campaign about in Bucks.  However, if Aylesbury Labour can’t think of anything, perhaps I could suggest it campaigns about the proposed expansion of the grammar schools. 

I would need of course to check that the Labour Party in Bucks is still opposed to selective education.  Three years ago, I wouldn’t have needed to ask.  The Labour Party campaigned vigorously against selective education during the 2015 general election.   Now it seems you need to ask.  

If the Labour Party in Bucks needs evidence that selective education is educationally unfair and damaging to pupils, it only needs to look at the excellent website of the campaign group ‘Local Equal and Excellent’.     

We can also see that grammar schools are at a financial advantage in what is now the schools’ free market.

For some years, I’ve been monitoring the finances of six secondary schools in Bucks – three non-selective schools and three grammar schools (see table below). 

As these schools are private sector companies, they are required to send their accounts to Companies House.  Their latest accounts are up to August 2017.    

One non-selective school – Princes Risborough School – appears to be in serious financial trouble.   The auditors said there was a “material uncertainty that may cast doubt on the Academy’s ability to continue as a going concern”.    

Princes Risborough School incurred a net deficit of £375,000 in 2016/7 and at the end of the year their restricted assets were in deficit of £125,000.   The School forecast a net deficit for the next four financial years.  However, it said it had sufficient reserves and cash to continue operating for 12 months from signing the accounts. The accounts were signed on 15 December 2017. 

The School says the main causes of the financial problems are:

-        Difficulty in employing and retaining staff and high staff sickness/absence levels;

-        Maintenance of an aging building and equipment replacement; and

-        Continual reduction in overall funding against increasing costs.

And the following remedial action is planned:   

-        Cutting staff including redundancies;

-        Expecting fairer funding to increase funding from September 2018; and

-        Joining a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT).

In summary, the school is running out of money and may have to close unless it is taken over by an MAT.

Oddly I can find no mention of the School’s financial problems nor the plans to join an MAT on the School’s website or in the press.    I wonder why.  Do the parents and pupils know about the situation?    Does Bucks County Council know?  Does it care?  What is happening to save the school?

All the five other schools I selected are still going concerns, though the other two non-selective schools appear to be struggling.

The accounts of Marlow Education Trust (formally Sir William Borlase Grammar School) cannot be compared year on year as it has taken over Beechview Primary School in Wycombe from Bucks County Council.  It is impossible to see whether one or both schools operated at a loss.

The Trust’s accounts have also been qualified by the auditor because the value of Beechview School buildings and land has not been included in the accounts.   It is therefore difficult to see the financial position of the Trust.  However, judging by its plans to expand its grammar school and take over other schools in the area, the finances would appear to be strong. 

The Royal Grammar School’s finances also seem to be strong.  It recently got planning permission to improve its accommodation for staff to alleviate its recruitment problems.   I rather suspect the recruitment problems of the Royal Grammar School pale into insignificance in comparison to Sir William Ramsay Academy just down the road.  I bet the Academy wished it had the money to build accommodation for its staff. 

If you cut the funding and transfer schools to the marketplace, some schools – mainly the non-selective schools – will struggle and fail.  Other schools – mainly the grammar schools which have reserves and other income - will compete aggressively and survive.  

The Conservative Government has intervened in the school marketplace by increasing funding to grammar schools and giving them a competitive advantage.  The intervention will not help struggling schools with disadvantaged children; it will help schools with pupils whose parents are prosperous. 

Now will the Labour Party come out of hiding and campaign?




 Net income/expenditure (£000s)
















Princess Risborough School






- 375








Aylesbury High School














Sir William Ramsay School














Marlow Education Trust formally Sir William Borlase Grammar School






- 332








Holmer Green Senior School






 - 360








Royal Grammar School






- 12



Councillor Appleyard washes his hands of responsibility for Bucks educational attainment gap

8 April 2018  

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There has been a lot of publicity in the newspapers about the under-achievement of poorer* children in Bucks in primary schools.  The under-achievement of poorer pupils is a lot worse than that of more prosperous pupils.   

Bucks County Council has tried to explain why Bucks is so ineffective at helping its poorer pupils.   Those explanations are superficial and misleading.  So perhaps BCC simply doesn’t care about helping poorer children.

What we are looking at is something called Key Stage 2 (KS2).  KS2 covers the four years of schooling for pupils aged between 7 and 11.   At the end of KS2, pupils are assessed using national tests and some teacher assessments.

Nationally, 48% of poorer children reached the expected standard in 2017 at KS2 in reading, writing and mathematics. 

In Bucks, only 38% of poorer pupils reached the expected standard at KS2.   

So poorer children in Bucks do significantly worse than nationally. 

Nationally, 68% of more prosperous children reach the expected standard at KS2.  The difference between the percentage of poorer children reaching the standard and more prosperous children reaching the standard is known as the “attainment gap”.  Nationally therefore the attainment gap at KS2 is 20%.

BCC doesn’t provide the percentage of more prosperous children in Bucks reaching the expected standard.  It calculates its attainment gap using the national figure of 68% which gives an attainment gap of 30%. 

The “real” Bucks attainment gap for KS2 (i.e. comparing the performance of poorer pupils with that of more prosperous pupils in Bucks) is higher.  The attainment gap in Bucks is at least 30%.

Now let’s look at BCC’s explanations for why BCC is so dismally failing its poorer children. 

1.     Sarah Callaghan, the Service Director of Education at Bucks County Council, said the achievement gap is big because the overall attainment of Bucks pupils is above national average.

On average, 62% of children nationally reach the expected standard at KS2.  On average, 64% of Bucks children reach the expected standard.

I fail to see how this small difference in overall attainment explains the large gap in the attainment in Bucks between poorer children and their peers.

2.     Ms Callaghan added “You do see nationally there is a clear difference of results at the end of KS2 then going into KS3 going into secondary and that is because there is an external moderation of KS2 but it is an internal process at KS3.

“So you do see when something is externally moderated it can be more rigorous so you’ll see a difference between those phases – so it is about how do we make sure we are supporting consistent moderation.”

(My thanks to the Bucks Free Press for this quote which I assume they took down by shorthand.  I couldn’t make head or tail of what Ms Callaghan said).

I suppose she was saying that the external assessment process of children at KS2 is more rigorous than the internal assessments at KS3 for 11 to 14-year-olds and this widens the gap.  

But this is nonsense.  How does an assessment at age 14 affect the attainment gap at age 11?

What OFSTED has said is that the tests at the end of KS2 are now more rigorous and expect more of children.   Unfortunately, the more rigorous tests show that poorer children are falling even further behind and nationally the attainment gap has widened. 

However, that does not explain why the gap in Bucks is so much worse than the national gap.  

3.     Councillor Appleyard, the Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, said secondary schools had to spend time getting all their pupils up to the same level of attainment at Key Stage 3 – just like universities have to do with undergraduates.

I fail to see how this is relevant to the attainment gap at KS2.

4.     Councillor Lambert asked if funding was being targeted on poorer pupils and if there was a timeline for narrowing of the gap. 

Ms Callaghan said Bucks had only just set up an initiative called Side-by-Side and it would take time – an unpredictable time - for any improvements to work through.  Councillor Appleyard added it was the responsibility of the schools to deliver results; BCC had no authority to go into schools and demand things from them.


At this point, I began to wonder why Councillor Appleyard– or indeed anyone else – hadn’t mentioned the fact that BCC has been failing poorer pupils for years.  BCC has been promising to take action for years and failing to do so.   And now Councillor Appleyard was refusing to accept it had any responsibility.      

Has Councillor Appleyard forgotten that the majority of primary schools are still the responsibility of the council and BCC does have the authority to ask these schools to make changes?   BCC certainly has the responsibility to provide support.

Has he also forgotten that the Select Committee set up an inquiry in 2013 after criticisms from education ministers about the wide attainment gap in Bucks?   Councillor Dhillon, now Chairman of the Select Committee, was on the inquiry and it took evidence from Councillor Appleyard who was the responsible Cabinet member then as now.

That inquiry made twelve recommendations for narrowing the gap, including asking Councillor Appleyard to ask the Schools Forum to review the Funding Formula “with the objective of targeting additional funding at the children of families from the most deprived backgrounds”.    

Did Councillor Appleyard ask the Schools Forum and did it ever report back?

The inquiry also recommended asking Councillor Appleyard to ask the Bucks Learning Trust to provide specific guidance and support on narrowing the gap.  BCC has now cancelled its contract with BLT and brought the work back in-house.  But did Councillor Appleyard ask BLT to do this work and, if so, did it ever report back?   Is BCC now doing this work?

The inquiry recommended that Councillor Appleyard apply to the Education Endowment Foundation for funding to evaluate what works in Bucks on narrowing the gap.  Did Councillor Appleyard ever apply to the Foundation or evaluate what works in Bucks? 

The inquiry also recommended that the planned review of Children’s Centres should focus on their role in improving the educational achievements of poorer children in their early years.   BCC decided to close all the Children’s Centres (now temporarily reprieved) but did the review consider this role and what was its conclusion? 

It’s been four years since the inquiry reported and nothing seems to have happened.  BCC was failing its poorer pupils then and is still failing its poorer pupils now.  It doesn’t care and accepts no responsibility.   

It’s the same old story. 


*BCC’s paper refers to “disadvantaged” children.  I think the major disadvantage these children suffer from is poverty. 


The sooner OFSTED assess BCC’s provision for children with special educational needs the better.

30 March 2018

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See what you make of the following:

1.     *Bucks County Council is not meeting its targets for timely preparation of statements for children with special educational needs, according to papers to the Finance, Performance and Resources Select Committee.  It also has a poor record of providing the education, health and care required by children with special needs.    

2.     * Bucks County Council plans to cut the budget for Special Educational Needs by £1.2 million from 2018/9.

3.     ** The Government proposes to give BCC £0.8 million/year for 3 years to fund 52 extra places for children with disabilities and learning difficulties.   3 schools would benefit. 

4.     An OFSTED inspection of education provision in Bucks for children with special needs is expected soon.

My conclusion is that BCC is struggling to provide an adequate education for many of our children with special needs.    The money from the Government is not going to paper over the cracks.  I suspect the provision of education in Bucks for children with educational needs is a shambles and that BCC’s plans for cuts may put BCC in breach of the law.

But I can’t say this for sure.  All I can say for sure is the sooner OFSTED arrives, the better. 

*I was unable to check these statements as the relevant webpages on BCC’s website were unavailable.  

** I was unable to find this item on BCC’s website, even under their News page; the figures come from an article in the Bucks Free Press.


We told you so – this time about Bucks Learning Trust.

14 March 2018

A number of us have been asking about Bucks Learning Trust (BLT) for over 3 years now.    

BLT is yet another company set up by BCC to deliver some of BCC’s statutory functions, this time educational support to schools.  It received £8 million under a contract with BCC and now BCC has decided to bring the work back in-house.  BLT will be left to manage as best it can without this £8 million which forms about two thirds of its income.

The accounts are due by the end of the month. 

Back in February 2015, David Williams QC, Wycombe Labour’s then parliamentary candidate, asked what BCC expected BLT to deliver for its £8 million/year and how will this would improve educational standards in Bucks. 

He asked how BCC ensured that BLT was sound in terms of its finances, governance, educational competence and reputation.    And what were BLT’s longer term financial projections, including for generated income?  

He also asked about the impact of the resignation of the CEO only a short time into the life-time of the company.  Why was the discussion of his departure “sub-judice”? 

No answers, of course, from BCC.

Robin Stuchbury, then a Labour county councillor carried on asking through 2016 and 2017 about BLT’s finances and about the value for money for its services.  His concerns were dismissed by BCC out of hand.

I’ve been doing my bit reporting the concerns (see for example my blog of 15 January 2018 below).    Of course BCC hasn’t issued a press release on the failure of yet another of its out-sourcing companies.  If you want to know anything about BLT it’s on page 295 of a Cabinet report.   

So it was gratifying to see Conservative councillors on the Select Committee on Finance, Performance and Resources having a go at their colleagues for failing to learn lessons from these disastrous companies BCC set up.   And even more gratifying to see the Bucks Free Press report the discussion.

So well done Councillors Bendyshe –Brown and Martin for calling their colleagues to account.  The latter said there had been naivety and acceptance by BCC of what was happening at these companies (or said to be happening by the management of the companies).  There should have been oversight and challenge by BCC from the beginning. 

Well we weren’t naive and accepting.  We had concerns from the beginning and asked all the right questions.  But no-one wanted to listen.   If BCC had listened to us, it would have saved the taxpayer millions of pounds.    

So just for once, I am going to say



E-ACT Burnham Park Academy – exposed to market forces?

6 February 2018   

There’s been a lot of publicity recently about the lack of funding for Bucks schools.   

In a few months, academy schools in Bucks will send their accounts to Companies House.  Then we will know how many broke even in the 2016/7 academic year.  

However, we won’t know how academy schools are doing if they are part of an academy chain; accounts are prepared for the company running all the schools in the chain, not for individual schools.

Three schools in Bucks are run by an academy chain called E- ACT and a colleague suggested I should look at their finances.      

E-ACT was in the news a few years ago when Sir Bruce Liddington, its Director General, said he wanted the chain to have 200 academies and 50 free schools.  Sir Bruce was paid about £300,000/year. 

E-ACT was then criticized by the Education Funding Agency over E-ACT’s “culture of extravagant expenses” and other financial irregularities, such as apparently using the pupil premium for purposes for which it was not intended.  Then, in 2014, E-ACT was criticised by OFSTED for the educational standards in some of its schools.  It was stripped of 10 of its schools.  Sir Bruce resigned.    

I thought I would see how things had changed since then.  First stop, Companies House website.  The latest accounts, up to August 2017, are illegible.      

On to the E-ACT’s own website.   It now sponsors 25 academies with 15,000 pupils and, according to its website, everything is fine. 

I did manage to find a readable version of its annual report for 2016/7.  It has lots of inspiring mission statements, lovely pictures and graphs.  However, the accounts show that E-ACT made an operating loss of nearly £0.5 million (on an income of £112 million).  It covered this by a gain of over £2 million from the benefit pension schemes.  Not good but no worse I suspect than many other academy chains.

Its Chief Executive is now paid £164,000 and trustees’ expenses were quite modest. 

Two of the schools in Bucks run by E-ACT are primary schools - Chalfont Valley E-ACT Primary Academy and Denham Green E-ACT Primary Academy.  Both are assessed by OFSTED as good.  

E-ACT also has one secondary academy in Bucks – the E-ACT Burnham Park Academy.   In 2016, OFSTED assessed it as inadequate and it was put into special measures.   It was re-assessed by OFSTED as inadequate last December but found to be making real progress. 

Unfortunately it’s not that unusual for a school to be working to get out of special measures.   The school’s website was very positive and I was wondering why my colleague suggested I look at the school.   Good luck to it I thought.

Then I happened to look up the school on Wikipedia.  There, almost as a throwaway comment, it said “Pupil numbers are falling. In 2015, 80 pupils applied to join the school, with this figure dropping to 55 in 2016 and 21 in 2017”.  And I thought that can’t be right.  21 pupils applying to a secondary school?  

The Wikipedia article had a reference and I looked it up.  According to Bucks County Council, Burnham Park Academy has 140 places each year for pupils.  In 2015, 111 had been allocated to the school.  In 2016, 55 pupils were allocated and, in 2017, (yes Wikipedia was right) 21 pupils had been allocated.   This stuck out like a sore thumb as all the places in all the other secondary schools in Bucks were full.  

Burnham School has a capacity of 700.  Only 434 (62%) are filled.

I was left wondering.  How can a school continue if only 21 pupils are allocated to 140 places?  How is that sustainable, educationally or financially?   How can a school have over 250 places unfilled when the county is desperate to meet an increasing demand?

Why is no-one apparently saying anything publicly?   Surely the parents and teachers at the school are worried? 

And is anyone responsible for intervening to make better use of the educational buildings and resources – and ensure pupils have stability and quality of education? 

Or is it all now left to market forces?  Because we are starting to see where market forces leave us when we contract out vital services to the private sector.


Another complete financial flop by Bucks County Council

15 January 2018   

In 2013, Bucks County Council set up three private sector companies.  It then outsourced BCC work to these companies with multi-million pound contracts.  The ideology behind these private sector ventures was that all three companies would be a roaring commercial success and the profits would come back to BCC – and the taxpayer. 

Well it hasn’t turned out like that.  The story of the first company, Bucks Care, is told in my blogs under “Social Care”.   It is a story of inadequate services, institutional abuse and a loss to the taxpayer of at least £5 million.  The work has been brought back in-house and the company is to be closed down.  

The story of the second company Bucks Law, is told in my blogs under “Other Things” – and in Private Eye.  According to BCC’s forecasts, it should have been 50% self-funding by last year.   However, it was closed down in March 2017 with its unaudited accounts showing just £411 left in the kitty.

This is the story of the third company – Bucks Learning Trust (BLT) – set up to carry out BCC's statutory responsibilities for school improvement i.e.

·       School Improvement Services

·       Governor Services

·       Early Years Service / Early Years Workforce Development

·       Specialist Teaching,  Cognition and Learning Service

·       School Financial Management Advisory Service

These are vital services that schools and many of our most vulnerable pupils rely on.

Bringing back the services in-house should come as no surprise.   

In April last year, BCC’s retiring Service Director for Education pointed out to BCC’s Select Committee that Government cuts put BLT’s financial viability at risk.  Its annual grant had already been cut from £8 million to £6 million and it had had to make staff redundant.   It had forecast a small surplus for 2017/8.  Its commercial trading results were disappointing and it faced an increasing reluctance by schools to pay for its services as schools funding became increasingly tight.  

And now, tucked away on page 295 of the Cabinet meeting last Monday is a paper about BLT which recommended bringing all the statutory services back in-house.  

The paper was discussed after the Cabinet decisions to close all the Children’s Centres which attracted intensive media attention.  So the paper on BLTpassed largely unnoticed.    BCC hasn’t even issued a news statement. 

It is rather difficult understanding what the paper is saying amongst all the jargon and it is not helped by the introduction on the webcast by Councillor Appleyard who referred to a list of services on page 298.  There is no list on my page 298.    

My summary of what BCC is saying is

-        BCC is taking back these functions because the Government has cut the money for these services to local authorities

-        In due course, the Government will cut all the money for these services to local authorities and BCC will provide very little to mainstream schools

-        Instead the Government has given funding to schools to provide the services themselves on a co-operative basis

-        BCC was forced to make these changes by a change in Government policy (which I think is known as austerity) which BCC has got absolutely nothing to do with (having forgotten what a keen advocate of austerity it was back in the day before the impact was felt by residents).   

Cabinet members didn't ask any questions about the paper and it was voted through unanimously. 

So it is all down to the schools now.

It is also interesting what residents aren’t told. 

There is little, if anything, about the success or otherwise of this private company against its objectives of improving schools performance.   Not a word, for example, about the continuing gap between the performance of poorer pupils in secondary schools in Bucks and their peer group.

There is very little about the impact on staff, many of whom have been, or will be, made redundant or have been shunted back and forth to the private sector.

There is nothing at all on how the schools will be able to cope.   

The paper doesn’t even mention that BCC set up BLT and still owns it.   Not a word about the financial situation of the company – is it making a profit or a loss?   Not a word about its future – just that it will continue trading.   Not a word about the financial ramifications of the whole venture – just that “the proposed change will result in financial savings that will help to achieve the required budget savings (see confidential appendix F).”  


I bet all the interesting bits are in the restricted annexes.

I looked on the Companies House website.  The accounts for 2016/7 are due next week. 

Watch this space.


BBC gives reassurance that imans with extreme views talking in school no threat 

Follow me @ LindaDerrick1

1 October 2017

The Bucks Free Press published an article on Friday about an imam who told children that martyrdom was better than school. He was jailed for six-and-a-half years for supporting the Islamic State terror group.

Last year, three imams in Wycombe told their worshippers that Mumtaz Qadri, a murderer and terrorist, was a saint and that his act of murder was a holy act.

One of those imams has been talking in schools to pupils about Islam. But few people have spoken out against that preaching or seem worried.  


I and others have done our best to alert people to these extreme views but the political and religious leaders in Bucks do not want to challenge these extreme views – or at least not publicly.

I put my concerns to Bucks County Council about one of these imams, Imam Sultan, talking in schools. I had no substantive response from Councillor Whyte, Cabinet member responsible for safeguarding. He objected to the title of my blog; said he had been reassured by BCC’s Prevent officer that the schools and police had resolved the issue; and referred what he called my “accusations” to one of his colleagues.

I asked the police superintendent at Wycombe how the police had resolved the issue as Councillor Whyte said. The police superintendent said he appreciated my concern but “the matter should be addressed to education and children’s services for an accurate account of responsibilities when teaching children”.

I had no response from Councillor Tett, Leader of the conservative group on BCC, when I set out the seriousness of my concerns. I asked him to ensure that Councillor Whyte understood his responsibilities for safeguarding. No response.

I asked him to ensure that anyone putting concerns about safeguarding to BCC was treated with respect, listened to and had their concerns investigated. No response.

The FOI Monitoring Officer eventually responded. He said the responsibility to vet and monitor external speakers lay firmly with schools. He added that there had been “no need to prevent the Imam Sultan [and presumably the other two imams] or the Council for Christian Muslim Relations …..from speaking in schools if Headteachers wish to use them. The Local Authority does not have the power to ban speakers without consultation with the Police. In this instance there was no threat”.

I asked whether BCC consulted the police before coming to the view that there was no threat but, yet again, have had no response.

So there we have it. Three imams in Wycombe believe that Mumtaz Qadri, a murderer and terrorist, is a saint and that his act of murder was a holy act.

BCC’s FOI Monitoring Officer, on behalf of BCC, has told me that it is down to the schools to decide who talks to their pupils but in any case these three imams present no threat.

Meanwhile two of the imams, including Imam Sultan, are still preaching in the Wycombe mosques. Imam Sultan is still an official of the Council for Christian and Moslem Relations.

The third imam, Imam Jelani has resigned from his employment with the Mosque Committee. However, I understand he is shortly to be running a mosque independent of the Mosque Committee with finance from his supporters.

And the whistleblower is still at risk if he attends the Wycombe mosques.


There’s no money to tackle rising exclusions from Bucks schools – just hubs and virtual schools

29 September 2017

Back in February I blogged about children being excluded from Bucks primary schools.  Bucks County Council officials had identified an increase in the number of children being excluded.

A report to BCC’s Select Committee on education described how children who were excluded got far fewer qualifications and were more likely to develop mental health problems and commit crimes.  

The report analysed the data about the children who were most likely to be excluded and showed they were disproportionately male, black and poor. They were most likely to be excluded from schools assessed as good or excellent and the main reasons for exclusions were failures in the educational system, including a lack of teachers.   

The officials had taken action and exclusions had gone down. 

I congratulated the officials on an excellent report.  

In September it was the turn of secondary schools – and what a difference from the previous report.

The only piece of real information in the paper was that exclusions from secondary schools had gone up by 100% in 2015/6 and by 6% in 2016/7.  We are not told who these children are.  Are they boys or girls?  Which ethnic groups or socio economic classes are the children from?   Which schools did they get excluded from and why?  What are the underlying causes?  And why was there this huge jump in exclusions in 2015/6?

All we get are 2 or 3 pages of BCC management speak. 

We have a Fair Access Board which ensures the sharing of insight, holistic pictures of children, a key note address introducing training with an incomprehensible title, an Integrated Services Board which “will allow for evolving themes to be escalated” (I kid you not).     

The secondary Pupil Referral Unit was full up so “education was resourced from a Virtual school and Youth Services”.  (What on earth is a Virtual school – and is there anyone left in the Youth Services?  How many children were taught by a virtual school and the Youth Service?) 

We got a new Inclusive Education working party which astonishingly is committed to promoting inclusion.  It has also pledged to review and foster all sorts of useful things.

However, there were no new resources so “any work undertaken has been done within the current budget”.  Which begs the question whether any work has been done or whether the pledges remain unfulfilled.  

We are also promised a Prevention and Support Panel, a “Hub” and an “Inclusion Charter”.   Plus a schools- led model and stretch targets. 

Can’t wait.  

I’m left wondering what all this management speak is hiding.  What is really happening to exclusions in secondary schools?

Is this report simply hiding the fact that schools lack the necessary funding to help children who have problems – and those children end up excluded not just from school but from society.


Bucks County Council has no major updates or decisions to make on schools before September. So that’s alright then.

9 July 2017

Wouldn’t it be good in these uncertain times if our local elected representatives had a sure grip on the problems in our schools? 

You can probably write your own list of problems but here are a few of mine

-          Cuts in funding

-          The ever continuing huge gap between the attainment of our disadvantaged children and their peer group

-          The increasing lack of local school place as developments are built without schools

-          The viability of Bucks Learning Trust  

-          Cuts to non-core education (such as careers advice, mental health provision, sports, art and music provision)

-          Cuts to support to children with special needs

-          The continuing scam of the 11+

-          Schools’ responsibilities for preventing radicalisation  

-          Schools going into special measures

On top of that there are now concerns, arising from the Grenfell Tower fire, about fire safety in schools. 

Wouldn’t it be good if Bucks County Council shared their expertise and experience with these problems with the schools – or at least helped schools to share their expertise and experience?

Wouldn’t it be good if BCC helped to clarify what’s coming down the line? For example, which of the promises in the Conservative manifesto are now going to be implemented in Theresa May’s “bold” new government. 

We know that the proposed expansion of grammar schools is dead (thank goodness although that doesn’t help Bucks much).  We also know that the abolition of free school lunches is not going to happen. 

However, is the Government still going to build a hundred free schools a year?  Is it still going to insist that universities and independent schools sponsor or set up free schools?  Is it still going to review school admissions policy?

Will the government still expect every child to know their times tables off by heart?  Or 75% of pupils to have entered for the Ebacc combination of GCSEs?

Will the government still “offer forgiveness” to teachers on student loan repayments while they are teaching.  (I know - I don’t understand this either.  It sounds as though teachers have committed a sin in taking out loans and will be forgiven their sins while they teach.)

And crucially is the government going to implement the fairer funding formula – and if so when?  And when do schools get some of the £4 billion extra funding promised in the manifesto?   

Well it might have been good to share experience and get clarification – but it’s not going to happen.  Bucks County Council has cancelled the meeting of the Schools Forum scheduled for 11 July.  (The Forum is where all the head teachers get together).  

BCC explained that:

“With no news having been received from DfE about budgets and finance we have no major updates or decisions to make before the new academic year.”

Says it all really.  Apparently BCC is merely there to disseminate information and the schools are just to get on with it.  After all, they are all businesses now.   Aren’t they?


The Conservatives have created a funding crisis for schools in Bucks – Labour would invest £6.3 billion nationally in schools

22 May 2017

I thought I would look at what’s on offer from the Conservatives and from Labour for Bucks teachers and parents of Bucks school children.   

It is clear that the main educational concern in Bucks is the impending crisis in school funding.   Mainstream schools face a cut in their budgets of 7-8% by 2019/20 i.e. £3 billion. 

Bucks head teachers have written collectively to the Prime Minister with their concerns and individual school heads and school Governors have been writing to parents to explain why schools face this crisis. 

The extract below from one primary head teacher in Bucks is typical – and unusually blunt in placing the blame for the crisis squarely on the Government.

“Ministers have repeatedly claimed that education funding is protected in real terms - it is not, and bodies such as the NAO confirm this.  We feel that the Government should be the champions of education but Ministers seem to be in denial about the realities of school funding and its impact on children – the crisis in teacher recruitment is there for all to see as a clear example of the need for better policies and proper investment in our children’s futures. There is also a multi-billion pound shortfall in money for school buildings which means that premises are deteriorating and ultimately will cost more to repair than if an adequate amount was invested each year.”

It’s not only Ministers who are in denial.  So too is Bucks County Council.  It refuses to accept that there is an impending funding crisis. 

The four ex- Conservative MPs In Bucks – Steve Baker, Cheryl Gillan, Dominic Grieve and David Lidington – also seem to be in denial.  They have said nothing about this schools funding crisis (actually they don’t seem to have said much about education at all).    

What the Conservatives offer

The Conservative manifesto puts its priority on the creation of more free schools (at least a hundred a year) and establishing more grammar schools.

Then it mentions the curriculum where the main proposal is to expect all 11 years old to know their times tables by heart. 

Third it offers to support teachers.  Teachers will be offered “forgiveness on student loan repayments while they are teaching” (whatever that means). 

Finally are proposals on funding i.e. that no school will have its budget cut as a result of introducing the fair funding formula and the “overall schools budget” will be increased by £4bn by 2022 i.e. 4 years time.   I understand the “overall school budget” includes free schools which will be generously funded in comparison to mainstream schools.  So the funding is not going to cover the funding gap and will come too late; cuts will still have to be made. 


What Labour offers

Labour’s manifesto has a chapter on education.  I know I am biased but anyone interested in education in Bucks (and there are a lot of you), then I would recommend you read it.  The link is below.

It sets out a vision for a National Education Service which would, over time, provide cradle-to-grave learning free at the point of use.  It has proposals for childcare and early learning, schools, further and adult education, apprenticeships and higher education.  

But back to school funding.  The manifesto says

“Labour will not waste money on inefficient free schools and the Conservatives’ grammar schools vanity project.  Labour does not want a return to secondary moderns. We will also oppose any attempt to force schools to become academies….

We will make sure schools are properly resourced by reversing the Conservatives’ cuts and ensuring that all schools have the resources they need. We will introduce a fairer funding formula that leaves no school worse off, while redressing the historical underfunding of certain schools. Labour will also invest in new school buildings, including the phased removal of asbestos from existing schools”

All the Labour Party’s proposals are costed.  Those for the increased funding for schools, including protection against losses from the new funding formula, and for free school meals and the arts pupil premium is £6.3 billion by 2021/2.

Teachers and parents can take their choice.   I know I want Labour’s vision and its practical, professional proposals for my granddaughters.

And by the way, the Labour candidate for Aylesbury is a retired primary school head teacher.


Operating losses of Bucks schools got worse in 2016

23 April 2017

The operating surpluses or losses of six secondary schools in Bucks – three non-selective schools and three grammar schools - are set out below.  They are taken from the latest accounts which these schools are now required to send to Companies House as they are now companies.  

All the schools have had to make large adjustments to their final operating balance because of what are called “actuarial losses on benefit pension schemes”.  This means all six schools operated at a substantial loss during 2016.

The figures in brackets are the operating balances without the pension adjustments.   The three grammar schools would have operated at a surplus without the pension adjustment, the three non-selective schools would have operated at a loss.  I do not know if this is significant as I selected the six schools at random.

All schools now face a 7-8% further loss by 2020.

It does not make happy reading.

Most secondary schools and some primary schools in Bucks are now private sector companies. The assets and staff of previously state-owned schools were transferred to private sector companies limited by guarantee; they are called academies.  Free schools are companies set up by the private sector and run for profit.   

Not a lot of people have realised this. 

If anyone would like to know the operating loss or surplus of their local school, if it is an academy or free school, I can help if you contact me. 





 Net income/expenditure (£000s)
















Princess Risborough School






-1,925 (-484)








Aylesbury High School






-1,014 (97)








Sir William Ramsay School






-1,564 (-194)








Sir William Borlase Grammar School






-773 (172)








Holmer Green Senior School






- 1,072 (-138)








Royal Grammar School






-1,441 (5)


Posted by Linda Derrick.  Promoted by Martin Abel on behalf of Linda Derrick at 5 Spenser Road, Aylesbury HP21 7LR     




What BCC doesn’t tell you about education in Bucks – but its retiring Director does

Councillor Robin Stuchbury (love the waistcoat)

10 April 2017

Councillor Zahir Mohammed, Bucks County Council’s cabinet member for education, has made much in the past few months of the possibility of more funding for Bucks schools under the Government’s proposed funding formula.


So it was interesting to hear what Mr Wilson, BCC’s Service Director for Education said last month as he made his last appearance, before he retires, at BCC’s Select Committee on education (see at 1.26)


Mr Wilson was asked by Labour’s County Councillor Robin Stuchbury about the continuing failure of Bucks to improve the educational performance of children from some ethnic groups and how this could be tackled.   Mr Wilson took the opportunity to describe three changes in the school system which would not help tackle this problem. 


First, Mr Wilson made it clear that whatever the Government decided about the funding formula, BCC already knew that most schools in Bucks would face a real loss in funding of about 7-8% by 2020.  This was the result of an increase in the running costs of schools and in the number of school children. 


Well, BCC might know it but I haven’t heard it tell the voters about this real cut in funding.


Second, Mr Wilson also said messages from central Government had confused the effective running of schools.  After the EU referendum, a key education Bill had been dropped.  The Bill would have strengthened the role of school leadership and clarified the role of local authorities.   Without the Bill, local authorities were uncertain about their role.  


Again, I haven’t heard BCC explain to voters what will happen as more and more schools are privatised; local authorities still retain the statutory duty for ensuring school children have an appropriate education but have lost the power to enforce this with the private sector schools i.e. the academies and free schools.   BCC hasn’t told voters about this Government shambles either. 


Third, Mr Wilson said BCC had a further reduction of £4 million in its Educational Services Grant from central Government.  


Mr Wilson did not explain the consequences but it is clear that this will cut the grant that can be given to the Bucks Learning Trust.  The Trust was set up by BCC as a private sector company to carry out BCC's statutory responsibilities for school improvement.  


The cut will put BLT’s financial viability at risk.  Its grant has already been cut this year from £8 million to £6 million and it has had to make staff redundant.   It now forecasts a small surplus for this operating year and reports disappointing commercial trading results.  In the coming years it faces a double whammy – an unknown cut in its BCC grant and an increasing reluctance by schools to pay for its services as schools funding becomes increasingly tight.  


No. BCC hasn’t volunteered this information either.


Posted by Linda Derrick.  Promoted by Martin Abel on behalf of Linda Derrick at 5 Spencer Road, Aylesbury HP21 7LR     


Grammar schools need to provide the evidence for the Bucks 11+. Or it’s a complete scam.

23 March 2017

Over a month ago, I asked Mr. Hudson, the Chairman of The Bucks Grammar Schools (TBGS), for some very basic information (see blog below).  I asked him if he could provide any evidence to show the Bucks 11+ does what it is intended to do i.e. assess academic potential.  

If that evidence existed, I am sure Mr. Hudson would have sent it to me quickly.  Indeed if it existed, I think it would have been published by now.   But he didn’t send me any evidence and nothing has been published.   He has not even bothered to reply.   

So I think it is reasonable to assume that there is no evidence to show the 11+ assesses academic potential.    

It is worth pausing to understand what this means. 

The 11+ in Bucks underpins the whole rationale of deciding that some 10 year olds should go to grammar schools and other 10 year olds should go to upper schools.  It affects the education of tens of thousands of children every year and influences their life chances for decades. 

The 11+ is the cornerstone of selective education.  If the 11+ doesn’t do the job, the whole edifice crumbles.   

However, neither the grammar schools nor Bucks County Council can produce any evidence that the 11+ does what it is meant to so.

The whole system of selective education in Bucks is built on the 11+ - and, unless someone comes up with the evidence, the 11+ is a complete scam.      

Year after year, the gap between the educational attainment of disadvantaged children in Bucks and their peer group is one of the biggest in the country.  BCC’s own research (the Strand report) suggested a major causes of this difference was the fact that Bucks had selective education. 

But BCC doesn’t seem to care.  It carries on believing selection is a wonderful thing.  

During the last meeting of the Select Committee for Education, Robin Stuchbury, Labour’s Councillor, asked Councillor Zahir Mohammed, the cabinet member for education, whether he supported the Government’s proposals for funding more grammar schools which would be at the expense of other schools. The answer seemed to be yes. 

So let’s see the evidence for this support from Councillor Mohammed.  Let’s see his evidence that the 11+ selects on the basis of academic potential.  Because if it doesn’t, the whole system falls down.     


Or perhaps we could all agree with Paul Irwin, a Tory Councillor, who at the meeting simply said “if we got rid of the grammar schools, we would sort out the problem of the gap”.    His Tory colleagues ignored his comments.    


List of schools in Bucks which will lose funding under proposed DfE changes

26 February 2017

I asked Councillor Mohammed, cabinet member on Bucks County Council, for a list of schools in Bucks which would lose funding under the proposed changes to the funding formula.  He said these schools would lose perhaps 1 or 2 teachers.

In response, an official sent me the link below

The link is to an excel table on the Department of Education’s website.   The table has a list of over 20, 000 schools.    The official suggested

The last tab ‘NFF all schools’ filtered on Buckinghamshire might be the most useful to you.”

I am surprised that BCC does not have a list of these schools readily available. 

No matter, I extracted the list below, after some degree of eye strain.   As I have done this myself, please treat the list with caution as I may have made a mistake.

The figure after the school name is the percentage loss compared to the 2016/7 baseline.  (N.B. In the first year of transition local authorities can modify the allocation between schools)

Beechview School                                    -1.2

Little Missenden Church of England School                                     -0.8

Millbrook Combined School                                                              -1.4


Dagnall VA Church of England School                                              -0.6


The Mary Towerton School At Studley Green                                 -0.6


Chalfont Valley E-ACT Primary Academy                                        -1.2


Chalfont St Giles Infant School and Nursery                                    -1.2


Chenies School                                                                                      -0.5


Denham Village Infant School                                                           -0.8


Drayton Parslow Village School                                                        -0.8


Roundwood Primary School                                                              -1.2


The Iver Village Junior School                                                           -0.4


Jordans School                                                                                  -0.9


Thornborough Infant School                                                              -0.7


The Meadows School                                                                        -1.2


Booker Hill School                                                                              -1.3


Ash Hill Primary School                                                                      -1.3


Woodside Junior School                                                                     -1.3


Chepping View Primary Academy                                                       -1.4


St James and St John CofE Primary School                                       -1.1


Padbury Church of England School                                                     -1.1


Whaddon CofE First School                                                                 -0.8


Lee Common Church of England School                                             -0.9                    


Westcott Church of England School                                                     -1.0


Oakley Church of England Combined School                                      -0.9


St Peter's Church of England Primary School, Burnham                     -1.3


Swanbourne Church of England VA School                                        -1.2


Cuddington and Dinton CofE School                                                   -1.3


Cadmore End CofE School                                                                  -1.0


Ibstone CofE Infant School                                                                    -0.7


St Louis Catholic Primary School                                                           -0.8


Kings Wood School and Nursery                                                           -0.8


Speen CofE VA School                                                                          -0.9


Buckinghamshire UTC                                                                           -1.1


Highcrest Academy                                                                                -0.2


Cressex Community School                                                                   -0.9


Bucks grammar schools fail to provide evidence that the 11+ works

 15 February 2017

The facts

Selection to the grammar schools in Bucks is the responsibility of the Bucks grammar schools. 

Bucks County Council is responsible for ensuring there are equal educational opportunities in Bucks.

All the Bucks grammar schools use the same test, known as the 11+, for the selection.

The 11+ is intended “to enable all children to demonstrate their academic potential without excessive preparation”.   

The 11+ is critical to the educational and life chances of thousands of children each year in Bucks.

Despite the importance of the 11+ to so many children,  

1.      It seems, the grammar schools cannot provide any independent verification of the 11+ i.e. there appears to be no evidence from any independent source that the 11+ assesses potential effectively.

The only evidence cited by the grammar school heads is an analysis by the Centre of Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) which developed and sold the 11+ to the Bucks grammar schools.

2.      It seems the grammar schools cannot provide any evidence that the 11+ assesses potential.    

On the contrary, the evidence which the grammar schools provided indicates that the 11+ assesses skills.  

Proficiency in skills can be taught.  It is dependent on, for example, the quality and quantity of teaching, parental background, culture, language and coaching.   

Potential is something within the child, waiting to be developed.  It is independent of these external factors.

If the 11+ assesses skills rather than potential, it would explain why children in prosperous areas in Bucks e.g. Chiltern district do very much better than children in less prosperous areas e.g. Aylesbury Vale.   Children in Chiltern district would have more of the advantages that help children improve the skills assessed by the 11+.  

Selection to grammar school would discriminate in favour of the prosperous-as we know it does.

If Mr Hudson truly believes the 11+ assesses potential (as is promised), then he must also believe that children from prosperous families have more potential than children from poor families – and that children in Chiltern District have more potential than children in Aylesbury Vale.

I will check my understanding of the situation with the grammar schools and ask Bucks County Council to get independent verification of the 11+ in Bucks.

The evidence for what I say.

In January, I asked the head teachers of the grammar schools in Bucks why the results of the 11+ varied so much between the four districts (see blog below).  On 6 February, I received a response from Mr Hudson, the Chairman of The Bucks Grammar Schools (TBGS), reproduced at the bottom of this blog.

The only evidence cited for the TBGS’s belief in the 11+ is an analysis by the Centre of Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM).  The CEM develops a range of assessment tests, including the Bucks 11+, and sells them on the open market.  It is therefore evaluating its own product.  The CEM incidentally is part of the University of Durham where fellow academics dispute the validity of the 11+.

Mr Hudson says the 11+ is “specifically designed to work out a child’s potential”.   He goes on to say the intention of the 11+ “is to measure pupils’ skills”.   And finally he says the 11+ “provides an accurate measure of pupils’ abilities and potential”. 

Skills and potential are very different things.

Although Mr Hudson appears confused about the purpose of the 11+, the CEM is clear it is about potential.

The only evidence Mr Hudson provides which would indicate that the 11+ assesses potential is a “strong correlation” of the results of the 11+ with the results of Key Stage 2 (KS2).  KS2 is part of the national tests required by Government for state schools. 

KS2 assesses skills i.e. what the child has learnt.  It does not assess potential.   

Correlation between the 11+ and KS2 therefore cannot be evidence that the 11+ is effective in assessing potential; on the contrary, it indicates that the 11+ assesses skills.  

Response from Mr Hudson:

“My response is on behalf of all 13 grammar schools which form The Buckinghamshire Grammar Schools (TBGS).

The Secondary Transfer Test (STT) used by TBGS has been specially designed to work out a child's potential.  By the age of 11, such potential has been developed in line with a wide range of factors. The intention of the test is to measure pupils’ skills in order that all children go to a school that can best meet their educational needs.

The percentage of children qualifying for grammar school places varies from year to year across the four Bucks regions.  The fact that children in different areas perform at differing levels reflects an existing pattern at KS2.   2014 STT entry data, for example, was analysed by CEM.  This data showed a strong correlation between Bucks 11+ scores and the scores those same children achieved at the end of Year 6 in the government's KS2 national curriculum tests.

The Secondary Transfer Test reflects modern research into the nature of ability and the quite widely-held view that people have multiple abilities. It is therefore considered appropriate to test children's ability to think in a range of different contexts.  TBGS believe that the STT provides an accurate measure of pupils’ abilities and potential.”


When schools becomes businesses, it pays to exclude

9 February 2017

At the end of January, Bucks County Council’s scrutiny committee on education considered a report on the permanent exclusion of children from primary schools.  It is an excellent paper.  Congratulations to the officials who wrote it.

First, the facts:   

--          The number of children permanently excluded from primary schools in Bucks increased from 6 to 24 a year.

-          If children are permanently excluded, their education suffers and they are more likely to develop mental health problems and commit crimes.

-          A head teacher decides whether to exclude a pupil.  BCC then has to offer the pupil alternative education. 

-          It costs a lot more to educate a child in a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) than a mainstream school.

-          Last year all the places in the PRUs were full and BCC had to pay for extra places.


Virtually all of the excluded children had special educational needs and most had had their needs identified before exclusion.  The children were

-          mainly boys  

          disproportionately Black or Black British 

di   disproportionately poor  

-          mainly excluded for persistent disruptive behavior  

-          mostly excluded from outstanding or good schools; the better the OFSTED rating, the more likely the school was to exclude children more than once.


Second, the causes for the increase in exclusions:

-          a lack of experienced teachers

-          OFSTED placing a greater emphasis on behaviour and schools responding by excluding pupils who could adversely affect their ratings;

-          delays with getting support/assessment for children with special educational needs and for schools;

-          it is cheaper to exclude a child than buy in additional support; and

-        schools get less money to take on a previously permanently excluded pupil so there is no financial incentive to reintegrate a pupil back into the mainstream.  


Third, action has been taken successfully in Bucks to help reduce the exclusion.   Again, congratulations to those concerned.  However, resources for this work had to be taken from elsewhere.


 What officials could not say is that this is what happens when you turn schools into businesses - short-term, selfish actions which minimize the costs to the school leaving BCC to pick up the bill.  It costs society and the taxpayer more in the long run and leaves the disadvantaged adrift.


Response from Councillor Mohammed on SEN children is misleading, inaccurate and totally irrelevant

19 January 2017

Just after Christmas, I asked Councillor Mohammed, who is responsible for education on Bucks County Council, why there were so few children with special educational needs in grammar schools (see blog below). 

Councillor Mohammed replied: 

1.      It is important that children are able to attend educational settings that are as far as possible suited to them where they can perform. To this end it is important that there is choice and diversity of educational provision. Parents and carers can make a request for a particular school, college or other institution, so a placement at a particular school is very dependent on the following, taken from the SEND Code of Practice, 2015”

This does not answer my question; parents can ask for their child to go to grammar school until the cows come home but the child will not get in unless they pass the 11+.  

2.      “There were a total of 688 pupils in our grammar schools  who either had SEN Support, a Statement or an EHC plan which equates to 4.4% of the total grammar population.

The figures quoted in my blog refer to children with statements of SEN or with education, health or care plans because it is this category which is used by the Department of Education.  I could therefore compare the intake of this category into Bucks grammar schools with national figures.  It is was then clear that individual Bucks grammar schools have far fewer children than expected. 

Councillor Mohammed includes children who have SEN support in his category.  He does not provide a comparable figure for all Bucks children in this category, not just those in grammar schools, so residents cannot see whether grammar schools take their fair share.   

So the figures are misleading and do not, in any case, answer my question.

3.      Buckinghamshire is a good education authority where SEN/EHC pupils outperform similar pupils nationally at KS4, illustrating the importance of choice and diversity of educational provision…. Buckinghamshire SEN/EHC pupils outperform similar pupils nationally by about 12% and also shows that Buckinghamshire results have improved since 2014 whereas nationally they have remained static

Councillor Mohammed is quoting the wrong set of figures.  In fact, Bucks SEN/EHC pupils outperform similar pupils nationally by 2%.  The results have deteriorated in Bucks since 2014 whereas nationally they have remained static.

So the information is inaccurate and does not, in any case, answer my question either. 

There is a pattern here – If BCC does not want to answer the question, it will answer the questions you didn’t ask with irrelevant, misleading and inaccurate information.


Let’s hold the decision-makers to account for the 11+

15 January 2017

Just after Christmas, Bucks County Council put the first set of statistics about the outcome of last year’s 11+ onto its website.  

The statistics are published on behalf of the Buckinghamshire Grammar Schools who are responsible for setting the 11+ and preparing the statistics.   The statistics are for pupils who will start secondary school in September 2017.   

As far as I am aware, neither BCC nor Buckinghamshire Grammar Schools have given the statistics any publicity – you have to know where to find the data on the website. 

BCC has a statutory duty to provide equal educational opportunities for all children in Bucks.

It is also the job of BCC’s Select Committees to help improve outcomes for Buckinghamshire's residents and hold decision-makers to public account.

However, BCC has no plans to scrutinise the statistics and publicly hold the decision-makers to account for the outcomes on the 11+.    

So let’s start the process for them.   Here are some of the outcomes.

                                                % getting necessary mark for entry to grammar school

Aylesbury Vale district                                                18

Chiltern district                                                           41

Wycombe district                                                        22

South Bucks district                                                     36

The 11+ is meant to measure innate or inborn aptitude or potential i.e. abilities and talents which can be developed during secondary education.

The measurement should have nothing to do with what children have learned by the time they are 10, nor with the quality of the teaching they have had or any difficulties they might have with the English language. 

If we believe the 11+ does what it is intended to do, children in South Bucks district are twice as like to have the necessary inborn aptitude or potential to benefit from a grammar school as children in Aylesbury – and children in Chiltern are even more likely to have this innate aptitude or potential.    A remarkable outcome.

If we believe in the 11+, we have to believe the Fairy Godmother sprinkles twice as much fairy dust on babies in Chiltern and South Bucks districts as in Aylesbury.  Unbelievable or not?  

I know there are credible explanations for this remarkable outcome but I think it is time for the decision-makers – BCC and the grammar schools – to be publicly held to account.

So I will ask for an explanation.


Oh to see some scrutiny from BCC’s Select Committees

6 January 2017

One of BCC’s education priorities is to narrow the gap between the educational achievement of pupils eligible for pupil premium and their peers.    Pupils on the premium are disadvantaged primarily because their parents are poor. 

This attainment gap is measured at different stages of education up to Key Stage 4 (which is GCSE or equivalent).    Narrowing this gap is a priority for BCC because the gap in Bucks has been consistently wider than the national average; at GCSE level Bucks is one of the worst local authority areas, if not the worst, in helping poor pupils perform as well as their peers.

Bucks was criticised publicly about this poor performance a few years ago by Ministers. 

According to a paper that went to the Children’s Social Care and Learning Select Committee in December, the attainment gap has remained wider in Bucks at all stages than the equivalent gap nationally.    

There have been some improvements at some stages, including at GCSE level, but the picture remains the same – the gap narrows as pupils go through primary school and then increases substantially in secondary schools.   

As you can see from the graph, the gap at GCSE level hasn’t improved since the beginning of the reporting period and is 39 % i.e. 35.5 % of poor pupils get 5 good GCSEs compared with 74.5 % of their peers

Research carried out in 2014 showed pupils on pupil premium do very poorly at the 11+ (4% passed compared with about 33% overall). 

The conclusion to be drawn is that the primary schools do a good job in helping poorer children catch up to their peers.  However, few get through the 11+ and they fall behind again dramatically.

The role of the Select Committee is to hold decision-makers to account for improving outcomes and services for Buckinghamshire.  It is part of BCC’s scrutiny function.

Its job in December was to hold Cllr Zahir Mohammed to account for BCC’s poor performance on this educational gap.  Unfortunately, most of the Committee spent the 20 minutes or so telling one another that BCC was great on education.

However, two Councillors got to the core of the problem. 

One of these was a Tory Councillor, the Select Committee’s Chairman, Cllr Dhillon.  The other was a Labour Councillor, Cllr Stuchbury.  Both made the point that poorer children do well up to 11 and then the gap widens because they do not get to grammar school.   

The point was ignored of course by Cllr Mohammed but thank goodness there are two Councillors on the Select Committee who understand the problem. 

Wouldn’t it be good if other Tories scrutinised the evidence?   


Why are there so few SEN children at grammar schools?

 December 2016

A friend sent me some statistics giving the percentage of children at grammar schools with special educational needs compared with the percentage of children at secondary modern schools with special educational needs.  I have checked and added to them below. 


I should say up front that I think the 11+ should be abolished (for so many reasons) but given that we have an 11+ in Bucks I think we should see what is happening to our children with special educational needs.


The statistics show that the grammar schools take in a very much smaller percentage of children with special educational needs than secondary modern schools do.  One grammar school has none.      


I mentioned this to a number of people and their first reaction was to say something like “well of course most children who have special educational needs wouldn’t be able to go to grammar schools – grammar schools are for clever children who will do well academically.   Yes the 11+ discriminates against children with special educational needs but that discrimination is fair.”


But let’s think about it.  


Children have special educational needs for so many reasons.  They may be dyslexic.  They may have physical disabilities or illnesses.  They may have mental health problems or find it difficult to concentrate.   The 11+ is meant to measure innate aptitude or potential not what children have learnt by the time they are 10.   So why is it that so many children with special educational needs are not going to grammar schools?


One of the aims of Bucks County Council’s Fair Access Protocol is to


• Ensure that all schools and academies, free schools and University Technical Colleges (UTC)  take a shared responsibility for the admission of pupils with challenging educational needs with no one school/academy having to take a disproportionate number of pupils.  


Bucks County Council appears to be failing to achieve that aim so I am going to ask Councillor Zahir Mohammed, who is responsible for Education on BCC, why not.  I will let you know what he says.  Our Labour County Councillor, Robin Stuchbury, has asked before and got no answer but we will try again.




School /% children with statement of SEN or education, health or care plan


Aylesbury Grammar School/ 0.5


Aylesbury High School/ 0


Aylesbury Vale Academy/2.2


Wycombe Grammar School/0.5


Wycombe High School/ 0.2


Cressex Community School/2.1


Sir William Ramsey School/5.2


Sir William Borlace Grammar School/0.3


Great Marlow School/2.2




Nationally 1.8% of schoolchildren have special educational needs.