ARK Schools [the company behind Ark Pioneer in Barnet] is in a class of its own. It is by far the most successful and influential MAT, a ‘system leader trust’ that is constantly name-checked by ministers. ARK’s King Solomon Academy, in Marylebone, has beenhailed as ‘the best non-selective school in England’. The school serves an area with high levels of child poverty; 58% of its pupils are eligible for free school meals, and a significant number speak English as an additional language. Last year’s exam results were indeed extraordinary: 93% of students achieved A* – C in five GCSEs.
The miracle was achieved using methods developed by American charter schools – more specifically, by the ‘charter management organisation’ known as KIPP (the Knowledge is Power Program).
ARK’s brand of ‘high quality inner city education’ is copied wholesale from KIPP.
It is not only a question of school culture, however. Serious money has been put into securing the King Solomon Academy’s miraculous GCSE results. At a time when the freezing of the education budget has left all schools facing afunding cut of around 8%, ARK academies are protected by the largesse of their sponsors.
A recent report by Schools Week claims that ARK Schools received £3.6 million of private funds last year – nearly £106,000 for each school in the chain. In the brave new world of venture philanthropy, there is nothing wrong with using profits generated offshore – most hedge funds are domiciled outside the UK – to back a privately-controlled ‘network’ of schools, whose exam results are then held up as an example to defunded local authority schools. After all, as the former chair of the ARK Schools board, Lord Fink, told the Evening Standard: ‘everyone does tax avoidance at some level’
ARK has also been experimenting with computer-based instruction.
In 2018, the trust plans to open the Pioneer Academy, ‘a new all-through blended learning school with an emphasis on technology’.
ARK’s Pioneer Academy – to be built on a disused football ground in Barnet – will use a version of Rocketship’s ‘classroom rotation model’. This, in turn, ‘includes four sub-models: Station Rotation, Lab Rotation, Flipped Classroom, and Individual Rotation’.
This is literally cut and pasted from a paper put out in 2013 by Christensen, a professor of business administration at Harvard who is the guru of blended learning, and a firm believer in its potential to ‘disrupt’ existing systems of public education. He sees the shift to computer-based instruction as a means of ‘eradicating rules that restrict class size and student-teacher ratios’.
ARK told the TES, that blended learning offers ‘an opportunity for revised teacher roles’; the Pioneer Academy proposal notes that online learning will be combined with ‘instruction and input from the teaching assistant’.
Clayton Christensen’s view is that ‘computer-based learning on a large scale is less expensive than the current labour-intensive system, and could solve the financial dilemmas facing public schools’.
ARK told the TES that blended learning will ‘improve cost efficiency through both staffing and school design efficiencies’.
[Read the full Local Schools Network Article here]
[Public meeting details here]