Academies vs… the rest?

Hi guys.

Already in the second month of the year, so I’m going to skip the pleasantries and head straight into this.

The more I write this blog, the more I realise that the target audience may not be those who already know about the UK education system, but people who actually know very little about it. Nothing made me surer than today’s key speech on education by Prime Minister, David Cameron.

I was at work, so had to catch up on the speech by re-watching the whole 43 minutes of it.

In a school in north London, after Nicky Morgan probably lied said how education had always been one of her great passions,and finished delivering dead jokes, the Prime Minister set out his party’s plans for education if the Conservative party win a majority in this year’s general election. (You can tell that Morgan gets no ratings from me, can’t you?)

You may have seen the headlines from his speech. Ring fencing. Cuts. Best possible starts in life. However, one thing that stood out for me, was the word “academy”.

Cameron said that his party would turn “every failing and coasting school into an academy”.

I’m not too fussed about dissecting any policy announcements, partly because I don’t know how to.

But I thought it would be handy to give a few pointers on what an academy is, the difference between it and a free school, and other useful bobs, as I feel the word is bandied about a lot, while many are in the dark about how they function. I certainly was until I got my Public Affairs book for my NCTJ journalism study. Much of what will follow is quite “Essential Public Affairs” heavy.


It was Tony Blair’s Labour government that introduced academies and they were initially for schools that weren’t seen to be doing so well. However former Conservative Education Secretary, Michael Gove, liked the academy vibe and decided to widen the movement.

  • Academies are publicly funded schools that are free from local authority control
  • They receive funds directly from government, rather than through the local council
  • Under Labour, they were prioritised for failing schools, and used public-private partnerships for capital
  • They are run by academy trusts
  • Academies have flexibility in managing their internal affairs, choosing much of their own curriculum, pay for teachers, and term-time length
  • Academies can decide on their own admissions arrangements

Free schools

Education has been through such a topsy turvy time in the past ten years or so, that I used to wonder what the difference was between this type of school and an academy. It isn’t all that bad – ten years ago I was in school myself, so knew little about subtle differences between types of education establishments.

  • Free schools were established under the Conservative-led coalition government. If I remember correctly, it came off the back of “The Big Society”
  • They can be set up by nearly anyone, so parents can apply for approval to set up a free school
  • Like academies, they are free of local authority control
  • They can set up their own pay for teachers and decide on term-time length
  • However, free schools are non selective in their admissions, and have to admit children of all abilities

When you’re in school, you don’t realise that you’re a little cog in a big education machine. Political fodder for people using your achievements (or failures) as a route into Downing Street, or part of a “problem inherited” by the next government.

So, have I got this right? Or utterly wrong? Let me know in the comments. I’ll update accordingly if I made a shocking error, and I may add other types of schools later on just for fun.

Broadcast Belle fact: I may be tweaking the direction of this blog again, geared towards those studying politics for journalism. The blog is screaming “new year, new me.”

We Don’t Need No (Financial) Education


These aren’t obscure code words that try to explain why I haven’t published a single post for the first half of autumn term. These are all acronyms found within financial and currency discourse. You can find their meanings at the bottom of this post.

I’ve put these here because I started a financial reporter job last month and have found the transition terrifying.

I love my job, but acknowledge that I am the typical accidental financial journalist. I have two arts degrees and hated mathematics at school. Yet here I am writing day in day out about insurance linked securities and the like. But there you go.

The closest I came to studying anything regarding commerce, finance, or enterprise was my GCSE in economics. Now I’m wondering: whether it’s time to teach young people compulsory finance until they’re 14, in the manner of drama or music.

The personal finance section of a paper is always full of tips and tricks for the everyday consumer. However how many young people will know what many of the terms found in this section mean? I only learned what an annuity was a few months ago. I have a bank account and still don’t know the difference between APR and AER. I wasn’t aware until a few years ago that some banks just charge you for having an account. Perhaps I’m thick, but perhaps I should have received some of this knowledge in school.

The economy and all things finance, has arguably been the story of the past five years or so. Handling your coins is now more important than ever. Payday loans are all over the news and stubbornly low interest rates are messing up people’s savings. I think it might be time to start thinking about teaching youngsters – even if it’s for one hour a week – about very basic financial concepts: mortgages, interest, budgeting, pensions, overdrafts. You know what I mean.

I write about catastrophe bonds and reinsurance, but I only just learned what a bond was, about three weeks ago. I’m not saying that we should be teaching children about parametric triggers and risk. Just some helpful basics to get them started in life, like what a bond is, practising how to write a fun business plan, and that car insurance is something that is mandatory.


*APR – Annual Percentage Rate: The annual rate that is charged for borrowing (or made by investing).
I did not fully understand what this was or what distinguished it from AER.

**AER – Annual Equivalent Rate: Interest that is calculated under the assumption that any interest paid is combined with the original balance and the next interest payment will be based on the slightly higher account balance.
I still don’t know if I understand this definition.

***RMB – is also known as CNY. This is the currency abbreviation for the China yuan renminbi (CNY), the general term for the currency of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), one of the hottest and most important economies right now.

The definitions above are taken from Investopedia, a great resource.

Happy New Year

I know, it’s September tomorrow, but like anybody who is still in education, works in education, or is just really into education (I’m the latter), the new year will always be September.

The children will be moving up a class, teachers will be embarking on a new year without Michael Gove as the Education Secretary, and I myself will be starting my brand new journalism job in my first reporter role. Basically it’s all change.

So while this is a bit of a nothing post, good luck to everyone starting their first teaching roles, those beginning their promotions in senior teaching roles, and the people who have made it to headteacher status. Most of all, I guess I’m wishing good luck to the children beginning or resuming school.

Of course while my day job will be financial reporting, I’ll keep writing my blog posts and I’ll be keeping my finger on the education pulse.

Happy new year everyone.

Great Children’s Picture Books

Earlier in the week, for some unknown reason, I was googling picture books I remember loving as a child. Anybody who knows me extremely well knows that the happiest days of my life (so far) were in primary school. It was there that I learned how to read and probably where I read the most. More than university. I was a book fiend.

The best way to encourage children to read in my totally unscientific point of view  is to have books around. Naturally curious, children will look to grab anything, and the more books found within a child’s vicinity, the more likely it is that that thing a child grabs, will be a book.

If you’re looking to get your child into books, reading a picture book with them is a great way to do so. I’ve picked a few of the best below. Is your favourite here?

*All images are from Amazon.*

The Jolly Postman

Probably the best pop up book on earth, this creation by super duo Janet and Allan Ahlberg took years to complete. A wonderfully interactive book that’s great for children and tactile adults.

Jolly Postman

Peace At Last

Jill Murphy’s book is very good for younger readers. Big, bold illustrations of a family of bears, with the father trying and failing to find a good night’s sleep.

Peace at Last


This book by Shirley Hughes is probably responsible for my first ever memory of what as an adult, I now know as empathy. Children will love this book and will recognise the love for a favourite toy. Wonderful pictures.




Anthony Browne, a former Children’s Laureate, has many fabulous books that tend to have brilliant pictures of gorillas. However I went for this book, based on a weary wife, with pigs for sons and a husband. Side effects may include turning your sons into good men.


On The Way Home

Another entry by Jill Murphy, with a book that tells the tale of a young girl on her way home with a grazed knee. Slightly creepy. Beautiful illustrations.

On the Way Home


Burglar Bill

Another second entry here, this time for Janet and Allan Ahlberg. This cute story of a burglar who ends up taking more than he bargained for. The illustrations in this book made me smile as a child and still do to this day.

Burglar Bill

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

No children’s picture book list would be complete without including this classic by Eric Carle. Should be on every child’s bookshelf, if only for the quirky pictures.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar


Do you have anymore great children’s picture books to add? Let me know if I’ve missed any of the best ones in the comments.


Gove Gone

Michael Gove, arguably one of the most divisive Education Secretaries in history, is gone. No longer Secretary of State, David Cameron reshuffled the hell out of him this week and like a crap football team, Gove was relegated to the position of Chief Whip.

By the looks of things, many teachers found out via Twitter and like a lot of news consumers, I too found out on the social media site. The unadulterated hatred for Gove has been existent during his whole tenure. I mean videos of him falling over were already made while he was still in the job, let alone demoted.

While tales of teachers whooping, fist-pumping, and planning parties spread across the Twitterverse, I waited for the announcement of his replacement. I knew it would be a woman (Cameron is aware of the general election hurtling towards him and he’s trying to play image for the electorate) so when relative unknown Nicky Morgan assumed the role, I wasn’t entirely surprised. While many mourned the loss of Gove, and more still rejoiced, I wondered how much of a good thing this actually was, and whether anyone would believe, as ferociously as Gove did, that children from an estate could do just as well as any other child.

New Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan

I read many pieces about Mr Gove’s demise, but three stood out as the very best for me: this by John Elledge in the New Statesman, a very good blog post by Cazzy Pot, and this Sp!ked piece by a lecturer at my alma mater the University of Kent. News of Gove’s surprise move was all over the media, including broadcast. It was while listening to a radio show that I heard a caller – a teacher – ring in to give her thoughts on the matter. After the presenter corrected her a few times, he went on to tell her that Mr Gove had been brought up on a council estate, to which she replied:

Well he doesn’t seem to reflect that in the way that he talks about education

I went ballistic.

As far as I’m aware and as pointed out in the excellent pieces that I’d read on his departure, Michael Gove was committed to improving standards in education and making sure children from less privileged backgrounds maximised their potential. His methods may have been rubbish, but I’m not in education so can’t quite judge. What’s important is that the radio caller’s comments referring to the way Gove “talks about education” illustrates perfectly why his crusade was a worthy one.

How pray tell do council estate dwellers talk about education? God forbid that anybody from an estate could ever talk about raising standards, or would focus on improving literacy and numeracy. No. We’re far too scummy.

My best guess as to why that woman couldn’t believe that Gove was anything other than a private school-Tory-by-default-posho? Too many, including faux liberals, still believe that children from a disadvantaged/ poor background have no aspirations. We don’t have books on our shelves, we have televisions wider than the wingspan of albatrosses, and nobody helps us with our homework when we get home. At least this is the spiel propagated time and time again in some media.

Too many people with left leanings think that young, black, poor, females like myself will automatically agree with – or worse, be grateful for – their views. That isn’t the case. Instead I’m faced with the reality that many on the Right despise the disadvantaged and many on the Left patronise the disadvantaged. The question that’s left is who then will defend and believe in those marginalised groups? The one person who had a shot at doing that has been rather unceremoniously reduced in rank.

I believe teaching is one of the most important jobs out there. There probably was no Education Secretary who generated so much hatred as Gove, and I sympathise with the teachers who he so mercilessly and arrogantly antagonised. However I question the decency of people who celebrate somebody’s loss of a job. Typical of life here in the UK: people love to see others fail.

Anybody who has the intent of trying to make sure children from certain sections of society have a shot at being great gets some kudos from me. He probably deserved it, but as one of those estate kids, I can’t help but lament his demise.


My article in the Guardian


I’ve been away from this blog since March. My first entry in months is not so much an education blog post, but more of an update: I’ve now written for the Guardian, something I’m extremely proud of and a dream come true.

I’ve given this blog a spring (or maybe summer) clean and I’m happy with the new, more professional, and frankly nicer look. I’ll resume updating this blog regularly, focusing on education rather than media news. The media posts will probably be archived somewhere but I’ll be removing them to give this blog more of a focus.

In the meantime, check out the article here: Want to earn more money? Here’s how to freelance as a student

My new profile on the Guardian website can be found here, under the education section.


Hello to readers who follow or stumble across my blog.

I’m taking a break from writing here, for a month at least. I’m going to work on improving my skills (which includes trying to improve myself at work), increase my education knowledge, and just generally think about how to make a real mark as a writer and broadcast journalist.

I will (probably) from time to time be sharing things that I think are really cool on my tumblr, and writing more personal pieces on that page so please do take a look if interested:

I’ll be back hopefully sometime after Easter.


I Quit My Job and Felt No Way

I handed in my notice at the start of 2014, without confirmation of any replacement role.

Sound crazy? Maybe, but nothing is as crazy as the way my old job at a PR agency made me feel.

Since graduating from a journalism master’s course in 2012, my wish was to work in broadcasting and contribute to making great speech radio. That’s why I have this naff alias, Broadcast Belle.

To attain this dream, I undertook some unpaid work experience just before exam season at a radio station, but I began to quickly run out of money. A girl needs toiletries and payment for public transport so just before my last exam, I left radio and accepted a job at a PR agency, focusing on technology. Those who know me, recognise the incongruity between me, Winifred, and tech. If one looks at me, ‘tech fiend’ would not come to mind. They would be right, on the count of me not giving a damn about technology.

However I took the job and even managed – through some divine act of heaven-sent glory to get promoted. Despite this, there was a persistent thought that niggled at my mind: ‘I don’t actually want to be doing this. Gat damn I want to be a journalist’.

This feeling only intensified after coming back from a placement at the Guardian, which I attended during some tactically taken holiday leave. The kind, wonderful, late Georgina Henry helped me obtain two weeks at the newspaper on the fashion desk, and introduced me to one of the network editors. I will be forever grateful to her, for her gentle, yet unwavering encouragement and help. She was a wonderful woman and one in a million.

After coming back from the plush offices at King’s Cross, I decided that I was going to live my truth. That truth and my mission was to be a journalist, no matter what. PR was not for me: the puffed up language, the meaningless terms (strategy, leverage, moving forward), forcing ‘selling’ a story/angle/product that you have no interest in let alone the journalist you’re harassing.

Please believe that PR professionals deserve A LOT of respect what I’ve just described is not easy, and work life balance is virtually non-existent in that world. The agency I worked at would be great for those who want to start and develop their PR careers. Some individuals thrive on being control freaks and making endless lists, but the low quality of life that came with a PR job was not for me. The radio editor who eventually took a chance on me said it sounded ‘soul destroying’. It was.

In pursuit of my journo ambitions, I juggled working well into the night for my PR job with pitching several newspapers to write original pieces. I eventually received a byline in the Independent online, and continue to contribute articles to this day. When I did get back in touch with the radio peeps, I realised that I’d have to devote weeks of experience in order to hopefully break through. So I quit my PR job for a crack at the BBC.

Handing in my notice without knowing where it was going to lead me felt cathartic, and sometimes that’s what you’ve got to do. When you live being true to yourself, there is less baggage to carry. I grew tired of hearing things that I didn’t believe in. No, digital is not the be all and end all of life. Most regular people don’t know what SoLoMo is, indeed, most people don’t care. We all have lives outside of the internet, thank goodness.

Try telling someone who cleans toilets or works in youth offending that social is the future or that cloud computing the best thing since sliced bread. Most people doing everyday jobs DO NOT CARE, and that’s where the problem lay for me: I did not want to be in an industry that wasn’t really providing some sort of public service. Being a journalist, I can talk to that toilet cleaner, or that youth worker and have a chance to tell their story and if not, then give them a story that resonates with them.

Many people probably think I’ve gone berserk, leaving PR for radio. Journalism is a difficult industry to break into, but I’m not in the habit of thinking negatively and I’m excellent at ignoring people who are not supportive or full of that green bile called jealousy. I have the self belief and determination to go far and it helps that I’m actually very good at turning my hand to nearly anything. There are opportunities and if you’re determined, you will get them. Look at me: I have now began my broadcast journey and gratefully, I haven’t looked back.

Be brave and honest with yourself. If something is making you unhappy, why stick with it? That is madness. Living your truth eventually pays dividends, through personal happiness and life satisfaction, and eventually if you’re lucky like me, payment :)

Broadcast Belle Fact: I came up with my alias after looking for a relevant, punchy name for anonymous blogging. It’s based on my love for radio and was inspired by the syllable count of one of my favourite bloggers, Fleet Street Fox.

Is State School the New Black?

There was (kind of) a lot made this week about Michael Gove being the first Tory education secretary to send his child to a state secondary school. I was surprised but not surprised at the same time. I gained a new-found respect for Mr Gove, as I know exactly what being in an unfortunate state school can mean, and it isn’t the sort of thing I would really wish upon my child. Now they’re not all devoid of classroom control at all, as my two sisters went to an excellent one, but my personal experience wasn’t fab.

Cast your minds back to when there was widespread shock and condemnation on Diane Abbott, as she decided to send her son to a fee paying school. After years of seemingly socialist championing for the state education system, Ms Abbott appeared to do the mother of all hypocritical acts, by instead buying her son the route to a better education. Does this mean Michael Gove has done the inverse? Slightly. Gove, a Conservative politician and education secretary that invites boos and hisses like  a pantomime villain, is doing something quite un-Torlike.

Worryingly, there is a liberal-ese group of society that wishes to piss all over someone’s parade, something I noticed when comments were made about the ‘type’ of state school Gove had chosen. Let me deal with those naysayers who pointed this out about Grey Coat Hospital (the school Gove’s daughter will be attending from September) 

A state school, is a state school. Full stop.

Whether that’s Grey Coat’s, London Oratory (where the Blair sons went), Sacred Heart (where Blair’s daughter went, and where I got rejected *sob*) or the bog standard East End school where I was plonked, a state school is a state school. If one is going to have blind faith in the state schooling system and be good enough to support it, then one should look for the best provider. More often than not, it is a highly selective institution that can provide that sought after quality.

The Grey Coat Hospital: where Michael Gove will be sending his daughter this September.  Image courtesy of

The Grey Coat Hospital: where Michael Gove will be sending his daughter this September.
Image courtesy of

This liberal-ese rhetoric of blaming and guilt tripping needs to stop. While Diane Abbott’s embarrassing decision to send her son to a fee paying school stank of hypocrisy, it was also a demonstration of  aspiration, and stop-at-nothing hope for betterment. As a fellow migrant, I recognise the necessary dedication and aspiration one must have when beginning with nothing, and I can imagine that Ms Abbott’s Caribbean heritage mirrors the experience of Africans and migrants in general. An experience where as a visitor, you need to work damn hard to get the best opportunities within reach to achieve an equal footing in your adopted home. If more black people could just afford to do what Ms Abbott did, I’m sure quite a few would.

As such it worries me when certain parts of society judge parents for the schools they choose to send their children. When it became anybody’s business where another adult schooled their child, I do not know, but if you ask the very people who attended state school if they’d consider sending their child elsewhere, I’m sure many would answer with a resounding ‘yes’. Conversely, ask the private school bashers to send their Pippas and Harrys to the local comp, and you’ll probably get a cacophony of excuses and shuffling feet.

Myself, a product of the state system, would judge nobody on the schooling decisions they made for children. In the end, all right thinking individuals want the very best for their children, and if that means packing your offspring to the best education money can buy, then more power to you. The downside to private school (speaking as a child of Hackney pre-gentrification) is the possibility of losing a grip on the real world.

However some parents have enough faith in their children and in the state, to ignore the private route. When this happens, we should not nitpick and critically examine the type of state school selected, but rejoice and think even further, of how to bring up standards in every state school. The issue to be addressed here is how to convince a parent (and sometimes even a child) that paying for education is unnecessary. This is more likely to happen if we have a bustling marketplace of great schools on offer.

Is the tide turning for the humble state school? Perhaps. We now have a new chunk of state schools that are doing amazingly well, particularly in my hometown of Hackney and let’s not forget the brilliant results we find in places such as  London Oratory and Little Miss Gove’s Grey Coat Hospital. However, I don’t believe that the state school is quite the new black: unfortunately private schools will always be en vogue if there aren’t enough state schools that offer the same quality.

Broadcast Belle Fact: Grey Coat Hospital School was originally for boys.

The Merits of Merit

This week my heart soared when I read that three young lads from Newham were on their way to some of the best schools the country has to offer. Ishak Ayiris will be heading to Eton, after landing a two year scholarship through the Pupil Premium, while his fellow schoolmates Irfan Badshah and Alexis Marinoiu, won prestigious scholarships at Winchester and City of London. Today I then read that more schools in England are using ‘lotteries’ to decide on intake. This led me to ask, what is the best way to accept secondary school pupils?

In theory, when a popular, good school is over subscribed, those who decide on intake can apply a lottery system whereby a child’s name is pulled from a ballot. However in practice, is this what happens? I do not work in a school, so can’t say for certain, but to me this does not seem like an effective way of getting into a school. What does it mean for merit? Is it taken into consideration? Who’s to say that these boys would have got into their respective schools, if they were to have relied on a lottery? Any answers to these questions would be gratefully received, because right now I think it’s a bit of an attack against genuine merit. If I can be proved otherwise, why that would be fab.

Stories like Ishak Ayiris’ always strike a chord with me: young, children of migrants, living in some of the poorest neighbourhoods in the UK, unfortunate school. However it demonstrates that your life chances do not always make or break you. There is a softly softly approach to so many things in UK society, including with regards to young people. The world is not fair and trying to force it to be so can stifle aspiration. Sometimes – even if you are a child – you can make your own luck through to hard work. I welcome any opportunity to encourage working diligently. Perhaps this is my youth is speaking (or possibly my bitterness to living too far away from my chosen good secondary), but I think that the best way to admit people in anything, is through merit.

Broadcast Belle fact: Newham is the 15th largest London borough by area