Annual Report 2015

Hands Off Our Schools

Annual Report 2015

We have continued to meet and discuss issues relating to local schools, especially academisations and ‘free’ schools. We have also conducted campaigns via direct action and through publicity.

  1. NUAST – We were very concerned at the stories we were hearing about NUAST, its numbers and its inner turmoil. We lobbied an open evening in February where we distributed leaflets, spoke to prospective parents and even to the Chair of Governors. Subsequent lobbies did not take place due to lack of numbers. Following a Freedom of Information tussle with NUAST, and some research, we were able to obtain and publish information that we believed to be highly damaging to NUAST; following an anonymous tip-off from a parent we were able to alert the local press to the sudden departure of the Principal; we fed information to the press but were unable to get them to publish the more damaging aspects of the information we received. A further FoI request is being sent to attempt to quantify current numbers at NUAST and examination outcomes. We plan to contact local schools potentially affected by NUAST recruitment and seek support in distributing literature.
  2. Beeston Fields Primary – We learnt part-way into the so-called consultation that academisaton was imminent. We wrote and used Freedom of Information to reveal the shoddy nature of the process which we then publicised. We tried to put pressure on the Governors and wrote to the Secretary of State – a contact which went unacknowledged. Once again, the press failed to pick up and publicise this story and we understand the school has become an academy under the ‘Flying High’ Trust.
  3. Edwalton Primary – Also to be academised with ‘Flying High’, this primary school appeared to be going through the same process as Beeston Fields. We once again wrote and put the case against and also supported a parent who became active but could not drum up enough support for a concerted opposition.
  4. We have kept track, as far as possible, with other plans and developments locally in the hope that, if necessary, we can react to potential academisations or new ‘free’ schools.
  5. The election saw a depressing result for HOOS as the Conservatives have vowed to accelerate the pace of academisations and increase the number of ‘free’ schools. The one ray of light was the change of heart of the Labour Party who now oppose ‘free’ schools and have talked about taking all schools back into democratic control. Groups like HOOS have kept the arguments for democratic control of state-funded schools alive and we must continue to do so.

CT

All is not well in Richmond Park

Not a Nottingham story, but it’s important to realise what is happening elsewhere. We hear that, indeed, all is far from well at The Richmond Park Academy, successor to the former Shene School, a stone’s throw from the leafy environs of the deer park.

Richmond Park achieved a ‘Good’ OFSTED in 2012 so is anticipating another visit any time soon and there would, in any case, be anxiety at the prospect of being inspected under a reputedly tougher ‘framework’. Unfortunately, the school seems to be faced with a massive deficit (the figure one million pounds is being bandied about) and this has prompted desperate and chaotic measures in an attempt to solve the mess. This has led to hastily rewritten and imposed new job descriptions, mass staff walkouts (we hear the entire admin team has upped and left) and union meetings replacing the usual first day inset activities.

We are not sure how the school has found itself in this situation but it may only be an extreme example of what is facing all schools: rising costs from inflation and staff wage increases – however modest – and additional employers’ National Insurance contributions, at a time when school budgets will, the Conservative Government has promised, remain static in cash terms.

As and when we get more from Richmond, we’ll keep you posted.

The argument against academies…

Read and pass it on!

Hands Off Our Schools

The Conservatives probably think they have ‘won’ the argument, mainly by asserting that academies perform better and by including in their latest Education Bill a provision that so-called ‘coasting’ schools (along with those deemed to be ‘failing’ by OFSTED) should be turned forthwith into academies. We know, of course, that, intellectually at least, the argument is not won at all. To add weight to our argument, here is some written evidence, submitted to the parliamentary ‘Bill’ committee for that bill, which has just appeared on the official parliamentary website. Please read the highlighted text below:

“Education and Adoption Bill
Written evidence submitted by Stephen Gorard, Professor of Education and Public Policy, Durham University, UK (EAB 19)

The author

Professor Gorard is an expert on school compositions, school outcomes, and interventions to reduce the poverty gradient in attainment at school. He is the author of Overcoming disadvantage in education, London: Routledge…

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NUAST: something is happening!

The other blog I run, ‘Hands Off Our Schools’ has been hearing rumblings from NUAST for some time: how well is recruitment going, how many students and staff are jumping ship? Yesterday, a parents sent a comment to us which I’ve just published and now am reblogging here.

Hands Off Our Schools

The following anonymous comment was received by this website yesterday, 15 July:

“My son is currently a student at NUAST. I made the decision to move him there last year as we were extremely unhappy with his previous school (another academy) for various reasons and as he has an interest and aptitude for science and engineering I naively thought this would be a great opportunity for him. I am politically opposed to academy schools, however you try finding a school in Nottingham that isn’t one!

He started in September and was initially really excited and enthusiastic about his new school. He was looking forward to using the fantastic new equipment and taking part in some exciting extracurricular activities. The school was full of shiny promises. He was patient about the situation with the building not being ready because he was assured that once they moved everything would be wonderful.

What…

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Gibb us a wave!

That nice Nick Gibb, Schools Minister, has told us that, at some point in the future, all children will have to take the EBACC.

This set of letters first entered our consciousness around January 2011, as I recall. The much lamented Michael Gove had suddenly announced that GCSE outcomes would be measured by EBACC, which was short for ‘English Baccalaureate’. At the time my school was about to hold our ‘options’ evening for Year 9 students. Gove had decreed that, henceforth, students and schools would in part be measured by whether students had achieved the EBACC, a kind of modern version of matriculation. You didn’t get a certificate, or anything but you were deemed to have achieved it if you had got Grade Cs or above in English, Maths, Science (not BTec, of course!) a Humanity and a Language (ancient ones such as Greek and Latin were included but not ‘community languages’). I was tasked with preparing a leaflet for parents: no easy job when, in fact, nobody seemed to know much detail. In typical Gove manner, the ‘policy’ had been announced with scant regard for the consternation and chaos it would cause (two and a half years later, he did the same sort of thing with the ‘no resits’ diktat).

Now, of course, we know that the EBACC is a combination of allegedly worthy, ‘academic’ and ‘rigorous’ subjects and Gibb has, in true Goveian manner, announced it will happen. Apparently it’s about ‘social justice’, because all those deprived backstreet kids are ‘entitled’ to be told what they should learn by Mr Gibb. He knows what’s good for you.

A teacher friend of mine met Gibb at a high level reception a few months back, where my friend was loudly rubbishing OFSTED, who had, to be fair, just rubbished my friend’s school. Gibb heard and had him taken aside where he listened carefully to what my friend had to say about the iniquities of the OFSTED inspection. Gibb undertook to follow up and feedback. Needless to say, a while later a minion contacted my friend to say Mr Gibb was unable to intervene, which he must have known at the time. A smooth operator, is Mr Gibb!

The EBACC announcement seems a bit cack-handed in comparison, but this is now post-election and the Tories can just about do what they like. No need to explain where all the language teachers will come from let alone organise recruitment, training and so on. Apparently, something called ‘the market’ will do that.

Consultation at two Nottinghamshire primary schools

Two local primary schools are facing ‘academisation’ to become part of The Flying High Trust by September 2015.

Campaigners like ‘Hands Off Our Schools’ are opposed to this process for reasons that have been aired before on this blog and elsewhere. Others who are fair-minded just think that, if this really is the best way forward for their school, the matter should be fully and openly debated, with the arguments ‘for’ and ‘against’ properly aired and all the stakeholders given the information they need to make a fully-informed decision – and that those ‘consulted’ should have a means of expressing their opinion clearly, such as a secret ballot. We are confident that, in such a situation, many people would be persuaded by our arguments and, if those proposing or supporting ‘academisation’ are so sure of the benefits, they too would be prepared to argue and debate openly. 

But they’re not.

Here’s an item I posted yesterday on the ‘Hands Off Our Schools’ blog:

http://nottsantiacademies.org/2015/06/04/edwalton-and-beeston-fields-primary-schools-how-good-is-the-consultation/

The Flying High Multi-Academy Trust

Just published this post on the ‘Hands Off Our Schools’ blog:

http://nottsantiacademies.org/2015/06/05/flying-high/

There does seem to be a distinct lack of transparency, something we’ve seen all the way through this sorry saga of academies and ‘free’ schools, from 2010 onwards. 

More to follow!

What now for education?

The election result was, for many if not all, in the field of education,  both a shock and a disappointment. Education did not figure greatly in the election campaign and it would be interesting to know how many people who voted Conservative knew very much about their policies on education, or for whom these policies were the deciding factor in casting their vote. Not that Labour’s policies in opposition had sounded that great, not a lot more than watered down versions of the Conservative ones, but I think we would have felt happier with a Labour-led government. With the Conservatives now in power in their own right, we know, from their manifesto,  something of what we have coming.

Interestingly, in defeat comes renewed support – look at the SNP post loss of the referendum – and I gather there has been a surge in membership of the Labour Party! I recall I joined the Labour Party when it was at a very low ebb, in the early eighties, following an incident where the local Conservative MP made a public, ill-informed and totally inaccurate complaint about what was being taught at my school. It seemed to me that, whilst I wasn’t entirely clear that I supported what Labour was proposing, I could be certain that I was against the Conservatives. Perversely, perhaps, I left the Labour Party in 1997!

Anyway, I am currently in email conversation with two people who are, as it were, ‘insiders’ in education, both ‘lay people’, who are unhappy with what is happening at their respective schools and where perhaps I and the ‘Hands Off Our Schools’ group can help and support them. Can’t say much at the moment – it may, or may not, come to something in the next few weeks. The reality is that, whilst the Conservatives can claim a mandate for whatever they do in education, there will always be those who ideologically, like myself, oppose them. There will also be others who are, so to speak, ordinary members of the public who have no especial axe to grind, but who dislike what they see in terms of process and practice. Those people can be better informed by those of us who have spent many long hours researching and digging and who know that what is being presented and said is not the whole truth nor, in many cases, true at all.

Sadly, it looks as though, with the current crop of contenders for leadership of the Labour Party, Tory education policy on such things as ‘free schools’ will be either accepted or allowed through unopposed. We will need to look to other groups to speak up for properly-funded schools that are rooted in and ultimately accountable to, their local communities. It is also clear that, we need to be realistic and accept that Local Authorities are withering away and there needs to be a different ‘model’ for community schools – academies and ‘free’ schools, even – for campaigners like me to promote and argue for (I may propose such a model in a future post).

So, although I have wider concerns about policies like housing, welfare and the economy, these are not my fields of expertise or experience. I will, however, continue to ferret away in the ‘education corner’, exposing, promoting and informing where I can.