NUAST – the story so far

This post has also been published on Hands Off Our Schools:

As those following local developments will know, the Nottingham Academy of Science and Technology (NUAST) has actually opened, this September, though not on its brand new site, in the shadow of the Dunkirk flyover. They are claiming to have just over 100 students in Year 10 and Year 12 (‘lower Sixth’).

One of our members attended a recent ‘open evening’, intended to publicise and recruit for next year – again, not in their own building but on the University campus. However, the building will soon be available for these sessions and, presumably, for teaching. Once they are able to ‘show off’ their state-of-the-art facilities, they no doubt think they will find ‘selling themselves’ that much easier.

We remain mystified as to why anyone would sign up their child on a promise, even if the facilities are good (they ought to be, considering they cost £10 million of taxpayers’ money!) The school has had a turbulent few months leading up to a rather low-key opening, with students being taught anonymously (i.e. not wearing uniforms) in another Nottingham college. Famously, the first principal left under something of a cloud partway through the year. We certainly think she was pushed as the University started worrying about what they were getting into. She had fallen out with the Uni authorities over whether or not teacher unions would be recognised – jobs were advertised on basis they would NOT be, the Uni said they would be when made aware, but she insisted, at first, that this would not be the case. Part of the Uni’s panic was also probably down to getting their fingers burned at Samworth (the other ‘Nottingham University Academy’), judged ‘Inadequate’ by OFSTED last Autumn; one of their partners at NUAST, the Djanogly Learning Trust also had its Academy judged ‘Inadequate’ in the same sweep. So they called in The Torch Academy Gateway Trust, rapidly becoming ‘flavour of the month’ in this area.

It must be remembered that ‘Torch’ is effectively one school, Toot Hill Comprehensive, in Bingham, which has achieved an ‘Outstanding’ OFSTED rating and which, to its credit, also helped The Meden School out of ‘Special Measures’. How many Headteachers would find achieving and maintaining an ‘Outstanding’ rating, and helping another school in difficulty, more than enough to fill up their time? Most, we would think, but not the Head of Toot Hill who is now CEO of ‘Torch’ on well over £200K a year.

Last Autumn, ‘Torch’ was called in at Samworth and Djanogly to help out, whilst concurrently spending time and energy (not to mention buckets’ full of taxpayers’ money) on getting the Nottingham Free School up and running (79 students started this Autumn in parts of a converted factory in Sherwood!). ‘Torch’ was also ‘called in’ to ‘provide the education’ at NUAST. It’s not entirely clear what this means but, presumably, they effectively run the place since the Uni isn’t equipped to and the Djanogly Trust shouldn’t, because it was barred from opening any new schools (except NUAST, funnily enough!)

Questions remain to be asked of NUAST:

  • Where is all the money coming from? It obviously hasn’t currently got enough students to make it financially viable without subsidy, even though it is clear they will offer all sorts of courses but reserve the right not to run them if they turn out to be non-viable.
  • In which case, how many years before the taxpayer could be said to be getting ‘value for money’?
  • Unlike many ‘free schools’, of which this is one type, it will have an examination record pretty soon: students in both Key Stage 4 and Sixth Form will get full GCSE and A Level results in August 2016 – so, will they be any good? By what criteria should we judge them?
  • Why have four governors resigned recently?
  • What connection is there between the erstwhile Chair of Governors and the company which ‘managed’ the recruitment process to appoint the new Principal?
  • What effect will recruitment to NUAST have on local schools? As education insiders know, schools seek so-called ‘option choices’ from Year 9 students in January and, on that basis, ‘option groups’, a staffing plan and timetable are constructed for the next academic year. The loss of even just a handful of students could make some groups non-viable with a knock-on effect to staffing and budgets.
  • Will NUAST, based on the ‘university technical college’ (UTC) model, be any more successful than other UTCs such as Hackney UTC, which has closed?
  • More fundamentally, is encouraging children as young as thirteen to ‘specialise’ the right thing for them? A career in engineering or science, the prospect of working with a world-class university and employers with household names might sound alluring, but will the reality be different? These children will not be entering the workforce for at least 6 years (if they are currently in Year 9) or longer. Who knows what specific skills employers might be looking for in a decade’s time? Better, maybe, to keep their options open and make sure they have a firm grounding in ‘the basics’

NUAST is wrong because it has spent, and will go on spending, money we are told is in short supply, which could have been used to improve science and engineering facilities in schools that would NOT require the children to specialise. It is wrong because it offers children and parents an illusion of choice when it cannot guarantee any level of quality. It is wrong because it holds out a promise it cannot necessarily fulfil.

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10 comments on “NUAST – the story so far

  1. As a student of NUAST I would like to mention that we were taught with uniform on and were expected to be of a high standard whilst at NCN. The money is coming from the University for the building, Djgonaly are paying for the equipment and Tourch gateway are running the school. The facilities at NUAST are way better than any other school in Nottingham. People would send their children to NUAST because there is a nicer, more grown up atmosphere and it is a lot nicer than average schools.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment on this post – it’s good to hear from someone actually attending NUAST and I’m pleased you feel so positively. Those of us who oppose NUAST actually want the best for you and all other pupils in the area – you could say we are looking at the wider picture.

      To deal with some of your comments: I presume you have been told that the money for the building has come from the University and for the equipment from Djanogly – however the money was ‘routed’, it is public money and so we are entitled to ask why it was necessary to put this money into one brand new school. Let us suppose that Nottingham University had a spare £10 million to invest in local secondary education (and I’m guessing staff and students at the Uni might well be able to think of better uses for that much money in the university itself!); imagine, say, giving £1 million each to ten local schools: wouldn’t that have been a better way of improving facilities for science in the area and reaching many more pupils than the 100 or so at NUAST? You wouldn’t have needed to buy a plot of land and spend the money on building from scratch, most of the money could have been spent on facilities and equipment.

      Of course, you have no way of knowing if the facilities at NUAST are ‘way better’ than ‘any other school in Nottingham’ since you’ve obviously not visited all those schools so again, I presume that’s what you’ve been told. In any case, so what? Those ‘facilities’ or pieces of equipment don’t teach you, the teachers do. You need to look beyond the flashy new building and it’s shiny new bits and pieces, and ask if the teachers are any better than the ones you had before. Maybe they are but certainly there are some fabulous teachers in the local area who would do an even better job if they had the advantages the new NUAST building offers.

      As for the ‘nicer, more grown up atmosphere’, well, at the moment, you’re benefiting from a massive new building with just a handful of children, none of whom are younger than 13/14. That may seem great at the moment but really, is that what a school should be like? As for the non-wearing of uniform, yes, sorry, we were misinformed and thanks for clearing that up. However, you’ve got to realise that, in the run-up to its opening, NUAST was in a state of confusion, with the Principal ‘leaving’ (we think she was sacked) and Torch being brought in to run the place late in the day.

      So, best wishes to you, George, but we will continue to oppose what we believe to be an unnecessary and costly project.

      Once again, thanks for your comment.

  2. Furthermore, if the school you supported had this opportunity, would you turn it down? I highly doubt you would as it will be beneficial for your pupils as it could allow them to get a better education. Nevertheless, there is only a handful of students in my year but what do you expect from a brand new college? It obviously wouldn’t be full with students in the first year and for someone to expect that it ridiculous and far fetched.

    • I’m not sure what you mean by “the school you supported” but if I was a teacher, Headteacher, governor or pupil in a local school yes, of course, I’d jump at the chance of my school having some extra money, but that’s not what happened with NUAST, is it? Some people decided to spend a lot of money on a brand new building and equipment/staff, knowing full well it wouldn’t be anywhere near full for some time. That means public money (that’s my money!) has been spent on something that wasn’t needed. I take it you’re one of the ‘guinea pigs’, one of the handful of students at NUAST. What did I expect of a brand new college? I didn’t expect anything because I don’t think there needed to be a new college. I suggest you go and ask the principal and the governors at NUAST why the money being spent on your college couldn’t have been spent on other local schools, then come back here and tell us what they said. My argument is with them not you and I sincerely hope your education is not being mucked up by their antics.

  3. I’m sorry but I can’t take your argument seriously without laughing. Your state that it’s your money being spent. We are funded by the University of Nottingham and Sir Harry Djangoly. Furthermore, you have no idea who we are funded by as your not part of the school funding department are you? So your knowledge is limited. Also your a hypocrite in stating that this money is wasted as there’s not enough pupils, like I said with every new school there will not be students filling this building in the first year. But over time it will be full of students! You would jump at the opportunity which our headteacher has been given as would anyone. If you want answers instead of asking a 16 year old to ask his head teacher, why don’t you go to Nuast and ask him yourself?

  4. Hello again, William, Thanks for responding, though a little aggressively I must say.

    Information about school funding is publicly available (or it should be), so I don’t have to be part of the ‘school funding department’, whatever that is! It is well-known that the brand new building cost £10 million, on top of which obviously the school would have to be equipped, teachers and other staff salaries paid, and so forth. You state with some certainly that you are funded by the University and Sir Harry Djanogly. Who, I wonder, do you think pays for the university? I would describe any money the university put in as ‘public money’. I have heard from another source that the Djanogly Trust funded the equipment – not sure how accurate that is nor do I know how much of the Trust money is provided by Sir Harry. Finally, NUAST has a ‘funding agreement’ with the Department for Education (in other words, the Government) which means its bills will be paid by the those of us who are taxpayers. So, as you can see, I know quite a lot but not every last detail of how the academy was and is funded, any more than, it appears, do you. However, I think it is unhelpful of you to suggest my argument about funding can’t be taken seriously since, as I have just shown, a significant proportion of it, if not all, has indeed come from public funds.

    I find it sad that you have to resort to abuse rather than try to argue – if I was a ‘hypocrite’ that would mean I argued one thing but did another (an obvious example would be if I sent my own children to NUAST – which I don’t!). What I am saying, however, is that the money (can we agree, at least £10 million plus?) could have been better spent than on opening a brand new school. Part of the argument is, yes, at the moment there are, on your own admission, a small number of pupils in the school. As for whether, over time, it will be full, well, I wouldn’t be so sure but neither of us can know with any certainty. The other part of my argument is that, if that money had been spread around local schools it would have affected more pupils and it would therefore have been used more efficiently. I didn’t ask you to go and find out information about funding but to put the simple question: why spend the money on a brand new building rather than helping lots more pupils in local schools? For your information, I and many of the people I work with, have asked the questions but we largely get ignored, so I thought the argument might at least strike you as something worth considering and perhaps following up yourself. I’m happy to continue this dialogue if we can keep it civilised. As I said before, I wish you and all fellow pupils well.

  5. Hello there, Could anyone shed some light on the exam results for this school as I am unable to find any details on the school site or in the web…?
    Thanks

    • The short answer is “No.” I too have been looking – in vain – for information that would give the first externally-validated indication of the quality of education at NUAST. Of course, they are only module results but even so, I’m pretty sure NUAST would be shouting about them if they’d been any good. That’s just a guess, of course. A Freedom of Information request has been prepared by Hands Off Our Schools to be sent off shortly, so we should have some information by early December.

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