Open contempt…

The government is increasingly emboldened in showing its contempt for parents, the teaching profession – the public in general – and in its lack of regard for evidence.

In pushing ahead with Mrs May’s obsession with reintroducing grammar schools, it ignores a wealth of evidence and even staunch opposition from its own side. The arguments have been well-rehearsed and the evidence widely discussed but just consider this one aspect. If it can’t be introduced ‘at a stroke’ (which it obviously can’t) a piecemeal, ‘free-for-all’ will have a destabilising effect as better-off families seek to bus their children to a new grammar ‘over the border’.

Furthermore, will there be a standard ‘entrance’ like the totally discredited 11+ of old (based on the faked results of Birt’s research) and what will the ‘second tier’ of schools be called, that replace the old secondary moderns? Many questions begged – so many that one guesses it’s not going to happen – but then again, they seem to be pressing ahead.

‘Free schools’, UTCs and ‘studio schools’: increasing evidence of these schools failing and closing, and of public money wasted. Yet, the government is again, pressing ahead with more ‘free schools’. To most of us, the evidence is damning but to the ideologues of the right, the failures and closures are entirely consistent with a free market. On the High Street, we are used to businesses opening and closing with regularity so why not in the ‘market’ of education? Well, we can see why but to THEM it’s just the way the market operates and ‘the best’ will survive. Trouble is, on the High Street, it’s the odd entrepreneur who loses his/her money and goes under, often to try again somewhere else, some other time – with schools, children lose out on their one chance of a good education.

Meanwhile, there is a funding crisis in schools, the combination of Cameron’s cash standstill in spending and rising prices, including rises in NI contributions for staff and the requirement to pay the apprenticeship levy. Heads, governors, parents are all providing testimony of shrinking budgets necessitating drastic action: cuts in support staff, cuts in teaching staff, cuts in curriculum offers, desperate requests for donations from parents to help fund the basics of teaching. The government’s only response is to keep repeating the record amount being spent on education. This ignores the extra that this funding is required to do including not only teach more children but fund the expensive ‘white elephant’ ‘free schools’, UTCs etc – and of course the inflated salaries of some of the Trust CEOs.

Perhaps voters will show their disdain for Conservatives’ actions on education at the ballot box in the forthcoming local elections.

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.

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.

A local academy conversion

A school near us, Beeston Fields Primary School, is going through a sham ‘consultation’. The ‘Hands Off Our Schools’ group, of which I am currently Secretary, submitted the following letter in mid-April as an unsolicited contribution to the ‘community consultation’. I have sent it again today as there has been no acknowledgement, although a colleague who lives in the ‘catchment’ wrote in similar terms and got an acknowledgement. The process ends this Friday – we have been outmanoeuvred as we didn’t hear about it until after the consultation meetings for parents, (both) held on the last day of term.

“Dear Headteacher and Chair of Governors

I write on behalf of ‘Hands Off Our Schools’, a group campaigning against ‘free’ schools and the conversion of state schools to academies, in Nottinghamshire. Many of our members live, or are based, in Beeston and I should be grateful therefore if you would accept the following as part of the ‘community consultation’ regarding the proposed academisation of Beeston Fields Primary School, and will copy its contents to all members of the governing body.

In the light of my opening paragraph, it will not surprise you to learn that we are opposed to your proposal to convert the School to an academy as part of the Flying High Trust. The only information which we have on which to base our arguments are the Headteacher’s letter and three FAQ documents on your website. It would appear from these that you have not considered the arguments against conversion, or, if you have, you have chosen not to acknowledge or give this information to parents.

I will briefly rehearse these arguments – there are of course many places on the web where they can be fleshed out – I would recommend you start with the Anti-Academies Alliance or the Local Schools Network.

1. There is no convincing evidence that converting to academy status has any positive effect on educational outcomes for children, despite the misuse of data by Michael Gove, Nicky Morgan, David Cameron and the Department for Education in asserting that it does;

2. There are no financial advantages for schools converting unless they choose not to provide some of the support services available from a local authority. There are many issues that a school outside the local authority has to deal with, ranging from building insurance and legal services to payroll and human resources. Have the governors considered what they would do, for example, in the event of serious damage to school buildings as a result of fire or other emergency?

3. The decision to convert to academy status, once made, cannot be reversed, ever, unless and until there is a change in legislation; similarly, there is no mechanism for a school to leave one multi-academy trust and join another one, except by a decision taken by the Secretary of State. This may seem irrelevant at the moment, but it means that you, as a small group of people, will make a decision that will bind a, perhaps, completely different set of people (once you have moved on, resigned, moved out of the area) in the future.

4. There is little doubt that the process of academisation and the setting up of ‘free’ schools is part of this government’s agenda to break up the state school system and, in effect, ‘privatise’ it. There have already been a number of instances of individuals using this system to ‘syphon off’ public money, either through additional or excessive salaries, the charging of unjustified ‘expenses’, the charging of ‘consultancy’ fees and the awarding of contracts to companies connected to those on boards of directors of these ‘charitable trusts’. Of course, I cast no aspersions on anyone currently on the board of Flying High Trust or on your governing body. However, this has happened even whilst ‘trusts’ have had to operate within ‘charitable status’. How much worse could it become if, as certainly Mr Gove wanted, the law was changed to enable businesses openly to make a profit? Are the governors of Beeston Fields happy to be part of this ‘market forces’ project by the Conservative Party?

5. If you doubt the assertions in (4) consider that the process of academisation, sometimes enforced against the organised and clearly-expressed wishes of local parents, and the setting up of ‘free’ schools, has cost a lot of (our) money, at a time when we were being told money was very tight. Given that there has been no proven benefit, why has the Government done this? It seems very clear to us that it has been for ideological reasons.

You need further to consider the effect of joining the education market place. The Flying High Trust may, in the future, by taken over by a bigger ‘chain’. That chain could be owned, as some already are, by a company based abroad. Are the parents aware that, if they are dissatisfied with the Head and Governors, their recourse is not to an elected representative at County Hall, but to an unelected CEO, currently in Cotgrave, and perhaps, in future, abroad (in the USA or the Netherlands, for example) and, ultimately, to the Secretary of State in Whitehall?

6. I assume you have carried out ‘due diligence’ on Flying High Trust. You will therefore be aware how much the CEO is paid (I have no idea but judging from local examples such as Greenwood Dale and Torch, where the CEOs get paid in excess of £200000, it may well be far more than any Headteacher could aspire to); you will know whether any members of the Board are paid as ‘consultants’ or have any interest in companies providing legal, educational, ‘consultancy’ or other ‘services’; you will know what capacity a four-school (soon to be five-school?) primary trust has to support the School, and that this is much more than an entire local authority; I assume you have discussed this with the Authority.

All in all, there is much to be considered, apart from ‘the advantages’, and I sincerely hope you have had someone on the Governing Body at least, playing ‘devil’s advocate’. If you have, why have these considerations not been shared with parents?

I now turn to our second area of concern: the process of ‘consultation’. We do not consider this has been genuine consultation. If it were, the Head, in her letter, would have acknowledged that there are ‘cons’ to academisation, she would not have implied that schools are more or less obliged to move away from the local authority (even though many other Beeston primary schools have not and one of the three secondaries has not). In fact, the contents of the letter are highly ‘slanted’ and make no acknowledgment that any parent could possibly object; nor does it suggest what such a parent should do. There is no inkling of any sort of ballot or even a show of hands at the meetings. The whole process is framed in terms of the governors having made a decision and the parents being able only to ask questions, certainly not to affect the decision.

Our concern over the consultation process is deepened when we consider other aspects. The Head’s letter was dated 5 March and the consultation period began on the following day. I presume this is the first parents knew of the move and perhaps the FAQs were in response to some emailed or written questions. Yet the parents had to wait three weeks for a meeting at which, perhaps, they could raise objections. The meetings took place at the very end of term so there would be minimal chance of parents discussing the issues at the school gate – on return to school, they will now have barely two weeks before the consultation period ends. There appears to have been a carefully choreographed process aimed at minimising the chance that an opposition ‘group’ might form and scupper your plans.

So much for the rather scant ‘consultation’ of parents. What about staff? According to the FAQs, they “have been involved in the process to date and no objections have been raised by them in relation to this proposal and in fact they recognise the benefits”. Forgive me for being cynical, but I am aware of the way some small schools work. Did this ‘consultation’ perhaps consist of an open staff meeting, addressed by the Head and Chair of Governors, where no-one felt able to voice an objection?

Whilst you acknowledge the requirement to consult parents, staff and the community, I am not aware what efforts you have made to consult ‘the community’. Of course, you would need to define what is meant by this phrase and identify those who might be thought to represent the community. That is why we are writing to you. I do not claim for one moment that we represent what ‘the community’ as a whole thinks, but I do hope you have approached other local schools, user groups and community groups in your immediate vicinity.

So, to summarise, we fear you have not properly considered all the issues involved in becoming an academy and we further fear that your ‘consultation’ is based on giving highly partisan information, using a process that is neither transparent nor democratic.

We therefore call on the Governors to:

1. Extend the consultation period until after the outcome of the General Election is clear (we suggest until 1 June 2015). This will also enable you to

2. Publish on your website some of the ‘cons’ of academisation, and/or the web addresses of organisations that can give this information;

3. Publish the results of your ‘due diligence’ carried out on Flying High Trust;

4. Conduct a secret ballot of parents, and publish the results on your website;

5. Conduct a secret ballot of staff and publish the results on your website;

6. Consult properly with local schools and representatives of the local community, and publish a list of those consulted and a summary of their responses.

Unless you are prepared to do these, this group has, and will continue to have, grave concerns about the quality of the process by which you propose to turn Beeston Fields Primary School into an academy as part of the Flying High Trust, and we will consider undertaking a campaign of awareness-raising amongst staff, parents and the community.

Yours sincerely

Colin Tucker

Secretary, ‘Hands Off Our Schools’

NB Please note, ‘Hands Off Our Schools’ is a group of parents, teachers, governors, councillors and members of the community, which does not have a political affiliation.”