NUAST – parents are unimpressed!

Just published this on the Hands Off Our Schools website – written by a parent who attended a NUAST Open Evening for prospective Year 12 students.

http://nottsantiacademies.org/2015/11/09/nuast-parents-are-unimpressed/

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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!

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.

OFSTED’s use of data is rubbish, apparently (who’d have guessed?)

Head on over to http://physicsfocus.org and read a post by one Professor Moriarty, from down the road at Nottingham University. He tells how, on becoming a governor at Middleton Primary School, he received some training and was aghast at what he heard. In brief, he demolishes OFSTED’s use of data.

What’s going on at NUAST?

Our local paper in Nottingham carried an interesting piece of news yesterday, about the Nottingham University Academy of Science and Technology which is due to open this September. Surprise surprise, the £10 million building won’t be ready – something anyone who has driven past the site recently could have predicted.

More interestingly, they’ve ‘lost’ their principal. Rest assured, the ‘Hands Off Our Schools’ researchers are hard at work even as I type, trying to find out the real story. Did she fall or was she pushed? No doubt there was a pay-off with a ‘gagging’ clause, so it might be difficult to find out. Still, there are going to be some people in senior positions at Nottingham Uni – a world class institution – wondering what the heck induced them to get mixed
up in this expensive shambles.

Nottingham University: what IS it playing at?

Here’s the text of a letter I have just sent to the Nottingham Post about the new Nottingham University Academy of Science and Technology:

Dear Sir

I’m wondering why a world-renowned institution like Nottingham University has got into bed with the Djanogly Learning Trust to promote a new ‘academy’ of entirely unknown quality.

The Nottingham University Academy of Science and Technology (NUAST) seems to have been conceived in response to the 2011 Wolf Report into vocational education, the thrust of which was that children shouldn’t specialise too soon and should ensure a thorough grounding in the ‘basics’ of literacy and numeracy. NUAST’s published curriculum will have children from 14 specialising in either an ‘Engineering’ or ‘IT’ pathway, to the detriment of a broader, balanced curriculum: in order to achieve the English Baccalaureate children will study geography (the only ‘humanity’ offered, no history) and, as their Modern Foreign Langauge, German or Chinese (and, it must be doubtful whether, with no previous experience, children will be able to achieve a GCSE ‘pass’ in Chinese after two hours a week for two years).

As for English and Maths, students will only get three hours each per week. One of Professor Wolf’s most eye-catching proposals in her report was that children should be required to resit Maths or English if they ‘failed’ at 16 – I wonder how much of that will be going on at NUAST!

However, there are some more basic questions to ask of NUAST. Will the wonderful building envisaged in glowing graphics on their website actually be reality in three months’ time? (Pop down to the Dunkirk Roundabout and have a look, then place your bets!) Will they have appointed well-qualified specialist teachers or will some, as I have heard rumoured, have to teach outside their specialism? How many students will they actually have in September? Oh, and, who’s paying for all this?

I really can’t see what is in this for Nottingham University. Surely their undoubted expertise should be used to assist all schools within their area rather than ‘sponsoring’ one that will, if successful in recruiting, draw students away from those schools and cause real problems for their curriculum planning.

No, I still don’t get it.

NFS update

Well, sort of. One of my ‘followers’ points out that, if Torch are to appoint ‘experienced’ teachers for their Nottingham Fantasy School, they’d better get their skates on. The resignation date for teachers currently in post is 31 May so time enough. However, I can’t find any jobs advertised on the TES website so they’ve got to get their act together pretty swiftly after Easter as I think this would give them about six weeks to get applications in, short-list, interview and offer jobs. I’ll keep you posted.

Incidentally, whilst searching the TES site I discovered that Meden School (the OTHER Torch school) is looking for eight new staff including an Assistant Head, a Director of English and ‘Head of School’, that is, a Headteacher, basic salary of £80000. Wonder what’s the story?

Torch salary

The Torch Academy Gateway Trust is the rather pretentious title adopted by the wannabe academy chain of the Nottinghamshire schools Toot Hill Comprehensive and The Meden School in May 2012. The erstwhile head of Toot Hill became the Executive Headteacher and Chief Executive of the Trust. Each of the two schools also has a separate head.

The company accounts reveal that in the twelve months ending 31 August 2013, this CEO was paid in the range £200-205 thousand. That’s for overseeing two schools. Admittedly, during that period he led the Trust in trying to set up two ‘free schools’. One of these, the so-called Trent Bridge Free School, was turned down by the DfE but the other, Nottingham Free School was approved and is going ahead to open this September so perhaps he is being rewarded for his work there.

In the current year, Torch has subsumed Nottingham University Samworth Academy, back in the autumn, just before Ofsted descended on it and found it to be inadequate. So presumably this CEO will be expecting a rise this year to reflect the additional stress. After all, £200000 is barely twice what a mere Headteacher of a large London secondary school could expect and the good citizens of Nottinghamshire lavished £143000 on their Chief Constable last year.

And, just to remind you, this is public money, yours and mine.