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.

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.

Democracy – or “passing the buck” – Coalition style

A fascinating press release from DfE just a week before the end of the school year (always a good time to avoid too much scrutiny). The newly appointed Regional Schools Commissioners (appointed by Gove, it must be said) will be supported by Head Teachers Boards (HTBs). Four members in each region have just been elected and the successful candidates announced. The DfE is trumpeting the 38% turnout as being an endorsement – it certainly beats most local government elections and easily trounces the pathetic turnout for the Police and Crime Commissioner elections last year. But, wait a minute, these are the headteachers of our most successful (allegedly) schools and, presumably, just had to fill in a ballot paper and post it off : is 38% such a ringing endorsement?

Most people, I guess, do not know  how these HTBs are set up and what they will do. As I said earlier, the RSCs are appointed – so far so very Gove – but then four members of the board are elected. In addition, the RSCs can appoint two more board members of his/her own choice and the Board itself can appoint two more to fill skills or experience gaps. So these boards are beginning to feel less democratic and more like self-perpetuating oligarchies. From an electorate of just over 4000, of whom more than half chose not to vote, 32 have been chosen, and, in theory at least, another 32 could be appointed by the Commissioners or the elected heads themselves.

So what are the Regional  Schools Commissioners and their Boards going to do? At first glance, it looks like they are going to deal with the growing numbers of academies and academy chains which are failing to live up to the hype, that they would maintain or improve standards. The language is nice and wooly and there must be questions asked about how they will ‘monitor’ the performance of schools, except via OFSTED, and how they will support schools in difficulties (by ‘schools’ they actually mean academies and, presumably, ‘free schools’ which are, after all, particular kinds of academies). According to the release they can take “informed decisions about when and how to intervene” but how will they know pre-OFSTED and what mechanism is there for them to intervene? This sounds like a function previously carried out by a local authority whose own staff would have kept in touch with schools and regularly assessed what OFSTED grade they were on course to achieve, and had the expertise and resources to offer support and intervention. What resources do  RSCs and HTBs have? What powers do they have? Who will be held to account if an academy ‘fails’?

There are many details unclear and questions begged but, in the end, this only affects academies and ‘free schools’ (albeit that, on the DfE’s  figures, nearly 60% of secondaries are academies and 12% of primaries are), right? Well, wrong, actually.

One of the RSC’s remits is to agree or reject new academies (nothing specifically about ‘free schools’ so, phew, John Nash still has a job!). So, whereas the Secretary of State, an elected politician and minister of the Crown, used to make these decisions, those same decisions will now be made by appointed heads and a group of heads chosen by other heads. Whatever one says about Michael Gove (and I for one have said a lot!) in principle, he was elected and was part of a government that should have been sensitive to public opinion. Indeed, it could be argued that Gove’s removal as Secretary of  State was, in part, due to pressure from many groups, including parents who objected to their views being ignored in respect of their children’s schooling. The new situation gives an unrepresentative group power over the future of state education in an area. These people will not be well-known and harder to campaign against: “Gove out!” had a snappy ring to it, “Regional School Commissioner, whatever his or her name is, and Head Teacher Board, out!” is going to be harder to chant.

To sum up, groups of faceless headteachers have quietly been set up to deflect blame from the Secretary of State when academies and chains get into trouble and have the power to make far-reaching decisions about local education without, as far as one can see, any influence from public opinion.

Certainly, there needs to be a ‘middle tier’ below Whitehall and above individual school level, monitoring and supporting schools, which should represent not the narrow interests of one grade of teacher in one type of school, but should take into account the views and needs of parents and the local community. I’ve even got a slightly snappier name for such a body.

We could call it a local education authority.

‘UnBritish’

There are many things to be said about the recent ‘Trojan horse’ furore in Birmingham. Was the original letter a hoax? Had there been a concerted effort to takeover schools? Was this a witch hunt? How well should OFSTED come out of this? And what of the spat between May and Gove?

There are conflicting claims and counter claims so I’ll stick with those where I feel competent to comment. Firstly, there certainly seems to have been something to worry about in terms of the governance of these schools and the influence of parents. Gove cannot escape the fact that the majority of the schools where there appears to have been a problem were academies where, by design, the local authority has no monitoring role and, evidently, Gove and the DfE are too far removed to have any impact. These sorts of problems, along with the money-making ‘conflicts of interest’ reported in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph (see link below) seem to me to be inherent in the set up of academies and ‘free’ schools. It seems barmy that one way being suggested for dealing with the problems is to transfer those schools to another academy chain, this time, presumably, one approved of by the Secretary of State.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10886821/Academy-chiefs-have-benefited-personally-from-schools.html

Therein lies one of the contradictions at the heart of the coalition reforms. Gove has claimed all along that he wants to give greater freedom to schools, their managers and parents, yet, as we have already seen, this freedom is only to be exercised in a way of which Gove approves. There are now many well-documented instances of schools faced with enforced academisation where consultation has been bogus and clearly-demonstrated parental wishes have been overridden. To badly paraphrase Henry Ford, ‘you can have any kind of school you like as long as Mr Gove agrees’. So, it appears from the Birmingham cases, that we can just swap ‘ownership’ around til we get a Gove-friendly lot to manage our schools.

Mr Gove said in his recent ‘Policy Exchange’ speech that children have only one chance at school education, yet in his actions, he shows that he appears to have forgotten that: how else to explain the cavalier approach to the way schools are run? Gove’s is quite clearly a neo-con,  ‘market forces’ approach, a touching faith that competition, choice and ‘the market’ will raise standards. Even if, in the long run, that proves to be the case (which I very much doubt), the logic of this approach is that some schools will suffer turbulence on the way and heaven help the children who happen to be in those schools at that time, getting their ‘one chance’.

Finally, in his response to ‘the Trojan horse’ revelations, Gove has announced that all schools will in future be required to promote ‘British values’. I could spend  several posts unpicking this one. In the first place, it sounds like one of those policitians’ phrases that appeals instantly to a certain type of voter, who believes he knows what it means: remember John Major’s ill-fated ‘back to basics’? This one will obviously tap into a resurgent patriotism, at a time of near-racist comments from UKIP which seem to have touched a nerve, and, of course, the early stages of the World Cup (ie before England leaves the competition!).

Leaving aside what we might interpret ‘promote’ to mean, several high profile people have explained what they understand to be ‘British values’ – I’ve already heard David Cameron’s and Baroness Warsi’s subtley different takes; but, if he’s going to issue an edict, Mr Gove will have to give a clear definition and what will emerge, I daresay, will be a ‘motherhood and apple-pie’ (to use a non-British phrase!) definition with which no-one can disagree – something along the lines of ‘democracy, justice, fairness, tolerance, equality’ which all schools will, with some justification, claim they are promoting  and have for many years.

Anyway, I’ll uncharacteristically give Mr Gove the last word. Here he is, talking to Prospect magazine in 2007: “There is something rather unBritish about seeking to define Britishness.”

 

 

Chapel-en-le-Frith

Whilst further details emerge of a ‘culture of extravagence’ at E-ACT : see the link

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6334927

and we in Nottingham have one of the highest paid heads of a tiny academy trust: see my previous post,  we have a fight brewing to the north of the county of Derbyshire, in which I worked.

I don’t claim to know Chapel-en-le-Frith or the CofE Primary School there but, apparently, it got put into special measures in November. An all-too-familiar story has followed. They were told they had to meet the DfE academy broker even before they had had the result of the HMI monitoring visit. Judging by letters written by the Chair of Govs and the Headteacher, published on their website, they have been well-supported by the local authority and have received positive comments from the HMI. They obviously believe they are well on the way to getting out of special measures pretty soon, but that is not quick enough for Lord Nash. He’s accused them of not having a sustainable plan to make the improvements the school needs (which, if the head and chair of governors are to be believed, is laughable) and he has set a very tight timetable for ‘consultation’ before he effectively sacks the governors, appoints an Interim Executive Board and makes an ‘academy order’.

It is quite obvious that the senior management of the school and the governing body are united in opposition. They clearly believe they have the support of the vast majority of parents. Good luck to them in their fight – there are examples from elsewhere where academisation has been fought off.

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.

Read this!

Invest ten minutes of your time in reading this summary of the excellent TUC campaigning report, ‘Education Not For Sale’. I was fortunate to get a preview of this from its co-author, Martin Johnson, at the AGM of the Anti Academies Alliance, in January and can attest that it is well-researched. Its title, I think, makes its subject clear.

https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/Education_Not_For_Sale.pdf