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.

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.

Click to access Education_Not_For_Sale.pdf

Alec Reed : a warning

The REED employment services company was set up in the 60s and is now one of the UK’s biggest private companies with worldwide reach. Its founder, Sir Alec Reed, is also a well-known philanthropist with interests in many fields, including education and in the early days of New Labour’s academisation programme, he agreed to sponsor the West London Academy which, in 2012, was renamed the Alec Reed Academy in his honour.

When I attended the Anti Academies Alliance AGM back in March, one of the most telling interventions was from three teachers at Alec Reed, who asked to remain anonymous. I have to say, their demeanour suggested ‘ordinary blokes’ (they were all men) rather than ‘political activists’ who, it seemed, had found themselves forced into activism by their circumstances. Oddly for teachers, used to speaking in front of rooms full of people, they were nervous even though it was not a massive meeting and they could expect a supportive atmosphere.

Alec Reed Academy had at that stage had a three-day strike called under the existing ‘workload ballot’ though the real problem, as described by the teachers, is “vicious bullying by management”. One of them said that in the early days the academisation had been a good thing and it was only in recent times that new ideas had been brought in as a result of constant striving to improve. These ideas were always imposed without consultation and impacted badly on the workload of teachers. Currently they are struggling to implement a diktat that every student must have a ‘six criteria’ report every week. According to one teacher “lots of talent has left” including even out of teaching. It is reckoned that 75% of the primary staff have left (Alec Reed is primary through secondary), often without the  prospect of another job to go to.  Pressure on staff is exerted through frequent observations. Those who are judged to be not good enough are put on a ‘support programme’ which results in two observations per week and, to come off this programme, teachers must get 8 ‘goods’ in a row! It is alleged that staff seem to just ‘disappear’.

It is argued that the basic problem with academies is their governance. Stories of management bullying have been around for decades but in LA schools there are ‘checks and balances’ which, if not capable of preventing all management bullying, helps to minimise and mitigate against a lot of it. In academies like Alec Reed there are no such ‘backstops’ and the control is in the hands of one person or a very small clique. At Alec Reed, for example, the sponsor appoints the governors, including, it is said, the parent representative; a member of the Reed family is on the board as is the company’s HR manager; the teachers reps are members of the Senior Leadership Team, who take it in turns!

Alec Reed should serve as a warning to all who are glibly taking their LA schools down the academy route in the naive assumption that they can grab a bit of extra cash and then carry on as before. Ten years down the line, after a promising start, the problem of ‘lack of accountability’ of those in charge has led to appalling problems for staff with knock on effects to the quality of teaching and learning.