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.

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 million pounds a head – is this really the way to spend tax-payers’ money?

We all know how important the ‘hard-working families’ of this country are to the government, how important it is to spend their taxes wisely. As a country, apparently, we can’t afford welfare payments – including for those in work but very low paid – to keep pace with inflation; we can’t afford our public service employees to get pay rises that keep pace with inflation. So what do we make of a government that pursues a policy that is clearly ideologically-based, spending our money to set up so-called ‘free schools’ in areas where there are already enough school places? Whatever happened to ‘value for money’ (which used to be one of the OFSTED tests but it might be different this week)?

Trinity Academy in Lambeth is one of the starkest, daftest examples: the DfE bought the freehold of the land for £18 million, but only 17 pupils have enrolled.  Imagine being the head trying to come up with some sort of justification for your multi-million pound school that attracted just a handful of pupils. ‘Well, we’ve had another four apply and there were three more who haven’t shown up!’ (So, best case scenario, that’s 24 then? I feel much better now! That’s actually what he said, by the way, in so many words.)

It’s looking like education isn’t going to be a key battleground at the general election, which may be a good thing, given Labour’s half-hearted opposition to ‘free schools’, not to mention some of their half-baked ideas (‘parent-led academies’, for goodness sake!) but to most sensible people, the waste of money on these pet projects, which have shovelled money into the bank accounts of Tory donors,  is just one more piece of evidence that the Coalition has nothing but contempt for ‘hard-working families’ (and the rest of us) and, for all his show of righteous indignation over the NHS, Cameron will say or do anything to retain office.

Colours to the mast: however lack-lustre and dubious the alternative, we cannot give the Conservatives another five years to sell off and ruin our public services whilst pretending to ‘fix’ the economy. They’ve done nothing of the sort but they WILL complete their Thatcherite project if they get in again.

Same old, same old

Tempting though it has been to enjoy the political demise of Michael Gove, there is really only time for a little rejoicing. In my opposition over the last four years I have tried very hard not to focus on an individual but on policies. That was hard to do, of course, because Gove was so deliberately insulting to me and my former colleagues, unable, or at least unwilling, to engage in civilised and reasoned debate.

But, ask yourself, would you have found his policies any more palatable if he had been saying nice things about teachers (he did, actually, occasionally)? Gove was (is) an unpleasant, ideological bone-head but his policies – which remain intact – were (are) the policies of the Coalition government. Apart from an occasional spat with Wilshaw and Laws (and, no doubt, in the run-up to the General Election, we will hear about all sorts of extreme polices which, behind the scenes, the Lib Dems prevented or modified) I do not recall any member of the Government, or the Conservative Party, criticising or opposing what Gove was doing.

So, let’s not linger too long over our glasses of bubbly. Some of us are long enough in the tooth to be able to remember the delight that greeted the resignation of Thatcher but her policies continued long after she had left the stage. We have to ensure that the electorate aren’t fooled into thinking that by appointing Ms Morgan in Gove’s stead, Cameron has somehow reversed or halted the coup effected in our state education system. The policies are in place and they and their consequences will continue to unfold.

I for one will go on exposing  them, here and on other social media, as I know many others will. Let’s not attack Nicky Morgan – ill-equipped as she is, to run our state school system (privately-educated lawyer) – let’s continue to remind friends, colleagues, the public at large, of the wasteful and deliberately divisive policies of this Government. They (not one man) have undermined public faith in teachers and our public education system, in order stealthily to give away our state assets to faith and business groups interested in their own agendas. At a time of supposed austerity, they have wasted millions on tin-pot inefficient ‘free’ schools and grand vanity projects (university technical college, anyone?). It will be a long hard road back to a decent, democratically accountable state school system. Let’s not waste too much time revelling in the discomfort of one person (though it has been enjoyable, hasn’t it?)

Barking up the wrong tree

Always good to see Gove in trouble but the spat(s) between him and Sally Morgan, David Laws and Michael Wilshaw is irritating. The obsession the press and media have with personalities and fallings out means that they focus on this sort of story rather than the disastrous policies being pursued by the Coalition Government. To me it looks like a non-story.

Morgan was a close aide of Tony Blair and therefore card-carrying New Labour. She was appointed to head OFSTED not because anybody was trying to be even-handed but because she was in favour of academies (Blair had introduced them, after all) and ‘free schools’. She has reached the end of her time of tenure and is not being reappointed. She has chosen to make an issue of it, suggesting that the Tories are trying to stuff quangos with their supporters (perhaps so that, post the election, their influence can linger on?), something that Labour would never have done, of course!

Laws, well, I have little time for him but the LibDems are currently trying to suggest as much blue water between them and the Tories as possible, again in advance of the election.

Move along, nothing to see here.

Germ warfare

‘GERM’ is the acronym for ‘global education reform movement’.  Education is now a global business and large multi-national companies seek to make money from the education of children worldwide, companies like Pearson (who own our Edexcel exam board) and Murdoch. I had the opportunity to hear from Martin Johnson of  the ATL teachers’ union when I attended the Anti Academies Alliance AGM last Saturday. He has been researching for a book he is writing with the Guardian’s Warwick Mansell, called ‘Education Not For Sale’, to be published in the Spring.

According to Johnson, this ‘business’, which is part of the neoliberal agenda,  is in trouble. This is partly because of cutbacks in public spending in the US and Europe (their purpose after all is to pocket tax-payers’ money), and also because of emerging malpractice in the states.

The parallels to what has been happening under Gove are not hard to see. The conditions under which edubusiness will flourish have been developing here for decades: local management of schools, increase in ‘accountability’ measures and so forth. The undermining of teachers’ national negotiating rights and blatant attempts to attack their unions in recent years, are part of the package.

We are already seeing the opportunities being opened up under Gove’s privatisation project (academies and free schools) for pseudo charities to syphon off public funds, as detailed in recent Guardian and other stories.

There cannot really be any doubt now that what the Tories are intent on doing is to effectively ‘sell off’ our schools to private business.

Pity about the Swedes, Michael!

Is that a free school I hear closing?

As we know, our dearly beloved Education Secretary got his ‘big idea’ for ‘free schools’ from Sweden (and, to a lesser extent, the Charter Schools in the USA). The evidence that they raise standards is, to say the least, patchy. Nonetheless, Michael ploughs on secure in the knowledge that he’s right. Mr Gove would like to go even further we know: at the moment, ‘free schools’ and academies have to be run by educational charities or trusts but Gove sees no reason why people shouldn’t be able to run schools for profit. Here’s the reason. Continue reading

Time to rediscover local democracy and ‘thick’ democracy?

I thought my ‘followers’ might be interested in this thoughtful and vaguely hopeful piece from Howard Stevenson, a researcher at Nottingham University whom I have met through involvement in the Nottingham ‘Anti-Academies Alliance’, ‘Hands Off Our Schools’.

http://howardstevenson.org/2013/05/06/local-elections-2013-time-to-rediscover-local-government-and-thick-democracy/

Gove in tweeting row

Uncharacteristic pose: Michael Gove appears to be listening for once!

Uncharacteristic pose: Michael Gove appears to be listening for once!

It doesn’t do to annoy the media. Today’s Observer (3 February) carries a front page story about insulting tweets emanating from the heart of the DfE. Apparently, some of Gove’s advisers have been using @toryeducation not just to comment on current education policies but also to make rude remarks about opponents. Gove is accused of knowing about it but of not acting to stop the tweets. The Observer has gone on the attack because its political editor has become the subject of one of these nasty tweets. Continue reading

The billion pound drop

‘An extra £1 billion was spent by the Government in the last two years on turning schools into academies, the spending watchdog has said.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said the Department for Education (DfE) was “unprepared” for the financial impact of rapidly expanding the programme.

In a new report, the NAO said the department had initially failed to anticipate the scale of interest from schools who would want to take on academy status.

Michael Gove at the Conservative Party conferenceSoon after the 2010 general election, Education Secretary Michael Gove [left] announced he was opening up the programme to allow all schools in England to apply for academy status.

[A] new NAO report concluded that while this expansion was a “significant achievement”, the DfE was not ready for it.

It found that between April 2010 and March 2012, the DfE had to find an estimated £1 billion of additional costs.

To stay within its overall spending limits, and still allow the expansion to continue at the same pace, the DfE found this money from its main schools settlement and other budgets.

“The department was unprepared for the financial implications of rapid expansion,” the report said.’

It adds that the DfE was unable to recover around £350 million of the £1 billion from local councils to offset against academy funding.

The above is a slightly edited version of something that appeared in the Huffington Post.

It also emerged that the budget set aside for the introduction of academies in this two-year period was 7 billion pounds. How many of us realised that, in a time of ‘austerity’ when savings had to be made hither and thither, such a massive sum was put aside for this ideological development? And to put it into perspective, Labour’s ‘Building Schools for the Future’ scheme, which Gove cancelled on taking office, was running at between 3 and 4 billion a year. Click on Mr Gove (go on, you know you want to!) to read the full article.

Picture of Michael Gove by PA.