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.

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.

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.

This way for rigour…

It’s one of those words we didn’t use very much ’til four years ago but the Education Secretary is all for it. Whether you agree with his methods or not, you can’t fault him for his aim: more rigour. So why, I have to ask, is there less rigour in one fairly obscure but important corner?

The ‘rigorous’ judgement of secondary schools is now based largely on the extent to which they manage to move their children on ‘three levels of progress’. For the uninitiated, this means from the end of Key Stage 2 (that is, at the end of the primary phase) to the end of Key Stage 4 (that is, 16+, end of Year 11 and what used to be the end of compulsory schooling), schools are expected so to teach, motivate and encourage (or, if you’re Gove and Wilshaw, bully and threaten) students that they add three National Curriculum ‘levels’ in that time.

A few moments’ thought will reveal several problems with this. Forget for a moment that the end of KS 2 is measured as a ‘level’ but the end of KS 4 is measured largely in GCSE Grades (so we need some equivalence and conversion) and that a ‘level’ is quite a broad band so that there is a significant difference between a ‘top’ Level 4 (i.e.  nearly Level 5) and a bottom Level 4 (i.e. only just better than Level 3), so much so, in fact, that after the inception of the National Curriculum back in the eighties,  ‘sub-levels’ were devised so that children and teachers could see some indication of progress during a school year, although the reporting of gradings at the end of KS 2 is in whole levels. Forget all that. Clearly, it is absolutely vital that we can have confidence in the reliability of the Key Stage 2 result. I have talked about this before and discussed the pressures on Junior schools to do whatever they can (sometimes ‘gaming’, as Mr Gove might say) to maximise the KS 2 result because, after all, they are judged on how far they have moved children on from Key Stage 1, at the Infant school. I have to remind you that KS 1 levels are based solely on teacher assessments with a very light touch moderation regime and that the pressure on Infant schools and KS 1 teachers is also great.

Given all that, can we rely on the KS 2 results? After all, they are based on externally marked SAT examinations, aren’t they?. Again, I’ve suggested previously that a looser examination regime will have allowed some ‘manipulation’ but at least they are externally marked papers, right? Well, no, actually. The KS 2 Writing Task is, since 2013, internally marked. I have it on good authority (i.e. a current serving primary head teacher, who also reported what fellow heads admit to doing) that schools are now quite deliberately and consciously pushing through some students at a higher level than they know the child should receive, in order to achieve an overall ‘pass percentage’ that will keep them out of ‘Special Measures’. Teachers in the secondary school will look at the reported level, look at the first few bits of work from that child and be horrified, recognising that their task is now much greater.

It is, of course, unprofessional and I cannot condone it, but I can understand. If you set up a system that threatens livelihoods, reputations and communities unless certain benchmarks are reached; if the school would be ‘academised’ and given to a chain owned by a Tory-supporting carpet magnate (Lord Harris, do you recognise yourself?) and the head sacked if a second poor OFSTED grading is given,  and if you leave open a ‘loophole’,  then it is human nature for people to, well, frankly, cheat. Yet no one seems to have noticed. Secondary heads are castigated for legitimately giving students a second chance at achieving a decent grade: this is called ‘gaming’,  but primary heads can get away with it because of a loosening-up of the system.

But, maybe, just maybe, there’s something more sinister going on here. Gove is keen to have as many schools as possible in his little (well, not so little) band of state funded independent schools (academies or ‘free’ schools) for ideological reasons I’ve discussed elsewhere. Most of the good or outstanding schools will, for their own reasons (either connected to money, ego-mania or a combination of both), have voluntarily converted, leaving a few ‘community’ or ‘LA schools’. Some of those are struggling around the ‘Requires improvement’ mark. They need a good set of results next time round to avoid the ‘drop’. Why not make it just that little bit harder for them? True, the over-graded Year 7s currently in secondary will take a few years to feed through, but it’s all making the job just a bit harder and a trifle more demoralising.

So, Mr Gove, where’s your rigour at Key Stage 2? If we have to have this farce, at least make the playing field, if not exactly even, at least not riddled with potholes.

Everything I know (well, almost) …

When a friend and colleague asked me for a ‘ briefing’ on Gove, I went a bit mad! It’s long but it is my attempt to put what I know in context. Can you spot anything I’ve missed?

1. The Macro
From the word go (May 2010), Michael Gove acted swiftly to begin the implementation of his policies, even using parliamentary procedures designed for terrorist legislation to push through the law to enable academies and free schools to start from September 2010. It is clear to everyone that he is motivated by ideology – an apparent belief that ‘the market’ will provide the best and most efficient service, even in education – and is only interested in evidence if it can be used to justify his actions (not unlike many a politician here!). He will cherry-pick or even invent ‘facts’. For example, he chose to implement the Swedish model for free schools despite it being far from clear that they were working even in that country and ignoring some obvious differences of culture (eg there is no private education sector in Sweden). He ignores evidence emerging from Sweden that after 20 years it is not working and is certainly increasing segregation. Gove has also been caught out quoting ‘facts’ culled from very dubious sources and surveys.

In his moves on the curriculum and examination system, Gove has also been guided by ideological prejudice eg his own specialist area of English Literature (prescribing books that children ought to be made to read, which will hardly increase their motivation to enjoy literature) and his imperialist view of History. He has become the darling of the Conservative right because he appears to champion a move backwards to ‘traditional’ styes of teaching (eg rote learning), a focus on a narrow form of literacy, a UK-centric/imperialist world view of History, a preference for a grammar-school/private school ethos, a return to ‘O’ level, the abolition of coursework, down-grading of vocational (ie ‘easy’, in his view) subjects and so on.

He has been helped by three factors. Firstly, the media have assisted in creating a narrative about English education, namely, that state education is failing, that it is poor when compared internationally and that private education is self-evidently better. Secondly, unlike the NHS, the public does not perceive education as a ‘national education service’ and are by and large uninterested in schooling if their children are doing ok, unless their school is threatened in which case, there is often a determined campaign of support for the school. However, few of these issues make the national media (Al Madinah and the recent problems of E-ACT being exceptions) so that a problem with your own local school may seem to be a blip and not part of a national trend, when, in fact, it is. Thirdly, the spectacular failure of the Labour Party to mount any kind of serious opposition to Gove’s wholesale dismantling of the state-funded education system.

The prevailing narrative has become accepted ‘fact’ but can easily be challenged. However you judge it, many schools have done well and are improving, however, most of those schools have been encouraged to move outside the state sector and become independent academies (albeit still funded by the tax-payer) so the illusion continues that state schools (ie LA-run schools) are failing. The international comparisons (OECD ‘PISA’) were seized on by the media, Gove and even, regrettably, Tristan Hunt, but those who have looked closely can see straight away that the tests, the methodologies and even the interpretation of the results, are deeply flawed. These ‘results’ are now being used to urge our schools to adopt teaching strategies and styles that are anathema to our culture eg the Singapore model for Maths. As for Gove’s recent praise for the private sector, dressed up as a desire for all our children to have ‘as good as’, this has been rightly condemned as nonsense. There are many inequalities of funding and a privileged intake that, once stripped away, mean that, in fact, if anything, the best state schools are doing slightly better.

The media have certainly done a lot to establish the ‘narrative’ of failure and poor comparative performance in the public mind, over time (think of the annual claims that improving exam results must be an indication of ‘dumbing down’, going back decades) and they have also done little to challenge Gove or expose the growing evidence of the failures of his policies. Those ‘in the know’ are aware of increasing stories of ‘financial irregularity’, and poor performance in the ‘free school’ and academy ‘world’ and are surprised that an investigative journalist or documentary maker has not delved and exposed. For some commentators, there is a belief that Gove, as an ex-journo himself, gets off lightly. It is also the case that many in the serious media are the products of private schooling so readily buy the negative state schools stereotype.

2. The Micro
At the school level, Gove’s policies and attitudes are doing great damage to our teachers and pupils. There has probably never been a Secretary of State so universally loathed by the teaching body. The Coalition has successfully waged a propaganda campaign against public services and, in education, Gove has used what he perceives to be public antagonism or, at best, indifference, to suppress wages, alter pension rights and attack working conditions. A recent survey suggested that, under Gove, teachers’ actual working hours have increased. Moreover, Gove has attacked and denigrated teachers – the very people whose support he needs to implement changes – at every turn. He has dismissed opposition amongst the teaching profession and the education world more generally as “vested interests’ and “the enemies of promise”. The NUT was branded “an extreme left-wing organisation” and headteachers who chose exam entry strategies which maximised the chances of student success were accused of “gaming” (in other words, cheating). Most Secretaries of State are unloved by teachers but it would be hard to overestimate how reviled this one is amongst ordinary classroom teachers, not simply because they disagree with his policies but because his words and his actions indicate to them that he does not value their hard work and expertise. Unheralded changes of policy, issued as diktats, show how little they are thought of.

In this regard, Gove is given a close run by Michael Wilshaw. No teachers are likely to be fond of OFSTED but, under this chief (appointed by Gove) they have seen regular and bewildering changes that have left them unclear what they have to do. The ‘toughening up’ and renaming of ‘Satisfactory’ as ‘Requires improvement’, means that there is no longer any meaningful comparison to be had between schools and has left schools that have clearly been improving over five or six years, apparently standing still or even going backwards. There is now a great lack of clarity about what inspectors are looking for with recent announcements that no particular teaching style in valued more than others, and the revelation that, apparently, individual teachers are not ‘graded’. Other announcements seem to widen the attributes being inspected even including teachers’ dress and the school’s outcomes regarding careers and student destinations.

Wilshaw has the same people skills as Gove, at least where teachers are concerned and, notwithstanding an apparent falling out between ‘The Michaels’ recently, OFSTED is part of the problem. The number of children alleged to be ‘being failed’ (that is, being taught in schools graded 3 or 4) is a new statistic, devised by Wilshaw (reminiscent of Woodhead’s famous ‘fifteen thousand failing teachers’), and used as part of the ‘failing state sector’ narrative. More significantly, OFSTED outcomes are used by the sinister DfE ‘brokers’ to badger and bully heads into turning their schools into academies. There is plenty of evidence that OFSTED is in cahoots and that the policy has little to do with improving education and a lot to do with enabling essentially sound schools, perhaps undergoing a transition or ‘blip’, to be gobbled up by academy chains who can claim responsibility for improvements that were about to happen anyway. Some of the chains and their ‘heads’ have close connections to the Conservative Party eg Lord Harris, of ‘Carpetworld’, a Tory donor, who is a fairly ‘hands on’ head of the Harris Academy Trust.

3. A note about funding
Even a politician like Gove feels the need to create an impression with the electorate. The impression has therefore been created that education funding has been protected under the Coalition, whereas heads and bursars know that, at the sharp end, that’s not how it feels. ‘Early adopters’ of ‘converter academy’ status often bluntly explained it was for the money. Gove has diverted large amounts – billions – to his pet ‘free school’ and academy projects, to the undoubted detriment of ‘bog standard’ local schools. ‘Free schools’ in particular can often to be shown to be very poor value for money. However, those billions will still show up as part of the overall education budget so no apparent cuts have taken place.

The serious cuts that have gone on in local authorities which are, quite clearly, a deliberate policy of the Coalition, have a knock-on effect on LA-run schools. Services that used to be free are now charged for (examples are work experience checking and careers advice via Connexions, which Wilshaw has recently said will now be part of inspections from September!) The biggest con of all, however, is the ‘pupil premium’. This is a much-trumpeted Liberal Democrat policy which appears to provide support for children from poorer homes but, on closer inspection, is largely an illusion. This is because the money provided less than compensates for the money needed to make up the shortfall from other sources, particularly local authority services and grants. To add insult to injury, OFSTED insists on seeing evidence that the PP is being used for the purpose for which it was intended!

The arguments against academies and ‘free schools’ are well-rehearsed. Despite what Gove and ‘DfE spokesmen’ say, there is no evidence that they are more successful than equivalent LA-supported schools. The inexorable movement is towards chains in place of Local Authorities, which have no democratic accountability and which, if Gove gets his way, will be allowed to make a profit. It is not clear who monitors and supports quality in these schools, other than OFSTED, hence the recent spat over inspecting chains. These chains are technically ‘charities’ but operate like the businesses they really are. Financial irregularities, cheating, fraud even, are emerging – there are certainly instances of links between directors of ‘trusts’ and their own companies who profit from contracts awarded them by the schools – which may be lawful but sounds at the very least ‘inappropriate’.

However, the greatest damage Gove is doing is to the ethos in schools. Gove’s and Wilshaw’s behaviour towards schools, headteachers, teachers and local communities is nothing short of bullying. There is now a lot of evidence that academies and ‘free schools’ operated by chains are run along similar lines where employees are bullied, rather than encouraged, into behaving the way the management wants. To be fair, such an attitude has always existed amongst a few heads who seemed to think the only way to manage people was to threaten them. This could be put down in the past to good teachers being promoted, without additional training, beyond their level of competence. However, this is now on the increase as ‘business’ tries to run schools as businesses, using the very worst ‘business practice’. In such schools it will hardly be surprising that teachers start treating children the way they are being treated themselves.

4. A Word about Labour
The official opposition seemed, at one point, to be sitting it out. Gove moved swiftly in May-June 2010 and maybe the party was shell-shocked by its defeat. Maybe they found it hard to oppose a policy (academies) which they had initiated. The truth is that it was a ridiculous notion when New Labour brought it in: who on earth thought that the problems of an under-performing school could be solved by ceding major influence to a car dealer with a ‘creationist’ bee in his bonnet? (Reg Vardy, in case you’re wondering). It actually makes no sense and leads many to think that Labour and the Tories are really on the same page. In other words, they are, to differing degrees only, both interested in undermining local authorities, which can be irritating to whichever government is in power, and giving our state schools system to business.

The previous Labour education ‘shadow’, Stephen Twigg, seemed to take the ‘shadow’ title literally and was conspicuous by his absence from serious debate. Under Hunt, things have been little better. Apart from asserting that schools ought to employ qualified teachers (which, according to a recent survey, most ‘free’ schools do anyway) his main policy suggestion has been a Royal College of Teaching, which looks suspiciously like the GTC Mark II and whose main point seems to be to allay public fears that poor teachers might not be able to be sacked! More nonsense, of course. The politicians are so very keen on giving the right impression to the public, assuming they have accurately ‘read’ the public mood in the first place. Actually, some surveys suggest the public is further to the left than this and would welcome a full-throated attack on what some believe is an increasingly chaotic and unsustainable mess.

SUMMARY – the main points to be made against Gove are :
– his refusal to look at evidence or to pilot new schemes, but he ploughs ahead regardless, interested only in his ‘market’ ideology;
– an unsystematic development and launch of policy, often coming apparently from nowhere with no notice, leading to an increasingly chaotic and piece-meal education system;
– his curriculum changes also play to the neo-con right, dressed up as ‘rigour’ and ‘improving standards’;
– the encouragement of a negative view of state as opposed to private education;
– his attacks both verbal and in actions, against the teaching profession;
– the appointment of Wilshaw and his support for a campaign by OFSTED that treats schools, heads and teachers very badly with increasing concerns about consistency and fairness;
– the waste of vast sums of money on pet projects that could have been spent on schools;
– with Wilshaw, he is responsible for underhand and bullying treatment of schools, heads, communities and teachers, thereby encouraging others such as unelected heads of ‘chains’, headteachers and governors to behave likewise;
– the undermining of democratic accountability of schools to their local communities;
– the encouragement of business to enter the education ‘market’ for profit (technically, the ‘trusts’ are charities but there are plenty of apparently legal ways being used at the moment to make a profit eg IES from Sweden); and, of course, illegal ways as well!;
– his oversight of an increasingly fragmented and chaotic education world where ultimately the interests of the individual child are forgotten.

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.

Sorted? Not quite…

So, Al-Madinah is being handed over to a tried and tested purveyor of academies : job done? Well, maybe, as far as the kids are concerned and, since the place was in dire straits, I can’t think of a better solution, the interests of the children always being paramount, in my book. But, as the old joke goes, I wouldn’t have started from here. Once alerted to the appalling state of affairs that had developed at A-M, the authorities acted pretty swiftly and have found a solution – but how come this school was allowed to open in the first place, given that the problems of inadequately trained, unqualified staff and even the issues with safeguarding, were apparent before it opened? It was obvious that the group setting up the school had no experience of setting up something as complex and significant as a school – after all, this wasn’t a couple of people opening a little shop on the high street.

In the pre-registration report by OFSTED in July 2012, before the school opened, no assessment was made of its ability to educate children! However, at this stage OFSTED did identify four regulations regarding child protection that the school hadn’t yet met and indicated that staff needed training. The DfE says that A-M provided evidence it had met the OFSTED requirements before it opened. Yet the school had to close after the first day of the inspection because the OFSTED team found basic safeguarding requirements were not being met. Whilst wondering what the Headteacher was doing not to have noticed this nor to have spotted that all teaching was inadequate and none of his staff even knew how to plan a lesson, since the governors were inexperienced enough to hold him to account, what outside body was there to monitor and support the school? OFSTED is the nuclear option but, dare I say it, a local authority would have fitted the bill perfectly?

Al-Madinah shows up in stark relief, the problems inherent in setting up free schools and all those who oppose them should be pressurising the government and educating the public by telling them about this, and similar, disasters. The problem is, by no means, ‘sorted’!

You heard it here first!

The government has appointed Barry Day and the Greenwood Dale Trust to run the Al Madinah free school in Derby, as predicted in my post 1 November. Day is the former Headteacher of Greenwood Dale school, an early-adopter of the old opted out/grant maintained status. Now CEO (or some such) he’s been quick to jump on the govewagon and his lot currently runs twenty or so schools in the Nottingham/Derby area. Most recently he was handed the nice new buildings of Sinfin School which was swiftly rebranded City of Derby Academy.

Having read the full OFSTED report for Al Madinah, I think it’s a safe bet that the kids there will be better off under Greenwood than the incompetents currently running it. However, there are challenges ahead for Day. There are no nice buildings to take over and presumably he’ll need to keep the Islamic ethos of the place.  Gove is a big fan and he must be counting on Day to get him and Lord Nash out of a jam.

Fighting back

In a recent post I suggested that headteachers might be so incensed by Gove’s decree on so-called ‘early entry’ that they might decide, in the interests of their pupils, to ignore him, enter pupils as many times as they saw fit and, crucially, publish their own exam stats based on children’s best results rather than, as Gove has decided, the DfE ‘Raise-Online’ stats based only on the ‘first attempt’. Evidence is now emerging that not only will many heads do this, but that, most importantly, they will have at least the tacit support of OFSTED in doing so.

I’ve been privileged, through my contacts in education, to have seen a confidential document from an OFSTED inspector on this matter. As I am sworn not to quote, I must paraphrase as follows:

OFSTED inspectors, it appears, are unhappy with Gove and what he has done. He didn’t consult them and, if he really is concerned about schools suppressing student achievement through ‘early entry’, OFSTED inspectors are sufficiently on the ball to pick this up and to use the 3 and 4 levels of progress measure to bear down on schools who have misused early entry in this way. The inspector recognises that pulling the November entry at the last minute, as heads were being urged to do, would undermine the confidence of students – as a former head, this inspector recognises also that heads have a moral duty to do the best for their students: it isn’t just about maximising exam results for the school. The inspector goes on to say that inspectors s/he works with will be interested to look at the real results the schools will have as well as the bogus ones which will appear on the government’s Raise-Online.

This is really dynamite and, although I understand the reluctance of this particular inspector to ‘go public’, it’s a great pity they did not. Gove is beginning to be under pressure from powerful and influential people in education for his constant and inconsistent meddling in the examination system and, it has to be remembered, he cannot bring about any reforms unless those ‘on the ground’ acquiesce. The only threat Gove can use is that, if a school’s results fall below a certain level (the so-called ‘floor’), OFSTED can judge the school inadequate. However, it is clear from the above that inspectors will be very reluctant to do this if the unofficial (ie real) results are ok and it’s the official results only that fall below floor.

By the way, I appear to have reached a milestone 100th post to this blog in less than 11 months. Coincidentally, I happened yesterday to run into Alan from the WEA who taught me all my blogging skills so, many thanks to him and to you out there for sticking with me. I’m sure I will have plenty more to say in the coming months!

Will this ‘chaotic’, ‘dysfunctional’ school be allowed to continue?

Thanks to a leak, we now know how damning the OFSTED report on Al-Madinah free school in Derby actually is. We have seen how Mr Gove has rushed in to ‘rescue’ children from ‘failing’ schools in the past. One example was Sinfin nearby in Derby which was still a fully functioning school before Gove sent his storm troopers in to quickly convert it to City of Derby Academy, now corporately badged as part of the Greenwood Dale empire. So what of the four hundred or so children at Al-Madinah? How is their education to be continued without further disruption? It is not their fault that their parents foolishly signed up for a school that has turned out to be useless, parents who, no doubt, thought their children would be royally indoctrinated into a Muslim faith and culture. I regret all so-called faith schools but this one has turned out to be a school only in name. However, it cannot just be closed and the children and their parents left to flounder.

Be that as it may,  Al-Madinah could be something of a watershed for both Gove and his new ‘shadow’, Tristram Hunt. Obviously, Al-Madinah is an extreme example but it does show the folly of the whole ‘free school’ phenomenon: they’ve started up in unsuitable buildings which nonetheless have been well furnished at public expense but with, apparently, nobody with much experience of teaching or running a school. Self-evidently, these children would have been much better off in a local-authority run school or, even, an academy which had been based on an existing school. Hunt has an ‘open goal’ to expose the utter foolhardiness of Gove’s reckless policies if he can summon the courage to believe that public opinion will be behind him and not Gove’s ideology. Gove, already under pressure for his constant meddling with the exam system, should come under greater scrutiny for his ‘free’ school policy.

When Gove’s political epitaph is finally written (oh, make it soon!), we might find ‘Al-Madinah’ written on his heart.