Things are happening so fast in the education world at the moment that not ‘blogging’ for a week makes it look like I haven’t been paying attention. Far from it, of course, as those of you who read the OTHER blog I post to — ‘Hands Off Our Schools’, the Notts Anti Academies Alliance website — will know, I have been very much engaged. Attended the Anti Academies Alliance AGM in London on Saturday and heard direct from some people on the ‘front line’ : Gladstone Park and Alec Reed Academy for two (I intend a longer post devoted to Alec Reed shortly). It was good to hear from AAA ‘leading lights’ including Alastair Smith. Interestingly they share my analysis that Gove is far from finished and that academisation and free schools are likely to continue as fast as before if not faster, as 2015 and the prospect of losing power looms.
The last few weeks have also seen the National Audit Office report on the imminent shortage of primary school places. Of course, free schools are not doing much to alleviate this as they are often springing up in the wrong places, where there are plenty of places and, of course, they are often secondaries. To me, it shows the madness of applying a market philosophy to education but that’s been around ever since Keith Joseph introduced Local Management of Schools and the Labour Party did nothing to row back from it, meaning that at one point schools were being funded for the number of places they theoretically had based on measuring their floor area, as though schools could shut down classrooms and open them up again like turning a tap on and off, responding almost instantly to demand.
One of the problems with ‘free schools’ which are supposed to respond to demand is not that they don’t — most come about because of the ambition of an educationist such as a successful Headteacher or the empire-building instincts of a business ‘sponsor’ leading a Trust (there’s a misnomer for you!) or edubusiness — but that, starting from scratch, they cannot possibly guarantee to be good or outstanding from the word go. Witness the outcomes of the first nine inspections of new free schools, three of which ‘require improvement’. Incidentally, the role of OFSTED at the moment is interesting. It seems clear that, centrally, OFSTED and Sir Michael Wilshaw are ‘partners in crime’ with Michael Gove but locally, they seem prepared to give ‘honest’ judgements of schools, irrespective of type of school, though constrained by the new ‘framework’ introduced by Wilshaw in September 2012. Another future ‘post’ needs to be devoted to OFSTED, it seems!
Rooting around on the New Schools Network website I found copious advice for anyone planning to apply to open a new ‘free school’. I was surprised to discover how much detail they have to give about parents who have signed up for their proposed school. Apparently, though it isn’t binding, parents need to have said the ‘new school’ will be the first choice for their child and the dob and name of the child must be given so, in theory at least, the list cannot be stuffed with friends and family. On that basis, therefore, how on earth are these ‘fantasy’ schools getting approved? Are there really dozens of people prepared to give this commitment for their child more than eighteen months in advance without in many cases seeing a real school building and certainly without reading an OFSTED report or set of exam results? In my area, the mooted Trent Bridge Free School, with a website picturing pupils in TBFS uniform and a set of laudable aims but actually having no existence in the real world, claims to have backed its recent DfE application with 180 pupils ‘signed up’ for September 2014! Really?
If you haven’t seen it already, there is an excellent film to be found on Youtube called ‘Academies and Lies’ which ought to be compulsory viewing for any head or governor thinking of taking their school down the academy route. Here’s the link:
Whilst it has been cheering to see some of the stories in the press about problems at the DfE and watch Gove wriggle in front of the Select Committee — though, frankly, he has sufficient ‘brass neck’ to brazen these things out — there is certainly no room for complacency which, I think, is the Labour attitude. They seem to be content to sit out the Coalition without considering what state our education system (not to mention some other parts of the public services) will be in when they resume power. I think it is becoming clear that the next Labour government will do little with then existing academies and free schools. If I am right, the work and campaigning of organisations like the AAA is vital now, to prevent academisation and free schools if possible but also to ‘put down a marker’ for the future; it is also clear that the AAA will not be able to dissolve itself any time soon! Let’s hope their aspiration to join with other organisations in a national campaign for education comes to fruition sooner rather than later.
Talking of campaigns, scoot down (or up) to Coventry this evening if you can where the Roke Primary school campaign group will be lobbying outside the headquarters of The Harris Federation (aka Carpetright) which has been ‘chosen’ to run them post enforced academisation. Bring your own carpet! See if it makes the national media (I’m guessing not).
What HAS made the national media — predictably — is the threat by the NUT and NAS/UWT to stage a series of strikes against plans to radically change teachers’ pay and pensions. Again, I have ‘pencilled in’ another post (unless I can persuade a ‘guest blogger’ to write me something from the perspective of a full time current teacher with thoughts of a career ahead of him or her!) At last it looks like the two biggest teacher unions are set to run a united and coordinated campaign. Better late than never!