At the turn of the year…

It has to be said right from the start that 2015 has not been a good year for those of us who defend publicly-accountable education. Obviously the election was a big blow and, although a Labour victory would hardly have heralded the end of campaigning, the Conservatives in government on their own, spells real trouble. The recent election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader has led to a change of heart in the Opposition who have finally come out unequivocally against ‘free’ schools and academies but that will be of little consequence if the Conservative ‘project’ is fully entrenched by 2020,  before any conceivable Labour-led administration can begin to undo the mess.

‘Mess’ is undoubtedly the right word. It has been obvious to many of us from the word go – back in 2010 – and should be crystal clear to everyone else by now, that the Conservatives are intent on changing a publicly-funded and publicly-accountable state education system into a fragmented and privatised (albeit ‘quasi’ privatised) one, but still supported entirely from the public purse. Gove and now Morgan have ignored and brushed aside any objection or evidence-based argument against their relentless drive. We have said many times before but it is worth stating again, in the most straightforward of language: there is no evidence that turning schools into academies makes them any better, or that ‘free’ schools perform better than their Local Authority equivalents. 

The Conservatives are running a two-track policy: on the one hand, teachers and other education professionals are attacked and undermined, not just for their opinions or attitudes but at the most basic level in terms of funding, salaries, pensions and so forth, leading  not only to public confusion and apathy but also to the diversion of union energy from the existential fight over the purpose of our education system. The Conservatives therefore present themselves and their policies as improving so-called under performing schools and teachers: a crusade against children having to languish in failing schools. Meanwhile, their policies stealthily remove schools from local and parental accountability and effect changes to the GCSE syllabuses, even the exam’s grading system (from A* to G to 1-9) and the abolition of the use of National Curriculum levels (chaos and confusion now reigns as no-one seems to know how to communicate attainment to parents or fellow professionals). As so often with any recent government, and certainly with one headed by Cameron, PR is high on the agenda. The most important consideration is, how can we make it appear to the general public? Hence, for example, Troops to Teachers, the approval of the Sevenoaks ‘grammar school’, The National Teacher Service.

Over at OFSTED, Wilshaw appears to plough an independent furrow and occasionally to contradict government policy. Yet his and his organisation’s malign influence is fundamentally assisting in the whole scheme. The changes in the criteria for inspecting schools and judging good from bad have led to caricatures, whereby schools everyone locally knows to be perfectly OK, are damned. Perhaps the cleverest, but most nefarious, move was for Wilshaw to start talking (in his annual report) of the numbers of students in schools that were ‘failing’. In a simple stroke, having reclassified ‘satisfactory’ as ‘requires improvement’. Wilshaw was able to give the impression that hundreds of thousands of children were being badly let down.

Locally, we have campaigned against two local academisations of primary schools (Beeston Fields and Edwalton) and, with the use of Freedom of Information, tried to expose their scandalously pitiful ‘consultation’. The fact that they can so easily get away with this means that, right though campaigners were to rail against Morgan’s removal of even this skimpy veil from the new measures to fast-track academisation, in reality, it makes little difference. We have got the evidence but no-one in the media seems interested – even our local paper didn’t pick it up. Even worse, when we thought we’d got a proper ‘scandal’ (the hasty departure of the Principal of the Nottingham University Academy of Science and Technology just before the end of the academic year), the local press – despite requesting and getting our FOI information – let them off the hook.

So, is it all doom and gloom? It does look that way – the only prospect we can see of anything changing soon,  is if the wheels start to come off the ‘Gove-Morgan Project’. There has been a steady stream recently of stories about teacher shortages from a number of sources that are hard to argue against, as these represent the real experiences of head teachers in real schools. The DfE response – that there are more teachers now than ever – seems pretty thin. How long before the shortage raises practical problems and impacts on real students and their parents? In addition, some time in the next two or three years, GCSE results will start to appear in large numbers from enforced academies and ‘free’ schools so that campaigners will be able to demonstrate trends – though these will be hotly contested and ‘spun’ by government apologists – to replace the anecdotes of poor practice we mainly have at the moment.

As 2015 ends, a story reaches us of a mother and son in the teaching profession. The mother loves it so much she was planning to keep going beyond what many would consider a sensible retirement age. That was until a new head arrived in September. Within weeks, all staff had been told they weren’t good enough (they were ‘Good’ at a recent inspection!) and everything is being changed (even an internal wall is being knocked down, courtesy of one of the Head’s builder mates). She apologies to friends that she had barely had time to write Christmas cards in the last few weeks, so busy had she been re-writing schemes, plans etc. Needless to say, she’s retiring at the next available opportunity! Meanwhile, her son, at the start of his career, and into his second year, simply handed in his notice and left at Christmas with nothing else to go to. He cited the mountain of paperwork and a culture of bullying in his highly successful academy as being to blame. There it is, in microcosm: good people being chased away or burned out for the sake of ideological dogma.

Local head on teacher recruitment

One of the many problems our leaders should be dealing with is the looming teacher recruitment (and retention) crisis. Here,  Head of Chilwell School, Ian Brierly, writing in the Nottingham Post a few weeks back, assesses the problem:

http://www.nottinghampost.com/Ian-Brierly-Recruiting-teachers-hard-sell/story-28054823-detail/story.html

Sixth Form Colleges

It’s barely a week since the ‘spending review’ and already the discussion has moved on, overtaken by other momentous events. So, not unnaturally, some of the more obscure details – beyond ‘the cuts that didn’t happen’ – in Child Tax Credits and the police – never got a mention at the time and now probably will only surface on specialist blogs like this one.

For a number of years, there has been an anomaly in education funding, whereby schools were exempt from VAT, with the exception of Sixth Form Colleges. On the face of it, it would seem a simple ‘mistake’ for a chancellor to put right, but we have to understand that successive governments wanted to bolster school sixth forms, which have often been too small to be properly viable but nonetheless a badge of prestige for the school, especially in middle-class areas. Sixth Form students also attract a larger per capita funding.

Being part of an 11-18 school, continuing with teachers who already know you, being part of a smaller entity, has an appeal to some students; for others, a move to a bigger institution, akin almost to a small university, where the teachers only teach post-16 courses, is a more attractive option.

George Osborne could have responded easily to those who have been campaigning for the removal of the VAT anomaly from Sixth Form Colleges by, well, simply removing it. Instead, he has chosen a cynical course to push more institutions down the academisation route: Sixth Form Colleges are now permitted to become academies, and thus, save themselves paying VAT. Cash-strapped college principals will find themselves with little alternative.

We are bound to ask why, if, as this government frequently claims, academies are the best way forward for all, they have to practise this kind of financial arm-twisting to bring it about?

 

 

Next meeting this coming Tuesday (22/9/15)

There’s a meeting of HOOS on Tuesday 22 (7-9 pm) at Beeston Library (upstairs, the small meeting room) on Foster Avenue in Beeston (opposite Town Hall).

Parking on Foster Avenue (on the road or in the Car Park – check the notices to avoid a penalty!) OR in the Sainsbury’s Car Park, off Wollaton Road, behind The Cricketers pub (3 hours free).

Discussion about campaigns (current and upcoming) and our proposed Newsletter.

Everybody welcome!

Torch salary

Colin thinks .....

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 bing rewarded for his work there.

In the current year, Torch has subsumed Nottingham University Samworth…

View original post 77 more words

More Free School Market Madness – Cotgrave Free School Proposals

LOCAL SCHOOLS UNDER THREAT FROM FURTHER PROPOSED FREE SCHOOL IN COTGRAVE

Just as parents and staff in West Bridgford have been coming to terms with the destabilising effect that the Torch Academy company’s proposed ‘Trent Bridge Free School’ is bound to have on the existing schools, news has broken that two teachers currently employed at the Carlton Academy now plan to hold public meetings designed to promote their own free school in nearby Cotgrave! Continue reading

Opposing academy status

If your local school is proposing to become an academy and you want to oppose this, here are some things you can do:

1. Come to the next meeting of Hands Off Notts Schools at 7pm on Tuesday 27 March at Beeston Library, Foster Avenue, Beeston. We are meeting in the small first floor meeting room. There is disabled access and an induction loop.

2. Send a letter setting out your opposition to the headteacher and chair of governors. Here are some model letters for you to adapt:

model-parents-letter-to-chair-of-governing-body-outlining-the-case-against-academies

model-parents-letter-to-oppose-academy-status

3. Start a school-based campaign. Successful campaigns to oppose academies have built an alliance of parents, teachers and in some cases students and others in the local community.  The Birmingham-based Hands Off Our School campaign has done a brilliant job putting together information for other schools. You can find more information on their successful campaign at: http://handsoffourschool.wordpress.com/