We’re here – and so is NUAST

You don’t need to know why we’ve been dormant for six months or so – six months in which so much has happened on the national and international stage – suffice it to say we are back and there’s no shortage of things to talk about!

First off has to be NUAST. You all know that the Nottingham University Academy of Science and Technology is something we have always opposed: built with £10,000,000 of OUR money on a site next to a very busy roundabout with the major A52 ‘flying over’. It was built with a capacity of 800 as a 14-19 specialist ‘free school’ in Science, Maths, Technology and Engineering. For more details see our many previous blog posts.

One of our main criticisms was that we didn’t see how the academy could hope to recruit enough students, especially at the end of Key Stage 3 when parents and students do NOT traditionally think about changing schools. For them to do so could harm the continuity of their education and of course disrupt the forward-planning of the schools they might choose to leave.

Turns out we were right! By the November of its second year (2015), the Year 11 cohort at NUAST, after quite a few ‘comings and goings’, was set at around 60/61; the Year 13 (Upper Sixth) group was even fewer, down below 20 (we think around 19) after a sizeable proportion had left during the first year. The next ‘wave’ consisted of fewer than 50 in the then Year 10, with, it has to be said, a reasonable number of students into the Sixth Form (Year 12, November 2015). NB These figures reflect information supplied by the academy following Freedom of Information requests.

So, as we expected – and predicted – the sums have not added up. To reach even half capacity NUAST would need to be recruiting 120 or so into Year 10 (rolling through without loss to Year 11), and perhaps 60 into the Sixth Form (Year 12 – again, rolling through without loss to Year 13) consistently. It clearly cannot see that happening and would therefore be in breach of its targets with a risk of the school being lost and turned over to someone else (probably a Multi-Academy Trust – MAT).

NUAST governors (or ‘Board of Directors’ as they are tellingly called) are  therefore proposing a radical change, namely turning the specialist ‘free’ school into an 11-19 mainstream secondary school. These proposals are currently out for consultation – we intend to make a submission (which we have already drafted) and urge anyone else with an interest to do so too, by the deadline of 31 January. We will shortly publish our draft response here but in the meantime, here is a summary of the concerns we have:

  1. Sustainability – what evidence is there that the current parlous state of recruitment will be changed by the ‘conversion’?
  2. Health and Safety at the current site – lack of ‘playground’ facilities for younger children, insufficient ‘spillout’ area for large numbers of children coming and going en masse near a very busy roundabout and surrounding roads, dangerous levels of fumes caused by vehicles entering and leaving the roundabout and accelerating/slowing down to leave or join the A52.
  3. Gender imbalance – currently boys outnumber girls 70/30 – an ongoing problem in STEM subjects – what is NUAST’s plan to address this?
  4. Teaching and Learning – there is no evidence of even a satisfactory level of teaching and learning. As yet the academy has received no OFSTED visit – they have attempted to ‘spin’ last summer’s first GCSE and A level results but in fact the GCSE performance (from a cohort of around 60) was average at best and probably below students’ target expectations based on prior attainment. Any attempt to extrapolate from 2016 results, especially for the Sixth Form with a cohort of about 20, is highly dubious.
  5. Capacity to offer a full mainstream curriculum – the current site offers very poor facilities for teaching PE – it is not clear from the consultation document what NUAST will do to ensure it has the facilities and teaching expertise to offer arts, humanities and languages across five years – the evidence (such as it is) from last year’s results shows that only 3% of students achieved the EBacc.
  6. Ongoing collaborations – it is unclear from the plans how businesses and the University of Nottingham will have ongoing input. Whilst this was offered as a ‘unique feature’ of NUAST, our anecdotal evidence from some students,  is that this input so far has been no better than some other local secondary schools have regularly achieved through good liaison over years. Further, the involvement of the Torch Academy Gateway Trust was set to develop through a ‘merger’ which would also include the Djanogly group, which was initially closely involved in the setting up and running of NUAST. How will that affect the future of NUAST?
  7. Cost – one of our biggest criticisms was the initial cost of NUAST and, in the light of its failure to reach a viable level of recruitment, we presume, continued funding above the level justified by the number on roll. Whilst it could be argued that the proposed ‘conversion’ is aimed at reaching those viable numbers, we foresee a further injection of money will be needed for internal alterations (and perhaps purchase and conversion of outdoor space), staff recruitment and staff training. At a time of real-terms cuts to school funding across the board, how can pumping more money into this school be justified?
  8. Impact on other local schools – NUAST has a history of spendthrift advertising (glossy leaflets to thousands of homes, side of bus advertising, a tram in NUAST livery, newspaper advertising) and of aggressive marketing outside what is currently being seen as its ‘catchment’ area. At best, this marketing can be unsettling and a distraction to other local schools, at worst, if successful, it can affect their forward planning and funding.

NUT’s Louise Regan speaking in Nottingham

Notts Momentum’s next meeting is on July 5th at 7pm at the Mechanics Institute and we will be discussing what a Labour Education policy should be, with Louise Regan, Vice President of the National Union of Teachers.

Venue – The Nottingham Mechanics Institute, 3 North Sherwood St, Nottingham NG1 4EZ
http://www.nottinghammechanics.com/find-us.htm”

I’ve contacted Momentum to say we are trying to get Hands Off Our Schools activities up and running again and to see if Hands Off Our Schools members could attend this meeting. They are happy for us to come along and contribute to the discussion – you don’t have to be a Momentum supporter.

I thought this would be a good opportunity for us to catch up on NUT activities/campaigning against current government policies/debate around influencing Labour’s education policy.

I don’t generally like meeting in pubs, but we could perhaps have a quick HOOS meeting after this meeting eg in the Orange Tree pub around the corner from the mechanics?

Please let me know if you think this is a good idea. I’m going to go to this meetings but am happy to organise a HOOS meeting in Beeston later in July if people aren’t generally happy with suggestion to meet fairly informally on Tuesday 5th after Momentum meeting.

 

Andrea

…and what about 2016?

No predictions – or even ‘resolutions’ – but a few intentions.

During the last couple of months of 2015, we decided to start using social media a bit more so that longer, more thoughtful or detailed pieces can appear here, on the website, and be ‘posted’ on Facebook simultaneously (and on Twitter as well). In addition, some snippets or brief comments will appear directly on our Facebook page. If you’re not following us there, simply click here and ‘like’ so that all our posts will appear in your timeline – and feel free to comment on and, in particular, share our posts so that all your Facebook friends will see them too.

We also have a ‘closed’ Facebook page where supporters can discuss information and tactics. You have to go there and request to join. If one of the administrators recognises you, they’ll let you in (all very ‘cloak and dagger’!)

We intend to try to spread the information we manage to obtain – either from specialist on-line sites or regional newspapers, for example, as well as from our own FoI requests. We hope you will want to spread that information a bit further – indeed, we urge you to do so. The more people know what is really happening in education, the more opposition to this government’s policies will grow.

In the New Year, we have some information about NUAST – obtained via FoI – to share. Look out for it!

 

Annual Report 2015

Hands Off Our Schools

Annual Report 2015

We have continued to meet and discuss issues relating to local schools, especially academisations and ‘free’ schools. We have also conducted campaigns via direct action and through publicity.

  1. NUAST – We were very concerned at the stories we were hearing about NUAST, its numbers and its inner turmoil. We lobbied an open evening in February where we distributed leaflets, spoke to prospective parents and even to the Chair of Governors. Subsequent lobbies did not take place due to lack of numbers. Following a Freedom of Information tussle with NUAST, and some research, we were able to obtain and publish information that we believed to be highly damaging to NUAST; following an anonymous tip-off from a parent we were able to alert the local press to the sudden departure of the Principal; we fed information to the press but were unable to get them to publish the more damaging aspects of the information we received. A further FoI request is being sent to attempt to quantify current numbers at NUAST and examination outcomes. We plan to contact local schools potentially affected by NUAST recruitment and seek support in distributing literature.
  2. Beeston Fields Primary – We learnt part-way into the so-called consultation that academisaton was imminent. We wrote and used Freedom of Information to reveal the shoddy nature of the process which we then publicised. We tried to put pressure on the Governors and wrote to the Secretary of State – a contact which went unacknowledged. Once again, the press failed to pick up and publicise this story and we understand the school has become an academy under the ‘Flying High’ Trust.
  3. Edwalton Primary – Also to be academised with ‘Flying High’, this primary school appeared to be going through the same process as Beeston Fields. We once again wrote and put the case against and also supported a parent who became active but could not drum up enough support for a concerted opposition.
  4. We have kept track, as far as possible, with other plans and developments locally in the hope that, if necessary, we can react to potential academisations or new ‘free’ schools.
  5. The election saw a depressing result for HOOS as the Conservatives have vowed to accelerate the pace of academisations and increase the number of ‘free’ schools. The one ray of light was the change of heart of the Labour Party who now oppose ‘free’ schools and have talked about taking all schools back into democratic control. Groups like HOOS have kept the arguments for democratic control of state-funded schools alive and we must continue to do so.

CT

Annual General Meeting – Tuesday 10 November, 7 pm

Here is the agenda for Tuesday night’s meetings at Beeston Library:

Hands Off Our Schools

Annual General Meeting – Tuesday 10 November 2015 – Beeston Library

  1. Attendance and Apologies for Absence
  2. Annual Report
  3. Election of Officers 2015 -16
  • Chair
  • Vice-Chair
  • Treasurer
  • Secretary
  1. Close of meeting

Ordinary Meeting (to follow AGM)

  1. Attendance and Apologies for Absence
  2. Minutes of previous meeting
  3. Matters Arising
  4. Local updates
  5. Planning for further campaigns
  6. Newsletter
  7. Date of next meeting
  8. Close of meeting

No evidence …

A few days after an article appeared in The Daily Telegraph, once more reiterating David Cameron’s commitment to academies, it’s a good time to remind everyone that there is no evidence of a magic ‘academy effect’. Anyone reading this blog is probably convinced of this but, as always, it’s good to see the arguments stated clearly so that we can, in turn, use them to influence those who are yet to be convinced or who are simply unaware.

Below is a link to an article written by Henry Stewart of Local Schools Network and published in the Guardian on 5 June.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/03/nicky-morgan-wrong-evidence-academies-bill

In the Telegraph article, Cameron makes the usual unfounded assertions and peddles familiar untruths. He talks about giving schools the ‘opportunity’ to become academies when the recent Education and Adoption Bill is aimed at clearing away impediments to allowing the Secretary of State to MAKE schools become academies under a ‘chain’ chosen by her. Cameron repeats the nonsense of ‘local authority control’ when, of course, LAs haven’t had any ‘control’ since the eighties and, ironically, it’s the edubusiness ‘chains’ that are controlling without any democratic accountability.

In the Telegraph article

(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/david-cameron/11804365/david-cameron-british-schools-academy.html?WT.mc_id=e_DM40937&WT.tsrc=email&etype=Edi_FAM_New&utm_source=email&utm_medium=Edi_FAM_New_2015_08_15&utm_campaign=DM40937)

Cameron also talks about giving headteachers freedom to ‘set their own curriculum and pay their staff properly’ : yes, that one had us choking on our cornflakes,  too! It’s never been clear how a freedom to set one’s own curriculum would work or have any benefit. As for ‘paying staff properly’ after Osborne has restricted public service pay to 1%, the only way of adding to this would further erode the money available for educational and other resources in school,  since the Conservatives are only committed to a ‘cash’ flatlining in educational budgets. This means that the additional costs of the measly one per cent plus the extra National Insurance payments will eat into hard-pressed school budgets.

It is utter tosh, intended to make the Telegraph readers feel warm and content.

Edwalton Primary School: some key questions and answers

Edwalton Primary School is currently consulting over becoming an academy as part of the Flying High Trust – there is an important meeting for parents on Wednesday evening. Here some key questions for parents, governors and the Trust are posed with our suggested responses. If you agree, disagree or would like a fuller, more open debate, please comment on this post. You can do so anonymously by clicking on the ‘Contribute’ button on the Home Page – we undertake not to disclose your identity or email address when we post your comments.

We say: the Governors should reject the move to an academy; they should at least delay their decision so that a fuller, better-informed debate can take place and, ultimately, all parents and staff get a chance to take part in a secret ballot to determine their views.

EDWALTON PRIMARY ACADEMY PLANS

Why the Governors should say NO ACADEMY

■ “Controversial”
■ “Unproven”
■ “No funding advantage
    to being an academy”
■ “No educational advantage to being an academy”

These are the facts about academies.

Hands Of Our Schools says: look at the facts and say NO to the Edwalton Primary Academy.

QUESTIONS YOU MIGHT                   WHAT THE FACTS REALLY SAY ABOUT
BE ASKING                                          ACADEMIES

Isn’t it true that academy schools give children a better education?
The facts suggest NO

“Current evidence does not prove that academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children”
All-Party Select Committee of MPs, Jan 2015

Rushcliffe and W. Bridgford schools are outstanding. Doesn’t that prove how good academies are? The facts suggest NO

“The rate of improvement in GCSE results in Local Authority secondaries was twice that of converter academies”
Ofsted’s Annual Report for 2013/14

Don’t schools get more autonomy by converting to an academy trust? The facts suggest NO

“One paradox of the
academy programme is that for schools in chains it may well lead to less autonomy at the school level”
All-Party Select Committee of MPs, Jan 2015

Won’t freeing the school from the council help us collaborate with other schools as part of Flying High Trust?The facts suggest NO

“…we recognised the critical role of local authorities in creating an enabling environment within which collaboration can flourish”.
All-Party Select Committee of MPs, Jan 2015

Can academies help make sure all our schools do as well as the best- performing countries like Finland? The facts suggest NO

“Finland has rejected the idea that more ‘school choice’ will improve the system; when you have increasing number of academies, you have less collaboration between schools”
Dr Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish Ministry of Education

Won’t becoming an academy “secure greater accountability” for staff and parents? The facts suggest NO

“Parents are sidelined from all important decisions, over whether schools convert in the first place, and over how they’re run once they become academies”

From All-Party Select Committee Report, Jan 2015

Won’t parents and staff have as many rights as they do now if the schools become academies? The facts suggest NO

“…Governors cannot be expected to be self-critical to the degree that might be required and there is a real danger that children are not adequately safeguarded by this system”, “…there was weakness and confusion for parents in the system”

From All-Party Select Committee Report, Jan 2015

Won’t the school be better-off? Notts. County Council won’t be able to withhold the “top-slice” portion The facts suggest NO

The council provides the school 1.3 million pounds a year. Of this it keeps back £4200 which represents only 0.3% of the budget. (From Nottinghamshire County Council) 

Under the proposal all the money would be transferred to Flying High Trust, and FHT would decide how much money to keep for its own “top-slice”

From Edwalton Consultation information

Can we trust academy governors when they are given control over school budgets? The facts suggest NO

“Nearly half of academy trusts have paid millions of pounds in public money towards the private businesses of directors, trustees and relatives” Investigation by the National Audit Office, 2014 “Conflicts of interest in trusts is a real issue”

All-Party Select Committee of MPs, Jan 2015

Won’t we get more freedom to buy our support services from whoever we choose?The facts suggest NO

“All schools in the county, regardless of their status, are free to buy support services from any provider” Nottinghamshire County Council

Isn’t it true that most schools have become academies already? The facts suggest NO

Only a fifth of schools in England have become academies. Only 1 in 7 Primaries have converted.

Facts from All-Party Select Committee, Jan 2015

Weren’t the Governors just following normal practice when they voted to apply for Academy status without asking parents first? The facts suggest NO

“Conversion to academy status is a significant step” … “No governing body should submit an application unless and until they have consulted”

Advice from the National Governors’ Association

Right or wrong?

Give parents a vote on the Edwalton Primary Academy Plan

For more information, or to have your say, search this site! http://nottsantiacademies.org

Email: nottshandsoffourschools@hotmail.co.uk

Edwalton Primary School: ‘open and transparent’ consultation?

We notice that at Edwalton Primary School, where a consultation over academy conversion is currently taking place, they have posted some questions from parents with the school’s answers and even a response back from a parent. We do wonder, however, if this represents ALL the questions they have received or only the easy ones, and whether they’d have posted the parent’s response if it hadn’t been as glowing about the Headteacher and governors as this one is!

If you are a patent or member of staff at Edwalton,  or a member of the local community, have you asked a question or made a comment that HASN’T been posted? If so, let us know (use the ‘Contribute’ button on the Home page of this website and we will withhold your name if you wish). We’d like to post the questions ourselves and give OUR answer!

In respect of the two questions posed in this document, the school is accurate in its answer to the question about ‘special measures’ although the question does look like a bit of an ‘Aunt Sally’ – is that REALLY an authentic concern for Edwalton parents?

Question one again looks like a ‘put up’ job since the date for proposed conversion was given in the Head’s original letter – the real concern ought to be whether the timescale allows for the conversion programme to be carried out. Given that the ‘consultation’ runs to the end of term, the school has effectively the six weeks of the school summer holiday to complete the legal processes, a time when teaching staff are not around or at least difficult to contact. Of course, behind the scenes, the school governors have already started the process and will continue during the consultation period because they know what the outcome will be. Nonetheless, a facade of openness is maintained as if the result of the consultation might somehow change their minds. It won’t!

Flying High

‘New-kid-on-the-block’, the Flying High Multi-Academy Trust, suddenly looks like it is trying to rival local ‘trusts’ such as ‘George Spencer’, ‘Greenwood Dale’ and the burgeoning ‘Torch’. So, we  are going to take a closer look over the next couple of weeks, as the consultation at Edwalton Primary School continues and the process at Beeston Fields rolls on, with both schools set to join ‘Flying High’ by the start of the new school year.

Who are Flying High Trust, what do they believe in, what are they trying to achieve and how do they aim to go about it?

Already, their claims to emphasise close working with parents and the community look a bit hollow considering the less-than-transparent consultation processes at Edwalton and Beeston Fields. Concerns about this lack of transparency have been voiced elsewhere.

We will take a look at the publicly available information and try to make contact. Obviously, we’ll report back. If you are at Edwalton or Beeston Fields,  this will be of particular interest, but any staff or parents at any other primary school in the area that is not already an academy needs to pay attention as who knows where they’ll focus next?

[As ever, if you are involved with the Flying High Trust, or either Edwalton or Beeston Fields Primary Schools, we’d love to hear from you. Whatever your point of view, we will publish it (unless it is libellous or offends good taste!) as we want to encourage an open debate. If you wish to comment anonymously, use the ‘Contribute’ button on our home page – you will need to give your email address to show ‘good faith’ but we will not publish it or identify you if you don’t want us to.]

Calling all in the Edwalton Primary School area

Yesterday we published a post from ‘EdwaltonParent’, concerned about the possibility of Edwalton Primary School converting to become an academy, and also the process by which this is happening. The Head, on behalf of the governors, issued a letter to parents on Tuesday 19, which also signalled the start of a consultation, promptly interrupted by half-term. The consultation actually runs to the end of term in July, so plenty of time to ask questions, raise concerns and put counter arguments. The consultation should involve staff, parents and the local community. Parents can attend a meeting at the school on 17 June.

Maybe you are a member of staff (teaching or support staff), a parent or a concerned local resident. Maybe you are not necessarily opposed to the conversion but just feel you need to know more, or are unhappy with the process (as things stand, you can ask questions and express your views but you don’t get a vote!)

We at HOOS are opposed to local community schools becoming academies,  for reasons we’ll develop in future posts. But we recognise that these things are up for debate – so let’s have a proper, well-informed debate! We invite anyone to either comment on this or future posts or, if you wish to remain anonymous, as EdwaltonParent did, use the ‘Contribute’ button on our home page. You will need to give us your email address to show good faith but we will publish your comments, unedited, using whatever ‘nickname’ you choose.