Open contempt…

The government is increasingly emboldened in showing its contempt for parents, the teaching profession – the public in general – and in its lack of regard for evidence.

In pushing ahead with Mrs May’s obsession with reintroducing grammar schools, it ignores a wealth of evidence and even staunch opposition from its own side. The arguments have been well-rehearsed and the evidence widely discussed but just consider this one aspect. If it can’t be introduced ‘at a stroke’ (which it obviously can’t) a piecemeal, ‘free-for-all’ will have a destabilising effect as better-off families seek to bus their children to a new grammar ‘over the border’.

Furthermore, will there be a standard ‘entrance’ like the totally discredited 11+ of old (based on the faked results of Birt’s research) and what will the ‘second tier’ of schools be called, that replace the old secondary moderns? Many questions begged – so many that one guesses it’s not going to happen – but then again, they seem to be pressing ahead.

‘Free schools’, UTCs and ‘studio schools’: increasing evidence of these schools failing and closing, and of public money wasted. Yet, the government is again, pressing ahead with more ‘free schools’. To most of us, the evidence is damning but to the ideologues of the right, the failures and closures are entirely consistent with a free market. On the High Street, we are used to businesses opening and closing with regularity so why not in the ‘market’ of education? Well, we can see why but to THEM it’s just the way the market operates and ‘the best’ will survive. Trouble is, on the High Street, it’s the odd entrepreneur who loses his/her money and goes under, often to try again somewhere else, some other time – with schools, children lose out on their one chance of a good education.

Meanwhile, there is a funding crisis in schools, the combination of Cameron’s cash standstill in spending and rising prices, including rises in NI contributions for staff and the requirement to pay the apprenticeship levy. Heads, governors, parents are all providing testimony of shrinking budgets necessitating drastic action: cuts in support staff, cuts in teaching staff, cuts in curriculum offers, desperate requests for donations from parents to help fund the basics of teaching. The government’s only response is to keep repeating the record amount being spent on education. This ignores the extra that this funding is required to do including not only teach more children but fund the expensive ‘white elephant’ ‘free schools’, UTCs etc – and of course the inflated salaries of some of the Trust CEOs.

Perhaps voters will show their disdain for Conservatives’ actions on education at the ballot box in the forthcoming local elections.

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Multi-academy trusts: not all they’re cracked up to be

If you are a ‘community school’ (that is, you are a Local Authority school rather than a ‘stand-alone’ academy or part of a Multi=Academy Trust), THINK very carefully before you change your status, if you have any say in the matter.

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/feb/28/commons-report-raises-doubts-over-benefits-of-multi-academy-trusts

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

A NUAST student comments on NUAST

We recently received a comment apparently from a NUAST student, in reply to a post back in November.

As a rule we tend to publish comments without amendment but in this case we have ‘redacted’ the names and subject specialisms of some teachers to whom the student referred, along with two ‘typos’. We have no reason to believe this comment is not genuine. The student is commenting on a post where we quoted a parent who was critical of a NUAST Open Evening she attended with her husband. We recommend you read that post first to get a sense of what the student is commenting on.

“I could not agree more! With me being a current Year 11 student at NUAST, I regret my decision attending. There is no independent learning, and we are often given no choice whether to attend on Saturdays. There are some good teachers though, such as the [subject] teacher [name] and both [subject] teachers. Break and lunch times are short, and the GO-Cart project is not likely to continue.

It is fair to say that me and most of Year 11 and 10 will not be staying for Year 12 and 13.”

Recruitment at NUAST

Hands Off Our Schools has just issued this Press Release:

Press Release 9 January 2016 IMMEDIATE

A campaign group is claiming that recruitment to Nottingham University Academy of Science and Technology (NUAST) is “chaotic”, with low and fluctuating recruitment and a significant drop-out rate, that are putting the school at “serious risk of failure”. Secretary of Nottingham-based ‘Hands Off Our Schools’, Colin Tucker, has obtained details of the numbers of students recruited and retained, via ‘Freedom of Information’ requests.

“These show that the school only managed to recruit 67 students into its Year 10 in September 2014, of whom 14 left during the year; others apparently joined and by the beginning of this academic year (November 2015) there were 61 in that cohort. Recruitment into a school whose buildings weren’t even open might be expected to be poor – but it was even poorer during 2015 and the number in the NEW Year 10 (November 2015) is only 48!” explained Mr Tucker.

He went on, “The drop-out rate in Year 12 – first year Sixth Form – was very high. They started with 35 in September 2014 but by November of this year, that had dwindled to just 19! (in Year 13). All the more surprising, then, that numbers in the current Year 12 are high with 92 students. Recruitment is, frankly, all over the place – it’s chaotic. They clearly don’t know from one year to the next how many students they’re likely to have.” During the first academic year, according to NUAST 6 teaching staff also left. “I’m not clear if this figure includes the Principal, Mr Sohel, who suddenly disappeared in July, just before the end of term,” added Mr Tucker.

The ‘HOOS’ group supports schools that serve and connect to their local communities, and campaigns against forced academisation and so-called ‘free’ schools (NUAST is a hybrid of a new academy and a ‘free’ school). Mr Tucker says they have analysed the figures. “It always seemed likely to us that NUAST would struggle to persuade students to leave their current school at the end of Year 9 and that is borne out by the figures,” he said. “Whereas, students traditionally decide at the end of Year 11, after GCSEs, whether to stay in their current school’s Sixth Form or to go elsewhere, perhaps to a specialist Sixth Form College. On the basis of these figures, we can predict that NUAST – which we think is at serious risk of failure overall – may well end up trying to be a Sixth Form-only institution. In which case, it has failed to carry out its purpose. However, we know from staff and parents of established local Sixth Form colleges, such as Bilborough, that they are under capacity and struggling for funds. We can also see that, in three of its four year groups, NUAST is a long way from viable, and can only keep going with heavy subsidies from the tax-payer. ‘HOOS’ has consistently said that the money lavished on NUAST – the original building alone cost £10 million – could have been spent far more efficiently on enhancing facilities and teaching at existing schools.”

ENDS