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.

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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?

 

 

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.]

Edwalton and Beeston Fields Primary Schools – how good is the consultation?

Edwalton Primary School is currently undergoing its ‘consultation’ and Beeston Fields’ finished on 1 May – but how fair, thorough and transparent has it been?

A search on line reveals some interesting facts and advice about this. By law (i.e. the Education Act 2010, which was rushed through with undue and pointless haste) says there must be consultation but leaves it to the judgement of governors as to who will be consulted and how this will be done, so finding flaws in this rather vague process is not easy. However, it is clear that the consultation should be around the question: “Should this school become an academy?” implying that there should be some kind of attempt to gauge how people being consulted would answer that question – it seems obvious to us that this should be done by some kind of secret ballot of each section of ‘stakeholders’ being consulted.

The National Union of Teachers in its advice to members has found a ‘common law’ expectation for all kinds of consultation,  that sufficient information should be given for ‘consultees’ to be able to make a judgement. It seems obvious to us that this ought to include giving both sides of the argument.

Neither Beeston Fields nor Edwalton have made an attempt to give parents a balanced outline of views that oppose academisation in principle: to be fair, Edwalton has given the web addresses of the Anti-Academies Alliance and the Local Schools Network, whereas Beeston Fields added this information to its website in a FAQ document posted ten days AFTER the consultation closed (following, we assume, letters received from HOOS suggesting they do just that!). This really does seem like ‘paying lip service’ as anyone unfamiliar will not find it easy to simply visit these websites and find the relevant arguments. Far better, it seems to us, to have invited an organisation such as HOOS or AAA to provide a summary to be posted out or on line, or to invite a speaker to parent meetings.

As to a ‘ballot’, there has been no suggestion in either school that such a thing will be conducted nor that even a ‘show of hands’ will be taken at the parent meetings, which in themselves may not be representative of the parent body as a whole in any case. This enables governors to attend the meetings and go away with an ‘impression’ that there is little, if any, opposition.

Any fair-minded person, irrespective of the vagaries of the consultation requirements, would think that the stakeholders who should be consulted would be parents, staff and the local community. As to staff, both heads, in their letters, use suspiciously similar language suggesting that staff have been kept informed of the plan to academise and have not raised objections! In a primary school with a relatively small staff, it is hard to imagine a member of staff, perhaps concerned about, or even opposed in principle to,  academisation, voicing this publicly at a meeting in front of the head and governors. Again, no secret ballot,  which would ensure a genuine assessment of true opinion.

What of ‘the community’? Of course, it is not easy to decide who represents such an amorphous group. We at HOOS would start with local schools who might be affected, user groups and then look for community groups in the immediate locale of the school. Anyone genuinely concerned at finding out the views of the ‘local community’, might leaflet nearby streets or call a meeting specifically. At Beeston, it has been suggested that the consultation was ‘open to the community’ but there’s no obvious way in which this was advertised – we found out almost by accident,  after the parent consultation meetings had happened and we were only able to send in letters just before the consultation period closed.

So, in brief, although the consultation requirements are not clear, it seems to us that greater effort could – and should – have been made to inform and gauge the opinions of three groups of stakeholders,  and in neither case does this appear to have happened.

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.