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

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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.

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

Press Release regarding NUAST

We published the following Press Release today, 3 August, at 4 pm:

‘Education campaigners are warning of “volatility” at the newly opened Nottingham University Academy of Science and Technology (NUAST) with up to a third of students in the Sixth Form having left during the year and staff “comings and goings” including the sudden disappearance of the principal two weeks before the end of term.

“We never thought NUAST was a viable or credible development,” said Secretary of the group ‘Hands Off Our Schools’, Colin Tucker. “We’ve been monitoring it carefully throughout the year. It seems that it has been beset with difficulties. It only recruited 106 students in its first year, in Year 10 and into the Sixth Form and, of course, those students couldn’t use the brand new building on the old Dunkirk fire station site until November. According to figures we have, 36 students began in the Sixth Form and NUAST admitted, in response to a Freedom of Information request from us, that it now has only 23. That means a third of them left during the year. Chair of HOOS, Kat Mycock, commented, “According to the figures NUAST gave us, there are almost double the number of boys attending the academy as girls, which further reinforces the dominance of men in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, something we thought the academy was actively working against.”

NUAST refused to tell HOOS how many staff have left during the year but according to a parent of a Year 10 boy who contacted the HOOS website, “staff turnover has been so high that he has had several different teachers for most of his subjects.”

Mr Tucker added, “There are no teachers of history or a modern foreign language listed on the NUAST website staff list, meaning students cannot qualify for the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), one of the government’s key performance indicators. The only history teacher was the principal, Mr Sohel, but, as reported in the Nottingham Post already, he disappeared about two weeks before the end of term. His replacement, Bob White, doesn’t seem to have had any experience of senior management at a school or college – in fact, it doesn’t appear, from his public profiles, that he has even had any experience of teaching.” NUAST’s first principal, Ailsa Gough, parted company with the academy during its ‘setting up’ year, several months before it opened and Mr Sohel was appointed.

‘Hands Off Our Schools’, which campaigns against enforced academisation and ‘free’ schools in the Nottingham area, says it has a number of other concerns about NUAST including the fact that nearly half of the Board of Directors are closely linked to the Djanogly Learning Trust, which runs the Djanogly City Academy, rated ‘inadequate’ by OFSTED. The Djanogly Learning Trust is currently barred from opening any more academies. There are also no staff representatives on the Board of Directors.

“We would advise any student thinking of joining NUAST in the autumn – and their parents – to think carefully about the upheavals that appear to have gone on there during its first year, and consider whether it really can deliver what they want,” concluded Mr Tucker.’

See recent posts on our website for the full story.

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.]

The election, schools, pupils, teachers – and HOOS

This Hands Off Our Schools group has no party-political affiliation. We are under no illusions that, had Labour won the election, the picture would have been rosy and we could have cheerfully disbanded! Labour had not seriously opposed some of the Coalition’s biggest reforms to education, whilst in opposition. During the election campaign, they rubbished the ‘unqualified teacher’ nonsense and said they would halt new ‘free schools’, although they also had plans for something that sounded remarkably similar. ‘Academisation’ would no doubt have become entrenched. Education did not play a large part in the campaign and it’s doubtful that many people voted Conservative because of their policies on education.

Still, the Conservatives have won an overall majority and can therefore claim a ‘mandate’ for those policies, even if most voters would probably be unable to tell you what they are. The ‘opting out’ of community schools to become academies will probably now accelerate – perhaps some were hanging back to await the outcome of the election – and with continued undermining of local authorities’ finances and the cut to school funding promised by the Conservatives (Cameron pledged a cash-terms protection of school finances, meaning a real-terms cut), schools will desperately seek ways of improving their finances, as they see it.

There will be greater pressure for ‘failing’ schools to be ‘taken over’ by more ‘successful’ schools. The judgement of which schools are ‘failing’ and which are ‘succeeding’ will be based on unreliable data, which in turn will be heavily relied upon by a flawed and often inconsistent inspection regime. In addition, there will be pressure, both political and of necessity, for standalone academies and ‘free schools’ to join chains, thus furthering the vision of a ‘market’ of schools run by unelected edu-businesses, many of which will be headquartered abroad. Perhaps we can expect legislation eventually allowing these chains to be run for profit, or maybe the current rules are so lax that those involved can make enough from the various scams available within the rules to mean this won’t be necessary. It is perhaps worth emphasising here that there is no evidence that academies perform better than community schools, and even, in fact, evidence pointing the other way. This has never been about improving outcomes, but about ideology.

Cameron has promised 500 more ‘free schools’. His arguments that the existing ones perform better and have a positive influence on other nearby schools – about the only mention of education, early in the campaign – has been soundly rubbished by Henry Stewart at Local Schools Network. Again, with the uncertainty before the election now over, we may see the flood gates open for proposed new ‘free schools’ all over the place. Opposing academisations is hard enough since the rules on consultation and openness are so vague as to mean it has nearly happened before anyone out side the school governing body really knows about it, as we have seen recently with Beeston Fields. ‘Free schools’ are even harder to campaign against because, not only can they keep plans secret and consultation is ‘lip service’ only, but there is no ‘parent body’ to galvanise into opposition.

The effect on teachers of increased pressure from inspections, uncertainty engendered by cuts, changes of governance which could, in turn lead to worsening of conditions of service as governors seek ‘efficiency saving’, has already been seen in a looming teacher supply crisis, as more and more older teachers take early retirement and younger ones leave after a few short years. In a ‘market system’, the theory goes, when something is in short supply the price goes up, however, we do not expect that logic to apply to teachers, unless it’s through a ‘divide-and-rule’ plan for golden hellos and retention bonuses in shortage subjects which, of course, we have seen before. There are unlikely to be any even ‘cost of living’ salary rises in the future. The demoralising pressure on teachers and the failures to recruit suitably-qualified ones in some areas will be bound to have a negative affect on teaching and learning and ultimately on pupils. Teachers and schools already struggle to make up for the difficulties many children and their families face as a result of other policies of the Coalition government, which are likely to be exacerbated under a Conservative-only majority government. It is rumoured that even the cosmetic ‘pupil premium’, a LibDem ‘trophy’ policy, is under threat, effectively another cut.

Hands Off Our Schools – and its work to campaign for democratically-accountable schools – must continue. We firmly believe – as implied by our name – that these schools are ‘ours’, meaning, they are funded from public money, they belong to the public and they should ultimately be accountable to us, the public. Anything else risks our education being run by and for the profit of unaccountable individuals and companies. Such people have already shown they can find ways of syphoning off our money – by ‘consultancies’, inflated salaries and extra, managerial posts, unjustified ‘expenses’ and by providing goods and services from their own companies, quite apart from the illegal frauds one or two have perpetrated.

It won’t be easy, but we will continue to oppose them because they are wrong, and we will continue to campaign for a better school system.

NUAST – the story so far

As those following local developments will know, the Nottingham Academy of Science and Technology (NUAST) has actually opened, this September, though not on its brand new site, in the shadow of the Dunkirk flyover. They are claiming to have just over 100 students in Year 10 and Year 12 (‘lower Sixth’).

One of our members attended a recent ‘open evening’, intended to publicise and recruit for next year – again, not in their own building but on the University campus. However, the building will soon be available for these sessions and, presumably, for teaching. Once they are able to ‘show off’ their state-of-the-art facilities, they no doubt think they will find ‘selling themselves’ that much easier.

We remain mystified as to why anyone would sign up their child on a promise, even if the facilities are good (they ought to be, considering they cost £10 million of taxpayers’ money!) The school has had a turbulent few months leading up to a rather low-key opening, with students being taught anonymously (i.e. not wearing uniforms) in another Nottingham college. Famously, the first principal left under something of a cloud partway through the year. We certainly think she was pushed as the University started worrying about what they were getting into. She had fallen out with the Uni authorities over whether or not teacher unions would be recognised – jobs were advertised on basis they would NOT be, the Uni said they would be when made aware, but she insisted, at first, that this would not be the case. Part of the Uni’s panic was also probably down to getting their fingers burned at Samworth (the other ‘Nottingham University Academy’), judged ‘Inadequate’ by OFSTED last Autumn; one of their partners at NUAST, the Djanogly Learning Trust also had its Academy judged ‘Inadequate’ in the same sweep. So they called in The Torch Academy Gateway Trust, rapidly becoming ‘flavour of the month’ in this area.

It must be remembered that ‘Torch’ is effectively one school, Toot Hill Comprehensive, in Bingham, which has achieved an ‘Outstanding’ OFSTED rating and which, to its credit, also helped The Meden School out of ‘Special Measures’. How many Headteachers would find achieving and maintaining an ‘Outstanding’ rating, and helping another school in difficulty, more than enough to fill up their time? Most, we would think, but not the Head of Toot Hill who is now CEO of ‘Torch’ on well over £200K a year.

Last Autumn, ‘Torch’ was called in at Samworth and Djanogly to help out, whilst concurrently spending time and energy (not to mention buckets’ full of taxpayers’ money) on getting the Nottingham Free School up and running (79 students started this Autumn in parts of a converted factory in Sherwood!). ‘Torch’ was also ‘called in’ to ‘provide the education’ at NUAST. It’s not entirely clear what this means but, presumably, they effectively run the place since the Uni isn’t equipped to and the Djanogly Trust shouldn’t, because it was barred from opening any new schools (except NUAST, funnily enough!)

Questions remain to be asked of NUAST:

  • Where is all the money coming from? It obviously hasn’t currently got enough students to make it financially viable without subsidy, even though it is clear they will offer all sorts of courses but reserve the right not to run them if they turn out to be non-viable.
  • In which case, how many years before the taxpayer could be said to be getting ‘value for money’?
  • Unlike many ‘free schools’, of which this is one type, it will have an examination record pretty soon: students in both Key Stage 4 and Sixth Form will get full GCSE and A Level results in August 2016 – so, will they be any good? By what criteria should we judge them?
  • Why have four governors resigned recently?
  • What connection is there between the erstwhile Chair of Governors and the company which ‘managed’ the recruitment process to appoint the new Principal?
  • What effect will recruitment to NUAST have on local schools? As education insiders know, schools seek so-called ‘option choices’ from Year 9 students in January and, on that basis, ‘option groups’, a staffing plan and timetable are constructed for the next academic year. The loss of even just a handful of students could make some groups non-viable with a knock-on effect to staffing and budgets.
  • Will NUAST, based on the ‘university technical college’ (UTC) model, be any more successful than other UTCs such as Hackney UTC, which has closed?
  • More fundamentally, is encouraging children as young as thirteen to ‘specialise’ the right thing for them? A career in engineering or science, the prospect of working with a world-class university and employers with household names might sound alluring, but will the reality be different? These children will not be entering the workforce for at least 6 years (if they are currently in Year 9) or longer. Who knows what specific skills employers might be looking for in a  decade’s time? Better, maybe, to keep their options open and make sure they have a firm grounding in ‘the basics’.

NUAST is wrong because it has spent, and will go on spending, money we are told is in short supply, which could have been used to improve science and engineering facilities in schools that would NOT require the children to specialise. It is wrong because it offers children and parents an illusion of choice when it cannot guarantee any level of quality. It is wrong because it holds out a promise it cannot necessarily fulfil.