Who is running NUAST?

The Nottingham University Academy of Science and Technology (NUAST) is certainly going through a rough patch at the moment, with the sudden disappearance of its second principal in less than two years and his hasty replacement (see previous posts). A few weeks ago we set out to find out something about the people running the place, its Board of Directors (if you’re used to common-or-garden state schools you probably call them ‘governors’) by means of a Freedom of Information request (well, ‘use it or lose it’ is our motto!). At first the school was reluctant to tell us who the names listed on the website represented but when we pointed out we didn’t want their mobile numbers, only to know which institutions or groups they represented, and how they’d been chosen, they relented.

There are twelve people listed as directors, two of whom, we are told, were elected as parent governors and they were easy to identify as it says ‘parent director’ in brackets after their names. Even easier was identifying the ‘staff governor’ – because there isn’t one (as they admitted in the FOI response). So that’s the first oddity for those of us used to the old-fashioned ways of local authority run schools, where there was always a governor representing (elected by) the teachers, and another one for the support staff.

Of the other ten directors, we are told, “there are 2 volunteer community directors, a volunteer representative from the University of Nottingham, the Djanogly Learning Trust and the Torch Academy Gateway Trust. The rest of the directors have volunteered from local and national business partners”. From names we recognised and using simple internet search skills, we were able to ascertain the following from publicly-available documents such as the University of Nottingham website, LinkedIn and other on-line registers of companies:

The chair of the board is John Saunders. He joined the Nottingham University Council in 2008 and is also a member of the Audit & Risk Committee and the Remuneration Committee.  He is the former Chief Executive of Global Operations at Experian, a position he retired from in 2007 after 24 years with the company.  He is a past Chairman of Experience Nottinghamshire and is a director of Nottingham Forest in The Community (NFITC), a local charity which provides sporting and other opportunities to over 5,000 children each week. Mr Saunders may be a ‘volunteer’ but he appears still to be a member of the University Council so we can assume he reports back in an official capacity to that body. Also connected with the University is Professor Christine Hall. She is a member of the Centre for Research in Arts, Creativity and Literacy, University of Nottingham. Originally trained as a secondary school English teacher, Professor Hall has worked at the School of Education, Nottingham, since the early 1990s. She has worked in a variety of roles, including Director of the PGCE course from 1997-2003, Head of Initial Teacher Education from 2003-2007 and Head of the School of Education from 2008-2014. She has been a member of the University’s governing Council for the last five years. Although her academic work is focussed more on the arts and creative side, her secondary school background and involvement with the University’s School of Education must be a valuable asset to NUAST and together with Mr Saunders, gives the University of Nottingham a powerful presence on the Board.

Powerful, maybe, but not as numerous as The Djanogly Learning Trust. We counted no fewer than five directors with close connections to Djanogly. Nigel Akers was ‘Education Adviser, Nottingham UTC’ for 17 months, August 2012 – December 2013 but previous to that had been Vice Principal, Djanogly City Academy, Nottingham, for just over 23 years, until just before the City Academy was judged inadequate by OFSTED. David Holdsworth has been Director of Finance and Operations at the Djanogly Learning Trust since August 2011. Before that he has worked in many finance-linked roles in a variety of companies ranging from The Coal Board to Qualcast to footwear companies. He obviously provides the financial ‘brains’ of the NUAST set-up and seems less like a volunteer than a quasi-employee since he appears still to work for the Trust who are part sponsors of NUAST. Ron Kenyon is Chairman of the Djanogly Learning Trust and has been for nearly 23 years. He is also shown in the Djanogly Trust report (August 2013) to be a director of CTC Enterprises (Nottingham) Ltd which “does business” with the Djanogly Trust. (CTC Enterprises’  address is identical to The Djanogly City Academy/Djanogly Learning Trust and its business is “renting and operating own or leased real estate”). Deborah Robinson, a supply chain executive, and Suzanne Smith, a Senior Director of Customer Experience and Operations, both give their business address as The Djanogly Learning Trust on Sherwood Rise. The Djanogly Learning Trust, therefore, seems to have formed the nucleus of the Board of Directors at NUAST even though, in light of the poor OFSTED inspection at its one secondary academy, it was debarred from expanding further (written parliamentary answer from Education Secretary, March 2014). Yet, here they are, sponsoring – and taking a hefty share in the running of – NUAST. Perhaps in the mind of the person responding to our FOI request, some or all of these people are ‘volunteer representatives of the local community…and local and national business partners’. They all seem to ‘represent’ the Djanogly Trust.

One clear representative of a national business is Len Daniels who is now retired but for a year was Strategic Development Manager (Education) of TOSHIBA Information Systems (UK) Ltd. Part of his role was ‘the creation and maintenance of strategic relationships with key education IT partners within the UK and Internationally’. Well, box ticked Mr Daniels! He’s obviously been associated with NUAST since the word go,  because we found a picture of him in The Nottingham Post, in full hi-vis and helmet, spade in hand, as the building was just about to begin. He was posing next to, amongst others, Ailsa Gough. Remember her? Well, she was the first principal of NUAST (the one who went missing before they even opened!) So, great link to a prestigious international company (if we ignore the current unpleasantness over vastly inflating its profits) but, then again, Mr Daniels has retired so not sure how many favours he can pull in.

Noel Worley – is described on LinkedIn as ‘Consultant, Mining and Materials with 35 years experience in mine geology, exploration, and minerals estate management’. He has a BSc from Sheffield University and a Ph.D in ‘Stratigraphic Control of Mineralization in the Peak District, Derbyshire’ which he obtained at the University of Leicester.

Finally, John Tomasevic is the CEO of the Torch Academy Gateway Trust. As Headteacher of Toot Hill Comprehensive in Bingham he led the school from a ‘satisfactory’ OFSTED judgement in 2004 to an ‘outstanding’ one in 2011. The Torch Trust was formed a year later and has since grown to include Toot Hill, Meden School and The Nottingham Free School which opened in 2014 and is also leading an improvement programme at The University of Nottingham Samworth Academy. Torch also runs the Torch Teaching School Alliance. It has strong links with Nottingham University and it is unsurprising that when NUAST lost its first principal in early 2014, the University turned to Torch and Mr Tomasevic. According to the NUAST website “the education provision will be delivered by the Torch Academy Gateway Trust. As education partners, the Trust will deliver exceptional educational support that has helped Toot Hill School be rated as ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted and moved Meden School from ‘Special Measures’ to ‘Good’ in only three years.” We are not clear what arrangements NUAST has with Torch but it is no surprise that Mr Tomasevic is a member of the NUAST Board.

As a result of our FOI request and subsequent research, we now believe that a number of further questions need to be answered by the Board of Directors at NUAST:

1. Which two directors represent the community? Obviously ‘community’ is a vague term – maybe some of the business people included are seen also as representing the local community.

2. Why is there no representative of the teaching or support staff on the Board?

3. Do the two directors associated with Nottingham University ‘report back’ in a formal way to the Council of the University, of which they are both members?

4. Do any of the five directors associated with the Djanogly Learning Trust ‘report back’ formally to that Trust, given that the Chairman of that Trust is also a director of NUAST?

5. Why has the Djanogly Learning Trust, which has been deemed to have failed at its one (other) secondary academy by OFSTED, to the extent that it is currently barred from opening any further academies, got nearly half the membership of the NUAST board? Why, indeed, has Djanogly been allowed to be instrumental in the opening of NUAST if it is barred from further expansion?

6. More fundamentally, to whom are the Board at NUAST accountable? NUAST has a formal funding agreement with the Department for Education, so clearly it is answerable to Whitehall, but to whom else? The Council of the University of Nottingham? The Board of the Djanogly Learning Trust? How is it accountable to its local community, or the wider community? Where, if anywhere, can local people have any say in this institution?

NOTE – all the above information has been obtained from publicly available sources and is published in good faith. If anyone mentioned above believes we have been inaccurate or unfair in our representation of them, we would welcome comment form them via our ‘Contribute’ button and, if they wish, we will publish their comments unedited on this website. We will also correct and apologise publicly for anything which can be shown to be wrong or inaccurate. 

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.

So that’s alright then!

For those of you who haven’t seen it, here is the nice fluffy article that appeared in the Nottingham Post shortly after the start of the new school year, obviously based on a ‘Press Release’ and photo call by Nottingham Free School. The Post chose not to do any proper journalism: no awkward questions asked, no contrary views sought from opposition groups like HOOS.They even chose not to publish a letter sent by us.

http://www.nottinghampost.com/Thumbs-free-school/story-22862499-detail/story.html

So, here are some of the concerns we have. Obviously, we opposed the setting up of NFS in the first place. We argued that it couldn’t set up a proper school building in time and, even the article, seems to suggest this was the case. We know from a previous Post article, that they have only managed enough conversion of the old factory building they are using to enable them to get going (just) and that more building work will continue whilst the school is operating.

We also argued that they couldn’t attract sufficient students to make the school and, more importantly, the education of its pupils, viable or efficient. In the early days, the Torch Group target was 120 students, later reduced to 90. As the article makes clear, they’ve started with 79. On the face of it, that may not sound bad and it’s certainly better than some start-up free schools elsewhere have managed. But, let’s take a closer look.

In the current climate, all secondary schools work hard to attract students into their Year 7 cohorts – and we know, from experience in secondary schools in the area, that a school attracting fewer than 100 will be deeply worried – about how they will manage that small a cohort and, in the longer run, about the long-term viability of the school. Frankly, 79, is not viable in terms of practicality such as employing enough teaching staff with the right specialisms. For example, with that number they presumably will be teaching in three groups of about 26/27 each. For core subjects such as English, Maths and Science, they are likely to want to timetable all three groups at the same time so that there can be ‘streaming’ and the possibility of moving students up and down ‘streams’. So that will require three each of English, Maths and Science specialists, or nine teachers; but, according to the article, they have only ten teaching staff in total, one of whom is the Head. So who is teaching Languages, History, Geography, RE, PSE, ICT, Technology, Art, Music and PE? Even if some of those teachers, at Year 7 level, can teach two or even three ‘specialisms’ this can only work if some teachers are teaching well outside their specialist ‘comfort zones’, which will obviously compromise quality, especially as the children move through and demand more specialist teaching, or staff will be constantly travelling from Toot Hill, Bingham (NFS was originally planned to share staff with Trent Bridge but, of course, that never happened). Incidentally, the overall ‘pupil-teacher ratio’ of 7.9 is INCREDIBLY low, graphic evidence of poor ‘value for money’.

Seventy-nine – not brilliant for extra-curricular actives, either : sports teams, drama productions, music groups and so on, unless, of course, the poor kids are constantly being transported to Bingham at the end of school (large bill for transport costs?).

Seventy-nine. According to the NFS website, the school is the result of there being ‘overwhelming demand’ from local parents. Seventy-nine is overwhelming?

At a time of continuing austerity, cuts to Local Authority funding and welfare, suppression of public service pay, how much of our money, tax-payers’ money, is being lavished on these ideological projects? In the case of NFS, we intend to do some more delving – we already know Torch had £180000 BEFORE they got their hands on the Courtaulds building. That will have required money for conversion and, of course, teachers and support staff need to be paid. Even without our research it is blindingly obvious that for this school to function at all it will have needed a hefty subsidy from somewhere.

Other things we would like to know – the questions we may well be putting in a FOI request are: How many students are from ethnic minorities? How many have English as a second language? How many are on ‘free school meals’ and thus qualify for the Pupil Premium? How many have Special Educational Needs? With this information we will be able to judge how well the first ‘intake’ reflects the area in which the school has opened.

AGM Tuesday 23 September

Our Annual General Meeting takes place 7pm Tuesday 23 September, at Beeston Library. We will elect Chair, Vice-Chair, Secretary, Treasurer, Minute Secretary for the very important next 12 months which will include a General Election at which education will (or should) be a crucial issue.

The AGM will be followed by an ordinary meeting at which we will update ourselves on local developments, including the Nottingham Free School and Nottingham Academy of Science and Technology, and develop our campaign strategy for the coming months.

A visit to the Nottingham Free School website

Now that they’ve finally got a building, and it looks increasingly likely that NFS will be able to open in some form or other in September, we need to monitor their progress,  since nobody else will (remember, a ‘free school’ is only answerable to the DfE in London).

The first thing that strikes you when you click through the site is the photos, for, as any good PR person knows, a picture paints a thousand words. The images in the main are of happy, earnest children in the NFS uniform (a very practical light grey with light blue piping which screams ‘private school’) but, since there are currently no NFS pupils, who are the children in the pictures? Were they volunteers or paid  models?

There are a few members of staff – the Executive Headteacher, an anonymous ‘science teacher’ and a caring ‘pastoral’ teacher – and, again, one wonders who the latter two actually are.

And, what about the settings? Since these pictures have been up for a while, presumably none was taken in or around the Courtaulds building so, where is that science lesson taking place, where is the library and where are the leafy environs where the children are happily playing?

Of course, we are not accusing Torch of trying  to mislead by these staged pictures of pupils who are not pupils of NFS in surroundings that are not NFS. It’s just ‘artistic licence’, of course, which is nowhere in greater evidence than in the picture of the Courtaulds building, shown in classy black and white and, what’s this, they’ve already put up the Torch logo and NFS name above the door? Well, no, as they admit on their Facebook page, somebody’s been hard at work with Photoshop!

If you want to have a browse, here’s the link:

http://www.nottinghamfreeschool.co.uk/index.php

and, just to give yourself an incentive, see if you can find the inaccurate use of the word “complimented”. . (Picky? Well, they’re the ones who claim they’ll be an ‘excellent’ school – always check your work, we say!)

‘Torch’ gives up on Gamston Free School

As reported in the Nottingham Post, the ‘Torch’ group has given up on its attempt to set up another ‘free school’. Originally, its plans were for ‘Trent Bridge’ which was turned down; their second attempt was for a ‘Gamston Free School’, which was also turned down by the DfE. They have now,  according to the Post,  admitted defeat. Certainly, opposition from existing schools was fierce and they may also feel they are in danger of being overstretched. After all, they agreed for Samworth Academy to join the group just before it was judged ‘inadequate’ in the OFSTED blitz of Nottingham just before Christmas. They are also still supporting Meden School and have just under six months to establish the Nottingham Free School in the former Courtaulds factory on Haydn Road.

http://www.nottinghampost.com/Free-school-plans-scrapped-second-Government/story-20819877-detail/story.html

Meeting Tuesday 18 March – Agenda

Here is the Agenda for our next meeting on Tuesday 18 March, 7-9 pm at Oban House in Beeston:

1. Apologies/attendance

2. Minutes of last meeting

3. Matters Arising

4. Nottingham Free School – update and way forward

5. Other local issues and campaigns: updates

6. Stand Up For Education – update

7. Date of next meeting

Nottingham Free School announces site

After months of silence (the website hadn’t been updated since the end of November), ‘Torch’ has finally revealed the site for the NFS, which will be the Courtaulds building on Haydn Road. The Group now has less than six months to turn part of this building into a proper school with not just well-equipped classrooms, complete with interactive white-boards and so on, but also specialist teaching rooms : Science laboratories, Technology workshops, kitchens (for teaching), a gym. And what about outdoor sports facilities?

We know that money will be no object, as Michael Gove will be keen to fund this start-up, the first in Nottingham, but time is short. What will parents who have signed up and been very patient, make of the location? How soon before they can actually have a look inside: will they be happy with the resources available to teach their children? What will the children themselves make of it?

Finally, given that other offices will continue within the same building, are there ‘safeguarding’ issues to think about?

We maintain our position that, wherever the NFS is located and however well it is resourced, this is an unnecessary development that is costing tax-payers money that would have been better spent on existing schools.

Academy going begging in Sherwood

The Telegraph is reporting that the academy chain E-ACT is being stripped of ten of its academies by the DfE because of poor performance. One of these is their Sherwood ‘branch’. According to the DfE, new sponsors will be found for all the off-loaded E-ACT schools. Now, who do we know who would like to run a school in Sherwood?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/10659289/Academies-chain-stripped-of-10-under-performing-schools.html

Full statement on Nottingham Free School

The following statement was issued to the Nottingham Post, at their request, for use in an article about the Nottingham Free School (see previous post):

“We oppose the proposed NFS in principle and on practical grounds.

The school does not exist except as a website – at the time of writing we do not even know in which area of Nottingham it will be located although we have heard rumours about Sherwood. It has little over a year to turn whatever premises they can find into a fully-functioning school.

We believe for these reasons there is every chance that the school will not happen. To be viable it must attract enough parents of children currently in Year 5 in primary school — they have said they hope for 90 (three classes) in the first year. That’s a very small secondary school and they will struggle to provide facilities and opportunities for that number of students. They will also struggle to afford the specialist teachers they will need unless staff will be constantly travelling back and forth from Toot Hill and Meden, the other schools in the Torch Group.

But how can parents make an informed choice? Throughout September, secondary schools will be opening up for visits by year 6 children and their parents, open evenings where parents can see the facilities, look at children’s work, talk to teachers and probably to other older children. They can talk to parents of children already at the school, go online and read OFSTED reports and check examination performance. They cannot do any of this for the NFS. In which case, how can they possibly put NFS as first choice on the form they must complete for the Local Authority by 1 October?

There are a number of good schools in the area and no shortage of places so the NFS is not really adding any dimension in terms of choice. It doesn’t even have a distinct character such as a religious ethos, which some free schools have. Looking at their website, they seem to by saying the sorts of things all schools would say and in curriculum terms, they are offering Latin and LAMDA public speaking exams to make them a bit different!

More generally, we object to free schools in principle. They are set up to be unaccountable to the local community via the Local Authority and we fear, in the long term, chains of free schools and academies will run ‘for profit’, responding to shareholder interests rather than those of parents and local people.

Free schools take money from other schools in two ways. Firstly, any money needed for ‘capital expenditure’ such as refurbishing old premises or building new ones (as will be needed by the NFS) comes from a finite ‘pot’ meaning other schools lose out. Whilst there are still tales of crumbling schools awaiting the most basic refurbishment (see the recent story about Newark Academy in the Guardian etc) it is immoral to put money into new and unnecessary ‘free’ schools. Secondly, if the NFS somehow manages to attract pupils who WOULD have attended another local school, that school loses out on the per capita money it would otherwise have received. People also need to be aware that the  NFS and other proposed ‘free schools’ (such as the unsuccessful Trent Bridge Free School, another Torch proposal) have received support from a government quango called the New Schools Network which received half a million pounds of taxpayers’ money from the exchequer last year.

There is no evidence that free schools ‘raise standards’. The NFS doesn’t exist so can’t claim to be outstanding, good or anything at all. In Sweden, where the idea came from, the evidence is patchy to say the least with one political side arguing against. Recently one of the companies owning a chain of free schools in Sweden closed four schools because they just weren’t making money!

In the UK a primary ‘free’ school in West Sussex was recently judged ‘inadequate’ by OFSTED. The reality is that ‘free’ schools can be good, bad or indifferent, just like any other school and the evidence suggests that factors like good teaching and good leadership are the keys to being a good school, not the style or status of the school. NFS at the moment doesn’t have any teachers so we can’t say whether they will be good, outstanding or inadequate (in fact, we won’t really know until their first OFSTED,  whenever that is, or their first set of GCSE results in about 2019!)  As for the leadership, one of the NFS  ‘selling points’ is the people leading Torch have been behind Toot Hill but we don’t know how they’ll be involved in the day-to-day management of NFS. As I said before, it’s all a bit vague and, as a parent, I wouldn’t gamble on something so untried and untested, when there are other good choices with a proven track record.

In short, we believe the NFS is not needed, will take much-needed funding from other schools and offers nothing that other schools cannot offer. We think it is unlikely to attract enough pupils for it to be a viable school and we would urge parents to exercise their right to choose one of the good local schools rather than gamble on this one.

Anyone wishing to find out more could visit the HOOS website, visit the stall outside Sherwood Co-op Saturday 13 July, 11 am and, if wishing to oppose the NFS, sign the petition on ‘change.org‘.”