Monday 31 March 2014

Gove and the £45m free school, busting the myth-busters, pupil restraint and other stories.

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no to free schools banner£45 million “Free” school scandal

‘At the end of the day it was Michael Gove’s decision,’ said a DfE source.
‘And no one could stop it.’
According to the Independent, a Department for Education source said that, while civil servants raised concerns over the £45m spent on a central London sixth form for just 90 students, Michael Gove was determined to push ahead with the Harris Westminster Sixth Form.  Lord Harris is a former party treasurer who has donated millions to the Tories and his academy chain enjoys close relations with Gove and the Department.  Elsewhere, because of funding cuts, sixth forms are making teachers redundant and limiting choices for post-16 courses. Margaret Hodge, chair of the public accounts committee, whose own Barking constituency faces a place crisis, described the Harris Westminster expenditure as ‘outrageous’.  One of Gove’s first acts in office was to slash the Building Schools for the Future programme, which has rebuilt and refurbished thousands of schools all over the country, leaving only academy rebuilds untouched.  This Secretary of State operates as a dictator; ignoring the information commissioner, the public accounts committee and his own department.

Education Not for Sale
The Department for Education has paid £77 million of public funds to lawyers, head-hunters, accountants, estate agents and management consultants, according to the TUC.  Their report also points out that £500 million has been spent on Free School building projects, although Free Schools educate just 0.3% of state school children.  At the AAA January steering committee, 50 supporters had the opportunity to discuss ‘Education not for sale’ with one of its authors: Martin Johnson of ATL.  There’s a six page summary leaflet available on the TUC website.  Join us in central London on Saturday 26 April 2014, for our next steering committee: all welcome – especially local campaigners.
Forced Academies
No wonder Gove ploughs on with his unpopular undemocratic forced academy agenda when only 11% primaries are academies.  A recent DfE ‘academies myth-buster’ * claims that nationally only 13 schools have been forced to change status.  That’s because the majority jump before they are pushed.  Think of yourselves as a frog in a pan of water on the stove. You can wait for the flames of Ofsted to bring the water to the boil, or jump out now while you still can. I would advise you to jump now.” – said a DfE broker quoted by David Wolfe QC, in his evidence to Education Select Committee.  Governors should stand with their parents and staff against these bullies.  When Bury’s Elton Primary Schools governors finally agreed to the school being sponsored they were sacked anyway. However the parents of Cavell Primary School fight on despite an academy order being signed, even though the Norfolk school has come out of ‘special measures’.  The NAHT magazine Leadership Focus this month tells the story of Galton Valley Primary School in the West Midlands which fought a determined and triumphant campaign to see off the brokers.  Meanwhile a former Gove adviser has tweeted that ‘no-one ever claimed they [academies] would solve all problems.’ But that’s exactly what DfE brokers are claiming as they bully heads and governors up and down the country.  Now with the DfE’s floor standards set to rise, and as many as 90% of primaries could be considered failing, will more schools be forced to convert?
*The Local Schools Network has myth-busted the DfE’s myth- buster on the LSN website.


Restrictive Practice
One forced academy has been accused of frequently manhandling children and failing to inform their parents.  Parents at Harris Primary Academy Coleraine Park, Tottenham were shocked when shown distressing footage by the BBC of their children being forcibly restrained last summer. They say the academy never told them about the incidents. The local authority, Haringey, has launched a full investigation.  By contrast Ofsted says it has no plans to visit.  It must be a coincidence that Sir Robin Bosher, the primary director of Harris, is all set to become Ofsted’s lead inspector for infant schools.  Sadly parents in Tottenham are left with little choice over their children’s schooling.  Harris run two local primaries and are about to open two more.  The neighbouring Free School – sponsored by E-Act and Highgate independent school – is in special measures.

Failing Chains
Ofsted inspected 16 of E-Act’s 34 academies and judged five to require special measures, including the Hartsbrook Free School in Tottenham.  In the first focused inspection of academy chains, Ofsted found ‘an overwhelming proportion of pupils attending the E-Act academies inspected were not receiving a good education.’
Unsurprisingly, E-Act is on the list of fourteen chains that the DfE has banned from taking on any more schools.  The list also includes the country’s largest chain – Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) – and together, these fourteen chains run approximately 200 state schools.  E-Act – the chain twice criticised for financial mismanagement – has agreed to ‘hand back’ ten of their academies and the DfE will seek other sponsors for them.   These academies are left in limbo while civil servants in Whitehall make up policy on the hoof which will affect thousands of children.  In Enfield, Lea Valley High School reacted to the publicity by withdrawing its bid to become an academy.  In a letter to parents, the Principal and Chair of governors wrote ‘given the recent poor press which some academy chains have attracted… the school’s interests would be best served by remaining with the local authority.’
Market Solutions?
The place crisis is set to hit secondary schools and the New Schools Network – the ‘charity’ funded by the DfE to promote Free Schools – has proudly announced that two thirds of new schools are being set up in areas most needing places.  It seems strange to boast that, in these times of austerity, one third of new schools are established where they are not needed.  Of course, we are still in the dark about how and why Free Schools are approved because the Secretary of State is continuing his secrecy battle with the formidable Miss McInerney and the Information Commissioner.
Concerns remain in Bath, over the status of the Oldfield Academy inspection report that never was.  Ofsted told a parent they were carrying out a full (Section 5) inspection but published only a much shorter Section 8 report, which doesn’t affect the academy’s 2012 ‘outstanding’ rating.  A damning full Section 5 draft report is circulating on the internet but parents are left in the dark.  Gove’s free market can only hope to work if parents are given full and fair information about all types of schools.
Brighton & Hove Teachers Consider Academy Strike
Thanks to the Argus for the following story: Union leaders have warned of a teacher strike across Brighton and Hove unless an improving school drops plans for academy conversion. The potential walkout has been put forward by both Unison and the National Union of Teachers (NUT) after it was revealed management at Hove Park School were “considering” a move to academy status. The school is one of the country’s most improved over the last few years with the number of students achieving five GCSEs at A* to C up by 25%.  This puts them in the top 2% of improving state schools nationally.  Parents and staff will be lobbying the governing body meeting on 31 March.

Question Time
Education Question Times are a great opportunity to raise your concerns with a panel of politicians and educators.  The next event will be in Brighton & Hove on Wednesday 23 April.  Panellists include Christine Blower of the NUT and Caroline Lucas MP. Reserve your free place here. You can submit a question or follow the debate on Twitter using #EdQTime.

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