Friday 23 May 2014

Coalition Cracks over Free Schools, First Chain Folds and Still Fighting in Barking and Dagenham

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barking and dagenham council

We’re a year away from the general election and cracks in the Coalition are showing in the Department for Education.
Lib Dems have accused Michael Gove of raiding £400m to prop up his failing free schools project.  In Islington, the bill for the site for just one primary school is set to top £10m while councillors battle to preserve at least some of the land for much-needed housing.  In neighbouring Tottenham, two free schools have received just 10 first choice applications between them for 120 reception places.  Meanwhile Ofsted is not judging these new schools entirely kindly, with special measures now required at the Hawthorne’s in Liverpool.  In Bedford, a free school principal (whose own school ‘requires improvement’) has suggested that free schoolsshould not be judged until their first students have their GCSE results.  The free school policy is failing its own tests of parental popularity and quality. 
Academy proponents are tying themselves in knots over free schools; they know that a free school is just a newly opened academy but somehow they want to be seen to support the academies programme while criticising Gove’s free schools.

When the solution is a failure
Trade unions and parents have been responding to Prospects Academies Trust’s announcement that it will fold and hand back its six academies to the DfE. Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said “It is time that handing over schools to unaccountable private companies ended. Public money is being squandered and education is suffering as a result.” For the ATL, Dr Mary Bousted said the system for dealing with academy closures needs to include “provision for moving the school back into local authority control if parents and staff believe this is the best solution”.   Meanwhile the GMB is planning to organise a public meeting to discuss the future of one of the affected schools, Bexhill High, in East Sussex. And in Gloucestershire,  Alison Travis, whose son attends Gloucester Academy, told the Gloucester Citizen “I am disgusted to be honest. The concern is of yet more disruption.” 
We know from recent events with the E-ACT chain that the DfE’s only solution will be to hand these schools to another sponsor.  Parents, staff and students will have no say in the process while discussions will take place behind closed doors in Whitehall. 
David Gaston, headteacher of PAT’s Dean Academy in Lydney has written to families saying “The message to parents is not to panic.” We say the message to parents is to demand democratic representation in negotiations in the future of their children’s education.
 
Forced Academies 
Back in January, Mr Justice Collins granted an injunction to allow time for a full consultation over the academisation of Warren School in Chadwell Heath, saying that Michael Gove considered academies to be the cat’s whiskers.  The resulting consultation didn’t go Gove’s way:  85% of the school community was opposed to academy status and in favour of the existing partnership with another local school.   But guess what! The DfE now says it will impose academy status from September 2014 anyway.  Local MP Jon Cruddas said Gove has treated the school with ‘absolute derision and contempt’ adding that academy status means a lack of accountability, no need to follow the national curriculum and groups with vested interests sponsoring the school and setting the educational agenda.” The school along with Barking and Dagenham Council is now considering further legal action
Analysis by the Local Schools Network of 2013’s Key Stage 2 SATS has shown that, despite DfE claims, sponsored academies are not improving faster than equivalent maintained schools.  In fact, maintained schools were making significantly more progress.  The analysis compares groups of schools with similar previous attainment and similar levels of disadvantage. Refusing to acknowledge the analysis, the DfE continues to publicise the skewed statistics, comparing sponsored academies with all primaries rather than similar schools.  Please share this analysis widely – it’s a great resource for parents and staff fighting academisation.

Gove’s Real Agenda
The government’s zeal for private sector ‘solutions’ is extending to a consultation on theprivatisation of child protection services. The privateers use the same tactics as they’ve deployed in the NHS and schools – they develop a narrative of perceived failures, belittle the professionals who run the service and then offer a saviour in the form of Serco, ATOS or G4S or perhaps it will be Mott Macdonald, Harris or ARK.
If you’d like to contribute to a different agenda there will be a seminar hosted by Bill Esterson MP in the House of Commons on 10 June discussing ‘What is the Future for Early Years?’ Free tickets available at http://www.ticketsource.co.uk/earlyyearsseminar 
 

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