Fat cat salaries, struggling free schools, Hove Park fights back and primary results questioned in academies

toby young

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

The West London Free School, opened in 2011, is seeking its third Headteacher in as many years. It seems that CEO Toby Young, author of a helpful guide ‘How to Set up a Free School’, as well as the autobiographical ‘How to Lose Friends and Alienate People’, is finding it difficult to hang on to staff at the West London Free School. Someone could write a book about it ….

Another of Gove’s flagships is floundering: Greenwich Free Schoolwas co-founded by the Secretary of State’s senior policy adviser, Tim Shinner, and Jonathan Simons, head of education at the Policy Exchange, a right-wing think-tank. Gove previously said of the school ‘every child can succeed if given a classical liberal education’ but Ofsted reported that ‘disabled students and those with special educational needs were failing to make acceptable progress in English and mathematics’. The TES adds without comment that a Policy Exchange report co-written by Simons has called fora radical overhaul of Ofsted’s inspection regime.

In the month that Discovery Free School closed its doors for the last time, Warwick Mansell writing in the Guardian analysed the high failure rate of free schools as twice that of all English schools. Any failure is a national disgrace given the political and financial backing these pet projects have enjoyed.

An executive director of the Constable Educational Trust, which runs two free schools in London – both requiring improvement – has claimed the free school policy lacks joined up thinking and said she doubted whether free schools could survive by themselves.   A fellow Director, Richard Simmons, has hit back saying the DfE was not at fault. As a former senior partner with the doomed auditors Arthur Andersen, Simmons has plenty of experience handling poor press.

Local Campaigns

Comedian Mark Steel joined parents and staff at Hove Park School at a packed meeting to say that the academisation of this outstanding community school is being forced through without meaningful consultation. Mark Steel, who has family connections with the school, said that parents and staff voted unanimously for direct action against the conversion. You can email messages of support to parents and teachers at handsoffhoveparksch@gmail.com

Meanwhile parents at Norwich’s Cavell Primary are set to mount a legal challenge against the forced academisation of their primary school. They say that as the school is no longer in special measures, it is not eligible for intervention. Look out for coverage on ITV.

Academy Scandals

Analysis by Henry Stewart of the Local Schools Network of the rate of improvement in SATS 2012 – 2013 suggests that sponsored primary academies are improving more slowly than their maintained counterparts. The story has been reported in the TES which asks whether this casts doubt over Michael Gove’s forced academy programme. The DfE compared the academies’ performance with all primary schools and found sponsored academies improved at three times the national rate. However the LSN analysis compares like-with-like and includes schools with similar 2012 results.

The Telegraph and the Independent have spotted that the headteacher of Durand Primary Academy earned over £200,000 last year – is it time to ask whether headteachers have a conflict of interest when voting for academy conversion? Those with long memories will recall that this is the same academy that spent £150,000 public money on PR when it converted.

The TES reports that Richard Rose Academy in Carlisle became the country’s first academy to be placed in special measures twice. The Ofsted report said ‘Staff, including leaders and managers, do not always have a clear understanding of what good and outstanding teaching and learning look like.’ Their executive principal Derek Davies also manages the town’s other Rose academy – in special measures too – and unbelievably, still feels qualified to judge other schools as a part time Ofsted inspector.

Following a poor Ofsted report and rumours of interference from Oasis central HQ, the Manchester Evening News reports that Oasis Media City has lost its second headteacher in less than a year. Patrick Rice is leaving to lead another Manchester school. He was appointed interim principal of Oasis Media City UK Academy in October 2013 after his predecessor left just three weeks into the new school year.

Financial irregularities seem to be coming along with regular frequency in academies. The Education Fellowship Trust reportedly appointed head office staff who were family members of trustees or senior staff and spent £45,000 on governor expenses. The DfE’s response? A spokesperson said ‘Academies operate under a strict system of oversight and accountability – more robust than in council-run schools’.

Blunkett Review: No Cure for GERM

David Blunkett’s long awaited report on the middle tier for has been published offering schools and academies oversight from regional directors rather than Whitehall. The review, which will feed into Labour’s policy forum, also suggests that local councils should be allowed to open new schools – a sensible solution to the places crisis when currently a third of new ‘free’ schools are opening where there is no shortage.

What the Blunkett review fails to tackle is the spread of GERM: the Global Education Reform Movement described by Pasi Sahlberg. England has all the attributes of an education system ripe for profiteering: high stakes testing; endless data; schools and academies with lots of autonomy; a fragmented system with little local democracy and an Education Secretary with close links to Murdoch with his designs on the multi-billion dollar worldwide education industry. You can see Pasi Sahlberg, Finland’s last schools inspector, and Peter Mortimore, former director of the Institute of Education, University of London,discussing the impact of recent reforms on educational inequality with the RSA here.

Nigel Utton, headteacher of Bromstone Primary in Kent, raised his concerns about high stakes testing and league tables on Radio 5 Live. Mr Utton, a champion for inclusive education, criticised how he is measured not on ‘how brilliant’ a child’s life is but on how they perform in a test aged 11.  He told Nicky Campbell that he was leaving headship because ‘all of the changes are making it worse’.

If you would like to discuss the future of education with parents, teachers and your local community, why not consider organising an Education Question Time in your area? There’s a simple how-to guide on the National Campaign for Education website where you can also find a report of the recent Brighton & Hove Education Question Time with local MP Caroline Lucas on the panel.

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