David Cameron has announced the expansion of the Free Schools programme should the Conservatives win the general election on May 7th. The ‘research’ used to justify the expansion was put together by Policy Exchange, the right wing think tank founded by Michael Gove, described by Dr Becky Allen of London’s Institute of Education as data mining, has been pulled apart by a number of academics and campaigners.
Just look at our website to see the litany of free school failures: Durham, Grindon Hall, Greenwich, Discovery, Al Madinah and Kings Science Academy – in the news again as its founding principal is charged with fraud along with two other members of staff. This is the same school where the DfE paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to Tory vice chairman, Alan Lewis, for the school’s site. Lewis has denied that he was also chair of governors at the Bradford free school.
Every week, the flawed mantra of maintained school ‘bad’: academy ‘good’ becomes more and more exposed.
The Crest Academies in Brent, North West London, have been sponsored by E-Act since 2009 but have never been judged ‘good’. The latest Ofsted report (Jan 2015) summed them up as “inadequate” and said that “the support that had been offered by the sponsor was not effective in driving through change rapidly enough”. E-Act is the chain that had to hand back 10 of its academies and free schools to the DfE last year. It has been under a financial notice to improve since March 2013.
We hear that things are far from cosy at Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust (CHAT). The resignations of two of its headteachers have been announced following the re-instatement of Executive Principal Patricia Sowter to the trust’s board. The charmingly-named trust which runs 5 free schools and academies in Enfield, North London has been plagued by allegations of bullying, corruption and nepotism. The DfE has investigated the trust and found “evidence of serious breaches of the funding agreement and the Independent Schools Standards”. The Education Funding Agency has issued a financial notice to improve and now CHAT is threatened with closure if its action plan is not up to scratch.
Ipswich Academy is to be handed to a new sponsor after the Learning Schools Trust failed to make the grade. According to Ofsted the school is inadequate and requires special measures. The Learning Schools Trust (LST) is the non-profit, charitable organisation that operates the Kunskapsskolan-sponsored academies in England. Kunskappsskolan had wanted to extend their for-profit model in the UK but had to settle for sponsoring four academies through LST. And what of the four? Ipswich has been graded inadequate by Ofsted, and in London, both Twickenham and Hampton Academies require improvement. Only Elizabeth Woodville in Northamptonshire, a converter, has received a good grading.
Campaigners from Stop Academies in Lewisham (SAIL) continue to fight privatisation of four Lewisham secondaries. Following well-supported strike action, they now plan a march and demo. If you’re in London why not join them at the Clocktower, Lewisham High Street SE13 at 12 noon on Saturday 21 March?
We Back Hewett
Congratulations to parents and staff at Hewett School, who along with Norfolk County Council, are battling to save Norwich’s last community secondary school. Hundreds marched through the city chanting ‘Whose School? Our School’ and ‘Rachel de Souza, Email Loser!’ to show their support for the 850 pupil comprehensive. The DfE is minded to hand the school to the Inspiration Trust, headed by dame Rachel de Souza, subject of two enquiries into Ofsted corruption. The investigator cleared both Ofsted and Dame Rachel after he discovered that her email files had been deleted.
The Council is challenging the academy decision through the courts and the DfE may not have time to respond before general election ‘purdah’ commences on 30 March.
The governing body at Twydall Primary School has risked academy minister Lord Nash’s wrath by rejecting the DFE’s preferred sponsor for the Kent school. 89% of parents voted against TSAT and the governors say they would rather face the sack than accept the Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT) as sponsor for their highly inclusive SEN specialist school. We are unlikely to ever know why TSAT was chosen because the DfE refuses to answer Freedom of Information requests on the sponsor selection process.
Gove but not forgotten
David Laws, schools minister told the Independent that Michael Gove is still driving Conservative education policy. He said ‘while Nicky Morgan’s instincts are moderate the people who control education policy in the Conservative party are still Michael Gove, David Cameron and George Osborne….. the face and language may have changed but the Tory policies haven’t’. Laws warned that the announcement of 500 more free schools was a ‘number picked out of a hat… a barmy way to make policy‘.
Catch us if you can
Following our packed London SERTUC conference last month we’re heading to Cardiff and to Harrogate. Look out for our stalls over the Easter weekend at the NASUWT and NUT conferences. Also, down on the south coast, there’s an election special Education Question Time hosted by Brighton & Hove campaign for education on the the 20th March. We’ll be holding our next steering group after the election.