Paws Off Parrs Wood Campaign


3 December 2015

In early November the Board of Governors of Parrs Wood High School in south Manchester announced to parents that they were recommending that the School ceases being a local authority maintained school and becomes a ‘converter’ Academy. A consultation process began, scheduled to end on 7 December. Parrs Wood High School is a large co-educational comprehensive with 1800 students and about 200 teachers and support staff. It is over-subscribed, rated as ‘good’ by Ofsted – and excellent by parents. It was also mentioned by shadow Secretary of State for Education, Lucy Powell, MP for Manchester Central, in her Labour Party Conference speech as the school she attended.

A public consultation meeting was held by the school on 17 November at which the well-respected headteacher (and Board member) effectively argued the Governors’ case. Central to the proposal was the view that the school should become a ‘converter’ academy on its own terms – adopting the ‘Co-operative’ model – in order to avoid the danger of being wrongly branded a ‘coasting’ school in the future and thereby forced by the Department of Education to become a ‘sponsored’ academy taken over by one of the chains widely and rightly believed to be predators. In this way the (progressive) ethos of the school could be preserved and defended as well as providing more financial freedom in a climate where local authority funding has been massively reduced.

However, a strong turn out from teachers, whose NUT union reps addressed the meeting revealed that an 85 strong meeting of union members across NUT, NASUWT and Unison had voted unanimously to actively oppose the academy proposal. They viewed the proposal as privatisation, opening the door to unqualified teachers, future attacks on terms and conditions, and misconceived attempts to export the Parrs Wood ‘brand’ to less successful schools who would be added to the Multi-Academy Trust in stage 2 of the new Academy arrangements.

The meeting – and especially the determination of the staff – provoked a number of parents and staff to set up a campaign against the Academy plan: ‘Paws Off Parrs Wood’. The campaign has the basic aim of retaining the school as a local authority maintained state school. But given the very tight timescale of the consultation, it also has the immediate aim of extending the consultation and turning it into a properly democratic process. Within 2 weeks the campaign had gained over 600 signatures on its petition, turned out 30 or so staff and parents onto a Saturday rally / campaign stall and attracted over 50 parents, staff and local councillors to a public meeting on 1 December.

Opinion amongst parents broadly falls into two camps: definitely opposed and undecided. Of the hundreds canvassed by the Paws Off Parrs Wood campaign only a handful have expressed any support at all for the proposal.

The origin of the Academy plan and the reasons for opposing it

The plan to switch to a ‘converter’ or Multi-Trust Academy, operating the ‘Co-operative’ model has arisen in a somewhat different context to many other moves to academisation in Manchester and elsewhere. Allegedly ‘failing’ schools have become ‘sponsored’ academies with many academies being chains run on commercial or quasi-commercial principles. These chains are widely viewed as predators. Parrs Wood, by contrast, is recognised by all as an excellent and successful school both in terms of its academic results and its local community ethos.

However, the Parrs Wood Board of Governors has justified recommending the proposal to become an Academy for the following reasons:

[A]school can be deemed as ‘Requiring Improvement’ if they are judged to be ‘coasting’, an arbitrary term which has yet to be clearly defined. This means that should a school be categorised as ‘coasting’ then the school could be vulnerable to conversion through ‘sponsorship’. ‘Sponsorship’ means that any academy chain could bid to take over the running of a school and impose their own ‘nature, ethos and values’. By ‘self-determining’ our future we are providing a greater degree of security for the school. (FAQs, 30 Nov 2015)

This justification has not found favour amongst staff or parents. There are examples of successful campaigns against becoming converter academies, such as that of Hove Park High School. The question now is whether the Board of Governors will adopt its proposal, withdraw it, or extend and deepen the consultation. Given the strength of opposition shown thus far especially by the staff within the school it is worrying that the Board has not yet agreed to requests to extend the consultation period nor to commit to transparency about exactly when and how the decision will be taken.

Some local councillors (the city is 100 % Labour) have actively supported the Paws Off Parrs Wood campaign and the campaign warmly invites all elected representatives to get behind it and communicate with the Board of Governors.

Other councillors have asked for further information before committing themselves either way.

So, in essence, the case for academisation is that it is inevitable in one form or another and jumping now before the school is pushed is the only way to protect the school from predatory chains of sponsors and any potential move by the Department of Education to enforce academisation in the future.

Yet converter academies can still be forced into being sponsored academies if performance was judged to be poor. Moreover, if the Board is determined to push through its recommendation in the teeth of heavy opposition from the staff and parents, what likelihood is there that the community ethos of the school will actually survive the transition to Academy status? Paws Off Parrs Wood believes that the best way to protect and advance the community ethos and educational achievements of the school – so hard won by the staff, headteacher and local school community – is to remain as a local authority maintained school. It is as a local authority maintained school that we have prospered and that is the strongest platform to continue to thrive. It also provides the strongest platform to face any potential threats from the Department of Education to enforce academisation IF that threat materialised in the future.

The campaign has won extensive support in its short existence and is determined to continue to oppose the Academy proposals.

Further information:

For photos and rolling coverage see twitter: @pawsoffpwhs

For petition:


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MP concerned over ‘free’ school

By Ken Muller

stem-1-2Islington MP, Emily Thornberry, wrote to the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, expressing concerns about developments at what was then STEM 6 calling for ‘urgent action’ to rescue this academy’.
Not entirely, satisfied by the response she received from Lord Nash (on behalf of Nicky Morgan) she wrote back to him expressing further concern about ‘considerable difficulties’ at Tech City, including the resignation of seven teachers (half the teaching staff) this term and the ‘little progress towards improving working arrangements and performance management’.
Perhaps at least as worrying to the general public, was another issue she raised in her letter: the apparent misuse of public funds:

I remain concerned that STEM [Academy Education Trust] has been permitted to start a school at huge public expense which is failing to deliver an acceptable service to inner-city pupils. A further concern is STEM’s former plans to expand their work into South London. – I understand that Norwood Police Station was purchased by DCLG in 2014, with the expectation that STEM would open a second Academy there in September 2015
However, after gaining the DfE approval, and recruiting some members of staff and some pupils, STEM decided to abandon this project, and the building remains empty. This does cause me considerable concern – a public asset which could have provided much-needed affordable housing or other facilities of use to the local community remains empty two years after the mayor closed the police station.
I would appreciate your further comments on the DfE’s relationship with the STEM Academy Education Trust –what assessment of the Trust’s plans were carried out before they were permitted to set up an academy in my constituency. Why was the Trust allocated another public building when it had no track record of delivering good quality education? Will the Trust be held liable for any costs in relation to the South Norwood building?
This matter has also taken up by London Assembly Member, Fiona Twycross, who wrote to DCLG Secretary of State, Greg Clark, about the abandoned Norwood academy project on 20 November:
It seems to me that there should have been more adequate checks to ensure the school site was viable. Did STEM then incur any costs following their last minute decision to walk away from opening a school here?
I am concerned that this valuable public asset has now not been used since 2012. It seems to be a very poor use of public money to keep this site unused. Can you also outline the cost of keeping this site secure, and the total cost to date?


Tech City teachers will take strike
action on Tuesday 8th, Wednesday 9th, Tuesday 15th, Wednesday 16th and Thursday 17th December.

Previous story: Islington teachers to strike

For information contact

Ken Muller
(Joint Secretary, Islington NUT)
Tel 07950075088
Please send message of support to:

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Teachers at Tech City to strike before Xmas


By Ken Muller

Teachers at Tech City, a 16-19 free school formerly known as STEM 6, have voted unanimously to strike for five before the Xmas holidays in support of their demand for humane and workable performance management and a fair pay policy. 

Earlier this month, following quite excessive pressure on staff from senior managers to “improve” their performance – which included one teacher being phoned late on a Sunday night with instructions on what to do during a lessons observation the next day – one teacher was so stressed and anxious that she collapsed in front of the students she was teaching.
The aim of the strike is that Aspirations the academy chain which took over STEM 6 and renamed it at the beginning of September should agree:
• to a performance management policy – like the one adopted in large majority of Islington schools – with limits on the number of times a teacher can be observed for performance management purposes each year and reasonable notice of the lesson in which a teacher is going to be observed. We believe that performance management should be a shared and supportive process which helps teachers address weaknesses in their teaching and demonstrate strengths rather than the reign of terror that Aspirations has imposed at Tech City.
• to a pay policy which allows teachers to progress up the appropriate pay scale unless they have previously been given reasonable notice that there is scope for improvement as well as adequate time and support to achieve it. As the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, wrote to head teachers last year: ‘There should be no surprises’.

Teachers report:
• ‘I have been denied pay progression despite never having been given performance targets to meet.’
• ‘I was denied pay progression despite not being given targets for the year.’
• ‘Since September there have been parents evening, internal observations, Ofsted, two open evenings. There are now workshops running until 5.10pm. There is also a third open evening scheduled for two weeks’ time. The fact that we have had two parents’ evenings and a net attendance of approximately 10 parents due to poor communications has to be highlighted. This is a complete waste of time and staff effort.’
• ‘I found it totally unacceptable that students were told in assembly and informed in the autumn newsletter that the teaching and learning was not to the right standard and that from January onwards it would be addressed with “better teachers”.’

Tech City teachers are being scapegoated, bullied and penalised for the failings of others. Click To Tweet

That is why they deserve the support of colleagues in other schools, their students and their parents and the rest of the local community.

Tech City will take action on Tuesday 8th, Wednesday 9th, Tuesday 15th, Wednesday 16th and Thursday 17th December.

For further information, contact:
Ken Muller
(Joint Secretary, Islington NUT)
Tel 07950075088
Please send message of support to:

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What we learned from Osborne’s Spending Review

George OsbornAAA Bulletin  November 2015 

A chancellor, even a Tory one, can never be seen to cut funding to schools.  Just as in our hospitals, austerity is delivered through smoke and mirrors.

The false hope of protected school funding  will be swallowed up in rising costs and it ignores a £600m cut in the education services grant.  ‘Fairer funding’  may be welcomed in some parts of the country but will lead to even greater cuts in the inner cities.

However one school, in Liverpool, is enjoying a wholly different level of funding.  The Everton Free School offers alternative provision for 14-19 year olds at a massive £35,000 per pupil.   However that seems a drop in the ocean compared to the Harris Federation’s highly selective Westminster Sixth Form free school which cost £45,000,000 or £90,000 for each of its students.

Meanwhile piecemeal privatisation of our public assets continues.  The DfE peddles the lie of school autonomy but offers grants of an extra £75k to set up more academy chains.  Will any of that cash be spent on school improvement, teachers or even children?  No, it is destined to line the pockets of the unaccountable MATs, their lawyers and accountants.  Now Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, has recommended replacing volunteer school governors with paid board members.

The DfE admits that not all academies and free schools are necessarily better than maintained schools but it has allocated £12m to recruit advisers to extend the programme.  These advisers, answerable to unelected Regional Schools Commissioners, will replace the DfE’s discredited, tax dodging, bullying academy brokers.

And what of the real crisis in teacher recruitment?  The government has toyed with the free market and failed to retain sufficient experienced teachers or provide sufficient trainees. The latest Initial Teacher Training figures show a significant shortfall in new trainee teachers in secondary subjects while schools already report more posts going unfilled.

But does the u-turn on tax credits show that even the Tories are susceptible to public pressure?  It is time to build on the work of trade unions and existing campaigns – those that expose child poverty, protect comprehensive education, defend adult education and fight privatisation.  We need a national conversation about education and we need a national education service – truly comprehensive for all from cradle to grave.

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Loss making school still requires improvement

By Dave Gilchrist

Education campaigner and author Janet Downs has called on Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to think about the wording of the latest Ofsted report on the failing school IES Breckland in Brandon, Suffolk.

The school, the only one in the country run by a for-profit company has been in special measures for nearly two years and operates at a loss. The latest Ofsted report moves the school to the ‘requires improvement’ category. However the report states the low GCSE results at IES ‘must be considered against pupils’ low starting points and the turbulent period that the school has been through in the past two years’. Downs points out that at two free schools in Beccles and Saxmundham run by Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust have had the same rider applied to them. This, Downs points out, is in contrast to other schools in the country such as those that might be categorised as ‘coasting’ in which the governments ‘no excuses’ policy is enforced.

Ofsted’s report on the school states that the quality of its teaching, learning and assessment, the personal development, behaviour and welfare of pupils and outcomes for learners still required improvement.

According to figures in Schools WeekIES breckland the school’s educational service provider, IES International English Schools UK Ltd, had cut its losses by almost 80 per cent last year, it was £271,041 in the year to June 30 last year and was cut to £54,773 this year. The company’s turnover increased from £77,650 to £103,212 during the same period and, following revelations in Schools Week that debts of £307,369 owed to Swedish parent company IES Sverige AB were written off last year, only £76,725 of debt was written off in the latest financial year.


The Truth About Our Schools: Exploding the Myths, Exploring the Evidence, by Melissa Benn and Janet Downs, is published by Routledge. 

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