Primary school parents in row over takeover by academy chain

Primary school parents in row over takeover by academy chain

The Guardian  |by Peter Walker on March 10, 2013

Education secretary Michael Gove

Education secretary Michael Gove, who favours academies taking control of schools from local authorities, faces a row over a ‘farcical’ consultation over Roke primary school in Croydon. Photograph: Ray Tang/Rex Features
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More concerns are being raised about the academising of primary schools against their will. It appears that not only are schools being forced into becoming academies there is also a complete lack of transparency over the selection of the provider. 

Parents at a popular primary school threatened with takeover by an academy chain have labelled a promised consultation a farce after the main questionnaire failed to even ask them if they wanted the school to change status.

A group of parents battling plans to remove Roke primary in Croydon, south London from local authority control have also released a transcript of a meeting in which a Department for Education “broker” told them she believed the school was failing based largely on a half-hour tour during which she thought the children looked “bored”.

The row over the DfE’s apparent desire to push the primary into the control of the Harris Federation, against the wishes of governors, staff and seemingly the majority of parents, appears to run counter to Michael Gove’s belief that academies are more responsive to local needs.

The DfE has faced parental anger elsewhere, notably over Downhills primary schoolsin Haringey, north London, which Gove made part of Harris last year despite 94% of parents telling a consultation they opposed it.

The significance with Roke is that it has no long history of under-performance, supposedly the only reason for forced conversion. Roke was targeted after Ofsted assessed it as “inadequate” in May. Governors and parents, however, said this was a one-off blip caused largely by computer problems which meant inspectors could not view data. Subsequent inspections found the problems had been largely rectified.

The DfE promised a consultation, albeit one run directly by Harris, set up by the Carpetright millionaire Lord Harris. This turned out to involve a questionnaire which only asked whether, when it became an academy, Roke should be sponsored by Harris, not if parents wanted an academy at all.

At a public meeting last week attended by Harris and some of his senior staff, parents were told the DfE had instructed the chain to redraft the questionnaire. But parents remain suspicious.

“To not even ask us initially if we wanted the school to be an academy, it’s just indicative of a whole attitude,” said Nigel Geary-Andrews, a parent and 39-year-old civil servant. “It really doesn’t seem that they want our views at all. It’s as if the decision has already been made – which we think it has. It’s a bit of a farce.”

At the same meeting some parents were angered when the “broker”, a freelance contractor hired by the DfE to work with converter academies, described how she decided Roke needed help. Val McGregor said she had spent “about 20 minutes, half an hour” touring the school before meeting senior staff and governors, concluding pupils were bored and “not doing as well as we had hoped”.

Asked by a parent how she could reach such a verdict so quickly, McGregor replied: “We could spend longer but I don’t think that is appropriate.”

The meeting was also addressed by Dan Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Federation, who was knighted last year. At another consultation meeting last week, parents said, Moynihan spent half the hour-long event making a phone call. One parent challenged Moynihan afterwards for this perceived rudeness.

Geary-Andrews said: “Again, this seems to show an attitude that Harris aren’t really interested in listening to parents and our views.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said Harris was seen as the best sponsor due to a record of improving under-performing schools. She said: “The children at Roke deserve the best possible education, but any suggestion that there is a ‘done deal’ on a sponsor is wrong. Ministers will carefully consider all responses to the ongoing consultation and any other relevant factors before taking a final decision.”

A Harris Federation spokeswoman said the final decision on Roke would be made by Michael Gove, not them.

She said: “Our report will not be making a recommendation, but will simply report what parents have said. We only had two responses before the meetings and we will extend the period for getting replies back to make sure everyone has plenty of time to consider the extra question. We have enjoyed hearing from parents and others, answering their questions and providing reassurance.”

Free school head without any teaching qualifications plans to ignore curriculum

Free school head without any teaching qualifications plans to ignore curriculum

The Guardian |by Daniel Boffey, policy editor on March 9, 2013

Pimlico school

Pimlico Academy free school in Westminster, London, is due to open its primary school in September. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian
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Worrying news that a significant number of unqualified staff are being employed as teachers in free schools. In addition, at least one free school is employing a headteacher who is not a qualified teacher and plans to ignore the national curriculum. This is directly at odds with the requirements for Qualified Teacher Status being made more stringent which suggests that greater qualifications are required to teach effectively. The government’s education policies are, yet again, shown to be, confused and flawed. 

One in ten teachers working in free schools are not formally qualified to do so, according to official figures, including a 27-year-old who has been appointed as headteacher of a primary due to open this year. There were 21 teachers with no teaching qualifications in the 17 free schools that responded to a government census. Almost half (47%) of the schools had at least one unqualified teacher.

Pimlico Primary free school in Westminster, which is due to open in September, has appointed a headteacher who is only now receiving teacher training. Annaliese Briggs, a former thinktank director who advised the coalition government on its national primary curriculum, is the designated head for the new school, which is sponsored by Future, a charity founded by John Nash, the Tory donor and former venture capitalist appointed schools minister in January.

It is understood that Briggs, an English literature graduate from Queen Mary, University of London, and a former deputy director of the right-wing thinktank Civitas, is being trained in Wandsworth in preparation for the beginning of the next school year. She has already said that she will ignore the national curriculum and teach lessons “inspired by the tried and tested methods of ED Hirsch Jr”, the controversial American academic behind what he calls “content-rich” learning.

One local teacher, who did not want to be named, said he was astonished that such an inexperienced candidate had been selected. . “It seems extraordinary that having experience and teaching qualifications are no longer prerequisites to running a school,” he said. Even a young headteacher is normally expected to have six years of teaching experience before they are entrusted with the task of leading a school.

The education secretary, Michael Gove, announced in 2010 that free schools – which are outside the control of local authorities but funded by the state – would be allowed greater leeway over appointments. Last summer he extended such freedoms to the country’s 1,500 academies, claiming that removal of the requirement for staff to have qualified teacher status (QTS) would replicate the “dynamism” that he believes is found in private schools.

The shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, responding to the school census figures – which were collected in November 2011 – said he would reverse the policy if Labour was in power. “Parents will be shocked to learn that this government changed the rules and we now have unqualified teachers in state schools. This wouldn’t happen under Labour – we would ensure teachers are qualified,” said Twigg.

“We need to strengthen, not undermine, the quality and professionalism of teaching. Ministers should reverse this decision so that all young people get the qualified teachers they deserve.”

Leaders of the teaching unions believe the policy is part of a “deskilling” of the profession. Chris Keates, general secretary of NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union, said the latest figures were an insult to teachers. “This information is just a manifestation of the fundamentally flawed policies of a coalition government that believes it is acceptable that schools should be able to employ leaders and teachers who do not have qualified teacher status,” she said.

“Parents and the public should be deeply concerned that they can no longer have confidence that when children and young people go to school they are being taught by a qualified teacher.

“If anyone suggested that doctors could be unqualified and allowed to treat patients, everyone would be rightly horrified. Why is the same concern not extended to the education of our children and young people?”

The row comes as the first Ofsted reports into standards in free schools are published. Batley grammar school in West Yorkshire and Sandbach school in Cheshire were both found to “require improvement”. They were said to be letting their pupils down across a range of subjects, particularly English. Staff at Sandbach school were told they had an “inflated view” of their performance.

Jo Saxton, director of education for Pimlico Primary’s sponsor Future, said: “All our staff are carefully selected to ensure the ideal balance between excellent subject knowledge, effective teaching and the ability to engage all pupils.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We have given free schools and academies the same freedoms the best independent schools enjoy to hire great linguists, computer scientists, engineers and other specialists so they can inspire their pupils.

“Pimlico Academy’s governors and teachers [Pimlico Academy secondary school is also run by Future and will share its site with Pimlico Primary] took a failing secondary and increased its Ofsted rating to ‘outstanding’ in record time. Headteachers and governors at places like Pimlico know their schools best and we trust them to recruit the right staff.”

Dear Mr Gove: Michael Rosen’s letter from a curious parent

Dear Mr Gove: Michael Rosen’s letter from a curious parent

The Guardian  |by Michael Rosen on March 4, 2013

Four-year-old children working with numbers

Should four-year-olds have numeracy targets? Photograph: Alamy
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Michael Rosen’s latest letter to Michael Gove: Once again he asks the questions we all want to raise and says what many in the education system are already thinking. Well worth a read. 

I see that the education select committee has asked you and your permanent secretary to reappear before them. I was surprised by your response: you seem to think that this is a waste of time. You wrote to the committee saying you were free to answer their questions: “Then, perhaps, the Department for Education team can get on with improving children’s lives and you can consider where your own energies might be directed.”

I had no idea that it was your job to tell the select committee what they should be doing. Isn’t the idea of you telling others about how their “own energies might be directed” laughable?

I’ve been in several parts of the country that are reeling from the chaos of your top-down transformation of the structure of education. As was predicted, an academy can fail an Ofsted inspection. The problem is that you seem to think that turning a school into an academy is a cure and, following from that, you don’t seem to have imagined a scenario in which the cure could fail or that the cure itself might ever need curing.

So what happens when an academy fails? Presumably, as your “energies” are “directed” towards this by the red light flashing on the map in your office, you as sole commander of Academy England issue instructions: “Switch sponsors! Chuck out AET, bring in Harris! Hang on, I sent Harris to that other place. How about a superhead? Any superheads around? No? Why not? No one wants to apply for the job? Tell the head in the next-door school, she’s got to do the job or she’s out on her ear. Federate!

“Now you’re telling me that if she becomes superhead the deputy head doesn’t want to be a stand-in head? OK, this is the plan: who’s the local authority? Right, this might be tricky, but I want you to sidle up to them, tell them that I’ve never been against local authorities and see if they can … er … provide some assistance to this academy …”

Meanwhile, out there beyond the walls of your office, I can tell you that people are seriously confused about the fact that there isn’t just one kind of academy – there appear to be several different kinds. I only have nine years of tertiary education to my name, so I’m not able to understand the structures that you’ve put in place with your well-directed “energies”. I haven’t got any further than thinking that there are: old academies, opted-in academies and Govean you-must-be-academies-because-I-say-so academies. To which must be added the still-academies-even-though-they-failed-Ofsted academies. Perhaps at some point you’ll stand before us and let us know how this “improves children’s lives”.

Looking even closer, we can now see what happens when one of your favoured academy sponsors, on your instruction, takes over a local authority school. Let’s home in on a school whose parents, staff, local council and local MP all wanted it to remain under local authority control; a school where the Ofsted inspection showed it performed better than average for its least-able pupils. In came the Govean sponsors who have sent out letters to the parents saying: “Unfortunately, your child has still not met their initial target of being able to recognise their numerals 1-10.”

Fair enough, people might say. Children must be able to recognise numbers, eh? One problem: this letter went to parents of four-year-olds. Does telling these parents a) that their children have failed b) that four-year-olds should have numeracy targets c) that this is their target as opposed to the academy sponsor’s target, “improve children’s lives”?

This is a point of arrival. You alone decide that a school will become an academy. This joins it to a system that cannot cater for all children.

Through the league tables it enforces competition between schools, which results in teaching to the test. Teachers, parents and children are controlled by targets, with the ultimate result that large numbers of children are marked as failures.

But where do these targets come from? Where is the theory and evidence to show that every four-year-old should have targets; should recognise numerals; or that demanding this “improves children’s lives”?

No, I’ll rephrase that: where is the discussion about how four-year-olds learn that you and your department could start, as opposed to this kind of Gove-enforced, sponsor-directed instruction?

Tougher targets mean hundreds more primary schools risk failure

Tougher targets mean hundreds more primary schools risk failure

The Guardian  |by Jessica Shepherd

primary school tests
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The government is about to announce another raising of the floor standards for Year 6 SATs results in England’s Primary Schools. This will result in yet more schools being potentially unfairly labelled as failing and becoming ripe for takeover by an academy sponsor.  No-one could reasonably disagree with a desire to see schools improve and children’s prospects do likewise but policies like this one simply push already improving schools below a seemingly arbitrarily decided standard whilst doing nothing to change the education system for the better. Once again it appears to be motivated by a misplaced reliance on the Academy system and will be used to force more schools down this route against their will. 

Hundreds more primary schools in England risk being labelled failures after the coalition set stricter targets.

David Laws, the schools minister, will tell an education conference on Tuesday that primaries will be deemed to be under-performing from 2014 if under 65% of their pupils reach a satisfactory standard in reading, writing and maths and their school fails to achieve above-average progress in these subjects.

Until now, primaries have been said to be “below the floor target” – or under-performing – if under 60% of pupils reach a satisfactory standard in reading, writing and maths and pupils do not make above-average progress in these subjects. Under-performing schools risk being taken over by an academy sponsor.

Government officials said schools improved when targets were made tougher. Last year, 476 primaries were under-performing against 1,310 in 2011. Fewer than 900 primaries could be deemed to be under-performing under the new stricter target.

However, Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the government was “always shifting the goal posts” and that this would “do little” for standards.

“England’s primary schools have been improving steadily for many years, nearly doubling the rate of children leaving with the expected standards,” he said. “There is no lack of ambition. The expected reward for that performance is always a shifting of the goal posts, so it will be no surprise to heads that the floor standard is shifting again next year. Raising the bar while reducing resources will, however, do little for standards.

Laws will also tell the Association of School and College Leaders that experts will help schools work out how best to spend pupil premium money if a school is judged to be anything less than “good” by Ofsted inspectors andis not narrowing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. Schools receive the £600 premium for each pupil from homes where the joint income is less than £16,000 a year.

Primary pupils are expected to reach level four in reading, writing and maths by the time they leave secondary school.

From December, the government will publish the proportion of primary pupils who achieve a “good” level four. This is so that parents know whether pupils are just making level four or exceeding it by some margin.

Laws will say many children who only just achieve level four are not “secondary ready”. “We must ensure that a far higher proportion of pupils are ‘secondary ready’ by the end of their primary school,” he will say. “This will allow them not simply to cope, but thrive, when presented with the challenges and opportunities of secondary school … The figures do not lie – a pupil who manages a low level four by the end of primary school is unlikely to go on to achieve five good GCSEs.”

Academies and Lies

An enlightening film that exposes the issues behind the DfE’s desperate drive to academise the English schools network.

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400 primary schools to become academies, says prime minister

400 primary schools to become academies, says prime minister

The Guardian  |by Press Association on November 12, 2012

Pupil writing
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Academies are in the news once again this week with an announcement by David Cameron, of the Government’s intention to convert 400 weak primary schools into academies in time for the 2013 academic year. We have two concerns with this announcement. Firstly, as we have discussed previously, academic status isn’t a panacea for failing schools.  There are a wide variety of methods that can be and have been used successfully to turn around failing schools that don’t involve the very expensive restructuring involved in conversion to academic status. Hundreds of millions of pounds for academy conversion purposes have been removed from a depleted education budget leaving other schools short of funds. Conversion to academy status isn’t a successful policy for all schools and shouldn’t be regarded as such. Secondly, with the Government constantly shifting the goalposts in order to undermine schools and cause them to fail it appears that there is an ideological purpose behind the drive to convert all schools into academies even if it is against their will and not in the best interest of the students and that should be a cause for concern for all parents and right minded individuals who care about the future of the children of this country!

The government will improve the UK’s 400 weakest primary schools by turning them into academies, the prime minister will say.

David Cameron will announce on Monday that by the end of next year he wants the schools to be paired with sponsors to turn them into academies as part of coalition efforts to improve education in the poorest-performing schools.

The move comes as the cabinet prepares to attend a special meeting at an academy later. Cameron will say: “The driving mission for this government is to build an aspiration nation, where we unlock and unleash the promise in all our people. A first-class education system is absolutely central to that vision.

“We have seen some excellent progress with our reforms, including turning 200 of the worst performing primary schools into sponsored academies, and opening more academies in the last two years than the previous government opened in a decade.

“Time and time again we have seen how academies, with their freedom to innovate, inspire and raise standards are fuelling aspirations and helping to spread success. So now we want to go further, faster, with 400 more under-performing primary schools paired up with a sponsor and either open or well on their way to becoming an academy by the end of next year.

“It is simply not good enough that some children are left to struggle in failing schools, when they could be given the chance to shine.”

At the previous general election, there were 203 academies but they were all secondary schools. There are now 2,456 academies and a further 823 in the pipeline. Of the new academies, 333 were formerly failing primary or secondary schools. Ministers plan to spend up to £10m to develop new sponsor links.

City scheme challenges academies

City scheme challenges academies

BBC |July 5, 2012

By Judith  BurnsEducation reporter BBC News
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The government has been urged to reconsider whether sponsored academies are the best way to boost weak schools.

Figures suggest results in England’s sponsored academies rose more slowly than in some other poor performing schools, a study claims.

Researchers at London Metropolitan University said results rose fastest in schools in the City Challenge programme which ran in some areas until 2011.

The government said: “We are building on the best of what we had before.”

City Challenge ran in London, Manchester and the Black Country from 2008 to 2011. In the capital, a  similar programme, The London Challenge began in 2003.

‘Poorest performing’

The researchers, from the Institute of Policy Studies in Education at London Metropolitan University, drew on government data to compare GCSE improvement rates for the poorest-performing fifth of schools between 2008 and 2011.

These were schools where in 2008 fewer than 32% of pupils achieved five A* to C GCSEs including English and maths.

The research team says its analysis suggests that pupil attainment in the underperforming schools supported by City Challenge improved significantly more than it did in other weak schools, including sponsored academies.

By 2011, the secondary schools that had been in City Challenge programmes improved their exam results by 4% more than schools, including sponsored academies, that had not, says the study.

Some of the secondary schools supported by City Challenge programmes subsequently became sponsored academies, but they did not improve significantly more than other schools supported by the scheme, the researchers found.

Lead author Professor Merryn Hutchings told BBC News: “What we are showing is that there is an effective way to improve schools through support and expert advice as happened with City Challenge.

“The current government’s policy is to turn weak schools into sponsored academies. Our data suggests that this has been effective only in those schools that had previously been supported through City Challenge.”

The report, Evaluation of the City Challenge Programme, was commissioned by the Department for Education.

City Challenge was designed to “crack the associated cycle of disadvantage and underachievement” by reducing the number of underperforming schools, increasing the number of good and outstanding schools and improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged children, says the report.

The report defines the programme’s strategy as providing external experts to work alongside existing head teachers to assess each school’s individual needs and to set up bespoke support programmes which included mentoring by head teachers from better performing schools.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “For too long children from the poorest backgrounds have been left with the worst schools.

“We are building on the best of what we had before. We have introduced the Pupil Premium to ensure every school is equipped to support pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. The Pupil Premium has increased to £600 and been extended to many more children.

“We are also transforming the worst-performing schools with new leadership as academies and free schools.

“This gives parents and teachers the power to make decisions that are right for local children. The most recent data available shows that the attainment rate for pupils on free school meals in academies improved by 8.3 percentage points between 2009 and 2010.”

The report says that programme was particularly successful in London where it ran for eight years, first as the London Challenge and later as City Challenge.

According to the researchers, London schools now perform well above the national average while pupils on free school meals do better than in any other region.

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