Saturday, 17 January 2015

People versus PFI. Why We Should All Care.

People formally joining campaigns usually do so because they feel so strongly about the issue that not to join the campaign would leave them feeling wanting. Thus, for me with Anti-Academies Alliance, and thus now with People versus PFI

As a travelling teacher and trainer of some years now, I have worked in many different school and college buildings. Before this I worked in one place, and only visited other buildings as a parent, an exam moderator, or as a school governor, not really in any of these cases experiencing the daily delights of staff room four storeys up from Reception, signing in with a hideous mugshot, holding my breath through the post-PE experience with a low ceiling, and the like.

steelband in the enclosed green space
At Foxwood School, Leeds, I taught English, PSE and Music, and when returning from maternity leave anything! This building was situated in the middle of a council estate, then an area of extreme poverty and deprivation. It was one of the first purpose-built comprehensives in the UK, four stories, plate glass everywhere, very light, could be very cold. The Music Room was the size and shape of a small social club, low stage with four practice rooms, large storage cupboards and office, all leading off central room, away from the rest of the school in between dining halls, so several beginners could attack drum-kits at any time of day without Maths going mental!

Deprived children often exhibited challenging behaviour and also got poor exam results, as the rest of city never failed to remind. And league tables closed it. Ofsted passed us at our first inspection but the council didn't expect that, and wrote "in view of failed inspection " blah blah blah in their "consultation" paper. 

Denis Healey visits Foxwood as Lower Building  becomes ELCTB
We were all successfully redeployed as we all had both our qualifications and our behaviour management experience, and I became a peripatetic teacher, at which point I became a connoisseur of good cupboards, well-placed staffrooms, good loading access for music departments, dining halls to accommodate all, and no-nonsense entrances (largely a thing of the past!)
musicians in hall
Of course, my points this: if you only teach in one well-designed and built building, you don't know what the rest of the world is like, you have only the hype to go on. Building New Schools for the future? Building New Slums, more like!

However, any criticism of a school building offends the managers, and affects their and the school's reputation, so campaigning as an active teacher is fraught with difficulties, Damaging a school's reputation damages the working lives of the universally wonderful, but already beleaguered 
UK teaching staff, I know we have to tread carefully across this minefield, but cross it we must, in order to save our children, both now and in the future from having their lives blighted by working in sub-standard premises.
random nice picture of Foxwood Steel Band celebrating arrival of  a famous sailing ship in Leeds

Monday, 29 December 2014

New Academy in Town?

Here's a quote from the latest Anti-Academies Alliance newsletter. 

Academy conversions cost English councils £22m between 2011 and 2013 according to the Local Government Association.  When schools convert, the local authority must pick up any deficit balance.  However if a converting school has a surplus this carries over to the academy trust.  Added to the legal costs arising from transferring staff and land, mopping up these deficits has mounted up to millions which could have been spent in all schools.

So here is no thanks from your local Children's Services who pick up the bills from all new academies. And curiously, when things go wrong, as they inevitably will, it's the local Children's Services who are asked to take the blame. 

Academies eh! It's heads they win, tails we lose. [And absolutely nothing to do with children or services or education].

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Let me Object to the Creation of The Temple Learning Academy, Leeds

The article on the Temple  Learning Academy in YEP [2.10.14] is disheartening. All the more so for its matter of fact tone. Since a law was passed in 2011 that local councils were not allowed to open new schools, this and any new educational establishment has to be an "academy", and thus accountable only to the Secretary of State for Education. In vain would a parent complain to the council about their child's school, treatment, or being sent home for wearing the wrong style of shoes.

Now this article also goes on to state some things which need a good challenging: 1. Schools in the trust in East Leeds were oversubscribed. Well, over past decade they closed and knocked down Foxwood /East Leeds, Braimwood, Agnes Stewart, Cross Green/Copperfields. So hardly a surpise that not enough school places, Furthermore, these schools catered for many children from deprived areas; the effect of poverty on their educational progress condemned the schools. The schools closed but the poverty went untreated.

2. The "postcode analysis" - analysis suggesting something academic, but is actually just counting addresses. Temple Moor, advantaged already by being placed in the middle of a middle class estate has worked hard over to maintain its successful image, but I would argue its staff works no harder than we did at Foxwood, but with a different clientele, set of circumstances and most of all public image.

3. Then we had the crocodile tears from the lady who cried for the kids who have to travel. They wouldn't be desperately seeking the "best" school for their kids  if rumour, Ofsted and private education  company Education  Leeds hadn't taken a scythe to our Leeds primary and secondary schools. Successive governments have created laws which encourage dissatisfaction and the pointless criss-crossing of towns everywhere in search of the best school for Bertie and Rachad.

4. Now the concept of a "through school" . This is not a innovative educational initiative. It's a practical solution. A high school which includes a primary is the only way that local council can increase school places without privatising them so well, done to Roundhay for managing this and yet getting its primary pupils into a separate building.

A school is like a private party. Its success depends entirely on who attends, and all these levels and grades and sinister men and women in suits at the back of our classes, and the millions of our public misspent pounds, do nothing for the "education" our children.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Inspectors take opposing view, Schools take the Blame for Poverty

In 1994 when I was Head Of Music at Foxwood School, the inspector (who stayed all week with me) and who was a music specialist, watched me teach the music listening course that myself and colleague, Mr Phillips had devised between us, and told me that we should publish it. The school passed its inspection but was closed 2 years later.

Foxwood tutor group early eighties

In in 2003, a couple of weeks into being Acting Head of Music at City of Leeds School, the Ofsted inspector told me that you should "never, my dear, talk over music". Well, in the initial stages of the course, sometimes you have to, and the fact that three students merited their own separate TA should have indicated something to this woman about how well we were controlling behaviour! And I published my book on teaching music* a couple of years later.

Ten years later - after two proposed mergers, one with Carr Manor, and one with St Michael's, after a proposal to make it a 14-19 vocational centre, after two attempts to academise, after federating it with Primrose,  then defederating it, but leaving the sixth form with Primrose, after proposing an outright closure and sending students all round the city, after chucking out the acting head, and then half the governing body (including myself) and imposing an IEB, the school finally succumbed to academisation this year.
City of Leeds previous logo

However, during this time, no inspections were actually failed! My own two younger children got 8 or 9 A-Cs each as a hard core of amazing staff kept the place ticking over. And they will keep on doing it, while academy bosses stuff the kids into purple-edged blazers paid for by the public money that once paid for Special Needs and Music services etc, etc, etc .

I make two points here:
1. faced with an identical listening course, two inspectors took a completely opposite view, and
2. the very existence of published inspections means that children from deprived areas will always have their schools scrutinised and attacked for all the wrong reasons . Until we attack poverty, and not the schools that try their best to support poor children, they will continue to suffer, as will, quite unbelievably, the staff who choose to work, and used to find their job satisfaction and their calling working in areas of deprivation.

* Including SEN in the Curriculum: Music, published David Fulton's, shortlisted for TES award

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Happy is Good

My letter printed in TES last week; my point is that happy is good, and actually not because it makes for good exam results, but it would take a particularly stupid education "chief" not to get that bit at least:
article icon

TES letters

news | Published in TES magazine on 5 September, 2014
  • Last Updated:

    5 September, 2014
  • Section:


Without the arts there can be no happy medium

There’s no hope for us until the government takes notice of our dear Sir Ken Robinson (“Cha-cha-change the balance in schools”, 8 August). Why do the powers that be not realise that happy people are happy workers? Why does it take an official survey (“Don’t worry, be happy – and get better grades”, 22 August) to tell us the bloomin’ obvious: that happy teachers get better results? And why is it that people still believe you can only learn maths through being taught maths? The arts play a vital role in enabling students to absorb information.
[Michael Wilshaw's comment that, if teachers are complaining, you must be doing right is as bizarre and unintelligent as it is nasty. Speaking about headteachers, in the Guardian 2012 Wilshaw once commented,and presumably still thinks, 'If anyone says to you "staff morale is at an all time low" you know you are doing something right'.]*

Children should not be going to school to learn stuff in order to be factory fodder. They should be going there to discover themselves, to find out what they are good at, and maybe to recognise and accept their weaknesses, too.
Some happy kids playing pans with me and V at school event
If industry wants calculus to the nth degree, it can offer training or apprenticeships. The way we work now is to stuff all our kids with more maths than they need, then offer them up to industry – which helps itself to the “best”. This leaves the rest with no job, no self-awareness and a great hole where their natural skills and their happiness could have resided.
Victoria Jaquiss
Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, teacher and education campaigner
* not printed  in TES

Friday, 25 April 2014

School Deserves praise for Stand on English

YEP Letters: April 24

I support the City of Leeds School’s brave stand in declaring so publicly that its students need extra lessons in English as an Additional Language.

Head teacher Georgie Sale points out correctly that even four years in the UK is not long enough to have acquired enough academic English to get the exam grades that reflect any child’s natural ability.
However, as a previous long-serving and ultimately ousted governor, I know that this is a long held view; that attention has always been given to EAL, and that, despite our children not getting the grades that would keep Ed Balls and now Michael Gove off our backs, we went on passing inspections, with the EAL d honourable mention in the dispatches.
Two years ago we gained School of Sanctuary status - the first UK high school to do so. What an honour!
And how would anyone like to be remembered as the teacher, the support assistant, the school that supported you in your darkest hours as well as your best, or the robot following orders in the exam factory?
Sadly, I see that the IEB (Interim Executive Board) has applied for academy status. This will not, in any way, improve the overall average grades.
The school will continue to languish quite unfairly in the eyes of the Government, the media and the local public.
sunset over City of Leeds carpark spring 2014
Worse, all the emphasis on EAL will inevitably be directed to improving average grades; and inevitably away from offering the individual children the sanctuary and personal support that any school should be offering as well.
However, until we get a government that has an Education Secretary who genuinely understands David Blunkett’s old slogan that “Every Child Matters”, children will be forced down inappropriate routes that only serve in the pointless competition that is pitting one country’s educational system against another.
And we won’t get this government unless we as citizens stand up for ourselves and we as teachers, stand up for our charges.
Victoria Jaquiss FRSA, (teacher, writer, ex-governor, local resident), by email

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Newsnight, You and Yours, Teachers v Government:70 Years An Official Complaint

rally in Leeds Museum March 2014
Someone helpfully tweeted the BBC Complaints link, so I wrote this to them. It cut off after however many words,  and I cut some out, but most of it got through. [It's not polished, but I did have lessons to plan and family to recognise, and it needed to be sent as soon as.]
I am writing to complain about the presentations on the NUT and teachers on Radio 4 and Newsnight over past 2 days. Initially I was pleased to see the teachers’ conference covered so prominently on Newsnight, but it was a story about the “left-wing” [as in a minority faction of unrepresentative union leaders] taking over NUT leadership, and was really a story suggesting that the union did not represent its membership, nor teachers in general. Suddenly in the end, we find that the takeover is unlikely, so what was the scare story for?
In You and Yours the education correspondent, Gillian Something tried to minimise the effects and influence of the last NUT strike, in particular making much of how little was 12% of schools was. Well this was thousands of schools and thousands of families affected. It’s all in the spin.
Then there was R4 Wednesday evening at 8pm with a bizarre account of teaching thro the ages [even called Teachers v Government, and in which only the Government got the speaking parts] This was portrayed as strong and intelligent celebrity secretary of states who insisted on their “reforms” against union wishes, portraying teachers as unprofessional, as not having the children’s interests at heart. There was no mention of educational theory thinking/philosophy, text books, teacher-training. At one point Baker was asked, "Were the teachers wrong to object to X", "Yes" he said. I think a teacher being asked to respond to this particular question might have been an interesting piece of balance. But no.
In all cases Gove, in particular, is portrayed as successful and strong, and his random ideas are referred to as “reforms”. One programme described teachers as always complaining. At least You and Yours got a few on to talk about the joys of the job.
The situation in education is extremely serious. The BBC owes it to parents who are not in the profession to explain this situation honestly and with integrity. The highly motivated staff who have been in it for years and will stay, will retire and/or die in harness. The next generation will look see how enthusiasm and professionalism is rewarded and not go there. [Payment by results! What a joke, what an insult!]
However, I was inspired by the Lenny Henry presentation on the OU – not exactly on at peak time!  
Victoria Jaquiss FRSA - Teacher, parent, blogger, writer, ex-governor