Friday, 11 December 2015

DYA looses its grip. Is that Brilliant, Chris?

I originally wrote this in response to the news that GCSE  results at the David Young Academy, Leeds had dramatically dropped, and that observers declared behaviour a massive issue. Then I went to see Bloc Party in Manchester [cos without live music you can't breather, let alone think] , which somewhat halted my literary flow [cos sometimes with live music you just enjoy yourself] and didn't get it finished at the time. Now it's old news, and actually it's just repeating old news.

Well, the DYA was born out of the very much unwelcome closure and merger of two high schools nowhere near Seacroft - all boys Braimwood in Roundhay and mixed C of E Agnes Stewart in Burmantoffs. The Foxwood/East Leeds building was still standing on its firm foundations over the fields and in sight, but obviously what this area needed was a fortress of non-architecture, a lot of lime green paint and a escalator at the front entrance. And obviously construction companies need to earn a living!

From the off,  DYA then operated its “fair banding” policy, not a policy that was available to the schools it closed down. This involved selecting a mix of able and less able kids. And in one year DYA excluded more children than all other Leeds schools put together. A friend, on Appeals Panel at the time, despaired.
The excluded children were then farmed off to the historically unpopular inner-city schools who were regularly disparaged in the media by the late unlamented Education Leeds and its CEO [just as M Wilshaw is currently damning the whole of Bradford] who was enthusiastically facilitating the merger. He used the word, Brilliant a lot, and was only interested in how things looked, not how things were.
My interest in this of course was that I taught the kids of Seacroft and Gipton for a happy and challenging 16 years and would have stayed had not Foxwood School not been sacrificed on the altar of results to be closed and merged itself.

I knew and loved those rejected families. I taught those four boys who killed themselves the year after Foxwood closed. I went to David W's funeral, with his dad there in handcuffs, not so discreetly next to the policeman. All this new paint and data and all this publicly shaming students and schools and teachers for no end good at all.

What children need are well-respected and remunerated staff who are happy to spend their careers mostly in one place. When you are greeted with You taught my mum, you have saved a lot of time having to prove yourself . Trust and respect straight off, and from the staff’s side too.

What education needs is to be publicly owned and publicly run, and their buildings, staff and other assets not given away to entrepreneurs and private companies who are only in it for the business, the money and the power, and in some cases because they have an overwhelming belief in themselves. Who may or may not have experience and background in education.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Spelling v Out of Tuneness SWYP with txtspk

SWYP with txtspk

Spelling v Out of Tuneness

This is in response to a TES article October 2015.

As a seven-year old aspiring musician I was told by my class teacher that I was singing out of tune, and that, far from playing the Duchess at the summer concert, I was now not even allowed to be in it. Me, Dermott Mackie [his name sticks in my head after all these years] and one other boy – all out.
Devastated, crushed beyond belief, by being denied this form of expression, and excluded from the party, I continued mechanically with piano lessons for another 8 years, but, for creative expression and self-belief I turned to English – language and literature.
My next form teacher at Silver Street Primary, Drakes Cross, nr Birmingham was Mr Parker; he said I could be the next George Elliott. I had no idea who he [!] was, but I knew this a compliment. I blossomed under his care, and st about learning by heart all of The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna. [“Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note . . “] which he made me recite , one verse at a time every Friday morning, to  the rest of the class; moreover he obviously got the class to listen to me.
We, as a family, suddenly moved from the countryside in the Midlands to inner-city Leeds before I got to Verse Five. I never did learn any more of how Sir John was laid to rest, but I did correspond with Mr Parker for a couple of years after that.
I devoted a couple of decades to being good at English, one of them as an English teacher. I was a naturally good speller, and am still easily upset at “seperate” and “definate” and other such abominations. Initially I fell for the old justification that correct spelling would help in some way with understanding and derivation [had spent four very happy years studying Latin]. But as an English teacher at Foxwood School, I watched too many children struggling with spelling, and as a mother, suffered alongside Daisy as she experienced her dyslexia.
Doing Languages at Uni I contemplated the great consonants shifts, read about the standardisation of the English spelling. Studying other foreign languages, generally phonetic, I realised that English spelling wasn't scientific law of nature, but a person-made barrier to communication.
A happy and rather wonderful accident occasioned my rebirth as a music teacher, and I was so lucky to have this second chance. But I still loved words and literature, and I still cared.
Words on the page are really only spoken words written down, just as musical notation is only a way to know, help remember or learn the sounds. 
Daisy & Alice at Leeds Corn Exchange
When I, so surprisingly,  re-entered the world of music; trained myself to teach music, I met loads of people who couldn’t handle out-of-tuneness, especially on my soon-to-be new chosen instrument – steelpans. And now after a decade or so, I can’t handle it either. However, I still can’t stand misspelt words but I know it’s almost an affectation. And the more I engage with textspeak the more liberated I feel.
The moral of this story is several. Here’s two:
1. No child should ever have their musical future destroyed by being out of tune early on.
2. "Correct" spelling is not important. Full stop. No child should be denied their academic future because of dyslexia or anything of that sort. [Daisy went on to get her degree twenty years after she left school, where she had been rubbished by snobbish academia].

Saturday, 24 October 2015

'There has been an unprecedented attack on our wonderful profession'

I, and many others loved this letter. As they say, He is only saying what others are thinking.

       but don't have the courage.

'There has been an unprecedented attack on our wonderful profession' - one primary head's open letter to his MP

8th October 2015 at 17:40

Colin Harris
This week, Colin Harris, headteacher at Warren Park Primary School in Havant, Hampshire, received a letter from his local MP offering to visit the school. Mr Harris wrote the open letter below in response.

Dear Sir,
Thank you for your letter dated 2 October offering to visit Warren Park Primary School.
Unfortunately, I have real reservations about such a visit on several levels.
Under the coalition government and ongoing to the present time, there has been an unprecedented attack on our wonderful profession. I have worked for and supported this profession for the last 37 years in what I hope is considered to be a successful way.
Under Mr Gove [the previous education secretary, Michael Gove], we saw the rise of divisive policies which ensured we created true isolation for teaching. These policies have led to thousands of teachers wanting to leave teaching with little hope of replacing either their number or their quality and experience.
My views on academies, free schools, lack of funding, assessment, Ofsted, pay rises, curriculum reform and the demise of local authorities will, of course, be different to yours. However, does it really matter? We have no forum to actually get people to listen to us, as we are now a true political football to be knocked around for the pleasure of both the media and the government at the expense of the future of our children.
I for one am fed up with it and so thank you for showing an interest, but I have to decline the visit until such time as the government really and truly cares about the future of education.
Yours sincerely,
Colin Harris,

Sunday, 6 September 2015

The Platitudinous One let loose on Any Questions

This is the letter that I wrote to Any Answers, but forgot to send:

Your panel appeared to know very little about the mechanics of education, and the disaster that academisation has brought. It is not a freedom for educational innovation. It is an open invitation for business and rich people to meddle in something that they have have no qualifications or professional knowledge of.

 And the act of giving life to a child does not make a parent an educational specialist.  Parents are partial, and they are biased, and what is good for one child may not! In fact is unlikely to  suit another. 

Nick Gibb talked at length about nothing at all. It was one platitude after another. He judged schools in abstract terms with these stupid Ofsted labels. But schools are full of children, individuals whose role in life seems only to be part of a number of students who achieve an arbitrary academic goal. 

Children are delicate vulnerable sentient beings who need a good listening to before anyone inputs anything. 

And London schools improved because of the London challenge. Inventing "academies" was, with help from crony, Adonis, Tony Blair's second crime. They have never, per se, improved anyone's life chances. They make some rich people even richer. 

Monday, 4 May 2015

Making a Profit from Education: Buzzers, Gates and Locks

Well, after academies, PFI, free schools, there are many other little interesting mechanisms pickpocketing the parents' purses.

This one started as a result of an awful shooting in a Scottish school. I was a parent-governor at Royal Park Primary School Leeds at the time, and like all governing bodies everywhere we debated security.

By this time I was also, by trade a peripatetic music teacher, and on my travels around Leeds I began noticing the first signs of new buzzers, gates and locks. Undoubtedly they would make it harder for the criminal to enter their schools but they were taking their toll on the length of my school day, and on my patience.  And I couldn't help but think that the makers of buzzers, gates and locks were clearly clearing up here.

One day it was absolutely pouring with rain, I was standing outside School X, failing miserably to attract Reception. Beside me was the van-driver trying to deliver his parcels to the school. I was  irritated, getting wetter. As was the van-driver. "I've got 67 more drops today" he informed me. The thought of standing in the rain outside another 4 schools was irritating me. 67! It didn't bear thinking about.

Eventually Reception spoke through the intercom. We told them who we were and we were let in. We could have been anyone. Some schools did get video links, but very few.

Having sold nearly all the schools new buzzers, gates and locks, the companies then turned their thoughts to signing-in machines. if you have ever been embarrassed by your passport photo, take a look at these. Having finally got past the remote controlled gate you now face a machine which invites you to enter a few personal details, and may or may not print off a sticky badge for you. The worst of these leave glue on your jacket for weeks, probably best to attach them to the ID badge that you already. This badge has a photo and declares you work for the Council and have been CRB/DBS- checked. But the school now wants you to prove that you have just walked in through Reception.

And some schools are so pleased that the machine saves their staff time checking their visitors and regularly visiting teachers, you find the staff don't even look up to greet you. I would have thought that, at this stage, eye contact would be wise. Well it would make you feel welcome. Anyone could walk past claiming to be the peri.

Two things were happening simultaneously:

1.In the name of security, expensive impersonal time-wasting machines were totally failing to protect the staff and children inside the building.

2.Those of us who for years had begun to consider ourselves part of the school team, now had a label to wear and the label says Visitor [you are not one of us].

I don't mind wearing this badge when I do indeed visit schools irregularly, but I feel that the makers of the time-wasting signing-in machines have also created a nice little wedge between the schools and the local education department workers [music peris, signers, speech therapists etc], and it is not appropriate. We all should be working as a team in the education of our children. The privateers are creating barriers.

I debate this regularly with my schools. I am happy to sign in so that, in the event of a fire, there is  record of how many people there are on the premises. Some schools accept that I am indeed part of their team and are happy that my Council ID is ID enough. Some still argue that this was a safety requirement in the case of a fire. I have yet to work out how that would work.

Meanwhile, back at Royal Park, Headteacher Extraordinaire, Rita Samuel declared that all parents and other members of the local community were welcome on and inside school premises every morning and afternoon, and there would be no barriers. As governor I had argued against her view but I quickly saw that I had been wrong. A little trust goes a long way. [And in the end was it not the insecurity of the gun laws rather than the insecurity of our gates and locks and buzzers that did the damage?]


Sunday, 26 April 2015

How PFI New-Builds Drain the funds from our School System

When the late unlamented Education Leeds began its cruel and pointless destruction of Leeds schools, I thought, Blimey, have they got shares in construction companies? But I dismissed the thought because, in my naivety, I didn't think that the powers-that-be would work like that.

I thought that they were self-obsessed incompetents who seized upon this or that most recent piece of "educational" research in order to please their masters and mistresses, who were actually also self-obsessed incompetents, but further up the food chain.

Then after the devastation that was the closure of my beloved Foxwood, which seemed to involve a lot of money spent on consultants, the refurbishing of Cross Green to turn it into Copperfields, and a long-winded re-organisation and rehiring of staff, plus the design of and the making of and the purchase of new uniforms, new signage, new this and that with the new logos. . . . .

 . . . . Well after that [that colossal and pointless waste of money in order to save money] I developed an interest in these matters. Over the following years,  I went to just about all the "consultation" meetings in Leeds for closure and mergers. And heyho! How they seemed to involve demolition and rebuilds.

And worse, by now they had invented PFI, so the new builds came with very long and very expensive strings attached: Company A would design (well!) and build the new school. But having kindly put the money up for the building, the company now charges school rent for the next 25 or 30 years after which they may or may not still own it. After that the school may or may not belong to itself. And, and I'm only guessing here, the roof will probably still leak.

And so PFI, also draining the NHS of all it can get, sets about plundering education. Leeds schools are paying rent to shareholders in far-flung countries while having to make TAs and teachers in the UK redundant. Aided and abetted by Ofsted - but that is for another blog and another day.

Now this "rent " was not money that the school was used to paying, and it was not already catered for in the budget. The hook was that a "decaying" old building would be replaced at no initial expense to the school with a brand new one. The fact is that the old buildings were not so unfit for purpose . . .

To make matters even more sinister, the ancillary staff who managed the building such as caretakers and cleaners would no longer be employed by the head and the governors but by the construction firm. The incomes from letting out any rooms for music centres or sports clubs now went directly to construction firms and its shareholders; the inconvenience all rests on the school. If a music teacher wants to run an after-school practice in her or his music room, s/he must book it. What!

Well, we in Leeds have seen enough of these new builds to know that "building schools for the future" was no more than a nice little epithet. I have never forgotten the day that I was at a governors' meeting with members of Education Leeds. They were joking about how many cranes you have at any one time on the Leeds skyline. A shiver ran down my spine! They were proud. They thought their power amusing.

                                                   *  *  *
 I was at the seasonal occasion a few years back when Chris Edwards of Education Leeds told us that this would be his last Christmas at Leeds, and added he hoped we would get all we wanted for Christmas. I openly opined that he had already just done that. But it was too late for Royal Park, Leopold, Askett Hill, Agnes Stewart, Braimwood, Parklands, and the other thirty plus Leeds schools that his improbable regime had put an end to.

Now it seems the population is growing after all and we need some new builds. I wonder how they will be funded!

Monday, 6 April 2015

Academies, the dismantling of our state education system?

My guest blog for John Baron in Leeds Guardian in 2010. And things have only got worse.

Opinion: Academies, the dismantling of our state education system?
Guest blogger and Leeds schools campaigner Victoria Jaquiss looks at the increasing role academies play in education and asks: Are teachers the new miners?
Pupils protest at Primrose High School in March. The school could be closed and turned into an academy Photograph: John Baron/
[It was, soon after]

Friday 18 June 2010 11.30 BSTLast modified on Friday 31 October 201420.54 GMT

Chapter One: What is an Academy and how does it manifest itself?

An academy is a school, with a pretentious title. Full-stop.

No, make that a comma. It's a school, with a pretentious title, and with a bit more money to play around with than other schools.

Academies aren't really anything. They have no vision or educational philosophy. This makes fighting the introduction of academies into the educational world like fighting jelly.

The previous ("Labour") government thought they would like to replace "failing" schools with academies. So just in the neighbourhoods where children were most vulnerable, and most in need of some extra social work and care and understanding, now they have boot camps, blazers and ties, the loss of previous identity (ie its name), the loss of its headteacher, and the loss of staff escaping a system they don't approve of.

They are force-fed extra GCSEs and BTECS (two GCSEs for one exam) – and so blatantly playing the system that nobody outside education really believes they're doing it.

The new Conservative administration has decided that the "outstanding" schools can opt out of local authority control, and become academies. And opt out of national curriculum, by which they have just been judged to be outstanding. So that's their raison d'etre gone then. Or their raison d'outstanding.

And shame on the new Lib-Dems in government for going along with academies.

In the space of three or four years academies have gone from being a punishment for the "worst performing" schools to being a reward for the best performing ones.

Chapter Two: How is an Academy an improvement on a school?

Well, it's not. A year or so ago, Price-Waterhouse-Cooper (Marxist-consultants-not) concluded that, on balance and on average, academies made no difference to overall standards, and where particular institutions have improved on their immediate predecessors it is usually down to a change in intake.

This is down to a process improbably called "fair-banding" in which academy heads are allowed to select their intake to create a social and intellectual mix, which may result in local children being denied a place at their nearest school.


Chapter Three: What is the point of becoming an academy?

So, if an academy is a meaningless concept with no academic rigour behind, that doesn't make any difference to overall "standards", what is the point of it?

There's no point.

Chapter Four: How can we stop the damage happening to our education system?

Irony and understatement are good weapons. And presentation of facts without spin.

I could write for years but you wouldn't read it. Here's a story.

In the autumn term 2009, Education Leeds presented City of Leeds School with three possible academy sponsors.

Each potential sponsor put its argument forward for why and how they should be allowed to run our school. Their arguments were all, in my opinion, laughable, and we the staff, saw all of them off. Our reward was to be threatened with closure, instead. That'll learn us!

Chapter Five: What are academies really about?

They are about the dismantling of our state education system. They are about destabilising and demoralising the work force, and, ultimately lowering the standards of teaching.

Teaching was once one of the most secure jobs in the UK. Many of us entered that profession, wanting to do something socially worthwhile, accepting relatively lower pay for our degrees in exchange for security and altruism.

You could only sack teachers if you close their school. You can't lower their pay, or change their working conditions in situ. I think you can see where this is all going. And I don't really know why.

Perhaps it's fear of the outspoken teachers, who didn't say "SATs, league tables, CRB checks for visiting authors – hmm, good idea". Fear of the teaching unions, fear that we will teach children to think for themselves, if they don't fill up our days with yet another new government initiative.

The teachers are just the new miners.

And I really am stopping now. Thank you, if you have been, for reading this guest blog.

Victoria Jaquiss writes her Leeds Schools Campaigner blog. She has actively opposed plans to turn Primrose high in Burmantofts and Parklands Girls in Seacroft into academies, as well as fighting against plans to close City of Leeds School in Woodhouse.