Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The Great Education Struggle - Don't Be a Jumper

My letter in YEP on Tuesday [Our Education Struggle]. Not printed are the bits in italics.

Nicky Morgan, for no good reason is the government education secretary, using her position to carry out the wishes of the people who prop her up, not knowingly saying anything that demonstrates educational knowledge, makes sweeping statements and then says "The evidence speaks for itself".

She declared (and you never saw Michael Gove's lips move) that all schools are to become academies
. Well, the jury is firmly back in: that academisation depresses educational standards and causes great instability. Because a number of educationally successful Tory councils objected to the pointless shake up of their status quo, Ms Morgan has retreated from this position.

Nonetheless a number of headteachers and school governors (whose position should be only as critical friends and not as policy makers, by the way)  have taken it upon themselves to do Ms Morgan's dirty work for her, jumping before being pushed in the desperate hope that they will secure a better type of academisation.
But the government has neither time nor capacity to micro manage each of these self-inflicted privatisations. Academisation is immoral and destabilising to the school, to the local area - however the jumpers try to make it not so. Once the school is out of the system, and they leave local authority support [not control!], and they are seen as fair game for the privateers.
We, teachers, headteachers, governors, parents, students shouldn’t do the government’s dirty work for them, but fight every non-educational initiative all the way. Gove and Morgan will soon be history. When our grandchildren ask “What did you do in the Great Education Struggle [for a decent education, rich with the Arts and freedoms of choice]?” let’s say “We did not roll over!”
Every school that leaves the local authority’s family means one less music teacher, one less educational psychologist, one less bereavement counsellor, one less SEN advisor, and all the rest that we take so casually for granted.

Victoria Jaquiss
Education campaigner, teacher, ex-governor

Monday, 13 June 2016

Academisation is a misnomer. It offers nothing

A teacher friend just asked me what were my first three objections to academisation. Here are the first five, off the top of my head:
Objection 1 is philosophical and political. Education should be a public service, publicly accountable. Schools and headteachers who go into “academisation" often go in thinking they will minimise the damage, to jump before they are pushed [doing the government's dirty work for them] and then find it goes pear-shaped. No longer protected by the council , heads get sacked, and then the vultures arrive. Dedicated teachers who are prepared to take on the challenge that is headship find that their career ends at the point that they should have arrived.

Objection Number 2. 10%  of a school’s designated funding that usually comes out a school’s notional allocation, goes to the council which then runs its supportive education services. So when a school has a student with a hearing impairment, for example, specialist teachers are employed and available; when a school would like to try out a samba band for a year, tuition and instrument hire is available, and there is a specialist; when there is a crisis there is response [eg in the very sad case of Anne Maguire’s murder, trained bereavement counsellors were on hand]. If all schools in one city are academies, then these services can’t survive.

Objection Number 3. Recent history show us that time and time again, privately run schools  [misleadingly called academies] leads to corruption, not only to corruption but the lowering of standards. Staff morale dips, staff turnover increases, children lose that regular “I taught your sister” thing. Behaviour gets worse.; attainment dips, Desperate to save their school from ignomy, desperate to protect their pay, teachers who would never have willingly taught the barmier parts of the national curriculum, now find that being a "maverick" is a career threatening activity.

Objection Number 4. For the staff,  we now lose the “Burgundy book”. Teachers don’t have to be qualified, don’t have to be paid properly, and all those rights that teachers fought for over the years.

Objection Number 5. Academies don’t need to cooperate with other schools in the area. They may be stand alone; they may belong to a chain whose headquarters are in some distant town. Whatever, they now can set their holidays whenever they like, so parents can find that their children off school at different times [holiday planning, worktime planning?]. Schools compete for their intake. Isn't co-operation a better way?
Academisation is a misnomer; it has nothing to offer. And if teachers can't stand up for themselves and for their pupils and parents, then who can?

Monday, 21 March 2016

Academies. No such thing as a good one

My reply to Debra Kidd's article on academies.

I agree with a lot of this, but have two observations: 1. Good academies are not good, in my opinion, because they are academies and 2. Converter academies did not generally convert out of choice but because they were leaned upon by an oleaginous little twerp [i.e. a broker]. See my blog recounting the story of one local Leeds governor's experience of such a person:

and here is a link to Debra's article:

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Academies Should Choose their own Students. No.

In response to the bizarre suggestion that schools, or rather academies, can "manage their own admissions policy", i.e. choose the kids they want to get the grades that make them look good, here are a few livefyre responses:

I suppose that as the bribe money given to academies runs out the only tool left to academies to get faux 'improved' results is a corrupt admissions system.

Trobe's comments about the Office of the Schools Adjudicator looking at admissions criteria implies OSA looks at them all.  It doesn't.  It only acts if there is a complaint.  And these complaints would fall if the proposal to confine them only to those with an 'interest' (ie parents) rather than any member of the public who believes the law is being broken.
It would be better if all publicly-funded schools were covered by the same area-wide criteria which would cover even faith ethos schools.  This would ensure fairness and stop schools which are their own admission authorities from having admission criteria which doesn't comply with the Schools Admission Code.

One of the first things that happens when one of the Academy chains takes over a new school is that it cleans out those pupils who are not going to contribute to the claim that results have improved.  In areas where nearly all the secondary schools are academies, this can lead to huge stresses on the existing community schools.

In the "good old days" I remember that my school worked with other schools and sometimes swapped students to give a fresh start.  I very clearly remember one boy returning after a swap.  As an outsider at the new school he realised he had a choice: join the rogues or settle down.  He settled down and kept in touch for years, reporting back on his successes.

I know that not all managed moves worked as well as that but unless schools do work in cooperation it cannot ever work.

From the very beginning David Young Academy manipulated its admissions and also excluded more children than all,other Leeds schools put together, thus skewing the admissions for all other inner-city schools who were already taking more than their fair share of challenging children and their families. With League tables already oppressing us, this condemned schools, already in tricky circumstances, to a further inner- outer brain drain. My friend was on the exclusions appeals panel, and she despaired.
But in the end DY Academy has been found out and is now in Special Measures itself. a sort of Robespierre for our time. It all would be amusing if it were not for 1. The kids and 2. The terrible effects it has on education providers who are made to feel they are failing when they are not!

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,