Friday, 25 February 2011

South Leeds School or Academy: What's the Difference? What's the Point?

Nobody wanted South Leeds to be an academy; not the parents; not the staff; not the pupils; not even Education Leeds [at first], not the community; especially not the Ofsted team who had just concluded the school was making satisfactory progress since Matthew Murray and Merlyn Rees merged in 2004.

But a little bit of pressure from the government and Chris and Pat just rolled over. "Yes masters" they hissed, "we can do you academies. It's only Belle Isle. They'll do what we say. And we made such a mess of financing the new school, that they're in debt now. They'll have to do what we ask. And of course we'll do what you ask."

But it wasn't "only" Belle Isle. Parents and the community came out in their hundreds to say no. The vote went: 400 against the academy, 3 for it. But one of the 3 was Sir Paul. I guess some people are just more equal than others. And in September 2009, just five traumatic years after the merger of Merlyn and Matthew, just as South Leeds School was on the slowly up, School became Academy.

The budget deficit of £1,000,000 plus was wiped at a stroke at the expense of Leeds taxpayers.

Moving on to academic year 2010 to 2011. At this point the government, retrospectively set the challenge of 35% A-C including English and Maths, and South Leeds Academy scraped in at 30%. This, despite its liaison with super-school, Garforth, despite its fresh financial start.

But actually in the inner-city circumstances, is this not a success? It depends on how you say it. Only 30%, or achieved 30%.

Now this from Beeston Today, Jan 20 2011 : League tables focusing on exam marks do not always add up to the whole story, as Susan Press found out at South Leeds Academy. and the much-hyped “league tables” of academic excellence are not a level playing field, says a headteacher at one of the most challenged schools in Leeds.

It is at about this time i.e. the publication of the School League Tables [it's education, not a game, not football] that Michael Gove [you know the one: small bear, no brain] decided to increase the target number of grades to 35%. Just about all schools were achieving the previous targets, and he needed to find a reason to talk academy to even more schools. And keep up the double, nearly triple decade practice of dissing teachers.

Our three Leeds inner-city academies got less than 35% GCSEs A-C including English and Maths. The leafy-lane academy got got loads more. At some point the bears with limited intelligence will see the common denominator.

Poor old South Leeds Academy came 39th out of the 41 schools cited in the national statistics [the paper doesn't make this clear whether this is exam results or results plus attendance figures]. Damned if it does, amd damned if it doesn't. Headteacher Colin Bell told Beeston Today: “There’s no point pretending that we are where we want to be but we are taking serious steps to tackle the problem and making inroads.

Well, headteacher, you were making inroads before you were bribed/bullied into becoming an academy. The children are the same; the uniform is not; and the school is now missing those staff who left in protest, and they were people who had stayed for the kids, who had stuck the merger out, and seen it through, and who finally said: "I'm not working in an academy; or, I've always wanted to go to university; or, I've always planned to emigrate. " [and I have family and friends who fell into these categories, and at this school]

So, before any other school chooses the academy-will-improve-grades route, let's learn from mistakes, let's learn before Leeds becomes one bombsite of shattered schools, broken communities and the ex-best teachers either peddling their wares in the West Indies, or renewing their own education with a vow never to work in a school [aka academy] again.

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