Archive for the ‘Christleton High School’ Category

The Truth about Academy Schools. Public Meeting Chester. The verdict.

Last night’s public meeting at the Mollington Banastre hotel with representatives of the NUT, the NASWT, ATL and UNISON went well. I was speaking as a writer and a parent and promised I would make the transcript of my talk available on this blog – for those who couldn’t make it – or for those who want to add to and continue with the discussion.

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I’ve been asked to give a short talk. Initially I chose ‘The potential impact of academies on parents and children’ as a heading and then quickly realised how ridiculous a title it was – more like a dissertation… so let’s narrow  this down to:

‘Towards an analysis of the potential impact of academies on parents and children’.

This title kind of implies that we’re on the way but we don’t have all the answers…(if like me you’re a stressed out parent and you nod off during this talk – you can catch up with it later on www.parentsguidetoeyfs.wordpress.com

I wrote a chapter for a book on education last autumn. The book is “Too Much Too Soon – Early Learning and the Erosion of childhood’. The chapter was called  “A Parent’s Challenge to New Labour’s Early Years Foundation Stage”.

I described how a new parent (or a parent who is new to a particular school) may not know how the school system (and the individual school) works. This is also highly relevant to any discussion on academies – parents are subjected to a great deal of propaganda – about the system itself and about systems-within-the-system such as the Early Years Foundation Stage).

Where does this propaganda come from? In simple terms it is created by

a) The government

b) The government and businesses sending PR and targeted press releases to the media which some  journalists no longer have the time to analyse properly as they should. Funding for investigative journalism is increasingly difficult to find.

c) Local authorities (following the government line)

d) And schools themselves (websites, PR) e.t.c.

Of course parents are savvy and inventive, they were not born yesterday – but many of us nonetheless find ourselves in an extraordinary vulnerable position as far as sending our children to a particular school is concerned. Personally I feel you never really know what a school is like until your child has been there for a good while or until you start to work there yourself, as a member of staff.

I’ve been asking parents about academies locally and writing about it. I spent a day in the company of parents from Shore fields Academy as they protested at the University of Chester and at Chester Town Hall. You’ll find an account of what they had to say on the blog mentioned above – I heard many different voices – most of them said the same thing: “There was no consultation” – “Not one person wanted this” – and having lived through the experience of seeing their school turned into an academy one parent summed things up: “What we are seeing now in our society is institutionalised corruption”.

Our daughter is six and she attends xxx primary school. I would not have said when she started there that it was a good school. Our current headmistress with whom I have had a great many interesting (and often difficult) discussions about education – together with her team – is succeeding in improving the school.

When my daughter started there some years ago – parents were kept at a distance – outside the gate – quite literally even when it was pouring with rain we were no allowed in to the school gates at pick up time. We didn’t even have a parent teacher association. There was a lot of bullying.

And then the culture started to change. School staff asked parents for their opinions, parents took part in all manner of events, maths days, school garden project, people started to relax more and work together more there were visible improvements. Parents teachers and head navigated their way through the painstaking process of forming a PTA and in the first year won a national award from the National Association for PTAs. I mention all this as in academy schools systems of governance in contrast appear to be undemocratic.

I’m not going to reiterate the detailed and excellent arguments put forward by the unions. I’ve noticed that some assume that I am against all academies and free schools per se. I’m not sure I am. What I’m saying is more pragmatic than that something more like “if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it”.

State schools can work and they do work. I believe that as long as parents work together with the school, as long as their suggestions  are really listened to, taken up AND mechanisms are in place for criticisms to be listened to and parents are not marginalised – they can be effective and happy places. Yes, we need to change govt. policies and I will never agree with some aspects of the state school system as it stands for example sending school to school at four is far too early (the arguments on the one are in the book I mentioned – fellow co-contributors include Barry Sheerman the former chair of the government’s education committee and many international childhood experts.

As a parent the thought that our state school might be turned into an academy is dreadful. As is the thought that when my daughter is ready to start secondary schools there will be no state schools left – only academies to ‘choose’ from.

As a writer I have received testimonies from parents (and teachers) who are experiencing unethical behaviour in academies locally. Here are some examples:

– One new teacher in an academy had been working for free  for six months (the equivalent of a workfare scheme in education).

– Examples of teachers completing student’s work themselves in order to meet targets

– Examples of classroom assistants being used as substituted teachers for project work inappropriately.

– Putting children with attention span problems in a 2 to 3 hour lesson

– Financial mismanagement – which favoured senior management salaries whilst leaving teaching staff without the necessary resources to teach effectively (no equipment for sessions e.. books)

– Academies cannot be put into special measures – so make an academy which fails and you are effectively creating a failing academy that can’t be failed. (N.B after having given this talk, someone queried this – so I would be glad of any comments to clear this one up).

– There are huge problems with behavioural issues – it is difficult enough to tackle bullying in a state school which has access to local authority resources but without local authority anti-bullying resources – the problem can get worse. One teacher in an academy said: “As a subject lead I experience some incidents/problems with my classes. however I am constantly interrupted by incidents in the department. I do not blame staff for his as the pupils have nowhere else to go – The punishment for verbal abuse and physical assault in totally unacceptable as i is for repeat behaviour and escalation in behaviour. Levels of abuse are tolerated, pupils are openly defiant there is complete confusion over roles and responsibilities.

I’m sorry that more parents from our school were not able to join the discussion tonight. I often think that most of the activity around a public meeting happens by word of mouth – when people go home  and tell their friends (at the school gate). Some are double booked we have a PTA meeting tonight.

Having spoken about the positive sides of PTA’s I need to add a word of warning as far as academies are concerned. There is a degree of pressure right now to reduce the role of PTA’s to fundraising and to try to exclude topics from the agenda that are perceived to be ‘political’ or ‘ideological’. We’ve come up against this issue quite a number of times in ours. One example: we objected on religious, ideological and political grounds to our child being asked to ‘dress to impress’ on the day of the Royal Wedding – and were promptly told by a fellow PTA parent that if we didn’t like it we should ‘go to Libya’.

PTA’s need to be aware that ‘dissent’ is the cornerstone of democracy itself. The model PTA constitution offered by the National PTA association states that PTA’s exist not only to fund raise but also their primary purpose is to ‘further the children’s education’. To my mind this should include a discussion of the wider influences on schools such as academies. Schools have a legal obligation to actively further the involvement of parents in their children’s education.

I believe that academisation, the setting up of free schools locally and nationally will not ‘raise standards’ but lead to a deterioration in the essence of what education is truly about – it will lead to an over emphasis and further obsession with target culture.

Education should be about asking questions and finding answers, investigation, creativity and yes, in a positive sense – discipline .

Education should be about substance and NOT spin.

My other half, my daughter and I are proud to be long-standing members of Cheshire West against the Cuts. I have to say apart from being extremely hard working, the people involved are compassionate and caring. I mention this fact for a reason. We need to fight the cuts on all fronts and I believe that truth and the moral imperative is on our side. At a packed meeting of Chester Disabled People Against the Cuts my husband Richard Atkinson described what the government is doing to essential services as ‘evil’. He is an atheist, but his speech would not have been out of place in my Wirral and Chester  Quaker Meeting.

He said the government cuts in the NHS health and social care were ‘evil’ because they were prompting people to accept the idea that is  somehow alright to stop seeing people as human beings at all. That it is okay to judge every adult and every child – according to whether or not they can do certain tasks – and in doing so reduce human beings to a set of ‘outcomes’.

There is much more to say about this obviously than is possible in ten minutes, but the truth about academies I believe is that they will do nothing to reverse this trend.

It’s really not that complicated. The following quote came from a resident of Haringey not connected with education.

“If  you have a flourishing school and if parents and teachers are happy with it, what is Mr Gove’s problem? It is his horrible Etonian ideology that wishes to privatise education so that his mates can get a cut: same with the NHS really.”

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On the Free School Primary planned for Chester Cathedral (and shortcomings).

Okay I know, I haven’t written on this blog for a good while. Excuse being writer’s block brought on by various events, some or all of which were highly political. Also, being a bit of a blog perfectionist – posts sometimes appeared disparate and unconnected with each other. It made sense to me – but as far as the readership goes – I’ve got some joining-up to do perhaps?

It all seems to come together when you look at the Free School Primary planned for Chester Cathedral and the questions which no-one seems to be asking (yet).

The first question one might ask is: “How does the planning of such a school impact on other primaries in the area?”. (West Cheshire). Let’s just attempt a draft answer shall we? It seems to be the case that if the plan goes ahead less money will be available for other schools in the area. I have sources which indicate this is the case – so will update this blog post perhaps to include some of these.

The second question – most relevant to an early years blog – is – how will the (flawed) Early Years Foundation Stage be implemented in this school (?). I’m assuming  since the EYFS is ubiquitous and statutory requirement that this will be the case – unless the school plans to apply for an exemption…

Question number three: How did it happen that the front page of our local newspaper featured a report on the Chester Cathedral Free School Plan – which resembled a paid-for advertisement for such a school, rather than a journalistic analysis of whether or not such a school would be a good idea? See the Chester Chronicle’s Ambitious plans for first ever free school in Chester.

And question number five: Bearing in mind that it is Wednesday today – and I have only just got wind of a ‘public consultation event’ – scheduled for next Monday at the Chester Cathedral site –

(University cathedral free school Community Consultation event Monday 6th February 7pm 11 Abbey Square) how can this event apparently arranged at short notice – and the lack of adequate publicity offer the general public a chance for any really democratic consultation?

Question Six: How does the Chester Cathedral free school plan connect with the three-quarters-of-a- million pounds scandalously wasted on a proposed (and botched) – ‘improvement scheme’ described on this site? (See:  Chester Cathedral Free School background and history).

And last but not least: How does the Chester Cathedral Free School proposal connect with Michael Gove’s announcements this week? http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/video/2012/jan/31/michael-gove-education-standards-video

More questions than answers…anyone out there – wish to comment?

Shorefields Anti-Academy Protest hits Chester Tomorrow.

As yet, not many local people in Chester are aware of the involvement of the University of Chester in the drive to create Academy schools.

Since the University of Chester has been instrumental in propping up a pro-academy infrastructure in terms of, I believe, finance and training – protestors from Shorefields School are taking their protest to the streets of our city tomorrow. The final arrangements for the protest against Shorefields being taken over by Chester University are as follows:

Because of the difficulties involved in marching across Chester protestors will hand a petition in at the University between 11.30 and 12.00.

They will then travel across town by coach to give a petition to the Bishop of Chester at the Cathedral at approximately 12.30.

Parents, friends, trade unionists and anyone else wishing to support the protest are welcome to attend and show their solidarity. Judging from local press coverage – the community in and around Shorefields have campaigned long and hard against being turned into an academy. It seems vital to support this protest and hear what people on the ground have to say about it. Who knows, your school might be next:

See also: Protest at Shorefields to stop the school being turned into an academy 

And: Why we oppose academies (A briefing from the anti-academies alliance).

Public Meeting. Ellesmere Port Civic Hall. Cheshire West Against the Cuts. 16th. March, 2011.

Cheshire West Against the Cuts. Public Meeting Ellesmere Port Civic Hall. 16th. March, 2011.

What started out as a quiet week last week quickly became public and intensely political. Since my daughter was born five years ago – I’d scaled down public appearances and focussed on building a strong virtual presence. This blog has attracted  the attention of national mainstream press in recent months and years as regular readers will know. In touch with the Facebook group of Cheshire West and Chester Against the Cuts I was aware of a planned Public Meeting in Ellesmere Port.

The panel line-up featured Peter Middleman Regional Secretary of the PCS, Paul Nowak – Trades Union Council Head of Organising and Roger Bannister of Unison National Executive Committee (Chair: Kenny Cunningham West Cheshire Trades Council) but no women speakers. I made what I hoped was a jokey comment online about this, but then I had to put my money where my mouth was, muck in and join the line-up. With existing commitments I had less than half an hour to prepare. Don’t think I did too badly though as the audience of over a hundred people clapped at one point.

I deliberately introduced myself as having two jobs. One of them being a member of the ‘largest, non-unionized workforce in the U.K.’ – (mothers) which evoked some smiles of acknowledgement from the female delegates at the meeting.

There is a lot to say about what women are experiencing right now and I understand Merseyside Public Sector Alliance have supported the creation of a special women’s section to address the particular problems that women are facing. They say: “Women are two thirds of the work force in the public sector, often in part-time work. Job cuts will mean women and their families will face more poverty and inequality. With 500,000 public sector jobs to be axed as a result of the government’s spending review, it is likely that at least 325,000 of those losing their jobs will be women. In local authorities which will take the biggest cut – women make up 68 per cent of the workforce. The trade union movement needs to organise strike action to defend our jobs, pay and conditions”.)

Regular readers might be wondering why I’m picking these issues up on a blog entitled “A Parent’s Guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage”. Backtracking somewhat and in the interests of joined-up thinking – the Early Years Foundation Stage is a statutory and compulsory curriculum introduced by the last New Labour government for children between birth and five. During the past two years I’ve tracked the impact of this curriculum on parents, teachers and children and become part of a social movement which realises : some aspects of this curriculum have been useful, but as a minimum the compulsory nature of the learning and development requirements needs to change – there is an urgent need for reform. Not only does this type of measuring take up a great deal of time and money – it distorts children’s learning and the way in which children’s abilities are perceived (see previous blog posts) putting unnecessary pressure on children, and in many instances setting them up to fail before they have even started formal education.

But the compulsory EYFS learning and development requirements and the profiling in the year in which children turn five are only two of the forces putting unnecessary pressure on children, parents, carers and teachers. There is also the government’s recent attempt to introduce league tables for five year olds on a school-by-school basis AND the highly controversial reading test for six (and five year olds). All of England’s teaching unions have come out in opposition to this test see this link. Teaching Unions Oppose Reading Test. All of these measures have two things in common:

a) They have been much-criticised by education practitioners and experts internationally AND – they are costing us MILLIONS. We don’t know how many millions exactly as the government have refused to tell us (see my Freedom of Information Act Queries) – although we can make a fair guess judging by the huge sums paid out to education consultants and companies hired by local authorities to deliver such services) and we do know that the pilot scheme for the reading test alone will cost a quarter of a million pounds. Common sense tells us that this money could be far better spent elsewhere. AND

b) Such measures exert pressure downwards on the youngest of children and inevitably foster an environment where the dreaded ‘teaching to the test’ becomes more common.

So – at the meeting I spoke for ten minutes on the international campaign to “Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds” . The campaign met with such resonance I believe because people were morally outraged that a government would target small children in this way with such an inappropriate measure. Strength of public feeling and publicity led to the government withdrawing the plan quite quickly, although I’ve left the petition in place as an ‘insurance policy’ if you like because I believe the government will try to implement this measure again perhaps later in the year. 

 What astounds me is how far removed the present government seems to be from people’s lives. At the Ellesmere Port Meeting I made several points which illustrated this.

Cheshire West Against the Cuts. Public Meeting Ellesmere Port 16th. March, 2011

 Firstly the latest news on cuts in nursery places. If you are a parent with a child under five who cannot find or afford a nursery place – then with the best will in the world you are limited in what you can do as far as paid work is concerned. Basta.

 Secondly – there are the impending cuts in disability living allowances. My Other Half  has worked in Welfare Rights for thirty years currently for the Council who have seen one thousand job cuts already – as I mentioned at the meeting – he was awarded the Employee of the Year Award a few years ago and his team likewise gained several awards. I went to the awards ceremony and in the awards ceremony brochure he and his team were highly praised for the millions of pounds they had brought into the area with their work. Other Half filled me in on the frightening scenario we are now facing – and I read out his comments at the meeting:

“A quarter of all the government’s spending cuts are coming to benefits and tax credits. It has already started in October with cuts to help with mortgages causing more homelessness…it continues in April with deep cuts to housing benefits and tax credits which mainly affect people in work on low incomes (including our own family)..

 …it continues in April 2012 – with the abolition of long term incapacity benefit – which will affect a billion disabled people who will lose £90 a week or so from April 2012 – where at least twenty five per cent fo disabled people are going to lose their disability living allowance..(including me).”

 Thirdly – in the meeting I tried to illustrate the impact of impending or completed cuts in provision for children with special educational needs. For this I referred to Guerrilla mum’s blog. Guerilla mum and journalist Ellen Power has two children with special educational needs and has written an excellent book about “Surviving the special needs jungle”.

Ellen tells us: “I have commented regularly about the limp and woolly provision currently available to unstatemented children with SEN through the school action and school action plus categories of the graduated response process of our current system for meeting SEN. Yet the new system promises to scrap these classifications replacing them with a new tier of provision. Children will be ‘lumped together’ in this category, with some receiving pastoral care because they are disadvantaged, and others receiving support for SEN through ‘better teaching’ and schools sharing best practice. Also, the voluntary sector will be brought in to carry out so far unspecified roles. Remember, this new system will be implemented by health and education services that have undergone savage cuts and will draw heavily on untrained support from the voluntary sector. I don’t believe it is possible to improve provision for children with SEN and disabilities by cutting specialist services and replacing these with an untrained voluntary sector”. 

Cheshire West Against the Cuts. Public Meeting Ellesmere Port. 16th. March, 2011

The debate was lively and constructive – impossible to go into detail on all the issues covered – so this is a subjectively selective report of mine. I came across some astounding new information at the meeting via some NUT members:

The government is allegedly giving schools £20,000 each for simply considering academy status. If this is true it’s no wonder that consultation processes with parents and PTA’s are not what they should be.

Also heard from some former students of Christleton High School which has gained academy status. The price of school trips they said has already shot up – presumably making life even more difficult for children from low income families.

 As well as the huge demonstration which takes place this Saturday in London – there are many other ways of continuing to make your voice heard. Google March Against the Cuts. It’s the largest TUC backed march for decades. Sat 26th. And after the march it seems we’re going to need to keep making our voices heard.

Last but not least, there were several Labour Councillors at the meeting. They met with some criticisms of Labour’s seemingly ineffectual stance to oppose the cuts.

Coming soon to a school near you? Academies and the anti-academies alliance.

The Chester and District Standard reported today that the anti-academy alliance group at a local secondary school (Christleton High School) have lost their battle to stop their school becoming an academy.

David Robinson a spokesperson for the Cheshire West Anti-Academies campaign has been quoted in the Chester Chronicle. He said he was ‘not surprised but disappointed’ by the move…“I am clearly disappointed with the outcome because it’s been done with indecent haste with no public consultation, largely behind closed doors.”

“It’s anti-democratic and threatens the stability of our  schools in future.”

Mr Robinson, whose two children both attended the school, expressed dismay the school would neither officially confirm nor deny its decision on Friday despite it being ‘a public decision, a public building and public money’.

He added: “It makes it difficult to plan a decent range of schools for local kids because if one school leaves local authority control it starts to make its decisions on its own without considering other young children in the broader area.”

Parents should rightly be concerned about the impact such a move will have on the funding and organisation of their own schools as well as what effect this move will have on early years provision.

There are things we can do to access more information:

Firstly follow these links to access the anti-academies alliance website with information about schools which have successfully fought an academy plan and won. There is also a list of schools which are putting academy plans forward right now:

Anti-academies alliance

Secondly – if you can – get yourself along to tonight’s public meeting to be held in the Chester Guild Hall on Watergate Street at 7.30 p.m. CH1 2LA

The Meeting is organised by the West Cheshire TUC and marks the creation of the Cheshire West Against the Cuts” – they say:

“West Cheshire has called a public meeting to launch the campaign to defend our jobs and services. Join us to fight against the cuts in local jobs and services and defend our community. Everybody is welcome bring a friend”.

Here is the TUC North West website link:

http://www.proudtoservethepublic.org.uk/

and one of the Chester Chronicle reports on Christleton High School and the Academy Plan.