Sunday 17 March 2013

Labour must get behind the Gladstone Parents' campaign to defend our schools

Turmoil in the school system is increasing to such an extent that soon the word 'system' will not apply. This was one of the underlying themes at this weekend's AGM of the Anti-Academies Alliance.

The meeting coincided with news that Kensal Rise Primary as a result of its difficulties is now beginning a consultation on the possibility of having ARK Schools, which run the ARK Academy in Wembley and 17 others academies, as its sponsor. Meanwhile Copland High School, the only remaining local authority secondary school in Brent, is anxiously awaiting the outcome of its recent Ofsted inspection. Its performance table LINK position makes it vulnerable to be putting into a category leading to forced academisation. It is worth noting that Crest Boys' Academy is below Copland on several of the outcomes. The staff at Copland  are likely to put up a strong fight agaionst any attempt at forced academisation.

Hearing reports from around the country it became clear that one of the most important elements in the resistance of forced academisation was the role of the local authority. Where they strongly supported their local school AND showed that they had the capacity to support its improvement, the possibility of resisting forced academisation was strengthened.

I share the view of many parents and teachers involved at Salusbury Primary and Gladstone Park that Labour councillors and  Brent Council officers  have been pretty supine in the face of Gove's bullying policy. Promised letters to the DfE stating the local authority's confidence in Gladstone Park Primary's ability to improve with the support of the local authority have failed to materialise.

 The School Improvement Service is being cut back to its core functions and many of its non statutory, but important, functions are to be taken over by the untested Brent Schools Partnership. This is a consortium of schools that will be both a clearing house for bought-in services and a means of providing mutual support between schools. Headteachers point to the success of a similar grouping in Harrow.

There is now some doubt whether the core School Improvement Service retained by the Council will be fit for purpose with staff leaving ahead of the restructuring and some schools deciding not to buy into the additional services offered. It seems that Haringey Council was unable to guarantee that it had the resources to support Downhills Primary which led to its forced academisation - we don't want Brent schools to have the same experience.

One of the most powerful contributions on Saturday was from teaching staff at an academy who gave a vivid account of the bullying by management that had begun after a honeymoon period. They now feared so much for their jobs that they asked not to be named at the meeting. They told us that in the primary department of the all-through academy 75% of the teacher had left and half of those had done so without another job to go to.

Bullying now appears to run right through the system from the top with Michael Gove, down to individual staff rooms. Parents say it reaches their children in the classroom with the example of Year 5 children (9 and 10 year olds) threatened with being kept in at every break with additional work at home because their mock SAT test results did not meet school targets.

Bullying is clearly evident in the behaviour of DfE 'brokers' , usually private providers, who are employed by the DfE to 'manage' the conversion of primary schools into academies. This has been a key focus for campaigners and has won sympathetic coverage in the press.

One parent summed it up saying:
How can Harris (academy sponsor) come into our school and educate our children when they have so much contempt for the children's parents and families.
 Over and above the bullying theme and the telling personal anecdotes we must continue to emphasise issues of democracy, local accountability and back door privatisation.

The formation of a Parents Against Forced Academies was welcomed and there was a strong call for a nationwide campaign for education to save it from Gove's wrecking strategies along the lines of the  Save Our NHS campaign.

Here in Brent it would be good to see Muhammed Butt and councillors stop shilly-shallying and get behind Gladstone Park parents who have been left to fight for democracy and accountability all on their own.

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