Saturday, 15 June 2013

Michaela Free School fails to convince teachers or the local community

Apparently there were only about 40 people at the Michaela Free School meeting today and this included the Michaela representatives and parents with their children and members of a church group. Some were from outside of Brent, including Harrow and Islington.

Katharine Birbalsingh made a short presentation, comparing her school with Eton (!), and to people's then moved away without any Q&A session.

Cllr Michael Pavey, lead member for children and families on the Brent Council Executive, has expressed opposition to the Michaela Academy.

The Brent teacher unions have made  the following statement about the Michaela proposal:
As you know the education unions as a whole are against the 'free' school movement as they are designed to take money away from local schools and local authorities so leading to the break up of state education. There are clear proposals by this Government that such schools will be run for profit as the Breckland 'free' school already is.

We are also concerned that 'free' schools open the way for charitable foundations to profit by stealth through the payment of inflated salaries and bonuses to these who control those foundations.

The money already spent on Ms Birbalsingh's unsuccessful 'free' school proposals for south London are being kept from the public despite requests under FoI. Further public money is now being spent in Brent, again with no accountability. It is our understanding that in January 2012 a Freedom of Information request was made to the Department of Education about how long approval for the school was to be held open. The response was that normally, following approval, it would be expected that the school would open within a year i.e. January 2013 at the latest. So we do not understand how this new proposal can be linked to the first and question the propriety of the DfE and others in this case.

The details of the proposed school are still vague and contradictory and this makes it difficult to make specific responses. You have had a couple of years to put in the detail. In particular there is nothing in the information that gives us any reason to believe that you have in reality signed up to the partnership values of the Council despite saying that you have.

However, what we can say is that we are very concerned that another secondary school in this area will have a potentially detrimental effect on the local secondary schools, including the ARK academy which is just over the road from the proposed free school. There is currently, enough and in fact spare, secondary capacity. Your argument is that that is the only available building. This confirms that you are just aiming to set up a school wherever you can and have not taken into consideration the local needs. Not what we would call a 'community' decision.

The ethos of the 'private school' is not one of inclusion and is selective in its very nature. For the Michaela school to just concentrate on the purely academic is to narrow the education of children and means they will be learning through rote and over learning. It cannot call itself a community school when it will obviously only cater for one type of learner.
One concern was that we were told that science would be taught in classrooms and no mention was made of laboratories which means scientific learning will be through books not practical and experimental.

Jenny Cooper, NUT Health and Safety Officer and a member of the Brent Health and Safety committees, has written to you about areas of concern which we are restating here. Regarding SEN, she makes the point that no that you will welcome applications from all persons regardless or background and ability. Oxford University also welcome these applications. It does not, of course, mean that these people get a place. Your response to with regards the curriculum was that it will be inclusive in order to suit children with SEN.

However, your website says, traditional academic subjects .......Pupils will be required to study the five academic subjects that form the English Baccalaureate: English, Maths, Science, History/Geography and a foreign language.....In addition to these mandatory subjects, pupils will be able to choose from a range of options, including Art, Music and Drama......We believe knowledge is a prerequisite of skills development....Sport will be competitive and pupils will take Games for one afternoon per week”.

Jenny Cooper is an SEN specialist, and we agree with her that we cannot see how your proposed curriculum can be described as inclusive. Most teachers who have worked with SEN children (and indeed many parents) would agree that to be overloaded with academic subjects and to leave the creative subjects as non-mandatory, to focus on knowledge acquisition not skills development and to restrict physical education to solely competitive games occurring only once a week is a recipe for disaster.

Are you aware that Hirsch's theories on education, which you refer to in your curriculum information, were highly contentious in 1960s-70s America because of the very fact that they were considered non-inclusive? It was thought that he did not acknowledge differences in learning styles. And also, interestingly for the Brent community, he was criticised for not including the contributions of African Americans to society in the body of knowledge and culture that he decided should be taught. This attitude is simply not welcome in Brent. Brent teachers and parents are proud of our diverse community and we/they will not tolerate this kind of prejudiced narrow mindedness amongst us.

Regarding Health & Safety, Brent's policy on asbestos goes beyond that of the statutory requirements. All Brent schools are scheduled to have asbestos removed within the next few years on a rolling programme. It is no longer the policy simply to manage and cover up. The reason Brent have gone this step further is following poor management of asbestos which led to improvement notices being served after pupils and teachers were exposed. If this occurred in your school, you would be responsible for the insurance money available to pay compensation, as Brent are having to do for their ex-pupils. We noticed a van from an asbestos firm at the proposed site and would hope that their findings would be made known.

We all raised the question of lack of play area which was agreed to be inadequate. Children will be expected to study all day and then do sport but at the moment there is no agreed place for this to happen. Will parents be expected to pay for sports facilities at another school or sports centre? How else will the school afford this or is this in fact something that will either not happen or the parents will pay. All educationalist know that exercise is very important for children particularly in the teenage years yet there is to be one sports session a week. Playtime will also be very limited.

The emphasis on discipline – straight lines, standing up straight in assemblies – and the lack of creativity and exploration in the curriculum are all reminders of a Victorian system.

The admissions policy is all about taking tests and banding leaving admissions open to take just the most able pupils. 'Free' schools are able to do this as they face less scrutiny.

We are further concerned about the governors which we have been told have been self appointed. Parent governors will be 'recruited' rather than elected.

In conclusion

We think that the planning for school places has to be done in collaboration with the local community. Putting this school in the north of the borough of Brent will directly compete with our existing local schools and is not where the school place shortages are.

We believe that the evidence from ‘free’ schools has shown that they lead to increased social segregation, lower attainment and have been run for profit. Brent schools are in the top 10% of schools in the country so have a proven track record improving attainment for all children ensuring equal opportunities for pupils from all backgrounds.

We believe that all children need decent school buildings, investment in their schools and smaller class sizes. Free schools have been funded by cutting two desperately needed grants, including the BSF (Building Schools for the Future) money promised to our existing local schools. We know that the cuts to education and public services and the raising of tuition fees will harm our communities. The free school movement is Michael Gove's experimental pet project and is part of the plan to privatise our services and will worsen education for all.

1 comment:

  1. My grandson was ther for three weeks, from day one he was constantly given de merits and isolation detention, no time for him to become accustomed to the rules and regulations. He was in school one day for nine hours all he got to eat was a small potion of pizza and for lunch (even though he has paid dinners) was given a dry cheese sandwich and a piece of fruit. His mom was not happy with all the detentions etc and yesterday went to pick him up from yet another detention and the teacher refused to give the child to the mother and threatened to call the police. Unbelievable thank goodness he has now left. Bullies and bollocks rules run like a priswon (actually prisoners are treated better)worst school ever..