Friday, 29 November 2013

Pavey under pressure at heated Copland debate

Cllr Michael Pavey, lead member for children and families, took part in a heated debate last night on the future of Copland Community High School, which faces forced academisation through a takeover by Ark Academies.

Pavey turned up the heat by stating that Copland had failed all pupils but especially the most disadvantaged for whom education was most important:  Afro-Caribbean , special needs and refugee pupils. That was why he supported academisation. It was his job to make sure Brent children got the education they deserved: 'Pupils come first'. He pointed out that Brent Council did not have the resources to takeover Copland and improve it.

He was immediately challenged by a black member of the audience who said, 'How dare you use the black community to justify your policies. You are not one of us, you do not know our experience from the inside.'

His assertion that 'This is not a "done deal",' brought derisive laughter and he clarified by saying that academisation would happen but that it may not be Ark Academy but another academy chain or provider. When an audience member pointed out that they did not want any academy, Pavey said 'It's the law that it must be an academy' and under closer questioning said he was not prepared to break the law. 'We live in a democracy and the way to change laws is through the ballot box.'

Pavey said that he did not think all academies were great and remarked that Brent has some awful academies.He said that there had been discussions with the Cooperative College over them becoming Copland's academy sponsor but Whitehall had blocked the move. Hank Roberts of the ATL pointed out that this had been before the Ofsted inspection. He challenged Cllr Pavey to demonstrate that it was not a 'done deal' by exploring other possibilities.

Jean Roberts of the NUT, speaking from the floor said the Interim Executive Board (IEB) had put a stop to talks with the Coop, preferring Ark as sponsor. She called on Michael Pavey to look at the Coop as a sponsor because at least it  had emerged from the labour movement. In response Pavey said that he was a member of the Cooperative Party and a passionate supporter but the government had put a stop to its possible sponsorship of Copland.

Roberts gave the example of Snaresbook Primary in Redbridge where a campaign supported by parents, unions and the community, but especially by the local council which was Tory, had succeeded in avoiding being forced to become an academy. She said that the council had never provided that sort of leadership.

Several teachers spoke passionately against what they saw as a politicised attack by Ofsted on the school which Michael Pavey was reinforcing. One said, 'You are Michael Gove in a different suit!' Supported by school students they talked about their commitment to pupils, the hard work they put in and improvements that were already apparent. Pavey said that Ofsted was an independent body and he accepted their report as true.

Jenny Cooper, NUT member and special needs teacher, told Cllr Pavey that it made her angry when it was claimed that teachers were against all change. Of course teachers recognised the need for a change, it is not that they think no change needs to happen but the way  it is gone about. Teachers were opposed to Copland becoming an academy, and particuarly opposed to it becoming an Ark Academy. Academy chains are the fast route to marketisation of schools.

A school student, delivering a powerful speech from the platform, said that pupils had been denied a role in the consultation. They had submitted a petition to the council 7 months ago with no response. The media had made a mountain out of a mole hill with their comments on what was supposed 'light at the end of the tunnel'. Staff gave up their own time to help pupils and understood them. She said that 'unsatisfactory' was an insult to students. Ofsted had come with a mindset and had been biased in advance with an expectation that it was a 'rubbish school'.

One teacher speaking calmly, but clearly controlling her anger, told Cllr Pavey, 'I am working hard. I am working all hours for the children. I don't care what you say - you make the school an academy and I am leaving. You'll have to tell the children it's your fault that I've left.'

Earlier in the meeting, speaking from the platform I had traced the history of academisation in Brent starting from the City Academy which replaced Willesden High School, the Labour and then Lib Dem-Conservative support for the Ark Academy and the competition with other secondary schools that had resulted. Firstly Preston Manor became an all-through school in order to compete, and then, despite earlier denials, went for academy status.  Other secondary schools then followed with the exception of Copland which had always had comprehensive values.

Outlining what would be lost through academisation I spoke about 'post admissions selection' where pupils who did not conform to the school's expectation were spotted and move out through formal exclusion or other means, about the strict discipline which made the school a hostile environment for some pupils, about a teaching force that did not represent the communities from which the pupils come, and a lack of democratic ability which left parents with no recourse to another body to which to appeal.

A black teacher who had attended a discussion about academies with the NUT Black Teachers Group said that the evidence was that black teachers, in the political sense of ethnic minority, were being forced out of academies because their faces didn't fit, they did not match the profile the school wanted. He linked this with Michael Wilshaw's speech to headteachers where he had advocated cracking the whip. He said that the resulting stress and pressure would not help students' motivation. There would be a lack of role models in the academy schools.

A Copland parent, who had been on the previous governing body, told the audience how democratic accountability had disappeared from the school with the imposition of an IEB.  here had been complaints recently that Year11s had been give only 13 days notice of mock examinations that would set out their path for the real exams. English language students had fared worse with only 8 days notice for examination areas last studied in May.  Those studying History had been affected by the end of term break-up of the humanities department (see previous blogs) because during the move their text books and the exercise books in which they had made notes were lost.

His son had been helped y the mentoring department which was available to help the vulnerable, the bullies and the bullied and had been a safe place to talk, had been scrapped.  The student led Gay-Straight Alliance that had received national acclaim had been scraped. The School Anti-Bullying Council had met a similar fate despite the new headship adopting  zero bullying policy.

He said that schools were not all about examinations, they were also about quality of life and preparing young people for a changing world.

In his opening speech Hank Roberts said that the academy issue was all about money. Stanley Fink the hedge fund speculator behind Ark would be welcome to give money direct to Copland School but instead they were helping themselves (as they had in the economic crash) taking public money with an eye on eventually running schools for profit.  Fink was also Tory Party Treasurer and academy chains had people in the upper echelons of Ofsted.

Ark, already with a longer working week, had tried to get teachers to work two weeks longer, but had to give up when it became clear they would not be able to recruit on those terms.

A speaker from the floor summed up the feelings of many asking, 'What faith will young peple have in democracy when they have been treated like this?'


Anonymous said...

As a member of the Black Caribbean community in this area I have no problem with Cllr Pavey identifying the fact that too many schools are failing children from my community. But it seems like the attack needs to be focused on the real culprits in this situation. This Government has taken power away from the Local Authorities to fight these 'forced academies' and is preventing them from opening schools where there is desperate need. Surely we need to focus on fighting the Government's stealth tactics to promote Free and Academy schools.

Anonymous said...

A couple of points:
1.As is often the politician’s way, Pavey presented his case as if the values he claimed as motivating him (education is a good thing, the need for kids to be educated well, the greatest need and the most deserving being the most disadvantaged etc etc) were actually in dispute by anyone present. He seemed to be implying that he had sole title and ownership of these values, the implication being that those who opposed his conclusion and solution (forcing a local authority school into ownership by Ark or other academy chain) therefore must be opposed to those values. This is logical nonsense and cheap rhetorical trickery, (but Mr Pavey is a politician after all).
2. The question raised by the teacher about the recruitment and treatment of BME teachers in Ark Academies could be easily settled by Ark locallyand was actually put to Dame Delia Smith, Head of the Wembley Ark when she came to introduce herself to staff at Copland a few weeks ago( See ‘I’m an Ark Apologist. Get me out of here!’). ‘ An enquiry was made about the ethnic make-up of the teaching staff at Ark One. Copland has always prided itself on having a staff body which reflects the ethnic mix of the catchment area and the school’s intake. A look at the list of the secondary teachers on Ark Academy’s website had given reason for doubt that this was the case at that institution. Could Copland staff be reassured on this? Answer from Ms Smith came there none’.
Still no answer has been received on this matter.

Unknown said...

I am a black person who knows Michael Pavey and not long ago completed my A-Levels at Copland. I can say first hand that Copland has some excellent teachers; some of the best I've been taught by. The issue of whether Copland is in fact a failing school as stated by Ofsted needs to be addressed, but the fact will still remain that there is no evidence to support the claim that academies outperform non-academies. However, I completely agree that the fight is not with Michael but with the Tories, whose policy of forced academisation is clearly based on ideology not evidence.
People also need to understand that Brent Council have had their budget cut by a third whilst the coalition government's draconian austerity measures are pushing Brent residents into poverty and putting greater pressure on the council; it is highly plausible that Brent does not have the resources at this stage to help Copland even if the government were prepared to give them a choice. It's about time people started redirecting their anger towards Sarah Teather and holding her to account for the part the Lib Dems have played in allowing the government to cut funding to the poorest areas and force academisation on schools.
Lastly, I am disgusted that someone would response with "you are not one of us" when Michael raised the point of Afro-Caribbean students being failed. If the lead member for children and families cannot raise this point who can? To suggest that a white person cannot sympathise or care about the disadvantage of black students is shameful.

Anonymous said...

Failing school? With alumni like this? You're kidding. (And yes, she was there when the first failed Ofsted reported in 2009). And the teachers she's talking about are among the ones 'encouraged' out the door last July.
I think you're a bit unfair on the 'black member of the audience' in the report. She had to listen to what sounded like her ethnic/class group being used as a justification for his reneging political decision. It sounded like 'I'm only doing this thing which I have said in the past when I was seeking election I would never do, because I care so much about (insert appropriate group)'. That's what it sounded like to a lot more people than her.
As far as who we should target. Lots of us never trusted the Lib Dems anyway because we'd seen what they'd done in local government over the last 30 years, the dirty ways they'd fought elections and the way they'd been complete opportunists in power. We still, foolishly, expect more of Labour and still. even more foolishly, feel let down when once again they don't deliver, and, worse, don't even put up a fight. And they still know they can depend on our vote (and probably yours) because we've got nowhere else to go and they know it. That's where the anger comes from.
Anyway, good to see you're so articulately engaged, Natasha. I wish I could claim that Copland didn't do a bad job with you, though it's very obvious that you were always pretty high grade raw material in the first place

Unknown said...

When I wrote that the Ofsted report should be addressed I was highlighting that I too am sceptical Copland is a failing school. I didn't attend Copland from year 7 to year 11 so I can't comment on the level of education throughout the school, but I speak based on the the great quality of teachers I had at 6 form (Mr Allman, Mr Ahmed, Mr Cox). I also hope they aren't among the teachers that were 'forced out'.
I still believe the race of a person commenting on black students is irrelevant, he/she should have stopped at 'how dare you use the black community to justify your policies', if that's how he or she felt.
I understand people are angry because Labour have given up this fight and its a real shame they have. I feel privileged to have gone to a community school, to be the last year to receive EMA and get a on university course for £3,500 year, it looks as though young people in Brent won't have any of those. However, Brent Labour are trying and have been fighting to save local A&E's, ticket offices at stations, local emergency services and the Welsh Harp. I think they expect people to vote for them because, those people know that if Labour are running the council and in government these situations won't occur.

Anonymous said...

3 out of 3 I'm afraid. Makes you wonder who's running things really, doesn't it?

Unknown said...

...I almost can't believe that.

Anonymous said...

Believe it. Head of Humanities, Head of Sociology and Psychology left, Head of Government and Politics left, Head of History left. Lots of others.This is how one teacher explained it in July. Everything she described and predicted happened. You'll probably recognise yourself in the account, though I don't think she had you specifically in mind.

Anonymous said...

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