Sunday, 22 May 2016

Character building FEAT on a concrete slab in Colindale

The concrete slab viewed through perspex window
Purple marks the proposed school site
Brent's new Cabinet will tomorrow  consider a proposed new free school to be built at the back of the new Morrisons Supermarket on the Oriental City regeneration site in the Edgware Road.

Both the design of the school and the chosen free school provider are likely to be controversial.  The Cabinet papers state:

The site comprises a concrete slab at first floor level with parking beneath.

It is proposed that the Council have a 999 lease interest in the land which it will then lease to the free school provider for 125 years at a peppercorn rent on the basis of the 'template' lease which the Secretary of State is empowered to grant.

The site is physically 'constrained' so it is proposed that the school will be on two levels (on top of the slab) with a roof top playspace for the 420 pupils as there is no space for a playground.  Add to this that fact that the school is very close to the traffic pollution of the Edgware Road and it is not exactly ideal.

The free school provider is Floreat Education Academies Trust (FEAT) of which more later. To enable them to take pupils from September 2016 the Council wish to grant FEAT a 3 year lease on the former Kingsbury Pupil Referral Unit in Church Lane, Kingsbury. This was refurbished to provide additional temporary infant class places but the Cabinet paper states 'but has not been used for classes to date as demand has not required it.' I also understand existing primary schools were relectant to take on the additional unit as a 'satellite'.

The fact that 'demand has not required it' but somehow there will be a demand when it opens as a free school  is a little strange.  It is very close to Fryent Primary School but a long way from the Oriental City site so it is difficult to see how there will be continuity between the two sites in terms of actual pupils. Pupils who live in Church Lane will have to take two buses or a bus (302) and a walk to get to the Morrisons site.

The Church Lane site
Never mind. Floreat seem to have assumed that the Brent Cabinet will deliver the goods. They have already set up a website for the Church Lane school LINK

So why do I sound a note of caution about FEAT?

It was founded by James O'Shaughnessy, (now Lord) former Director of Policy for  David Cameron. He was a visting fellow at the Govite Policy Exchange, consultant to Pearson, and an Honorary Senior Research fellow at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtue.  LINK

He has described current education 'reforms' as a 'huge battle in an already very long war.'

Thanks to Powerbase for the following information.

Ian Moore, Director of Education, was seconded from PwC to the prime minister's education delivery team in 2006 and a senior adviser to the Conservative Party's 'Implementation Team' 2008-10,

And then there is Annaliese Briggs, who at 27 survived for just 6 months at Pimlico Primary School (one of Education Minister John Nash's chain) having no teaching qualification. Nevertheless she is in charge of FEAT's curriculum delivery!

See Powerbase for more but you get the picture.

So what is all this 'character building' stuff?

Imported from the US (there is a statement from the US Secretary of State for Defense on the  Jubilee Centre's website LINK) it is rapidly becoming a government supported industry penetrating into our schools. This is their rather dull film about the programme:


An article by Matthew Bennett on the Local Schools Network website LINK explains some of the background:
‘No excuses’ charter schools are a product of the test-based accountability systems that have dominated American public education since George W. Bush’s first term.  In the same way, English academy chains like ARK Schools and the Harris Federation developed within the culture of ‘hyper-accountability’ – to use Warwick Mansell’s term – created by the Education Act of 1988.  The ARK Schools chain is, in fact, closely modelled on the KIPP ‘network’ of charter schools.  Both target the inner cities.  Both argue that severe economic and social deprivation is ‘no excuse’ for educational underperformance.  Both aim to demonstrate – by dramatically boosting test and exam scores – that privatisation can be the miracle cure for decades of failure by state or public schools.  Both have a surprising number of financiers on their boards (of the eight trustees on the ARK Schools board, five are hedge fund managers;  none has any background in education). 

The new character education cannot really be understood without looking at the methods of behaviour management used in ‘no excuses’ schools and their English imitators.  These schools love mnemonics – displayed in every classroom, chanted by students – and their mnemonics are quite revealing.  SLANT:  Sit up, Listen, Ask questions, Nod, Track the speaker.  SMARTS:  Stand and sit straight, Make good choices, Always 100% on task, Respect, Track the speaker, Shine.  HALL:  Hallway heads and eyes forward, Arms with finger on lips, Legs straight, Lips sealed.  The rules cover the smallest details of students’ behaviour, and the slightest infraction of the rules – for example, failing to maintain eye contact with the teacher at all times – meets with immediate punishment (this is what one defender of the model calls ‘sweating the small stuff’).  Sanctions include detentions, a period wearing a special ‘miscreant’s shirt’, or a deduction from the student’s account of ‘KIPP dollars’.  (In a training video aimed at teachers in charter schools, a student is told at one point:  ‘Laughing is ten dollars’.)  Some charter schools push the principle to insane extremes.  A list of complaints made by parents against a ‘no excuses’ charter in Texas, Nashville Prep, includes the following:  ‘One student received a demerit for saying, “bless you” when a classmate sneezed.  He also received detention (1) for saying “excuse me” while stepping over another child’s backpack and (2) for picking up a pencil for a classmate’.
James O'Shaughnessy is an advisor to the US Character Lab, co-founded by Dave Levin who also co-founded the KIPP network of charter schools.

It looks as if Katharine Birbalsingh will soon have a rival in the Brent 'scariest teacher' league.

Meanwhile I hear that Gladstone School's Maria Evans and Jim Gatten LINK are to move to Oxford in July.  Gladstone has announced that it is now not in a position to open to year 7 pupils in September as no site has been found.

Paul Phillips, in post since January 2014 as Principal Designate continues in his role.  Accounts have not been filed since 2014 and there have been recent changes in directorships.

Gladstone has yet to educate a single child but has spent £175,000 on 'educational operations'.

Click on image to enlarge


  1. 'Fingers on lips'! I never thought I'd hear those words again.
    Thanks, Martin. Pig bins in the streets. Austin A30s. Taking 'salvage' to school. Third Division South. Frankie Laine. Ladybird t-shirts. Bread and dripping.Eagle annuals for Christmas. Davy Crockett hats. Bone marrow on a hair clip. Peter Dimmock. Lady Docker.
    Character Education is the Way Backward! Make Britain Great Again!

    Mike Hine

  2. The mnomonics acronym stuff -- SLANT, etc -- is typically American and can potentially be a great source of fun, maybe as a party game in devising our own explanations for what those terms mean. Eg, my parody of the general planning acronym SMART objectives does not read as the standard 'Simple, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic & Time-limited'. My spoof on SMART objectives is 'Spurious, Managerial, Arbitrary, Random & Terminal'.

    But a lot of the stuff about KIPP educational model reminds me of the section I did not like in Daniel Coyle's otherwise pretty incisive book The Talent Code: Greatness isn't born. It's grown. Here's how.

    As I recall, KIPP and similar educational models were devised largely with funding from founders of megastore chains whose owners' objectives are compliant, militarily disciplined staffing fodder.

    Yet what I really love about The Talent Code is what it brings in about 'deep practice'. 'Deep practice' is basically about breaking learning into bite sized pieces and slowing things down. Such an ethos is 'manna from Heaven' to a person with a learning difficulty such as myself. Yet a major problem with privatised academies as already highlighted on Wembley Matters and also by Michael Rosen, is that whether greatness is grown or made, privatised academies are really about maximising profit through being very selective in their input and gearing their output to preservation of privilege rather than challenging unfairness. In my experience, the jobcentre-funded equivalent in adult education and training are very similar to the pre-16 education academies. By contrast, those jobcentre-funded post-16 education facilities that did allow me extra, unfunded time to develop my skills died of lack of funding. And in the year 2000, a 'Positive About Disabled People' provider told me the Blair govt had told them to 1/2 the course time to double the throughput from the dole queue.

    Alan Wheatley

  3. Quite apart from the concerns over Floreat's approach to education, I note from the report to Cabinet that the Education Funding Agency agreed its application for a Primary School in Brent on the basis that it would be in Alperton. The suggested site will mean a very long journey to school from the south west of the borough for children aged 4+!

    Still, the EFA approved Ms Birbalsingh's Michaela Free School on the basis that it would be in Lambeth, and it ended up at Wembley Park. It just goes to show what excellent (!?) planning for local educational needs the Free Schools programme delivers.


  4. Yet again we hear that there is not a demand for school places (so says the Cabinet that insisted the need was great when Byron Court expansion was proposed.) Why was the expansion passed at Planning if this is the case?
    Play areas on rooftops in a highly congested area. Brent clearly isn't bothered about the air quality impact on young children.