Thursday 25 January 2018

Butt backs out of Village School consultation meeting and asks for strike action to be called off

There was disappointment and anger last night at The Village School when Brent Council leader did not show up for the consultation meeting about proposals that the school academise in order to become a Multi Academy Trust with Woodfield School.

At the lobby earlier this year Cllr Butt and lead member for children and families, Cllr Mili Patel, had been asked to make a strong and clear statement of opposition to the proposal. Both Brent Central and Brent North CLPs have passed unananimous motions against academisation.

Instead of appearing at the meeting and taking questions, Cllr Butt instead chose to write today to all members of staff about the issue. The position he takes on academisation is weaker than that requested by his own Labour Party members.  He expresses a preference for local authority oversight of schools but appears to believe that The Village has no choice. He also takes a traditional right-wing position on teacher strikes claiming that they 'punish' families and children for government policies and calling for next week's three day strike to be called off.

The letter requires close textual analysis to establish Butt's exact position and even then...

I know there’s some concern and uncertainty about what’s going on so I thought it might help if I set out my position . First of all, I am opposed to the forced academisation of schools and find it deeply regrettable that TVS has been put in a situation with such limited options. 
Responsibility for this rests with government and government alone. That said, circumstances being what they are, I recognise why a formal relationship with Woodfield is a positive thing . I see why, in the present legislative context and financial climate, both schools feel that an official partnership would be in their best interests. And, while forming a MAT may well produce tangible education al benefits, as well as economies of scale, its main purpose will be increasing the likelihood of sustaining both schools’ outstanding status. 
TVS is a fantastic school, there’s no doubt about that – in fact, I’m not sure ‘outstanding’ does it justice. As I see it, its success is a product of all involved being so dedicated to what they do and so determined to ensure every student has every opportunity to realise their fullest potential. My belief is that the school’s greatest asset is this collective strength and I have no reason to suspect this will change as a result of formalising the partnership. 
As Leader of the Council in a time of austerity I know only too well the essential nature of closer collaboration. As a proud trade unionist , I will always champion the enormous value of collective bargaining . Being able to speak with a single, unified voice is a powerful thing and one of the many reasons I welcomed the NUT and ATL teachers ’ unions’ decision to join forces and create the NEU. And, as a member of the Labour Party, I hold on to the central tenet that , by the strength of our common endeavour , we achieve more than we achieve alone. On that basis, I cannot in good conscience seek to deny TVS and Woodfield the same opportunity for sustainable partnership. 
 Of course, I’d much prefer that responsibility for overseeing our schools remain devolved to local government. I think local people are best placed to understand local needs. Equally , I’m not sure that the Secretary of State , the Department for Education , or the Regional School Commissioner have the capacity for nuanced management of what, as a result of this government’s actions , is an unhelpfully centralised and drastically underfunded education system. 
I have said previously that my priority is the best possible educational outcomes for children and young people . What I should have also said is that those outcomes are best served, and can only be assured, by retaining a happy, motivated, stable workforce. I know that TVS is ordinarily a very happy, very special place to work. I also know there are genuinely held concerns that becoming an academy will mean that’s no longer the case. With that in mind, I think it necessary to challenge the suggestion that these proposals will have a detrimental impact . I also need to address claims that, even if a suitable deal can be agreed, any such agreement cannot be guaranteed in perpetuity 
On the first point, I welcome the school’s pledge to ‘embed core principles’ in a legally binding agreement. This includes an explicit public commitment to abide by national terms and conditions for all existing and future teaching staff and local terms and conditions for all existing and future support staff. This process has the added advantage of being based on an existing Trustees Agreement – drafted in concert with NUT reps – that enabled Manor to convert to academy status and join BSAT without objection last year. On the second, to provide maximum possible certainty, a range of protections will be built into the agreement. This has been described as a ‘triple lock’ but may actually include as many as five provisions designed to make it impossible for fundamental changes to be made in the future by Trustees or Governors without undergoing rigorous public scrutiny or a substantial majority on any relevant vote. 
I’m aware that the NEU have requested a temporary halt to the consultation to try and find an alternative solution . Given how long this matter has been under discussion, and given how closely involved union reps have been throughout , were there another way forward, it surely would have presented itself by now. Again, I wish there was a way for TVS and Woodfield to protect their relationship without having to academise . But , as things stand, there isn’t. With that in mind, the responsible thing to do now is work together and ensure as robust and informed a decision as possible is made.

Furthermore, I think it would be a grave mistake to punish these children and their families for government policies to which we are ideologically opposed. Similarly, I know how hard a personal decision it is to take industrial action, especially when it disrupts the lives of people we care about. And I doubt anyone relishes the prospect of three days’ without pay. I ask then that any further strike action be called off and that those involved instead continue to engage fully in the consultation, ensuring that everyone’s views are made clear. 
As I’ve said, the Labour Party, the Council, and the teachers unions all recognise, value, and benefit from the enormous power of formal partnerships. On that basis , whatever our views on the mechanism, we should all be able to understand and accept the rationale for these outstanding schools doing the same. 
Thank you for taking the time to consider my thoughts – do please get in touch and let me know what you think.


Mike said...

I think he's made his position perfectly clear. It's the diametric opposite of that taken by both Brent Labour Parties.

Anonymous said...

He doesn't speak for the Labour membership...but has he ever ?

Anonymous said...

He is two faced.

Anonymous said...

Can Labour members not table a vote of no confidence in him at their next constituency meetings?

Force a change in leadership to represent the members and (more importantly) the view of Brent citizens AHEAD of May's election.