Monday, 25 November 2013

Gove is a bully

For the last few months, the senior leadership team and the governors at Sidegate Primary School have come under immense pressure from Gove and the Department of Education, some would even call it bullying.

We all know that Sidegate did not do as well as we had hoped for when we had our last Ofsted inspection, but we did not fail and we knew we needed improvement and we had already started dealing with the issues that were of concern.

But Ofsted has raised the bar, in some areas like London there have been big jumps in attainment levels and this has pushed national levels of achievement higher and it seems that counties like Suffolk and Norfolk have failed to see the same levels of progress, in the case of Suffolk not helped by a reduction in funding to the School Improvement Team.

Once we had received the Ofsted report, the school along with the County started to work on an action plan and this has already seen improvements in results, we also at the start of the year got a visit from Professor Pike, who works for Mr Gove at the Department of Education, he came to the school to see if becoming an Academy would be a better route for the school to follow, he was obviously impressed with the work we were doing (alongside the County School Improvement Team) as he went away informing us that we did not have to follow the academy route.

A few months later, he returns but this time it seems he thinks we should look at becoming an academy – he has not looked at data, spoke to staff or seen any negative reports but for some reason (possible pressure from Gove?) he now feels we might be better as an academy.

Then just before the summer he arrives again and informs us we (the governing body) need/have to sign a letter stating that we are interested in looking at becoming an academy. At this meeting we have an Officer from the County with us who is quite frank in her advice – ‘You have no choice’. we as a Governing Body were not happy in particular that we had to keep the process confidential, we were told we WERE NOT ALLOWWED to speak about this with parents or staff, a Conservative Councillor who was then on the Governing body was very keen that we did keep the discussions confidential, I and a number of others were very unhappy about the whole process but in particular the instruction that we had to keep this confidential.

We signed a letter after changing the words slightly but Professor Pike did not seem keen on pour version. We were then told we would be found a number of possible academy sponsors, but come the summer break we had heard nothing and the staff continued to work hard to improve the education for our children.

School starts again in September and Professor Pike is still silent, but suddenly a few weeks ago he reappears to say he had found us a sponsor, it is reiterated yet again that there is NO NEED FOR CONSULTATION with either Staff or parents.

But we then have some good news, the sponsor (and it seems that other academy sponsors) are not so keen on the way Mr Gove has decided to act as they are happy to speak to the governing body, staff and parents.

Active Learning Trust the potential sponsor gave a presentation to staff and the governing body, and we then were informed that was it. They had agreed to come and speak to parents and now it was just up to ALT and the Department of Education (Mr Gove) to decide when we became an academy as again it was made quite clear to us that the governing body has little if any say about the school becoming an academy.

24 hours later and we were then informed we did have to vote to become an academy, the first we had heard of this. I abstained as I stated that I did not believe we should vote till after the parents had received the presentation from ALT

The parents attended one of two meetings last week and were able to question the spokesman from ALT, he gave very clear answers but there was undoubtedly some anger amongst the parents as some did not want to become an academy and also quite a few wanted to know what the County Council were doing to help the school, ALT said it was obvious that the school was improving which made parents question why we need to become an academy then, if we were improving.

So what next?

I think we will become an academy and probably should – not because we are not improving but because Tory run Suffolk County Council have totally abdicated from their role as partners and supporters of the school.

Many will say Labour introduced academies, I was never sure if they were right for Suffolk and definitely there was no need for Primary Schools to leave the local education system. When Labour was in charge of the academy programme, schools only had to change if it was for the benefit of the pupils and only after consultation with staff and parents.

I have complimented our MP, Ben Gummer in the past for his weekly visits to local schools but I am certain that he could not have found many teachers who agreed with the direction Gove was taking education, so it was a surprise to see Gummer has jumped in bed with Mr Gove and become his bag carrier.

I used twitter to ask Mr Gummer, was it right that schools did not have to consult with parents about becoming an academy – his response? Ask Tony Blair!

Hope if parents from Sidegate write to him with their concerns about becoming an academy he gives them a more detailed answer.

It has been hard to write this as I believe we need to rally round and support the school but it is also important that people and parents in particular understand the pressure the governing body has been put under by the tactics, some would say bullying methods used by Gove, Professor Pike and the DfE.

And where have been Suffolk County Council when all this has been going on? You tell me, they have only been noticeable by their obvious absence.

I think Active Leaning Trust will be a good partner for the school if they decide to sponsor Sidegate, and will help accelerate the improvements in achievement that we are already witnessing.

But I would rather have seen all the Primary Schools in Ipswich combine together maybe with the help of UCS, Suffolk New College and even Ipswich Borough Council and take the place of the County Council who have deserted Sidegate and other Ipswich schools as fast as they could.

Tory run Suffolk keep going on about ‘Raising the Bar’ more like ‘run – first to the bar’;

And Mr Gove? The way you and your department have behaved is nothing more than bullying – you have failed (alongside Tory run Suffolk) to give us the correct advice, we have been lied to, bullied, deserted – your behaviour can only be described as disgraceful.

Mr Gummer – can you not only as my MP but as bag carrier to the bully Gove answer me why:

We were told we did not need to become an academy then suddenly we did?

Why we were told we MUST NOT consult with parents and Staff?

Why Suffolk County Council have failed to help and advise us on the process?

And why do you think I should ask Tony Blair?


It is not only in Suffolk that schools are being 'forced' into becoming academies - and it seems that Ofsted now believe it may holding back school improvement! More here


Anonymous said...

LEAs have done more harm to more people since their creation with the nationalisation of education in 1944.

Like everything else which has become a monopoly, it is inefficient and run for the benefit of the staff and not for the benefit of the employers, who are the market for their end-product.

A private monopoly is bad: a State-maladministered one significantly worse.

The solution is, of course, obvious - full privatisation of every school, with the use of educational vouchers; top-up fees; entrance exams; scholarships; and sufficient spare places for any and every parent to be be able to choose the best school for their child.

That means schools which have a wide variety of facilities, fees, talents, specialisms and much else besides so that the child can attend the school best suited for their talents.

In addition, every school must be well-staffed with strict discipline, a standard working day fro 8:30 to 17:30 and plenty of competition and exercise.

I've taught for 36 years.

Tamsin Addison said...

Perhaps,'anonymous' you could give some credence to your comments by providing a name, or an idea of the kind of school that you work in? I'm very sorry to sound patronising, but the challenges facing secondary schools, urban schools, suburban schools and rural schools are all different. A school which has support locally is in a better position than one which is part of a national company such as Harris or Ark. You are right that there are LEAs who have done their jobs badly however equally there are excellent LEAs who work hard to bring out the best in those they have authority over. Exactly the same is true of academies. There are some excellent academies out there, but as the news shows there are also some dreadful ones, poorly managed and lacking transparency. And when things go wrong with academies the only place for redress is the DfE- hardly the place to deal with the concerns of individual teachers, parents or students.

I'm not sure that applying free market principles to education is in actual fact the best plan for society. Firstly children are not a product that you lump into shape. They have individual strengths and weaknesses and individual challenges not always addressed by a merely academic education. In forcing them to fit your narrow idea of what education should be you are excluding a high proportion of children from receiving an education which suits their needs. Secondly fir those who can afford better schools and travelling to reach them all well and good. For the rest of us, we are likely to still have no choice about where we send our children because we do not have the money or time to send them further afield. And this is another problem with academies- they are so focused on outcomes that they forget about the needs of those they are supposed to working for- the children.

Unknown said...

This debate has been going on for a long time and there are many interesting comments here, some of which deal with similar issues in other Suffolk schools.

Unknown said...

This debate has been going on for a long time and there are many interesting comments here, some of which deal with similar issues in other Suffolk schools.

Unknown said...

No surprise that Ben Gummer hasn't signed this!