Thursday, 23 February 2017

Waltham Forest schools face a funding meltdown – parents need to organise in response

'Parents will start to see staff being let go this year. They will see bigger class sizes, fewer subjects on offer. They will see the person looking after special education needs go, and all those other additional services disappear'.  Russell Hobby, General Secretary, National Association of Headteachers

Parents need to have their voice heard

Welcome to state education in 2017 - a system on the brink as schools face a growing financial crisis which threatens the education of children across England. It seems barely a day goes by lately without new stories of schools taking increasingly drastic action to balance books in the face of the worst funding cuts in a generation.

The Fair Funding for All Schools campaign is bringing together a coalition of parents across all parts of the country to stop the cuts and make the case for investment in our schools, our children and our future.

Parents in Waltham Forest, with their proud legacy of fighting for progressive and inclusive state education, are urged to join the fight.

Why is there a growing funding crisis in our schools?

Despite the Department for Education’s claim that the government has “protected the national schools budget in real terms for the duration of the Parliament”, evidence shows that per pupil funding is set to decrease over this period. The National Audit Office say that the government’s spending plans do not provide for funding per pupil to increase in line with inflation. With over 450k growth in pupil numbers, funding per pupil is only rising by 1.3 per cent between 2015/16 and 2019/20.

At the same time, schools are facing increasing cost pressures. Pay rises, the introduction of the National Living Wage, higher contributions to National Insurance and the teacher pension scheme, non-pay inflation and the Apprenticeship Levy mean significant additional costs for schools. The NAO says that these cost pressures will force schools to find £3bn in savings  – equating to an 8 per cent real terms reduction per year in pupil funding by 2020. Schools have not experienced this level of reduction in spending power since the mid-1990s.

These figures don’t take into account other cost pressures created by the government, for example by reducing the Education Services Grant which provides funding to local authorities and academies for education services, e.g. school improvement and Special Educational Needs, schools will now need to pay more for those services.

Emma Knights, Chief Executive of the National Governors Association puts it starkly “the organisations who speak for school leaders, including business leaders, are saying the same thing as we are: there simply is no longer enough money in the total pot to sustain adequately all schools in England”

What will be the impact on our schools?

This is going to have a massive impact on your schools. It is clear that every state school in the country is already facing a worsening financial situation. The number of Secondary schools spending more than their income doubled to over 60 per cent in the last five years.

The government expects schools to find two thirds of the £3bn savings through cutting staff costs. The NAO reports that spending on teaching staff fell from 56 per cent to 51 per cent from 2010 to 2015 in maintained schools and from 55 per cent to 52 per cent in academies over the same period. 

The latest schools census shows that last year there were 17,780 state secondary pupils taught in classes with 36 or more pupils – the highest number for a decade. The days of large classes are returning.

Schools facing increasingly difficult financial positions have turned to asking parents for termly cash payments to supplement core school budgets, three schools in my part of London have written to parents asking for termly donations of £30 - £50 per family to supplement school budgets.

Things in Waltham Forest are set to get even worse

For schools in Waltham Forest things are set to get even worse. In April 2018 the government will be introducing a new National Funding Formula (NFF) – the aim of which is to ensure more transparent and equal funding for pupils across all schools in England, addressing historical imbalances.

However, the government will achieve this by redistributing money between schools from a total pot that is shrinking in real terms. And therefore, according to the government’s own figures, 49 per cent of schools in England will lose even more funding with over 2 million children in the worst affected schools.

The impact of the NFF will be felt most obviously in large cities such as London and Manchester – London Councils report that 70 per cent of schools across Greater London will face budget cuts in a climate when school finances are already struggling.

According to analysis by the NUT, the total estimated reduction across all schools in Waltham Forest in real terms by 2020 will be over £20m. That works out at around a £538 reduction for every pupil in the Borough, the equivalent of the salaries of 541 teachers.

But this is not just an issue for London. The Times Education Supplement notes that the majority of those who are set to gain out of the NFF changes will still stand to lose out as increases will insufficient to meet funding shortfalls highlighted by the NAO.

Analysis by teaching unions indicates that around 98 per cent of schools in England will be net losers as a result of the combination of real-terms reductions, additional costs, growing pupil numbers and the impact of the NFF.

And, of course, the NFF will be directing money directly from Whitehall to individual schools – making it much more difficult for allocations to be informed by the kind of local knowledge available to schools forums – and cutting Local Authorities further out of the loop, thereby furnishing the way for further academisation.

Fair Funding for All Schools

Fair Funding for All Schools is a network of parents from all parts of England, that want the government to listen to our concerns about the funding situation facing state schools across the country.

We have two key asks of the government:

  • Increase investment in all schools by protecting per-pupil funding in real terms for the life of this Parliament
  • Provide the additional funding needed to implement the National Funding Formula that increases funding for maintained schools and academies in comparatively poorly funded areas of England without cutting funding per pupil for schools in any other part of the country, so that no school loses out.

Taking our inspiration from the brilliant work of campaign groups like Our Community – Our Schools we have been bringing together parent campaigners new and old, including many existing groups that have been active in the fight against free schools and academies in their area, in a national coalition to make the case for proper investment in state education.

We are staging public meetings at schools, meeting with MPs, representing parent voice in Westminster, holding days of action and generally getting our voice heard. We need the voice of Waltham Forest parents to be heard too.

Our website has a range of materials that parents can use, you can sign and share our petition, use our guide and model answers to respond to the DFE consultation on the NFF and download model letters to MPs, councillors and the press.

Please join the fight.




Tuesday, 17 May 2016

What you need to know about Academy Schools

Under immense public pressure, the government has rowed back from its threat to force all schools to become academies, but it has made it clear that it will still force many other to do so and it still wants all schools to be academies by 2020.  

It can seem like a dry and difficult issue, but it really matters if your school becomes an academy. In this blog we try to explain why.  

There is no evidence that Academy Schools are better schools 

 As various studies have shown and a committee of MPs reviewing the evidence concluded, there is no proof that becoming an academy does anything to improve a school. In fact there is evidence that academies that are part of chains may well deteriorate and perform worse than state schools. ecent studies have indicated that state schools overall are outperforming academies. One things you can definitely say about the drive to force schools to become academies is that it’s not based on evidence. 

Academy schools are more likely to undermine teachers working conditions and try to employ less qualifies staff. 

Teachers matter. You want the best teachers, respected and supported to teach our children. Academies run themselves like businesses, because they have to make a surplus every year and they often have to pay big senior staff salaries. The only way they can do this is by cutting staff costs. This can mean trying to squeeze more teaching out of hard-working staff or cutting access to other conditions of service. In an NUT survey, 43% of teachers at academies reported coming under pressure to move onto worse contracts with rising workloads.  

Academy Schools tend to exclude children they think may damage their results 

All schools are under pressure to deliver results in tests. But community schools have strict rules that say they have to provide education to everyone, equally. Academies have more freedom to change their admissions policies and when combined with the obsession with results, this can have terrible consequences. Studies have found that academies are manipulating their admissions criteria to skew their intake away from children they think will damage their Ofsted results. Academies are also resorting to permanently excluding children they see as a ‘poor quality’. How can you be sure that your child will not fall victim to academies attempting to ‘game’ their admissions or disciplinary policies in pursuit of results? And what would you do if you thought that was happening? Which leads us to… 

Academy schools are less accountable to parents 

If you have a problem with your school, as things stand, you have several ways of getting something done about it. You can raise it with the Local Authority or its elected representatives, who have a responsibility to ensure that the schools are delivering on their core mission for the borough. There are also parent governors who are currently elected to school governing bodies. Academies on the other hand are essentially private companies who have a legal contract with the government in Whitehall to provide education in your area. They have no other responsibility except to remain solvent. Who will you complain to if you have a problem? The government?
Academy schools become more like businesses   

Once a school becomes an academy, the people running it may remain the same for a while but the evidence shows that governors and staff can quickly turn over in academy schools. Academies typically look to make their governing bodies smaller and increase the power of ‘super-heads’ so that they become more like the directors of multi-company enterprises. And power is concentrated in fewer hands, the evidence suggests that academies are more vulnerable to financial mismanagement, cronyism and nepotism. Academies have been plagued by a succession of stories based on investigations by the Education Funding Agency, such as the Perry Beeches scandal. A school’s ethos simply won’t survive the changes that academy status brings.  

This is not about education – but turning our schools into sources of profit 

In summary, there’s little evidence that academisation is about standards and while the government has shied away from forcing all schools to become academies, it’s now clear that it was never really about giving parents more choice. In reality, this is part of a longer term project to break up state schools and turn them into private companies. This will make it easier to ultimately turn them into schools that can be run for profit, as in parts of the USA, Sweden and Latin America. It also provides huge opportunities for companies to sell education technology to companies to reduce their ‘costs’ (teachers) and for private equity funds to exploit schools’ land assets. A small number of people stand to make a lot of money out of our schools and our children’s education. That’s what is driving the government’s push to force schools to become academies. It brings their dream a little closer. Unfortunately the record of for-profit schools in the US and Sweden shows that while shareholders turn nice profits, it is children and communities that suffer.   

What can we do? 

The government’s recent actions show that it knows that the tide is turning against academies and free schools and they may be running out of time to force their vision on us. We need to build support for a more positive vision and more positive policies for our schools. That's one reason why  OCOS developed our Charter. But in the meantime, it is possible to stop some schools becoming academies and it’s possible to mitigate some of the worst effects of academisation. But this requires parents and teachers to unite to campaign and show that they are not prepared to sit back and watch their schools being taken away from them.  
  • Talk to other parents – set yourself a target to talk to three other parents and direct them to this blogsite where they can get more information. 
  • Let us know if you’re happy to be a local contact for your school – we need people to tell us what’s happening in our local schools and to give information out to other parents.  
  • Write to your local MP – Use the points in this post to write to your MP setting out your concerns about academisation and asking them to support our local schools. 
  • Write to your local Councillor – we need the Local Authority to hear the same message… 
  • Share this blog widely on social media. 
Help us turn this build an active community that unites parents and teachers alike in campaigning for better schools for all our children. 

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Parents explain why their children are not in school today

In this post, local parents explain why their children are being withdrawn from school as part of the 'Let Kids be Kids' national protest against testing:

"Our son Wilfred, 5, is on strike today because we feel strongly that kids are being pushed too hard too soon. Wilfred attends a school that does all it can to shelter him from the worst of the Conservative government’s approach to education, but there is only so much they can do. Taking part in the Kids’ Strike is a positive way we can express our disagreement with government policy. This day of fun learning is the antithesis of the prescriptive, pressured environment being created for our children by SATs and the acceleration of the National Curriculum. The agenda of forced academisation puts good local community schools, like Wilfred’s, at risk.  We stand together with teachers and other parents to say enough is enough, let our kids be kids." 

Elaine and Matthew Londesborough-van Rooyen, Parents 

"I love language. I’m a journalist, worked for five years as a TEFL teacher, did Latin and English at A level and learnt Spanish as an adult. The best way to learn a language is through exposure and immersion, not through the naming of parts. Being able to identify a subjunctive will not help my child write a better sentence or encourage her love of learning. Testing her repeatedly from a young age will not make her want to go to school. I’m taking part in Tuesday’s protest because I’m strongly opposed to the direction that education in this country is taking. The pressure that is being put on both teachers and children by SATs is unnecessary and unacceptable." 

Courtney Daniel, Journalist and parent

"This government is wrong. It's wrong about standardised testing for primary age children, it's wrong about forcing schools to become academies.  It's wrong about academies full stop. We have 4 primary school aged children and we are lucky, our local primary school is a wonderful place, navigating the choppy seas of education policy whilst still being child-centred and engendering a genuine love of learning in our children. It may then, come as a surprise that we will be taking part in today's strike action by removing our children from school. We are doing so in support if primaries and teachers across the country who find themselves undermined by a government bent on constant testing, grading and guidelines, who wish to push it's own idealistic, non-evidenced based agenda and in doing so are de-professionalising and de-moralising teachers,  who we, as parents, trust to nurture, guide and educate our children. As a parent, and a GP I find myself at critically at odds with the government over education policy and the future of the NHS. Like junior doctors, and the head teachers union, parents need to take a stand to protect our children."

Lynette Mason, GP and Parent 

"As a parent of a child in year one of primary school and a child in nursery, I fear for the future of my children’s education. The current government’s policy of repeated testing of our children at an increasingly young age is destroying this country’s education system and bringing the nation’s amazing teachers to their knees. The new curriculum, the new primary assessment framework and the tougher year two and year six tests are not what our children need to become lifelong learners. This testing is done in the name of educational attainment and of course I want my children to do well in life, but I also want them to be allowed to develop at their own pace. Our two children are enthused, challenged and nurtured on a daily basis by wonderful teachers and teaching assistants who know where they are in terms of their progress. I trust my children’s teachers to recognise when they are struggling and to support them to achieve the best they can. I want my children’s school to have the freedom to teach a broad range of skills and develop creativity, utilising all the teachers’ knowledge of education. I don’t want my children or their school continually judged on meaningless tests at the expense of all else. I trust my children’s school with their education, but I do not trust this government with our education system."

Heddy Korachi-alaoui – Teaching assistant and parent
Kirsten Brown – GP and parent

"I can only imagine how challenging it is to be a teacher in this age.  It is one of the reasons I have held off applying to become a teacher myself.  As someone who studied teaching and learning (as part of my PG Cert in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education) I am only too aware of the challenges facing those wishing to enable learning in others.  It is such a shame that instead of using their hard learnt understanding of pedagogy, teachers instead are having to narrow their teaching to make pupils, children, test ready.  It is a waste that instead of using formative assessments as a learning tool, they are having to carry out summative assessments to feed back statistics to a government that seems to know nothing about pedagogy.  They lack any clear understanding of the philosophies of teaching and learning, or the multitude of ways in which individuals can learn and flourish.  So Elspeth is not at school today because I want to challenge the government.  I want to protect her future, and that of her two brothers currently in reception.  I want to stand up for all the other children who are struggling right now, who are stressed out and unhappy at school thanks to these bizarre tests."

Laura Lea Milling – Parent

"Taking our daughter out of her brilliant school has been an excruciatingly difficult decision to make. Particularly as I am a Parent Governor there. In fact the school navigates the testing landscape so well that students in Yr 2 don’t even know they are doing a test. How ridiculous that her fantastic teachers have to jump through these hoops. We’ve explained to her that although we all love her school, the people in charge of all of the schools in the country are making some very bad choices, and we have to send a message to them. We’ve spoken about how hard it is to make a stand and speak out when we think something is wrong.  If the same trajectory continues, Polly will be going to a secondary school run like a business, populated by unqualified teachers, and attended by increasing numbers of students with mental health issues due to an unforgiving exam-centred culture. The systematic dismantling of the Education system and every other public service by this government is nothing short of terrifying."

Michelle Hendry – Parent

"We feel strongly that initiatives such as constant and early testing and forced academisation are being implemented without due consideration for the implications, and that as a result our children face unnecessary testing and a curriculum that limits enjoyment and real understanding. We want our protest to demonstrate the trust we have in the teaching profession, and our desire that teachers be allowed to teach effectively and without constant constraint in order to embed a life-long love of learning in our children."

Sear Orr – Art Teacher and Parent
Agata Baranowska – Orr – Interpreter and parent

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

OCOS statement on the 3 May day of protest against SAT tests

We are aware that many parents are discussing the forthcoming protest on Tuesday 3 May against the Key Stage 1 and 2 SAT tests and seeking more information or guidance over what they should do.

Who is coordinating the protest?

The protest on 3 May has been coordinated by parents groups, most notably the campaign group Let Kids Be Kids.

What is the protest about?

The action on 3 May is in response to the government’ growing obsession with early and harder testing. OCOS supporters have written on this blog about their anger at the Year 2 SATs, and the new, harder Year 6 SAT tests. Many of these tests will take place during the week beginning 3 May.

What is actually happening on 3 May?

Let Kids Be Kids are encouraging parents to withdraw their children from school on Tuesday 3 May for a day of ‘fun learning’ as a national protest against the SATs. They are quite clear that this is not a boycott as the tests do not all take place on the same day. It is instead a practical protest action that can be taken by parents to register their dissent from the test-driven education being forced on schools and teachers by the government.

Is it just parents of Y2 or Y6 kids who are participating?

The day of action is not confined to just those with children sitting year 2 or Year 6 SATs, it is a day on which parents can use withdrawal from school to show solidarity and register their anger, not at schools or teachers but at the government.

Won’t this hurt the schools?

These protests are intended to support schools and teachers and are supported by teaching unions. The aim is to put pressure on government to stop piling more demands on our children, teachers and schools.

What is the OCOS position on the protest?

OCOS supports this day of action.

We are also aware that this is a campaign at an early stage. As a consequence, many parents are only just becoming aware of it now and many more may not know about the day of action. Working parents may not be able to take the time off work. Some may not yet feel confident to take this action and may have unanswered questions about how their school will respond and whether they will be fined for an unauthorised absence.

In this case, we would ask that those of you who support the aims of the campaign send in a letter of support for the day of action. We have set out suggested text below:


Dear [Headteacher]

I am/We are writing to express support for the national day of protest against the Key Stage 1 and 2 SAT tests. This day of action is not aimed at schools or teachers. We know how hard you work for our children every day. Instead this action is intended to send a message to the government that parents do not support their policy of early and harder testing for children in primary schools.

I am/we are unable to withdraw my child for this day of action so they will be attending today / My child will be attending school today.

However, I/we support the aims of the day of action and reserve the right to withdraw my/our child from school in support of future days of action.

I would request that a copy of this letter is forwarded to the Board of Governors of the school and reported it its next meeting.

Yours sincerely,

I want to support the action by taking my child out of school for the day. How should I notify the school?

Any parents who wish to withdraw their children on that day can find a series of template letters they can use here.



Thursday, 24 March 2016

Year 6 SAT tests: Pity our children – and our schools…

The Department of Education has issued new instructions for the implementation and assessment of Y6 SATs but teachers and schools are struggling to make sense of them. Alice McIntosh, parent of a Year 6 child, shares their alarm.

I've just got home from the briefing on SATS for Y6 parents organised by my daughter's primary school. It wasn't a very reassuring experience. To be fair the staff did as good a job as they could in explaining the new SATS to parents, and tried to answer our questions, but the deputy head used the phrases 'it has been a bit chaotic' and 'I know this sounds completely bonkers' quite a lot.
First thing, our Y6 children are the first to go through the new tougher curriculum, and it was only brought in as they started  Y5, so they haven't had much time to cover material that used to be covered in secondary school like adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing fractions and the notorious use of exclamation marks and fronted adverbials.

Poor kids…
But not to worry, the school is 'playing catch' up, running booster maths classes, sending maths homework every week, and doing extra SPaG (Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar). Yes I know about that, I spent so long persuading my daughter to finish pages of fractions she didn't want to do that we didn't have time for the next chapter of her bedtime story. The rest of the curriculum has been a bit squeezed, but, don't worry, the kids are still getting PE and doing history, and when the SATS are out of the way they can go back to all those things the children enjoy.

Last year, high achieving children took SATS for their expected level, and extra hard SATS for the higher levels. We learn this year, in what just seems to be wanton cruelty to 10 year olds, that everyone will take the same paper, and it will include the higher level work. So the children are not expected to get this higher level work right, may not even have been taught it, but they will have to struggle with it in exam conditions and feel like a failure when they can't do it.

And they are doing lots of practice tests. ‘But how can they if these are the first tests?’, asks one parent reasonably enough. Ah well, the Department for Education has helpfully published sample maths tests on their web pages, and now commercial publishers are developing practice tests to sell to schools. Of course they are, very entrepreneurial.

What about children with Special Needs? Well, if they have a Statement of Special Educational Needs they can get help in the tests, like help reading instructions in the maths test, but not help with reading the reading test obviously. What about all the children with SEN who don't have a statement? I've read the open letter from the British Dyslexia Association, and it seems like no child with dyslexia is going to meet the expected standard for spelling.

It is vital your child gets an early night and eats a good breakfast during SATs week, and if your child is poorly on the day bring them in to school anyway and they can go home after they have taken the test. If they are so sick they really can't come in then there is an all-new policy that children can take the tests on another day. Did you know all the Y6 children in England take the same tests on the same day? The child will have to be kept in isolation from all the other children when they come back to school, in case they tell them what is on the test, but once they have taken the test they missed while they are sick they can go back to class as normal.

On to reporting SATS results, and, 'levels' familiar to us from Y2 SATS (and every parents evening and report since) are now out, clearly leaving the staff a bit nostalgic. Well, I never found them very useful, so what is replacing them?

Scaled scores apparently, where 100 is the expected standard, above 100 is above the expected standard, below 100 is below the expected standard. Sounds a bit like IQ scores to me, where in any cohort the mean score is always 100, 115 is a standard deviation above the mean, 130 two standard deviations above the mean, 85 a standard deviation below the mean etc. So, will they 'norm reference' or adjust the 'scaled scores' so that 100 is the mean and 50% of children get over a hundred, and 50% get less than 100? Or is it an inflexible 'expected standard' and if 90% of UK children in Y6 fail to meet the expected standard then 90% will get less than 100?

Well, the staff said they actually don't know as the Department for Education haven't told them yet, and they don't know if or when the Department for Education will tell schools, let alone parents. OK, so we will get a raw score and a scaled score for our child, but we won't get any sense of what they mean either in relation to their peers or in relation to concrete statements about what they can and can't do. It really brings it home that this farce is not for the benefit of children or parents, or new teachers in secondary school. This is all about generating data that can be used to produce league tables of schools, so the schools can compete against each other in a fake market in education. I can think of other things to spend the £40.1 million per year on.

I wanted to ask how the SATS results will affect the performance related pay for my daughter's teachers, but I felt too sorry for them.

Alice McIntosh is a pseudonym.