Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Stand up for schools

A blog from Our Community, Our Schools supporter and local parent and teacher Kiri Tunks, explaining why teachers in the North-West are taking industrial action on Thursday and why teachers are demonstrating in central London today:


On June 27th teachers in the North West of England will be on strike. This strike will be the first of a series of joint NUT & NASUWT strike in defence of education and teachers’ pay and conditions. Strikes will follow in other regions (including the SE in the autumn).

Around the rest of the country, teachers in these unions are organising solidarity actions (demonstrations, parents meetings & stalls) to show support for colleagues taking the lead in the North West but also to try and communicate to people outside education just what this government’s education policy will mean for our young people and our communities.

To hear the Michaels Gove & Wilshaw, it would be easy to think that schools are terrible places where our young people are failed on a daily basis by their teaching and support staff, and where their promise is snuffed out by uncaring and unskilled educators.

To be a teacher means waking every morning to some new alleged horror or failure that must be accounted for. To be a parent, without experience or knowledge of schools, these stories bring fresh fears about the schools they will send their children to.

The government & OFSTED claim that schools are failing our young people yet, claiming that standards are too low, yet their evidence is widely disputed or taken out of context.

Gove & Wilshaw refuse to accept that factors outside the control of schools or teaching staff can impact on the achievement of young people, and yet all the evidence shows that they do. And, whilst berating schools for ‘failing’, they are guilty of removing strategies and structures that, properly supported, have been shown to make a difference.

Instead they have just attacked community schools at every level, moving the goal posts such as the changing of grade boundaries in GCSE exams last year after the exams had been taken or changing the OFSTED lesson criteria so that to be judged a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ teacher requires almost superhuman powers.

There are numerous examples to show that schools do well when working in partnership with their neighbouring schools, pooling resources and sharing expertise; when there are strong links with parents and the community; when teachers are given time and resources to plan, prepare and give feedback; when the obstacles children face in their lives are not ignored but dealt with by society and not just left for schools to sort out.

Despite the relentless rhetoric of this government, it is not teachers or schools who are the enemies of promise but this government.  Since coming to power they have been responsible for:

  • Worsening ratios in nurseries; and no longer requiring schools to employ qualified teachers.
  • Rushing through a new curriculum, without resources and against the advice of many teachers. Introducing expensive, unnecessary new tests for 5 and 11 year olds.
  • Reducing young people's opportunities by trebling tuition fees and abolishing the Education Maintenance Allowance.
  • Wasting the Olympic legacy by undermining sport in schools.
  • Building free schools for secondary age children in places where they are not needed (instead of primary schools which are needed) and paving the way for private companies to make a profit from running our schools.
  • Making it illegal for your Council to build new schools where they are needed.
  • Causing chaos in teachers' pay and pensions and making teaching a less attractive prospect for young people

These are some of the reasons that NUT & NASUWT members will begin a campaign of rolling strike action in the North West next week. Teachers know that unless we take a stand then the right to a free and fair education system for all will be severely undermined.

In London on June 25th, there will be a march to, and demonstration outside, the Department of Education under the banner ‘Stand up for Schools – march for education’ which hundreds of teachers, parents and children are expected to attend. This demonstration is a gesture of support for striking teachers in the North West, but also an appeal to the wider community to join our campaign to defend education.

Details of the demo are here:




Friday, 21 June 2013

Our new campaign launched: Support your local community schools!

We have today launched a new petition in support of our local community schools. The Department for Education has approved four new Free Schools, without any consultation with the community.

Waltham Forest Council is working on a better solution to the future shortage of secondary school places by expanding our excellent existing schools.
It’s not too late to stop the Free Schools by showing our support for our schools and our Council.

We need everyone who is concerned about these Free Schools and everyone who supports our excellent local schools to sign our petition and circulate it as far and as wide as possible in our borough.
*Please add your name to our petition online here:*

Download our new leaflet and hard copy petition here

Thursday, 20 June 2013

‘Labour will not continue with Michael Gove’s Free School Policy’

On Monday, Labour’s shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg gave a major speech that laid out for the first time the key ideas that will inform the party’s schools policy if it wins the next election.

The speech was, however, of enormous importance to the issue of Free Schools and to what is happening in Waltham Forest, as we will explain below.
It was an odd speech in many ways. For those who believe that state funded comprehensive education remains the best way to provide a broad, balanced and high quality education to all children, there was a disappointing, though perhaps inevitable refusal to disavow Labour’s responsibility for academy schools or to make any commitment to bring them all decisively under a single regulatory framework. There was also a big nod to the ‘freedom’ and ‘choices’ agenda in the proposal to allow all schools some freedom to move away from the National Curriculum in some areas. Quite what this means in practice is not clear.

However, there was a relatively unambiguous statement that the Free Schools policy, as currently conceived, will end under Labour.
There will be much devil in the detail, but there are some important points from the speech that need to be brought out.

1. Twigg was clear – new schools, of whatever sort, will only be built where there is a real need for places. This is a clear break with Gove’s policy. As Raphael Behr wrote in the New Statesman, Gove only uses the idea of demand as a cover for building new schools that can compete with existing ones, based on the idea that they wreak ‘creative destruction’ on the schools around them. Either they improve or they die.
2. Free Schools that exist, and any new schools that are built, will have to employ qualified teachers, avoiding a race to the bottom in standards (and costs). This will limit the freedom for Free Schools to aggressively compete other schools out of existence.

3. New schools will be built and parents will have a role to play in pushing for them. He referred somewhat opaquely to ‘Parent Academies’, which could be either trust schools or maintained schools (the legal model that academies and free schools use).
4. But, as well as having to show a real need (ie where there are not surplus places) they will have to be accountable to local communities. Twigg was vague here, as it is a difficult legal issue. Academies and Free Schools have no legal relationship with local authorities, signing funding agreements directly with the Department for Education. But the intention seems clear: there must be a local accountability framework for all schools and local communities must have a say in where and when new schools are being built. Twigg says he will be asking David Blunkett to lead a review of how this can be best done – a thought that may not warm the hearts of many, but how that review reports will be vitally important.

In general, it’s clear that those committed to a universal, progressive education system will need to build and sustain national and local pressure on the Labour Party and all parties ahead of the election.
What does all this mean for people in Waltham Forest? In short, it means that what has just happened in Waltham Forest in the last few weeks would not be possible under Labour, quite possibly the next government.

While groups like WSSI might be able to apply pressure for a new school, it is likely that they would have to work closely with the Local Authority to make their case.
While they might be permitted, even encouraged in many authorities, to seek a private sponsor, they would also be allowed to consider a trust school as an option.

They would have to demonstrate that they would be employing qualified teachers.
Finally, it is likely there would have to be some demonstrable and transparent public process for consulting and ensuring community support for any proposed school rather than the sick joke that has just been played on the people of Waltham Forest.

All of which ought to give those pushing the four proposed Free Schools pause for thought. Perhaps it’s time they started taking more seriously the need to set out their case, conduct a genuine, meaningful consultation and reflect, in a transparent manner, on what they hear back.
Perhaps it’s time they had a bit more respect for our community, our schools and basic democratic process.

More challenges to the proposed Free Schools – How about a bit of information?

Following on from our earlier democratic challenge to Tauheedul and Oasis, we haven’t given up on the idea that the people proposing the new Free Schools might feel that they should have to tell the people of Waltham Forest something about their new schools.

That’s why we have submitted a raft of questions to them and to the Department for Education (under the Freedom of Information Act) asking for details on a wide range of issues, including their admissions policies, their policies on special educational needs, their employment of teachers and their plans to, you know… consult.
You can read the questions we’ve submitted to each sponsor here and obviously, we’ll let you know if anyone tells us anything.

Oasis's response to our first request for information is here

And here is our response in the form of a new FOI

And here is our FOI to Tauheedul

Monday, 10 June 2013

Free Schools – An idea with a short future?


It is quite possible that the entire Free Schools movement could grind to a halt after 2015, depending on which way the election goes. Defenders of state schools and comprehensive education have been putting pressure on the Labour Party in particular to declare its hand and rule out any prospect of allowing schools to run for a profit or the approval of any more Free Schools. Many have argued for bringing them all quickly back into the regulated government sector, placing them under local authorities, or imposing some kind of democratic control.

In his recent speech, which you can read about here, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls indicated that he might simply turn off the tap. As we’ve noted before on this site, Free Schools are comparatively expensive to set up and take a disproportionate share of the funding pot available for education. Because they are the product of an effective conspiracy between vocal and well-resourced private organisations and a government bent on destroying public services, very frequently they are not set up or built where the need is greatest. For this reason, it seems, Ed Balls has indicated that he might not fund any future Free Schools.
We’ve urged everyone who wants to ensure that the real issues of school supply in Waltham Forest are really tackled to get behind a solution that puts the maximum pressure on schools, local government and central government to provide this supply through expansion of our existing schools. It looks possible that Labour are thinking along similar lines.

Coming to a Free School near you… Swedish school chain goes bust

While those supporting the four free schools who received the rubber stamp of approval from Michael Gove were still celebrating, news broke that one of the biggest chains of Swedish Free Schools was selling 19 of its schools and closing four more, leaving hundreds of pupils with no school. JB schools made the announcement after the private equity fund that backed it, Axcel, announced it was no longer prepared to cover the company’s losses and was pulling out. The Guardian covered this story here.
Why is this important to the people of Walthamstow?

1. The government’s Free Schools legislation was designed to create opportunities for people to set up schools on precisely the Swedish model and that of the Charter Schools movement in the USA.

2. Michael Gove is in favour of schools being able to run for a profit and this is likely to form part of the Conservatives’ manifesto in 2015.

3. Free Schools and Academies, being independent of local authorities and government, but being in receipt of taxpayers’ money, will be ripe for profit-seeking companies to take over.

4. This is precisely what happened in Sweden and the USA, where Free and Charter Schools were quickly bought up by these chains, particularly when they got into financial trouble.

5. Private equity funds (essentially, groups of super-rich people who have devised a clever way of sucking profits out of companies and public services by loading them with debt, cutting costs and selling assets) have many friends in the Coalition government and have been lobbying for opportunities to profit from the UK education ‘market’.

In the Guardian article above, a Swedish politician is quoted warning the UK about following their route:

"Before you do something like this you have to really, really think about how you set up the system," he said. "The system here is not working as it's supposed to work. Nobody could foresee that so many private equity companies would be in our school system as we have today."

Some might quarrel with the idea that no one could have foreseen the attractions of privatised schools for private equity funds, but the essential message is undisputable. We can’t say we weren’t warned.   


Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Four new Free Schools for Walthamstow…and no, nobody asked you

Last week it was confirmed that Walthamstow will have four new Free Schools. The Education Secretary Michael Gove, has been sufficiently reassured by the information provided to him by, er, the people proposing to open these schools, to give them the government’s seal of approval.

As we reported, the two proposals we knew about were the subject of precious little, if any, public debate and almost no scrutiny. Two other proposals were effectively secrets until they were approved. This is a travesty of democracy which is made even more unacceptable by the fact that we’re talking about children’s education here.

It cannot be right that people, organisations and companies who want to open schools can effectively conspire in secret to win government approval for their proposals, while shutting out the very people who will be paying for them.

If you get a chance to express your view of the specific proposals at all, it will only be now that the government has given them the go ahead.

Supporters of WFDSS made their views on this farcical and scandalous process known in the local press here. We’d like to know what you think, so feel free to comment by emailing us at wfdefendstateschools@gmail.com or using the comment box below.