Monday, 27 January 2014

Oasis and the disappearing GCSE pupils

Oasis Community Learning featured in an article by investigative journalist and education expert Warwick Mansell in the Guardian last week. Mansell was following up allegations and concerns that some supposedly 'high performing' schools had seen high numbers of GCSE pupils 'removed' from their rolls and sent to other schools or educational facilities. The concern expressed in the article was that these schools, many of them part of high-profile academy chains like Harris and Oasis, might be massaging the number of pupils who actually sit their GCSEs and filtering out pupils on academic grounds in order to artificially raise their results. Mansell's investigation found that Oasis had three schools among the 50 schools with the largest reduction in the number of pupils sitting their GCSEs over a year.

Are Oasis filtering out pupils who might drag their results down? Is that the sort of practice parents in Waltham Forest want to see in their local schools? Or would we be better off without Oasis altogether?

Waltham Forest NCT covers the Free School debate

Awareness of the issues around Free Schools in Waltham Forest is clearly growing. The Waltham Forest NCT newsletter in December featured a debate between Jen Powell, chair of Walthamstow Secondary School Initiative, the group that invited Oasis into the borough, and Our Community, Our Schools supporter and stalwart Alison Emmett. You can read their debate here.

We're grateful to Waltham Forest NCT for giving this important issue some valuable coverage.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

No Oasis Free School until at least 2015

Oasis have announced that their secondary Free School will NOT be opening in 2014 as had been planned. This news comes just weeks after United Learning Trust announced that their primary Free School would also be delayed a year. It’s not clear why Oasis have decided to put back their opening – they still haven’t conducted their statutory consultation, one of the few things the legislation around Free Schools actually requires them to do. Oasis’s press release claims that they are about to announce a site for their school and it may be that they have decided to delay until the process of acquiring and developing the site is further advanced. It may also be that the DfE is less keen than it used to be on schools opening in temporary accommodation due to the extra costs it imposes, something that was criticised in the recent National Audit Office report.
It says a lot about the chaotic process for setting up a Free School that both United Learning Trust and Oasis were allowed to begin an admissions process for schools which will now not exist for at least a year. Oasis were also running their own admissions process, outside of the pan-London Local Authority system.  It would be disastrous if parents encouraged to put Oasis as their first choice had not also put other schools. This is entirely possible. We have to hope that parents putting down Oasis as their first choice were actively encouraged to participate in the local authority admissions process too, and did so.  This is something we’ll be checking with Oasis.
While we are deeply concerned about the possible impact on local children whose names had been put down for the school, Our Community, Our Schools welcomes this delay. It’s clear that Oasis and presumably the leading parental promoters of their school, remain determined to press ahead with their plans. In the meantime, we think the delay gives us an opportunity to keep raising the issue of Free Schools in general and the Oasis, Tauheedul, ULT and DV8 proposals in particular with local parents and residents. We think parents entering the admissions process this year and next deserve to know about the people who will own and run these schools. Watch this space for more soon.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Primary Free School to be delayed for a year

Just before the winter break, we received news which many of you may have seen now, that United Learning Trust’s proposed primary academy will now be delayed for a year following difficulties in locating a site, in spite of being in this year’s admissions booklet. The story was covered in the Waltham Forest Guardian in late December.

We welcome this delay, especially given the other recent local news that Waltham Forest’s community primary schools are performing well against government tests. There's no need for these Free Schools - they are an expensive, unnecessary gamble with our childrens' future and as recent scandals in Derby and Sussex have shown, it's children who pay when they go wrong.


Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Local MP says Free Schools are 'barking mad'

John Cryer, the local MP for Leyton and Wanstead, has slammed the government's Free Schools programme as 'barking mad' in a statement sent to Our Community Our Schools. John has given us permission to publish his statement and you can read it in full below:

"The introduction of free schools removes democratic accountability and oversight from children’s education. There will undoubtedly be people running free schools who have the best of intentions but the scandals we have seen so far involving a number of free schools will probably prove to be the tip of the iceberg. The next few years will, I suspect, see a series of exposes in the media involving financial mismanagement, inappropriate teaching and inadequate staffing – all courtesy of the taxpayer. Incredibly, while the government cuts vital public services there are 100 civil servants working on free schools – and that’s what they admit to.

“Frankly, the government’s free schools programme is barking mad and seems to have been dreamt up by some ideologically driven obsessive somewhere in the bowels of Conservative headquarters.”

Our thanks to everyone who has already lobbied their MPs and Councillors on the issue of the proposed Free Schools in Waltham Forest. Please keep up the good work! You can find out how to do this quickly and easily here.