Academies to be an election issue in Kings Norton & Bournville this May

A New Party is Born!   Communities Against The Cuts (CATC)

Launch this Saturday 12 noon at No 1 Bournville Lane.  Everyone is welcome.

Communities Against the Cuts will be receiving the keys to No 1 Bournville Lane at 12 noon this Saturday, 31 March 2012.   Its shop front position in Stirchley will offer local residents the opportunity to pop in for a chat and discuss the issues that really matter to them with those who have been involved in local campaigning against the cuts since May 2010.

Christopher Hughes, CATC candidate for Kings Norton Ward in the local council elections to be held on 3 May 2012 said:

 ‘Birmingham City Council is the flagship Council for the CONDEM Government’s ideological policies which are allowing tax breaks for millionaires of over £40,000 whilst at the same time creating an unfair Granny tax.  

Birmingham City Council has been all too eager to impose vicious cuts on the most vulnerable people in our communities, instead of going back to its pay masters and saying, the people who are hurting because of these cuts are not the ones who created this financial crisis and should not be the ones made to pay. 

What the Council should be demanding from the Government is that all austerity measures are reversed and a growth plan implemented with the introduction of an alternative budget, which includes a bankers tax, scraping of trident and withdrawing our troops from Afghanistan, and investing in growth, green jobs, housing, schools and a future for our youth’

‘If ever there was a need for an alternative to all the main political parties, George Galloway’s victory in Bradford-West has sent a strong clear signal to the Government and opposition parties, that austerity isn’t working’

‘Everyone welcome to drop in from 12 o’clock; come and share a pasty with us, hot or cold!’

CONTACTS:

Communities Against The Cuts

1 Bournville Lane, Stirchley

Mobile:  07582 610944

NOTES:

CATC has been born out of the local campaign group, Stirchley and Cotteridge against the Cuts, in response to discussions with local residents and community groups who no longer feel that the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition Council and Government or the opposition parties are offering a real alternative to planned austerity.

Amongst SACAC successful high profile campaigns have been:

  • Reversing a decision to close Charles House and other respite care homes for disabled children and their families in Kings Norton.
  • Preventing Bournville Secondary school moving  to academy status linking in with ‘Hands off Bournville School’
  • The re-opening of Merrishaw Nursery in West Heath.

CATC will be standing two candidates in the 3 May 2012 local council elections are  Christopher Hughes in Kings Norton and Lynne Habermacher in Bournville. 

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Converter Academies Beware!

Just one year ago Caistor Yarborough School in Lincolnshire was found to be a good school with outstanding features. Then in August last year it converted to academy status. Now, as Caistor Yarborough Academy, it has just been put on ‘notice to improve’. The academy is disputing OFSTED’s judgement – you can read the story here.

What I suspect we are seeing here is not the rapid decline of a good school following academy conversion, it is simply the next step in Michael Gove’s plan for privatising education; stand-alone converter academies will be handed over to the big academy chains. Chains like Harris or Ark. These chains present as ‘charities’ but they all have profit-making arms. Even without the go-ahead yet to run their schools for profit (this will be the next step), there are plenty of opportunities for these organisations to benefit from ‘efficiencies’ they make in their schools. Ark Academies for example, despite presenting itself as motivated by a purely altruistic interest in improving our children’s’ education – ‘an international charity whose purpose is to transform children’s lives’ – does not plough its considerable underspend back into education. No – instead it invests the money in the investment funds managed by its parent company (Ark Academies was founded by hedge-fund managers). This article describes how it operates. Salient points for me include that in 2010 Ark Academies had an operational surplus of £1.8 million but spent £0 on staff development, and if Ark Academies goes into liquidation, the parent company’s liability is just £10.

The weapon that will bring about Gove’s big school and academy give-away is the new OFSTED framework. I believe the new framework has been devised to ensure that just about any school can be found to be ‘not good enough’  – Michael Wilshaw’s preferred term for ‘satisfactory’. Few schools are safe, but stand-alone converter academies are by far and away the easiest targets. Converters have already made the structural change to academy status, parents have already been disempowered and there is no local authority to turn to for support or alternative improvement solutions. These schools may well have been tempted to convert by the promise of ‘greater autonomy’ (although it was most likely the extra cash that swung it), but the truth is, academies are entirely at the mercy of the Secretary of State for Education, who grants them funding (or not as he sees fit), on an annual basis.

I believe we can expect to see many more stories of previously successful converter academies failing their OFSTED inspections in the months to come. I also believe that it is no coincidence that OFSTED is now littered with academy-chain people such as Sally Morgan, an Ark advisor, and is run by former Ark director Michael Wilshaw. There is a discussion on the independence, or otherwise, of OFSTED here.

Further proposed changes to OFSTED from September 2012 include;

  • early full re-inspections of schools that require improvement.
  • a school can only be judged as ‘requires improvement’ on two consecutive inspections before it is deemed to require ‘special measures’

What happens when a school goes into special measures? We have only to look at the story of Downhills Primary which has been unfolding in agonising detail on the parent campaign’s  Facebook page. The school gets handed over to Michael Gove’s preferred choice of sponsor. In the case of Downhills this is Harris Academies, run by Carpetright millionnaire and ‘great friend’ of David Cameron, Lord Harris of Peckham. The Anti Academies Alliance has just published a report on the Harris Federation here

So I will close with a question; Who will Caistor Yarborough Academy belong to a year from now?

Calling all parents, prospective parents and school communities across Birmingham

I am starting a new group to bring parents and community across the city together to campaign for proper consultation on educational change, and I would like to invite you to get involved. As you may already be aware, parents’ experience of academy consultation in Birmingham has been seriously flawed with consultation often taking place after the decision has been made. For a fairly typical example see this post about the experience at Kingswinford School. A few of us have been fortunate in being able to make our voices heard at last – including my school community at Bournville School & Sixth Form Centre, but things are set to get a lot worse for parents across Birmingham.

In the 2011 Education Act the Secretary of State for Education gave himself new powers to bypass governing bodies and impose a sponsor of his own choice on schools. Michael Gove is now ruthlessly using his new powers and his first target is primary schools. My local MP Steve McCabe has written to the DfE to express concerns that the schools are being selected on the basis of out-of-date data – for example on the basis of 2009 SATS results, with subsequent school improvements being ignored. You may have followed the plight of Downhills School in Haringey, which is being given to the sponsor Harris Federation despite being above the government’s floor targets and despite sustained and overwhelming opposition from parents who have not been consulted. On Thursday a Downhills parent posted the following tribute to their (now removed) governing body on their Facebook group;

‘I think the Save Downhills Campaign should place on record its thanks to our governing body. These volunteers have really stuck their necks on the line. They’ve worked tirelessly, they’ve been bullied and bad-mouthed but they’ve responded with reason and dignity. Their principled stand was based on achieving sustainable school improvement – which they’d already proved they could oversee, with standards increasing 24% 2009-11. They dared to ask for evidence that an academy would be better because they have always, always had the best interests of the children at heart.’

 

Now the Government has turned its attention to Birmingham and our city is being particularly heavily targeted. There is a Birmingham Mail article about this here. This has already happened to one Birmingham school, Montgomery Primary school in Sparkbrook, which is being taken over by the sponsor AET against the wishes of parents, community and teachers at the school. Like Downhills, there has been no consultation with parents or community and their voices have been ignored. Montgomery parent Mohammed Ashraf posted the following account of ‘consultation’ on their Facebook group recently;

‘..we asked for a consultation meeting so parents and community could have an input, that we didn’t get, but instead representatives from the parent group, local mosques and local resident forum were invited to talk to sponsors. I have had an email from the school and have spoken to governors and they have said that if they didn’t make a decision of sponsor a day before ofsted, the school was at risk of going into special measures and the governors being removed and a interim board being implemented (Gove’s master plan) as (with) the school in Haringey, London. So they said they waited to the last moment to give Gove a (chance for a) change of mind.’

Academy status for primary schools is totally untried and untested, but there are now 29 Primary schools across the city being threatened with forced academy status. Parents and community at most of these schools do not even know they are on the list, and the chances are that they will neither be told nor consulted. This is wrong.

The situation is urgent – some of these schools are already in discussion with sponsors while parents are being kept in the dark. We must do something on a wider than individual school basis because individual school communities are being ruthlessly dismissed and ignored. But parents’ voices can be powerful and if we can work together with parents across the city we can make ourselves heard. If you would like to get involved in the new group or would like to be kept updated with developments please email me (Sarah) at handsoffbournvilleschool@yahoo.co.uk.

NB. The group is so new that it doesn’t have a name yet – suggestions welcome.