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My local MP Steve McCabe has written to the DfE to express concerns that the schools are being selected on the basis of out-of-date data – for example on the basis of 2009 SATS results, with subsequent school improvements being ignored.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.

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Total loss of confidence in OFSTED

Downhills Primary School in Haringey has improved results by 21% between 2009 and 2011. Last year 61% of pupils reached level 4 for English and Maths – above the Government’s floor-target. This phenomenal improvement was achieved despite high levels of deprivation and an enormous historical funding gap. No wonder the community has such confidence in the school. Yet the Head Teacher has resigned today after OFSTED ignored the facts and put the school in ‘Special Measures’. Meanwhile favoured academies run by the likes of EACT are found to be ‘Outstanding‘ despite results that are considerably below the national average. There can be no public confidence in OFSTED anymore. OFSTED is nothing more than a tool of government being used as a weapon against schools and communities in Michael Gove’s mania to force his academies agenda.

Academies gaming results at twice the rate of other schools

In the wake of the high-profile Downhills Campaign there have been a greater than usual number of stories about academies in the media. Michael Gove’s increasingly desperate (but no less dangerous) tactics in pursuing his vision of a privatised state education system, and the protests this has spawned, have brought his forced academies programme to the attention of mainstream commentators such as the BBC. Here is an example from Birmingham – Montgomery Primary School teachers strike over academy plan. The BBC largely remains stubbornly uncritical of the Government’s policy. Listen to this Radio 4 Today programme for an unashamedly pro-academy take on the Downhills campaign. Newsnight on the 16th January was an attempt at least, at presenting a balanced view, focusing albeit rather poorly, on the very real issue of backdoor selection in academies. The Guardian meanwhile, has been commenting on academies at about twice the usual rate, raising issues such as  undemocratic centralised power, privatisation & predatory chains , unfair admissions, schools run for profit, and OFSTED as an instrument of Government.

When it comes to the forced academies policy, it seems each time the DfE is asked to comment, variations on the same tired old phrase get churned out; ‘Academies are improving results at twice the rate of other schools,’ or ‘Academies are improving their results at twice the national average rate.’ It was always a feeble justification, being a cherry-picked snippet of data presented out of context, based only on data from Secondary schools, and ignoring as it does, a multitude of other factors that ought to be considered when looking at successful methods of school improvement. But, (Michael Gove’s childish name-calling aside), this would seem to be the DfE’s only response when challenged on their aggressive, underhand and undemocratic attempts to force sponsored academy status on Primary schools against the wishes of whole school communities. See Warwick Mansell’s blog post: The very undemocratic process of forcing academy status on Primary schools for a detailed description of how these tactics are played out in practice.

It has long been known that academies’ improved results are not all that they appear to be. The National Audit Office published a report in September 2010 that showed that academies achieve improved results by a combination of entering pupils for GCSE equivalents with higher pass-rates and by changes in their intake – they were found to have reduced numbers of disadvantaged pupils. The NAO findings were based on data from 2006-2009. Here is what the report had to say on curriculum changes in academies;

2.12 Figure 102.12 overleaf shows that, nationally, academies had proportionately fewer GCSE entries in 2008-09 than in 2006-07, and more entries for qualifications equivalent to GCSEs. However, a similar trend can be seen in both comparator schools and maintained schools overall. For later academies, the proportion of entries for GCSEs decreased more rapidly than in other schools, and the proportion of entries to GCSE equivalents in 2008-09 was seven percentage points higher than earlier academies, and ten percentage points higher that comparator schools.

Government officials describe this practice as “gaming” the system in order to climb the league tables. Now, two years later, a release of new data from the DfE in the wake of the Wolfe Report and Michael Gove’s demonisation of vocational education, reinforces and updates the National Audit Office findings. Expert, Dr Terry Wrigley has analysed 2011 exam results and has found many academies’ use of GCSE equivalents to be ”excessive”. He says “This seriously inflates the attainment figures for academies, compared with all schools nationally, creating a false impression that they are successful.” In reporting Dr Terry Wrigley’s findings, the BBC is starting to sound a tiny bit critical of academies – Academy schools: Vocational equivalents ‘inflating results’ and more surprising still, even the Telegraph is having a go. Dr Terry Wrigley’s full report has been published on the Anti Academies Alliance website.

So what of the DfE’s claim that academies are improving at twice the rate of other schools? In fact Terry Wrigley found that the gap that emerges in academies’ results when GCSE equivalents are not included is twice that of maintained schools. So the DfE could more accurately say that academies are gaming results at twice the rate of other schools.

So has the DfE dropped the claim? Well, in the BBC report it certainly seems to have been downgraded. A DfE spokesperson is reported as saying that  ‘academies’ results, including in the core subjects of English and maths, were improving faster than the national average.’

Fact Check anyone?

Update: 21st February 2012

In this report in the Haringey Independent the DfE has returned to making the false claim that “Academies ..  are improving their results at twice the national average rate.”