Thursday, 22 May 2008

Are Vey Bovvered? YES! Actually, they are!

Students Speak Out
This entry was sent to us in the hopes that students' voices could be heard. They had hoped it would be published in the paper, but it has not been yet. We can see that the possible news of the Rother Valley primary schools took greater precedent this week. This article was not written at NAME's behest or request or with input, but we have indicated that we would wish their article takes precedent over our latest press release. We applaud the students' drive to get informed and involved and be heard.

This article was written by Ella Lewis with the assistance of Alistair Gibson (both current students at MGS). They are both members of the Facebook group opposed to the academy whose membership now stands at 215, most of whom are current and ex students in the Rother Valley.

So many have presented their own views on an academy that it’s easy to forget the people who know the school best and who will be most affected; us students.

Our first issue is that Academies were never developed for wealthy, rural areas like Midhurst. Do we really want to be Guinea Pigs to a financially motivated scheme that is barely five years old? Where’s the consultation of students? Consideration of teachers? Contrary to how we’ve been interpreted, an acceptance of the inevitability of a two-tier system does not equate to support of an academy. We now learn though that contrary to what they have said to us previously, that these ideas of an academy have gone back to even as early as May 2007. Most of the teachers we’ve approached have seemed reluctant to quote one way or another, honesty is not considered as important as the security of their job. This should not be the case.

Where is the ULT money coming from? Is it a non-sustainable fund? They say that neither they nor their affiliates profit, but how can that be so when they are funding such huge projects? Students feel questions have been fielded with promotional comments rather than answered.

We want to know what our friends and siblings will be learning under this business run regime. The curriculum is being presented in such a vague way; we can’t be expected to put our faith in this progressive, unregulated set of subjects. Will we be taught creationism over Darwinism by this Christian society? Not to mention the utterly unfounded claims that are being pushed left right and centre by politically motivated councillors. How can the low pass rates of academies even compete with results of 66% 5 A*- C for GCSEs? They say that the education of the youth in the Rother valley is key in the academy plans, but Robert Back has said that the plan is money motivated in order to get a new building. We do not want our education to be placed in the hands of people who think like that.

So far, all we can see that is remotely better about this academy is the newer building, which may well be made available to us anyway, without losing control of the school, through the Building Schools for the Future scheme, which surely is a realistic time scale for the new academy to be built anyway? In the meantime, why not amalgamate the existing schools in the perfectly fine Midhurst grammar school site? With a new multi-million pound sports hall and four very spacious buildings at our disposal, surely this is the ideal solution for all, not more endless upheaval and disruption at such a crucial time in our academic careers.

In the last meeting, we had the chance to hear the words of the principal of Swindon Academy, who spoke to us about how similar a situation she was in and how it is good for her now. But she is very much mistaken by this judgement. She is from an inner-city school, in heavy competition from others very close to her, rather than the very spacious catchment area of the Rother valley. She spoke about sending students on foreign trips and on expeditions. Excellent, we agree, but Midhurst Grammar already has many foreign trips running anyway. Examples include the school orchestra touring Germany, appropriate subject trips like Swanage Bay for Geography, and a fantastic school history of sixth form trips such as Paris and WorldChallenge. She was speaking about finally being able to choose courses that are very good for special educational needs. We already cater to people who fit this description, with students attending courses at Chichester College and being supported by specialist staff. Yet another example of the consultation offering things in an attempt to persuade us we’ll be profiting, and avoiding the truth that these are things we already have.

Why then are the “independent” consultancy agency talking of their close relationship with ULT and dangling advertisement for the Academy in front of us? A company, whom we are told are completely unbiased, is running one sided meetings, giving more time to promotion for the academy than the very strong community feeling at the moment against the proposals. Are we meant not to question what is laid before us? The consultancy has worked for ULT on many other occasions to secure them an academy deal; this was always bound to raise questions on the validity of the so called consultation process running at the moment?

They talk of designing a very clever building, to incorporate the gradual build up in the three tier system currently used. I would urge you to look at the other academies owned by ULT on their website; most will probably feel they would not fit in one bit in Midhurst.

Overall, we wish to ask the question: Why have the students been asked their views only ten days before the end of the consultation? Many of us have very strong views about the matter which seem to have been overlooked by ULT and the consultants as we are young. Do we not matter? Or do they know how we feel and want it kept quiet?

The Herbie

We are absolutely gutted to hear about the situation that has arisen at Herbert Shiner School. It is an appalling situation for parents, staff and most of all the students. The decision taken is not one that could have been easy or pleasant, so our sympathies go out to those who had to make it, too. However, we feel that the situation might have been foreseen, and that is the source of anger and frustration. The handling of the Rother Valley upheaval has directly led to Herbert Shiner having to close its doors in less than two months' time.

The argument seems to be that the teaching shortage is some sort of natural by-product of change and Petworth's rural location. To be sure, there would be a turn-over in an age-of-transfer change. Whenever there is great change in circumstance, there are some changes of staff. That is to be expected. However, if like any other school, there was some lead-in time, the changes could be managed and managed well. The Rother Valley has not been allowed this fundamental opportunity. We believe in the competency and skill of those who can help our schools do well and even to manage change; but we also believe that the time-scale is a monumental (possibly insurmountable) hurdle which means that we don't get the best out of the situation. Make no mistake about it, the academy proposal has created a number of preventable and unwanted outcomes. Staff leave schools- it happens every year. This situation in Petworth now is not typical. Despite the impression given by the principal of Swindon (who was recognised as a very good leader and maybe people wanted to work for her), teachers up and down the country are not chomping at the bit to work at an academy. Far fewer teachers still would want to sign up for a job where they don't even know who their employer will be, or what their salary, terms and conditions may be. I wouldn't. We have heard about a few teachers interested in applying for secondary school teachers jobs here... until they heard it may be an academy.

Fortunately, there are people still in the system, and they are dedicated to making the best they can for the children in their care. We wish them every luck and are rooting for them and the kids, even if we're decidedly opposed to the academy.

Saturday, 17 May 2008


Pompey play up!
Ok so it has nothing to do with academies, but I had to say it.
Well done Harry and the boys.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Survey results

Here are the results of an online survey set up by Paul Thompson who runs a Facebook page for those opposed to the Rother Valley Academy:

The following are the results of the survey based on the first 50 responses:
1. 30% of those questionned were in the age bracket 19-22 and 20% were in the age bracket 16-18.
2. 40% of those questionned were ex pupils and 30% were current students at MGS and MGS sixth form.
3. 64% of those questionned were in favour of a three tier system, with only 36% in favour of a two tier system.
4. 100% of those questionned were in favour of waiting for funds to become available from the BSF program.
5. 96% thought that WSCC and DJB consultancy weren't holding a fair consultation, whilst 4% thought they were.
6. Many people agreed with most comments in this question. Only 1 respondant (2%) thought that the consultation had been properly and fairly conducted.
7. 76% of those questionned were in favour of the MGS site as the possible academy location, whilst only 24% thought the MIS site was the most suitable.
8. Many people agreed with the statements in this question but only 1 respondant (2%) was completely in favour of the academy proposal.
9. 34% of those questionned had attended only one consultation meeting, whilst 26% had not attended any. Only a small number had attended every consultation meeting.
10. Many good comments were left including some by ex pupils and local residents whose opinions on the matter were very strong and passionate.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

"Open your mind"

Far from being the ‘only show in town’, it now looks less likely than at any previous time that it will be possible for the Academy to open in September. This is, in large part, because of the continuing opposition expressed in meetings and through interviews during the consultation process. The breadth and volume of the opposition has come as a bit of a surprise to some, and will require careful ‘processing’ ahead of its presentation to the cabinet member due to make a decision on whether to proceed to ‘formal consultation’ at the end of this month. This will take time. It is the very least that our elected representatives can do to scrutinise in more depth the deal that is being presented to us, and allow residents and parents adequate time to take on board the long-term implications of moving down the Academy route. If all this due process means that the DCSF’s deadlines cannot be met – what then? Adonis wanted his Academy, and he wanted it now. We are still being told that if it can’t open in September, it can’t open at all; after all, by next year, MGS will be just another well functioning, successful rural comprehensive, much like the many hundreds of others which are not earmarked to become Academies. We await decisions made at central government level in the summer with great interest.

Far from being a 'once-in-a-generation' opportunity, the plans as currently presented to us represent an opportunity missed. WSCC could have started its consultation processes now well ahead of its receipt of Building Schools for the Future money in two to four years time. It could have asked us what we want. It could have drawn on the goodwill of the community and basic democratic principles to rejuvenate the Rother Valley schooling system with public money, retaining public ownership and public control. In fact, that opportunity is still there – and still will be in two to four years time if this ill-conceived and ludicrously expedited Academy plan falls through, as we intend to ensure it will. Now there’s an opportunity! ‘Open your minds’ to it!

Friday, 25 April 2008

Is It a Dunn Deal?

In last week's M&P Observer, Cllr Dunn "answered" readers' questions about the proposed academy. This is the man who has extolled the virtues of the academy from the outset and was still supposed to make an objective decision as the Cabinet Member. We knew the bias was going to be evident in his answers, but were astounded by some of them. We think that the public are entitled to another perspective, especially as some of his answers are misleading. We aren't actually convinced that he wrote all parts of all of the answers, but as these are his answers, we are directing our comments and questions back to him.

So in the posts below (entitled Dunn Deal and...), you will see the question asked in bold black type, his answers in plain text and my responses in blue. I did not add the introduction and conclusion, mainly because the questions and answers speak for themselves. There were a few other questions which were in the paper, which do not appear in the on-line article so I have not been able copy these across. In addition, we've received comments back from someone at the Anti-Academies Alliance about this article, which I shall put in the comments section of the relevant posts as soon as I can. Please feel free to add to the discussion!

Dunn Deal and Academy "Simplicities"

In simple terms, how does an Academy work?

An Academy operates as a normal state school, funded by central government but with additional funding from a private sponsor and the expertise and further resources the sponsor brings. It also gains certain freedoms in how it operates, how it organises the running of the school, the curriculum, the additional resources it calls upon and the partnership arrangements it makes, while being accountable to central government for the delivery of standards and the core curriculum.
It doesn’t operate as a normal state school. Normal state schools are usually maintained by the Local Authority and within a ‘family’ of maintained schools. ULT is one of the few who have actual educational expertise of any kind, but we think that Rother Valley teachers and administrators have the greatest expertise on our schools and educating our children! “The sponsor gains freedoms in how it operates”: freedoms or liberties? It’s accountable to central government, who at this stage, need for academies to seen to be as succeeding- not accountable to us.

Academies offer a broad and balanced curriculum to students of all abilities, and offer one or more specialisms. Money for all the core services (education and teaching, buildings and a wide range of support services) will come from central government.

MGS currently has a specialism. Broad and balanced curriculum in academies? RESEARCH HAS SHOWN THE EXACT OPPOSITE. See Roger Titcombe’s work.

All places at Academies are free of charge. Places at a Rother Valley Academy would be available to all local young people under an agreed and published admissions policy similar to those applying to all other secondary schools within West Sussex.
Similar to- not the same as- all other WS secondary schools. The admissions policy is agreed with central government. The sponsor will be its own admissions authority. Separate funding arrangements involving the local authority will deal with the continued provision of support to local children with special educational needs, who would be welcomed at the Academy, Academies are operated by not-for-profit Trusts.
This is interesting. When will we see these separate funding arrangements? What does ‘involving’ mean? Is this just a clause in the Funding Agreement (private contract between sponsor and secretary of state ONLY, not with Local Authority as is sometimes implied. The sponsors “consult” with local authorities, but ultimately the contract is theirs alone) in which the LA has had some input?
And as for children with SEN being welcomed at the academy, as a former teacher at a Special School, I hope that is the case. Please note, though, that the admissions criteria are for pupils with SEN who have a Statement (of SEN) naming the academy. Getting a statement of SEN for a pupil with special needs seems to get progressively more difficult every year- there are many pupils with a wide range of special needs, pupils catered for very well in some of our schools, who do not have statements. If parents and staff manage to overcome the many hurdles in the way and get a Statement for a child, they then have to get the academy written into the statement, stating why the academy is best suited for the pupil’s needs. Parents can influence the choice of school, but they are not guaranteed that in the actual statement. Advice on this is clear “However, if there's a suitable state school, the local authority has no legal duty to send your child to a non-maintained or independent school.” It isn’t clear that the academy would necessarily welcome all children with any form of special needs, unless they were able to get a statement, and name the academy in this.

They secure sponsorship of up to £2m to support the charitable purposes of the Academy: this money is not for the core educational functions, but is put into an endowment fund aimed at enhancing opportunities for local young people.
Please note the UP TO. Don’t bank on £2 million, literally. And that sponsorship is in cash or in kind. Services can be provided by the sponsor which are then valued by them as a cash equivalent as part of their sponsorship.
Can charities support local young people by enhancing their opportunities, and do so financially? Of course, they already do. But if it is a charitable act, why are sponsors expecting something in return, i.e. control of the school? If groups, philanthropists or even businesses want to provide an endowment, let’s ask them to do it. How many will put their money where their mouth is when we ask for it with no strings attached? Would ULT?