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?

Dunn Deal and Few Academies

If Academies are so good, why aren't there more of them?

There are only limited national funds available – mainly for the significant capital investment from central government but also from private sponsors who have the expertise and commitment required. xxx

The government is already committed to open more than 400 Academies and recently announced an acceleration in the number that would be opened each year. The Academy we're proposing for young people in the Rother Valley would be one of the pioneers in rural areas, but more are planned.
PIONEERS???!!! We are in untested waters here . We are the guinea pigs. If we are to be the first, and others are looking to us as the test-case, surely we should be far more cautious and make sure things are being done right. It is our very real worry that The Rother Valley will be a lesson in “How Not To Do It” in the re-organisations of schools and establishment of an academy. People with whom we have spoken, who know a lot about academies and have seen some through beginning to end (or near end. Most academies take a matter of years NOT months to complete) are shocked and appalled at what they hear and read of our situation. Most of them, quite frankly don’t believe it and think there is some misunderstanding.

Dunn Deal and the Future

If the education system stays as it is in the Rother Valley, how do you envisage the system being in five/ten years' time?

There is a significant risk that the rolls of smaller schools, both primary and secondary, will continue to fall. This would place pressure upon the facilities and resources at Midhurst Grammar such that the demands on staff will increase and the confidence and support of the local community will be tested. In such circumstances we may struggle to sustain, let alone improve further, current standards and performance, even with the huge commitment of school managers and staff to build upon recent achievements.
The confidence and support of the local community have been sorely tested by the handling of this consultation exercise. We have heard of many people ready to jump ship (or who have already) not just because of the change, but because it has been so badly done. There are parents and staff who do not trust the Authority and the promises given. This is a terrible situation to be put in. When MGS went into Special Measures, there were problems with parental choice; we’re not denying that. But it’s doing well, and can recover if given the chance. The LA did not support MGS in the first place and are now making matters so much worse. The school is hundreds of years old and one blip on the radar has made it vulnerable, which is very unfair. The school and the system should be given support, encouragement and time to prove themselves.

The three-tier system, with intermediate schools, has its very real strengths, of course, but it is increasingly costly to protect and not sufficiently popular with local parents, a significant proportion of whom still send their children out of the local catchment area or choose the private school option.
The intermediate schooling is popular- their rolls may have fallen recently here- but that hasn’t been given a chance to recover. Furthermore, I know of many people who supported the age-of-transfer change, but thought it just meant changing at the end of Year 6 in line with neighbouring authorities. They had no idea that it meant an abolition of MIS/HSS and they certainly had no idea whatsover that doing so would lead to an academy and this chaos.

The county council wishes to help schools to rejuvenate educational provision in the Rother Valley. We are tackling the age of transfer challenge and have proposed that a single secondary school is created to achieve a truly world class education for all young people aged 11 to 18 in the area.
IS WEST SUSSEX NOT ABLE TO DO THIS WITHOUT AN ACADEMY? Despite their dire approach to education in the Rother Valley recently, we think that there are talented and commited professionals in West Sussex who could make our school world-class. Robbing Peter to pay Paul (central government £, still taxpayers’) may bring quick cash, but if there was no academy option, surely there would be possibilities for “rejuvenation” and age-of-transfer change.

Dunn Deal and Money Money Money

Why can't the money that will be made available to the Academy be given instead to the grammar school to update the very old buildings?

Some of the money comes from the private sector and they will want to influence how that is spent. DINGGGGGGG (That’s the sound of alarm bells)

For the significant central government investment the DCSF will want assurances that standards will improve quickly and this means real changes in approach and accountability.
Couldn’t agree more. (but how this is done leaves a lot to be desired; at the very least a need to be open to full public scrutiny – which we’ve not been given)

It is not just a question of throwing money at the problem. There must be a guarantee high aspirations will lead to new educational opportunities and higher educational achievements for local young people.Waffling of the highest order.
But in fact, studies show that it is INVESTMENT not the academies themselves which make the difference. There is another funding stream called “Excellence in Cities” (obviously not appropriate to Midhurst). The point is that EiC-funded schools which stayed in Local Authority control had less capital funding, but raised standards and results better than academies on a like-for-like basis (except the EiC schools kept the same proportion of SEN students and students eligible for FSM, unlike academies). New buildings, feel-good factor: that’s what parents like when looking at a new academy. But buildings and facilities are new for only so long. High apsirations, opportunties and achievements can be provided for very well by OUR schools.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families has been quite clear with us. There is no prospect of any significant capital investment coming Midhurst's way for years to come unless we secure what can now be made available to us.
This is what we keep hearing. Apart from the fact that it’s very interesting that this was only such a burning issue when the academy beast reared its head, we still have not had a satisfactory answer to the allocation on the BSF website: which states that West Sussex is in Wave 10-12, not 12-15, probably 15 as is bandied about
Maybe West Sussex have another school/schools in line for this BSF funding, and giving away our secondaries is the easiest and best ££££ decision for them. If they think we are in such desperate need for the money that we need to sign over the schools to a private sponsor in a few months, as soon as the money is released to West Sussex, they must invest in the Rother Valley and keep our school(s) our own.

To turn down up to some £30m of capital funding would be wrong (my italics) and would deprive local children and school staff the opportunity they deserve of working in the most supportive learning environment that could be provided.
This sounds more like Dunn. It really does make me cross- what an insult to many of the fantastic staff we have now! Are they incapable of providing the most supportive learning environment that could be provided?!

Dunn Deal and City Academies

Aren't Academies for inner-city areas? Why do you think the Academy will make such a difference in the Rother Valley?

Initially this was the case as the national Academy programme focused on schools with the greatest problems of low educational standards and performance. That was what government ministers agreed to, and what many still think. The “city” was quietly dropped from “academies” because some academies left the urban jungle and moved into leafier areas out of city centre. Unsurprisingly, their “clientele” changed. Then struggling independent schools realised that getting 20+ million quid from central government was a lot easier than raising bursaries and chasing a dwindling pool of parents scraping together tuition fees. Academies are still supposed to be for areas of deprivation, seriously underperforming schools or where extra places are needed.
The government is now recognising that smaller rural secondary schools can also struggle to sustain standards and that they too should benefit from major investment – one that will ultimately benefit the whole community. This is one of the most disingenuous, misleading statements so far. OF COURSE government knows that small rural secondary schools should benefit from investment. INVESTMENT DOES NOT EQUAL ACADEMIES!!!

I am confident that if it proceeds, this ambitious project would make a huge difference for the communities of the Rother Valley. The establishment of a new, energetically-run Academy should be positive news for parents across our county and beyond. Huge difference? Yes. Positive? Maybe for some; definitely not for others.
“Our county and beyond” is a worrying addition: this suggests the test-case scenario again.

Likewise, the Academy would act as a beacon for other local schools, sharing its resources and working closely with local primary schools to ensure the transition from primary to secondary education works well for all future pupils.
Again, we need an academy to be a beacon? There is a monumentally greater proportion of maintained schools which are beacons, compared to academies (are there even any? Please name one if you can). I know first hand that Rother Valley schools DO share resources and DO work together to ensure school transition. ULT promise access of 9000 lesson plans for teachers: why are these not available to schools like those in the Rother Valley if they are so passionate about education and the best for Rother Valley children? This is the sort of collaboration and sharing which currently is made available in the state system. I myself have provided resources for West Sussex teachers through the county. There are lots of these about, made by teachers who want to share. Freely.

Dunn Deal and Curriculum

Can you guarantee all humanities and arts subjects and modern foreign languages currently provided as part of the timetabled curriculum would remain so within the proposed Academy?

It is impossible for any school to guarantee the continuation of any specific subject into the medium term and beyond. None of our existing county council schools would do so; we mustn't expect the Academy to do so either. Curriculum decisions at ULT-sponsored Academies are made by the principal and senior staff subject to central ULT frameworks and guidance. True, but this is much more the case for the academy- as it is all up to them. The academy, as is stated, is subject to central ULT frameworks. Let’s hope what is decided in Northamptonshire is exactly what we need in the Rother Valley.
It is ULT policy to offer a broad and balanced curriculum. Although the Academy would have specialisms of science with mathematics, a full curriculum (my italics) including humanities, arts subjects and modern foreign languages would of course be offered.
?!? How on earth can Cllr Dunn say this with any degree of authority? No one knows what the time-tabled curriculum will be like and the sponsors are under no obligation to tell us! Please, look at the consultation document, page 8. “The core provision will consist of English, mathematics, science, ICT, religious education, physical education, citizenship, PSHE, careers and work-related learning and enterprise”. The only mention of any other subjects are in a preceding paragraph: “A programme of enrichment activities and extracurricular opportunities will be developed to complement the formal curriculum.” In other academies, this has meant after-school clubs and the occasional themed taster (eg “Arts Week”). We have been told by well-informed authorities that academy curricula (from current) are unlikely to change drastically in the first couple of years. What about after that? Curricula in academies have narrowed dramatically compared to their predecessor schools. Is Cllr Dunn legally liable for promising this to parents if the academy doesn’t deliver? (after all, they’ve set out their proposals on page 8 of their consultation document- no full curriculum with humanities, arts and languages promised).
It is also guaranteed that all students at the Academy who have already begun the syllabus for external examinations in any subject would be able and encouraged to complete this qualification.
This is maybe the first re-assurance I have read thus far. Good, but :How is it guaranteed? Where?

Dunn Deal and Transparency

Would you consider monitoring and publishing the balance of uptake of humanities, arts around MFL and vocational subjects in the proposed Academy during its first three years, to ensure that choice is not restricted and that some subject areas would not suffer from a 'squeeze' in the race to appear to raise standards?

The county council and community representatives would have a role on the governing body and will support the sponsors in achieving full transparency as part of its commitment to the community. The Local Authority will have 1 spot on the governing body, of which the sponsor has a two-thirds majority. Full transparency? How? Please provide one example of an academy achieving full transparency to the community.
I am confident the new Academy will have nothing to hide. It will be up to governors and the community to measure and assess its academic and specialist strengths, which will very quickly become obvious to observers. And what do the observers do, if after measuring and assessing the academy, they are dissatisfied? The school is leased to the sponsor for 125 years.
Its success, as with all schools, will be judged by parents locally, as well as by the inspections applicable to all other state-maintained schools.
But in other maintained schools, the authority can do a lot more to help if a school has problems. Inspections: not applicable to all other state-maintained schools. See below.

Dunn Deal and Accountability

Can you assure parents that, unlike other Academies, you would make available to current and prospective parents full results, subject by subject? What do you feel about the sponsor's unwillingness to release this data?

That would be for the principal of the Academy to decide, but I can see no reason why such data would not be available. Likewise I am not aware of ULT being unwilling to provide this data to parents at its existing Academies.Can we get a promise from ULT that they will make the data available? Please ask them to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act, and then tell us this with some confidence. Researchers and Journalists have found it VERY difficult to access this information from all academies. If you are not aware of this, Cllr Dunn, please could you ask?
Academies are inspected by Ofsted, using the same framework as for any other state school. Prior to opening, the proposed policy documents for the Academy would be subject to inspection. A full Ofsted inspection – with the full results being published – has to be carried out within six terms of the opening. Prior to this inspection the Academy would receive regular visits from Ofsted inspectors.
Not the same as for any other school. This is the latest information we have: They are inspected by a specialist team, which is made up of 8 inspectors for the country, some of whom oddly enough inspected predecessor schools, giving them a rather hard time- classifying them as failing. In 2004, Ofsted agreed a Protocol for working with the DCSF ‘Academies Group’. Under this protocol, Ofsted is involved in providing detailed advice concerning the setting up of individual Academies. It was also agreed in the Protocol that their inspections should be “helpful in promoting the Academy’s progress”. Given that Ofsted is so closely identified with the development of individual Academies and with the success of the Academies programme as a whole, its independence from government has been compromised. This is inequitable: parents do not receive like-for-like reports for Academies and non-Academies.

Dunn Deal and Haste

Given this would be the fastest-ever establishment of an Academy, how can you possibly ensure the process would be executed effectively, so schools, their staff, and, most importantly, the children won't suffer as a result?

The county council and ULT, as proposed sponsor, have entered into this programme with real commitment and enthusiasm and see no reason why we cannot work together with current staff and the wider community to achieve good outcomes quickly. Commitment and enthusiasm are great, but I can see plenty of reasons why good outcomes can’t be achieved: there isn’t enough time! Two years is considered fast for academy establishment. I am still looking to find feasibility studies carried out in less time than we’ve had just for consultation to academy opening. Given the Herculean experimental nature of this proposal, we should be taking more time, not less to ensure that everything is done properly, if it is going to happen. Just look at the nature of the consultation so far and how rushed that’s been. How many schools- 17?- were asked to consider changes to their schooling PLUS age of transfer arrangements PLUS an academy in 6 weeks. Other authorities who’ve held rushed and flawed consultations have given more time for consideration of academy proposals alone. WSCC could have done this and done this even half-decently if there was time to do so.

The building work and any agreed final age of transfer arrangements would be arranged so any possible disruption can be minimized for children and staff. If the gains of the proposed change to Academy status can be delivered sooner we should try to do so. No we shouldn’t. If an academy must be delivered, it must be delivered well. How can you guarantee minimising disruption when you’re rushing? The primary objective here seems to be to get the Academy through, no matter what, then we’ll worry about the nitty-gritty (like what happens to the children; where the academy might be). Please tell us how you propose to arrange building work and age-of-transfer BEFORE you tell us it will all work out nicely. By the way, staff and pupils at Paddington Academy (ULT) have a very different story to tell about disruption. The Local Authority were not happy, but too late- nothing they could do about it.
The governing bodies, leadership team and staff of the three secondary schools, in particular, have been involved in the consultation process since the Academy option was first given the green light by the DCSF in late January this year.It’s not my place to comment on the GBs, leaders or staff of the secondary schools (until we’ve been given consent to, which we have not asked). I think they must be going through a very difficult time.

I would counter this question by asking one of my own... Are you content the current decline in secondary school numbers should be allowed to continue? No, but again, I think there are answers to be found which do not involve an academy. At the very least, people should have been informed of alternatives, or given a chance to put these forward. Instead, all of us have been told at very short notice, that there will be an academy (pending consultation, an interesting example of circular logic), and have been given nothing but sales pitch. Some people have bought it; a few people have embraced it; many people want to know more specifics and have more time.Or would you like prompt and urgent action to be taken to begin to address current and future challenges? Prompt and urgent? Perhaps. Rash? Definitely not.Children have only one chance at their education... and for the adults responsible for providing the very best educational opportunities in the Rother Valley, time is of the essence. I’d like for my child to have the best chance and in 5-10 years and on down the line when the academy’s “additionality” has dried up, when we could have been seeing some funding for our state school, I have no faith that my child will have the very best educational opportunities. “Time is of the essence”: I ‘ve heard that before. Oh yes, it was in minutes of a meeting called by local headteachers with Mr Back so that they could plan for sustainable schools offering the very best educational opportunities. If there were to be any changes, the timing would need to be right, said he. But on the subject of change: “there is no immediate push from us, but we may well respond if there is pressure to push for system change.. Unless there is a clear steer that change is really desired, we would not come to you.” What are we supposed to believe?

Dunn Deal and Governing Body

How can you assure parents the governors chosen would actually represent the wide diversity of parents, staff and local people's views on the governing body, rather than just supporting the sponsor's position?

This is an area over which the county council would have a key influence. How?

Within our role as children's services authority, we are keen to ensure the proposed Academy fulfils its obligations to the wider needs of young people. This includes ensuring the governing body includes staff, parent and community representation.

You (WSCC) will no longer have control over secondary education. You will have 1 place on the governing body- actually the LOCAL governing body. This is the UCST/ULT line on governance: “All are governed by the Governing Council of the Company, supported by a local governing body at each school”. It isn’t up to WSCC; it’s up to ULT if the academy goes through.

The funding agreement between ULT, the sponsor, and the government would also set down the expectations for local involvement in the school's management. ULT has already made strong commitments on this matter. Let’s see the Funding Agreement then. The LA is not a party to the FA, neither are we, the public.

It is planned there will be 15 local governors, up to ten of whom would come from within the local community. There would still be the usual elected governors, representing parents and staff and a local authority governor. Under these circumstances I am 100 per cent confident the sponsors would be kept fully in touch with local opinion and preferences by seeking strong community representation and engagement.Up to. There are 5 governors not to be appointed by ULT. The principal who is hired by ULT, a LA representative, and 3 elected members: 1 staff, 1 teacher, 1 parent. All others are ULT appointees. (Whom will they choose and how?) This is NOT not not the usual set-up as Cllr Dunn would have us infer. I think that there are presently 15 elected parent governors alone for the 3 schools.

Dunn Deal and Exclusions

Would you monitor exclusion rates at the proposed Academy, and publish data comparing exclusions in the first three years of the proposed academy, with those in the preceding three years?

The county council retains obligations to manage the education of pupils at risk of exclusion and will work closely with the Academy to minimise pupil exclusions. Such data will therefore be available.

Dunn Deal and Teaching

Can you guarantee that unlike other ULT Academies, no unqualified people would be employed to teach classes in place of qualified teachers?

Staff training and development is something ULT takes very seriously. Where ULT has employed unqualified teachers, it is because they have transferred across under TUPE (which guarantees the rights of existing staff) from the predecessor school.
We’re working on this, but given the secretive nature of academies it’s hard to pin down. We know of at least one instance where a technician was TUPEd across and then used as an unqualified teacher, so sneaky answer but probably technically correct (pardon the pun). But of course, ULT are well within their rights to hire whom they like and set their pay and conditions (after TUPE).

Dunn Deal and Choice

Why can't we give parents a choice of an Academy or keeping MGS as it is?

Within a rural area – where only one school will be available for most students – we must accept the same levels of choice as in larger towns will not be available. Rather, we want to ensure parents see the proposed Academy as a significant improvement in the prospects for their children.
The aim of the academy is to bring choice and diversity. True, we have only one upper secondary now, but it is a state school. This academy does not bring choice and diversity. We have very grave concerns about certain aspects of the academy which are not clear to the public at the moment. For instance, ULT are not selecting on religious basis, but stress the need for parents (and staff) to support the ethos. Seems simple enough, the ethos is what any good school would stand for. But, will parents in (their words:) ACCEPTING a place (we have no other choice but to accept) be forced to sign a contract that makes the place conditional on not undermining the Christian approach to the running of the school? What if their version of Christianity doesn’t match the parents? What if parents of a different faith, or of “no faith” object to a particular incident, or rule or policy in the school that is at odds with their beliefs? Would that be grounds for losing the child’s place? What is ULT’s approach to RE? Do parents have the right to withdraw their children from lessons, assemblies, etc. on grounds of religion as they do now? It can get a lot more complicated than this- these are just examples to show how there may be an erosion of choice. If we lived in a town or city where there was at least 1 other secondary school, it might not be such a worrying concept for some.
The choice will be between staying where we are or seizing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get the quality of provision the area deserves.
Malarky. The choice may be between getting £20+million in accepting an academy OR keeping control of our secondary education and not getting central funding now. But in not getting an academy, we don’t have to “stay where we are”.

Dunn Deal and Parents

You are on record as saying 'good parents' would support the Academy, and would not deny their children the 'good opportunity' of associating with Winchester College. Are parents who oppose the Academy, bad parents in your eyes?

No – that is not my meaning. I cannot see why any parents would want to oppose the level of investment and reinvigoration that this scheme would bring to the local communities. Umm, see all my other comments.

There is no suggestion that opponents may be bad parents. Good.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Dunn Deal

We are formulating a response to the question and answer session in the Midhurst and Petworth Observer given over to the man who supposedly hasn't made the decision about the academy: Cllr Dunn. Please watch this space- it is very important that we address a number of factual inaccuracies and half-truths, in addition to the fantastic spin he has put on this the re-organisation of our Rother Valley schools, especially the academy issue. He's done a pretty good job there, and may very well convince some people who take him at his word. We know that there is a lot more to the see and we think the public deserve to hear the whole story.

In the meantime, have you read the previous two posts? These were the bases for our press coverage over the past week. However, the story of the surveys came upon us very suddenly (as brought to our attention by concerned parents, some of whom were not NAME members at all). This is what the paper chose to cover. We think it is all important and we'd like to hear your thoughts on any of these issues, so leave a comment on any of our posts.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Exit Poll (and enter poll)

Thank you to all of the voters of our on-line poll. The poll ended just after the Local Authority's consultation, and the results of the poll were a shocking indictment of the public's faith in the consultation process. Despite repeated assurances from council representatives that this was a genuine consultation, our blog showed that an overwhelming majority think otherwise. Only 9% of voters agreed that WSCC were conducting a true consultation, whilst a whopping 88% stated for the record that they didn't believe the consultation to be genuine.

The poll has now closed, but don't go away! We've got another poll posted, seeking your opinion on the time-scale offered to the Rother Valley for this academy proposal. Please have a look and vote on that, too. We may put another question up for a vote, but we are running out of room on the sidebar. Watch this space. In the meantime, we'd also be interested to hear why people voted as they did. Why do you think that West Sussex did not hold a true consultation? (Or maybe you're one of the few who have faith in this consultation and would like to let us know why). Leave a comment and tell us what you think.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Consultation ends. Time to think again

This is the press release sent to the local papers on 8th April. We believe that it will be run in the M&P Observer next week, with some follow-up, but thought that you might be interested in the full content following the end of the consultation period.

This week marks the end of West Sussex County Council’s Second Phase Age of Transfer Consultation on Restructuring Rother Valley Schools. NAME campaigners against the proposed Academy are claiming to represent the public opinion which has formed during the consultation period.” We defy anyone to deny that the overwhelming majority at the two public consultation meetings on the Academy (at MIS and Lodsworth Village Hall) were against this privatisation plan” said spokesperson Simon Boxley, “WSCC cannot claim to have won the educational argument. This should not be about politics – it should be about children.” However, he continued,
“We must not be complacent. In other parts of the country Academy consultation results have been swept aside and ignored. In an online poll conducted by NAME during the consultation period, 88% of the nearly 200 respondents voted ‘no’ to the question ‘is West Sussex County Council conducting a true consultation?’ We must hold them to be true to the spirit of dialogue with our community. It’s time for the decision-makers to turn back from this process and consult us with real options.”

The NAME campaign has revealed findings that shed light on the Local Authority’s drive towards the Academy proposal. Through Freedom of Information Act requests, and subsequent follow-ups, the picture that emerges of the motives and process behind the decision is at odds with that portrayed by Council representatives, such as Robert Back’s claim of February 5th that the plan had only recently taken shape. When local headteachers met with the Director of Education in November 2006 in order to plan for the future of schooling in the Rother Valley, Robert Back stated “there is no immediate push from us, but we may well respond if there is pressure to push for system change.. Unless there is a clear steer that change is really desired, we would not come to you.”[1] At that stage County claimed that any proposed changes would take three years to implementation[2]. Six months later, an Academy for Midhurst was being discussed by the West Sussex Cabinet[3], and here we are 17 months later with wholesale restructuring planned for September! Pressure has clearly been applied and politically motivated decisions taken. The Department for Children Schools and Families acknowledge meetings between a few key personnel in the West Sussex system and the Minister in charge of Academies, Lord Adonis: “we know that Academy plans were discussed at these meetings, contradicting County’s claim that this was a ‘lucky last minute coincidence’” said NAME campaigner, Lizz Tinder. The DCSF have denied NAME access to minutes of these meetings, saying “The disclosure of early stage discussions [between Adonis and WSCC] is likely to have an impact on the potential Academy projects and so the success of the Academies programme as a whole.”[4] We say, what is there to hide?
With the proposed Academy’s national significance, the stakes are high; but we resist the role of subjects in a political experiment.

[1] Minutes, Rother Valley Schools and CYPS Discussion Meeting, Western Area Professional Centre, Tuesday 28th November, 2006
[2] Minutes, Rother Valley Schools and CYPS Discussion Meeting, Western Area Professional Centre, Tuesday 28th November, 2006
[3] Minutes, WSCC Cabinet, Extract from Action Notes of meeting held on 22nd May, 2007 obtained via Freedom of Information, request, January 3rd, 2008.
[4] DCSF Freedom of Information request response, by e-mail, 28th March, 2008

Friday, 4 April 2008

“The worst that can happen is that you don’t make the progress you wish”

Paul Thompson was one of the many faces in the crowd at the MIS public meeting last Wednesday. He kindly sent this report to NAME.

The consultation meeting on Wednesday 26th March felt more like a ‘presentation’ than a ‘consultation’. A surprisingly large number of people crammed into the hall at MIS, in fact so unexpected were the numbers that there weren’t enough seats available.

There was an opening statement by Dame Jocelyn Barrow on behalf of the independent consultants. Dame Jocelyn informed us that ‘focus groups’ would be held with current students to determine their preferences with regards to the academy proposal, something which I am surprised hasn’t yet happened considering how far through the process we are!

Robert Back from the LEA was the next to speak. He revealed that the LEA was “completely in favour of an academy”, but agreed that “there are lots of strengths in the three tier system”. It shocked me to see how little knowledge Mr. Back has of the area, as he commented about the difficulties of teachers having to travel between the three current schools, something which doesn’t happen as each school has its own teaching staff. He also said that the academy is “the only way to get a 21st century building”, which isn’t true as there is still the option of the ‘building schools for the future’ (BSF) programme. According to Mr. Back however, the academy will “give the same deal but much sooner” which clearly isn’t true, as having a set of state run schools is slightly different to having an education system run by private sponsors. Interestingly, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has commented that in order for an area to be considered for the BSF programme, local authorities are forced to consider including an academy proposal as part of the consultation, indicating that this proposal is being pushed through by unknown hands at Westminster who have no knowledge of the local area. Robert Back also encouraged the audience to dispel any opinions of current academies because “what happens to city academies won’t apply here”, although it is still unclear as to what these differences are. There is apparently an alternative being considered, which involves having smaller school ‘units’ on one site, but there is no mention of this in either the WSCC or ULT’s proposal documents. Mr. Back’s local knowledge was called into question when he commented that “a minibus will be provided to take children home” – a minibus? Does he know how many children will require this service?! Another telling comment by Mr. Back was that “academies receive sufficient money over the first few years”, but no comment was made about funding after the initial stages. My personal favourite quote by Robert Back during the evening was, “the worst that can happen is that you don’t make the progress you wish”. This is completely false. Once the land is given over to the ULT, there is no going back. Also, due to the questionable assessments provided by OFSTED in relation to academies, changes would be slow to be implemented so if the academy begins to fail, problems will take a long time to be corrected. But I suppose we won’t necessarily know if it begins to fail will we? If academies are exempt from the freedom of information act, don’t have to release subject specific exam results and are accountable ONLY to the secretary of state, poor results and standards could quite easily be hidden from the public, including parents.

The ULT then made a presentation which felt more like part of an open evening for the proposed academy. The ULT representative, Mr. Baker, said that they will provide a “download service” allowing teaching plans to be accessed by students. This university style education will surely lead to pupils skipping lessons, and seeing as how the exclusion policy is so strict in academies, the students who take advantage of this system will simply be cast away from the education system entirely. Maybe this is what Mark Dunn meant when he said that the academy’s pupils would be better behaved, because the students in the Midhurst area who are apparently “genetically modified” to be badly behaved won’t be accepted by the academy at all. But of course, this isn’t in any way selective is it?! ULT repeatedly referred to what employers want from the education provided by academies, but no mention was made of what universities may require. Universities will surely find it hard to compare students who learn the national curriculum to those who don’t. Will the qualifications offered by the academy even be considered by universities who follow a strict admissions policy? I also find it hard to believe that universities will choose to enrol students from an education system labelled as ‘failing’, which is undoubtedly what the academy will do. This is confirmed by DfES themselves who say that academies are only considered in areas with failing education systems (or in areas where new schools are needed and seeing as how the local schools already accept the entire catchment area, there is no reasoning for this either). In terms of governance at the proposed academy, the ULT representative as good as admitted that only one parent governor will be retained and that the ten additional governors from the local community would be “technically appointed by ULT” (the other four governors being the principal, one teacher, one staff member and one LEA representative). Mr. Baker also commented that “academies are scrutinised and monitored far more than any school”, which I’m sure everyone will agree is absolute nonsense. Finally, the representative said that “the decision will be made from the feasibility stage”, which contradicts the comments made by a WSCC councillor who commented at a recent town council meeting that the decision HAD been made and that the academy WOULD open in name in September this year. She also said that the consultation process had been badly handled by WSCC, and that she would be referring the matter to County Hall. This comment, which I can only describe as damning for WSCC, calls the whole ‘consultation’ process into question.

Twice during the evening, Robert Back referred to the academy as “the only show in town”. He agreed that “schools like MGS should never have been in special measures and the LEA should have spotted this”. This comment is of course true, but why does WSCC want to label the area as ‘failing’ by putting an academy in the Rother Valley, if we all agree that the education system in the area only went through a glitch and was never really failing? Yet again during the evening the “strong public support for change” was justified by the number of parents wanting a “change towards a two tier system”. Unless I’m very much mistaken, the word ‘academy’ doesn’t feature in the initial consultation, so why is this being used as justification for an academy in Midhurst?

During the question and answer session at the end of the evening, there were only a select few people who spoke out in favour of the academy, with the large majority of those present airing their disapproval of the proposal. There were several excellent questions put to the panel, including very passionate comments by two sixth-formers and one current MGS student. The applause for audience members who spoke out against the proposal was deafening, showing once again that the majority of the local community are not in favour of the academy.

Robert Back agreed that the timescale of the consultation “militates” against students, but that the academy is required to replace the “crumbling edifice” that is the MGS site. Again, I would refer people to the BSF programme which will provide the option of new buildings in a few years. Surely waiting a few more years for nicer buildings is better than being stuck with a sub-standard education provided by unaccountable, private sponsors for decades in the future.

By Paul Thompson (Former pupil of MGS and university graduate)

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Investment in our community schools; no to an Academy

The following blog entry represents our response to a set of questions addressed to us this week by the local press.

Our evidence is drawn from a range of reliable sources including peer-reviewed academic research papers by Farnsworth (2006), Hatcher (2006), Wrigley (2007) and Titcombe (2008) and books by Ball (2007, 2008); the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (2007) and the MPs’ Committee of Enquiry into Academies & Trust Schools (2007); the 2006 PricewaterhouseCoopers Academies Report commissioned by the Government.

Investment in our community schools; no to an Academy

Academies are schools runs by sponsors on the basis of a ‘funding agreement’ – a kind of contract – drawn up with the government. They are outside local authority control. The sponsors have control of the governing body, and some freedom to shape the curriculum. They do not have to comply with national pay and conditions regulations over how and whom they employ. This first rural Academy may seem like a ‘bold experiment’, but it is not in the best long term interests of its guinea pigs – our children.

The Academies programme remains untested, but such official evaluations as there are, such as the National Audit Office and House of Commons Public Accounts Committee reports cast serious doubt on Academies’ success in achieving results, the role of sponsors and Academies’ cost effectiveness.

1. Are Academies selective in their admissions?

There has been lots of evidence to MPs about Academies’ overt and covert admissions and exclusions practices which have enabled them to skew their intakes in favour of those from higher-achieving backgrounds. Much of the evidence in this area emerges over the longer term: those Academies which have been in existence longest have the most unrepresentative admissions. Many Academies have a significantly lower proportion of children receiving free school meals than their predecessor schools.

2. Are they accountable?

Only eight inspectors lead OfSTED inspections for all Academies. Under a 2004 protocol, OfSTED have a more supportive role for Academies than for other schools, compromising their independence. Academies do not have to publish their results by subject. They are answerable only to Secretary of State, not local communities, and exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, and, whilst we can choose not to elect councillors with whom we disagree, we’re stuck with the sponsors indefinitely.

3.Are they democratic? ie Is the community represented on the governing body and do communities get a say in the decision to set them up?

By law, the sponsor must have a majority holding on the governing body. For this new school of 1500, we would have only one teacher, one support staffmember and one parent who would not be ULT appointees. Those ‘community-members’ appointed by ULT are unlikely to represent parents’ and staff’s views. The community neither elected ULT nor invited them to take control of our school.

4. How do Academies perform in league tables?

Government claims that Academies raise standards are unproven, because their full exam data is kept secret. NAO reports and academic research often point to faster improvement under LA management before sell-off. Where Academies show marginal success, this is mostly for the higher-achieving children and can be partly accounted for by changes in pupil intake and the skewing of the curriculum. The use of vocational qualifications which count for four GCSEs has increased 12-fold in Academies, artificially boosting results in the short term.

5. What about exclusion policies?

Some Academies exclude children at up to ten times the National average rate. Children excluded from the proposed Midhurst Academy would have to travel some considerable distance to a local authority school. When Academies expel pupils, the local authority is left to pick up the bill for educating them – the Academy keeps the money. Proposed Midhurst Academy sponsor board-member, Richard Tice, favours removing parents’ right to appeal such decisions.

6. The setting up of Academies has been described as the privitisation of state edcuation, what is your view?

Privatisation ain’t what it used to be! Most commentators agree that new forms of privatisation blur the public-private boundry, and open the door for ‘flexibilisation’, ‘branding’ cost-cutting and competition now, and, sub-contracting, profit-making and buy-outs at a later date. Academies mark the first stage in a process of marketisation which may be completed by future governments. Make no mistake, you’re being sold the ULT brand! Hard-sell is not what schooling should be all about.

7. It has been said that local authorities are being 'bullied into accepting Academies to get money', is this true?

Many Academy ‘consultations’, including our own, are rushed and flawed and have no regard for the long term impact of school closure and relocation on communities. ‘Stakeholders’ often feel blackmailed into accepting an Academy, with little time to think through their own priorities for their communities: “no Academy, no investment!” WSCC said in November 2006 that it would not change education in the Rother valley unless under external pressure. Both the pressure and decision are highly political.

8. Are Academies fair on existing and new staff?

The MPs’ Committee of Enquiry documents Academies’ high staff turn-over rate and discriminatory employment practices. Support staff in Academies have seen their conditions worsen, and new teachers recruited to ULT Academies have been employed on contracts far less favourable than those transferred from local authority employment. Employees’ maternity rights have been eroded. Unqualified staff have often taken on teaching roles and the new Principal need not be a qualified teacher.

A positive future

What can ULT give us that a good community school cannot? It is children’s interests which should come first, not sponsors’. We believe in a positive future for Rother Valley community schools, retaining our influence over the use of our taxes, and upholding the rights of parents and children to a broad, rich curriculum. We do need investment in our schools, and we want to work with the Local Authority and governors rather than against them to ensure this investment is delivered. The rules for Midhurst’s Academy would be drawn up in a funding agreement between sponsor and government, and until we have seen it, we cannot know what we are being consulted upon. We reject the spin presented by sponsors and glossy ‘consultation’ exercises which are no more than advertising opportunities. However, we urge Rother Valley residents to complete the questionnaire (online at;jsessionid=awKNDaseJOHf ) and let councillors know what you think. It’s just like voting: if you don’t vote, you can’t moan about the government you get. If you don’t respond now, you cannot complain when you look back on the year the educational heart was torn from our community.

Anti-Academies Alliance (2007) Report on the MPs Committee of Enquiry into Academies and Trust Schools, London: AAA
Ball, S. (2007) Education plc. Understanding private sector participation in public sector education, London: Routledge
Ball. S. (2008) The Education Debate, Bristol: The Policy Press
Farnsworth, K. (2006) ‘Business in education: a reassessment of the contribution of outsourcing to LEA performance’, Journal of Education Policy 21 (4) 485-496
Gorard, S. (2005) ‘Academies as “The Future of Schooling”: Is This an Evidence-Based Policy?’ The Journal of Education Policy, 20 (3)
Hatcher, R. (2006) ‘Privatization and sponsorship: the re-agenting of the school system in England’, The Journal of Education Policy, 21 (5) 599-619
House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts (2007) The Academies Programme: Fifty-second Report of Session 2006-07, London: TSO
National Audit Office (2007) The Academies Programme: Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, London: The Stationary Office
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (2006) Academies Evaluation: Third Annual Report, Nottingham: DfES Publications
Titcombe, R. (2008) ‘How Academies Threaten the Comprehensive Curriculum’, Forum, 50 (1)
Wrigley, T. (2007) Report on academic success of the Academies programme,

Archived Material

It's the start of April and the end of the WSCC consultation phase. We're receiving a high volume of hits and there seem to be many new people checking the blog. So if you are a virtual new visitor, welcome. And also, do check, if you have time, some of our older posts to see how the campaign and opinions have evolved over these few short weeks. Futhermore, people are still commenting on older posts, and it's worth checking out what others have to say, too. (not everyone who comments is a fan of NAME!)

At the moment, the best way to see archived material is to click on whichever month you want to look at first, which will take you to a new page with that month's blog posts. You can find this under "Blog Archive" on the navigation bar on the left of the main web page. To see the comments, or to leave one, click on the heading of the entry which will take you to a separate page showing the blog entry, followed by the comments and an option to click at the bottom to post comments. Alternatively, you can just click on the yellow writing at the bottom of any entry which states the number of comments which will take you to a page specifically for posting a comment.

I am trying to find a way to make easy hyperlinks within this blog without messing up things I've already done. I'm not good with HTML at the moment and am very swamped with things. As soon as I can, I will try to give you an easy list of linked posts with in one post.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Public Meetings

At a lively public meeting at Midhurst Intermediate last night, the views of Rother Valley residents were clearely aired. Being cautious, we would estimate that there was a majority of the audience whose positions ranged from strong reservations to outright opposition to the Academy proposal. Aside from the sponsor who wished to take control of the schools, and Robert Back of WSCC, only one or two of the twenty or so speakers expressed a pro-Academy position.

However, the meeting was still centred around the sponsor's corporate promotion. If you want to further explore the issues at stake on your own terms, not those set by the sponsor, please come along to one of NAME's scheduled public meetings. The next three take place on:

Monday, March 31st, Garden Room, Grange Centre, Midhurst, 7:30 PM
Wednesday, April 2nd, Methodist Church Hall, Midhurst, 1:00 PM (intended for those with young children who are unable to attend evening meetings, but open to anyone)
Thursday, April 3rd, Leconfield Hall, Petworth, 7:30.

Those in favour of the Academy are invited along with those against and the many people who have yet to make up their mind.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008


Until this weekend, we have published all comments received on this blog- including those from people who do not agree with what we say. However, I would like to point out that we will not publish comments which use the terrible and tragic event of this Easter weekend to make a point. We are also unwilling at present to publish personal named attacks on people who have not been part of the debate, especially if allegations are made without evidence. Yes, we have made criticisms in which we have named a few individuals, but these were made as a direct result of claims made by those people. Our commentary has been published as a counter-point to the things these individuals have written or said. This blog is a public arena, and one in which students use. We want to ensure that our published material is in keeping with this. We do not wish to cause anyone undue concern or distress. If the couple of anonymous posters wish to resubmit their opinions with this in mind, and being careful about naming- at present- defenseless individuals and backing any allegations with evidence, we would reconsider publishing these. We do want open debate, but not mudslinging. We would be happy to publish, for example, the allegation in one of the comments that we "are just afraid of change", as we would be just as happy to reply that we would welcome change in the education system and in schools. Let it be change for the better, and let it be change that has been fully considered.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Guardian On-Line

This article went live on-line today:,,2266364,00.html . There may possibly be more coverage on this topic around/ after Easter time in hard copy. Perhaps because of the Winchester College involvement, Midhurst was reported to be in Hampshire. Unfortunate, but a good article worth reading.

Monday, 17 March 2008

What they really think

A couple of items of correspondence which have come to our attention over the last few days speak volumes about some people's attitude to schools in the Rother Valley, and the state school system in general.

Firstly, Mark Dunn. Does anybody know where his own children went to school, or indeed, where Mr Dunn himself weas educated? If you do, please let us know, we would be fascinated to discover the level of commitment Cllr Dunn has demonstrated to the system of state schooling upon which the vast majority of us rely. Given his strong advocacy of private schools, and criticism of the Conservative party for not pushing hard enough to dismantle the state system (, we have to wonder. In correspondence with a NAME supporter, Cllr Dunn writes: "Many children in the Rother Valley need to have a very much better local educational opportunity...far too many are going elsewhere, to schools which have significantly better results than MGS, which - with its catchment area - ought to be a high performer, and not just /satisfactory/ - which is code for /'just adequate'/." (The somewhat eccentric use of elipses and other punctuation is his own.) What a shame that Cllr Dunn is unable to defend the record of the many hardworking children and staff at the Grammar School who have so successfully pulled the school out of its bad patch. What an indictment of their efforts that he describes them as 'just adequate'.

Cllr Dunn's recipe for success is for Rother Valley children to mix with those more refined and cultured than themselves, who might raise their aspirations. Where better to turn to but Winchester College? The only problem is that the parents of Wintonians may not be so bowled over by the idea. This message from a Winchester College parent was posted to the Times newspaper this week: "If I've just paid £26k p.a. for my child's education, thus saving the State a small fortune to spend on another child, I'm sure I wouldn't want the schools facilities or staff over-used in a silly political ploy to support the failing State system. This recent business is nothing but a reflection of NuLabour's reek of class warfare and envy. There is nothing wrong with elitism and everything wrong with mediocrity." I'm not making this up - see for yourself: Again, the message couldn't be clearer. State schooling is mediocre. Always was and always will be 'just adequate'. However, in contrast with Cllr Dunn, this angry parent is not happy about our children even picking up the crumbs from his table. Isn't it pleasing to know, Mr Dunn, that our children will be made so welcome at one of England's most elitist and expensive schools?

Just for the record, as a measure of how 'mediocre' or 'just adequate' our schools are, on the Government's figures Midhurst Grammar adds more 'value' to children's attainment from the point of entry to GCSEs than does the average Academy. The MGS 'contextual value added' score is 1002, the Academies' average is 981.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

The Times: Have Your Say

It's not a done deal, despite what you may hear and read. Let people know it. NAME urges all of you who are interested in the academy debate and the latest news about Winchester College to make your voice heard. Of course we want the comments to keep coming in on our blog here, but now you can also tell people all across the country what you think about what has been reported. Here's a chance to set the record straight on The Times:
(and if you could let us know what you've written, that would be great)

Friday, 14 March 2008


If you haven't got this week's paper- get it while you can. The letters page (12) in this week's Midhurst and Petworth Observer made for some great reading. (And perhaps the anonymous sender of the letters from a few weeks ago could send this week's batch for those unable to get a paper). Column inch by column inch, people in our community made clear their repugnance for the slanderous comments of Mr Blair-Robinson. More importantly, they made clear the issues at stake in this academy debate and elevated the level of the discussion by focussing on the positives (and actual facts) which keep getting side-lined by Mr BR and the academy spin-machine.

I was so thrilled to read the featured letter penned by sixth-form pupil Harry Dzenis. His informed and articulate reasoning is evidence that we must not overlook: that here in the Rother Valley our schools- OUR schools- nurture and encourage the talent and intellect of our young people. We should be proud, and so should he. Good on ya, Harry, I say.

What do you say? We'd love to hear you comments about what you have read in the papers. West Sussex have made great efforts to stage-manage this academy pressgang . Despite their attempts to present this as a fait accompli and welcomed move forward by all, and despite Mr Blair-Robinson's unsolicited diatribes, the debate develops. I'd be delighted if the debate develops here on the blog as well. Click on the post title or the little green "comments" at the bottom and tell us your side of the story.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

"Bouquet residence; lady of the house speaking..." a NAME allegory

Being touched, as I am, with the stain of the unlanded rabble, I have sorely missed out on a solid grounding of culture and civilisation. Instead, my father has bequeathed to me a legacy of amusement-finding in lower forms of entertainment, such as the television. One of his all-time favourite shows (I have completely forgotten its name) centres around one Hyacinth Bucket, a sniffy suburban churchlady, eager to make an impression of her dignity and standing. My dad's favourite character in the sitcom is Onslow, Mrs Bucket's slobbish brother-in-law. From a sense of duty or obligation, the Buckets occasionally visit their poorer relations, an occasion in which she seems to try to reform her errant sister and bring just a touch of respectability to them through her pearls of wisdom from on high or even her mere presence. Occasionally, Onslow and family decamp chez Bucket, much to the horror of the lady of the house. This is an excercise in patience and tolerance, but it is near catastrophe if the cretins are seen or associated with Hyacinth. Fortunately, Mrs Bucket is able to put a nice gloss on it all in the end and the offending family are shoved off with a smile and sigh of relief.

Despite my own rather unfortunate upbringing, I do not actually watch that much telly nowadays. I prefer to read (rather above my station perhaps), but that is probably down to the private arena of my schooling winning the battle over the state-half. So yesterday, as I was reading, I came across this: . Do read it, but if you're short on time at the moment,
"The College will make no financial contributions to the establishment of the Academy... our input will concentrate on raising standards and aspirations of teaching and learning... Our resources... are readily available for sharing via electronic medium. Joint professional development training sessions can be provided without cost and interruption to our internal practices", and my personal favourite: "It can only be to our advantage* to work with the maintained sector in a positive and meaningful way. Winchester is forty-five minutes' drive from Midhurst, which makes contact convenient, while preserving an appropriate distance".

It all reminded me of something, but I'm not sure what...
Anyway, Winchester College, welcome to the family from the Rother Valley Onslows
*advantage of hundreds pounds in tax breaks, could it be?

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Winchester College link: What a slap in the face

West Sussex County Council will no doubt present the ‘partnership’ announced this week between United Learning Trust and elite private school Winchester College as a positive development for Midhurst, and will conjure the ghosts of long passed relations between the town and the ancient school.

For those of you who have not seen the letter sent to parents, we were told yesterday by Robert Back that:

"Winchester College will make a number of significant contributions in the areas of governance, planning and professional development but its major contribution will be to assist the Academy's focus on raising standards and aspirations through teaching and learning. This partnership will provide new scope and opportunity for state and private schools to work together for their mutual benefit and the improvement of education as a whole."

A more damning insult to the professionalism of those who have dedicated all their efforts to working in a public service, for the benefit of their communities could barely be imagined! Every line reeks of contempt for the public sector and its values - its aspirations are not high enough, its teachers unable to plan or to encourage effective learning, its representaives unable to govern. I am sure we all look forward to the wisdom which Winchester College will bestow on us, and the important lessons which it can teach in aspiring to excellence (for £26,481 per child per year)! This kind of cynical pandering to the Lord Adonis' vision for education can only rub salt into the wounds of the already demoralised and angry staff of the schools earmarked for closure.

If you have not already familiar with the following stories, we would recommend you take a glance to get a feel for the institution which will be providing guidance and professional development to Midhurst Grammar School staff under the proposed Academy arrangement. A quick search of the BBC news site rendered these, you will no doubt be able to find plenty more similar stories:

Public school 'fee-fixing' allegations: Public schools Eton and Winchester have refused to comment on claims they are seeking an immunity deal in an inquiry into an alleged conspiracy to inflate fees.

College apologies for racist book: One of Britain's top public schools apologised after pupils made racist remarks about classmates in a yearbook.

Schools 'might have broken law': One of England's greatest independent schools, Winchester, has admitted that the way schools exchanged information about fees might have broken the law.

Teachers suspended at top school: Two teachers at one of the country's top public schools have been suspended.

The plans to link Midhurst's proposed Academy with Winchester College in order that the College can retain its charitable status has proved so controversial that it has also made the national press. This from the Daily Mail:

"A dozen public schools face losing their charitable tax breaks...The schools face being stripped of their charitable status unless they earmark more cash for bursaries and share facilities with local state school pupils. They are also being encouraged to get involved in Government initiatives, for example by sponsoring state academies to replace poor-performing schools....Winchester College, where boarding fees are £26,481, will provide teaching materials and staff to help bring the failing, non-selective Midhurst Grammar into the Government's academies programme."

For full article see

Yet again MGS is labelled as 'failing', and yet again it is imagined that there exists some expertise - some magic from the days of Empire perhaps - in the elite boys-only world where classics remain integral to the curriculum and class sizes are counted in single figures which can be brought to bear on the education of the children of the Rother Valley.

We utterly reject this cynical, PR-driven attempt to curry parental favour by playing on the reputation of one of the country's most expensive and highly selective boys schools. This proposal is a disgrace.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Nooks and Crannies (find the hidden posts)

Hello all
Just to say that we are receiving more and more interest in the campaign and blog-hits. It has taken me an eternity to finish, but the entry covering our first public meeting is finished and you will find it a few entries below this one. I'd love to hear your thoughts if you attended, or questions if you didn't. Also, now that we are in March, last month's entries were archived. If you want to re-read, or are just visiting the blog now, click on "February" on the archive bar to the left, which will make the page display all of these posts. If you want to focus on one topic and/or read the comments, simply click on the title of the blog entry, either in the archive bar or at the top of that post. This will take you to a page dedicated solely to that entry. WE LOVE YOUR COMMENTS- KEEP THEM COMING IN!

Friday, 7 March 2008

Rogate: Save our School!

Congratulations to the Rogate Save our School Campaign for an excellent public meeting last night (March 6th). Many righteously angry parents and members of the community expressed their outrage at the proposed closure of this small rural school which plays a vital part in the coherence of the village. This closure is proposed in the context of:

a) explicit guidance from the Schools Minister Jim Knight, issued on January 31st 2008, which restates a legal presumption against closure in the case of designated schools. Rogate's school is so designated. Colin James for WSCC signally failed to demonstrate the legal justification for exceptional closure on the grounds that, for instance, "all parties agree", or that an alternative nearby school could provide substantially better services.
b) West Sussex's relatively low overall average surplus places. Surplus places equate to empty desks – the number of ‘vacancies’ in a local authority’s schools. Surplus places play an important part in West Sussex County Council’s justification for primary school closures in the Rother Valley and the opening of an academy to entice upwardly mobile middle-class parents back into the sytate system. Whilst it is true that the Rother Valley’s population is aging, and that primary school rolls are currently falling - largely as a result of inflated house prices - latest available figures from the National Audit Office show that West Sussex’s surplus places, as a percentage of total places barely exceed the national average. WSCC have 7.9% surplus capacity against the national average of 7%. By way of comparison, Portsmouth has a 10.1% surplus capacity, whilst Southampton has 16.9% . Although surplus places are much higher in the Rother Valley, these figuresshow that it is well within WSCC's capacity to cross-subsidise essential rural services in the interests of communities, whilst maintaining basic principles of equity (other services available to residents of Crawley, for instance, do not exist in Rogate), rather than close them down, or sell them off to unaccountable charities, as in the case of the Academy.

Colin James' derisory responses to comments were, quite correctly, rejected by Rogate residents. Just like the Academy proposal, the Rogate school closure is an ill conceived and penny-pinching plan which has little regard for the democratic will of the local population or its long term interests. NAME offers its full support to the Save our School campaign. We share common concerns and the common interests of our community. Like SoS, NAME represents the voices which are unheard in the take-it-or-leave-it 'consultation' currently underway.

Victory to people of Rogate! Save our School!

Thursday, 6 March 2008

He's done it again!

Rev Boxley is not as, Mr Blair Robinson claims today, 'running' the NAME campaign. Far from it, we are a diverse group of many people who recognise that it is not in the long term interests of Midhurst or its surrounding areas to be the guinea pigs in the 'bold experiment' which the Academy represents. However, Rev. Boxley is certainly involved in NAME, and it is thus incumbent on us at this point to provide a brief counter to Mr Blair Robinson's predictably personal assault in this week's Midhurst and Petworth Observer. We are told that "Instead of running campaigns, he should be apologising to the students who ended up with disappointing grades as a consequence of the failings. Those failings directly affected many young lives. It is difficult to exaggerate the gravity of the wrong done to whole cohorts of students, especially those who were not high flyers. We should not forget this." It may or may not be right for the local paper to publish this type of attack, but it certainly exposes the depths to which Mr Blair Robinson is willing to sink in his bitter battle against NAME, and the Rector of Heyshott in particular. Rev Boxley, as a staff governor during the period leading up to Special Measures sought to represent the views of teachers who were themselves deeply concerned about the direction in which the school was being lead. He did so in the best interests of pupils, parents and staff in the school. NAME are sure that, as after his last intervention, those who have long respected the teachers of Midhurst Grammar School including Rev Boxley will come to their defense and will join the NAME campaign in our struggle against Blair Robinson's 'vision for Midhurst and for Rother Valley education'.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

NAME's first public meeting

Trabb's Boy's sincere apologies to you for the late date of publication... busy, busy week with proposal meetings and technical failures. Here's the report from a week ago:

Thursday 28th February

People lined the walls and huddled in the doorway of Easebourne Refectory - as there was not a spare seat to be had - to hear what campaigners had to say against the academy proposal for the Rother Valley. Some had come with established opinions and some had clearly come because they wanted to know more.

Derek Welsman, the vicar of Easebourne, opened the meeting by welcoming everyone and explaining his reason for hosting NAME's first public meeting. He told the assembled crowd that he was not necessarily against an academy, but that as a parent and governor, he welcomed the opportunity to hear the other side of the academy debate, which heretofore has been very one-sided from the Local Authority. He then introduced each of the speakers in turn before they were to speak.

Jane Eades, from the Anti-Academies Alliance, was first to speak. She began by saying that the thought of the academy made her so angry that morning she was compelled to write a rant, which she read. She spoke passionately about her former school and about teaching- the most skilled and demanding job of her life. She then proceeded to give a summary of her experiences with academies, specifically her particular experience with ULT when her school closed (North Westminster Community), now Paddington Academy (ULT sponsors) as well as Westminster Academy. She noted how difficult it is now to get information about the Academy because her views are well known and she reports that current staff are scared about speaking out. In addition, Ms Eades illustrated how ULT are very skilled at keeping adverse publicity at bay, giving the example of the stabbing in the playground of the Academy which seemed to not make it into the press. She was incensed at the way in which her former school has been completely misrepresented by ULT. She remembered the instructions given to the staff about transfer arrangements, which were followed, yet children's schoolwork and files went missing. She brought along a chart which she made showing the rapid rise in fortunes of ULT and stated that she'd like an independent accountant to scrutinise the figures. Since the meeting, Jane Eades has sent the NAME campaign a link to a newsnight item on Paddington Academy: (If you arrive at the main newsnight page for November, you need to scroll down towards the bottom of the page to the 7th November entries)

"The only real thing about a consultation is its first three letters- it's a con!" stated Hank Roberts, the next speaker. Hank gave a spirited speech, in which he outlined the road a school, sponsor and council travel on their way to academydom. Of particular interest was his own experience fighting an academy in Brent. After exhausting the traditional forms of protest, he and other protesters camped out on the land - a sports pitch used widely by the community - which was set to become the academy site. The sponsor decided then that he was no longer interested in academy sponsorship and went into tax exile in Switzerland. There were audible chuckles as Hank described the great expertise that a sponsor brings into running a school- like the carpet-sales giant Lord Harris, who decides on the phone to his friend Lord Adonis in the back of his limo whether or not he might like to add another academy to his portfolio. However, Hank was not joking about this. At the end of his speech, he showed the crowd a short independent film made about his "tent city" occupation.

Local NAME campaigner and former MGS pupil Simon Boxley was the next on the podium to speak. He gave a background to the campaign, and demonstrated through the Freedom of Information Act how, despite the Local Authority's widely quoted claim that the academy option became clear to them at Christmastime (coincidentally just after the first stage of consultation on the age of transfer), they had, in fact, discussed the possibility of an academy for the Rother Valley on May 22nd. Indeed, the grant from central government which would accompany an academy build was a motivating factor in county re-visiting the subject of change in age of transfer. The consultation, Simon Boxley claimed, was an exercise in managing consent: you will be told what to choose. The strong-arm tactics employed are meant to give the impression that if we reject the academy, we do not want the best for our schools and will receive no funding. "If this kind of thing happened in school, we would call it bullying". Nevertheless, he added, we should not give up on the consultation, but use it to communicate to the policy-makers our dissatisfaction with their take-it-or-leave-it 'preferred option'. Mr Boxley suggested that there are those in county hall who remain nervous about this experimental proposal - the first wholly rural academy - in which we are the guinea pigs.

Colin Hughes spoke not on behalf of NAME, but as chairman of Midhurst town council. He outlined the council's own journey en route to academy. They did not at first, Mr Hughes told all assembled, take seriously Mr Blair-Robinson's front page article about the vision for Midhurst and a new school. It did not seem likely, and the town council knew nothing of something which would have such a grave impact upon the community. Audience members grew visibly more disconcerted and shocked as Mr Hughes spoke, particularly of the disregard for consulting the public on the major changes with potentially grave consequences for the community which could result from the WSCC plans. The merger of the three existing schools into one and the resiting has not been thought through in terms of their practical management, he informed the residents who came. Traffic, infrastructure, parking and the effect on business were all examples given which caused the audience to stir.

Next to speak was Tony Sneller, a parent and school governor, who lectures at the University of Sussex and the University of Brighton. His talk was based on his area of expertise: community development, and on his passion: Petworth. He spoke of the increasing marketisation of schools and the resulting devaluation of the individual within the wider context of school within the community. This trend has led to students becoming units, a form of currency, wherein s/he is seen in terms of what s/he will bring to the school, instead of the student being a part of the whole. Mr. Sneller's vision was for a continuum of people, schools and community which all enable each other to give a sense of self. The academy agenda, by its nature, is contrary to that ideal.

Last on the platform was Lizz Tinder, who spoke as a citizen, Rother Valley teacher and parent. Her reasons for opposing the academy were on the grounds of its great lack of fairness, accountability and democracy. It came as a shock to many that the statutes for an academy are dictated by a funding agreement which is negotiated directly between the sponsor and Secretary of State, so our views are being sought on something for which we won't know the details. She also countered the widely-peddled claim that academies are good for communities, staff, parents and most of all pupils, giving many examples of how academies actually have detrimental effects for all involved, apart from the sponsor. People seemed shocked to hear how figures are skewed to make standards seem better at academies, by means such as including 1 GNVQ pass as equivalent to 4 A*-C GCSEs into their statistics.

The audience, some of whom had been standing for well over an hour, were then invited by the Rev. Chris Boxley to raise points, comment or ask questions. Many people had questions, such as what motivates a sponsor. Many were very interested in the consultation process and had questions which centred around the technicalities and logistics of implementing the academy. Unfortunately, these were questions which could not be answered, because there is no mention of the practicalities in the consultation document. Colin Hughes shared NAME's view, based on reports from people in the know, that the three schools would be merged onto one site where Midhurst Intermediate School now exists. A large proportion of the audience made it known how frustrated and angry they were about the lack of consultation with the whole community. One member of the audience voiced disgust at the thought that the £2 million new sports facility has just been built only to be wasted, a view others seemed to share. One woman was bothered by the inferences which might be drawn over ULT's financial situation, as ULT is classified as a charity and 'can't make a profit'. She said that she was not supporting academies, per se, but that the facts needed to be right. Hank Roberts rebutted with the fact that charities can and do have money-making arms, and he serves on one himself (TSN). Captain M O'Kelly, a governor from MGS stood up and gave a speech from the floor supporting the academy. He conceded that there would be a "loss" of democracy, but that a new build would not come for another 10 years if we didn't have an academy now. After speaking for over 5 minutes, Capt. O'Kelly was asked to sit down by a frustrated audience member. Rev Welsman pointed out that buildings were far less important to him as a parent than what the school embodied, what was best for the children.

Rev Boxley thanked Rev Welsman for hosting the event. He wanted to remind everyone that NAME campaigners are not "the bad guys" as they have been portrayed by academy supporters. The campaign seeks to find the best possible solution for our schools and the children they serve, and to open out the debate so that people have more information in order to form opinions. Pleas went from the platform that all get involved, go to meetings and fill out the response forms. The meeting broke and people left, still heavily in discussion with one another.