Thursday, 28 February 2008
In the meantime:
I would like to say thank you to all involved in NAME's first public meeting. We were grateful for the use of the Refectory and to the speakers- especially those who travelled some distance to address the crowd. And I would like to extend an especial thank you to those of you who came along to hear what we had to say. There were many people standing at the back for a long time, so thank you for your patience. It was good to hear from audience members- yes, all of them. We hope that everybody keeps the dialogue going, attending more meetings and please do leave your comments on the blog. We will hold another meeting towards the end of the "consultation" phase and we hope to have it in two parts: in the daytime for parents who prefer that, and an evening meeting again for working people. Keep watching this space and stay involved.
Wednesday, 27 February 2008
Thursday 28th February is the day of NAME's first public meeting, and we've promised to bring you more details, so here they are:
We are delighted to host a number of speakers, who will be giving information and opinions from a range of perspectives. Two of our own campaigners will give some background and reasons for opposing this hasty imposition of "the unfair, undemocratic and unaccountable juggernaut that is the academy". Midhurst's chairman of the town council will give a perspective on town/ siting implications. A parent, former governor and university lecturer will incorporate his expertise in community development. And we feel privileged to present two dedicated national campaigners who will be sharing a great knowledge and experience of academies.
And we really want to hear what you have to say. After the formal speeches have finished, we will invite comments and questions from the floor. If you want to make your voice heard, or if you just want to listen, please join us at the Refectory in Easebourne at 7pm. We have had a very good response thus far, so if the crowds turn out in full force, we will have to move all and sundry to the church which seats many more. We hope to see you there.
Tuesday, 26 February 2008
NAME has no doubt that a link up with a prestigious private school wil simply rub salt into the wound as far as teachers are concerned. Many will be deeply insulted by the suggestion that, for all their privilege and funding, private school staff can show Rother Valley teachers how to educate our community's children
· NAME expects that under plans to be revealed on Wednesday, West Sussex County Council will announce its intention to hand over the land and buildings on the Midhurst Intermediate School and Midhurst Grammar School River sites to United Learning Trust, as soon as this summer. These are assets paid for out of council taxes, yet ULT may be allowed under its Funding Agreement to sell off the River site and keep the proceeds! Name spokesperson Simon Boxley argues:
“You might not like the way that West Sussex County Council have run Rother Valley schools, but at least in theory you could vote them out. However if WSCC washes its hands of these schools, they will be beyond the electorate’s control for good. NAME predict that in a desperate bid to gain central government funding, West Sussex intend to open the new Academy on the existing MIS and MGS sites in September 2008, as a temporary measure before a new school is built. New ownership – same old buildings. We say why rush into such a divisive and controvertial course of action, instead of waiting for a school rebuild which would allow us to retain democratic control over the use of our taxes. This scheme bears all the hallmarks of other rushed privatisations. Like Railtrack, this can only end in disaster.”
· NAME have consistently argued that the ‘consultation’ is anything but a serious effort on County’s part to gain the public’s views. Sadly this has been confirmed this week by West Sussex’s refusal to abide by its outcome, merely to have regard for views expressed. However, we urge everybody to attend the meetings, return the forms and let West Sussex County Council know that Rother Valley residents will not see their heritage, their taxes and their democratic influence thrown away in this rushed manner.
Lizz Tinder from the NAME campaign added:
“The proposals published this week by WSCC are highly contentious, so we expect a high level of interest in the campaign. We’ve already heard from many people intending to attend our public meeting on Thursday 28th February at the Easbourne Refectory at 7pm. If the Refectory becomes too crowded, we will move the meeting to the Church in order to accommodate everyone. We are very sorry that this meeting clashes with the Herbert Shiner parents’ evening, but this was the only date we could book the venue following publication and before meetings held by the LA at each school. We welcome late-comers from the parents evening, and we intend to hold another public meeting at the end of this phase of consultation. More information will be continually published on the blog, where you can make your feelings known: http://namecampaign.blogspot.com/ and you can email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org”
Sunday, 24 February 2008
Saturday, 23 February 2008
We are receiving different information and need to (re)confirm a few things, so for those of you who saw "The Big Give Away" posted by Resist!, keep checking the blog. We will be re-posting a fuller report as soon as we can. In the meantime, there should appear some generic information about academies. Watch this space!
Friday, 22 February 2008
Our County Councillors have rightly condemned the Post Office for conducting "a consultation in name only" which is "dictation, not consultation". Did they think the County Council had a monopoly on behaving in this way? This is exactly what they are doing with regards to the future of the Rother valley schools.
I was also interested that our local County Council stooge, Mr Blair-Robinson, chose to portray the debate over the future of our schools as "old Labour" opposing what is a New Labour policy. Is our Conservative controlled Council incapable of independent thought on education? As a former Conservative councillor I am appalled that he chose to pretend that those opposed to the Academy were all motivated by old Labour ideology. He must be aware that an independent study of the first academies showed that they were a very expensive way of achieving virtually nothing. I was not aware that wasting money was now Conservative policy.
As a former pupil of Midhurst Grammar School I would like to point out that thanks to what he describes as a "slapdash" education I gained a place at Oxford. This was down to the dedication and skill of the teachers at the school in its "dark days". His attitude to the school and its teachers will only demoralise those who are dedicated to educating our children. Finally his threat that the school will be closed if he and his friends on the County Council don't get their way is simply pathetic. Maybe he is too motivated by ideology to care what anyone else thinks.
Peter O'Connell MA (Oxon)
Thursday, 21 February 2008
Academies are state schools:
controlled by private sponsors (who own the land and premises, through a trust) ;
outside the local authority system ;
with new buildings (in most cases) and running costs funded directly by government (including generous extra ‘start-up' money);
with greater freedom over the curriculum than other schools;
with no obligation to operate national pay and conditions agreements (because they are established under private school legislation).
If you want to know more, here is the first installment of my overview of academies:
Formerly a "City Academy", this began as a Blairite scheme to provide new starts to failing and crumbling inner-city secondary schools by giving them heaps of money and a re-brand. It was also a way to introduce the privatisation process into "education, education, education". It worked like this: private companies or individuals could sponsor a school by paying 2 million pounds towards a re-build. Well, they could pledge to pay £2million. In return, the replacement school would be an independent school, leased to and run by the sponsor.
As time passed (not much time it should be said: the first academy only opened in the 2002-2003 academic year), the goalposts shifted... and continue to do so. The businesses touted by New Labour as the ideal sponsors to bring innovation into education* shied away from the scheme, saying that they did not wish to be involved in initiatives seen by many to be divisive. This left a void which is being filled largely by entrepreneurs and faith organisations (Christian, many of fundamentalist persuasion). Announcements from sponsors and anecdotal evidence suggest that these sponsors see the academy as a good opportunity. It's an opportunity for business to get into the market and to speculate. Some small-scale industry leaders have seen the potential for future work-force training to their own specifications. Faith-based organisations found this opportunity to shape captive young minds a literal god-send. There has appeared an occasional sponsor who simply wants to make his mark in some way. Lots of sponsors have found the academy an excellent opportunity to gain access to politicians. Whatever the motivation, it is hard to resist the offer of taking control of a school and being given all of its assets for a tiny proportion- or none at all- of the costs. From this perspective, it may sound too good to be true, but it's not! There are hundreds of schools up for grabs.
Once an academy and its sponsor have had the green light from Whitehall, the former school (often referred to as the "predecessor school") is given (land, premises, governance) to a trust which the sponsor sets up for itself. The trust can then operate independently. It runs all facets of the school: staffing including pay, admissions, curriculum, structure, specialism, policy and the governing board itself. Look for specific information about these areas in future blog posts. The sponsor/ trust must have control of the governing body. It need only have 1 parent governor, and need not have any staff governors. Any complaints about an academy (from parents, staff etc) when it is running need not be taken outside of the school, but heard by a panel set up- and even run by- the governors themselves. Academies can pay their own sponsors (or their affiliated companies) for services to the academy, and some have done so. An academy is independent in every way but its funding- we, the public, pick up the bill.
People are unsure about what academies are and how they work, in part because they keep changing. They are no longer for "seriously failing schools" in "deprived areas" (as introduced by David Blunkett). In fact, lord Adonis has recently said that he wants academies to be the new grammar schools. The "city" designation in the (city) academy scheme seems to have disappeared, though this significant change in direction is not reflected in policy. If certain figures in positions of authority have it their way, the Rother Valley could be the test case for the first rural academy! Another major change in practice, though without public consultation is the actual sponsorship. Sponsors no longer need to raise the £2 million. There are varying rates, with some sponsors being exempted from donating any money at all. Anyway, a sponsor's contributions can be comprised of payments "in kind", a lovely euphemism for not parting with the stated amount.
"It is too early to be certain whether the Academies programme will achieve its long term aims," reports the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts. Since its inception, the evidence has been very mixed and not very encouraging overall. But more about that in the future blog posts.
*though scores of educational professionals have longed to be innovative, if only they had been allowed!
** who gained his title largely for e.g. setting up the academy scheme
In the meantime, here is the response from Rev. Chris Boxley, the named recipient of Blair-Robinson's scorn. The editor- for whatever reason- did not publish his letter in full. Here is all of what Rev. Boxley had to say. The coloured text is what had been cut in publication:
I am delighted to respond to Malcolm Blair Robinson’s contribution to the debate about an academy for the Rother Valley.
It is supremely unnecessary to defend past teachers and pupils from the so called ‘dark days’ of the Grammar School spoken of by Mr Blair Robison in his letter to the Midhurst and Petworth Observer last week. Pupils’ and staffs’ hard work and excellent achievements speak for themselves and I know about them personally having a memory and contacts that go back over three decades, not the few months spent by Mr Blair Robinson on the Governors of MGS where he was put by WSCC when the school went into special measures. Of course one can’t possibly comment on whether being put into special measures wasn’t already part of the government agenda, willingly colluded in by WSCC, to move forward quickly its agenda on academies! It is strange how every move by WSCC since then fits very neatly into the academy framework. The unelected Lord Adonis fits into this story also, somewhere along the way.
What matters is that people like me do believe that where local schools are concerned, being publicly owned, publicly run and publicly accountable is better than a private sponsor having enormous power and influence over the way a school is run. After all there are around 23,000 state schools and only 400 are scheduled to become academies, so the vast majority of schools are publicly owned. It is the dream of policy-starved New Labour, bewitched by anything with the words ‘business’ or ‘enterprise’, to create these academies to prove their virility in the freemarket era we live in. If only they might pay attention to a recent report by Professor Richard Pring of Oxford University published this month by the Nuffield Review of 14-19 Education and Training, which looks at how the aims and values of education have come to be "dominated by the language of management". (BBC report, 16th February 2008 Lesson one: no Orwellian language by Mike Baker).
In the main, Mr Blair Robison’s letter has just a tinge of desperation and too much emotional subjectivity to qualify as a rational argument that vindicates what academies might have to offer.
And does he imagine that the Secretary of State for Education would tolerate a situation where there is no secondary provision north of the Downs in the Rother Valley?
Come on WSCC, show us you can provide us with a good local authority school. And come on all parents, teachers and pupils affected by the changes now and in the future, come to the NAME Campaign public meeting at Easebourne Refectory 7pm on Thursday 28th February, join in the genuine debate and offer WSCC something to think about!
Tuesday, 19 February 2008
At the bottom of each post (the blog diary entry) is some smaller text which tells you who has written the post (e.g. "Trabb's Boy"), and how many comments have been left about that particular post. The number and the word "comments" is a yellowish colour. By clicking on this text (yellowish number of comments), you will be taken to another page which reveals what others have said, or you may be the first to comment. You type your comment and you will need to choose how your comment will be signed. The choices offered are to sign in if you have a google or openID account (in which case your account screen-name will be the signatory for your comment), to type in a nickname (and here you can type in your real name of course), or to click on the "anonymous" button. At the moment, commenters are also asked to complete a verification: here you simply type in a box the display text (just a few letters and/or numbers) as instructed. This acts as a spam filter for the website. Your comment then comes to me to check its appropriateness. When I have checked it, I publish it on the site. I have been encountering a few technical glitches with this, but this seems to happen when there is a batch of comments from the same party at once. But don't worry about that, just keep posting!
Whether you want to leave a comment, or you want to just read what others have written, when you have finished with that comments page, use your back button to go back to the main blog page. I could talk until the cows came home. Let's hear what you've got to say!
Monday, 18 February 2008
NAME has a broad base, counting amongst its number active members of the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, Conservative Party, Green Party and Alliance for Green Socialism, along with plenty with no political affiliation. We really do represent a cross section of those in the community who are alive to what the proposed Academy means for Midhurst and its environs. And we have Mr Blair Robinson to thank for further galvanizing our support... so thankyou.
So we have no idea what precisely the proposals will entail, other than the imposition of an academy, (and we have been told by persons in-the-know that this is to be on MIS grounds). So until we can offer more specific information, we will start disseminating general information about academies. If there is something specific which you want to know about academies, tell us and we will do our best to include that in the information. You can email or leave your questions in the comments section (at the end of the post in small yellow writing-- click on).
NAME wants the Rother Valley to have an informed opinion, and this you won't get from the local authority. Tell us what you think, tell us what you know and tell us what you want to know. We want the best for our children, and we want to support all of our schools. Watch this space; there's more to come. In the meantime: happy half-term.
Thursday, 14 February 2008
Mr Blair-Robinson then resorts to the baldest of scare-mongering tactics to counter NAME's successful campaigning. He argues that if we don't accept a privatized Academy, we may have no school at all. If he seriously thinks that the Secretary of State for Education would countenance the complete dismantling of secondary provision in the Rother Valley, leaving the North West of West Sussex with no post-11 schooling whatsoever, he is living in cloud cuckoo land! Does he imagine that that Surrey and Hampshire Local Authorities would just pick up the slack?!
Blair-Robinson's real aim is simply to try to discredit NAME. And sadly, he does so with personal insults against a respected local vicar and former teacher of 30-years standing. Rev. Boxley's days at Midhurst Grammar, we are told, were 'dark days', and his tenure at the school (1973-2006) was a 'slapdash era'! This period, we are told, must be cast into the long grass of history, for now we are moving on... into a bold new phase of nineteenth century charitable and private schooling. There are around 23,000 schools in the country, of which the government plans to privatize 400 - MGS being one of these. To suggest, then, that the era of public ownership and control of schools is over is still mere free-marketeers' fantasy. Blair-Robinson writes that we in NAME 'hanker after the principle that public control is best'. YES WE DO. We believe that like the vast majority of schools in the country, our secondary schools in West Sussex should be publicly run, publicly owned, publicly accountable, and have the best educational interests of the public at their heart. Academies, with their private sponsors can never wholly do this.
If you have not read Mr Blair-Robinson's attack on Midhurst Grammar School, and its staff, and his complete disavowal of public service principles, we urge you to do so, and to write to the newspaper in response.
Wednesday, 13 February 2008
The NAME campaign aims to explain how academies do not have the children's, the parents', the staffmembers' or the community's best interest at heart. In fact, the real beneficiaries are the sponsors- who receive prize assets for virtually no outlay (or none at all in some cases), and the Local Authority who are able to write off a slew of schools in which they no longer need to invest.
We don't want academies, but we do want you to engage in the debate, from whatever perspective you may be coming. Leave comments on the blog. Come to our public meeting (Thursday 28th February at Easebourne Refectory, 7pm). Make your voice heard.
We are commited to what is best for education in the Rother Valley; we at NAME wish to support all of our schools!
Do, for example, have a look at "In-Site Information" after the article about the South Coast fight.
Monday, 11 February 2008
150 parents and teachers concerned about the threat to turn Littlehampton, Boundstone and King's Manor into academies attended a meeting organised by the West Sussex Teachers Association on Thursday 7th February.
The local authority's spokesman Robert Back was listened to in polite silence. He argued that although Academies had been corrupt and inefficient in the past they would be very different now. He also argued that the academy was "the only game in town." The private sponsors Woodard Corporation declined to send anyone to speak to us.
Alistair Smith and Hank Roberts spoke on behalf of the NUT and got a very positive reception. Alistair pointed out the dangers of Academies where historically the Local Authority has lost all say in the running of the school with the LA having one governor and the sponsors having the lion's share.He also stressed the social divisiveness of Academies. "Academies,"according to Lord Adonis, "are the 21st Century's Grammar Schools." Hank Roberts pointed out that sponsors generously donating two million pounds can get upwards of 18 million pounds of public money for their trouble and frequently excessive profits are made through "consultancy fees" and the provision of equipment for the school. "They are not sponsors but spongers."
Private businesses are colonising the state funded education system. Everyone who spoke from the floor was opposed to privatisation and not taken in by any of the promises.They rejected the arrogant assertion that "there is no alternative".This is not a spirit in which to conduct a consultation. It is undemocratic...and anyway it is something Margaret Thatcher used to say a lot.
There was also discussion about the spread of religious schools without any popular demand. Hank warned of the proliferation of separate schools for children whose parents have different religious views and the potential divisiveness this will bring about. After an hour and half's lively discussion people left the hall clearly disturbed by what they'd heard and still deep in discussion about the issues raised .
There is also a letter from the former head of Boundstone offering some comments on Academy Status: http://www.worthingherald.co.uk/worthing-letters/Have-your-say-on-the.3660066.jp
Saturday, 9 February 2008
NAME campaigners know that technology is not everyone's cup of tea and the blog will only be a forum for some of the community. We aim to keep people informed through the press, but know that not everyone reads the paper every week. We hope to build a grassroots campaign, and the best way to do that is by actually talking to as many people as we can. It is the job of officials from county hall to sell you the academy package, and all that that entails. That is what they must do and that is to be expected from the public meetings that they will hold. So we'll hold our own.
Join us at Easebourne Refectory on Thursday 28th February at 7pm. We will publish final details about the format of this meeting closer to the date. Our aim will be to give you a fuller understanding of what an academy entails, and what the proposals mean to our community. You may hold a view; you may have many questions. Whatever the case may be, we hope to air as many views and answer as many questions as we can.
(If you could let us know of your intentions to attend, it would help us plan in terms of numbers).
At the bottom of each post, there is some small yellowish text which tells you how many comments have been left. You can click on this text (e.g. "3 comments") to read what others have said, and also to write what you want to say. If you have a Google or Blog account, you can sign in, so that your comments can be cross referenced, or for others to find out about you/your blog. You don't need to do this: you can simply type your name if you wish to be known, or give yourself a screen name for this blog: both options available in the "nickname" box (you don't need to type in a URL unless you so choose). Or you can post completely anonymously.
Your comments will be published as soon as I have checked that they are appropriate for all readers. Please contribute to "Rother Valley Schools for the Future" debate. You are not guaranteed a lot of time to make your voice heard in the few weeks that county have allotted. Let's get the ball rolling!
Friday, 8 February 2008
Having said that, some members of the NAME campaign think we must to pass on further information which has reached our ears. WSCC has been forced to concede that their plans for the Rother Valley secondary education means completely shutting down MGS and the two intermediates in order to have an academy built. This you now know. What you may not know (though you may have guessed) is that this set to happen on the MIS site, according to our sources.
In order to protect the anonymity of those who have passed this news on, NAME respectfully offers this onto the community as 'informed speculation'. We can't guarantee that this will be outlined by the Local Authority in print in the next round of "consultations", but we believe it will be. We know that not everybody who has known about this development has been happy to "sit on" it as instructed, and we share that unease, which is why we are telling you.
We believe that apart from the obvious heartbreak that it brings to past and present pupils, parents and staff, the MIS-siting has far reaching implications for the community at large. If county could push this through, Midhurst loses the historic school at the heart of the community. The logistic chaos caused to residents of Easbourne would be massive. Even if they built another road, this may ease some congestion for those commuters who never wished to travel via North Street, but three schools' worth of traffic getting into and out of Wheelbarrow Castle doesn't sound like a recipe for happy car journeys for those who do need to get around Midhurst or Easebourne. Crucially, we don't believe that the school site is big enough for as many pupils as county propose would go to the academy. The siting strand of the proposal, as we understand it, simply adds insult to injury: state-of-the-art or not, it's a raw deal for the students!
Monday, 4 February 2008
To be fair, within the Authority's published documents, and in the speeches made at the public meetings were indications of significant change to Rother Valley Schools, and how the next steps forward might address various issues. For example, there has been some public dissatisfaction aired regarding the facilities at the Grammar School, which no doubt some people would like to see improved as a part of this process.
But do not be fooled! Recent statements from county hall officials would have us all believe that the only way to improve provision would be a wholesale hand-over of every aspect of the secondary school: land, buildings, governance, curriculum and more... forever. When it's gone, it's gone- no turning back, no more consultations: any more changes the new owners want to make to this school (which won't be new forever, after all) is their prerogative. Its impact on the community and your views may be taken into account. But then again, they may not. You may be consulted, in the way that any company may consult the public, should they choose to do so. But if it is not in their interest, why would they?
A sponsor may make promises which allay our anxieties; officials can give sound-bites to tantalise worried parents (or even the "ambitious young parents" which Mr Dunn purports will be flocking to Midhurst to get their children into the academy). But by and large, they are not bound to any promises.
Again: when it's gone, it's gone. We have a lot to lose with an academy, for a very short-term gain. If we, the community, wish for change and improvement, let us work for that together in the public arena because we can do that while it is still a public institution. We don't have to give it over lock, stock and barrel to a company who have nothing to lose (sponsors are no longer even required to part with any actual cash) and very much to gain.
*though the wording in the questionnaire was such that in order to be positive, one had to indicate that s/he wanted change
Saturday, 2 February 2008
The first part of the acronym of the NAME name is clear: No Academy. We hope to inform you of the many reasons why transferring our children's education to an unaccountable third party should not happen. It is a matter of great importance to all who live in the community, whether or not you have school-age children. The latter part of NAME was formulated following speculation about the siting of "new" secondary school which West Sussex proposes. We do not want an academy in Midhurst or in Easebourne; we do not want one at all.
*The very narrow time-frame allowed by WSCC has only been marginally widened as a result of the press breaking the story of their proposals. They weren't due to be published at this time.
** Midhurst and Petworth Observer 31/01/08