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.