Monday, 2 May 2016

A Sedgehill postcript - education as a 'significant cash generative business'

I am adding this as an appendix to my main post on Sedgehill - following a fortunate Google search that came across a site that says a lot about the direction in which education is being taken by the Tories.


My son Adam, who wants to study languages at university, was hoping and expecting to stay on at Sedgehill this year but returned to school for Year 12 to find that, even though he had previously been assured that his A level subject choices would be provided for, the school would not be able to provide French or German lessons in the timetabled school day. Instead, a teacher had agreed to provide French tuition at the end of the school day - a kind offer but not ideal - but German tuition would only be through 'online learning' - far from ideal. Not surprisingly, Adam decided that he had little choice but to leave the school that had supported him so well up until then.

Online tuition may have some merit but surely cannot possibly provide the direct interaction and face-to-face discussion needed to fully develop learning, particularly in language acquisition. Neither can it provide the friendships and classmates that I would also see as a key part of schooling. However, it is of course exactly the model that the CEOs of edu-businesses like to champion - because it's a great way to 'deliver' a low-cost service that allows them to maximise profits out of education.

To my surprise, I have just come across an article boasting about the profits that could be made from such an online tuition model - and listing Sedgehill as one of its clients!
The article explains that InterHigh "the UK’s first and only online secondary school" has been recently acquired by Wey Education PLC. It caters for students who are home-schooled but hopes that "individual schools or academies ... could ‘buy in’ subjects not currently on the syllabus" and that "in fact, InterHigh is already delivering Spanish, German, economics and history lessons for Sedgehill School, Lewisham". [Note the use of 'delivering' rather than 'teaching']

Wey Education's Chair, David Massie (described in the article as a 'serial entrepreneur' - although a quick web search suggests to me that his experience seems to lie in the mining, financial and aviation sectors rather than education), goes on to explain that "the plan is to rapidly grow it by opening doors to the educational establishment in the UK while taking the InterHigh brand international ... It isn’t yet Ofsted regulated, but Wey is working closely with the Department for Education (DfE) to get it into the system ... We are told it will take a couple of years to change the law, but we are working with them to be the pilot to develop the regulations.” 

The article goes on to boast that City broker WH Ireland "sees revenues for the current year of £1.5mln, rising to £3.2mln and then £5mln, generating pre-tax profits of £400,000 in 2017 and £900,000 12 months later". However, they also have an eye on the 'international market' ... "The company already has a sales person in Africa, but the biggest opportunity resides in Asia and China in particular. The People’s Republic is a hothouse for education, where schooling is done on an almost industrial scale ... 'Ten thousand students is not a pipe-dream for the Asian business if we find the right partner' ... 'On those numbers and with a premium price of, say, £5,000 you’d have a very significant, cash generative business"

So, is this the future of education that is envisaged by those driving Tory education policy? Schooling run by 'serial entrepreneurs' so that they can create a 'significant cash generative business'? It might be good for business but, as far as my son was concerned, it was not offering the good education he had previously enjoyed at Sedgehill School.

Fancy investing in Wey? - you can hear more from Mr Massie here (explaining that 'the world has changed ... teenagers don't really talk to each other any more')

Sedgehill: the disastrous result of imposing ‘regime change’ on a community school

Friday’s final release of the Ofsted Inspection Report into Sedgehill School, labelling it ‘inadequate’ in every category, is the sad culmination of eighteen months of destructive political interference that has dealt a severe blow to what had been a thriving comprehensive school. 

Sedgehill students say what needs to be said: "Yes to Democracy - No to Academisation"

Worse, that political interference is set to continue, with the newly enacted Education & Adoption Act 2016 meaning Sedgehill will now be automatically converted into an academy, and without consultation. Once again, political dogma will take precedence over evidence; once again the school’s staff, parents and unions, those who really understand about education, will be ignored.

What has happened to Sedgehill School is, regrettably, a test-case in how not to carry out successful school improvement. The disastrous result of the failed intervention shows how the delicate balance of maintaining a comprehensive community school can quickly be upset if policies are imposed based on local and national political agendas instead of on an understanding of education.

The damage that has been inflicted on Sedgehill is one that I feel with deep personal anger, not just as a trade union representative but as a member of the local community and parent of four school students who have been so well taught and nurtured at the school. The fact that they achieved over 40 A/A* GCSEs between them should, alone, give a lie to the idea that Sedgehill was always a ‘failing’ school that required ‘intervention’. The fact that some of those responsible for the imposed damage should consistently tell me that this was just down to my children, rather than recognising that such a high level of exam achievement requires talented and dedicated teachers, also points to their failure – perhaps refusal – to appreciate the excellent work carried out by Sedgehill staff.

My children, and their classmates, weren’t only supported academically; they were also supported to grow as well-rounded individuals in a way that only a genuine community school can achieve. This sense of community meant that at the end of December 2014, when the school first came under attack by its own Local Authority, hundreds of parents and students packed into the School Hall to defend Sedgehill, including several new families who praised the school and how it contrasted so positively to the impersonal ethos in the local academies that their children had recently attended. 

Far from feeling like they were being ‘failed’, over 300 school students then demonstrated outside Lewisham Town Hall to ‘Save Sedgehill’, led by the school’s ‘Vocalize’ singing group who had just been selected by the Royal Albert Hall to sing that year’s Christmas music. Incredibly, instead of Vocalize being promoted by their Local Authority to showcase local educational success, the students had to demonstrate against that Authority. Instead of building on such an invaluable asset as community support for a school, the Authority’s actions only alienated that community.

Those demonstrations took place in response to Lewisham Council’s decision at the end of 2014 to unjustifiably serve a ‘warning notice’ on Sedgehill School and then impose an ‘Interim Executive Board’. We will never know for sure what political and/or personal agendas lay behind those decisions but what we can now say for certain is that, just as staff, parents and unions warned at the time, these impositions disastrously destabilised Sedgehill and, ultimately, led to the latest Ofsted outcome and impending academisation.

It is hard not to suspect that such personal and political agendas were at play because educational evidence never backed up the Local Authority’s public denouncement of Sedgehill, criticism which of course started a downward spiral of demoralisation, destabilisation and staff resignations. As I explained in detail on my blog at the time, Sedgehill was actually one of only two Lewisham secondary schools which had consistently improved its GCSE 5A*CEM results from 2010 - 13 and was the only Lewisham secondary school to show improved results for A*-C grades at A level in 2014.

The excuse used for intervention was that, despite this improvement, the 2014 GCSE results had then fallen – but then so had results in the majority of Lewisham secondary schools following controversial national changes that had also led to a fall in results nationally! However, and confirming the genuine improvements which were being made before Lewisham’s interference, the 2015 results showed GCSE 5A*CEM results at Sedgehill improving again, at the same time as results in several other Lewisham schools continued to fall. Regrettably, it seems that Sedgehill – and its staff and students - will be the school that pays the price for Lewisham Local Authority’s failure to provide support for genuine school improvement – and will be forced by Government policy into another route that statistics also show fails to improve schools – forced academisation.

Of course, Sedgehill’s overall ‘league table’ position remains lower than some, but that is inevitable given that Lewisham’s latest ‘banding’ data confirmed that Sedgehill has also been the secondary school with a pupil intake most skewed to ‘lower-ability bands’. Unfortunately, Sedgehill’s ability to succeed, despite such an imbalance, was about to be thrown away. Instead, a new leadership was imposed that has regrettably demonstrated an inability to maintain that careful balance of support required in a school with a far from genuinely ‘comprehensive’ South London pupil population. 

Does that mean that the previous leadership was perfect and the school was doing everything correctly? – of course not. As Lewisham NUT Secretary at the time, then, as you would expect, I would attend school union meetings where teachers would raise concerns about management, workload and so on, concerns that I could then raise constructively with the school leadership. The Governors and Headteacher were, however, people who understood their school community and, working in partnership with another experienced local Headteacher, were trying to correct deficiencies previously identified in the 2013 Ofsted inspection which had concluded that the school ‘requires improvement’. Instead of building on that genuine school improvement – demonstrated by the 2015 GCSE results - with support, encouragement and resources, the imposition of that IEB broke that partnership, removed the Governing Body and quickly began the downward spiral that has led instead to an ‘inadequate’ grading.

Sadly, the Local Authority seems either blind to their own errors, or simply unwilling to admit to their mistakes. In response to the Ofsted Report, a Lewisham spokeswoman is quoted in the South London Press as saying: “Last year we intervened decisively by appointing an Interim Executive Board (IEB) to bring about rapid improvement. We remain confident that this was the right decision and the good work they have done so far in taking swift action to bring in a new leadership team and in stabilising the school has been acknowledged by Ofsted in their report”.

It is beyond belief that the Local Authority and Ofsted can claim that Lewisham’s actions have ‘stabilised’ the school. The reality is that those actions have ripped apart the school community and critically damaged its effectiveness. So much so, that some staff are suspicious that the policies adopted have been deliberately designed to bring about failure and academisation. That is not a view that I share, although perhaps it’s even more worrying that the Authority, IEB and imposed school management cannot recognise the damage that has been done under their leadership.

Of course, there will be suspicions that Ofsted are playing their part in a political agenda to impose academisation in Lewisham, particularly after the successful and well-publicised campaigns that have been conducted by parents and staff under the banner of ‘Stop Academies in Lewisham’.

The Ofsted Report is certainly overwhelmingly negative in its findings, despite having to acknowledge that “the 2015 GCSE results showed improvement ... the proportion of pupils obtaining five or more good GCSE grades, including English and mathematics, was in line with the national average”. It also confirms the skewed intake of the school, including that “the proportion of pupils known to be eligible for the pupil premium is well above average”. However, and as NUT members and other staff have been consistently trying to raise with the new ‘CEO’ who replaced the previous Headteacher last academic year, I regrettably believe that Ofsted had good reason to raise concerns about safeguarding and, in particular, pupil behaviour.

These failings are a direct consequence of forcing out a school leadership that had experience of the complexities of leading a diverse London school and replacing them with a team that NUT members complain show little understanding or experience of what is required. It is also a consequence of an attitude that I personally experienced in meetings with the CEO, IEB and Local Authority officers that seemed to regard long-standing staff as malign ‘enemies of promise’ rather than a pool of valuable experience to work with and learn from. It is an attitude that has led to staff demoralisation and resignations, adding to the instability which Lewisham’s actions had already thrust on the school.

In throwing out the procedures put in place under the previous management and Governing Body, NUT members report that the new regime failed to put in place their own clear procedures for developing teaching and learning, behaviour management and safeguarding. Staff have been left without the support and guidance they need, particularly new colleagues replacing those who had resigned. Regrettably, with the threat of academisation, there may be more resignations to follow.

Lewisham Local Authority’s actions have been nothing short of calamitous. It was their decision to publicly attack the school, destabilising and alienating the school community, then to force out experienced staff and replace them with an IEB and Leadership Team that have, in the view of most NUT members, compounded the difficulties facing Sedgehill students, staff and parents. The Local Authority needs to admit its mistakes and take responsibility for their actions. 

"Sedgehill did not fail us" say students outside Lewisham Town Hall, December 2014

Regrettably, this failure will no doubt be seized upon by some in Government as evidence in favour of academisation - far from it. These failings result from an authoritarian, ill-informed approach which exactly mirrors Government policy – ignoring the evidence, imposing pre-conceived agendas and ignoring the voices of the school community. Forced academisation, regrettably seemingly inevitable under the new Government legislation, will only continue on the same damaging route.

As the NUT and others have shown, there is no evidence that forced academisation will improve education. In fact, by concentrating on the wrong priorities, it will make things worse. It won’t deliver on what’s really required – more resources to provide additional staff to meet needs, a leadership that can work collaboratively with staff to raise morale, encourage recruitment and retention and apply systems that address existing weaknesses, and a community-based Governing Body. However, what events at Sedgehill also show is that it’s not just enough to oppose academisation. Staff, parents and unions also need to campaign for democratically accountable schools and Local Authorities that work with their local community and workforce, not against them.

Postcript - for an explanation as to why my son has already left Sedgehill - and the role of edu-businesses in profiting from Government policy - see my later post here.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Get ready to win the strike ballot to defend national pay and conditions

Are you ready to win the ballot to secure and restore national pay and conditions for teachers?

Click on the pictures below for a PowerPoint with some ideas to help you and your members organise for the massive YES vote that we need:
The PowerPoint was updated with minor amendments on 13 April 2016

For a link to the resources being produced by the National Union, visit the White Paper Campaigns page of the national website:

Sunday, 10 April 2016

We marched against academies in March - now march for the Junior Doctors in April

Last month, a fantastic demonstration, called at short notice by NUT Divisions in London, helped show the depth of opposition to the Government's White Paper. 

The march and rally helped give confidence to NUT delegates at the Union's Annual Conference to vote for strike action to oppose the threat to national pay and conditions that will result from the imposition of these damaging plans.

Now NUT members and other trade unionists can help give confidence to another set of workers facing an attack on their national conditions - the junior doctors.

On 26/27 April, junior doctors will be striking again to stop the government imposing an unsafe contract. That's why the NUT in London is supporting the BMA North & South Thames Junior Doctors' march to the Department of Health on the evening of April 26th.

For more information, visit:

Saturday, 26 March 2016

NUT Conference votes for strike action to defend teachers and education

This afternoon, NUT Annual Conference voted overwhelmingly for a Priority Motion on 'The White Paper: The Wrong Priorities' which includes a call for a ballot for discontinuous action to begin with a one-day strike before the end of the summer term and to seek to coordinate action with other unions too.

The full agreed motion covers a wide range of explanatory points, including in summary:
* congratulating those who signed the two 100,000 petitions
* that Government mismanagement is creating a crisis in education, with teacher shortages, insufficient school places, severe funding shortfalls and reforms that threaten to turn schools into exam factories.
* mounting an immediate campaign explaining why the white paper proposals are the wrong priorities.
* condemns its underlying principles of deregulation and proposals to replace QTS with accreditation solely decided in schools.
* believes there is no electoral mandate for what the FT has called "a risky experiment" and that it is now clear the Government is intent on creating an education market place which will have privatisation as an ultimate aim.
* believes the white paper ignores a growing body of evidence and will lead to chaos, teacher turnover and even lower morale, removing democratic participation of parents.
* that the fragmentation and disruption will put education at risk.

It instructs the Executive to :
* urge all school unions to jointly campaign to defend state education.
* work together to develop alternative policy proposals that support genuine school improvement and local democratic accountability.
* seek wide support for a unifying statement calling for urgent action on the real priorities and a halt to further academisation to enable a national debate over the future direction of education.
* bring together a coalition to promote and protect state education with activities including a mass lobby of parliament, a national demonstration and regional lobbies.
* prepare materials for teachers and parents and organise stalls and activities to mobilise support
* consider holding a public inquiry to examine the track record of academies

Finally, it instructs the Executive (here quoted in full) to:
i. Recognise the threats to jobs, pay and non-pay terms represented by the funding cash freeze and the intention to academise all schools and therefore to declare a dispute with the Secretary of State seeking more funding and a common system of pay and conditions to apply to all state funded schools in England and Wales, using the lessons of our defeat of the Government legal challenge over the sixth form colleges dispute;
ii. Recognise that these threats apply to all school staff, and therefore to encourage all other education unions representing teachers and support staff to declare similar disputes, sharing our legal advice with them;
iii. Specifically approach ATL, GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, UNISON and UNITE to seek agreement on a common plan for a ballot for discontinuous strike and non strike action;
iv. Present for discussion with those unions a timetable to begin with a one-day strike before the end of summer term;
v. To enact this timetable and action with any union willing to join us in the summer term, but otherwise to enact it ourselves - and then seek to coordinate further strikes in the autumn term with unions able and willing to join us then;
vi. Recognise that inadequate funding in Wales also threatens jobs, pay and non-pay conditions of teachers and that the effective abolition of national pay and conditions in England would accelerate moves to devolution of pay and conditions to the Wales Government to the inevitable detriment of teachers in Wales.
vii. Recognise that our fight is part of the wider battle to defend public services and therefore to approach the BMA to explore the possibility of coordinating our campaigns and action;
viii. Recognise too that in order to win the national ballot extraordinary measures will be needed at every level of the union.

Conference has decisively agreed a plan of action. Now every step must be taken to decisively win the ballot, to defend teachers' jobs, pay and conditions and, in doing so, to defend education as a whole.

Monday, 21 March 2016

The Education White Paper - condemned in its own words

Ignoring the Evidence (1)
Remarkably, the word 'evidence' appears over 80 times in the Government's new White Paper "Educational Excellence Everywhere".

Apparently, the Government will "ensure discredited ideas unsupported by firm evidence are not promoted" in education. Yes, read that again, 'discredited ideas unsupported by firm evidence'. Has someone at the DfE got a malicious sense of humour or have they just forgotten to point out to Nicky Morgan that this is about as good a definition of the academy programme as you could write?

There is no evidence supporting the ideologically motivated, profit-driven educational vandalism of forced academies. This is a Government in chaos seeking to inflict chaos on education as a whole.

Ignoring the Evidence (2)
This Government is not just ignoring evidence when it comes to all-out academisation. Driven by a determination to lower costs, they have already introduced a divisive system of performance pay designed to deny teachers pay progression and bully staff into take on even greater workload.

The White Paper consistently talks about using the evidence provided by the Education Endowment Foundation and "spreading the evidence on what works in education". 

Again, perhaps the DfE need to study the evidence more closely, because this is what the  EEF have to say about performance pay: "the results of more rigorous evaluations, such as those with experimental trials or with well-controlled groups, suggest that the actual average impact has been close to zero".

Parental and Community Involvement
One of the strategies for 'educational excellence' highlighted by the EEF above is, of course, parental involvement. In the White Paper, the Government claims it will "empower pupils, parents and local communities". How do they propose to do that exactly? Well by removing any accountability to local communities through democratically elected local authorities of course. 

The White Paper says that it recognises that "the crucial role of governance makes it more important than ever to ensure that only the right individuals are involved". Parents, of course, are not the right individuals. What do they know or care about education? Their rights to be elected on to Governing Bodies will be removed. Under the White Paper, "we will no longer require academy trusts to reserve places for elected parents on governing boards".

Empowering 'great leaders'
Of course, the 'right' kind of people do need empowering - starting with the sponsors of course. Already, academy chains use their control over contracts to generate significant profits for linked subsidiaries. As Stephen Ball explains in a post for the British Educational Research Association, "Ms Morgan seems not to have noticed that for-profit activity already plays a huge role in public education in England".

When the White Paper states that Government "are working with the publishing industry and with schools, MATs and others to encourage them to develop and share a new generation of teaching materials, textbooks and resources to help teachers deliver new curricula effectively", you can be sure that some major multinationals are looking to cash in.

Taken from

Then, of course, there's the unscrupulous empire-building Heads of Multi-Academy Trusts, or 'CEOs' as they often prefer to be labelled. As a principled Headteacher put it in the TES last week, "we see even smallish multi-academy trusts with chief executives earning more – sometimes much more – than the prime minister. We see chains employing small armies of pinstriped executives who talk of standards but rarely set foot in a classroom to teach a lesson they have prepared themselves or give back books that they have marked".

Ending the two-tier system
I could go on, but let me finish with the policy that has already seen angry opposition result in two different online petitions securing over 100,000 signatories in just a few days: "This white paper sets out how, by the end of 2020, all remaining maintained schools will be academies or in the process of conversion".

The Conservatives are - or were - arrogant and insulated enough from 'public opinion' to think that they could go all out to put an end to the 'two-tier' system of academies and maintained schools by forcing through total academisation. Perhaps already some of them are beginning to realise they may have overreached themselves.

London is host to just one of the demonstrations taking place this Wednesday

A groundswell of angry opposition is emerging. Concerns are even now coming from within the Tory party itself with the Conservative lead for Education in David Cameron's own Oxfordshire Council saying that the academies plan is 'big brother gone mad'!

The cracks emerging within the Conservative Party should give confidence to everyone building the movement to defend education against this White Paper. So let's keep up the pressure to defeat these attacks - but let's not limit our objectives just to halting this latest attempt to sweep away democratically accountable comprehensive education. 

Yes, there is a way to end the 'two-tier' system - and that's to call for the law to be changed so that academies can be returned back to the maintained sector and so that the new schools needed to meet rising pupil numbers can be opened as community schools, not as 'free school' academies.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Victory at John Fisher School over budget-driven threats to teachers' pay

They provided the PERFORMANCE - but now teachers have their PAY too
I am pleased to be able to publicise a significant victory at John Fisher School in Sutton where, after three days of strike action taken by members of both the NUT and NASUWT, staff's key demands have been achieved.

The strike action was taken in protest at the Governors’ refusal to grant pay progression to teachers, even though they had achieved their performance management objectives. The Governors put the blame on budgetary difficulties.

Last week, at the end of two consecutive days of strike action, the school called for further negotiations. At the end of these talks, Governors conceded that all eligible teachers will receive a full one point pay progression backdated to September 1 2015. Teachers' action has won their pay rise!

Although the dispute is still not fully settled pending further negotiations on pay policy and other outstanding issues, clearly a significant victory has been achieved. This is not just a victory for John Fisher staff, and a reward for their tremendous response and packed school gate turnout on all of the strike days, but an encouragement to all teachers where schools faced with budget cuts might attempt a similar attack on pay progression. 

"ASPIRE" - All Staff Pay Is Rightfully Earned