Sunday, 14 December 2014

Lies, statistics and the future of Sedgehill

Protest shows the depth of support for Sedgehill

Friday evening's tremendous Lobby of Lewisham Town Hall by over three hundred students, parents and staff gave a clear answer to the lie that Sedgehill School is somehow  'failing' its pupils. 

No 'failing' school would achieve that level of backing from its community, nor be able to produce the confident, talented and well-disciplined young people that were so visible at the Lobby - see, for example, and 

The protest received widespread press coverage on both BBC and ITV local news. Regrettably however, rather than accepting that Lewisham Council had made a mistake,  Councillor Maslin instead unjustly attacked the school in his televised comments. He claimed on the ITV London News that "we have to act on the basis of the achievement of the school which is poor and has got worse". So what are the facts?

Some Questions for Lewisham Council
  • Which are the only two Lewisham secondary schools to have shown a continual increase in GCSE 5A*CEM results from 2010 to 2013?
  • How many Lewisham secondary schools suffered a drop in their 2014 GCSE results?
  • Nationally, which type of school showed both the lowest overall GCSE 5A*-CEM results and the biggest drop overall between 2013 and 2014?
  • Can all schools be "above average"?
  • Which was the only Lewisham secondary school to show an improved result for A*-C grades at A level in 2014?

Cllr.Maslin should have a look again at the figures on his own Council website, produced for October's CYP Select Committee. ( ).

The graph I have produced isn't particularly clear, inevitably given the fact that clear trends can't be judged on a single year's results. So, let me explain.

Some schools might indeed appear to be 'getting worse' but let me ask a question to Lewisham's Labour councillors: "Which are the only two Lewisham secondary schools to have shown a continual increase in GCSE 5A*CEM results from 2010 to 2013?" The answer: Sedgehill and Sydenham schools - and no others!

Regrettably, it seems that the Council is using solely this year's 2014 GCSE results as its excuse to intervene in such a damaging way. If so, then let's ask another question: "How many Lewisham secondary schools suffered a drop in the 2014 GCSE results?" The answer: 8 out of 13 schools, including all three academies, saw a fall in results, with some of its neighbouring schools suffering bigger falls that Sedgehill suffered. Why not condemn these schools as being 'poor and getting worse' ?

Of course, to be fair on all these schools - rather than to be as blatantly unfair as Lewisham Council - the 2014 drop in results was entirely expected. As the Times reported back in August,
"the qualifications watchdog is also writing to schools to prepare them for results that could be much worse than last year because of reforms to the examination system"

Lewisham Council's CYP Select Committee, in excusing the Authority-wide fall in results, explained itself that "there was much volatility in the system this year and this did impact on many of our secondary schools". The DfE, in its National Statistics release on the 2014 results also made clear that  "there are a wide range of changes to the calculation of performance measures in 2013/14. These mean it is not possible to compare 2013/14 with previous years". (  ).

However, if Lewisham Council are so determined to use the 2014 results as a stick to unfairly drive through their academisation proposals, they had better also look at another conclusion from the National Statistics release. Here's my next question for the Councillors: "Nationally, which type of school showed both the lowest overall GCSE 5A*-CEM results and the biggest drop overall between 2013 and 2014?" The answer: sponsored academies!

Regrettably, Lewisham Council don't seem to be listening. Instead, other statistics are being unfairly quoted as well. The Mayor has responded to some parents to say that "the school continues to be under-subscribed and exam results remain significantly below average". 

The school is only 'under-subscribed' because the Council insists on maintaining an admissions number for Sedgehill of over 300, far in excess of the actual school population. If what is being intimated is that the school is 'unpopular' with parents, then here are the facts contained in the statement produced by Sedgehill School on Friday: "Our sixth form has grown from 120 to 400 in the last four years while our year 7 intake has increased from 160 to 250 in the same time and is due to increase again this coming September".

It's worth noting, as the Council seem to be studiously ignoring it, that the school's A-level results continue to go from strength to strength. So, once again looking at the Council's own website, here's a last question for the Councillors: "Which was the only Lewisham secondary school to show an improved result for A*-C grades at A level in 2014?" The answer is plain to see - if your eyes aren't closed by pre-determined academisation plans:

Of course, if the Council maintains its outrageous attempts to trash this well-supported school, the rising roll numbers will instead go into reverse, particularly in terms of higher-ability Band 1 pupils. Sedgehill already has a greater proportion of lower-ability Band 3 pupils than perhaps any other school. That, of course, is why its results will inevitably be "below-average". If I need to ask the question of the Councillors "Can all schools be above average?" then we really are in difficulties! The answer can be given to you by the maths students at Sedgehill, I am sure.

Sedgehill has the least 'comprehensive' intake of any Lewisham secondary school.
'Band 3' pupils that are unable to obtain a place at other schools are accepted at Sedgehill School.
This is a key factor for any school's results.

In all this talk of 'failing schools', it has to be remembered that the main factor determining overall exam outcomes remains the nature of the pupil intake to a school. Governments demand ever-increasing results while their austerity policies produce ever-worsening poverty and social problems that will inevitably impact on educational outcomes too. Too many academies stand accused of driving away pupils that risk reducing their overall exam scores (as parents whose children have moved  to Sedgehill from Academies are prepared to testify). In contrast, Sedgehill has a proud record of supporting its whole school community. 

IEB places children's education at risk

Truly, it seems that there are 'lies, damned lies and statistics'. Worse, these distortions, aimed at undermining the growing opposition to the plan to impose an Interim Executive Board, put the education of many young people in danger. 

The IEB and the likely academisation that might well follow are no answer to the challenges facing Sedgehill School. As the Governors have stated as part of their response to the Council strongly opposing the proposed IEB:
  • The model of intervention is designed for a school in crisis – we are not: "Sedgehill is a school that was rated good for leadership and governance in October 2013 and has a fully committed and active Governing Body. It has acknowledged that it needs to accelerate its journey of improvement but is not a school in difficulty in need of a radical, deeply disruptive intervention. We are confident that our Year 11 students are on track to achieve 65% A*-CEM in their 2015 GCSEs – the reason the LA was not assured of this is that they visited on the third day of the new academic year"   ( Let me add that the LA team apparently complained that there wasn't enough evidence of homework in pupils' books - yes, on the third day of a new school year !! )
  • Its lack of representation risks excluding our active and engaged stakeholders from the governance of the school: "A specific feature of this model is that it is small and focused on a limited range of functions and does not aim in its membership to reflect the constituencies of our school community". 
  • The IEB will not be independent and able to represent the best interests of Sedgehill: "The IEB is described as being responsible for appointing an Executive Head Teacher and yet the LA is naming their preferred choice as the current Principal at Bethnal Green Academy. This would seem to be pre-empting any consideration that the IEB may make".
  • The IEB is only intended as a short term measure but the complexity of the financing of the school’s buildings and services means that it is likely to be in place for an extended period. "The IEB is expected to consider academy status for the school. In addition to the contractual issues, feedback from staff and parents in response to our consideration of an IEB has indicated a considerable opposition would be likely to exist to proposals on academy status. Our judgement is that there is a risk that this governance model will be in place for a considerable amount of time during which the school’s constituencies will lose organisational memory and the divisions caused by such exclusion from governance will dismantle a united school and community". 
  • The structure of the IEB will not offer the necessary capacity to fulfil all of the essential functions necessary for good governance.
  • The removal of staff and parents from governance weakens the school
  •  The IEB would break what we have been mending "We know that we need to demonstrate that we are moving at a faster pace towards delivering outstanding teaching and learning to support our students’ achievement ... The Governing Body strongly urges you not to agree to the establishment of an IEB at Sedgehill School but let us be judged on what we achieve with our Year 11 students and in other years thereafter".

Keep up the Pressure on the Council

Friday's protest and the ongoing press coverage, alongside the mountain of emails and letters being sent to councillors, MPs and the local press are sending a clear message to Lewisham Council. Now that pressure must be kept up by continuing emails and letters to demand that:

a) the Council withdraws its threat to impose an IEB and consults properly with the School and its community in the New Year instead.
b) Either abandons its academisation plans altogether or, at the very least, conducts a full and binding ballot of staff and parents to judge whether or not their plans are supported by the school community.

A Meeting of Lewisham's Labour Group has been called for Tuesday to discuss how the Council responds. We can only hope that those councillors who are prepared to listen to educational sense instead of distortions and half-truths will prevail. If they do not, then the campaign to defend education will have to intensify, including unions balloting  for strike action to oppose the threat of a change of employer to an Academy Trust. 

Our campaign includes people from a range of party political views. However, if the Labour Group votes to support imposing the IEB, then more parents will be joining me in concluding that there is a need to challenge these mistaken policies at the ballot box in May as well. As a parent and teacher who has lived and campaigned in the Lewisham West and Penge constituency for over 25 years, then I am certainly prepared to make such a stand.

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