Friday 19 December 2014

Lewisham Labour, who is failing who over Sedgehill ?

As schools across the country break-up for the Christmas holidays, students at Sedgehill School are going home without even knowing who their Headteacher will be when they return in the New Year.

Ignoring the overwhelming opposition of staff, students and parents, the Labour Group voted on Tuesday evening to support the Director of Education sending an application to the DfE to impose an 'Interim Executive Board' at Sedgehill. 

Although there is as yet no official response from the DfE and the Secretary of State, Lewisham Council has already acted on the assumption that they will support their IEB application. The school has been told that a new Headteacher will be starting in the New Year, brought in from Bethnal Green Academy. The names of the individuals intended to sit on this IEB are, however, still unknown - as is the timescale for Nicky Morgan to announce her decision on the IEB.

Instead of providing stability and support for the children whose interests they claim to have at heart, Lewisham Council have provided upset and uncertainty. Instead of praising the progress and achievements of Sedgehill's young people, they have unfairly criticised the School. 

I also believe that the Council's criticisms have been based on false assumptions that reveal a fundamental lack of understanding of the link between poverty, class and educational achievement.

On the one hand, they have tried to portray the opposition to their plans as coming from just a small unrepresentative group of 'privileged' parents and students. As they will find to their cost, they have misunderstood that this opposition comes from right across the school community. As the meeting at Sedgehill last week showed, this opposition is particularly strong amongst students - and their parents - who have previously been labelled 'failures' by Academies and who have come to Sedgehill to find a community that will value and support them (See: ).

A group of 15 and 16 year-old Sedgehill students that met with representatives  of the Council on Monday have written to complain about the "incredibly condescending manner"  in which they felt they were spoken to and how it was "suggested that we were unrepresentative of the student body at Sedgehill due to our backgrounds and the support that we would have received at home". They add that "we each found this incredibly disrespectful as assumptions were made, due to the fact that we were confident, articulate and able to string more than a few sentences together".

In an article on the News Shopper website leading on the proposed strike action by NUT members,, and beneath some comments of my own, Mayor of Lewisham Sir Steve Bullock makes the questionable claim that  "Last year more than a whole class of students who had entered the school in year 7 at a level where we might reasonably expect them to go on to achieve five good GCSE passes including English and Maths, failed to make that grade".

First of all, as explained elsewhere on this blog, the Council are basing conclusions on one set of GCSE results, taken from a year where even the DfE itself admits that the changes to exam structures mean that meaningful comparisons and conclusions cannot be made. (See:

Secondly, they are presumably trying to make predictions based on Key Stage 2 data and progress targets whose validity is increasingly being questioned. Even more questions are being asked now that the Guardian has reported on how some primary schools, including in Lewisham, are being investigated over how they have administered those Key Stage 2 tests. ( ). 

Lewisham, however, is still using Year 5 'banding tests' for school admissions, so has its own data showing the comparative intake across Lewisham schools. It shows that Sedgehill has the least 'comprehensive' intake of all. Do most Labour Councillors not think that this has a significant impact on GCSE results ?

Of course, if Sedgehill really was such a terrible school letting down its 'disadvantaged' pupils, then the Mayor would not be confronting such widespread opposition. However, I, like many parents, don't believe that the facts match the Council's claims. Another Sedgehill parent has produced an analysis on his blog ( which includes the following comparison between Sedgehill and other comparator schools:

Again, it shows that Sedgehill's performance is broadly in line with what might be expected - unless, of course, Councillors want to ignore the well-established link between poverty and GCSE outcomes.

As a socialist, I would be the last person to write-off working-class children as 'failures' that can't achieve academic success. The Tories who want to reintroduce grammar schools are those that draw that conclusion. However, like anyone who has any understanding of education, I know how poverty, poor housing, lack of access to books and the internet, long working hours and other social and economic pressures all impact on working-class children from an early age.  In the Labour Party that I once was a member of, those factors were usually understood. So was the idea that, in order to change lives for the better, you had to tackle inequality. It seems that, under New Labour, that's all been forgotten.

Read more on this via
No, New Labour education policy, as with so many parties internationally that have abandoned their trade union roots, is now firmly in the camp of the neo-liberal 'GERM', the  'Global Education Reform Movement'. The GERM wants the public to blame teachers and schools instead of blaming the  politicians who are really responsible for inequality and all that it means for educational outcomes. Scandalously, this  'blame-and-shame' agenda is being pursued as a means to open up schools to privatisation - so that the big business interests that are responsible for so much of that inequality can then make profits out of children's education.

Lewisham Labour's Councillor Paul Maslin stated on the ITV News coverage of the Sedgehill story that whether schools became academies or not was "immaterial" to him. I disagree. As the NUT's 'Manifesto for Our Children's Education' rightly explains "academies and free schools are based on the idea that a free market produces the best results". It doesn't. That's why the NUT Manifesto calls for the forced academies programme to be stopped immediately. It also calls  for an end to child poverty explaining that "whether children are ready and able to learn depends on a wide range of factors, may of which are outside teachers' control. Unless child poverty is addressed, millions will never achieve their full potential". On that, I fully agree.

The NUT as a Union does not back any particular political party (nor, for that matter, does the Save Sedgehill campaign). However, TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, does stand in support of what the NUT is arguing and has endorsed the NUT's Manifesto. Instead of arguing that whether schools are academies or not is 'immaterial', I hope to stand for TUSC  in the General Election in Lewisham West and Penge arguing that all academies should be returned to the control of democratically-run local authorities (for more on TUSC's policies, see:

Finally, I also want to stand to expose those who claim to be against 'disadvantage' at the same time as they vote through cut after cut to living standards and services, cuts which are widening disadvantage and inequality ever further. That, of course, includes Lewisham's Labour Council who are proposing £40million cuts this year, including cuts to children's centres and youth service budgets that will directly affect young people in the borough. Nationally, Ed Balls has made clear that a future New Labour Government will stick essentially to the same austerity policies that we have seen under the Tories and Liberals, so those cuts will continue.

That's why as a teacher, trade unionist and socialist, I want to offer a fighting alternative for local voters who are sick of politicians who just offer more of the same. I believe that TUSC, co-founded by the late Bob Crow, bringing together fighting trade unionists, socialists and campaigners in a coalition to fight in over a 100 seats in the 2015 General Election, can help provide that alternative this May.

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