Last week I reprinted a blog about how children learn, having been requested to do it, and got some very positive feed-back. Somebody even suggested that I should send it to our new Education Secretary, Damien Hinds. I thought that would be rather a waste of time because the man is part of the political elite and in touch with several wealthy private companies and, being committed to George Osborne’s orders, openly intends to take as many schools away from the control of the local authorities as he can and turn them into private Academies that are run for profit.
Since then, the world has moved on apace and an admirable journalist called Aditya Chakrabortty has written in yesterday’s Guardian about what is actually happening to one of our schools now. Is it an appalling story, so I’m going to pass it on here for those of you who haven’t seen it.
The school is a primary in Essex called Waltham Holy Cross and Mr Chakrabortty has visited it and ‘helped on a school run’. He says he found it ‘more than a school’. ‘This is a community,’ he writes and the children are happy there and enjoy learning. This month’s SAT results for Year 6 show a remarkable double-digit improvement in reading, writing and maths. And yet, believe it or not, Ofsted inspectors, who visited the school just before Christmas have damned it as ‘inadequate’ and told the Head and the staff that it will therefore be handed over to a trust called Net Academies who will turn it into a ‘model school’. And there appears to be nothing they can do about it.
The Head took action at once and together with her governors, wrote to report that even before the inspection had begun, the lead inspector had told staff that ‘based on the previous year’s Sat results their school would be inadequate.’ In other words, as she pointed out, judgement had been made before the inspection even began. She also reported that when one of the inspectors was asked to move his car, which was blocking the school entrance, he not only refused to do any such thing but said ‘I’m Ofsted. I can park wherever I want.’ How’s that for arrogance? Back in the old days, Her Majesty’s School Inspectors, who were largely academics or ex head teachers or other long serving teachers would never have been so rude.
But they misjudged Waltham Holy Cross for this is plainly a very good school indeed. Back in March when they were told the news, the staff and the parents didn’t accept that the school was going to be handed over to an academy – in their case a group called Net Academies – and that there was nothing they could do about. They started a campaign, took legal advice and action, and were careful to do everything properly. All complaints, for example, were submitted via the correct complaints process. And they started by firing off Freedom of Information requests. One of them, a lady called Shaunagh Roberts (Respec’!), looked up Net Academies and as she says ‘Got a jolt’. Two of Net’s seven academies in Warwickshire and Reading have been ranked ‘inadequate’, a third ‘requires improvement’. According to the latest Education Policy Institute report, Net Academy Trust is the sixth worst primary school group in England. Its board is stuffed with City folk: PFI lawyers, management consultants, accountants, but apparently no working teachers. It has dropped three of its schools but its aim is to run 20 to 25 institutions. There’s money in academies.
They also uncovered a smelly little bit of corruption.
When the school got its Ofsted report, the local authority told the Head ‘that Clare Kershaw, the Authority’s Director of Education, would want us only to go with Net Academies.’ And Clare Kershaw was also – wait for it! – a trustee with the charity New Education Trust, out of which came the Net Academies. Both the Council and the government have assured Mr Chakrabortty that the two were separate entities and that her interest had been properly declared. Net denies any conflict of interest. Yet the charity’s last set of accounts describes the academies as ‘a connected charity’ and Clare Kershaw appears on an official document for the academy trust. Humm!
I have sent a twitter message to Waltham Holy Cross School offering to help them in any way I can and telling them about this blog. And now I’m feeding and watering my war horse.