Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

EDUCATION MATTERS: Back to School

In R.Richardson on November 11, 2014 at 11:44 am

As the new school year begins, academies have been receiving more bad press, on both local and national levels.

Locally, both Lydney’s Dean Academy and the Forest Academy in Cinderford are now without sponsors. The E-Act academy chain suffered a series of poor Ofsted inspections and offloaded ten schools in February, including the Forest Academy.  Three months later, the Prospects Academies Trust relinquished the Dean Academy because it had “difficulty in providing the required support and services”.  Both schools are now on their own, but as they are now academies, neither of them can look to the Local Education Authority for support. But the respective Heads are putting a brave face on things, declaring that it will be business as usual.

ELSEWHERE:

The country’s biggest academies chain, the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), has been censured by Ofsted following a survey of twelve of its schools.  It found half of them to be “inadequate”.

Matthew Coffey, Ofsted’s chief operating officer, said that AET failed to provide the support that its schools needed.  This failure was due in part to a too-rapid expansion. It’s all particularly embarrassing for David Hoare, the newly appointed chair of Ofsted, as he’s currently a director of AET. It is of course a post that he’ll relinquish.

FREELY SELECTIVE:

Meanwhile, a new study by London University’s Institute of Education suggests that free schools (which can be set up by parents, groups or other bodies) are socially selective. Michael Gove, when he was promoting free schools insisted that they could help disadvantaged communities. In fact, says Mary Bousted (general secretary of the ATL), “Free schools have brought in selection by the back door…. dominated by children of the pushiest parents.” Fewer pupils at free schools are entitled to free school meals and more score highly in assessments for school readiness.

CONDEMNATION FOR NEW CURRICULUM:

The new National Curriculum which is being launched this academic year comes in for criticism from many quarters.  Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the NUT, declares that it has been written by government advisers and officials, not teachers.  The content, he says, is not “age appropriate”, and gives little opportunity for individual learning styles.

The timescale for implementation is one year only – much too short – and little thought has been given to how it will be rolled out in practical terms.

There is an interesting video on the NUT website, in which Christine Blower, general secretary of the union, voices her concerns about the “synthetic phonics” reading test which all children in year one will have to take.  It’s unpopular with teachers as well as other bodies including the UK Literacy Association.

It is yet another example of the lack of trust that the present Government has in teachers.

WHO’S PAYING FOR FREE SCHOOL MEALS?

A year ago Nick Clegg announced his scheme to provide free school meals to all four-to-seven year-olds. Even Dominic Cummings, a senior advisor, claimed that the scheme was “a gimmick” that had been “dreamt up on the back of a fag packet”.

Now it appears that the policy is seriously under-funded, with Councils facing a shortfall of over £25 million. They’re having to divert money away from repair programmes and from improving facilities. There are even fears that support services may be affected.

Kent County Council is the worst hit county. It has been allocated £2.7 million to carry out any necessary work to improve school kitchens – but a spokesman claims that £7 million would be a more realistic figure.

“FOR PROFIT”??!

Meanwhile our new Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, has set the cat amongst the pigeons by leaving the door ajar for state schools to be run for profit.

She said it was an idea that would have to be thought about “very carefully”. Tristram Hunt, Shadow Education Secretary, responded, “Parents will be alarmed … by the prospect of using state schools to generate dividends for shareholders.”

RUTH RICHARDSON

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