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: http://electmartin1.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/parents-and-students-speak-up-for.html ).

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, http://bit.ly/1wTofQA, 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: http://electmartin1.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/lies-statistics-and-future-of-sedgehill.html).

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. ( http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/dec/16/mark-steel-academies-sponsors-ofsted-dfe-local-authority ). 

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 (http://uk-youthviolence.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/abuse-of-statutory-power-lewisham.html) 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 http://goo.gl/5zMdS1
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: http://www.tusc.org.uk/policy).

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.


Academy Strike Ballot: 98% YES for strike action

Over the last fortnight, Lewisham NUT members in five schools threatened with being turned into an Academy have been voting in an indicative ballot to judge the support for strike action to oppose any such change of employer.


The results of the secret ballot show overwhelming backing for taking a program of 'discontinuous' strike action in each of the five schools:


Bonus Pastor Catholic College:   YES 14   NO 0 
Prendergast Hilly Fields College:   YES 23   NO 1
Prendergast Ladywell Fields College:   YES 24   NO 0
Prendergast Vale College:   YES 21   NO 0
Sedgehill School:   YES 40   NO 1


Overall result across all five schools: 
YES 98.4%, NO 1.6% 
on a turnout of 73%.

As was explained in the covering letter sent to NUT members, "if the outcome of the ballot is successful and the dispute remains unresolved (i.e. we are not given a guarantee that the school will not be converting to an Academy), a formal ballot of members may then be necessary early in the New Year". 

None of the schools have responded to the NUT with the assurances that we were seeking that there will not be a change of employer:
  • At Sedgehill, Lewisham Council have gone ahead in the teeth of overwhelming public opposition to submit an application for an IEB - a step towards forced academisation of the school which has already seen the existing Headteacher announce his departure. 
  • The Governing Board of the Leathersellers' Federation ( for the three Prendergast Schools) have set up a Working Party to report on a possible Academy conversion. This is due to report back in the New Year. 
  • Bonus Pastor's Principal has written back to the NUT confirming that she has "submitted our interest to convert to an academy within the Catholic Diocese of Southwark"
Given the clear danger of a rapid move to Academy status in some or all of these Lewisham schools - and the clear backing for strike action shown in all five ballots - then Lewisham NUT will be immediately requesting that the National Union proceeds to issue formal ballots for strike action as soon as possible in the New Year.

The NUT is liaising with other teaching and support staff unions with the aim of being prepared to take strike action which is not only co-ordinated if necessary across all five schools but also across school staff unions too.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

IEB imposed at Sedgehill - Time to take a stand in the General Election


In response to the news that the Council has ignored overwhelming opposition and gone ahead with its application for an IEB at Sedgehill School, Martin Powell-Davies, Lewisham NUT secretary, Sedgehill School parent and one of the driving forces behind the Stop Academies in Lewisham (SAiL) campaign has announced his intention to stand in next year's General Election.

Teachers' leader and Sedgehill parent to mount General Election challenge in Lewisham West and Penge seat.


Friday 12th December saw 400 students, parents, teachers and members of the community protest at Lewisham Town Hall against the threats to Sedgehill School, Bellingham. Through petitions, emails and letters, the Sedgehill School community answered the distortions being put out by the Council and explained why the IEB would damage education for Sedgehill students.

Disgracefully, it has now been confirmed that the Director of Education has gone ahead with submitting an application to the Secretary of State for the Interim Executive Board.

In response to this news, Martin said:

"Anyone who knows Sedgehill, knows it is not a failing school. As a parent of four children who have been so well-supported by Sedgehill staff, I am angered that a Labour Council should risk children’s education by imposing their plans against the wishes of the whole school community”.

“ Their unjustified actions could become the first step in the complete break-up of local authority schooling across Lewisham – just as we have seen take place across Bromley. It’s part of a wider agenda to cut Council services at the expense of our communities. It’s an agenda that has to be challenged”.

“I am not going to stand by and see the pro-privatisation policies that now dominate the New Labour machine ruining education. Voters should not be left to choose only between different pro-Academy, pro-Austerity politicians who differ only on the details of the cuts they plan to make. That is why I see no alternative but to put my name forward to the local Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition steering committee and mount a challenge to those parties in May's General Election."

"Today’s IEB submission confirms, once again, how little there is to choose between the main parties. They all offer a diet of cuts, austerity and privatisation. Yet, we saw with the Lewisham Hospital campaign and now with SAiL that there is mounting opposition to these damaging policies. Now we need candidates that will speak out and lead campaigns against the attacks on education, health and all our public services. I think that I can provide that voice in the Lewisham West and Penge constituency in May's election."
 


TUSC

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) was set up in 2010, co-founded by the late RMT union leader Bob Crow, to provide a clear left-wing, trade-union based alternative to the main parties’ policies of public sector cuts, privatisation, poverty and environmental degradation. TUSC calls on trade unions to break from Labour and to launch independent political representation for working people. More information can be found at www.tusc.org.uk, including this video appeal from Dave Nellist, TUSC National Chair, formerly a Labour MP from 1983 to1992: http://youtu.be/H0mq1l_PHq8

In the 2015 General Election, TUSC will be standing candidates in over a hundred constituencies across England and Wales. Our candidates won’t be professional politicians but leading trade unionists and community campaigners, just like Martin.


Please get in touch if you want to help the campaign.

Download this post as a press release via http://goo.gl/HcHb8T

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, http://youtu.be/x9SXveQxlhY and http://bit.ly/1DCUObL 

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. (http://councilmeetings.lewisham.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=134&MId=3431&Ver=4 ).

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". ( https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/366556/SFR41_2014_provisional_GCSE_and_equivalents.pdf  ).

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.