Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Choosing who should run our schools

It seems that my Christmas wish for Weston Favell School to be left alone and remain outside of the clutches of a Tory County Council and a Labour Governments wish to turn them into an Academy against their will has come partly true!

Certainly the news out today that Weston Favells academy sponsor ULT had withdrawn from their intended take over of the school is good news, and it is the second academy sponsor to withdraw in two years of failed Council consultations on plans that the general public simply just don't want. The latest announcement came after the minister expressed "serious concerns" about the lack of progress at the ULT-run Sheffield Park Academy which is currently in special measures.

But be warned, in the new year no doubt the Council will only redouble their efforts to find someone else to sponsor their unpopular plans and they can then try again to convince us they only have the best interest of our children at heart, rather than simply washing their hands of what they decree failing schools. But with 1 in 3 academies now failing you would think the Council would be more cautious as to its choice of partner, and less keen to tell us that State run schools are always bad and Independent run schools always good

But just how much embarrassment are the Cabinet willing to take on this issue, whilst their sponsors fall like wobbly skittles in a bowling alley?

ULT's latest announcement coming on the back of damning reports of their failure elsewhere to turn the fortunes of schools around were not surprising, anyone with a modicum of common sense (So that obviously excludes the Councils Cabinet) could see their failures and poor record staring them straight in the face. 30 speakers who turned up and spoke to the infamous "were not listening" cabinet meeting and scores of others who wrote letter and emails could have told the Council that ULT were not fit for purpose, even the minister hinted at it but they just didn't want to listen.

(see below )

So will they be more discearning in their choice in the future? I doubt it, just look at what they are up to just a couple of miles away at Unity College with the help of the Church of England where the school is being offloaded to another academy sponsor, The David Ross Foundation

(see from July )

David Ross you may be aware is very friendly with one David Cameron, and is a major donor to the Tory Party (So far so good for the blue rinses at Strawberry Hall I hear you say) but he also courts rather a lot of controversy and this weeks press makes the County Councils choice for Unity's future even more interesting. About a year ago Mr Ross stood down from the Board of Carphone Warehouse after failing to declare that a loan was secured on his company shares, soon after this he was further asked to resign as an adviser to Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London.

Bad press for someone tipped to be a future member of David Cameron's cabinet following a possible elevation to the House of Lords, and time for a period of reflection and for laying low I hear you thinking.

But this week in what is impeccable timing for Strawberry Hall, Mr Ross hit the national press again. The Daily Mail informs us that "within the next few days he can expect to be questioned by police about a fracas involving a young, blonde, Lithuanian woman. The lady made an allegation of assault after she called the police in the early hours of Friday morning to the Belgravia home of Mr Ross"

The Mail then followed up the story by revealing that "the woman at the centre of 'assault' at the home of David Cameron's millionaire friend David Ross is an escort girl"

"The Lithuanian blonde claims she was cheated out of money 'for services rendered' by a man at the house. She alleges that a scuffle broke out in the early hours of Friday, during which she was assaulted"

In a response Mr Ross, who has been helping formulate Tory schools policy, has told friends that the woman was not invited at all, and he threw her out when she confronted him.

It was suggested that the woman might have turned up at the house with several guests from a party hosted by pr guru Matthew Freud which was attended by Ross, David Cameron and his wife as well as other celebrities and political guests. Sometime later after arriving at Mr Ross's house she was told to leave by Mr Ross after she had alledgedly threatened him.

Now I have no doubt that the Metropolitan Police will get to the bottom of what occurred and Mr Ross may well be innocent of any wrong doing and be nothing more than the victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but whilst the national press concentrate mainly on what they say "risks embarrassment for Mr Cameron" the possibility of any embarrassment for the Tory Party in Strawberry Hall is less clear.

Now call me old fashioned, but for me, when picking out future partners to take over responsibility for the education of our children, I want to know and to be assured by our councillors that they are a) up to the job (ULT failed on that score it seems) and b) that the head of any foundation applying to take on such a responsibility isn't going to continue to be in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

No doubt the Tory Cabinet on the County Council have asked themselves these very same questions? But up until now they have been very shy in revealing to us any of the answers.

My solution? Scrap these crazy plans to offload our state schools to the independent sector via the "academy" programme and start doing the job you were elected to do in giving proper support to our schools rather than treating them like commodities to be shipped off to anyone who will take them.

And listen more to the pupils, parents, teachers and governors who have a big stake in our schools, rather than government ministers and local bean counters.


  1. Postings from Animal Farm, Stawberry Hall Annexe

    After several rounds of cuts to their daily food rations and mysterious banishments, called restructuring, the animals read this sign on the Hall car park wall:-

    ' We can all be more enabling now we are smaller'

    After some more weeks had passed with ever reducing food rations and more disappearances the animals returned to the Hall for the night. They found the previous sign had been erased and this was now on the wall :-

    ' We are now helping animals to help themselves'

    After more months this was followed by and read by the few animals left :-

    'Help yourselves'

    Your Animal Committee/Dictatorship

  2. I think we should also be asking both Brian Binley and Michael Ellis to be more principled in their stated opposition to an Academy for Weston Favell School.

    Sally Keeble was apparently ignored by Vernon Coaker in his letter to Cllr Andrew Grant but it could have been another electoral nod and wink to allow her a position in support of local democracy while the Govt sidelined her.

    They all need to avoid the suspicion that they are just positioning themselves with the town electorate in the run up to a General Election.

    It is more important to hear what they are telling Balls, Brown, Cameron and Michael Gove on the record about local democracy, in relation to Academies, and that they would vote against any extended Academy provision without more real democratic procedures and safeguards.

    Many of us remain implacably opposed to any new Academies and would see the existing ones brought back into local control again, whatever the reasons given. Academies are a way of privatising education and they fool all of the people all of the time, they are not a solution which will last.

    At Weston Favell there was an apparently meaningless consultation with attempts to undermine and underplay the majority view of all Stakeholders against the Academy proposal.

    This was apparent in the Cabinet meeting on December 8th where Cllr Andrew Grant seemd to suggest that as ONLY 400 people had responded somehow we should be listening to the 'silent majority' who had not expressed any view.........

    By the same argument I would challenge Andrew Grant to stand down as a Councillor as only around 20% of the electorate voted for him in Brackley East and therefore 80% presumably did not want him as Councillor.

    The serious point is that there has been a systematic attempt to skew the arguments in favour of transfer to ULT. Our Children and Youg Peoples Services Director appeared to have information to hand which showed how well ULT was doing..........while at the same time juggling with the fact that ULT had been told by the Government they were not good enough to take on any more Academies.

    As we know a few days ago ULT either jumped out or were pushed after a change of mind by the Secretary of State.

    Undeterred we will no doubt hear great things about the next rag bag of sponsors who want a Northampton school.

    I suggest we all want this experiment scrapped and Academies returned to local accountablity and control.

    It is likely that the Childrens Services Director will recommend starting this all over again with more sponsors and through ideology and/or ignorance of the real arguments around Academies the Conservatives will push this through on their huge majority.

  3. paragraph 5 previous anon blog should read all of the people some of the time............

  4. See that a motion as been put
    The motion that the full council will discuss at the meeting, which starts at 10.30am, reads:

    "This council has no confidence in the decision of its executive to issue a statutory notice of closure in respect of Weston Favell School and calls upon the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families not to proceed with proposals for an academy to replace Weston Favell School".




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