Day 31 – Honour

May 31, 2009

Sundays are a time for reflection for all of us, to see family and friends, to enjoy the sunshine. SMS today follows the theme of last Sunday in reflecting on the campaign and, in particular, honouring two individuals who might have had an influence if they were still with us.

Dave Lewis, the local Labour group leader who died in April, was by all accounts a larger than life character who might have been right behind the fight of local parents to overturn an apparently “done-deal” (it isn’t by the way – shout it loud over the rooftops – we are making headway on a number of fronts). Dave, SMS are sad you aren’t here to advise, listen and have a beer with us.

Graham Last, the Education Officer who died in late 2008, was one of the architects of the pre-bid planning for £340M of BSF funding. Whilst SMS does not agree at all with the way in which this money is going to be wasted in Bedford, we recognise the massive achievement of Graham (with Chris Hilliard and Brian Glover) of accessing the promise of this money at all, especially in the current financial climate.

SMS would like to honour Graham’s memory by working tirelessly with Chris and Brian to submit a bid for three tier BSF funding later this year. Together we can achieve great things. Collaboration is always better than conflict. What do you say Chris?


Blog news: We are now no.1 search if you google – save middle schools – and this is remarkable if you think about it, businesses pay a lot of money for this type of thing. And we are getting 1000 hits a week.

New poll: One local politician is listening to us at least. Doug McMurdo, who is standing for Sharnbrook ward, has put a poll on his website. Why not give him some feedback?


Day 30 – The Peers School, Oxford

May 30, 2009

Peers school in Oxford is one of 638 “failing” secondaries. Last summer, only 19% of its pupils got five GCSE grades at A*-C, including English and maths, easily the lowest in Oxfordshire and well below the government’s 30% threshold for acceptability.

Peers, though, was always fighting against the odds…When Oxford’s middle-school system was abandoned in 2003, Peers faced the upheaval of reverting to an 11-18 school. It was one whammy too many.

Nearly 700 children joined the school in three days, of whom nearly a third had acute levels of need. The school’s approach in the past had been based on giving autonomy and responsibility to an older age group, and it wasn’t prepared for the challenge of dealing with less mature pupils.

Perhaps some of the politicians, local authority officers and civil servants responsible for the succession of upheavals that afflicted Peers should feel uneasy, too. (Peter Wilby writing in the The Grauniad, June 2008).

Furthermore, in 2005, 2 years after the change, only 10% of its pupils got five GCSE grades at A*-C, including English and maths !

In July 2008, The Peers School was closed and re-opened in September as The Oxford Academy (“Learning and Leading for the World of Tomorrow” – bet that was written by a bureaucrat in a comfy office well away from the real world)

If you replace the name Peers with John Bunyan or Hastingsbury, then this could happen in Bedford, where three year groups are planned to go to the new secondary schools in September 2014.

This isn’t scare mongering. It is the future of education in Bedford if we allow the unelected bureaucrats and our maverick mayor to ignore public opinion.


Day 29 – Lower Schools

May 29, 2009

In 2006 during the consultation exercise, 70% of lower school Headteachers supported the retention of three tier education county wide. In 2009, the figures are as yet unknown, but it appears that many of them have changed their mind and now want to change to two tier.

So why would they do that?

Well the education bureaucrats and the mayor have been very clever about this. They have promised that (almost) every lower school will become a primary school, thereby guaranteeing the future of those schools. They have also said that loadsa money is there for new buildings, even new schools in 5-10 cases…and now I have an image of Frank Branston as Harry Enfield’s character from the 80s – I really must get more sleep you know…

So it’s a no-brainer for lower school Heads and Chairs of Governors. They want to protect their world. They think they’re doing the best for their pupils and their communities. They want to believe in brand new shiny buildings and happy, carefree children dancing joyfully in the sunshine and all getting better results instantaneously…

…except £60M isn’t going to pay for all that…even if £60M is really available for the primary sector…and even that involves a large amount of borrowing at local level…which will raise YOUR council tax…

So the more likely version of reality is that of crowded sites not designed to be primary schools, “temporary” classrooms, and lack of appropriate facilities for older children.

This is an impending disaster – please help us stop it by TAKING ACTION TODAY.

And don’t forget to come to the public meetings next week at:
Daubeney Middle in Kempston (6:30 on Monday 1st June)
Alban Middle in Great Barford (7:00 on Tuesday 2nd June)
Goldington Middle in Bedford (7:00 on Wednesday 3rd June)

Day 28 – 2+2=5

May 28, 2009

In the consultation document, we are told that BSF funding to the tune of over £300M will be applied for and that this will transform secondary education in Bedford Borough for about 2000 pupils per year group in five 11-19 schools, one 11-16 school, one 11-14 school and one 14-19 school. This money will allow sufficient building to allow 2 new year groups (4000 pupils across Years 7 and 8 ) to be integrated. Note that this includes the highly ambitious and controversial Biddenham campus, more of which in a later post.

In the same consultation document, we are told that the primary sector will be transformed to accommodate the same number of extra pupils (4000 across Years 5 and 6) and that this will cost £60M at most. They even suggest that up to 10 schools may be relocated or built. With £60M.

This beggars belief. We are talking here about roughly 50 lower schools being transformed to primary schools and providing the extra facilities and experiences that Years 5 and 6 need. The extra facilities and experiences that middle schools already provide. The extra facilities that the Rose Report (commissioned by the DCSF itself and published recently in April 2009) recommends strongly for future provision in Years 5 & 6.

So why the disparity in these numbers?

Because they haven’t done their sums. Because they don’t know how much it will cost. Because they are so desperate to get their hands on BSF funding that they are willing to say anything to persuade us it is the only option.

And the implication for lower school Heads is that if you support this move your school will get more money, your school will benefit, your pupils will have a better educational experience. So of course they support this. Any rational person would. But the reality is that what may well happen is a chaos of overcrowded sites, “temporary” classrooms, and disaffected pupils and staff.

You must act to stop this damaging and dangerous proposal.

Fill in the consultation document with a supporting vote for the retention of three tier.

Sign our online petition

Email the Times & Citizen

Email your MP

Email Chris Hilliard

SMS despairs at the lack of ability to do simple sums of our local civil servants. Then again, they probably went through the two tier system…

Day 27 – Politics & Bureaucrats

May 27, 2009

Yesterday Alistair Burt responded to pressure from SMS and our supporters by urgently seeking a meeting with Schools’ Minister Jim Knight over BSF funding. In his press release Alistair also added “before there is any change of such importance I would like to ensure that key questions have been raised as the debate and consultation must be fair, and not leading inevitably to the conclusion of two tier as it seems to be.”

SMS welcomes this move and urges Patrick Hall and Nadine Dorries also to retain open minds. We are united in our dismay at the one-sided way that Bedford Borough have organised this non-consultation exercise and are looking forward to sharing the public platform at the 6 official consultation evenings so that we can give our evidence concerning this complex issue. SMS will be meeting with Chris Hilliard and Brian Glover on Friday 5th June in order to finalise the arrangements for the consultation meetings and lay the ground rules for fair and open debate. We are all highly enthusiastic about this opportunity, which we are sure that Chris and Brian will offer readily.

Maybe they aren’t such bad guys after all? Maybe they do have open minds? Maybe they have an alternative vision for the future which supports the evolution of three tier education over the next 30 years rather than the revolution of a massive disruptive and underfunded change to two tier? Or maybe the price of bacon just went up?

Also a quote today from a local election candidate on the streets of Putnoe. She said…”an awful lot of people seem to be talking about education”…yes, that’s right…they are…and they’re going to vote for politicians who support their view…time to come off the fence and support our education system guys.

You can write to your local election candidates or even knock on their doors. Here are their addresses to help you.

And don’t forget to sign our online petition. We’re nearly over 500 signatures and we have many many more on our written petitions. And the fight has only really just begun…

Day 26 – “Statistical Neighbours” with Grammar Schools?

May 26, 2009

There are a lot of statistics in the school structures non-consultation document. They appear conclusive. They are not. Beware simple conclusions from complex data.

For example, at the end of Key Stage 4, when pupils sit their GCSE exams, it is asserted that Bedford is well behind both the national average and our 10 “statistical neighbours” (SNs).

The DCSF’s preferred measure now is 5 GCSEs at A*-C including both English and Maths, so for brevity, let us concentrate on this measure in this blog.

Our average is 46.7%; the national average is 47.6%; the average among our SNs is 53%.

First of all, we are pretty similar to the national average. We are not “well behind”. This is just natural variability around an average – some authorities are slightly higher and some slightly lower.

Secondly, our 10 “statistical neighbours” include 5 authorities (Kent, Bromley, Trafford, Sutton and Warwickshire) with selective education systems (grammar schools). Therefore they include many children who would be privately educated if they lived in Bedford where the Harpur Trust schools and Rushmoor / St.Andrews schools. They are not comparable systems at all.

The 6th SN (Herts) has apparently comprehensive schools such as Watford Boys’ and Girls’ Grammar who take 25% of their pupils through a competitive entrance exam and another 10% through music scholarships. Comprehensive, eh? Maybe not.

That leaves 4 more realistic SNs. Milton Keynes (43.0%), Swindon (42%), Northamptonshire (46%), and Stockport (53%). Not very different from Bedford (47%) in fact, although MK and Swindon are well below our results.

The schools structures non-consultation document misrepresents the GCSE statistics. In a future blog, we shall show how the KS1 results are misleading too.

We agree that Bedford needs to improve its results, just like most other authorities in England. This is unlikely to happen by creating organisational chaos and more likely by targeting resources, time and effort on the real problems in schools with underprivileged intakes.

We are now asking everybody to email their MP to demand that SMS are invited to give their side of the story at the 6 public consultation meetings. It is about time that they intervened to help stop this nonsensical waste of public funds.

Email Patrick Hall, Alistair Burt, or Nadine Dorries and demand that this non-consultation process is changed immediately.

Day 25 – Personal Experiences of Middle Schools

May 25, 2009

When the subject of education arises, everyone has an opinion, because everyone has first-hand experience of it. That is why teaching is one of the hardest jobs in the world – and all of us in SMS passionately support classroom teachers everywhere – some of us are or were teachers. We think teachers in all Bedford schools are doing a fantastic job under the most incredible pressure and uncertainty. Your managers, on the other hand…

Yesterday, SMS started to collect stories of those who have real comparisons of three and two tier to tell…here are three of those…please feel free to add more as comments to Day 25…

The first anecdote is from P, who grew up on the edge of Norfolk and Suffolk. She went to a village primary in two tier Norfolk then on to a much bigger secondary. At age 13-14, pupils joined her secondary from a three tier Suffolk middle school under one of those funny cross-border arrangements that sometimes occur – we have one with Gamlingay Middle School which is Cambridgeshire actually.

P said: “the kids from the middle were so much more mature than us, it took us until GCSEs to catch up with them. The only kids who were considered for Oxbridge entrance from our school had gone to middle school.”

The second anecdote is from R who went to school herself in a three tier authority and now has a daughter in a two tier system. R said her daughter grew up far too quickly at age 11 when she transferred to secondary and did not have time to mature amongst her peer group without pressures and more young adult behaviour from some of the older pupils (hope that was OK James – not all young adults are corruptive influences of course).

For example, her daughter was “skirt rolling” at 12 rather than 14…whatever that is…! R grew up in three tier and said she felt she was better prepared by the system to cope with and resist older behaviour – she still enjoyed the “skirt rolling” but it was only 1 roll not 2 – lol.

The third anecdote came from Somerset and teachers in the system who commented on the blogs in the last couple of days. First of all, thanks guys, your support is so much appreciated. SMS will go on tour to buy a round of apple juice some time. Somerset County Council have been very wise here and allowed individual pyramids of schools in their mainly rural areas to decide what sort of school system fits their needs.

J – a middle school teacher said – “it’s no big shock that in my middle school we always thrash teams in upper KS2 (primary) and Yr 7 (secondary) generally because they haven’t had the specialised coaching and equipment etc that our children have had from Yr 5”. Of course, independent prep schools (age 8-13) have known this for years…

SMS thinks these are powerful anecdotes of why middle school education is so well-regarded by children and parents alike.

If you agree, please support our campaign by signing the petition, writing to the Times and Citizen, and asking your election candidates what they plan to do if elected about this educational scandal.