Day 61 – Debate

June 30, 2009

Last night at Beauchamp Middle School, a calm, sensible, but open and honest debate was heard for the first time. Mike Berrill (Principal of Biddenham College) spoke of his vision for the future of his campus and for why we should embrace transformational change, and Tony Dadd spoke on behalf of the Save Middle Schools campaign.

We all agreed that we would like to gain BSF funding to improve Bedford Borough schools, that we would like to see a Full Council vote, and that a Judicial Review would mean that the money is lost.

We also agreed that everyone should fill in the consultation document and, whatever the outcome, everyone would need to collaborate fully to improve education in Bedford. We, of course, differed in the outcome we would like to see.

SMS is holding further meetings this week at Woodside Middle School (Tue 20 June at 7pm), Harrold Village Hall (Wed 1 July at 7pm) and Bromham Village Hall (Thu 2 July at 8:15pm). So far we have failed to find anyone as courageous as Mike to stand up and speak for two-tier, but would welcome offers, especially from Heads of upper or lower schools in favour of change.

Would it be too much to ask that the mayor attend one public meeting before the consultation period ends?

Come on Frank…come and debate with us…


Day 60 – The Key Stage 1 SATs Myth

June 29, 2009

Don’t forget to come to our meetings this week…Beauchamp 7pm Mon, Woodside 7pm Tue, Harrold Village Hall 7pm Wed, Bromham Village Hall 8:15pm Thu…

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Another one of the great myths that the Education mafia is allowing to become “truth” is that Bedford performs poorly at GCSE despite brilliant Key Stage 1 SATs results which outperform everyone else…and the official consultation meetings showed some incredibly poor graphs to demonstrate this (in Excel – and no professional statistician uses Excel for plots, believe me)…

Beware of complex problems that are shown to have simple solutions – somebody is trying to mislead you.

The problem is that they do not compare like with like. Apples and pears yet again, although I am tempted to call this apples and avocados (like our statistical neighbours mostly having grammar schools). What they should be doing of course is following individual children through the educational system from age 4 (baseline tests) to age 18 (A-levels or equivalent). By comparing one cohort of children at Key Stage 1 with another at Key Stage 4, any comparison is confused (confounded we in the stats world call it) with the cohort effect.

One of the reasons why this is particularly bad in Bedford is that many children attend state lower schools before going on to the independent sector – around a quarter of all GCSE candidates in Bedford are at private schools. Nobody knows how many pupils take KS1 tests in Bedford Borough state schools but are not present in Bedford Borough’s state GCSE results. NOBODY KNOWS.

Another reason is that, especially in the Sandy and Wootton pyramids, some of our pupils cross over into Central Bedfordshire’s school system at some point – the school systems are intertwined. So, yet again, we are not comparing like with like.

There is also an argument that some lower schools, having no responsibility for progress after KS1, are encouraged by their school improvement partners (SIPs) to ensure that their teacher-assessed KS1 SATs are representative of what their pupils would achieve “on a good day”. This is an entirely positive process for all involved, and no implied criticism is intended of teachers, heads or SIPs. However, it does, then make it difficult for middle school teachers at KS2 to show the progress required by their SIPs.

The really important point here is that pupils’ results “recover” over time and our children do no worse, and probably better, than truly similar authorities such as Milton Keynes and Swindon once they get to GCSE.

Hmm…the bureaucrats said at the Biddenham open meeting that they have a professional statistician working for them…maybe they’d like to run these figures by an independent and properly qualified educational statistician for comment…SMS could put them in touch with a few via the Royal Statistical Society.


Day 59 – Integrity

June 28, 2009

On Sundays SMS takes a slightly different view of affairs which is a little more philosophical.

When someone has integrity, their actions are true to their beliefs, they make decisions that can be tough but are also right according to them.

Unfortunately, integrity can turn into rigid adherence to one side of an argument even when all the evidence points the other way.

SMS believes that this is now the position with the two and three tier debate in Bedford Borough. The very few individuals who support two tier are dogmatically sticking to their view of the world, even when their arguments have been dismantled one by one.

Anybody who attended one of the official consultation evenings will have observed this as, time after time, evidence was swept aside by unsupported statements such as “We believe that…”, “It may be true…”, “I know that…”

During the coming week, SMS are holding 4 meetings of their own (bringing to 10 the number we have held so far). Our meetings will have addressed more individuals than the official consultation evenings by the end of the consultation process and accessed more communities.

Why not come to one of our meetings and listen to the other side of the story? We even invite any members of the two-tier side of the debate to come and speak in favour of change. We are much more open to honest debate than the official consultation evenings…

Mon 29th June 7pm at Beauchamp Middle School in Brickhill
Tue 30th June 7pm at Woodside Middle School in Bedford
Wed 1st July 7pm at Harrold Village Hall
Thu 2nd July 8:15pm at Bromham Village Hall

Let all your friends know too – we only have word of mouth and the wonders of the interweb to spread our news…


Day 58 – Dear Phil

June 27, 2009

Yesterday we broke the 15000 hit barrier – thank you for all your supportive emails – and thank you for the less supportive ones too – all we want is an open and honest debate in public with both sides of the argument presented. That is what democracy is about…and on that note…

Here is an open letter from SMS to Phil Simpkins, Chief Executive of Bedford Borough and veteran of all 6 official consultation evenings (only a select few got the certificate!)

Dear Mr Simpkins,

As you are aware Bedford Borough Council’s decision whether its school system remains 3 tier or changes to 2 tier will be enormous and far reaching. It will impact on the Borough’s children, their families, the school staff, the tax payers, essentially on everyone living in the Borough in some way. Accordingly it is fundamental that the decision is made, and seen to be made, democratically.

At the consultation meeting at Mark Rutherford on 15 June the question was raised as to whether this vital decision will be made solely by the Executive or by the full Council. It was stated that legal advice was being sought on this issue. We write to enquire if the legal advice has now been received. If so what final decision has been reached? If you have been advised that the Borough legally has the discretion to choose the manner in which the decision is made please confirm this.

If the legal advice has not yet been received will you please advise when you anticipate you will receive it.

We are concerned that if this crucial decision is not put to a full council vote it will leave the Borough open to Judicial Review.

Save Middle Schools – the Parents’ Action Group Against Change

Next week we have 4 open meetings on Mon-Thu where we hope to present both sides of the debate, if someone from the opposition volunteers to speak…and why wouldn’t they?

Beauchamp 7pm Monday
Woodside 7pm Tuesday
Harrold Village Hall, 7pm Wednesday
Bromham Village Hall, 8:15 Thursday

Please come along and hear our presentation


Day 57 – The Money Game

June 26, 2009

A Friday afternoon task for you to participate in: each lower school has approx £1.2M to spend on upgrading itself to a primary school. Each extra classroom costs, say £0.6M in total building costs, but remember we have to employ consultants and central bods to administrate this huge capital programme, and they don’t come cheap…not even Bob the Builder comes cheap…

OK, now work out where these classrooms are going to be built, and how each new primary school is going to provide for science, music, arts, technology, sport as the middles do now.

Now add in the effect on the local community.

Interesting game isn’t it.

SMS will start with Sharnbrook John Gibbard Lower School. Built using funds raised by a local man in the Victorian era, it is sited in the centre of a busy village where Sharnbrook Upper School and Coilworth Science Park are located. Traffic is a massive problem for local residents in the morning and afternoon and the local parish council has this as one of its main issues with any development in the village.

Classrooms could be built on its large playing field to the rear of the partially-listed building. Another 60 pupils, though, would mean at least 30 cars more at the start and the end of the day, and there isn’t enough car parking for staff already.

Or they could move the whole school to the edge of the village, knock down the historic building, build lots of new houses (hurrah, more houses in the villages…), and increase car movements even more !

And this is going to be better than improving the condition of Margaret Beaufort Middle School?

We don’t think so.

If you’d like to contribute please add a comment below about your local school.


Day 56 – Freedom of Speech

June 25, 2009

Interesting isn’t it…we think we live in a democracy…yet when important decisions like changing school system are being suggested…the information flow seems to be very one-sided.

What evidence do we have?

First, there is a non-consultation document that purports to give a genuine choice between two and three tiers, yet only contains 18 words about three tier, mentioning none of the advantages of three tier and none of the disadvantages of two tier.

Secondly, the consultation document is misleading and on occasion inaccurate. Assertions are made rather than evidence being given. Phrases such as “we believe” or “it may” are used as substitutes for evidence. Where statistics are used, they mislead and do not shine light on the complex problem that educational achievement certainly is. Beware of simplistic solutions to complex problems. That is how big mistakes are made.

Thirdly, the consultation evenings did not allow an alternative view to be put forward. They were also hijacked by Head teachers in favour of change, individuals who are hardly impartial. The overwhelming feeling from parents in those meetings was that this massive disruptive change was unnecessary and potentially very damaging to our children.

Fourthly, the upper school Heads have stifled debate within their own pyramids by making their position known in the press. How on earth can ordinary teachers, whose careers are dependent on being well regarded by their managers, make any genuine comment? How must parents feel when they have to speak against influential people who have control over their children? What can children do except follow the example set to them by their Head? Freedom of speech doesn’t exist any more apparently.

Fifthly, some lower school Heads have refused to pass on information about meetings held at middle schools – and why on earth would they do that? One governor even told SMS “Don’t believe what the middle school are saying. They’re only giving you one side of the story” ! What irony…

All we want at SMS is to have a proper and open debate so that BOTH sides of the story can be heard…and then everyone can make up their own mind what they believe. And next week, we have 4 meetings (see the meetings tab above or click here)…Beauchamp on Monday night at 7pm should be good as Mike Berrill (Principal of Biddenham International College) will speak pro two-tier. So come along and listen to a real open and honest debate.


Day 55 – The Transition Myth

June 24, 2009

TAKE ACTION NOW

The central myth of the two-tier dogma is that two school transfers are bad and this causes terrible disruption to our children’s education.

Hmm…SMS wonders why in the last OFSTED report for each of the 7 upper schools, negative effects of transition were not mentioned once? Isn’t that interesting ! OFSTED doesn’t see fit to comment yet Geoff Bent (Educational Official with responsibility for School Improvement) believes that these transitional dips are worth changing a whole school system for.

What complete and utter nonsense. There is no evidence that two transitions are any worse than one transition ultimately in pupils’ lives.

Two transitions managed well from small lowers to medium-sized middles to human-sized uppers are much less damaging than one harsh change from a small primary to a massive secondary of around 2000 pupils. That is precisely why the Plowden Report (1967) encouraged school system change to three-tier education in the first place: the sizes of schools match pupils’ development stage.

The second myth being propagated is that GCSE choices are terribly difficult as Year 9s are in a new school. This again, has no evidence to support it. GCSE choices are always tricky whatever system you have. They are dependent on school, teacher, pupil, the time of the day you ask a 14 year old what they want to do with their lives…

Show us the evidence that this is any worse in three-tier than two-tier.

SMS says focus resources on communication between schools to manage transitions well. If they can’t manage this now, how on earth are they going to manage the advanced communication needed during the massive disruption that our school system will face should we decide unwisely to change to two-tier.

If you want to have an impact, TAKE ACTION NOW. Spread the word. Blog on everyday. Email save.middle.schools@googlemail.com. Do something, not nothing. And do it today.