Day 56 – Freedom of Speech

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.


5 Responses to Day 56 – Freedom of Speech

  1. Ed Thomas says:

    Re: Yesterday’s myth. There are many myths to this debate. Hopefully I can answer some of the questions I have heard over recent weeks.
    Myth 1: Where is the Mayor? Obviously not attending the consultation meetings. For those unsure please read Frank’s blog, where he has failed to mention the school organisation review for weeks. However, on the 22nd June he was at the refurbished bandstand in Mill Meadows blowing his own trumpet! Or is that called the letter in the Beds on Sunday, praising himself. I rather enjoyed his blog regarding who could afford a £20,000 handbag on the 17th of June. I am sure you will agree this is a very important issue for Bedford Borough, but obviously not for Central Bedfordshire. Well Frank! Here are your answers:
    (a) Probably, your Chief Executive on £165,000 a year,
    (b) The Chief Executive for Central Bedfordshire,
    (b) Shaun Field, he could probably afford two.
    (c) Some upper school head teachers will as long as it has two pockets and not three. This would have to be a buy now and hope the funding will be available in the near future, but there are no guarantees if the political landscape changes!

    Myth 2: Bedford Borough schools are struggling to recruit teachers. From schools I know this is absolute nonsense. However, it does seem the Borough Council are struggling themselves. Can anyone tell me who exactly the candidates against Mr. Glover were? If the council re-interviewed Mr. Glover I am sure they would find his statements would contradict themselves from the last time, a bit like the consultation meetings I have been to!!


  2. Alex Monaghan says:

    Transitions, transitions …

    As highlighted yesterday, the main substance of the argument to change to 2-tier seems to be that it will remove a harmful second transition, and thereby improve GCSE results.

    Let’s ignore the fact that there is no evidence that one big transition at 11 is better than two small transitions at 9 and 13. Let’s consider the question: if you had £340m to spend, and you thought that transitions were a problem, what would you do?

    There seem to be two possible answers: REMOVE the transition by changing the system (very expensive and disruptive), or MANAGE the transition and minimise its effects.

    Surely the second option is preferable, and would leave more money to be spent on improving existing schools. There has been very little discussion of this possibility by the Council officers. To be fair, Geoff Bent has mentioned that the transition “dips” in results can be smoothed out, and indeed the graphs in the consultation document show that his School Improvement team have made good progress in this over the last few years (apparently Bedford/Bedfordshire is now among the fastest improving areas in the country). So why is the proposal not to MANAGE transitions?

    As a school governor, I know that there have been initiatives over the past few years to improve the management of transitions, that these initiatives have been quite limited but still effective, and that in some cases the initiatives have FAILED because the school heads, the governors, or the Council have not been prepared to make them work. Co-operation has not been a priority until very recently.

    In the Sharnbrook pyramid, transitions do not seem to have caused large dips in results – and indeed Sharnbrook’s schools have formed a federation to work more closely and overcome transition effects. Their 3-tier results are excellent. As a result, the Sharnbrook pyramid is the area which will be least affected by the proposed changes – no school closures, no enormous secondary school, and in fact no real 2-tier system. The existing system can work!

    In other schools, there is now the beginnings of an agreement to MANAGE the curriculum so that Upper Schools can concentrate on GCSEs while Middle Schools take responsibility for all of Key Stage 3. This addresses the major complaint of Upper School heads that they don’t have time to MANAGE their pupils’ GCSE choices. Well, now you do: the 3-tier system can be adapted to MANAGE this too!

    So transitions can be managed, results can be excellent in the 3-tier system, and schools can work closely together to achieve this. Why is this not the focus of new investment?

    At an official consultation meeting at Harrowden Middle School, we were told that the wonderful new John Bunyan Academy was allowing upper and middle schools to work more closely together, make joint appointments of specialist teachers, share resources such as labs and sports facilities. As one gentleman from Queens Park pointed out, WHY CAN’T THIS BE DONE WITHIN THE EXISTING SYSTEM? Surely this would be a much better use of public money.

    More worryingly, why hasn’t this been done in the past years or decades? Schools do not co-operate as much as they could, co-operation is not well funded by the Council, and in some cases schools are reluctant to share power and resources. One lady from the Federation of Catholic Schools suggested to me that this was because of the County Council’s attitude and procedures, and that the restrictions need not apply with our wonderful new Unitary Council. So we can keep the existing system, and still MANAGE all the improvements we need!

    Bottom line is, even if you believe that there are problems with the existing system, many of these problems can be solved without changing the system (look at Sharnbrook) if schools and Council work together to MANAGE them. This has not happened effecively in the past – because of reluctance or poor management by heads, governors, Council officers, or just because of underfunding. Now, with a new Council, the promise of substantial funding, and a good kick up the pants to all concerned, we can change that.

    Build on the improvements our schools are making. Invest the BSF money in enhancing the existing system. This must be better value for money than tearing down some schools and stitching extra pieces onto others. Let’s see some proper MANAGEMENT instead.

  3. Sam says:

    I’m slightly confused. You claim that upper school heads have ‘stifled the debate within their own pyramid’ by coming out in favor of two tier, but surely Middle school heads are just as guilty of this by coming out in favor of three-tier.

    If it impartiality you require from heads, then why should lower school heads pass on information about your meetings?

    • NN says:

      But it can also be argued that some lower school heads have not passed on information regarding the consulation meetings and consulation document to their lower school staff members. Also meetings arranged by the Borough officers for lower school staff members have not been passed on by some lower heads too. This is called stifling a debate so hence it not being open. This is what is angering many with this consultation.

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