Day 123 – More Government Cuts

August 31, 2009

Taken from the Guardian on Saturday 29th August.

The government is preparing to cut spending on its flagship academy programme, with schools’ sponsors told to expect a reduction in funding for each new academy school as soon as next year.

Academy leaders have been told to brace themselves for tighter spending from 2010 in the first admission that the government is preparing to reduce its spending in some areas of education.

Every day we hear more stories about future cuts in government spending on schools. It is inconceivable that Building Schools for the Future funding will be left untouched by the financial chaos the country is now in.

What is more worrying for Bedford Borough though, is that the BSF money only covers the 7 upper schools & Lincroft 11-16. The transformation of the 50 or so lower schools to primary schools are being funded out of thin air, in a feat of prestidigitation…

…or rather from the schools’ own budgets, as revealed by Cllr Headley during the summer holidays…more on this tomorrow…

Day 120 – As Time Goes By

August 28, 2009

A long time ago (in prehistoric days so our children tell us), SMS was told at school that a fair comparison involved apples on both sides of an equation, rather than apples and pears, or apples and avocados (both of which were employed by the non-consultation document).

However, there is another issue (for which I’ll struggle to find a fruity analogy sadly – any suggestions very welcome via a comment). The problem is of grade inflation over the years.

Without wishing to denigrate the efforts of all those hardworking GCSE candidates out there (especially ones sometime known by initials only and you know who you are) grades mean different things in different years.

Generally, Government pressure means that every year more candidates get higher grades than before, as was evidenced yesterday.

Add to this that the Government changes how it assesses “success” at GCSE every so often, and it becomes very difficult to decide whether the current crop of pupils have done brilliantly and better than previous generations, or whether the exams or marking schemes just got easier. And every August, journalists take one side or another – Boris Johnson wrote a very clever piece on this last Sunday.

Educational statisticians know that it is nigh on impossible to compare different cohorts of pupils – yet this is what our local bureaucrats have tried to do with their comparisons of KS1 and KS4 statistics – and make very strong conclusions that three-tier is to blame.

What nonsense. They must think the voting public is stupid. Well soon we will find out what voters really think.

Day 119 – Farewell Frank

August 27, 2009

Today is Frank Branston’s funeral and memorial service.

In the past week, this blog has been deliberately quieter than usual out of respect for Frank’s family and friends, many of whom are in opposition to SMS on the school structures issue.

Today we ask you to think of Frank and to celebrate all the good things he did for Bedford during his lifetime.

Day 116 – Underdogs

August 24, 2009

Everyone loves an underdog.

Maybe it started with the puny David lining up against the seemingly invincible Goliath? A bloodbath seemed the only logical conclusion, until David revealed his superior weaponry, but I’m sure all the cheers were for David right from the start.

It must be part of human nature, to support the plucky loser, the spirited campaign which must be doomed to failure. Except when it doesn’t fail. Like when Burnley beat Manchester United or England regain the Ashes (hurrah!).

When SMS began (over that now infamous glass or two of wine) both of us felt that we would lose but that we were going to fight anyway, backs to the walls, until the proverbial larger lady had voiced her last note. How could we compete with the might of Bedford’s bureaucracy, the political will of important local politicians, with the manipulation of public opinion that was taking place?

A lot of words have been written on this blog since then, thirty thousand hits have been recorded, with nine thousand signatures on our paper petition and 1100 on our online petition. We have been out on the streets judging public opinion, talked to parents in all parts of Bedford Borough, established communications with the media, engaged with local politicians, and fought for the right to be heard.

We have won a lot of battles; we may still lose the war. But we all still have the stomach for a fight, and that is what we shall continue to do.

Day 113 – TINA

August 21, 2009

In the days of swingeing Conservative cuts to public services after Labour had wrecked the public finances….and no, we’re talking the past not the future here…back in the 80s. You know the sort of country we lived in, with rising unemployment, the threat of terrorism, England losing at cricket…oh well, plus ca change

In those days, there was an acronym Margaret Thatcher used with seemingly alarming regularity – TINA – There Is No Alternative (it referred to the neoliberalist economic policies of free markets, free trade and capitalist globalisation, apparently, but thank goodness this blog doesn’t have to debate neoliberalism).

SMS has heard that phrase (TINA, not neoliberalism!) behind many of the public pronouncements of the bureaucrats and manipulators who still believe in the dogma of two-tier. It is actually a shrill and desperate form of intellectual argument, indicating that these people have run out of ideas and this must be the only way forward.


To persuade yourselves that you are right and the overwhelming majority of people in Bedford are wrong is a sign that power has changed you; that you have descended from the young, fresh-thinking visionary, to the world-weary cynic.

It happens to all leaders eventually of whichever political hue and is certainly true in the business world or indeed any other organisation as well. That is why power corrupts and leaders inevitably fall either on their own swords or by the hand of others.

There is an alternative in Bedford. The alternative is to enhance and develop the much-loved three-tier education system, to build new schools where they are needed and to refurbish existing schools with facilities fit for the next 50 years. This is both educationally sound and financially prudent. That is why SMS calls for:

Evolution not Revolution

Day 112 – The Future

August 20, 2009

Yesterday it was announced that Frank Branston will have a family funeral next Thursday (August 27th) followed by a memorial service at 4:30 at Bedford Corn Exchange.

SMS understands that the date for the election of a new Mayor will not be announced until after the funeral and that it is likely that this will be somewhere between mid-October and early November.

The School Organisation Review has been suspended until the new Mayor has been elected, although the bureaucrats will continue to work on the report…presumably they will be preparing two versions now…

Now is not the time to discuss the implications of all of this, so we would ask contributors not to post comments about the future election. Any such comments will be removed (and would be the first time that we have had to remove unsuitable material).

Day 111 – Nelson and the Ashes of Bedford School Sport

August 19, 2009

In England, the score 111 is called a “Nelson” (aye aye eye I think it comes from) and is regarded as unlucky for a batsman. One umpire (David Shepherd?) even used to dance a jig at square leg when a batsman or team was on that particular figure in a superstitious attempt to induce good luck. The Aussies have the same issue with 87 (13 short of a century).

All England can hope for in the next few days is that Australian batsmen get stuck on lower scores than 87 or 111…13 would do it for me…or preferably a duck…eleven of them…

Unfortunately we are likely to see the Ashes of England cricket once more returned to their current home…

Of course, should the decision be made to go two-tier, Years 5 and 6 will not experience as much sport (including cricket) within school. Primary schools have an impoverished curriculum compared to middle schools in this respect…something to do with a lack of specialist teaching and fewer male teachers perchance?

This doesn’t show up in test results because you can’t measure it easily- which also explains why parents understand what is important more than bureaucrats in air-conditioned offices reading the latest gradgrind production figures from schools.

The Ashes of Bedford School Sport ? Very possibly I’m afraid…