Day 153 – Refurbishment

September 30, 2009

“With forecast cuts in public spending it is likely that the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme will need to consider more refurbishment and less new builds.”

With this quote, Roger Hawkins begins to argue the case for positive refurbishment of existing structures for schools in the Architects’ Journal.

Some buildings are obviously better pulled down, but many can be modernised effectively and gradually, and using funds that are realistically available. Ambitious plans can be made, but if funds disappear, they can be modified or cancelled.

These options aren’t available if school system change occurs. Pupils have to be housed somewhere; they need classrooms.

Nobody knows if funding will still be there after a change of government. Nobody knows where the lower-primary funding is coming from at all.

So why are we planning a revolution rather than an evolution?


Day 152 – Dave Hodgson

September 29, 2009

Dave Hodgson has got around to addressing the schools debate. Unfortunately not in the press as yet, but by email reply to SMS supporters and others who have queried his silence on the issue. His reply is standard and was forwarded to us by several people keen for it to gain a wider audience.

As this is the only issue in the election which appears to provide clear ground between the candidates (they all want to build the bypass, they all want to regenerate the town centre, they all want to attract business) then we do wonder why it has taken this long for Dave to reply – perhaps he has a lot on at the moment…

SMS will issue a reply to this letter in due course via this blog, but comments are very welcome to Dave’s email…all comments are anonymous via pseudonym of course and you can easily set up a temporary googlemail or hotmail account to further protect your anonymity from us (like Fred & William).

Thank you for your email about the school structures. I know that schools and schooling is something about which people, including myself, are passionate. Indeed, I came to Bedford when my father was appointed Headteacher of Westfield School and I went to school in Bedford through the last restructuring.

My position is that I would like to see the system in Bedford Borough change to 2 tier. I am the Chair of Governors at John Bunyan School which is soon to become an academy. All of the Headteachers in the Bunyan Pyramid, including the Headteachers of the Middle Schools, support a change to 2 tier education. The Academy sponsors are also wholeheartedly for 2 tier. If the Borough was starting from a blank sheet of paper there is, for me, no question that 2 tier schools would be the best option. It’s the system used by over 90% of local authorities, for which the national frameworks are devised and for which almost all teacher training is provided.

I have met with Tony Dadd and his colleagues when they asked for a meeting with councillors and I have heard their arguments and put questions to them.

Before finally deciding on whether I want the Borough to change to 2 tier I would consider:
– the consultation responses, whether they contained anything to change my view that a change to 2 tier is desirable
– can it be funded
– is there a credible plan for implementation

As you are no doubt aware, the final decision will be taken by the Full Council not the Mayor. As Mayor, even if the Council voted for the different option than me, I would take up the option decided on as the option for the Borough for the next 30 years and ensure it was pursued with all vigour to get the best education for the Borough’s children. Indeed, to get any money from the government they must be convinced that the Borough has made a clear decision and will pursue it wholeheartedly.

Dave Hodgson

Day 151 – Northamptonshire’s Great New Vision

September 28, 2009

Back in 2005, Northampton’s 3-tier system was changed to 2-tier. By November 2007, there were more schools in special measures or on notices to improve in Northamptonshire than in any other authority, many of them in Northampton as a direct result of the change.

Well, the special forces team have been into Northamptonshire for the past year and have now come up with a brand new shiny 21 point plan to improve educational standards. The Northampton Evening Telegraph covered this a week or so ago on their front page.

The proposed changes include cutting the summer holidays to four weeks and lengthening the school day.

Cllr Ron Sawbridge, chairman of the pupil attainment working group which is behind the plans, said: “If we are going to improve the situation quickly we need to introduce radical changes.”

Apparently changing from three tier to two tier wasn’t radical enough.

SMS wonders how much money has been diverted from teaching and learning to come up with this plan…and whether Suffolk are going to produce the same plan in a year’s time…and whether Bedford will be in 5 years’ time…

Day 147 – Parvez, Apu and Tony

September 24, 2009

Word reached SMS this week of Parvez Akhtar and Apu Bagchi’s first newsletters. This is what they say about schools:

Parvez Akhtar – Conservative (and pictured on his leaflet outside Alban Middle School’s “Save Our School” sign)
“As a dad of children in local lower, middle and upper schools, I know how important it is we get this decision right. I believe our three-tier schools have served us well. The case for change hasn’t been proven and there’s now massive uncertainty that the Labour Government would give us the money needed for a reorganisation – but here’s my personal guarantee: parents’ views will have the real role in my consultation process that many feel they don’t have now.”

Apu Bagchi – Independent
“(I will) put the brakes on the borough’s expensive school reorganisation programme and invest more to improve the educational attainment of all our children.” In his manifesto, Apu adds: “If the predicted public spending squeeze really starts to bite, I don’t want to see the local taxpayer having to bail out a scheme that will create massive disruption for teachers, parents and a generation of our school children.”

Last week, Tony Hare (Independent) said in the T&C:
“To change to a two-tier structure will cost a considerable amount of money, and the construction, upheaval to children at a vulnerable time, and the additional travelling for children in rural areas will all be for what? To change the existing system while using the same teachers, teaching the same children and using the same curriculum, for the same duration, with no guarantees of any better results.”

It seems like these three candidates ought to have our support then, as they have called this issue correctly.

For James Valentine (Labour, who supports two-tier on the basis of two school transitions being more disruptive than one) and for Dave Hodgson (LibDem, who apparently doesn’t think this is important enough to have a view either way in public) perhaps our readership might like to reconsider their traditional party allegiances this time round.

And in an election that may be too close to call, everybody’s votes (both of them, first choice and second) will count.

So SMS are asking that you ensure you, your family and your friends vote for a candidate who openly supports stability, not educational and financial chaos. Spread the word.

Day 146 – Suffolk Now Failing

September 23, 2009

Suffolk is in the middle of a change from two-tier to three-tier, based on the availability of BSF funding. Unfortunately, as reported on this blog on Day 139, half of the project has been put on hold over concerns that money will not be available post-2011.

In the meantime, teachers have left in droves from middle schools due to close and from an education system in the process of chaotic change.

Yesterday, the DCSF announced that expert advisors are being sent to Suffolk to prepare a progress review on results.

To interpret that in plain English, Suffolk is failing to provide a satisfactory education for many of its children. Just like Northampton and Milton Keynes did shortly after they announced their change.

Just like Bedford Borough will in the future should we attempt this unwise and underfunded change to a primary-secondary schools structure.

Day 145 – James Valentine’s view

September 22, 2009

The Labour Party’s candidate for Mayor made his public views on school system change known in the BoS at the weekend.

James says:
“I believe that changing school too many times hinders a child’s learning, so I support a move to two tier.”.

SMS says:
“James is welcome to his beliefs. However, most parents and middle school supporters believe that two smaller well-managed transitions can be much better than one harsh change from a primary school with maybe only 150 pupils to a huge secondary of 2000 adolescents and young adults.”

James says:
“To avoid disruption to our children, the reorganisation will take place over a long time period – planning and discussions with the schools over the next three years, and implementation between 2013 and 2015. But we need to decide now.”

SMS says:
“The disruption will be caused over the next 10 years, with Marie Celeste middle schools for 5 years losing their best staff and their brightest children whose parents will scrimp and save to put them into the private sector.”

“The disruption will be caused in upper schools, as three year groups and their new teachers descend on one day in September 2014 or 2015 and have a far-reaching effect on results for years, as in other authorities that have changed recently.”

“The disruption will be caused in lower schools, where the change to primary is underfunded and due to come out of the schools’ own budgets.”

“The disruption will be caused for all teachers, where the new government’s educational initiatives and financial cuts will have to be implemented at the same time as this damaging change.”

“Yes, we do have to decide now. Decide to remain three-tier for the next 30-50 years, so bureaucrats and politicians don’t come back and try again in 3,5,10 years’ time.”

James says:
“I am telling you this because I think it is important for Bedford’s democracy that anyone who wants to be Mayor is honest about what they believe.”

SMS says:
“Thank you James. That is the most sensible thing you have said so far. We don’t agree with your opinion on schools, and you probably won’t get elected as the ‘reds’ aren’t the nations favourite colour at the moment, but you might have made a reasonable Mayor of Bedford.”

“Perhaps it is time for Dave Hodgson to show his hand now. Come on Dave, you know you want to…”

Day 144 – A £2 Billion Cut in Schools’ Budgets

September 21, 2009

Ed Balls yesterday confirmed that, from 2011, there will be a £2 billion cut in schools’ budgets and said that he could successfully deliver them.

His solution? Mainly by creating federations of schools, where senior posts are shared across schools and therefore saving money by employing fewer senior non-teaching staff. Also a reduction in bureaucrats, which is always a popular thing to say (and you’ll hear more of that in the run-up to the next general election from all parties I’m sure).

So, from 2011, schools in Bedford will be involved in a massive reorganisation of senior management in order to find the huge cuts that Ed Balls has proposed (or whatever Michael Gove’s alternative is).

The education world will be in turmoil in order to find cuts of this size…and at the same time, Bedford is going to change its schools system?

And all this assumes that BSF funding will survive, and schools will find the money for lower-primary transition…

…and our children, schools and families will all continue happily along their way, gaining improved results?

Absolute fantasy.

So what can you do?

Help to vote in a Mayor who has a clear policy to retain and support three-tier education by any means possible – spread the word by email and social networking – “viral” campaigns such as ours can be more effective than leafletting in the modern world.

Encourage others to actively vote for three-tier supporters (with both their votes) and against two-tier supporters (by not voting for them)