The Stories Continue

November 18, 2009

From time to time we will add links to relevant news stories, feel free to comment…

14 Nov 2009 – Recession to change school design

18 Nov 2009 – Children get a legal right to a good education

20 Nov 2009 – Budget deficit increasing at £3Bn a week

20 Nov 2009 – Tories will savage BSF

1 Dec 2009 – BSF Contract Fears

16 Dec 2009 – Suffolk school shake-up delayed until 2017

7 Feb 2010 – Headteachers say Labour’s £1bn cuts will ‘decapitate’ schools

Day 201 – The Result

November 16, 2009

(PS – This blog received 2000 hits in 24 hours after the vote)

In a packed Corn Exchange last night the council voted 19-17 to support the officers’ recommendations, hardly a ringing endorsement of a change that will affect a generation of schoolchildren.

Many councillors spoke on both sides of the debate, some more eloquently than others, but all were passionate about what they believed to be in the best interests of the future schoolchildren of Bedford Borough. Michael Headley spoke particularly well on the potential financial implications, and other notable contributions were made by the three group leaders – Carole Ellis, Nick Charsley and Sue Oliver. Apu Bagchi, Doug McMurdo, Tom Wootton, Carl Meader and Tim Hill also made speeches giving detailed resons why retention and improvement of the current system was preferable to a financially unviable change.

The number of speeches given by the two-tier side was equally impressive, although their content failed to live up to their headline billing. Charles Royden’s impression of David Brent though, was given an appropriate reception by the audience.

However, amidst the pantomime atmosphere, it was made clear by the Mayor that if the BSF money doesn’t materialise, then this won’t go ahead. So, whilst the fat lady is warbling happily away, she ain’t finished singing yet.

All of us in SMS still firmly believe that this is the wrong decision for both educational and financial reasons – and we will post blogs when more news of relevance occurs in the future – but for now…we’re taking a rest…

To the councillors who voted for THREE tier, many thanks for all your hard work on our behalf:

Michael Headley (Putnoe)
Tom Wootton (Roxton)
Doug McMurdo (Sharnbrook)
Carole Ellis (Great Barford)
Sue Oliver (Cauldwell)
Nick Charsley (Harrold)
Apu Bagchi (Castle)
Ray Oliver (Kempston North)
Will Hunt (Kempston South)
Sallyanne Smith (Putnoe)
Mark Smith (Turvey)
Mohammad Yasin (Queens Park)
Carl Meader (Kempston South)
Tim Hill (Wootton)
Judith Cunningham (Wootton)
Ian Clifton (Riseley)
Jim Brandon (Carlton)

Those councillors who voted for TWO tier are:

Dave Hodgson (Mayor)
Charles Royden (Brickhill)
Wendy Rider (Brickhill)
Roger Rigby (Bromham)
Roger Gwynne-Jones (Bromham)
Nicky Attenborough (Kempston East)
Colleen Atkins (Harpur)
David Sawyer (De Parys)
Randolph Charles (Cauldwell)
Margaret Davey (Castle)
Brian Dillingham (Harpur)
Anita Gerard (Kingsbrook)
Sylvia Gillard (Goldington)
Phil Merryman (Goldington)
Sarah-Jayne Holland (Eastcotts)
Barry Huckle (Wilshamstead)
John Mingay (Newnham)
Pat Olney (Oakley)
Jane Walker (Clapham)

Day 200 – The Vote

November 16, 2009

Tonight councillors will vote on the proposals to change our schools system. Some of them have read the report and found the holes in the educational and financial arguments. All of them are aware of the strength of opinion of parents against change.

What is clear now is that councillors do not need to support three tier education to vote against this proposal – they are voting for or against this particular implementation plan.

Where the plan fails desperately to convince is on primary finance. As the public sector moves towards times of austerity, we are going to spend every last penny from education budgets on ideological change rather than teaching and learning. The irony is that even then we won’t have sufficient money to effect the change successfully.

We know what happens when underfunded change occurs – the number of underperforming schools in Northampton demonstrates this very clearly.

We know that the Conservative administration of Suffolk County Council is so worried that BSF funding will be reduced or scrapped after the next election that they have stopped in the middle of their change from three-tier to two-tier.

We also know that the vote tonight will be very close, so close that it may be decided on the casting vote.

We can only hope that sufficient councillors have decided that the report cannot be implemented without creating financial chaos in Bedford Borough’s schools.

Day 198 – The Day of Reckoning Approaches

November 14, 2009

Full Council will vote on Monday night whether to support the officers’ recommendations and change Bedford Borough’s school system to a primary-secondary structure (6:30pm in the Corn Exchange and we’d be delighted to see you there).

SMS has campaigned for the past (nearly) 200 days against this proposal, from the biased consultation process, through the turmoil of a Mayoral election, and to the publication of a lengthy and flawed report.

In addition to educational research, many of us have learned much about democracy, bureaucracy and politics. Much of what we have learned has not been attractive, but we have all cemented new friendships in a common cause in which we all firmly believe.

The public have never wanted this change. Two-thirds of parents were against change in the public consultation, despite this being one-sided, biased and misleading. We collected 9000 signatures on petitions up to September. The two online petitions have 1130 signatories pro three-tier and 165 pro two-tier. Furthermore, 60% of first round votes in the Mayoral election were cast for pro three-tier candidates. If there were a referendum tomorrow, three-tier would easily carry the day.

If the decision is made in favour of change on Monday, it will cause untold disruption for a generation of children, and put Bedford’s education system back 20-30 years in the primary sector. Make no mistake, this change will have knock-on effects for years in communities as well as schools.

If the decision is made against change, it must go back to the Executive who we hope will then accept Full Council’s verdict. The Mayor gave this as one of his election promises, despite being personally in favour of two-tier (mind you he also said only if the money is there, which it obviously isn’t in the primary sector).

The vote, we believe, is on a knife-edge and may be decided by the number of abstentions or even absentees. Should it be equal, then it will be decided by the Speaker’s casting vote, and surely then the presumption should be for the status quo…

Change of this magnitude should not be made on a marginal basis – councillors rarely reject professional officers’ reports and if half of them have failed to be convinced, then that tells a story in itself.

Contact the councillors to let them know how you feel – they don’t have to agree with three-tier to vote against this proposal, they only need to disagree with the financial viability of the primary sector funding.

Day 197 – Save Lower Schools

November 13, 2009

A long long time ago, when our group of parents, grandparents, teachers and governors decided to get together to fight the seemingly inevitable decision to change our school system, we named ourselves after the most obvious casualty – hence Save Middle Schools.

Today we are sorely tempted to rename the campaign Save Lower Schools as the long-term casualties will be our excellent lower schools who will be underfunded, overcrowded and struggling for decades to metamorphose into primary schools under this proposal.

In recent days we have highlighted the financial nightmare that has been recommended by the final report. Only £27.2M of funding is allocated for the lower-primary switch, cobbled together from every available source – future government funding, sales of land, proceeds from housing developments, “top-slicing” of schools budgets (that’s robbing Peter to pay Paul to you and me).

If any one of these is lower than expected, or if any overspend occurs, then there really is no more money, as Michael Headley – the Finance portfolio holder – told the Executive on Wednesday evening.

What is worse than this is that the £27.2M will only pay for the shell of classrooms – it doesn’t cover any extra toilets, circulation space, corridors, chairs, tables, resources, extra staff space, enlarged halls, specialist space for the different requirements of Years 5 and 6, etc etc.

In a decade when Government spending will have to be reduced dramatically in order to curb public debt, and education budgets post-2011 have already been targeted, this really will be a catastrophe.

Unfortunately, portacabins will be the result – and many of those are still around on school sites from the last time we changed school structure in the 1970s !

Lower School governing bodies almost without reservation recommended that they support the School Organisation Review during the consultation process – but they didn’t have this information at that time.

SMS wonders how many governors realise what the future holds? How many would support this recommendation now? How many governing bodies of Trust or Foundation schools would now consider legal action against the authority for not revealing this important financial information as part of the consultation process.

The only hope we have is that sufficient councillors will listen to the arguments than having blind faith in the future on Monday night. You can help by contacting councillors and letting them know how you feel, and by being present at the Council Meeting – 6:30 on Monday 16th November in the Harpur Suite at the Corn Exchange.

Day 196 – An Executive Decision

November 12, 2009

Yesterday the Executive voted for the School Organisation Review’s recommendation that Bedford Borough change from three-tier to two-tier. Those who voted for the change were Dave Hodgson, Charles Royden, David Sawyer, Nicky Attenborough and Will Hunt (although he only voted for this to go to Full Council and may change his mind once it is voted on there). Barry Huckle was absent, but we presume he would also have voted for change. Councillors in favour of retention were Michael Headley, Sue Oliver and Nick Charsley.

This was despite the obvious financial holes in transforming ~50 lower schools to primary schools, which covers 60 square metres of space per classroom but nothing else. There is no money for equipment to fill them, no extra toilets, no corridors or circulation space, no extra staff space, no extra specialist facilities, nothing beyond the classroom shells.

To finance this, the plan assumes £7.5M of future government funding under the Primary Capital Programme, and £15.7M from capital receipts of land sales. It requires “top-slicing” of schools’ budgets. So 0.3% of 2010’s budget, and 0.6% from 2011 onwards…in addition to the massive reduction in education spend already announced from 2011 onwards.

This of course means there would be no money left over for other routine maintenance of school buildings for at least five years.

And what if the building projects over-run or over-spend I hear you ask?

Funnily enough, nobody can answer this one…more “top-slicing”?…more council borrowing?…an increase in council tax?…areduction in other services?

Maybe we should ask John Goldsmith, one of the authors of the report, who has been quoted in the Times & Citizen today on the matter:

JG said “Other authorities when they have made this change have used temporary buildings, but we have been clear from the outset that we want to have permanent buildings in place”.

We would all want that John…but how are you going to achieve it with this level of funding?

Lower school governing bodies did not have the detailed financial proposals when they voted on whether to support the change to two-tier last summer. I’m sure there are some governors who would like to have the opportunity to vote again.

You don’t even have to be a supporter of three-tier education to see that this could set early education back years in Bedford.

Fortunately, it’s not too late to help us persuade councillors to use their vote wisely on Monday evening.

Day 195 – More Education Cuts

November 11, 2009

Yesterday the Government announced a cut of £340M by cutting 133,000 training places as part of their reduction in the further education budget.

See the full story here.

This is the same Government that is desperately trying to tell us that further major cuts will not be inevitable, that the economy will recover quickly as we spend our way out of recession, and that they would like a fourth term in office (pretty please).

Of course, after the next election (whoever wins) the real cuts are likely to be revealed, and the overly bureaucratic and costly BSF programme under real threat.

So a quick quiz question for all those in favour of change – by how much would the BSF budget have to be reduced in order for the whole two-tier project to be shelved?

Would it be unviable with only £200M? How about £100M? What about if it all disappeared? A bit like the Primary funding which is almost completely illusory according to Appendix 3 of the report.

Moreover, BSF funding is so uncertain that even other authorities in the middle of change (Suffolk) have stopped the process until there is more financial assurance.

Of course, there is more than one visionary in this Borough who would still want to change even if no money were available at all…(which of course it very nearly isn’t in the Primary sector)…

The real problem with this, however, is that change costs a vast amount of public money, time and effort, and while that is being spent attention is being diverted from teaching and learning. Which is precisely why other authorities have suffered a major dip in results during and for around 4-6 years after change, the dip being indicative of a loss of focus and morale.

The only way you can help stop this is to contact the councillors and let them know that you think.

You only have until Monday evening to help save the education of a generation of children.