Day 188 – The Public Have Spoken

The long-awaited consultation report has been published – all 201 pages and 6MB of it. The link to it is here.

And what does it say? Well of course it recommends a change to two-tier, as we knew all along it would. After all, we have just had the worst example of a non-consultation process that many of us have experienced.

What is interesting is that 57% of responses were in favour of three-tier overall, rising to 66% amongst parents/carers of current pupils. And this, remember, is despite the overwhelming and public display of support for two-tier by the lower and upper school Heads.

So it is clear that those parents who are experiencing the current system and who understand its value have voted overwhelmingly in favour of retention.

This could be a disastrous decision that causes chaos in Bedford’s education system, just like it has done in Northampton and Suffolk recently, both of which are now failing authorities. It could also cause financial meltdown in our schools as budgets are diverted to supporting an ill-planned and under-funded switch.

The Borough Education Officers have ignored the public. The councillors should be aware of the unpopularity of this decision. We urge everyone to contact all councillors urgently, especially their own plus the Executive and Roger Rigby (the Speaker who may have the casting vote in a Full Council debate). Let them know your strongly-held views as this decision can be changed by public protest.

Members of the Executive who make the first decision on Wed 11th are Dave Hodgson, Charles Royden, Barry Huckle, Michael Headley, David Sawyer, Nicky Attenborough, Nick Charsley, Sue Oliver and Will Hunt – their details may be found here.

Spread the word amongst your friends and family !

Can we do it? Yes we can !

Perhaps it is also worth mentioning now that the two online petitions stand at 1129 for three-tier and 161 (currently) for two-tier. Maybe that last figure will go up slightly now in response to this blog…but then our petition has closed, so we regard this as the final result (plus another 9000 or so written signatures, about 7000 of which made it into the report, the others being collected afterward July 24th).

Confirmation of the decision making process

The Executive will consider this on Wednesday 11th November at 6:30 in the Harpur Suite, Corn Exchange. Details are here. Members of the public may attend and ask questions of the Executive.

Should the Executive recommend a change to two-tier, then Full Council will consider this at a special meeting on Monday 16th November at 6:30 in the Harpur Suite, Corn Exchange. We would strongly urge you to attend this meeting. More details will be posted on this blog should they become relevant and when they are available.


37 Responses to Day 188 – The Public Have Spoken

  1. JamesD says:

    What a load of spin! The report starts with the belief that Bedford must go 2-tier and then only picks evidence and opinion to support that view. Completely ignores the, yet again, 2/3 opinion of the voters. Completely ignores DCSF and OfSTED evidence on attainment in 2 or 3-tier systems. To use the discredited Suffolk review as evidence is disgraceful; Professor Gault and his department have already reassessed this and no longer support the 2-tier conclusion. It gets worse as you get further into the detail. It recommends taking all of the financial risks on a programme that, even if successful, will leave primary schools in a shoddy condition and on reduced budgets for decades. Even Suffolk County Council have already realised that the money will not be there!
    The Council must bring their Officers under control if they are to maintain democracy in Bedford Borough.

    • Martin Hamilton says:

      Rather than spin the councillors must consider this as a sales document. The officers concerned as I understand it were brought in to implement 2-tier by the mayor/county council/chief exec of the past. Therefore their job was to sell this project. They would not have wished to undertake any consultation, i imagine if they could have avoided it, given the fact that the consultation document was also a sales document. Therefore they have to put a brave face on the results and use them as best they can. Clearly the sales process has had some success – we can’t deny that.

      This report is the latest sales document in the process and is selling a dream, no targets (sorry what step change are we taling about here?), no success criteria, a list of risks and caveats but no serious analsysis of what short and medium term downsides could be incurred.

      So apparently it’s down to the councillors to try and assess the risks whilst they have been offered no Plan B (as far as we know). If I were them, I would ask for a properly independent review of the whole lot – what intelligent, non-specialist, buyer of a £350 million project wouldn’t?

      • JamesD says:

        I have to disagree. This report is supposed to be an independent analysis of the options open to Bedford Borough to increase its educational attainment. These officers are supposed to give independent and unbiased advice to our elected councillors not to spin a sales pitch. I know that even Ministers have now dismissed scientific advisors for finding that evidence contradicts Ministerial bias but this report on school restructuring goes much further.
        I have to question the ethics of those who are willing to use sales and advertising techniques to force 2-tier on Bedford Borough regardless of the multiple sources that show 2/3 of those consulted are against it.

  2. Fred Bagnall says:

    Q. Does the document demonstrate underperformance in Bedford Borough schools?
    A. Yes, with more data than previously.

    Q. Does the document demonstrate a move to 3-tier would improve performance?
    A. Some data is provided to support this and there are side arguments on the caliber of staff available to middle/upper schools versus secondary schools.

    Q. Does the document explain why attempts to improve within the current structure have failed?
    A. Not really.

    Q. Does the document acknowledge concerns about the proposed change?
    A. Yes, and it refutes some but is less forthcoming on how others will be addressed.

    Q. Does the document draw on the experience of other authorities that have made the transition?
    A. There is little evidence of this.

    Q. Does the document draw on the experience of other authorities with BSF projects?
    A. There is no evidence of this.

    Q. Will the document convince councillors?
    A. It is more comprehensive and accessible than the arguments against but undoubtedly has gaps.

    All just my first impressions, but will councillors be any more thorough?

  3. savemiddleschools says:

    Hello again Fred, welcome back…

    The Borough’s officers must be excellent educational researchers if they have found clear reasons that 3-tier performs worse than two-tier.

    Maybe they should attempt to publish this research in a academic journal?

    Or maybe it would be thrown out by the referees?

    You know, there are thousands of academic educational papers published every year – has anyone ever published one which demonstrates what they are claiming?

    I would be genuinely interested to read it.

    • Fred Bagnall says:

      What if councillors take the view they want the BSF money and see no outstanding reasons not to change?

      They may not start from your position, stop hinting and throw the academic research supporting your view at them (where they can find it all in one place within a click or two).

  4. savemiddleschools says:

    You miss the point I’m afraid – they have said they have the evidence for change – and indeed for a generation of Bedford’s children to go through this turmoil it ought to be overwhelming evidence – but they have no academic research to support this. It is all belief.

    BSF is available for three-tier so that isn’t an reason.

    Hansard July 6th – the Nadine Dorries Adjournment Debate – we blogged it to make it easy for you.

  5. KDev says:

    Time and time again you have been directed to academic research, DCSF and OfSTED data sources. You just keep asking for more without even consulting those referenced. There are no easy “one or two click” sources for data on school structure versus attainment. If there was any evidence from responsible and recognised sources to show that 2-tier or 3-tier produced better attainment for children it would be easily available. There is no evidence from DCSF or from OfSTED that 2-tier is better than 3-tier. This is reflected in several Ministerial statements.
    Do some work yourself and try to find the North American study that placed school structure as 9th in importance of producing attainment in a massive study of schools in US and Canada. This may explain to you that finding any significance in school structure affecting attainment in the UK is very unlikely.

    • Fred Bagnall says:

      You miss the point as do SMS.

      You are not giving hard working coucillors easy enough access to contrary arguments. They may happily accept what their paid professional officers and majority of educational professional want (for what reason could almost be irrelevant).

      There is no competing salesman, just the sandwich board man telling us that the end of the world is nigh.

      • JamesD says:

        Just as the parents groups did in Suffolk, Northamptonshire etc etc. How much did it cost to publish the Consultation Document, how much to prepare and distribute the report – we paid for it.
        Given the resources available to the Council Officers and all those professional educationalists paid for out of the public purse and who want 2-tier at any cost there could be an easy and accessible rebuttal. But, we, the tax payers expected independence and honesty from local government civil servants not what they have now produced. It is the bully boys/girls of the establishment who just want their will to be imposed, they have the resources – why are they not willing to carry out an independent analysis rather than pushing their one belief. Everyone else is on their own time and resources.
        DCSF and OfSTED have no evidence to support the belief that 2-tier will lead to higher attainment and this has been scrutinised by civil servants who advise Ministers and those Ministers have made several statements to the effect that there is no difference in attainment between school structures. The reference to Hansard should be sufficient but then how do you counter a “belief” with evidence.

  6. Sally says:

    Fred, you are missing the most crucial point of all here, which is that the money isn’t gonna be there. Look at the bigger picture.
    This country is in recession, we are fighting a war we can’t win in Afghanistan, bailing out the banks, footing the bill for rising unemployment, and in debt up to our eyeballs. The money’s already run out in Suffolk. They are in chaos and that also was predicted and I’m sure those that did so were also accused of scaremongering. They had good reason to do so.

  7. William says:

    You failed to metion what the document states is the percentage of middle school parents that were in favour of 2 tier?

    • JamesD says:

      William if you know the answer pubish it!

    • KDev says:

      The officers wrote:
      “there were more responses from Lower School parents than either other phase, and these were the most in favour of change (41% in favour); it is worth noting that these are the parents of the children who would be most affected by the change if it proceeded on the proposed timeframe.”
      This could have been written on the same evidence:
      there were more responses from Lower School parents than either other phase, and 59% of these were in favour of retaining the present system; it is worth noting that these are the parents of the children who would be most affected by the change if it proceeded on the proposed timeframe.

    • KDev says:

      the report says:
      “79% of parents with a link to Middle Schools favoured retaining the existing system. This accounted for 606 of the total parent esponses, 51%”
      So 21% of parents and carers with links to Middle Schools did not support retention of 3-tier.
      It also said:
      “parents / carers of current school-age hildren favoured retaining the existing system. Overall 66% of parents / carers of school-age children favoured retention”

  8. JamesD says:

    There that was ever so easy – why didn’t you do it yourself?

  9. William says:

    Crumbs, just asking the question as I hadn’t seen the report as yet. As always I was trying to get a balanced view (cue comments on un balanced consultation…..)

  10. savemiddleschools says:

    Don’t worry William, some of us knew what you meant…nerves are a bit frayed around these parts at the moment…


  11. jonathan parsons says:

    well i have to leave a responce to this one, but i will pose a question or two, where are the first 24 pages??, if you look it starts at page 25 humm, also correct me if understand this correctly, 57or so percent in favor of 3, but still we must have 2, why the consoltation then, well thats me voting not ld next time, i have been kicked off the late mayors blog, and told i am a bit of a lose cannon when i felt it was nessary to attempt to stand as mayor, but alass came to nothing, but sorry all out here but i still may have one or two things to say, but i can say i was at a meeting today in wich a lot of schools were involved and all levels including a new accadamy and guess what all say no money in the pot for new equipment, are we in troubel or what. will be back soon

  12. KDev says:

    Thank you Fred, you made me consider your questions and answers on the report. Unfortunately, I don’t think that you have been impartial in your judgement:
    Q. Does the document demonstrate underperformance in Bedford Borough Schools?
    A. Yes, but that is well established from evidence. However, it fails to mention the significant under financing of Bedford’s schools for decades.
    Q. Does the document demonstrate a move to 3-tier would improve performance?
    A. No as it ignores that DCSF and OfSTED have no evidence that structure does affect attainment.
    Q. Does the document explain why attempts to improve within the current structure have failed?
    A. No, because we are only in year 3 of those improvements. Bedford Borough schools attainment has been improving rapidly – one of the most improving LA in England 2008, 2 x national increase in 5 A*-C GCSE in 2009.
    Q. Does the document acknowledge concerns about the proposed change?
    A. Yes but by very selective use of data it tries to minimise the huge risks the proposal has on the education of Bedford’s children and on the finances of the Borough. The refutation offered in several cases is false when the full evidence is examined.
    Q. Does the document draw on the experience of other authorities that have made the transition?
    A. It quotes the discredited Suffolk report as evidence; it ignores the current problems of Northamptonshire. It fails to state the problems in Suffolk that have led to suspension of their reorganisation.
    Q. Does the document draw on the experience of other authorities with BSF projects?
    A. There is no evidence of this, but it does acknowledge that BSF funding does not rely on a change to 2-tier.
    Q. Will the document convince councillors?
    A. It has been produced with many more resources than are available to those opposing the change. It is the product of years of preparation by the education establishment of Bedford Borough. However, many councillors have experienced this degree of duplicity before and those who have seen the evidence will convince sufficient councillors not to follow the false promises and the “belief” of Officers recruited to force 2-tier through.

  13. Alex Monaghan says:

    I read some sections of the report yesterday, and I was amazed how much hedging was in it.

    Take section 5, for instance – “Reasons for considering change” – it’s all about beliefs and assumptions, no evidence at all!

    “One of the main contributory factors to this is believed to be the fact that pupils transfer twice between schools and that both these transfers are during key stages.” Who believes this, and how confident are they? What if they are WRONG?

    “It is also believed that students do not have sufficient time within upper schools to settle within those schools before choosing their GCSE/ vocational options.” Who believes this, and how confident are they? What if they are WRONG?

    “With a declining number of middle schools nationally, fewer teachers will be trained for middle school teaching. Working in a three tier system may be a less attractive option for ambitious teachers as it could limit career opportunities elsewhere.” Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. Let’s toss a coin. WHERE’S THE EVIDENCE?

    Is this really the best justification these so-called experts can come up with?

  14. SL says:

    Yes…the public have spoken…but have they been heard??? I think not, or if they have, the esteemed officers of the council do not appear to have considered their input to be very significant.
    I’ve just ploughed my way through the document and here’s one small example of what I suspect to be a general trend throughout.
    Reading it, anyone who doesn’t live in Gt Barford might think that the only issue of any concern to the parents of children at the lower school is the thorny issue of whether or not it would become a CofE school under the new structure. I know for a fact that a significant number of respondents would have had a few other concerns, such as where on earth would you put 2 extra classrooms, not to mention make the hall big enough, without losing the library/ICT Suite and precious swimming pool???? Oh yes, and extra toilets! And these to mention only a few.
    I guess we should not be surprised that the end result of the non-consultation process should be such a biased and one-sided document. What a shame so many members of the public were so thoroughly convinced that it was a done deal already and therefore there was no point in bothering to respond to the consultation document when they had the chance!
    Despite this, no mandate for system change has been provided by the parents and children of Bedford Borough. Yet those with power over our children’s education still want to go ahead anyway.
    Fortunately our Executive and Councillors
    now have significantly more information on which to base their decision than we poor parents had in June/July when we didn’t really know what had hit us and real facts were hard to come by.
    Despite all the 2 tier spin I still retain the firm hope that common sense will win the day and that democracy still counts for something in this Borough.

  15. Baldrick says:

    Let’s hope so, SL…

    let’s hope so!

  16. Village Parent says:

    Utterly outrageous, this whole document has taken views and used figures out of context with the true facts and feelings of very concerned misinformed Parents and Teachers, who were not provided with the complete picture before the consultation had ended and then used these figures to provide the most one sided view in a totally deplorable way. I am disgusted!

    For example, how dare they use the vote of Lower School pupils (4-9 yrs) in their figures, claiming that the majority of these young impressionable children support the concept of a change to a two tier system? My 5 & 6 year old’s would hardly understand the concept, unless they were thoroughly prompted?

    How much has this consultation cost us financially and who wrote these half truths, any of us could re-write this report using the opposite angle and it would read completely differently.

    Whoever wrote this report has used the rational arguments voiced during the consultation process and then rather than listening and understanding these valid concerns, has tried to turn these around to endorse their brief.

    This has not been an unbiased consultation, it has been an exercise to tick a box, whoever undertook this consultation in my opinion was briefed to endorse the outcome regardless and it is therefore a complete sham!

    It is now time to demand a referendum without any political bias. Parents and Teachers are now much more aware of the true consequences and motivation behind this proposal and should be able to vote on it democratically.

    • JamesD says:

      Those officers were not just briefed to recommend 2-tier they were recruited and employed by the late Mayor and his CEO to force through the change using any method that may just stay on the right side of the law. Remember the BSF funds spin, that “it’s a done deal” rumours, the “we are being told by DCSF”, “object and your school closes” hints, pressure on school staffs to conform – or else etc etc
      A completely biased and improper “consultation” followed by an even more biased and flawed report.

  17. Colin Mosedale says:

    Village Parent – fully agree with you. The only recourse parents have when they are ignored and a key decision is taken against their wishes is to go to appeal. Not many Councillors will do their own homework and will rely entirely on the output of the Education Officers. Regrettably Mr Hilliard Glover and Goldsmith have failed to adopt a fair and balanced approach to this subject over the last 6 months.

  18. River Song says:

    Totally agree. I am feeling very angry about the whole report. There are some very strange arrangements to be made for some lower schools to become primary schools e.g. Sharnbrook to squeeze onto current site, Castle to use playground somewhere else? What a complete mess for our children and the staff involved. Bet lots are feeling demoralised now. Agree with village parent’s comment about the children’s view – unbelievable. Read with some interest the ways in which staff will be persuaded to stay in the closing schools. Can’t see that working, myself. Have a vision of my daughter attending a closing school, with a building site on the playing field and staff demoralised and chasing new jobs.

    • KDev says:

      River Song
      My grandchildren won’t be staying in Bedford if they go 2-tier. Already arranging to put the house on the market (down size or preferably move to a cheaper area). We can then help them to move out of the Borough or we can fund private education for them.

      • William says:

        Dont think private will be much better as they have no money and want to merge too!

        Should we not all have faith in our elected members who after all we all put in place (or had the opportunity to put in place)

      • savemiddleschools says:

        I don’t remember any councillors (apart from the Mayor of course) standing on a ticket of change to the school system?

      • William says:

        The point I was trying to make is nobody knows what tough decisions are going to have to be made hence having and electing councillors, other wise what is the point?

        I am also going to take the opportunity to say how pig headed I think the conservatives have been for refusing to take seats on the new executive…….. I bet Jane Walker is fuming with all her years of experiance as the childrens services portfolio holder!

      • savemiddleschools says:

        William, in general I would agree with you. But in this particular case, every single councillor was up for election last June when everyone knew that this decision was going to have to be made. They could at least have said what they were in favour of in principle.

  19. Baldrick says:

    This is reported on the BBC website this evening about conservative policy should/when they be elected:

    Ahead of the speech, Mr Gove said: “A Conservative government will give every child the kind of education that is currently only available to the well-off: safe classrooms, talented and specialist teachers, access to the best curriculum and exams, and smaller schools where teachers know the children’s names.”

    That will be why Bedford are looking to increase secondary schools to between 1700 and 2100 at this point then!

  20. Baldrick says:

    …and the Bank of England today added another £25bn worth of debt to the previously £175bn deficit. Mr Mayor, that makes a £200bn national debt in case you have trouble adding it all together!

    …and BSF and primary capital are going to still be there…

  21. JamesD says:

    Given the same evidence as the Bedford Borough Officers the 2-tier supporting Council Officers and Councillors of Suffolk have halted their change to 2-tier because they do not believe that the funding will be available. They have, of course, left Suffolk in an educational mess with DCSF coming in to run their schools. At least the Suffolk Council had the sense to stop before bankruptcy!
    Our Mayor and his Officers seem intent on educational and financial melt down.

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