The Last Post?

July 7, 2010

Today Bedford Borough released a statement confirming they were scrapping plans to change to two-tier education. You can read about it here.

It is now imperative that David Sawyer (the portfolio holder for Education) ensures that we are not embroiled in the same skirmishes in 3,4,5 years’ time. It is now time to repair the damage done to our education system by ill-conceived and poorly executed change, to encourage further co-operation between schools across the tiers, and to give teachers a clear message that their careers are safe in middle schools.

The very first thing David should do, of course, is to re-open Woodside Middle School, rather than send Years 7 and 8 to sit in portacabins on the Mark Rutherford site.

This is the time to commit to teaching and learning in our current system for the next 20-30 years. You never know, in the meantime the rest of the country might realise just what they have been missing…

Stop Press: Wed 14th July. The Mayor said at the Full Council meeting tonight that the closure notices on schools would be rescinded “by the end of term”.

Stop Press 2: Fri 16th July. The Council have now said there needs to be a statutory consultation period for 6 weeks before revoking the closure notices…(so the left-hand doesn’t appear to know what the right-hand is doing)…confidence-inspiring stuff indeed…

Yes Minister…

July 6, 2010

Yesterday in the House of Commons Michael Gove announced that only schools that had achieved “financial closure” would receive the BSF funds they were bidding for. MPs seemed confused by what “financial closure” actually was, but I can’t say I blame them as it is metastage 7, stage 9 of BSF according to PfS (or something equally bureaucratic). Michael Gove brought an example of some of the documents needed to be submitted during part of one of the 9 metastages, but I think he hurt his back in the process. Toby Young describes the inefficiencies of BSF further here.

Sadly, the bottom line for Bedford Borough is that, to quote a now infamous line “There is no money left”. The exception is Bedford Academy which has been listed as “under discussion”.

Without substantial BSF funding we would be risking our whole education system by attempting wholesale structural change – we were told repeatedly during the consultation process that Bedford Borough would be different, that the money did exist, and we would not make the same mistakes as Northampton and Suffolk.

There is no popular or political mandate for change without BSF funding – the whole project should now be halted and reversed by a vote of Full Council. In a time of austerity and with local authorities fragmenting as schools chase the money available to academies, the pendulum has swung away from centralised control, and with such uncertainty hanging over everybody, our children (and teachers!) deserve an education undamaged by unfunded, chaotic change.

Post-Election Blues (and Golds)

May 23, 2010

BSF is now officially under the coalition’s autumn spending review. Many articles have been published across the country in local newspapers and in professional journals (for industries with a vested interest such as teachers, construction companies, architects, quangos)…

You can read them by going to Google News and searching for “Building Schools for the Future”

Official word is not expected about Bedford Borough’s BSF bid until later in the year, but unofficially aside from the Academy it is dead in the water…at the moment…

Update: A joint press release from Alistair Burt, Richard Fuller and Nadine Dorries has said that they are seeking urgent clarification from both the Government and the local council on the future of the Building Schools for the Future programme following the change of government.

Alistair Burt said “We are well aware of the concern of parents about the future of the local schools programme. The Council took its decision to move from three-tier to two-tier based partly on assurances about finance, which were always likely to be up for reconsideration bearing in mind the economic situation of the country at the time promises were made, and the recent election. We believe that the Council needs to know precisely what the national financial picture is before it can take a view as to whether or not its programme will continue in its entirety, be dropped, or proceed with some other approach.”

Bedford MP Richard Fuller said “We all want our best for the schools, but we have all known for some considerable time that the promises previously made were unlikely to have had a firm foundation and it is essential that the matter is revisited as soon as possible in the light of the most up to date financial information”.

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.