Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Sedgehill: story of a school being forced to be an academy

Hi Michael

I've long followed your support of schools under threat of academisation. I'm the mother of two children at Sedgehill, a community comprehensive in Lewisham. The school was in a very bad way four years ago. Morale was low, numbers on roll were falling, and the Head resigned suddenly. Ken McKenzie took over and completely transformed the school. It's now a very special place - a true community where every child is accepted, no matter what their background or level of academic achievement, and where their potential is nurtured, whether it be with free music tuition, dance training, time in the recording studio, training with Fulham Football Club, mentoring younger children, being involved in the Youth Parliament or learning to be a Young Entrepeneur.

GCSE results have been steadily rising, until a dip this year caused by changes to the system (and shared by many many schools across the country) was taken as a cue by Lewisham council to intervene.

They instructed the board of governors to replace the Head with their own choice, the Head of Bethnal Green Academy. When the Governors refused, they were given notice that an application was being made to impose an Interim Executive Board to disband the governors, sack the Head and take over the running of the school.

This is against the wishes of the entire school community. The school is NOT failing; it has lifted from special measures to inadequate to requires improvement (the category that was until recently called satisfactory). Although at the 2013 inspection it was still at a 3 (requires improvement) the school is confident that when next inspected it will achieve a 2 (good).

Although the council are saying that a full consultation on academisation will be held after the imposition of the IEB, it will then be too late. Sacking the leadership team and handing the school over to the control of an Academy Executive Head will irretrievably alter the character and ethos of the school and rob our children of the chance to be part of a school community we believe in.

If there is any way that you can help to shine light on this situation, then please do. We were informed just over a week ago, and we understand the application for the IEB is being made tomorrow, despite a 1,600 signature petition, a barrage of emails from concerned parents, and a demonstration outside the town hall attended by hundreds of students.

There is a Twitter group @savesedgehill where you can find out more.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

I Caught Farage on the train reading 'Lessons in Scapegoating'

"Lessons in Scapegoating"

1. Identify a group of people as the 'other'. Do this by remarking on aspects of their life you can say are 'different' even though you or your family have those aspects too. Useful 'differences' may be such things as what language people speak, clothes they wear or how people stand in the street. Sporting allegiance is useful too. Don't worry about contradictions e.g. that your partner speaks another language, or that you stand about in the street too.

2. These 'other' people must be identified as causing a lowering of people's standards of living. It is vital that the core people with real power in the country are not identified as lowering people's standards of living.

3. Indicate that these 'other' people can be and will be 'removed' in some way or another. Never indicate how they will be removed as past records on this matter are sensitive. When anyone says to you, Are you going to remove these 'other' people, deny it immediately. It doesn't matter either way - the point has been made. People will vote for you because they believe that you will 'get rid' of these 'other' people.

4. Never fill in any detail about how 'removal' of these 'other' people would affect the standard of living of those remaining. Just make vague mentions of 'work permits'. This gives the impression that 'other' people can be reduced to being a 'work permit' and that they can be cut off from partners, parents and children. They can just be hired and then 'sent back'.

5. It's vital to link such things as 'crime' to these 'other people' as if crime was invented by them. Any criminal activity on the part of people in your party or the 'people' (i.e. the not-other people) should be overlooked.

6. It's vital to suggest that the 'people' own the country and that it's been taken away from them by the 'other people'. The fact that the country is owned by a tiny, tiny group of extremely wealthy people should not be mentioned. In fact, the fact that this has always been the case should not be mentioned either. It's vital to keep the idea going that ordinary people 'own' the country and it's been 'taken away' from them by 'other' people who are not the tiny group of extremely wealthy people.

Government says it's keeping down wages; Farage says it's immigrants!

I keep thinking of the young working class bloke (or he said he was) in the audience of Question Time who said that the working class had been hit hardest by immigration. What a terrible success of the lie that his low wages have been caused by immigrants. What's incredible is that he could believe this at a time when it has been explicit - nay, boasted of - information coming from government and everywhere else that they are sacking people and keeping down wages as part of 'austerity'. 

So, in the usual run of things, the government 'freezes' wages (that is, cuts them in real terms) and the private sector uses that as a means to fix the rates too. That's what employers do. It's their 'job' to do that. They're paid hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to freeze wages. It's what they're doing.

And the bloke in the audience says that he's been hit by immigrants.

I hope a trade union organiser finds him at work on Monday and signs him up.

10 things we learnt about 10-things-we-learnt-about articles in the Guardian

1. Journalists like writing 10-things-we-learnt-about articles.
2. The number 10 is given magical properties by people who write 10-things-we-learnt-about articles.
3. At a time of crisis we have to be constantly directed towards key 'facts' just as people being washed away will hang on to trees and buildings.
4. Sometimes it's good to know-one-thing. Other times it's good to know nothing. Sometimes it's good to try and understand the process rather than the 'thing'. Sometimes, it's good to try and understand how one 'thing' relates to another in a sequence rather than 'things' in a list.
5. That's enough things. I realise this doesn't add up to 10 but if I wrote 10 things I'd be doing the same as the 10-things-we-learnt-about articles...

Caesar Curbs Immigrants in Year Zero

Acting on behalf of Augustus Caesar, I would say that it's become clear to me that migrants from Galilee are bringing down the wages of those in Judea. On these grounds I am instructing the loyal king of Judea to stop all people at the border trying to enter Judea. 

Meanwhile, it may be necessary to reduce the population as it has now been proved that high population causes poverty. The disturbances and riots that will almost certainly ensue will require us - that is, our client monarch, Herod - to reassert our power in the country by the usual means. Divisions between the peoples will enhance our rule. 

We expect to appoint a Governor in the region soon after.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Camilla Cavendish gets grammar schools wrong on Question Time

Camilla Cavendish said on Question Time last night that Grammar Schools were autonomous and disciplined. In my 1950s-60s grammar school there were riots in almost every Chemistry lesson as a consequence of an eccentric teacher who was there for years. The school was broken into one night by some of the boys in my year and they caused quite a lot of damage. I was involved in various milder forms of disruption across two years that was continuous. I'm not proud of the fact but in terms of 'discipline' was in those terms a disaster. The school didn't know how to handle these matters.

Autonomous? County grammar schools came under the aegis of the Local Education Authority. They were no more or less autonomous than the other schools in any given area. It's possible that the prestigious ones could throw their weight around at meetings more than the Secondary Moderns but they weren't 'autonomous'.

There were 'Direct Grant' grammar schools which were forerunners to Academies. These were usually old 'foundation' schools which were funded directly from central government were outside of Local Education Authority control. There were also 'Independent Day Schools' which were private but which accepted some children at 11 (usually) on scholarships. These were independent and even more 'autonomous'.

Beware people on TV talking about the history of education. People tend to make up stuff or just pass on oral legends.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Questions for journalists to ask Osborne and Balls re 'Deficit'

I think we should compile a list of questions for interviewers to ask George Osborne and Ed Balls. At present the questions start off by agreeing that a) there is a deficit b) that it has to be brought down now c) the 'realistic' way of doing it is to cut the public sector - jobs and services.

Alternative questions:

1. Where does the deficit come from?
2. Who or what is responsible for the deficit?
3. Who is saying that the deficit has to be reduced now?
4. Is a 'deficit' in government spending the same as a deficit in, say, my accounts at home? If not, how not?
5. Why do you say that it's people in the public sector and those receiving the benefits of the public sector who have to pay the highest price in paying for this deficit?
6. Who benefits the most from this way of paying it off?
7. Is the mid-term result of this way of doing things that the super-rich are getting richer and the poor getting poorer?
8. Do you think that this is a good idea?