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Parents say rejection of Institute of Education free school plan is 'political' | Warwick...


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Nov 24, 2010
Incoherence in Holborn

Members of a parents' campaign group believe Michael Gove is putting politics above children's needs after the government put a halt to longstanding plans by one of England's largest teacher training colleges to set up a free school. Lord Nash, who works for Gove as academies minister, seemingly ended three years of planning by London's Institute of Education when he told it that proposals for the Holborn school in central London would not go ahead.

The IoE had joined forces with local parents who have been pressing for a school in the area since 2006. In 2011, Gove wrote to the campaigners saying he was "very keen" on the plans. Yet Nash's letter to the IoE says the proposals "lack coherence", and that the group bidding to establish the school had a dearth of secondary school leadership experience.

The response has staggered the campaigners, who cannot understand why these would be reasons to halt the project, rather than rework it. They cite the IoE's recent "outstanding" Ofsted report as evidence of its expertise. One parent says: "This shocking decision is widely felt to be a deliberate attack on the IoE, with whom Gove has had many battles." In a letter to Gove, "dumbfounded" parents say he needs to meet them to explain. "Anything less amounts to a monumental kick in the teeth for the very parents your free schools policy claims to empower," they write.

The Department for Education will not say whether Gove plans to meet the parents. A spokesman says: "All free schools must meet strict criteria. Unfortunately, the project has been unable to reach the high bar we have set."

Petition calls for Ofsted to publish report

More than 600 people have signed a petition calling on Ofsted to reveal its full concerns about an academy in Bath that currently has an "outstanding" rating. The extraordinary move comes after the inspectorate published a short report on Oldfield school focusing on its safeguarding arrangements, concluding that they "meet requirements".

The report also says, though, that Ofsted had "received a number of complaints … which lie outside its remit," adding that these had been passed to the DfE but offering no further details.

The Bath Chronicle reported last week that it had seen a longer Ofsted report on the school, which had not been published and about which it could not go into detail for legal reasons. The paper reported that the school's headteacher, Kim Sparling, had suggested that staff who reported concerns to Ofsted should look for new jobs.

An Ofsted spokesman refused to say whether a fuller, unpublished inspection report and verdict existed. He said: "We went into Oldfield school to consider the issues raised by a number of complaints … when we considered the evidence, we judged that it was best to use the normal reporting format for such an inspection."

Sparling, who could not be reached for comment, told the Bath Chronicle that the school's governing body remained strong and that results had improved since the school was last judged outstanding.

Stats show misery and woe at the DfE

More than 300 people have said they have been subjected to discrimination at the DfE, with almost as many stating they have been bullied or harassed, the latest annual survey of more than 3,000 department civil servants has revealed.

The discrimination figures, which are much higher than those previously reported, come with the DfE having registered the largest fall in employee morale of any Whitehall department in 2012-13, according to a report last week.

Of the 3,113 responses from DfE civil servants to the staff survey last autumn, 11% answered "yes" to "During the past 12 months, have you personally experienced discrimination at work?" Asked whether they had "personally experienced bullying or harassment" over the same period, 9% said they had.

Some 25% of staff in the DfE's academy converters division said they had been bullied or harassed, while the figure for the legal adviser's office was 21%. In vocational education and academies central operations division it was 20%.

Meanwhile, 70% in the assessment, curriculum and qualifications group disagreed with the statement: "I feel that change is managed well in the DfE".

A mighty 0% of those in the communications department – which includes the press office – agreed that: "When changes are made in DfE they are usually for the better".

That same press office responded: "The department is committed to creating and maintaining an environment free of bullying, harassment and discrimination. Unacceptable behaviour is not tolerated and complaints are investigated quickly and thoroughly."

When a 'no' vote turns into a 'yes'

There was disappointment for another anti-academy campaign this month, after Lord Nash approved the transfer of Dorothy Barley junior school in east London to the Reach2 chain. This was despite 84% of those responding to a consultation saying they were against a move to academy status.

We were intrigued to learn about the company running the consultation. BDO LLP describes itself as "one of the world's largest accountancy networks". On its website it says it has a "proven track record … in developing all forms of academies". Not all that neutral, then.

More interesting are some of the firm's other activities. On the website BDO details its tax services to "private clients", including "offshore tax planning" to "high net-worth individuals". It says, "our bespoke high-quality tax advice and support … will help reduce tax, protect wealth and limit the risk of non-compliance", through a "discreet, personal service that will help you solve tax issues".

These seem unusual activities for an organisation influencing publicly funded schooling. But we live in curious times.

When contacted, BDO said it didn't wish to make any comment.

A good judge of pupils' progress?

Finally, plans to change the mechanism by which schools assess pupils' progress seem mired in confusion. Is it possible to allow schools to choose their own systems for teacher assessment and yet also to publish national average figures and school-by-school comparison data?

The DfE seems to think both are possible, at least to judge from its consultation on primary assessment, published last summer. We await the long-delayed official response with interest, and wonder if the 70% of DfE troops working on curriculum, assessment and qualifications (see above) might be on to something with their views about change …

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