Monday, 1 August 2011

Yes it is true, no it isn't true: Michaela Free School debate continued (Part 2)

See here for Part 1 of the Michaela Free School debate, held on 18th July, in which Katharine Birbalsingh and a number of members of the school's steering committee made the case about why the proposed Michaela Free School would be good for Lambeth.  Part 2 in this post, is the questions and answers that arose as a result of the presentation.  I've added the names of questioners and people that added general views, where known, and have summarised questions and answers as far as possible and then grouped them next to one another.

Disturbance to local community?
Qn from older man:  "I am a local resident and heard about this only yesterday.  Do we want a school where after 5 years, there will be 800 youngsters messing around here.  I don't want the school.  When you say, it will be good for the community, which community are you talking about?  You don't live here."

KB:  'I know that a number of local people... are concerned about children behaving badly around the estate.  We're keen on excellent discipline and high standards. I'll speak to you in more detail about holding children to account and involving parents in school. One of the big things is the extended day.  If children get out at 3.30pm, there's more of a chance that they're going to behave in that kind of fashion.'

Ndubuisi Kejeh (member of Michaela Steering Committee): 'I went to Archbishop Tenison's School, and I was in school when the old Lilian Baylis was on site. In my Year 7, we needed the teachers of both schools to intervene because the Year sevens of my school were the targets, and every day before and after school, we would be victims of robbery... If I didn't believe that the new school would have measures to counteract behaviour like that, I wouldn't be sitting here.'

How free are Free Schools?
Qn from a woman with an educational background:  'A lot of your information was wrong...  Schools have been free to make their own decisions since Local Management of Schools was introduced in 1988.  In every State School the decisions are made by the governing body, many of whom are parents.  Decisions are not made by the Local Education Authority.  A Free School... will be free from local authority constraints, but will still have to obey constraints of central government, which is worse, because it's removing accountability from the very parents you're saying you want to help.  Also...have you undergone the professional training to become a head teacher?'

KB: 'Over the years, some schools have gained more freedoms, but there are different types of schools with different levels and types of freedoms.  Free schools are like Academies in the way they run.  It is not the case that ordinary maintained schools have the same freedoms.  They're not free to have an extended day, they can't do that.'

Interjection from same questioner:  'Yes, they are.  I don't know where you get your information from, but you're incorrect.'

KB: 'Heads of schools that have become... academies will explain various changes that they've been able to make because of those freedoms. Ultimately, if however, what you were saying is true, then we're opening a school just like any other school.'

KB:  'I have the NPQH (head teacher qualification).  However, I may not be the head of this school.  It is proposed that I might be.  It all depends on the Department for Education.'

Anna Tapsell: 'Can I ask whether it is the Department For Education that appoint the head?'

KB: 'From what I understand.'  

Interjection from previous questioner:  'Well, that makes it very different from other schools, then.'

Do U.S. Charter Schools have track record?
Qn from young male with education background: 'I don't doubt your commitment towards education.  But if you look at what happened with Free Schools in America... a lot of schools became even worse sink schools.  In the system, some schools go ahead, and some drop behind because of the intake problem.  You're saying that having your school up here will not affect the rest of Lambeth... I'd like to know what mechanisms you have in place to ensure your intake would be representative of the area...'

Daisy (member of Michaela Free School Steering Committee):  'You're right.  American charter schools are not an unalloyed success.  However, the ones that have been successful are the ones  that have been in extreme areas of educational deprivation. Kathryn mentioned Geoffrey Canada.  I'd also ask you to look at KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power program.  Both are in inner-city and difficult areas.'

Answer from young male with education background: 'Theose are one or two examples. My point is that the system does create an inequality between the schools being set up.'

Daisy (member of Michaela Free School Steering Committee):  'KIPP and Geoffrey Canada are not one school, but seven schools.  You're right in that  not every charter school is succesfuly.  But what we can take from them is a model of success...  So if you're saying, "how are we going to do things?", we have an example...'

Discipline and ethos at proposed Michaela Free School
Qn from Fred (Ethelred Community Centre):  '... how are we going to contribute a wider understanding to all of the cultures, because the demography is getting wider and wider in our society..?  I have witnessed... that we are employing doormats (that's terminology street talk from the kids) at school. We see police in uniform at school gates.   I want to know what form of discipline is going to implemented to avoid what we have now.'

Related qn from Anna Tapsell: 'What is it in the ethos and philosophy of your idea that makes you confident that you can deal with all of the things that the gentlemen [Fred] has expressed and have a well-disciplined school?'

Ndubuisi Kejeh (Steering Committee): 'I've been privileged to have gone to schools with several different types of discipline. Although born and bred mostly in the UK, I did go to school in Nigeria where there is corporal punishment.  The difference between the schools I've attended is level of consistency. With consistency, after a while, you get a culture. What we would hope to do in this school is not cane people, but work with the parents and contact parents, and have a document that the parents would have to sign so that they were kept informed of what the child was doing. Also, what we'd do is in the first year is have year sevens only. From primary school. These children would be immersed in the new culture. Their parents would continue this culture. This, I think, is a very good way to try to discipline and make a culture.'

KB: 'We talked about high standards of discipline, high standards of expectation from the children, soft skills in terms of manners.  Sometimes if a school were to  exclude a naughty child for the day, but the school don't want them to sit at home and watch television, they send them to a next door school, and are reciprocal.  In that way, schools support each other.'

Qn from male teacher: 'I'm a teacher, and I teach maths.  I've never heard of such a thing.'

KB: 'Schools do it all the time.  This is one example.  I'm giving an example of ways in which schools support each other.  There are other ways.  St Martin's have done it.  Dunraven have done it.  Tenison's have done it.'

Daisy (member of Michaela Free School Steering Committee):  'Part of the ethos would be provision of the extended day, until 5pm.  Another thing would be summer school.  There's lots of research about how pupils from deprived backgrounds fall back more over summer, so one of the things we want to do is have a two-week summer school.  Free schools do have a bit more freedom to adapt the curriculum to their pupils' individual needs...'

[Here it would be useful to hear from any teachers reading the blog on a point of fact.  Is it true that schools do swap "naughty" students for the day instead of excluding them and sending them home?  It seemed odd that some teachers prsent had not heard of the practice, but I've no idea whether this is common in Lambeth.]

Intake at proposed Michaela Free School
Qn from young male with education background:  I want to know about the intake.

Daisy (member of Michaela Free School Steering Committee):  Free Schools have to abide by an admissions code.  We want to take the Fair banding route approach, so we ensure a representative intake.  The pupils who apply are split into 5 bands academically, and you take the same percentage from each band.  The Deapartment For Education decide the banding system on a nationwide basis.

KB: I admire your concerns. You're worried a free school will pop up, and all of the clever kids will want to go there..  I admire your sentiment because you're worried about the other schools.  But we want to implement banding.  We're not expecting all students to go to unviersity.  We would want to ensure our intake was completely comprehensive.  The committee are really committed to inner city kids.

Grateful parent
Woman sitting at the front:  My question has been answered.  I was going to thank you all for the wonderful work you're doing with the community... 

[I'm pretty sure this woman wasn't a plant from team-pro-Michaela, but she was the only person who wasn't from the committee/volunteer group who expeessed a positive view, so in the interest of balance, I've include it.]

Farcical Dispute with Councillor concerning Lambeth Secondary School Admissions
Cllr Mark Harrison (Princes Ward and chair of Scrutiny Commitee for Children and Young Peoples, Lambeth Council):   I challenge this idea that Lambeth has a shortage of 500 secondary places. That's not accurate.  About 500 pupils go to school outside outside the Borough, but that's not the same as  a shortage of 500 places.  We have a shortage of places in the south of the Borough.  But we have a site at Fenstanton Primary school, Tulse Hill, which we're turning into a new Academy that will meet demand pressures.  There is no shortage of secondary school places in the north of the Borough.  We have two excellent local secondary schools, Lilian Baylis and Archbishop Tension's, which are rated good with outstanding features by Ofsted.  Creating a glut of places in this area will have a negative effect on those two schools.  It's a waste of public money to provide places in a place where we don't need places, and it risks, one of the three schools becoming unviable due to pupil shortage.  I might be welcomiong a Free School if built in Streatham or Brixton or Norwood, but not up here.  It could do serious damage to others schools in the area.

Man in audience: Don't forget the new Academy opening at Durand School and the enormous new Academy opening on Archbishop Michael Ramsey site, bordering Lambeth and Southwark which will have a 50/50 intake.  We're also seeing a collapsing role at Charles Edward Brooke as children don't go there.  So this demand for places argument does need to be addressed.

KB: Southwark also has a massive shortage of places. In actual fact, it's about 800 pupils who don't stay in Lambeth for school. That's because some of them choose to leave the borough. This year, there were 452 year 6 pupils who did not get a place at a Lambeth School.

Cllr Harrison: No, every young person who applied for a place in a Lambeth secondary school got a place.

KB: That's not true.

Cllr Harrison: That is true.

KB: That's not true.

Cllr Harrison: That is true.

KB: If you look at the figures, that just isn't true.

[I'd be intrigued to hear from both sides about which figures were used to determine whether all Lambeth year 6 pupils were given a place at a Lambeth School.  In the previous article in the Telegraph, Birbalsingh claimed 433 students Year 6 didn't get places, so I'm concerned about a lack of consistency in the way the figures are being measured.  Feel free to leave both sets of figures in the comments for further analysis so I can help readers with no educational background].

Cost of site and risk to local schools of enforced government purchase
Cllr Steven Morgan (Princes Ward):  You mentioned that bidding for the former Lilian Baylis site is closed but should [the government] have had a chance to bid, would they have been able to match the best bid?  As we understand it, the government's got a fund of about £50 million to buy sites and refurbish. Assuming £2.5 million were allocated per site and land prices are high in inner cities (where there's demand), they won't be able to build more than 20 schools... As a council, we're worried that they will approach us and won't pay market rate for the site, and will want a big discount.  The problem with that is that the money for the site is going to go back into education to the capital programmes for Lambeth schools. It will be other schools losing out if the government buys that site for cheap.  Can you confirm the government would pay market value for the site?  

KB: All I know is what partnership for schools told me.  The £2 million mark didn't seem unreasonable to them.  I can't say how much money is involved.  I don't know that kind of detail.  I am guessing that no more than 30 free schools will end up being passed through for 2012.  I gather there were 291 applications, but I suspect the vast majority get through the application process. Ppartnership For Schools are keen on talking to the council about the site.

[I already speculated in part 1 that I think the site is worth well over £8 million.  And I'm pretty sure repairing it will cost £10 million, so it may be that the site is unusable (it's said to be riddled with aesbestos).  But, politically, this will be very interesting...]

Council option to extend bidding time by 6 weeks to allow Michaela Free School to bid?
Michael Poole-Wilson (local Conservative candidate in 2010): 'My question is directed to Cllr Steven Morgan re. achieving market rate for the former Lilian Baylis Site.  Would you be prepared to postpone the tender process to the autumn so that you could see whether funding could be matched, or is it an academic question because you're going to give the site to the highest bidder before September.

Cllr Steven Morgan: I'd be happy to ask Steve Reed, leader of Lambeth to delay, if you can get Michael Gove to announce that he'll pay market rates for all sites they wish to buy tomorrow morning.

Michael Poole-Wilson (local Conservative candidate in 2010):  The site has been sat there, unsold for 5 or 6 years, so we're saying a few months more won't make a difference

Cllr Mark Harrison: It make a big difference because we need to realise the saving in year. We have budgeted to dispose of that site and bring in capital receipt which is going to be invested into the capital programme in the rest of Lambeth schools.

[Of course, it is quite believable, given the cost savings Lambeth and other local authorities need to find, that 6 weeks could make a difference (but it looks like a weak argument, given the amount of time the site has sat empty).  However (and this is a huge problem), it's not at all clear that Lambeth can sell in this financial year given (see below) because it appears they might need permission from the Secretary of State to sell the site.  And it's fairly obvious to most people that Michaela Free School has several well-positioned "friends".  I see a huge political row brewing here...  I reckon Lambeth will be trying to rush through the bidding process now, but it might make no difference if the Secretary of State refuses permission to sell!]

Question of importance of distance between student and school
KB: ...We want to help children to travel as little as possible.  If Lambeth has a school site in the south of the borough, then we'd like to consider it.  But there are no potential schools sites.  If you have a choice between a school in the north of the borough or no school at all, it seems crazy to choose no school at all.
Anna Tapsell:  My children were young in the days of the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA).  We didn't feel strongly about sending our children to school in Lambeth.  There was a lot to be said for the ILEA system because it gave parents an enormous amount of choice.  There is a history to all of this, which is not about neglect or good work, but what was left when the ILEA was disbanded.
View from woman at back of audience:  'We've gotten you to accept the need for places is at the south of the borough.  Actually, travelling from Streatham to here is a lot further than travelling out of borough to the nearest school.  When my kids went to school, the local Kennington primary schools were feeder schools for Pimlico school.  I don't see any problem with that.  I'd actually much rather they did that than had to travel down to Streatham for school, which is what you're expecting Streatham parents to do.' 

Dasiy (Michaela steering commitee member):  ' Crossing a borough boundary is not necessarily the be all and end all.   All I would say is that speaking to a lot of parents on the door step, for some of them, it isn't just that they live across from a borough boundary that happens to be on their street.  Some of them do feel that they're sending their children a very long way, to Battersea, to Croydon...'

Katharine Birbalsingh's relationship with teaching unions
Qn from young male with education background: Will you carry over your antagonistic/abusive relationship with the teaching unions into your management of the school?  Would you  continue to write in the national press about the unions and managing a school...?

KB:  I'm obviously entitled to hold opinions...  I don't know if what you say is accurate.  But you're entitled to your opinion.  I haven't really considered continuing writing yet.  That's way off in the future...

Answer from young male with education background: KB's views seem to have been imported from the American free school system... the idea that unions eer evil, and one of the reasons why schools are so awful.  I think that is a worrying attitude to take towards organised teachers.  Teachers' means of organisation is a means of ensuring the school is accountable, that their livelihoods and work isn't put at risk... 

Daisy (steering commitee member): I have been a union rep.  I do think unions have a role to play in education and in wider society.  One of the thing that attracted me, as a rank and file classroom teacher, to someone like KB is the support she gives to teachers facing the daily problems that teachers face in schools.  I can't answer about the national press... My perspective would also be that I'm not sure the unions treated KB very well either.

Suitability of former Lilian Baylis site
Anna Tapsell: Is the listing something that also affects the way in which any developer will look at it?
Cllr Mark Harrison: Yes. being listed dramatically reduces what you can do with the site.  The reason the Lilian Baylis moved is because the school building is not really suitable for a modern secondary school.

The future, given the closure of the site bidding process
Woman from team-pro-Michaela:  I'm a former chair of governors at a primary school, and this evening, I was planning to bring a parent-govenor with me... We had a big black plastic bag full of letters of support for this free school idea.  People couldn't care less about location of the school.  I live inthe centre of Brixton, and a lot of local children are going to Wimbledon.  The distance makes no difference whatsoever to us.  We just want to see something new.  We've seen a correlation between excluded children and ending up in crime.  We can get the support from the community.  We're not representing any particular political party.  We haven't got an axe to grind.  Why can't we give her the chance?  But what happens in a situation where Lambeth appear to have put the siteup for sale?

KB: Unfortunately, the councillors who are here seem to be confirming that they plan on making sure it's gone to developers before 6 weeks are through... I think it's a great shame.

David Boardman (Kennington Association Planning Forum):  The Deparment for Education are normally pretty sticky-fingered when it comes to educational land, and normally you need the Secretary of State's consent if you are to treat land as surplus to educational requirements.  Has the Sec of State consented to the sale of the site?  Has it been declared surplus to educational requirements?  

Cllr Mark Harrison:  Not to my knowledge.  And obviously that's an issue. As far as we're concerned, it is surplus to educational requirements.  It's a technical question.
Response from David Boardman: If you haven't an appropriate, necessary consent, then anybody can make representation to the Secretary of State to say, "wait a bit please"

Cllr Mark Harrison: That it has consequences for the rest of Lambeth schools that require investment from our capital programme.

Summing up
Anna Tapsell:  Thanks to all for coming.  The Kemnnington Association is a mixture of individuals with different views.  We'll go away and talk about this.  We learned a lot from you coming, so thank you to everybody for coming.  


Anonymous said...

Hi Lurker, If I didn't say 'market rate', I meant to (rather than market rent)!

[You may have mentioned it on your other post but it's worth noting that turn-out was probably about 15 people?]

M Poole-Wilson

SE11_lurker said...

Well, it's gratifying to know that somebody read all of that! Probably you did say market rate. I've amended.

There were definitely 20 people present that I can recall and picture. I think the final count would have been about 25, as the woman who claimed she could have brought with her a large black bin bag came in late... And there were a lot of hecklers on the back row.

Ed Jones said...

If Kate Hoey supports the free school plan, it's a great pity that she isn't able to/prepared to exert more influence over the Labour councillors who are blocking this. If she recognises it's the right thing to do she should surely be doing more to support it.

Anonymous said...

Pretty depressing to read the opposition to this. None of it is about what is best for the area, but all about these people putting their own political prejudices ahead of what is best for the young people of the area.

SE11 Lurker said...

@Anon I'm afraid to say that I tend to distrust anonymous comments on here, especially on such a hot topic. The school may be a good thing for the area, but not if it causes intake to plunge at the other schools such that they are hard to sustain.

Megan Crawford said...

Really interesting blog- thanks! It is a bit depressing that high profile people don't know what the legislation is already in place e.g re extended day, our school has done this before it was even a foundation school (and it is now an academy). Time for someone to realise how useful ILEA was in terms of places?

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