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Downhills Primary School: now that’s what I call consultation

March 16, 2012

Just a quick post to try to glean information and opinion as much as anything else (if any one cares to comment).

The Education Secretary, Michael Gove has just sacked the entire governing body of a school. He can do that apparently. It’s not common for a Secretary of State to intervene so decisively but there you go. These are strange times.

The school in question is Downhills Primary School in North London, deemed ‘failing’ and proposed for conversion to an academy under the leadership of the Harris Foundation. Now failing or not the academy proposal has proved controversial it seems and not everyone connected with the school is happy. Certainly the hundreds of parent who attended a meeting in January and there local MP, former pupil David Lammy, were against the idea.

Gove dismissed them. The opponents of academies, he said, were ‘Trots’, further claiming that they were linked to the Socialist Workers Party, who are no doubt delighted to discover they have so much influence. Although I can’t help but feel that accusing someone or some group of being ‘linked’ to the SWP is like playing six degrees of separation, divided by 2. There is a tendency to mistake the SWP’s capacity to make placards for political influence.

Whatever. Here’s the best bit. Having simply removed the troublesome board of governers at Downhills, Gove has now put in place an ‘interim executive board’ of hand-picked luminaries – Les Walton, the chairman of the the Young People’s Learning Agency; the head of the Harris Federation, Dr Dan Moyniham and its primary director, Robin Bosher, and Dame Sylvia Morris.

So that’s a bod from an organisation that funds academies and two others from Harris, the organisation that wants to take over Downhills. So with all his lackies and benefactors in place Gove can now confidently move to the consultation process.

I claim no expertise here. So I would ask this: is it just me or does this stink?

By the way, apparently the Harris Federation runs 13 academies in south London and is sponsored by Conservative peer Lord Harris, whose Carpetright store was burned down by looters during the riots last August. Fancy.

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. charliemcmenamin permalink
    March 16, 2012 10:13 am

    Background reading:
    1. The local Left view.

    2. The general politics behind Goveism

  2. Mikey permalink
    March 16, 2012 1:04 pm

    When I tried to contact Harris Federation to ask if they thought everybody who opposes academy formation was a Trot / SWP member, I discovered they require your entire contact details, including physical address. Now why would they need all that? You don’t.

    I often enquire of organisations why they appear to take their particular stand – whether against old fashioned schools, or teaching unions (still waiting for Sir Michael to come back on that), or legal aid – or what threats they made to airlines that carry animals, or whatever, and I often find they want to know who you are without reciprocating the trust.

    It’s rather like those telesales people who trump every insulation measure you’ve taken, and won’t give you their number so you can complain of how frequently they ring.

    Strange: what would an orgnaisation have to fear from a solitary individual who cares about free and fair expression of the truth?

  3. Rab permalink*
    March 16, 2012 3:31 pm

    Welcome Mikey,
    Do you know what the whole affair reminds me of? Ironically, Alan Bleasedale’s television drama, GBH, about a duplicitous left-wing council leader (a character, in part, inspired by Liverpool and Militant’s Derek Hatton, aparently). As the leader sets about getting everything his own way he basically evicts the council’s education chairman from his office and replaces him with a ill-qualified lackey.

    The thing is, Mickey, I doubt you’re a solitary individual. I bet there are others asking questions. I hope so anyway.

    • Mikey permalink
      March 17, 2012 2:32 pm

      Hello Rab,

      Thanks; that’s a friendly welcome compare with some I’ve had……………

      Try looking up:

      1) Tim Field Tom Long NUT Oxford Council Oxbow and

      2) Maureen MacGoldrick Brent Council on the web.

      ALL large organisations require (from our point of view) close scrutiny, and deserve (ditto) a periodic kick.

      I missed out on the Alan Bleasdale thing you mentioned: my loss.

      Don’t let the b*****s grind you down

      Mikey

  4. charliemcmenamin permalink
    March 17, 2012 8:11 pm

    OK: I’ve now read every single Inspection report for Downhills on the Ofsted site, and also had a quiet word with senior-ish folk in education in other Boroughs.

    It is clear that this is a school with long-standing problems: it has been in and out of special measures for a decade. There is, it is true, a interesting difference between the report dating from autumn 2011 when it was claimed things were being put right at a ‘satisfactory’ pace, and the Jan 2012 judgement when it was found to be comprehensively inadequate. Same lead inspector giving both judgements, I note.

    But let’s leave the specific case aside as, without a close-up knowledge of the school, it is almost impertinent to make professional judgements. Let’s acknowledge the general point that, yes, sometimes particular public services may fail. There is nothing in any left-wing principle that I’ve ever seen which says that, on occasion, a change of management might not be the appropriate response to such a situation. ( Which, just to repeat, is not what I’m suggesting happened at Downhills: I’m just not lose enough to judge).

    But that’s not the same at all as suggesting that the wishes of the parents or Governing Body should be overridden. Indeed, it seems almost incredible that one should address the prospect of putting right a failing school without attempting to do so in partnership with these people.

    It seems Gove et all have addressed an apparent managerial failure with an immediate political tactic by taking the school out of the control of the local authority and under the wing of central government authority, using the Harris Foundation with it’s ‘not-for -profit-but private-sector-orientated’ ethos as their catspaw.

  5. Rab permalink*
    March 18, 2012 10:01 am

    Charlie and Mikey,
    Both of you are obviously much more diligent than me. I read a BBC news report and shift to incandescent, my default position when it comes to Gove.

    i don’t want to defend failure but Gove’s behaviour looks like an example of the post-democratic world we’re living in… of which you will be able to read more here soon.

    • Mikey permalink
      March 19, 2012 2:27 pm

      Rab,

      I am only diligent because, as an ex TU activist, I know how people lie and conceal, and you have to dig.
      Gove is a person who calls his perceived enemies nasty little names (and refuses to debate this – I was told that “strict Parliamentary Rules” mean I cannot take him to task for calling me anything, even though I was never actually asked my opinion, and am not allowed the right of reply). If you are opposed to academies you are a “trot”, and if it’s HS2 you don’t like, you are a “rich minority nimby Luddite” . By the way, the latter came first from MP Evans of N Cheshire, and our dear minster of education could not improve on it.

      Repetition of a cliche!!! My English teacher would have screamed!

      Gove has even been warned to moderate his language towards “opponents” – but where is the sanction? This is not just post democracy, it’s post Christian in the way that the Tory Party at prayer always professed (pretended?) to be Christian.

      I think Charlie hits the spot here; we used to have a chant of “we have proper policies, so let managers manage”, but 2 decades of proper policies failed to make us all vote Tory (or approve of Human Resources), so we are to be chastised with a political stick. (We have had antibullying policies in response to law, in that time, but bullies are still with us.)

      One thing about Gove and similar beings interests me: that they reach such positions of power without any nous. It’s been a while, but this country has a series of insurrections under its belt, and I dread to think how little margin remains before a sizeable minority feel they have nothing to lose – without wealth, security, representation or respect from the state. Sensible polticians back off from stabbing their oppononents to the hilt with idealogical policies, but these are not sensible times.

      Regarding this school, the feelings of those parents who would be interviewed suggest that the school will be changed in spite of their wishes, not with consent – of course, we democrats would want to see a free and fair poll, following which there would be no argumant (unless it’s a tie). But Gove only knows that he’s got the power – so he does it because he can.

      Failure is apparent in education in the UK (from my experience of educating science undergraduates from around the world) but I don’t see how it is caused by the politics of teachers, administrators, cooks, technicians and caretakers. The boring repetition stuff – letters and their sounds, times tables (which Blunkett infamously flunked), writing slowly by hand etc were de-emphasised, sure, and, beleive me, Uk students show the lack. But an intelligent repsonse would be to try again in an improved way, rather than (like Bush after Sept 11th) use the situation to justify going to a full scale war against – well everbody other than Govites, it seems.

      I fear he has read the following saying and taken it to heart, but without reading the second line:

      A good commander makes decisions
      A great commander makes good decisions.

      Yours

  6. March 18, 2012 4:39 pm

    thanks Rob. I’ve posted a link at Left alternatives. it good to expose the hollowness of the choice agenda

  7. Mikey permalink
    March 27, 2012 10:20 pm

    It’s late Tuesday and I have just seen that a parent at the school is seeking judicial review of Gove’s decision. The full ramifications don’t just dance up and introduce thmselves to (non legally qualified) me, but I have 2 initial thoughts.

    Suppose she loses and Gove’s decision to convert the school, without any meaningful consultation (let alone a vote) with parents; the Tories’ vow to wrest control over schools from nasty boo hiss local authorities stands revealed as a cover story for taking them over themselves and running them direct via hand picked stooges. And why would they want to do that?

    Suppose Gove’s wishes are overturned; he gets a bloody nose, will probably find a swearword to describe judges he has not bribed (to go with Trots), and will have to slink away and plot to change another law.

    Either way he looks a prat.

    Anyway, that’s how it looks to me at 11.12 h – just a pantomime played out over the people’s heads, when education is at stake. To have started on this course at all, whichever way it goes now, is to admit that the lives of real people are unimportant to Gove and his friends. They want not education but just training.

    Just a few thoughts. Mikey

    • Mikey permalink
      March 28, 2012 10:33 am

      Late night gibberish……….my complete second para should read:

      Suppose she loses and Gove’s decision to convert the school, without any meaningful consultation (let alone a vote) with parents INSERT [goes ahead] ; the Tories’ vow to wrest control over schools from nasty boo hiss local authorities stands revealed as a cover story for taking them over themselves and running them direct via hand picked stooges. And why would they want to do that?

  8. John O'Farrell permalink
    March 28, 2012 9:26 pm

    This is a good backgrounder to Gove and his internationalist comrades, or GERM…
    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/mar/22/how-and-how-not-improve-schools/

    I was glad to see this, the most interesting collatoral of hackgate:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/feb/26/schools-crusade-gove-murdoch

    “…But Gove returned to his pro-Murdoch theme last week, publicly attacking the Leveson inquiry, set up in the wake of News International’s misdeeds, as a threat to press freedom. “Whenever anyone sets up a new newspaper – as Rupert Murdoch has with the Sun on Sunday – they should be applauded and not criticised,” he said.

    It was a reminder of the extraordinarily close links that still exist between publishing tycoon and Tory politician. One of Murdoch’s long-term projects is what he calls a “revolutionary and profitable” move by his media companies into online education. Gove would be a key figure in any attempt to penetrate the British schools market.

    The education secretary meets Murdoch frequently and is an enthusiastic backer of the ideas of Joel Klein, the head of Murdoch’s new education division. Within a week of his promotion in 2010, the minister was at dinner with Murdoch, according to officially released details of meetings…”

    • Mikey permalink
      March 30, 2012 11:38 am

      John,

      You must be physic to answer my paragraph so well. How can we get this onto ALL the front pages?

      Just musing, now, you understatnd: I see there is evidience of organised crime getting private investigators to find bent coppers willing to open – and sometimes edit – criminal records for them. One after another, the “sectors” fail our trust under scrutiny. Maybe only some moral giant who knows the right thing to do can save us – and could it be? And what kind of government??? And who needs to have history taught them, anyway?

      What an old cynic I am.

      Mikey

  9. Rab permalink*
    March 30, 2012 8:44 pm

    Sorry all for not getting back sooner. I’ve been away, working.

    Welcome, John. The notion of Murdoch involved in education makes my blood run cold. The notion that this might be facilitated by Gove and the Tories confirms me in my suspicion that he and they are the vilest of shites.

    • Mikey permalink
      April 6, 2012 4:30 pm

      Hi Rab,

      I can’t help myslef – I’ve been doing some more digging.

      I put it to the The Man at OfStEd that he seemed to have an anti union stance, strangely like that of The Minister, I eventually received a “reply” from The Private Office. This did not answer my point, but made the usual, who-could-possibly-disagree statements about “standards” etc.

      My response was that attacking teacher’s only organised defence against bullying by seniors and by government is calculated to drive teachers out of the profession* – not a great result.

      Awaiting the next exciting episode………………………

      Mikey

      *ps this judgement is based on the fallout from the Tim Field affair, in which he capitualted in the face of threatened libel action when he stated that junior teachers were not getting proper representation in bullying cases

      Try typing in: Tim Field NUT Oxbow Libel Tom Long Dick Boland John Mitchell
      Oxford Mail

      It’s an “interesting” story

  10. March 31, 2012 2:46 am

    Has anyone had a good look at Michael Gove lately? I mean a really, really good look? And has anyone wasted five minutes of their short, valuable lives to listen to his pseudo plummy voice? His fatuous sincerity? His stupid mannerism? And if he was in your playground, wouldn’t you just round up the lads, drag him behind the toilets and kick his stupid head in?

    Enough said.

  11. Rab permalink*
    March 31, 2012 8:05 am

    I’ve added a picture to the post that captures Gove. Thanks to Charlie for passing it onto me.

  12. John O'Farrell permalink
    April 26, 2012 1:24 pm

    Update from Leveson:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/apr/25/rupert-murdoch-michael-gove-free-schools

    “Murdoch disclosed that in May last year. a representative of News International exchanged emails with two members of staff at the Department for Education, asking about whether the Sun and Times publisher might apply to set up a free school and what the deadline would be. Previously, the company had expressed an interest in helping to finance an academy school.

    Free schools were a key part of the 2010 Conservative election manifesto, allowing parents, teachers and charities to set up their own “big society” schools. The first 24 opened last September.

    According to the statement, Murdoch said: “I understand that the [free school] idea was not progressed any further. I believe that we had planned to discuss Nl’s interest in supporting a school with Mr Gove at a breakfast meeting in May 2011 but do not recall if we reached that topic.”

    James Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks, then News International chairman and chief executive, respectively, and James Harding, editor of The Times, were also at this breakfast meeting last May. The statement says the meeting was “devoted to education reform”…

    …”The DfE said that three contacts between NI and Gove in 2010 were “arranged by the department and related to the official business of the department”. These were a dinner with Murdoch, Brooks and Gove on 17 June 2010, a discussion between Klein, Gove and others in September the same year and the academy site visit in November.

    In response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the department said: “Due to the nature of these meetings (two meals and one site visit), we did not produce a formal record of the meetings, and following a search of the department’s paper and email records, I can confirm that the department does not hold records of any notes produced during or after the meetings.”

    See also:

    http://www.levesoninquiry.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Witness-Statement-of-Keith-Rupert-Murdoch2.pdf (Para. 40, page 10)

    …and…
    http://www.education.gov.uk/aboutdfe/departmentalinformation/transparency/b0065263/ministers-quarterly-returns/april-2011-to-june-2011
    ( the meetings are listed here: http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/m/michael%20gove%20media%20meetings%20may%202010%20%20%20july%202011.pdf.

    Note that they are listed a meetings with media, from which could arise the impression that these are all press briefings. Then you reach January 25-28, 2011. Keep scrolling. Two ‘dinner and general discussion’ dates with Rupert in the space of ten days in June 2011. A slew of meetings with Brooks and Klein, not news and political editors, from NewsCorp (let alone Ed Corrs).
    Jeremy Hunt is a distraction. This is the real meat (but what would I know about journalism?)

    • Rab permalink*
      April 28, 2012 7:31 am

      John, This is fascinating The glimpse into the heart of how political influence works is alarming but the idea that Murdoch and NI is fit to run a school is simultaneously hysterically funny and terrifying. Many thanks for the links.

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