Things are beginning to look grim for the future of Roke Primary, where parents, governors and staff fear that the public asset of the school, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, is about to be handed over by education secretary Michael Gove to a Conservative party donor – despite Roke being neither a failing school nor on special measures.
On Friday, just before the half-term, officials from the Harris Federation turned up to measure up Roke and count its technical equipment, just like home-buyers measuring up for new curtains before they move in.
Except that Harris won’t have to pay a penny to take over the school.
The Harris Federation has also issued some glossy brochures to Roke parents. It is an interesting approach by the Department for Education to “public consultation”: allowing the body that is supposed to be taking over the school to run the consultation.
“It’s not much like a consultation at all,” said one parent from the Kenley primary, “it’s more like a sales brochure, with information about what Harris intends to do once they take over.”
Appeals to the local MP, the absentee Lord Bletchingley, have proved useless (no surprise there), while an approach to the Conservative MP in neighbouring Croydon Central, Gavin Barwell, who happens to be Gove’s PPS at Westminster, met with the lame excuse that he can do little because “I’m just a bag-carrier”.
That’s an unusual attitude from someone who normally wades in, often uninvited, on all sorts of matters in Croydon South and Croydon North when it might be expedient to his political career.
The not-so-hidden agenda in all this is that Harris desperately needs a half-decent primary school to shore up the intake at its Harris Academy Purley – Haling Manor as was. And Gove, Barwell and others have willingly obliged, putting political dogma and donations ahead of the interests of Croydon children.
Because despite all the rhetoric from Gove, the former Murdoch newspaper hack, Harris academies have a pretty lacklustre record when it comes to exam results.
Harris academies have two basic techniques to “improve” educational standards:
1, exclude pupils in the bottom 25 per cent of achievement, or who perhaps have English as a second-language, or have other issues with social deprivation. This is particularly effective, since it eliminates their results from any league table assessments. It does nothing for the education and life chances of a vast swathe of our teenagers, however.
2, Get as many pupils in the school as possible to take empty qualifications, things like BTecs in frisbee throwing, especially those “equivalents”, certificates that count for two, three or even four GCSEs, because this helps bolster the academy’s rating on the league tables. What it does not do is equip those youngsters with the sort of meaningful or useful qualifications that they can present to potential employers.
For an education minister who is so determined to drag education back to the 1950s, and who places such great store in applying high “standards” in our schools, the reality is that Gove’s approach to academies is based on double standards, putting public assets into private hands and writing off the futures of thousands of youngsters.
All the statistics reproduced below were taken from Department for Education (and its predecessor) or Croydon Council’s websites, and shows that Harris academies in Croydon are far less successful than is often presented.
Take Harris at Crystal Palace as an example: in 2009-2010, the only year for which figures are available, they were the fifth highest for school exclusions.
Take Harris South Norwood as another example. In 2011, 75 per cent of pupils attained five or more A-C GCSEs or equivalents, including maths and English – the third best of all Croydon’s state schools.
But if you take the “equivalents”, that is the non-GCSE qualifications, out of the results, then only 46 per cent of pupils achieved the magic goal of five or more GCSEs at A to C grade, seeing the academy plummet to 15th of Croydon’s 22 state schools. Hardly a paragon of achievement after all.
The South Norwood school roll makes for worrying reading, too. At a school where the yearly intake should be around 200, at the end of Key Stage 4 (for 14 to 16-year-olds, those sitting GCSEs), for the years 2008, 2009 and 2010, there were only 105, 91 and 95 pupils. In a borough with a chronic lack of school places, where had all the Harris Academy’s pupils gone?
In 2009-2010, South Norwood had the highest number of permanent exclusions in Croydon.
When Harris took over Haling Manor, as shown by the statistics, it inherited the most rapidly improving school in Croydon. A school that had such a bad reputation that in 1995 it was half-empty had, by 2008, become over-subscribed.
From a dire low of 16 per cent of pupils achieving five A to C grades at GCSE in 2002, by 2009 that figure had risen steadily to 79 per cent. In 2008, Haling Manor had risen to eighth best among Croydon’s state schools and academies.
Using the government’s own measure of CVA – contextual value added – to follow the improvement a school had managed to achieve with a pupil’s grades through their career, Haling Manor went from 980.9 in 2005 to 1037.2 by 2009 – among the top 3 per cent in the whole of England, and the second best in Croydon. It is also the sort of improvement in performance that most Harris academies can only dream about attaining.
But someone, somewhere, decided that none of this was good enough, and in September 2009 brought in the Harris Federation to take over the school on Pampisford Road, offering a funding agreement in which £18 million of public money was put up, alongside not a penny from Harris.
Since May 2010, when the Conservatives did not win the General Election and Gove was installed as education secretary, according to a government website article, sponsors have not been required to make any financial contribution to the establishment of an academy, and are not required to establish or support an endowment fund either.
Do Kenley tax-payers support giving Roke School to a millionaire carpet salesman, or would they rather that public money be used for providing appropriate educational resources for the children of Croydon?
Sadly, that seems to be an entirely rhetorical question, as Gove appears determined to hand our money – and the education of our children – to his cronies and donors.
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- Parents vent fury after Croydon school is absorbed by academy chain (guardian.co.uk)
- Michael Gove’s humiliating climbdown on GCSEs cheered by arts leaders (standard.co.uk)