Save our community schools

Sarah Barton's picture
 13
I am a parent in Birmingham with 3 school age children. I am horrified by the rapid privatisation of our state schools via the academies and free schools programme. I was dismayed to find that consultation was to be no more than a tick-box exercise when my daughter's school announced in May 2011 that it wanted to convert. I fought a campaign to save that school and won - for the time-being at least. Now I am campaigning more widely for open and democratic consultation on school change in Birmingham. My campaign group is called Ask Parents First.
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Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 14/05/2012 - 09:21

Local Birmingham MP, Richard Burden, condemns the enforced academy conversion programme in Birmingham here:

http://www.karmadillo.co.uk/b31/?p=6842

And here is a link to Sarah's campaign:

http://askparentsfirst.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/126/

There is also a Facebook campaign:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Alliance-Against-Birmingham-Academies/1350...

Sarah Barton's picture
Tue, 15/05/2012 - 17:48

Thanks for posting the links!

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 14/05/2012 - 19:16

Good luck with your campaign Sarah.

eJD8owE1's picture
Tue, 15/05/2012 - 08:32

I think there are two hares running in parallel here.

Without checking, I assume that Sarah's school is Bournville. There the governing body initiated the academy conversion and were defeated by a well-run campaign by staff, parents and local politicians. Governors didn't resign, but I suspect that the full governing meeting after the decision to withdraw the application wasn't a barrel of laughs. Bournville is a popular, over-subscribed with superb results, consistently strong Ofted reports and (so far as one can tell from outside) an excellent current leadership team that continues the good work done by the previous head (who has, bravely, taken on Shenley Court).

The schools that are being mentioned as subject to potentially forced conversions, over the heads of governors, are a rather more mixed bag.

For example, Northfield Manor is suffering from the ageing of the population around it and has an surprisingly high level of FSM and SEN for a school located in the leafy suburbs. It was built in the early 1960s when a huge amount of housing was built, but such is the attraction of the Bournville Village Trust that a huge proportion of the residents (I'd guess about 40%) are people who bought the houses from new or have moved within the immediate area since buying a similar house new. Such local residents as have children are gravitating towards the outstanding Green Meadow, so Northfield Manor's catchment distance is pushing outward, which is a vicious circle.

There are eight hundred primary school places in a half mile circle. There simply aren't 800 local children to fill two schools. For all sorts of contingent reasons (for example, the presence of Manor Park distorts the circle around Northfield Manor) one of them has become the "local" school and the other has become the high-turnover, coming from a distance school. One gets the impression that the staff are doing fantastic work, but there's a fundamental problem: the school's in the wrong place now, surrounded by elderly people, and there are too many places in the immediate neighbourhood. I don't think Academy status is the answer, but _something_ has to be done, as otherwise you're going to have a school which is a school or last resort from people over a wide area of the city, which does no-one any good.

The same applies, mutatis mutandis, to Colmers Farm Junior and West Heath. They're in the shadow of Longbridge, a lot of people are either leaving the area or remaining as retirees, very few people of child-rearing age are moving into the area because there are no jobs, and there is increasing deprivation. The schools just don't have enough local children, because they were built to support large housing developments (post-war social housing for "The Austin") which were then where the baby boom happened, but now aren't.

Birmingham has huge pressure on school places in areas with a large BME population, which is young and tending to have children. King's Heath, Bordesley Green, Balsall Heath: there's a desperate shortage of school places and all sorts of wild schemes to provide them. But there's no such pressure in B29 and B31, indeed quite the opposite --- schools where you would have had to find God in a big way to get a place from even half a mile away, such as St Lawrence, are now admitting on a much wider basis. That gives parents more choice, and means that what were formerly small differences are being magnified by the effect of supportive parents opting to colonise one school from their options.

To re-iterate, Academy status is neither the point nor the answer. But carrying on as things are isn't either, and governors are going to have to confront hard truths about what their schools exist to do. The demographics of south Birmingham are changing violently, and a lot of schools built in the 1950s and 1960s are now in completely the wrong place.

The same's happening to secondaries; leaving aside the effect of its trip into special measures, it's worth remembering that Shenley Court was an eleven form intake school for much of the 1970s, rising to fourteen forms after the closure of Ilmington school in the early 1980s. It's now six form intake, and other local schools have most certainly not expanded by a total of between five and eight forms (indeed, several of them have reduced in intake, such as Dame Elizabeth Cadbury). There simply aren't the children, and the effects of that are a real challenge to education policy in Birmingham.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 15/05/2012 - 10:14

eJD8owE1 - thanks for the background information. Schools being in the wrong place because of changing demographics is a problem which is almost impossible to solve. However, one thing is clear - enforced academy conversion is not the answer. The question is, therefore, why is the Government trying so desperately hard to force conversion through?

Sarah Barton's picture
Tue, 15/05/2012 - 17:56

Probably because academy status would 'allow the market to decide' as different sponsors compete with each other. Some will become commercially unviable and will fail. It will be devastating to the school communities concerned. But to be honest, I don't think the DfE will have looked at the demographic situation in S Birmingham, but I think this would be their answer if they had. Heartless.

eJD8owE1's picture
Tue, 15/05/2012 - 19:34

It may be "Heartless" to allow schools to close, but what do you propose as the alternative?

Take Northfield Manor. It's a two-form intake J&I, built with plenty of big classrooms and two halls, in lots of lovely grounds. It has a capacity of 420. In January 2011 it had 309 on roll, up from 275 the previous year. Jervoise (also on the rumoured list) has a capacity of 360, but has 212 pupils. There's 250 surplus places (ie, more than a complete class per year) right there, between those two schools alone. Although some of the other schools on the BVT are full, there are others that aren't, and a quick scan indicates that there are at least 300 surplus primary places on the estate. The population on the BVT is ageing and the birthrate is falling even amongst those who younger, so that situation isn't going to get any better for a generation, at least.

Looking slightly further afield there are 80 spare places at West Heath (another on the rumoured list), 120 at Trescott, 55 at Wychall, 180 at Cofton, 70 at Fairway, about 180 at the two Rednal Hill schools, 90 at Reaside, the list goes on. There's easily a thousand spare primary places within that very narrow slice of SW Birmingham (essentially, the one mile corridor along the A38 I could quickly figure out the postcodes for).

Meanwhile, you can compile a similar list of schools packed to the gunwales, running at or beyond capacity, with waiting lists and complex admission criteria, often within a few hundred yards of the schools with spare spaces. There are all sorts of detailed reasons, some good, some bad, for that, but none of the schools with spaces are bad schools (some, indeed, are excellent). The point is that when there are more places than children, people flock to some schools other than others for small reasons, and that becomes a virtuous circle that provides larger reasons for following cohorts. The fundamental problem is that there aren't enough children.

Which is more heartless: closing or radically re-organising schools, or leaving them to turn into ghost schools, with half the planned admission number rattling around in a school built for far more?

Sarah Barton's picture
Fri, 15/06/2012 - 18:46

What I think is heartless is the 'let the market decide' approach that is inherent in the Govt's academy programme. This is not the 'radical re-organisation' that might well be required. This is more like cock-fight.

I'm not so sure the demographics are quite as bleak as you suggest. I am aware that there was a dip in the birthrate for a 3 year period in the SW of the city and that this cohort is currently going through the school system causing havoc with school budgets, but I understood that birthrates then recover. According to the most recent OFSTED for Northfield Manor ''pupil numbers have increased as a result of the high inward mobility of families moving into the local area'' to such an extent that it has hampered the school's efforts at raising achievemnet as fast as expected.


Sarah Barton's picture
Tue, 15/05/2012 - 17:46

Thanks everyone for your informative comments. My daughter's school is indeed Bournville, and the second 'hare' is indeed forced primary academies as I set up the Ask Parents First group largely in response to that threat. There are at least 30 and perhaps as many as 80 Primary schools across the city being forced or bullied into accepting academy status. The information about the demographics of S Birmingham is really interesting - thanks. There are plans to hold a Birmingham School Conference in June. If anyone with particular insight or interest in Birmingham education would like to be a part of the planning for this, please email me at askparentsfirst.hotmail.co.uk - there is a planning meeting this Monday 21 May. I would just add as an aside that we got very little support from our local politicians for the Bournville campaign (I wouldn't want them taking credit where none is due!) - but the picture does seem to be panning out differently for the Ask Parents First campaign.

Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 15/05/2012 - 18:26

It is very interesting to see so many parent groups springing up with clear views of how they want their local schools to develop. Also ironic that the government stood on a manifesto of promising parents the "freedom" to set up the sorts of schools they want and has found itself coercing people to do what they don't want. The hypocrisy of Gove's position now is breathtaking!

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 15/05/2012 - 19:45

Good to see that this hypocrisy is being challenged up and down the country by ordinary people who are realising that the rhetoric Gove and the media has fed them is empty. It's not just the SWP, Trots and NUT then! Instead of looking for non-existent reds under the bed, Gove needs to recognise that the moderate electorate is getting fed up with the hyperbole. But then the coalition of both Tories and Lib Dems are "tunnel visioning" into a dark hole as they ignore the condemnation of the British people who gave them a big thumbs down in the local elections!

Sarah Barton's picture
Tue, 15/05/2012 - 17:48

Sorry - mis-typed the email address - askparentsfirst@hotmail.co.uk

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