If I had a 'fiver' for each time I've heard inaccuracies about how a local state school is doing, I'd be a lot better off than I am!

Tracy Hannigan's picture
.....And I'd give it to my local primary to combat these ill informed yet dangerous attitudes.

There seems to be a general feeling that state schools are second best; they are where you go if you can't afford to do otherwise, certainly not a place you'd send your children to if you had a different choice and/or really valued their education. There is not enough celebration of all of the various things that our local state schools bring to the education and life experience of children (and their parents!). Good education is what people feel entitled to - so when they get it, there is no celebration. If they feel they are not getting it, they groan and it is the groans that remain in the air even if they are a minority.

My case in point is Addison Primary School. The fuel for Rivendale Free School doesn't seem to be in the hard numbers - there is already surplus capacity locally and on the demand front they told supporters recently there were 22 people interested. This is not heavy support. Part of the perception of 'need' for a school like this seems to be that they are new, different, glossy and therefore somehow better than the state school next door. They have a £24K marketing budget to create this vision of a 'need' and then aim to try to fill it.

Addison has come incredibly far in the last couple of years, but in some eyes the reputation of the school has not caught up with reality, and that is due to the lack of celebration for our community schools. Addison just finished its parent survey, and the response was large - over 2/3 of parents, and more coming in. The results are absolutely wonderful:

95% of parents Agree to Strongly Agree that their child likes Addison Primary

98% of parents Agree to Strongly Agree that Addison's teaching this year is good

96% of parents Agree to Strongly Agree that their child makes good progress at Addison

96% of parents Agree to Strongly Agree that their child enjoys Addison's innovative International Primary Curriculum

98% of parents Agree to Strongly Agree that Addison expects their child to work hard

98% of parents Agree to Strongly Agree that Addison helps their children become more mature, responsible and independent

97% of parents Agree to Strongly Agree that Addison's staff treat all children fairly and with respect

96% of parents Agree to Strongly Agree that Addison's values system has improved their child's behaviour and attitudes

Despite this obvious good feeling for the school, people still seem stuck in old or inaccurate ideas. The people in the school know it is great - the satisfaction figures show it. We need to get the word out. If we had a £24K budget to sell the real story of our local primary was doing, I am convinced that no truly unnecessary free school could come in and generate 'demand' that could compete with the demand that would organically exist for stable, experienced schools like Addison. And if there really were a need for places to the point it was harming standards (against the interests of schools), any school expansion or new school initiative (properly and fairly and openly done etc) would be collaborative instead of competitive.

Many free school proponents claim that the competition will drive standards up in schools. As it stands, this is not a fair competition. According to Nick Gibbs' response to Andy Slaughter on 28 Feb, you cannot help but wonder if any free school has a blank cheque for consultants and marketing and facilities. Meanwhile, local school budgets are squeezed to the limit for the basics like facilities, books and staff - we don't get a budget set aside so that we can compete in perception in the way that well financed government backed free schools can.

We have to make do with our smaller budgets and our grassroots efforts to lift the perceptions of our local schools to where they ought to be, so they are in line with the quality of education and experience they provide. I'm keen to share ideas on how to do this with others who have the same concerns.
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Ros Coffey's picture
Wed, 09/03/2011 - 10:04

Tracy - Back in 2000 I was asked to be an Additional Governor at a school which had been in SM for the longest period ever at that time... I was sent in to manage a "smooth closure" and told that by the end of the first meeting I would be Chair. Well the second part was true but the newly seconded Head and I decided that those children deserved better and 14 months later the school was out of Special Measures.

However the improvement news was initially slow to get out to the Community - our touchstone was the cafe in the local Asda - we got an update from an LSA who worked there and six months after the move out of SM the gossip was becoming very positive.

We used every method we could think of, dedicated team to write articles about the school for the local press, improving the playground so that people could see a physical change to the school... even hanging baskets. However, our best ambassadors were our children, with their behaviour and their greatly improving results. Within two years the school was oversubscribed, thanks to an outstanding Head, an hard working GB, inspired teaching and a belief that nothing but the best would do for our school. And as to budget, I well remember the year we could only allocate £100 per curriculum area due to the state the budget was handed back in - but that this another story.

I would say Tracy, don't be backward in coming forward, share the good news about your school wherever you can. Nominate staff for teaching awards, send out regular press releases and keep a scrap book, link with local businesses and embed yourself back into the local community

Caroline Millar's picture
Wed, 09/03/2011 - 11:44

There always seems to be a lag time between a school improving and the wider community hearing about it. Of course it does not help to have the media keep up a constant diatribe, often inaccurate and exaggerated, about how terrible state schools are. I think the answer is to take your own parent body with you. Word of mouth is the single most effective form of marketing and if each of your parents had one positive conversation with one prospective parents this would be worth far more than £24k worth of glossy brochures. The trouble is that people don't think of themselves as needing to be advocates for their schools. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard a negative comment from one parent, sometimes about something which happened years ago, turn into a half hour conversation with six parents about how truly awful things are. Already anxious prospective parents quickly latch onto this sort of thing. When you set the "worrying" story told by a parent against the shiny image of the perfect school which does not yet exist it is easy to see where support for new schools comes from.

You are in a great position now. You have a substantial number of fans. Now you need to turn them positively into your advocates and marketeers. They just need help to do it. Get them to understand how important their opinions are for the well-being of the school and give them the information and the materials to get out and do the marketing for you. A few upbeat stories in the local press can have an amazing impact. You need your parents to be proud of their kids and proud of their school. And don't forget how important the staff are as advocates too.

Do you have a Parent Council or Forum - it can be really helpful to have a group whose focus is not on parties and fundraising (important though they are) but on improving the school and promoting it to others.

Tracy Hannigan's picture
Thu, 10/03/2011 - 18:40

Some really amazing ideas here. Another one, as our school has a strong music foundation, is to invite press to the music recitals and events. We are also going to approach local estate agents to put nicely glassed and framed artwork done by the children in their offices. Things like hit all the nurseries regularly with prospectuses. We used to do regular press releases. Lots is online now and we are redoing our website, and there is tweeting etc going on. I would love suggestions on how to get the parent community at large involved as well - the Parent Council is a good idea. I'd love to get in touch with someone who has done a lot in this area and see if it is something I can get started :-)

Thank you again!

Ben Taylor's picture
Fri, 11/03/2011 - 00:54

Tracy, regarding your last post 10 March, I agree with what you are doing and congratulate you.

I should warn you that your actions are contrary to the LSN values as I understand them - although I am ready and willing to be corrected.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 11/03/2011 - 16:58

I should be grateful if you could explain why the remarks of Tracy Hannigan are "contrary to the LSN values".

Ben Taylor's picture
Sat, 12/03/2011 - 19:30

Janet what is the point in trying to improve a school and then publicise such improvement, when the policy of fair banding arbitrarily assigns children irrespective of the child's and parents' wishes?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 13/03/2011 - 08:39

The point of such publicity is to show that parents have nothing to fear about their child arrending a good, local school. There is much negative publicity surrounding state schools (except so-called flagship academies and proposed free schools) that it's hardly surprising that many people think the state education system is "broken" which is untrue. One of Mr Gove's solution is to allow a tiny number of free schools to be established which will benefit only a tiny number of children and which will throw Local Authority school planning into disarray.

Dr Craig said in his evidence to the Select Committee (see other thread) that what most parents want is a good, local school. He repeated this three times.

I agree with that. If the energy and money that Mr Gove expends on promoting academy conversion and free schools were spent on improving all schools, then this would benefit all children not just the minority.

Tracy Hannigan's picture
Sun, 13/03/2011 - 09:03

Hi Ben, I'm not sure which post (your original one or the one you posted to Janet) is the one that represents your real view, nor do I clearly understand your point. Can you elaborate a bit please?

Ben Taylor's picture
Sun, 13/03/2011 - 21:29

I don't disagree with people trying to improve local schools. I can't see why you would bother to publicise any improvements or achievements you make to a school if you agree with all the values of the LSN (I don't subscribe to them all); since the LSN thinks children should be forced to go to bad schools even if the parents and children disagree.

There is no point trying to be different if children are to be allocated according to LEA systems of admission like fair banding, which ignore child and parental preferences.

Please note the ultimate opinion of whether a school is good or bad is not OFSTED, politicians or politicos, teachers or anyone else no matter how objective the measures. It is up to the children and parents. Look at the Education Acts, they do not oblige children to be in school only to be in full time education. There will be sometimes when people judge schools unfairly, but since this a democracy we allows these private judgements even when they may seem at odds with the public professional consensus. Our principles are not totalitarian.

If we supported parents like they do in Alberta CA and Sweden and other parts of the world (in the state sector) you would be supporting free schools.

I think it doesn't happen via LSN because they have a view of society where wishes of parents and children come after other kinds of interests.

Clara Klat's picture
Wed, 23/03/2011 - 17:09

I agree with you Tracy. I hope to be one of those parents joining you at Addison next year.
As you know I've written about Addison in our local paper and tried to encourage parents to come and see the developments for themselves- but there is still reluctance.
Perception seems at odds with the reality of the school.
Parents that I've spoken with during the past few years have repeated fears: playground bullying, Ofsted results (for many it's 'outstanding' or nothing) class sizes and teacher turnover.
In the case of Addison these issues are being tackled head on and it's important to get the message out. Word of mouth is vital but it's awfully slow moving.

Tracy Hannigan's picture
Sun, 27/03/2011 - 20:20

I hope you will be with us too! I know the work you have done to promote Addison and to help with the local effort. I applaud you! I'm embarking on a new project - that of (forgive the Americanism, as I'm American and can't help myself) a complete cheerleader! I want to proudly and loudly proclaim the truth about our local schools!! You know, as I do, that Addison class sizes are exactly as other schools - that teacher turnover is a problem of the past, that a new Inspection is due and expected to be really great, and that the playground situation is being resolved through increased, proactive and trained staffing. I'm proud to be involved with such a proactive head - and I'm a very fussy mother too! I'm attending our local Ed Sel meeting in the coming weeks to ask why our Council is not applauding the amazing successes of our local schools. I'll also be at the upcoming music performance if you want to join me!

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