Top education councillor will tell parents not to send their children to my local comp if it becomes an Academy…

Francis Gilbert's picture

Last night, I attended a meeting convened by the National Union of Teachers about my local secondary school, Bethnal Green Technology College, becoming an Academy. The school has already had a public meeting about this – as I noted in a previous post. Alex Kenny, a prominent NUT activist in east London, Alasdair Smith of the Anti-Academies Alliance, and Oliur Rahman, a councillor in charge of children’s services in the Borough, all spoke at length.

The most notable speech was given by Oliur Rahman. My personal view is that it was quite venomous. In it, he said quite clearly that he would tell parents not to send their children to BGTC if it became an Academy. I spoke defending the school’s bid for Academy status (all outlined in a previous post) and challenged him on his views. Please watch my vodcast for the full exchange.

The meeting was attended by about thirty or forty people. From my rough estimates, there were about ten BGTC staff (although I am happy to be corrected on this), a couple of parents, and then the rest were union officials or left-wing activists. I was the only person who spoke in defence of the school’s Academy status. The meeting was very civil and everyone was nice to me, but it was clear many people were angry about the decision that the school had taken. Staff seemed to be worried about changing conditions of pay and service, and other people were concerned about accountability issues already well-aired on this site. They were all valid points but they didn’t address the central issues, which in my view are:

•BGTC needs more money if it is to continue to flourish: Academy status will mean it can raise funds in all sorts of other ways.

•BGTC needs to “re-brand”, Academy status gives the school this chance.

•BGTC needs to have more control over its admissions to stop it being a “dumping ground” for all the difficult children in the Borough.

•Staying with the LA looks like it will inevitably involve redundancies and down-sizing.

•BGTC is not privatising; there are no private sponsors. Indeed, it will use more “in-house” expertise rather than being forced to accept private contracts foisted on it by the Borough.

Sadly, Oliur Rahman was the best advert for Academy status; he seems intent upon playing politics with the school. I remain shocked that he could say that he is going to tell parents not to send their children to the school – irrespective of its educational merits. He appears to put politics ahead of children’s education.

Oliur Rahman, in his role of head of children's services, is in charge of 98 schools and 37500 pupils.


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Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 22/06/2011 - 07:08

Francis, while I wouldn't condone the actions of this councillor I am still puzzled by the reasoning behind this proposed change of status. Does the school know it will get more money? Michael Gove appeared to be suggesting last week that academy funding will be brought more strictly in line with maintained schools due to early errors in the calculations of the LACSEG. There is a possibility now that some schools may convert and find themselves worse off once the cost of new services has been taken into account, then fast tracked into the hands of sponsored chains.
Secondly how is the school going to stop being a 'dumping ground'? Is it actively going to turn away some pupils? Surely a better solution to this would be a borough wide look at how the Fair Access Panel/Protocol is working so that challenging pupils are shared out more equally between all schools. Or are they coming across the border from the Hackney academies - I have heard anecdotally that this is the case and is one of the consequences of giving some schools freedoms that others don't have.
Academy status for these reasons seems to be the wrong answer to what is evidently a troubling issue. If all schools can just do what they want - and no one should believe for a moment that 'voluntary codes' will be followed, it will end up with chaos, some schools forever being dumping grounds and some pupils continuing to get a very raw deal. There must be some locally managed framework within which these problems are resolved.

Sarah's picture
Wed, 22/06/2011 - 07:30

I agree with Fiona. As I said in my response to your earlier post Francis it seems that you are against the Academy movement in principle but want to make a special case for your own school. Unfortunately this is what many schools are doing - telling parents that really there is no choice if they want to survive. There is no evidence to suggest that the short term financial benefits will last - in reality how could they particularly in areas where all schools become Academies. Many schools also argue the admissions card. There is nothing about being an Academy that will prevent your school from having to take its fair share of difficult pupils under the Fair Access Protocol. And if you are being truthful about wanting the school to remain fully comprehensive then surely you expect to have the full range of children in the school, including the most difficult. The arguments that you have put forward for this particular school are the same arguments which governing bodies all over the country are putting to their parents - and in this way the entire system is becoming fragmented. The new admissions code will create a free for all where parents of the most difficult pupils will have to battle for a place in some areas. The entire Academy system is predicated on competition not collaboration between schools and the principle losers will be children.

I remain very disappointed with your stance, having had a great deal of respect for your contributions on this forum to date. I understand that you must think about what's right for your own child but surely there is a wider principle at stake here. Isn't it about a system which meets the needs of ALL children, not just some of them?

Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 22/06/2011 - 08:33

Good point about the Fair Access Protocol (FAP), Fiona. I think the view of the governing body is that if the other schools in the Borough were being fair (particularly some extremely successful, over-subscribed ones which I won't name to spare blushes) BGTC would probably not be going down this route. At the moment, the school is not attracting "switched-on" parents because they know the school is where all the excluded children go in the Borough. With Academy status, it can honestly tell parents it has more control over this situation.

Sarah, your points are very strong but the situation of the school is really quite desperate when you examine it in detail. It has to take action quickly if it's going to stay a viable concern...

I agree that there needs to be a properly managed "locally agreed" solution to admissions, but this isn't happening in TH. The schools are very segregated (by gender, class and ethnicity) and the Borough hasn't addressed the situation properly. I am sorry but I just don't have faith in Oli Rahman to sort it out; he seems to have a very shaky grasp of what's going on in the Borough in my view. Watch the video and judge for yourself.

Ian Taylor's picture
Wed, 22/06/2011 - 09:56

School reputations, like product "brands", are very powerful in affecting a parent's choice. To change the image of a school takes a long time. Parent perceptions are not always based on evidence.
The government of this country is sending out very strong messages, along with their allies in the media, that the pecking order is, private schools, academies and free schools, and then the rest.
Parents talk to other parents. There is peer pressure amongst parents. Why would you send your child to a type of school that the government is saying is 3rd rate. Do you not care about your child?
This is the war of propaganda that Mr Gove has unleashed. He fully understands this.
I completely disagree with the destruction of a joined up system of education in this country.
The Labour Party have let down those of us who want to maintain fairness in our education system and make a real difference to children's lives.
Francis' school will have to become an Academy and so will all the others, unless we get some proper opposition from the top of the Labour Party. If this does not happen and schools eventually all become Academies, those last to convert will be seen to be the bottom of the pile.
Do something now Labour Party! If on this site we think Academies are not going to happen we are encouraging the Labour Party to do nothing.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 22/06/2011 - 10:27

As Melissa Benn said elsewhere on this site, the battle is not won, it has barely begun. Whatever the Labour party does, there is fastgrowing grassroots opposition to Academies and FS and I predict that, as more and more people forming opposition groups make their feelings heard and felt, the government won't be able to continue to spin and bully.

Ian Taylor's picture
Wed, 22/06/2011 - 12:25

There may be opposition to Academies and Free Schools, but I do not see it in the newspapers that I read, nor do I see it on TV. It does not come up on Prime Minister's Questions.
If the opponents of Academies and Free Schools cannot engage the Labour Party leadership, I cannot see the opposition being successful. As you can see in Francis’ case, even the most keen opponents of this education policy are having to take pragmatic decisions. Mr Gove will capitalise on this and claim that even opponents of Academies have at last seen the light.
One may be a peace advocate, but if someone is invading your country you have to act. The fact that the Labour Party has done absolutely nothing to oppose these huge changes could be taken as incompetence or as support for Mr Gove’s policies.

My warning is that this public opposition will be like the CND movement of the last century, very worthy but ineffective, and seen by the populace as the territory of a few cranks.

It would be good to see some comments on this site from mainstream Labour politicians. Why cannot Labour be persuaded to take a stand? Sadly, I don’t believe Labour know what to do. In the meantime Headteachers do not have the luxury of dithering.

Andy Smithers's picture
Wed, 22/06/2011 - 14:16


Your logic is rather flawed and you do not offer an alternative to the much needed changes being implemented at the moment.
Advocating that the status quo is acceptable fails to acknowledge how BGTC got into its present position - it is not a result of any decisions taken in the last year.
In other posts Fiona ackowledges that the academies she has visited are doing excellent work in difficult circumstances and states that local authority schools can simply copy some of the good practice they see - the fact is that most do not.

Of course the Labour Party will not oppose Academies and Free Schools - every survey and poll (including those conducted by the NUT) find that the majority of parents support these policies).

By all means look at ways that policy could be improved and campaign on this but the "leave things as they are" minority are being left behind.

I would add that those who blindly oppose all Free Schools and Academies - some who post on this site - are increasingly looking like old dinosaurs.

Ian Taylor's picture
Wed, 22/06/2011 - 15:01

I have never advocated the status quo. These are your words.
I think Fiona's piece "I have glimpsed the future – and it doesn’t work" is an excellent summary of my viewpoint. Like that parent I wish some politicians had the guts to join the debate now.
Mr Gove will be elsewhere when the chaos begins.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 23/06/2011 - 13:16

It seems that Bethnal Green Technology College is motivated by two things: money and fear. It thinks it will receive more money or be able to raise it in other ways if it is an academy, although it is unclear what these ways are. It thinks if it does not become an academy then jobs will be lost.

There is no extra money over-and-above the start-up grant given to the school for the legal costs of setting-up the academy. Although some academies appear to have received windfalls, explained away by Mr Gove in a giggly exchange on the Today programme as being fault of "old Labour Andy Burnham" and local authorities (as if LAs would act in a way that would see them out-of-pocket), this funding is unsustainable as I reported here:

The Councillor in the meeting, however, overstepped the mark by threatening to advise parents not to send their child to an academy. Such hectoring does not help those who have genuine concerns about academy conversion including the rate at which it's proceeding and the lack of proper consultation. I shall outline these concerns in a new blog. However, at least the school's parents had a meeting - they've been few and far between round here. Consultation has often been little more than a letter circulated to stakeholders and/or posted on a website.

Davis Lewis's picture
Fri, 24/02/2012 - 12:17

Andy, have seen every single survey and poll?

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