Lincolnshire Update

Sarah Dobbs's picture
I have been meaning to blog for quite some time, but the time has been way to short.

For those who have been following the Louth campaign, it has been a very interesting time. The proposed merger of the secondary schools in Louth has been scrapped. This caused a mixture of feelings within the group. Some people were quite pleased that our schools were remaining as separate and distinct organisations. Some of us were disappointed that at a time of falling rolls for schools in Lincolnshire, that the opportunity to increase the curriculum offer at 14 and 16 and protect staff jobs, has been lost.

So, in Louth we are 9 months on and still no academy within our seven schools. In many ways I feel that we have won the arguments. There is no one claiming now that academies have any relationship at all to teaching and learning. I was particularly delighted that one of the Louth schools voted to remain within the Local Authority as a first preference.

However, there are still areas causing real concern.

First, despite heads and governors knowing that there is no educational justification for going for academy status, the policy of the county council makes it difficult for heads to feel confident that the decision really does rest with the governors.

Additionally, we have CfBT within the LA not just as preferred sponsor, but also working with maintained schools in their role as School Improvement Service Providers.

This dual role of CfBT is a particularly corrosive influence. Examples of this are everywhere. I have heard this week of how the head of CfBT in Lincolnshire, (he is also a county council officer!) is "doing lunch" with chairs of governors in an apparently spontaneous show of sociability. He also wastes no time at all bringing the conversation round to where he wants it to rest.

More worryingly, I have my hands on a code of conduct for governors and I would love the opinions of people who know more than I do on the subject. The code has come from governor support at Lincolnshire County Council, who are run by....yes, you have CfBT. The code insists on "total confidentiality" in all matters within governing body meetings and threatens the governors with disciplinary action if this is broken. I thought that as a publicly accountable body, the governors have to be as open as possible. Surely, especially when it comes to elected governors, we cannot have a position where they are neither allowed to discuss issues with their electorate or question poor decision making? I fear in Lincolnshire we have a position where CfBT as chosen sponsor are abusing their position as School Improvement Providers by exerting undue pressure on governors.

We have also generated a great deal of local coverage, particularly about the situation in Skegness, which is a mess and explained in the link here. Of particular concern to SOS is the accusation that this particular trust is discriminating against children with SEN and behavioral issues, something I posted about least time.

Finally, we have produced our own county based web page, a link to which can be found here. If any teachers, heads, governors wish to sign the open letter please fill in the form, and I would ask as many residents in Lincolnshire as possible to fill in the survey.

We were also on Channel Four news last night. It was a very useful piece, but it is impossible to do the complexity of the situation justice in a short news article.

So nine months on we are still going strong. We have won an amazing amount of battles on the way, but the war still rages.
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Alan's picture
Fri, 25/11/2011 - 21:51

Our school is a non-selective academy and we deliver a comprehensive curriculum. Although I do not hold back my views on areas of interest and responsibility in governor meetings, on the whole, I will say that we are meeting the needs of young people in a challenging location.

For me, the argument is bigger; I can’t take my daughters out of our academy to ruin their chances, and I care too much too throw in the towel. I’m not saying I agree with the privatisation of education--time will tell--I just think it’s easy to lose sight of who it matters to most.

Mablethorpe’s problem is complex; we have a predominately elderly population which shifts the focus off younger transient families who arrive ill prepared for learning in primary and secondary settings. Outcomes for pupils on FSM across KS2 and KS4 have been particularly poor (see link to Lincs review). Many families are hard to reach but I won’t stop trying.

If I’m brutally honest, my biggest bugbear is that our schools seem to see themselves in isolation, which goes against international evidence on the effectiveness of extended schools and community participation. Focusing on the divide between Mablethorpe, Alford and Louth, between selective and non-selective education, forming community projects, partnerships to narrow the gap and seeking solutions for post 16 have to be our priority. We need all schools to work together to push for our kids.

Our newly formed steering group had its second meeting today and we have decided to focus on raising literacy standards to begin with. The next meeting is on 19th December 1 pm at the Marisco Medical Practice in Mablethorpe. Can we strengthen links between our towns?

Sarah Dobbs's picture
Sat, 26/11/2011 - 05:44

Thanks so much for the comments. We need people like you to remain on governing bodies because it is the best way to ensure education remains at the heart of communities. Lets talk about that meeting - if I can't go, I bet I know someone who can.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 26/11/2011 - 10:08

The Channel 4 news items (see link below) featured an academy head who freely admitted he did it for the money. He said he'd been able to employ more teachers. An admirable action - but what he didn't say was that the money he received for becoming an academy was only supposed to be sufficient to buy the services that the local authority previously provided.

Questions arise when newly-converted academy heads boast about the financial benefits. The Government has said repeatedly that no school should benefit financially from becoming an academy. The first question, then, are academies actually receiving more money than they need to buy in services once provided by the LA? Or are they all astute financial managers able to buy in services more cheaply (despite some of them being clobbered for IT services, insurance and possible contributions to the Local Government Pension Scheme deficit)? If so, is the standard of service the same as it was before? Have any services been dropped? There has been concern, voiced on this site, about possible cuts to services such as music provision, educational welfare, careers guidance and special educational needs. Lincolnshire has said that it might not be able to continue providing services which become unviable. This would leave any remaining LA maintained schools without support.

This raises a fundamental question: how many other local authorities will have to stop supporting schools if so many opt out that the council can no longer provide afford to pay for this support?

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 26/11/2011 - 10:13

Withdrawal of council support is not just confined to schools. Lincolnshire hopes to shut all its day care centres for vulnerable people and hand over personal care budgets to all those who receive care - the Council says that this is Government policy. Discussion about this is beyond the remit of this site, but any reader wanting further information can follow the link:

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 26/11/2011 - 12:41

The document which you highlight, Alan, was published in July 2010, and so refers to strategies in place before this Government came to office. The document outlines a range of approaches to help children access quality education including personalised teaching. The strategies were supported by the Lincolnshire School Improvement Service, Healthy schools programme, Birth to Five Service, SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning), Extended Schools, one-to-one tuition and personal education plans. This breadth of approaches was underpinned by co-operation between schools, partners (including a local college, youth groups and sports co-ordinator), pooled budgets and Council support (including education welfare and Connexions).

One example of the benefits was extended opening times – one school opened for 51 weeks using voluntary and other staff when the school was closed for normal teaching. However, Government propaganda gives the impression that this is a recent innovation arising from the Government’s policies. This hype ignores the initiatives already in place before the Coalition came to power.

However, the strategies listed above are under threat. Connexions has been axed, funding for sports co-ordinators and youth work is much reduced, schools are unlikely to pool budgets when they become discrete academies, and Lincolnshire has warned that support services will be cut if they become unviable. The Lincolnshire School Improvement Service is run by CfBT, the trust which is Lincolnshire’s favoured chain to take over Lincolnshire schools. CfBT will include support in the fees it will charge its academies - CfBT already said it will charge more to schools identified as inadequate or "coasting". But how will non-CfBT academies access this support?

What we are seeing is the fragmentation of services and support once provided free of charge - such as resources for National Strategies. These are likely to be available only at a cost to schools. Achievement for All (3As) is one such.

Alan's picture
Sat, 26/11/2011 - 23:31

Sarah- we can talk about the meeting. I’ll email you in the week as soon as the room booking is confirmed (forgot).

I acknowledge what Janet is saying about strategies that they have been supported by Lincolnshire School Improvement Service. The cuts have bitten down hard in our area.

The purpose of our steering group is to tackle contextual issues outside of schools' control, but we will need schools to support us.

Mablethorpe’s demographic presents a special challenge but if we are able to engage parents to support what they are already doing then perhaps we can go some way in alleviating intergenerational cycles of underachievement.

Some time ago Lincolnshire Sports Partnership commissioned the Fit Kids programme as part of the Change4Life agenda. It is acknowledged that there's a link between obesity and deprivation so the project was well suited for our area. It was rolled by East Lindsey District Council as FAB Kids (Fit Active Bodies) and I know of families who have benefited enormously from this project. Fitness levels increased in 100% of cases (healthy bodies-healthy minds). The council are continuing their support.

Reaching Early Achievement in Literacy (REAL) would bring an enormous benefit to our area for preschool and I would be interested to see if it could be adopted for older children. It builds on what parents are already doing with their children across four strands of literacy (see links). It’s been a resounding success in Sheffield and Oldham.

Sarah Dodds's picture
Tue, 29/11/2011 - 22:35

Thanks Alan - do keep me in the loop.

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