Michaela "Community" School - Consultation

Jane Eades's picture
Consultation has started on establishing the Michaela "Community" School in Tooting. Details on this

Key dates: 19th January (public consultation); 31st January and 8th February for prospective parents.

The public "consultation" seems to be structured in a similar way to the Bolingbroke "consultation". Members of the public are invited in individually and will not have the ability to raise concerns in a public way.

I would be very interested to hear views on the curriculum offer as described on MCS's website. I certainly have considerable concern about the KS3 Maths curriculum, the streaming, and the narrowness of the curriculum in general which seems to be geared entirely to the EBacc.

I raised the issue of streaming on the local blogsite and was informed that the streaming would only be in year 7, but it does raise serious questions about how ready they would be for opening in September 2012, given that they have no building yet and seem unclear about how and what they will teach.
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Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 07/01/2012 - 17:55

The curriculum statement says this about mathematics:
"There will be six maths lessons a week, on the basis that little and often is the most effective approach."

Er - what basis?
I've never heard anyone recommend this.

I suppose if you think maths teaching is entirely about chanting tables until they are ingrained in your memory forever and not about exploring complex ideas, misconceptions and structures then it might sound superficially plausible.

Personally I found 3x1 hour lessons (180mins) more productive for learning than 4x50 min lessons (200mins) with most groups.

Katharine Birbalsingh espoused some ill-conceived ideas about maths teaching in her book. We corresponded for a while and I offered to come and teach classes for her, free gratis and for nothing to demonstrate some of the pedagogies she seemed to be opposed to without actually having seen them, studied them or explored the rationales for them.

But then I'm just a lecturer in maths education. What would I know. Viva the cultural revolution.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 07/01/2012 - 18:27

"Pupils with exceptionally low attainment (with a reading age of seven or below) will be repeatedly taught the basics of literacy and numeracy to help them commit these to memory."

Poor them. I don't claim to know whether or not this is the best way to teach remedial literacy, but its far more complicated than this to sort out kids with poor numeracy. They have such a wide variety of issues, from physical difficulties ranging from aspects of discalculia through specific memory issues to issues such as undiagnosed variable deafness, through confidence and psychological issues to a wide range of ingrained structural misconceptions which are inhibiting progress.

If they get one-to-one tuition with a highly skilled teacher clearly many of these issues will be overcome. But that teacher needs to be a trained maths teacher. If it is done by someone who just believes that intensive drilling will sort out the problem specific crucial misconceptions are likely to be missed ultimately the confidence of the student is likely to be further damaged.

Ideally students shouldn't be just committing key rules of maths to memory. They should be understanding the visual structures and axioms which lie behind those rules so that they can reconstruct the abstract rules in real contexts if they forget them. The best intervention strategies encourage students to express what they are seeing when they do maths so that the precise details of their misconceptions can be exposed and corrected. Teachers then ensure that correct structures and strategies are retained over time.

There are other good strategies for remedial maths which are more time intensive than the one I've described and can therefore be used with less skilled teachers but relentless drilling is not one of them.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 07/01/2012 - 19:41

How did Katharine get herself appointed as head of this school? Who on earth would appoint someone with so little experience to head a state secondary school?

Is she being paid? Who will pay the salaries of the two senior teachers currently being recruited?

Is it the case that if you're not capable of getting a job as a head, all you have to do is tell Michael Gove what he wants to hear and you will get yourself a headship directly from him?

It's so sad because it means that people with sufficient intellect, experience and emotion intelligence to be incapable of telling him what he wants to hear just to get a headship are excluded from leading the schools being created for people like Katharine.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Sat, 07/01/2012 - 20:36

I have concerns about "bench-marking"; I was a victim of this system in the minor private school I attended as a teenager. I can honestly say it was not a good approach; the same old people were bottom and at the back of the class every lesson. League tables of pupils were posted on the walls; the children at the bottom basically gave up and were effectively expelled from the school. A private school can do that easily -- and still do! -- perhaps free schools will have the same "freedom"? KIPP schools do this, with attrition rates of 40%-50% in some areas.

The website also says that English Literature will be taught chronologically. Does this mean that they will start with Old English (an antiquated dialect now), go to Middle English (another antiquated dialect), early Modern English etc? Is KB aware there was no such thing as "correct English" (much trumpeted to be taught in the school) until the late 18th century, when it was effectively invented by a prescriptivist grammarian? Both Shakespeare and Milton wrote in non-standard forms, varying their spelling as they saw fit.

Ben Taylor's picture
Sat, 07/01/2012 - 21:10

Francis don't you think that correct English as in spelling, punctuation and grammar should be taught in schools? You are able to do these things yourself so is there another point being made?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 08/01/2012 - 10:53

Ben - your logic is faulty. It does not follow that if Francis is wary of benchmarking or expressing concerns about teaching Eng Lit chronologically that he is making a "point" about the teaching of spelling, punctuation and grammar.

I would actually like to know how teaching the "history" of English Literature actually helps an appreciation of the subject.

Jane Eades's picture
Wed, 18/01/2012 - 12:26

Ben, I do think that being able to write correct English is important. That is why I find it so strange that the MCS website, whilst giving a curriculum diet of numeracy and literacy, has so many mistakes on it! Practise what you preach, I think, is the phrase.

Ben Taylor's picture
Sun, 08/01/2012 - 12:17

"Both Shakespeare and Milton wrote in non-standard forms, varying their spelling as they saw fit." This is an interesting piece of history as far as I am concerned about the history of English and I think some school children might agree. You could use that as a hook for studying phonetic transcription.

When Francis writes, "Is KB aware there was no such thing as “correct English” (much trumpeted to be taught in the school) until the late 18th century, " is this a contribution towards the English curriculum at MCS, an objection to the teaching of modern standard British English, or is there another point I have not understood?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 08/01/2012 - 13:12

Ben - the varied spelling used by Shakespeare and Milton is indeed an "interesting piece of history" but it arises from studying the texts. It is not distinct from them. Studying the "history" of English Literature risks downgrading it to a chronological list eg Bede, Beowulf, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton and so on without encountering much of what these texts contain.

Teaching modern standard British English - "Keats was a Cockney, Wordsworth was often considered incomprehensible when it came to London, because he had a Cumbrian accent.... the idea of received pronunciation was simply based on the speech of the southern public schools, that culture had been dubbed into that voice... And God was terribly posh, and Jesus was terribly posh, and only the comic parts were allowed to be Yorkshire." (Tony Harrison)

And then listen to Tony reading "Them and [Uz]" - Harrison's up there with those who make up Literitchewer and spoke in their own voices: Cockney Keats, Cumbrian Wordsworth, Northamptonshire Clare.


An' I've 'eard said the nearest thing to Shakespeare's English is the Wiltshire accent.


However, these diversions risk moving away from the original thread - the consultation re MCS.

Ben Taylor's picture
Sun, 08/01/2012 - 13:36

What would you write in response to;

"Do you support the school’s focus on traditional academic subjects and its aim to give all pupils high levels of skill in reading, writing, numeracy and speaking English?"

I have no intention to respond to this, but if I did I might write about English that chidren should be able to use standard British English competently in addition to any other kind. This is so that they can follow certain norms about parts of English such as grammar, spelling and punctuation adopted by organisations like universities and employers, and avoid failing to obtain places of study or work because they use English in ways considered as incompetent by people in authority. The adult child then has some ability to consciously use different language registers rather than being disabled by ignorance about that issue.

For example they would not use "innit" as a tag question in a conversation on a selection board for a commission in the Army. They would be able to spell check a CV or UCAS application against a dictionary of standard British English. We can argue that these things don't or shouldn't matter, but as long as it does in reality and places like Eton make their students competent in these matters I want state school children to be able to match them.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 07/01/2012 - 22:59

For those with experience in education and an academic bent who wish to analyse a maths curriculum for themselves rather than rely on the opinion of others, the current most respected text is 'Colloborative learning in Mathematics' by Malcolm Swan.

This book thoroughly reviews all the established theories of learning and teaching in maths education. Malcolm Swan is arguably the most sought after and respected academic author on maths education in the UK and has been involved in the development of many of the most effective teaching materials since the Shell Centre materials circa 1980 through to the standards units and the CPD behind the Bowland materials (which was vastly better than the Bowland materials themselves).

It covers transmission learning, constructivism and connectionist learning thoroughly, exploring the importance and relevant contexts of each. It also covers theories of teaching, looking at the studies which compare and contrast exposition, guided discovery and diagnostic teaching in particular before going on to explore many types of good practice in detail.

Any questions just ask.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 08/01/2012 - 11:00

The first question on the Consultation Questionnaire is loaded. If the aim of the consultation is to judge demand the question need only say, "Do you think the area needs a new secondary school?" However, the question is full is, "Do you support the proposal to open a new secondary school in your area to provide more choice for parents?"

The latter question is more likely to elicit a positive response than the former because people like more choice, don't they, whether it's shops or shampoo?

This raises the question about whether similar loaded questions appear in other free school consultations.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 08/01/2012 - 14:28

Ben - as the consultation is supposed to be about finding the level of demand (sorry, need) for a new school, any question unrelated to that is irrelevant.

But since you ask. The question "Do you support the school’s focus on traditional academic subjects and its aim to give all pupils high levels of skill in reading, writing, numeracy and speaking English?” is actually two questions: one about a focus on particular subjects, and the second about high levels of skills.

The second part of the question asks whether the responder supports pupils gaining these high skills. The answer to this, of course, is yes. I'm surprised it actually needs asking. It's a bit like saying to medical staff and their patients, "Do you support the aim of making patients as well as possible?". I think the reply to that would probably be **!!!!!**** **!!!**** or, to put it more politely, "What a bloody stupid question to ask."

So why put two questions together? It is to link high skills in reading, writing and oracy with the focus on "traditional" academic subjects in the hope that the answer to the combined question will be yes. However, the Education Select Committee felt that EBac subjects were a "fairly narrow range of subjects, demanding considerable curriculum time, [which] could have negative consequences on the uptake of other subjects."

Perhaps those answering the questionnaire should be aware of that.


Ben Taylor's picture
Sun, 08/01/2012 - 15:04

The question is from the MCS questionnaire and is part of a consultation period. I thought that some of the posters here who opposed free schools wanted more then just a list of yes/no responses for consultation and here is the opportunity. Responses are not just closed questions and you can make a free written reply.

Presumaby you might write no the first part of this question and yes to the second part. If the consulation gathers lots of replies which agree fully with both parts of this question it is strong evidence for the school to exist and be structured according to its own vision, which includes an extended day and allows for more learning opportunity. If this is in contrast to other schools then we have to decide how we will respond to that. One way is to allow such a school to exist. It is sufficent to find a quota of people who want this and then provide it.

You are free to disagree with parents and children who wish to have such a school and they are free to insist on it if is necessary in their opnion.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 09/01/2012 - 11:49

Ben - there is no provision on the questionnaire to answer yes to the first half of the question and no to the second. That is why double questions should be avoided in questionnaires. Leading questions should also be avoided, yet this questionnaire contains questions more likely to elicit a "yes" than a "no". I gave as an example the question which linked the proposed school with "more choice" (see above).

Leading questions in this situation work something like this:

The proposers of a new school want to assess "demand" (this should be "need" but as mentioned elsewhere on this site, "demand" seems to trump "need"). They devise a questionnaire which asks locals, "Do you want a new school?". This question would get fewer "Yes" answers than one that asks, "Do you want a new school to widen parental choice?". And that question would still receive fewer "Yes" answers than a question which said, "Do you support a new school which would raise educational standards?"

The inclusion of such leading questions should invalidate any questionnaire. However, there is at least one case where the evidence, never mind the questionnaire, was not validated by the DfE.


You say "it is sufficient to find a quota of people who want this". That should be done at pre-approval stage. See my post below about this.

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 10/01/2012 - 12:21

You can just write back and put 'no'.

Kate Johnston's picture
Sun, 08/01/2012 - 20:34

In response to Jane Eades comments about the form of consultation for the Bolingbroke, I'm not sure what you are getting at when you say that "Members of the public are invited in individually and will not have the ability to raise concerns in a public way". I attended the Bolingbroke consultations - I talked to a couple of people involved who answered my questions and I filled in a questionnaire with my comments. I would not have done this in a public forum as I am not one for public speaking. Why do you think it is important for people to "raise concerns in a public way"? Do you think that most people want to stand up in a public forum with questions? I doubt it. And actually, from memory Jane you did raise your opinions in a very public way when you accosted people coming into and out of the consultation and waved lots of anti free school banners about. I find it strange that you are complaining about the consultation - isn't a consultation what we should be doing to find out what people think? And if you have so many questions why don't you feed them into the consultation? I have friends who live very close to the site proposed for this school and they are very unsure about why this school is being proposed for that location. They are feeding back into the consultation process - local people expressing concern about their local community and schools. Where's the issue?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 08/01/2012 - 22:48

50 miles away in Scotland consultation regarding new schools follows the established framework where schools and all other services for children are reviewed and proposals for the future provision of services within the community are developed by planning experts (who move from region to region) in conjunction with detailed consultation with all groups within the local area.

It takes about 10 years from the beginning of the process to the completion of the plans agreed.

The idea that it is possible to consult on one particular small proposal, such a single school, was thrown out long ago as you will always get plenty of people wanting provision on their doorstep. It just goes without saying!

Kate and Ben hopefully this gives some insight into the nature of the opposition you are encountering. It's not really about the nature of one question. It's about the whole policy framework being ludicrously ill conceived, deeply inefficient and heartbreakingly contrary to Gove's and this governments espoused policies.

Ben Taylor's picture
Mon, 09/01/2012 - 10:41

I am all for integrating services, but I think 10 years is a bit too long to get things done for infrastructure at the level of schools! That's more like a suitable timeframe for a nuclear power plant or high speed rail.

There is a tension between entrepreneurial spirit and democratic control in public services, alike to between sales and finance in a commerical company. I think we have to try and take more risk and work quickly. Mitigation of failure in services can be provided by choice.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 09/01/2012 - 14:42

10 years from start of consultation to build completion has been found to be realistic for proper planning, consultation, budget management and the planning and management of the transformation of human resources.

Short term fixes are created to bridge gaps to support proper planning.

The major PWC report (2008) strongly recommended heads be in place at least a year and preferably 18 months before a new school opens to ensure staffing policies and essential attributes such as a staffing structures are properly consulted and the transfer of staff from existing organisations properly managed.

It is interesting opening an academy without any of these things being in place Ben. 'Interesting' would be a polite way of putting it. The PWC was written based on very grim learning from experiences where the process was too rushed.

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 10/01/2012 - 12:16

Rebecca - are you saying that academies open now without policies and so on? You can buy a lot of this stuff from HR consultancies for a couple of grand in big prewrriten documents which you can then just edit. My experience in education which is the private English language sector is that many things can evolve and are best done in response to what the customers do alongside the involuntary things like the regulatory requirements. 10 years?

It seems ridiculous when we don't need that time for other complex things like GP practices. As a matter of fact we have free schools such as WLFS open which have taken only two years to open.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 14/01/2012 - 13:59

Ben do you really think it's best practice to buy policies off the shelf rather than to develop them through consultations with the communities and parties who will be running the school?

I can't provide the evidence to give you a true answer to your first question in public. But if you glance at my profile on linkedin.com something obvious might strike you which lends some insight if you interpret it correctly.

Jake's picture
Mon, 09/01/2012 - 10:08

Jane - as the national treasurer of the SWP backed Anti Academies Alliance and an ex-teacher from a failing school, it is obvious that you have a considerable axe to grind. I wonder why the AAA website no longer details the names of the National Steering Committee as it used to? Are you trying to conceal your personal links with the far left?

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 09/01/2012 - 11:19

and what is your connection with Bolingbroke Academy, "Jake"?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 09/01/2012 - 14:43

Please look at the new discussion I have started today Jake.

Jane Eades's picture
Wed, 18/01/2012 - 12:32

Jake - or whatever your name is - Why do you think that intellectual argument takes the form of personal abuse and lies? Is it because you know you are on dodgy ground?

Jake's picture
Tue, 10/01/2012 - 11:52

Jake's picture
Wed, 18/01/2012 - 12:50

What lies are those? That you are not on the AAA executive, that you do not have links with the far left or that you were not a teacher at a failing school? Are you denying any of that?

Jake's picture
Mon, 16/01/2012 - 11:15

Oh dear Butthead! Bad start to the week for the Loony Left. High profile defection from Old Lab to New Con, Twigg comes out in support of Gove's education policy while Ed 'zero charisma' Mill puts forward the coalition manifesto as the new Old Lab strategic policy. Its wrong to mock the afflicted but it looks liike the wheels are coming off the Old Lab jalopy at quite a rate?

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Wed, 18/01/2012 - 14:16


Can we review how the right wing get their views to prevail ?

They do it through erudite, calm sometimes sophristric distortion of fact ; dissent is acknowledged with polite but condescending bemusement.

This is infuriating to a rational person and many in the end cannot resist using aggressive rebuttals in sheer frustration. This alienates those searching for guidance and pushes them towards the right.

Just a thought

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 16/01/2012 - 20:50

Jon -

It is wrong to mock the afflicted but your cowardice is beneath contempt anyway.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 18/01/2012 - 14:46

That's why it's important to back up any repudiation with links to evidence. So that when Gove et al say, for instance, that UK pupils have tumbled down the league tables in the last ten years, it's important to be able to point to the document published by the organisation orignally responsible for the data which says the figures on which the Government's analysis was based were flawed and should not be used for comparison. It's important, as Channel 4 factcheck discovered, that announcements from ministers about academy performance should be greeted with a degree of scepticism. And it's important to keep on pointing this out, politely and relentlessly, until the lies and distortion become so apparent that any minister repeating them is laughed at.

Guest's picture
Wed, 18/01/2012 - 14:59

Ah but Janet was it not reported in the Guardian a few weeks ago that the 2000 figures do in fact demonstrate that England has indeed tumbled down the international tables?
I have not got the link as travelling without a laptop at the moment but it was discussed on this site by both of us!
If I remember correctly it was the Head of OECD Education dept who said that it was fair to conclude this.
Again apologies for not providing the link but I will when have access again.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 09/01/2012 - 11:50

The New Schools Network says that if free school proposers cannot demonstrate demand from parents for their school then they will not be approved. The DfE says it wants “robust evidence” that the school will be the predicted size and advises proposers that they must “engage with local parents.”

Proposers need to show:
•That they have enough parents with children of the relevant ages;
•That they are signing up to your specific school; and
•That they are committed - would they put your school down as their first choice or one of their choices?

The Michaela Community School has already been approved so presumably the evidence above was submitted to the DfE. However, that evidence applied to a different area. This raises the question: has the school sufficient evidence that parents in the new area have (a) signed up to the school, and (b) that they are committed?

If not, then is the school side-stepping the requirements as laid down by the DfE?


Rosie Fergusson's picture
Tue, 10/01/2012 - 14:55

It seems the best thing for the first two years of being a new build free school is to over-estimate the demand for places BUT then critically fail to fill all places. Great if you are a primary because you get a special lump sum of £95 k irrespective of how many kids you enroll ( refer ready reckoner D of E website) .

The Government has published figures that show they to over-fund per pupil allowances at new-build free schools. Well not admitted [obviously] but have provided the Free School funding totals for 2011-12 in Nick Gibbs response to a question on 20th dec. (They are presumably assuming no school commentator can use cut,paste and sum to do the maths from a word document).

In more detail on 20th Dec Mr Gibb, Schools MInister, provided a written answer to a parliamentary question on Free Schools Finance ;
Question from Annette Brooke: To ask the Secretary of State for Education what methodology his Department uses in respect of the calculation of revenue funding for free schools; how much he has allocated to each free school in 2011-12; and how many pupils were enrolled in each school as at September 2011.
Evasive Answer: Mr Gibb [holding answer 19 October 2011]: “Annual revenue funding for free schools is equivalent to that received by maintained schools and academies in the same local authority area.We estimate that the free schools which opened in September 2011 have over 3,000 pupils enrolled in total. Information about the number of children on roll at each school will be collected in the annual school census and published in due course.”

Mr G then provided a schedule of the 2011-12 fundign for all the Free schools open so far which totalled £18,473000.

I fear this once ace tax accountant may have made a mistake somewhere in claiming comparable funding with existing schools as this averages £6157 / free school pupil ; compare to existing schools in West Yorkshire get roughly £4300 .

WLFS got £825,000 for 120 pupils in year 7 ..er thats £6875 per pupil .

The well-established 100 year old Sandbach school of 1200 pupils got £4077.50 p per pupil as a free school so it seems fair to say that the NEW-build Free Schools are currently getting well over their fair share of funding as they build up their pupil numbers.
All at the expense of the funding of existing schools.
Still lets put in in perspective 3000 pupils, mainly primary is only 0.05% of the school population..long may it continue that way .

As a digression the 20th dec written answers was a font of information-possibly why it's so buried in Hansard?

Another question to Mr G was to request details of any admissions code deviations being allowed in Academy/free school funding agreements. Mr G admitted to one..that of the Canary Wharf Free but omitted to provide details. Any one know what it is ? Full q and A below

Lisa Nandy: To ask the Secretary of State for Education what variations in the requirement to comply with the School Admissions Code he has agreed in funding agreements with academies and free schools; and with which schools he has made any such agreement. [84248]

Mr Gibb: All academies and free schools are required by their funding agreements to comply with the school admissions code, except in cases where to do otherwise would better support local children. This Government have agreed one derogation from the school admissions code for a specific free school, the Canary Wharf College Free School, and has also agreed that because of the accelerated timescale for the opening of UTCs, studio schools and free schools, there is no requirement for these schools to be within the local process for co-ordinating admissions in the first year of establishment. For future years they must be within local authority co-ordination.

Another gem was Grammar Schools: Free School Meals

Damian Hinds: To ask the Secretary of State for Education how many pupils at grammar schools are entitled to free school meals as a proportion of all pupils in (a) the catchment area at the school, (b) the local authority ward in which the school is located and (c) the local authority area in which the school is located. [86391]

Mr Gibb: The requested information by local authority area and local authority ward is shown in the following tables.[Quick glance shows all less than 3% most less than 1.5%]

Here's the link-quite hard to acess written answers archive

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Wed, 11/01/2012 - 10:52

re above post - found out today what Canary Wharf Colleges admissions deviation is .


Thanks Mr Wolfe..basically the kids of founders get second dibs at places ( after cared for children) . They openly state they can't take kids with physical disabilities.

While you might say the founders have worked hard a founder is defined as

"“Founders of the college are defined as the Proposers, and those who have provided specific assistance, advice, guidance or support to the Proposers in the preparation of the Application and Business Case for the College.”

Wonder how many parents offered their services ? Will they extend the clasue to anyone offering ongoing services ( mowing the lawn perhaps)

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Wed, 11/01/2012 - 10:55

All they have to do to show demand ( not "meet" it) is to ask local parents _"would you like your child to be taught in class sizes of 20" rather than " are you happy with your current school".
The government is so desperate for Free Schools to succeed they're happily funding the classroom infrastructure for small classes .

Adrian Elliott's picture
Mon, 16/01/2012 - 12:50

Cameron slaps down Gove on royal yacht
for Jubilee

David Cameron has slapped down his Education Secretary over a suggestion that the taxpayer should pay for a new royal yacht to mark the Queen’s diamond jubilee.

(Headline in today's Times)

No, that's what you call a bad start to your week!

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