What they don't want you to know about Cavell School

David Ward's picture
The imposed Interim Executive Board's consultation on the future of Cavell School in Norwich has just finished. Well, I say "consultation" - it was that in name only. It consisted of two pages of propaganda about academies and the proposed sponsor, followed by an invitation to comment.

Feeling that this is hardly an adequate means of determining our views, I asked the IEB for some assurances about this consultation. I wanted an assurance that our views could possibly have any effect, objective criteria specified in advance for that change to occur, and independent oversight of the process to ensure that they weren't simply rubberstamping their own decision. Having initially received an airy brush-off, I asked the same questions every day for a fortnight. I was completely ignored, not even getting an acknowledgement.

Clearly, their utterly transparent plan was to honour the letter of the law, but not the spirit, and avoid any questions that required them to be honest about their intentions. Most notably, to prevent Cavell joining the familiar list of schools where parents' views have been completely ignored - Downhills, Warren School, Dorothy Barley and many others - they carefully avoided asking whether we actually wanted the school to become an academy. So we ran our own consultation.

We had a strong response, covering parents, staff and the wider community who have been completely ignored by the IEB, despite being important stakeholders. The results show exactly why the IEB so stubbornly denied us a true consultation:

•Only 19% of respondents felt that they had been given enough information about academies and the proposed sponsor
•Just 7% of respondents had faith in the IEB to decide on the best option for the school, or to respect parents’ views as expressed in their own consultation
•83% of all respondents wanted the school to join the Co-operative Trust, with a further 8% unsure. Among parents, 92% supported the Co-op proposal.

The IEB, Norfolk County Council and Michael Gove dislike these inconvenient facts, but they lie at the heart of the injustice that has been done to an entire community. We have been dictated to and our voice ignored by people who will not have to live with the consequences of their actions. We will, and so will our children, but we have been denied a say.

If becoming an academy would be the best outcome for the school, they should have made that case and persuaded us that they were right. If it wouldn’t, they should never have pushed for it to happen. That such a fundamental change is being forced through in this way is a sign of the weakness of the evidence in favour of sponsored academies and a real threat to basic principles of justice and liberal democracy.

But, we have repeatedly been told, there is no alternative. Never mind that the school is not in special measures, and never mind that the evidence - much of it covered here - suggests the school would be better served by the Co-operative Trust, or indeed anything but becoming a sponsored academy. The school is considered inadequate, and even "failing", because Ofsted said so a year ago, and results simply aren't good enough.

We know that Ofsted have a habit of rolling up with preconceptions in mind, and looking for evidence to support them. The discrepancy between recent inspections of Park View Academy alone tell us that much, with massively different outcomes driven by the political atmosphere and reasons for the inspections taking place. Cavell's inspection was part of a systematic sweep of the county specifically looking for failing schools, and the DfE have since gone public about their desire to open more academies in Norfolk. So there are serious questions about the objectivity of the verdict.

But what about the results? Don't they show that the school isn't doing well enough? Well no, actually. For all the rhetoric from Norfolk County Council, the school's really been doing rather well, especially when you consider that it's in the top quintile nationally for both statements of Special Educational Needs and eligibility for Free School Meals.

On progress against expectations:
•Progress in reading is in the 2nd quintile among similar schools and the 3rd quintile nationally
•Progress in mathematics is in the top quintile among similar schools, 2nd quintile nationally

On KS2 results:
•Spelling, punctuation and grammar is in the 3rd quintile among similar schools
•Reading is in the 2nd quintile among similar schools
•Mathematics is in the top quintile among similar schools, 2nd quintile nationally

This is not the profile of a failing school. There are areas where performance could improve, but between a difficult catchment and some areas of genuine strength, there is no good reason to assume that becoming an academy would do anything at all to improve the school. There's certainly no reason to dogmatically force the school to become one.

So the evidence shows that the school community are utterly opposed to this dictatorial academy agenda, and that despite attempts to run it down, the school is not only performing well but on a clear upward curve. Only a blinkered ideologue could ever support the way the school's been treated. Unfortunately, the nation's education is being run by just such a person, with others only too happy to support his blatant agenda.
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Neil Moffatt's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 15:01

The same story gets sadly repeated. You have my full sympathies.

Unions seem markedly passive in these matters, but maybe because they fall outside their teacher support role? A union of sorts to fight a DfE that categorically refuses to listen democratically is long overdue. A union of schools against a private-business serving bully. Who could or should start this ball rolling? The Anti Academies Alliance are well informed, so would be at least a supportive body ... volunteers?

Dom Peck's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 15:07


Let's unpack that, shall we?

The person whom you describe as a 'blinkered ideologue' (M.Gove) has the jump on you in that he is an elected politician (while you are not); his party (the Conservative party) won a majority of the seats in England at the last general election + a plurality of votes cast. That means Tory Gove has a mandate; you do not. You represent precisely no-one except your self.

So, let's have a little less presumption that 'we' speak for the people, shall we?

Sarah's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 17:01

Let's unpack it a little further. What about the principles of natural justice and rational evidence based decision-making? What is the point of consultation where the outcome is pre-determined and the local community have no opportunity to influence the outcome. Where is the evidence that academy conversion makes any discernible difference to educational outcomes for children. And if there is none - why do it, especially in the face of such parental opposition. Where is Gove's mandate for atomising the educational system, leaving academy trusts free to play fast and loose with public funds, to turn non faith schools into faith schools by stealth, to employ their own relatives, to over-pay themselves and give money to their own business interests. This wasn't what the country signed up to - nothing like. He is the epitome of an idealogue - 'an often blindly partisan advocate or adherent of a particular ideology' - blindly partisan in the face of overwhelming evidence, that's definitely Michael Gove to a T.

Brian's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 17:07

I'm not too sure about Gove's mandate which you seem to feel should prevent other people being presumptuous enough to disagree. In fact before the last election Clegg described the Tory education policy as 'a disaster for English education.' He might support it now of course ... this morning on Today he pointed out that only academies and free schools are required to teach 'British values' ... but I think we all know what his conversion is based on. Anything for a taste of power.

David Ward's picture
Thu, 19/06/2014 - 22:13

Dom, you are both presumptuous yourself, patronising and completely wrong. I'm not calling anyone a blinkered ideologue, just observing that you'd have to be one to think any of this makes a bit of sense. It isn't intended to refer to Gove necessarily, but if the cap fits...

I must have missed the point when the general election became a referendum on forced academisation, and the point when liberal democracy was ditched for dictatorship by a dogmatic minority (if you want to start quoting electoral results, pointless though it is, the Conservatives got 36% of the vote in 2010).

I do not claim to represent anyone in the sense of having a mandate to take action on their behalf, but the only people attempting to do that are the people who want to force the school down this path. The campaign to save Cavell is run by people who believe that being forced to become an academy would be bad for the school, it's true, but all we've ever been campaigning for is the school community to have the final say. That's the very opposite of claiming to speak for the people - it's pointing out that the IEB, the council and yes, Gove as well, are very clearly not speaking for the people, or representing them, because they have repeatedly shown no interest at all in the views of anyone who will actually live with the consequences of this ridiculous action.

So if you object to people claiming to speak for the people (something I have not done), you should be supporting our campaign and demanding a voice for the parents, staff and community who have been shut out and denied any say at all on the future of their school.

Sarah's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 17:35

'only academies and free schools are required to teach british values' - if that's indeed the case it's simply another demonstration of the ridiculous division created by Gove. Surely if british values should be taught in one sort of school they should be taught in all - and what's to prevent Gove insisting they are? Bonkeroony as Gove himself might say

Andy V's picture
Thu, 12/06/2014 - 19:54

Sarah, To the best of my understanding all schools will be expected to teach British Values from September 2014:


Neil Moffatt's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 15:47

Gove is a blinkered ideologue. He has demonstrated that repeatedly.

He was never trained, experienced or qualified to make decisions on education.

His party are part of a coalition, so they did not earn a majority.

The party election process is undemocratic in many ways - what leverage do we have of changing it so that Gove represents the people and not his own ideologies? How many in the UK actually want a void in representation of the desires and wishes of the people? Are we as a nation happy to be managed by politicians that feel no need to do what the masses want? For the Tories are acting in this self-serving manner.

I represent just myself in principle, but my opinions are shared by many I converse with and hear from via media such as Twitter. So my voice maybe one but it acts in accord with many. The many are being ignored - Gove acts with no sense of representation, no sense of democracy. It is a dictatorial, adversarial bargaining position - we, the people left solely with the options of striking or voting for another party twice a decade.

What is your position then? Are you happy for a man and his ideologies to trample over communities and the spirit that these communities can cultivate?

Andy V's picture
Thu, 12/06/2014 - 20:00

Whether I agree or disagree to the proposition that "Gove is a blinkered ideologue" or not is not relevant but what seems to have been lost in the proposition is that the comment, "He was never trained, experienced or qualified to make decisions on education" is appropriate for the vast majority of politicians who have held the cabinet post of Secretary of State for Education. On that basis he is good company and follows a long established tradition.

Neil Moffatt's picture
Thu, 12/06/2014 - 21:04

Indeed - but why is this farcical and dangerous failure to appoint only qualified/experienced personnel perpetuated? Why do we have cabinet offices effectively run by novices? Gove would struggle to be accepted as a teacher in a school yet makes National decisions as if he had such experience.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 12/06/2014 - 21:24

And there lies one of the conundrums of our political system and structures. That is to say, and in very basic terms:

1. The electorate vote for a named candidate who normally is representing a political party. There is no requirement for the candidate to be qualified (formally or experientially) in politics per se.
2. Once elected the MP then walks the tightrope of representing their constituency and party (with the party having primacy)
3. MPs have the potential to be appointed to cabinet positions (either full cabinet if in power or shadow cabinet if in opposition). The primary qualification being their ability to exercise executive authority in the achievement of the party's goals. If they have any formal qualification(s)/experience relevant to the post this is a peripheral benefit but not a prerequisite.

It also has to be acknowledged that even appropriately qualified and experience professionals are likely to disagree over issues. That is to say, GPs often hold different positions to each other as do barristers and Head Teachers and Economists. On that basis I fear we would be no better off than the current system where decision makers rely on advisors but within the overarching parameter of achieving the party's goals.

Neil Moffatt's picture
Thu, 12/06/2014 - 22:17

Yes, an executive role with advisors filling in on their knowledge shortfall. Except that Gove appears to be reluctant to listen to any but his own voice ...

Andy V's picture
Thu, 12/06/2014 - 22:47

You may wish to ponder the following: May, Hunt and Grayling have no pertinent qualifications for their cabinet roles, although Hunt has a 1st in Phil, Pol and Econ but only the Pol has any relevance to being a politician as opposed to SoS Health

David Ward's picture
Thu, 19/06/2014 - 22:26

A quick update on this - the school's proposed sponsor took over another school a few months ago, their first, and the results have not been positive:

So much about this gives cause for concern, but the IEB responded surprisingly quickly when we contacted them about it, and said that it's all fine. Honest. They say the situation's different at Stalham, but won't say why. The nearest they've come to giving us any reassurance is the claim that they won't change much because Cavell does so many good things. So the school's both so bad that it must become an academy and so good that no one would want to change anything!

What's most alarming is that the IEB have no intention of letting us meet with the sponsor, or passing on any information at all, nor are they prepared to even pause for a moment to find out what's going on in Stalham, the only evidence so far of how they behave as a sponsor. Frankly, even if I was dead set on the school becoming an academy, I'd be calling a halt to everything right now until this is cleared up, because it looks utterly toxic.

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