Support your local school - it is still an election issue!

Fiona Millar's picture
It is almost five years since we set up the Local Schools Network. I think we are all amazed and pleased at how it has developed as a forum for views and ideas, and become an established part of the education landscape.

So this morning, on the day Parliament is dissolved and the writs are issues in constituencies around the country, I thought it might be worth reminding everyone of why we set up the site in the aftermath of the 2010 election. We founded the Local Schools Network because we wanted to give a voice to parents who use and support their local schools. We wanted to celebrate the achievements of those schools and to remind people that local non selective education systems are more than just a vehicle for good solid educational achievement. They can knit communities together and enable children to understand diversity as well as to share their common humanity.

We were outraged by the suggestion, so prominent in the 2010 election, that parents were so disillusioned with their local schools that they would flood to open new "free" schools. We also wanted to provide a place where we, and others, could dispel some of the myths that are perpetuated on a daily basis about state schools by the media, and sadly by some politicians. These are myths and lies about how our schools are run, about what goes on in them and also about how they should be supported and improved where necessary. We are proud to have also produced our first e-book"School Myths- and the evidence that blows them apart".

Five years on, things look a little different. There are question marks over the performance of some new diverse types of school, concern about the fragmentation of the system and about lack of clear local oversight. There are thousands of schools being micro-managed from Westminster, areas of the country where there aren't enough school places at all and, in the wake of Michael Gove's departure, renewed interest from all the political parties in collaboration, rather than competition, and in the future of the teaching profession.

There are also other grass roots activists like Madeleine Holt who founded Meet the Parents. You can see Madeleine here


talking about why she started a local networking programme to encourage people to use their local schools, and how it has taken off in London.

So the 2010 Parliament is gone. But we are still standing and in the next five years will continue to make the case that it is great heads and teachers and flourishing local all ability schools, answerable to their communities, challenged when necessary but always supported, that will provide the route to personal success for each young person and to a fairer more cohesive society.

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Leah K Stewart's picture
Mon, 30/03/2015 - 13:44

I'm a huge fan of how many initiatives individuals are starting and growing to discuss schooling in a completely honest, open and human way. The Local Schools Network is a great example, as is Meet the Parents. Keep going everyone!

Michele -Lowe's picture
Mon, 30/03/2015 - 22:33

I'm very glad you mention the element of collaboration in schools. One of my reservations about schools in general and specifically from having worked in them (which is four in my area), is their tendency to become insular. Schools can become little worlds unto themselves if they're not careful. Whilst I'm sure this was not of the minds of the architects of the London Challenge, it has had an interesting effect on Wales as the principles of greater collaboration and sharing expertise has worked its way over to us.
Technically, Wales like Scotland and N Ireland has a separate education system. But in fact, so much of what goes on in English schools - good and bad - filters through. Though academies are of extremely low interest to us, I have to report. Whether I have been in the staff room as employee, or on the other side as parent, I don't think I have ever heard anyone raise the subject of academies, still less free schools.
So on this 5th anniversary and with an election looming, I'd like to thank especially Janet, Melissa, Roger and Henry for their detailed and reliable fact finding, detail mining and number crunching. It's invaluable to have the facts at your fingertips when framing your arguments. Diolch o galon.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 31/03/2015 - 10:11

If it weren't for LSN, I think I would have gone berserk. I was so angry when I discovered in early December 2010 that our new Government was lying in the most brazen way.

The DfE had put out a press release about the UK plummeting down international league tables since 2000. But I'd found a briefing paper by the OECD (the body responsible for the PISA tests the Gov't was citing) which said the results for the UK in the year 2000 were flawed and should NOT be used for comparison.

But the Gov't was doing just that. And the lie was taken up enthusiastically by most of the media.

I contacted some newspapers (only one journalist answered). I contacted the Today programme - no reply. I wrote to my MP - he passed the letter to the DfEr. I wrote to Number Ten saying if Education Secretary Michael Gove didn't know about the warning he was incompetent and should go. If he did know about the warning he was misleading the public and should go. Number Ten sent my letter to the DfE. Michael Gove didn't go (at least, not then).

Fortunately, FullFact took up the story. I wasn't mad.

Then I stumbled on the Local Schools Network. I submitted a story thinking I was just sharing it with LSN's founders. But it was published. That was the beginning. I've written a few more stories since then.

With heartfelt thanks (that's English for Diolch o galon - thanks Michele. I was chuffed when I guessed 'galon' might be 'heart' - I've taught myself the first verse and chorus of that great Welsh hymn Calon Lan. It sounds awful when I sing it but I love it.)

Michele -Lowe's picture
Tue, 31/03/2015 - 12:55

Croeso/You're welcome, Janet! I do sense some traction in the opposite direction from where we were in the public debate 5 years ago and I think LSN has played a significant part in this. I'm thinking of public figures prepared to stand up for the comprehensive system which educated them. The ones who spring to mind are Robert Peston with his Speakers for Schools programme and Evan Davis, whom I've read in interview talking about his educational background. Whilst this is hardly a social revolution and still a huge section of the media at the top level (i.e. the gatekeepers) are still wedded to private education, it is nevertheless something of a move away. Heck! Even Michael Gove and our (for the present) Prime Minister are sending their eldest children to a state school, albeit a seemingly selective academy. But given where they start from, that's still quite a shift. It remains to be seen whether they stick to it, but for the time being, it's not a bad start. Added to that, the Conservative Party have noticeably not sought a return to grammar schools and 11+ selection.

I also sense that the gilt is coming off the academy gingerbread. Recent events in Birmingham schools have highlighted the problem of a lack of accountability, there have been financial shenanigans in some schools and the Education Select Committee has concluded academisation has led to no overall improvement in educational performance.

Changing the public narrative takes a long time and a lot of repeating oneself. It's making headway, so many thanks Fiona, Melissa, Francis for having the pluck to put yourselves forward for interview and debate on tv and radio. I'm sure it's draining and time consuming, but it's starting to work.

David Barry's picture
Tue, 31/03/2015 - 22:15

Janet puts it very eloquently. For me LSN has provided an essential platform in which I could express my outrage at a particular incident in my neighbourhood, where public land was appropriated by the government to be used as a site on which to build a new building costing millions of pounds for use by a "Free School" in an area without need for the places, where the surrounding schools are good and outstanding, and where the school was being set up and run by a profit making company behind the facade of a "exempt charitable trust" which is controlled by the profit making company and buys services from it. Making private profit from public investment. ( I am referring to Whitehall Park School of course.

That was MY "PISA moment"

Did my posting here actual achieve anything? Well, together with a lot of other peoples efforts (and yes, LSN was a rallying point) a little WAS achieved. Not enough, but a start, and we press on.

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