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Saturday, 16 May 2020 10:42

Schools to Defy Unions and Reopen Next Month

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Sub Heading: Academies back government despite virus fears.

Update: Kent Council issues what appears to be a non-statement on school opening. According to KentLiveKent County Council breaks silence on planned schools reopening date - Matt Dunkley, Kent County Council’s Corporate Director for Children, Young People and Education, said they will still open in a safe environment. He said: “We are monitoring the national position carefully, following guidance from Government and working closely with head teachers in support of their preparations to further open schools to a wider cohort of children on Monday, June 1, at the earliest. "Our priority will be to ensure all children, young people and staff in Kent schools can learn and work in a safe environment and we will do everything necessary to support schools to achieve this.”

I rarely comment on national issues, but this utterly misleading headline above the only front page story on The Times today, has incensed me even though I am a subscriber. It draws its conclusion from just four macho academy trusts who haven't waited until details have been agreed, and ignoring many others with a contrary view. 

Harris Federation is a large and high performing chain with 49 schools, although none in Kent or Medway, and is a favourite of government so is indeed worth listening to but not to this extent. 

The next two, Oasis and REAch2 are well known in Kent for running two of the worst schools in the county for years and I have written extensively about both. One of their main features is complete failure to persuade parents they are capable of offering a decent education, so they are hardly likely to be listened to on this issue. Last year, of the 324 offers of places at Oasis Isle of Sheppey  in September, 101 were made up of Local Authority Allocations. By October the number taking up these places had fallen to 251 pupils, with many of the missing 73 pupils, or over 20% of the total offers, having gained places at other local schools, most on appeal. This is an  annual slump in numbers which last September saw the school effectively close one of its two sites. Low academic performance, frequent removal of Principals, very high exclusion rates and high turnover of staff, with a third of them being unqualified teachers last year, are features of the school. I wrote an article in 2019 which looked in some detail at the shocking failings of the Copperfield Academy in Gravesham and its sponsors REAch2, identifying the massive turnover of teachers and headteachers as the central issue during the Trust's six years in charge, never mind its being in Special Measures with amongst the worst KS2 performances in the county. For the coming September, 42 of the 71 places offered are Local Authority Allocations. I can see no way whatsoever, that the government initiative will be supported by the families of children attending these two schools. 

I had never heard of the fourth Trust, Guildford Educational Partnership until today, but it turns out to be a small academy Trust in Guildford, with just  three secondary and four primary schools. The sponsors of this article must be desperate!

Update Note: My article is primarily critical of the item in The Times, and four academy trusts who appear to have leapt in regardless, in their enthusiasm to follow the government's lead. The various comments below give different opinions on how to manage the crisis, as do views from headteachers in the local  media such as St George's Sheppey, St Peter's AylesfordSkills for Life Trust, Kent Association of Headteachers, here, etc. Governing Bodies and headteachers of individual schools are those legally and morally responsible for the consequences of their actions, taking their own circumstances and the risks involved into account. Any view of my own from the safe sidelines is irrelevant beside these.  

The Times tries to make out that it is the teaching unions which are 'the enemy' in opposing the opening of schools, ignoring the multiple counter examples of schools and academy trusts featured in local and national media with a contrary view. I have spoken with the leaders of several of these in the past week and all are very worried about the safety of children, parents and teachers and their families, and the impracticability and safety of following the detailed government advice. None has  mentioned the unions. Even more importantly the British Medical Association, representing the country's doctors, has argued that the number of coronavirus infections remains too high to allow schools to run safely. 

I do not consider I have particular insights on this crucial issue of the health of the nation, but it is surely essential to maintained a reasoned approach, based as far as possible on evidence and with the consent of parents. Unbalanced and misleading articles such as this do nothing to help the debate.

For examples of my coverage of the misfortunes of the children educated at Copperfield Academy and Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey,  follow the links and my website search engine. 





Read 486 times Last modified on Saturday, 23 May 2020 10:35


  • Comment Link Monday, 18 May 2020 06:47 posted by Jason

    At the end of the day, this will be down to parents who will decide!

  • Comment Link Sunday, 17 May 2020 12:14 posted by Lonely Headteacher, keen to do best by pupils

    As usual we are being offered little support from KCC, which appears keen to make sure that if it all goes wrong, it will be headteachers and not the Local Authority to blame. Not surprisingly The Education People who should be supporting us, are chickening out.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 17 May 2020 12:10 posted by School governor

    What I find intriguing is that the CEOs of these four Trusts rowed in behind the DfE; but they are employees appointed by Boards, where is the voice of the legal entity that must indemnify their pronouncements ie the Board Chairs? Seems the tail is wagging the dog. PETER: Surely, even more important are the heads of the individual schools with their very different conditions and safety issues. See my two examples at Sheppey and Copperfield

  • Comment Link Sunday, 17 May 2020 12:07 posted by Education Adviser

    Governors across Kent are frustrated with the totally negative attitude of the teaching unions. All of the headteachers and teachers I work with are desperate to get children back into school, particularly the disadvantaged. Schools have been open for children of key workers since lockdown started in March - by definition they are in a group subjected to highest risk of infection from their parents yet there have been no reported problems. Schools have implemented hygiene routines and social distancing which are readily extended to groups of 15 which are easily extended to the year groups identified for return in phase 1. We need to do everything possible to ensure children return to school ASAP. PETER: This has to be the decision of individual headteachers, first and foremost, aware of the circumstances of their particular school, and supported by their governors, as they carry the can if it goes wrong. I am sure every headteacher wants to do this as soon as it is safe to do so, but opinions will differ. Personally I see little wrong with the Teaching Unions principles for a safe return.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 17 May 2020 09:03 posted by Janet Downs

    Jon Cole, United Learning, is right that primary schools, indeed all schools, will have to open eventually. But starting the re-opening on 1 June, especially in the piecemeal way proposed, is not just unsafe but impractical.
    The virus isn't going to go away soon. We're going to have to find ways of living with it.Far better to prepare schools for opening in September.
    This will require extensive planning both locally and nationally. Each school is different. Heads, staff and governing bodies will need to consider what measures will need to be taken in their unique schools: how to keep children and staff as safe as possible; rewriting the timetable; opening/closing times; use of space; movement round the school, transport issues.
    Jon Cole said schools would need twice as many classrooms and twice as many teachers. What is perhaps needed is an initiative such as Raising the School Leaving Age (RoSLA). Portable classrooms need to be provided double quick (Government, please note).
    Twice as many teachers is far more difficult than premises. I believe in high-quality teacher education but we live in extraordinary times. Creative use of TAs; persuading trained teachers who've left the profession to return.
    'Opening in September' should be the mantra not 'Opening in chaos in June.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 17 May 2020 05:37 posted by Seeker After Knowedge

    Peter: I can see this article focuses on the unbalanced nature of The Times article but isn't it the wider picture that is critical. where do you stand? PETER: It is years since I retired as a head and also as a Chairman of Governors. Whilst I still talk to headteachers, and have relatives in the profession, I cannot imagine the challenges they face and don't consider myself to have a special insight into the chalkface. I prefer to focus on the practical consequences of Coronavirus for the families of children in Kent and Medway schools.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 16 May 2020 16:45 posted by Sheppey Absentee

    I live on Sheppey and am one of the many parents who wouldn't send their child to the ***** when there was no coronavirus. I teach her at home as well as I can. Why would anyone trust it to keep children safe when they can't do so in normal times. The amount of bullying reported is a scandal.

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