Monday, December 31, 2007

'Our' faith schools

One of the oft-unspoken assumptions of those who support the academies scheme is that certain faith schools are all right, and should be encouraged. 'Normal' religions and denominations will be fine in the way they run schools, won't they?

This report suggests otherwise.

"In Fit for Mission, the document written for schools in the Lancaster diocese, O'Donoghue wrote: 'The secular view on sex outside of marriage, artificial contraception, sexually transmitted disease, including HIV and Aids, and abortion, may not be presented as neutral information ... parents, schools and colleges must also reject the promotion of so-called "safe sex" or "safer sex", a dangerous and immoral policy based on the deluded theory that the condom can provide adequate protection against Aids.'

The bishop also called for any books containing polemics against the Catholic faith to be removed from school libraries. 'Under no circumstances should any outside authority or agency that is not fully qualified to speak on behalf of the Catholic church ever be allowed to speak to pupils or individuals on sexual or any other matter involving faith and morals,' he said."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Secular school barred by Whitehall | UK News | The Observer

Secular school barred by Whitehall | UK News | The Observer

The school in question was the country's first 'trust' school. The basis of this site was the assumption that the greater powers over a school gained by an academy school sponsor would allow them to override the legal stipulation that there be an act of religious worship (specifically Christian worship) in every school every day. It appears that this might not be so. you could have a Wiccan academy school, but not a faithless one.

"One senior figure at the then Department for Education and Skills, told Kelley that bishops in the House of Lords and ministers would block the plans. Religion, they added, was 'technically embedded' in many aspects of education."

Unity has some insightful comments about the CofE's statement that: "Either overtly or by default, this country is still a Christian one." over at Liberal Conspiracy.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Oxbridge snub to government on academies | Special Reports | Guardian Unlimited Politics

Oxbridge snub to government on academies | Special Reports | Guardian Unlimited Politics: "Only one offer of a place at the university has so far been made to a pupil from any academy, but the student missed the grades required, it says."

The university in question is Cambridge. I realise that academies are meant to replace 'failing schools, but this hardly suggests that they are succeeding where the other schools failed. They are just failing more expensively...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"Eradicating Failure..."

SFS Group

Someone might want to point out to the Prime Minister that independent schools have not yet managed to 'eradicate failure' within their own walls, never mind in anyone else's. Certainly at the one I went to, there were all sorts of students who failed terribly. Some were not allowed to come back to the school for sixth form.

Think of it: a school that educates children so badly that it does not consider them of a high-enough standard to attend the school any more... Mr Brown seems to be confusing the notion of 'fee-paying' with that of excellence.

Oh, and he's dropping the requirement for an academy sponsor to make any financial commitment to a school at all - so now you can take over a school, change the curriculum in ways that you want, be exempted from following employment law, pursue your own weird educational theories for free! As long as you belong to a suitable organisation (ie - you are a fundamentalist Christian used car salesman from the North East).

Friday, October 26, 2007

Pimlico School

SFS Group

Now, there's a surprise. Conservative councillors in Westminster are trying to hand our schools over to Conservative donors like John Nash. Not that this is a party political point, but when, with the decision-making in the hands of local government, was it not going to be partisan?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Academies in crisis - News - Oldham Advertiser

Academies in crisis - News - Oldham Advertiser

Here's a story about Edutrust, who want to open lots of lovely, new multi-faith academy schools. They went to a number of meetings with Bradford council, at which they were asked many questions they failed to answer, or answered unsatisfactorily, according to one Lib Dem councillor, David Ward.

Towards the end of the consultation they withdrew, their Chief Executive having decided that the expense of the 18-month long involvement was: 'unlikely to deliver the desired academy.' So, now they're focussing their efforts on Oldham. A spokesman for Oldham Council said its experience with Edutrust had been 'extremely positive.'

Fortunately, the local MP has said that: 'Nothing is more important than our children's future.' So that's all right, then.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Some stakeholders are more equal than others

'We will enter into no further correspondence with you' | News crumb |

This story about Connor Birch's attempts to communicate with the steering group of a new Anglican academy school in Hereford is worrying. The steering group's attitude clearly indicates that, as Mr Birch is part of the National Secularist Society, his opinions on their proposals are not worth listening to, and even that they do not have to. Atheists obviously aren't 'stakeholders', like other members of the community...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Comment is free: The unbelievable privilege of faith

Comment is free: The unbelievable privilege of faith

This is an excellent article on CiF, outlining some of the arguments against faith schools generally, and certainly state-supported ones. It raises a few interesting issues:

One argument put forward by supporters of faith schools is that schools established by religious institutions predate schools run by the state. What this is an argument for, precisely, is unclear. One might as well point out that the first hospitals and libraries were all in religious institutions, and suggest that this indicates that they should be run this way to this day. Perhaps, as the Spanish Inquisition predates our current interrogation techniques, we should allow the Catholic Church to question suspects for the police...

That there have been schools set up by religious institutions far longer than there have been those set up by municipal or other nominally secular authorities is indicative of nothing more than the greater role religion played in our society in the past. A key difference is that these religious schools funded themselves, they did not expect the taxpayer to foot the bill.

Another point which caught my eye was the story of David McNab, an atheist teacher at a Roman Catholic school in Glasgow who was blocked from applying for a post involving pastoral care because he was not a Catholic. An employment tribunal ruled in his favour, but only because the school had failed to list the post as one of a 'reserved' nature, reserved for Catholics only.

It is an odd situation when, since the Religious Discrimination Act of 2004, an employer cannot refuse to employ someone for a post on the grounds of their religion, but a religious employer can refuse to employ someone in a post because of their lack of religion.

Quaequam Blog! » Blog Archive » The Great Faith School Swindle

Quaequam Blog! » Blog Archive » The Great Faith School Swindle

This is a great post, pointing out the hypocrisy of some of those who are manipulating our democratic processes, in order to build more faith schools.

"So, here we have a man lauding the power of faith schools to bring people together, while actively fighting legislation that would actually mean it happened. On a programme about a religious festival; some would call that politicisation. And he uses license fee payers’ money to indulge in this wanton hypocrisy. Doncha just love it?"


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Blood & Treasure: lots of good work for charity

Blood & Treasure: lots of good work for charity

Sorry there have not been too many updates recently. Still, it appears that any hope that change at the top would lead to a reassessment of the academies programme was naive in the extreme. All of the major parties seem to be agreed that academy schools are good things, despite there being no evidence to back that belief up...

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Magic of Childhood

You'll be glad to know that Peterborough's new academy will be built without a playground, as it might lead to: '“uncontrollable” numbers of children running around in breaks at the 2,200-pupil school', according to this article in The Sunday Times.

Apparently, pupils are to be treated more like 'company employees', and will get their exercise in PE lessons in a nearby field.

' “We are not intending to have any play time,” said Alan McMurdo, the head teacher. “Pupils won’t need to let off steam because they will not be bored.”'

Some staff also add that it will avoid children falling victim to bullies in the playground. Ah yes, that must always have been the way to deal with bullying in the playground - remove the playground. This is the kind of joined-up thinking that will, fortunately, predominate at academies.

Let's face it, what right-thinking academy sponsor wants to see idle children shrieking and running around when they could be learning valuable time-keeping skills, or preparing themselves for the sorts of leisure-free lives their parents lead.

Anyone who does not find the following paragraph worrying has lived too long in Blair's Britain:

'There will be a 30-minute lunch period when pupils will be taken to the dining room by their teacher, ensuring they do not sneak away to run around.'

And the following epitomises the backward management-think that characterises most New Labour projects:

' However, Delap, who has run the academy project on behalf of its sponsor, Perkins Engines, and the Deacon school trust, said that playgrounds did not fit into the concept.'

When playgrounds do not fit the concept of a school, when children have to be escorted to a dining hall to ensure that they do not run around during their lunch hour, and when a school thinks that it has so many pupils they might become 'uncontrollable' at lunch break, there is something wrong with the school.

I'm sure Delap are proud of themselves for ticking all of those Blairite boxes of 'thinking outside the box', 'blue-sky thinking' and 'slaying old-world shibboleths that are holding us back.' It's a shame they do not realise what humungous shitehawks they are.

To those that think 'structured hydration' is a suitable replacement for break time, I have nothing further to say. At present, the world is yours, but there will come a time when ordinary people, more interested in quality than enforced 'choice' will replace your quotas with humanity, and will learn again to live full lives without your 'help'.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Brown Academies?

The media have jumped on Gordon Brown's suggestions that he would "continue to support and finance" academy school as evidence that education policy will continue in the same way under a Brown government. I am not sure that follows, however.

The statement is distinctly lukewarm when compared to Tony Blair's messianic zeal for the unproven, expensive wastes of public money. After all, what is Mr Brown's alternative? To refuse to finance the schools? To withdraw all funding from them.

I'm not hugely hopeful about the direction of education under Mr Brown, but don't see his comments to The World At One as being particularly troublesome. I can even bring myself to hope that they indicate a slight change in emphasis...

No Academy For Haringey

The Schools' Adjudicator has ruled that the new school in Haringey will be a council-run comprehensive. It beat two proposals for academy schools, and one for a trust school. More information can be found here.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Heartsease Debate

Apparently, there is to be a meeting to debate the academy to replace Heartsease High in Norwich (see last post). It should be interesting to see the results...

Monday, April 30, 2007

When You're Allowed To Bend The Rules...

This article explains how Heartsease school does not fit the criteria for transformation into an academy. It is not a failing school, and there are two other schools, which better fit the criteria in the area.

However, the Christian sponsors of the school are said to have preferred the school that was doing better, which they are going to knock down. This quite clearly shows that the academy scheme is not being run for the benefit of communities or pupils, but rather to best benefit the sponsors, and to show the scheme itself to best advantage. If (according to the National Audit Office) you cannot use the scheme to get value for money in failing schools, why not try in ones that run perfectly well...

"Heartsease High does not fit the criteria set out by the government for transformation into an academy. Recent improvements in performance mean it is far from a “failing” school. In fact, the government initially earmarked the Park High at King's Lynn and Oriel High at Gorleston as perfect sites for Norfolk's first academy. But Mr Dacre and the Bishop of Norwich preferred Heartsease. Norfolk County Council was always likely to support the plan, on the basis that £2m of private money and £25m from the government was too good to turn down. There are also strong suggestions that the government has told local authorities that their ability to access millions of pounds in cash from the building schools for the future initiative, to transform high schools, is linked to how many academies they successfully promote."

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Government Officer responds to NAO criticisms

Last month, the National Audit Office noted academies' terrible results in Maths and English, their failure to be responsive to local communities, and the fact that almost all were over-budget. Here, David Bell responds to those criticisms, as reported by The Guardian. He is 'glad' that, although they are not doing so at the moment, academies are 'on track to deliver value for money'.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Headteachers in Academies

The ASCL union reports that many head teachers are losing their jobs in the new academy schools, because they do not fit the aims and ideal of the prvate sponsors.

Some people, will, no doubt see this as a welcome clearing out of the dead wood who presided over 'failing' secondary schools. Those people might also think that a market solution will obviously produce better than those who have been seen to fail.

Other of us migth not be so optimistic...

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Rewriting the Rules

According to yesterday's TES, the draft code for schools admissions has been altered since it was consulted on, on order to exempt Academy schools. The phrase 'admission authorities' has been changed to 'admission authorities for all maintained schools', allowing academies to argue that it does not apply to them, as they are distinct from 'maintained schools' in the document.

The fact that this has been changed since the draft version of the document was produced and consulted on by the government suggests that it was a change which was meant to go unnoticed. It also chimes in nicely with the increasingly-frantic Blairites' desire for 'permanent revolution'...I'm sorry 'irreversible reform'.

Monday, February 26, 2007

NAO criticises Academies

"The National Audit Office (NAO) criticised the academies scheme for millions of pounds of cost-overruns, low exam results, poor A-level provision and a failure to collaborate with neighbouring schools." from the Norwich Evening News.

The National Audit Office, of course, is the Parliamentary body, independent from government, that sees of public policy is being administered in a way that delivers value for money.

"In a new report, the NAO said academies cost more than other schools to build and most of the projects ran over-budget by an average of £3m."

Another interesting facet is this: "The report also reveals that academies are being forced to restrict community groups from using their facilities in order to avoid VAT liability, despite the fact that academy buildings were always intended for community use."
A new report from the IPPR suggests that allowing schools to pick their pupils on the basis of their parents' faith leads to their being less representative of local communities, according to The Telegraph. Needless to say, Lord Adonis has said that this will have no effect on Government policy.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

US sponsors pull out

US sponsors of the 'charter school' scheme in America have pulled out of negotiations on sponsoring academy schools in Great Britain, as reported in the Daily Telegraph here. The company has not been named, but it marks a blow to Mr Blair's aim to have another 400 of these schools that no one wants to sponsor.

Which is why we should. Education is too important to be left in the hands of fanatics as we stand to one side and tut. We should aim to sponsor secular, liberal, humanist schools ourselves, to engage with the government's activities (at £2 million per school, it's an absolute bargain!) rather than sighing and blogging about the perils of the academies scheme.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

"Jews are monkeys, and Christians are worthless"

This kind of sentiment is being taught at King Fahd School in Acton, according to former teacher there, Colin Clarke. This article outlines his allegations in more detail.

The schoolis funded by the Saudi government to teach Wahhabism (?). This shows the kinds of corrosive intolerance which pervades some religious teaching, and is a prime example of why we should not tolerate greater religious influence in state-funded academies. (King Fahd is privately-funded, although the Saudi government could, presumably, afford the £2 million to become an academy sponsor)

The new Labour government has a radical faith-based agenda, and seems to have no discriminatory faculty when it comes to faith groups or businesses. They are, by dint of being faith groups or businesses, obviously a good thing. Let's raise the money to set up our own, faithless schools, and set new standards in education.

Friday, February 02, 2007

No Steiner Academy in Hereford

This report tells of Herefordshire Council's decision not to allow the conversion of the fee-paying Hereford Waldorf School into an Academy, funded by £10 million of government money:

Councillor Godfrey Davis said he couldn't see why government was giving one school "millions" to make itself an academy when the county was crying out for cash to keep village schools going.

I like the fact that it was being branded as an 'eco-academy' to try to make it sound more appealing...

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

ID packs for schools

Slightly off-topic, but here's the Newsnight interview with Andrew McIntosh, whose 'Truth In Science' group is promoting Intelligent in schools.
There is an interview in today's Guardian with Steve Chalke , who runs Oasis, the Baptist organisation that runs five academies:

'"Creationism is a load of garbage," Chalke declares. "Genesis is a poem based on a Babylonian creation myth."

Chalke insists that anyone can work for Oasis and any of its organisations. "People have to be committed to the ethos, but they don't have to be Christian," he says. "We want depth, not a label. I'm not interested in who says they are a Christian or not, but whether they are inspired by the message of Christ of inclusion and equality"'

His different vision of how academy schools should work, and how faith organisations can be involved in what have been traditionally the state's roles in service provision are interesting.

The question remains, however, as to whether or not the state should subsidise his ideas about what a school should be...

Friday, January 19, 2007

Not Schools of Choice...

Here, Melissa Benn explains why academies are not always schools of choice. She highlights the case of Labour MP Karen Buck, who removed her child from an Academy to go to the local comprehensive.

"As long as some schools are allowed to engineer favourable intakes for themselves - be they private, grammar or faith schools - and then build on that advantage, those will be seen to be the successful schools"