Friday, July 03, 2009

Who do you want to see running Lewisham Schools?

Lewisham Council has recently announced two consultations on major changes to how a number of schools in Lewisham are run.

Goldsmiths Education Partnership - this proposal is asking for views on three schools in the north of the borough (Addey & Stanhope, Deptford Green and Crossways Academy) joining forces with Goldsmiths to form 'Goldsmiths Education Partnership'.
Catford High and Colfe's Education Partnership - this proposal is asking for views on Catford High and the fee-paying Colfe's School forming an 'education partnership' (while remaining as separate schools).

In both cases, the consultation period is short, and responses need to be received by 20th July for the Goldsmiths proposal and 22nd July for the Colfe's proposal.

Why is the Council making these proposals?
The arguments being put forward by officers and heads of these schools (and presumably with the support of Mayor & Cabinet, although it hasn't been formally discussed by them yet, as far as I know) is that this is the best way to achieve rapid improvements in these schools, and that the schools will benefit from the resources of Goldsmiths and Colfe's.

There has been no debate or vote taken at a Council level on either of these proposals, and they haven't been looked at by the Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee yet.

And the other side of the argument?
I atttended a public meeting organised by the NUT and Defend Education in Lewisham about the Goldsmiths proposal earlier this week, which over 80 local residents, parents, teachers and trade union members took part in.

I don't think anyone at the meeting was opposed to closer links between the 3 schools and Goldsmiths, but there was considerable concern that the proposals would result in a reduction in community and parental say in how the schools are run.

Under the proposals, rather than each school having its own governing body, with a combination of local authority, parent and staff governors, there would be one overarching governing body.

Local blogger Transpontine has a good summary of what this would mean in the case of the proposed Goldsmiths Partnership:

"The Goldsmiths Education Partnership (GEP) will have two levels of governance - the GEP Trust itself and the federated governing body that will replace the three current school governing bodies. The Trust will have six trustees, three nominated in perpetuity by Goldsmiths and one each initially by the governing bodies of Deptford Green, Crossways and Addey & Stanhope Schools. Each of the three nominated by the present governing bodies will be replaced on resignation by a nominee of the federated governing body of the three schools.

There is no requirement that any of these Trustees will be parent governors or staff governors. In fact the proposal does not specify how many parent or staff governors there will actually be - though by definiton a single governing body for three schools will have less parents involved than three governing bodies. It is proposed that the Goldsmiths Education Partnership will nominate the majority of the governors to the governing body - so there is a circular process in which Goldsmiths dominates the Trust which in turn determines the majority of governors, who then nominate the non-Goldsmiths members of the Trust. The proposal does say that 'each school will be legally required to set up a Parent Council which governors must consult so that more parents can be involved than would usually sit on the governing bodies'. The problem is that being consulted is not the same as actually having seats at the table where decisions are taken.

The proposal also mentions that 'The Trust may include an additional partner from the public or private sector able to make a complementary contribution' and that this partner may also nominate one or two additional Trustees. Without knowing who this partner is it is difficult to say much more, but clearly this would build in an automatic majority for Goldsmiths and the partner on the Trust, further marginalising the already limited scope for parent governor influence on it."

I don't think anyone is arguing against improving schools, and building good links with other local institutions such as Goldsmiths, but not at the cost of reducing still further any democratic input that parents and the local community have into how our schools are run. What is basically being proposed is a hard federation, similar to what is proposed for the new school, and which we argued against, for the same reasons.

The Catford High/Colfe's proposal is slightly different. The consultation document states:

"Catford High School would be a Colfe’s Associate School. It would remain a state school and have its own governing body, constituted outside the requirements of The School Governance (Constitution) (England) Regulations 2007, to include the Head Teacher of Colfe’s, and to allow Colfe’s to appoint other governors to strengthen the governing body significantly. The reconstituted Catford Governing body would report into the main Colfe’s Board, which would have responsibility to steer it and offer advice. The Catford Governing Body would have representation on the main Colfe’s Board and would take account of its views in deciding the strategic direction of the school and in making key operational decisions. Catford High School would change its name to reflect its aspirations and the new partnership."

As I understand it, this proposal seems to be about rebranding Catford High by associating it with the name of a prestigious private school, and a small number of the most academically-gifted pupils from Catford High may get bursaries to study in the sixth form at Colfe's. A further argument put forward is that with the 'Goldsmiths Partnership' proposal and the Prendergast hard federation already agreed, Catford High will be left out in the cold and isolated if it doesn't jump into bed with Colfe's. The document doesn't say why Catford High couldn't work in close collaboration with any of the other schools in Lewisham, eg Forest Hill, Sedgehill, Sydenham or Northbrook. I'm really not convinced and am again concerned that it will result in less parental and community say in how the school is run, the perpetuation of an 'us and them' two-tier system and giving an elite, fee-paying school a big say in how a community school is run.

I'm deeply concerned by both of these proposals, and the Green Group will be submitting reponses to both consultations. Whatever your views, I would urge you to do the same and have your say. I am concerned that the timing of these consultations, just as schools are breaking up for the summer holidays, means they might slip through 'under the radar' of many local people and parents.


Geoffrey said...

What I am confused about (!) is why is Lewisham Council rushing to divest itself of the responsibility for education in the Borough? Is it planning to "downsize" the education department and so save money? I think the Council is delivering itself a massive "no confidence" vote in it's ability to run education in the Borough. This surely reflects badly on the Mayor, and the Cabinet Member for Young People.
Of concern has to be the lack of influence parents and teachers will have in the running of the schools their children attend, or they teach at. The Goldsmith's Federation looks, as has been pointed out, like a self-perpetuating governing body. The Prendergast Federation reduces the representation from it's constituent parts, as does the Aske's/Manson "partnership".
Is Lewisham becoming a Borough where the education is privately run and where housing is in the hands of speculative developers and the ever-expanding housing associations?

Anonymous said...

All very good questions. It appears to be a case of officers following national government policy. This hasn't been considered by the Council or M&C yet as far as I am aware, and I'm not aware of any mayoral or cabinet member statement on the proposals either. The benefits of the proposals seem very tentative to me, although the benefits to Colfe's in terms of maintaining their charitable status seem clear.