Friday, May 28, 2010



Simon Jenkins 'The Guardian' May 28 2000

As Simon Jenkins noted there is a long and somewhat inglorious tradition of central government attempting to micro manage and run all of the schools in England. The Conservatives tried to free Grant Maintained Schools (GMS) from local authority control, with only a stingy financial bait few schools opted for it.

Heads of GMS schools escaped from local authority oversight or auditing, so this allowed Bromley’s Imelda Marcos, Colleen McCabe, to embezzle, between 1994 and 1999, £500,000 from St John Rigby College . She spent the money on shoes, exotic holidays, cosmetics and a Crystal Palace season ticket. Eighteen months after she began to use the school funds as a personal bank account Ofsted reported that McCabe provided “strong, sensitive and skilful leadership”. Financial planning was “good” and the auditor’s report was “excellent”. Only when the staff finally gave evidence was she exposed as a fraud.

New Labour introduced its 'Fresh Start' scheme where failing schools were closed and reopened with new staff. This was based on the 'Reconstitution' experiment in San Francisco, or as one teacher union leader dubbed it 'The My Lai approach, in order to save the village you have to destroy it first'. 'Fresh Start' never recovered from that car crash moment in 2000 when four 'super-heads' resigned in one week.

It is true that some academies are 'popular' with parents, yes, throw £20 odd-million at a school - new classrooms, shiny reception areas, state of the art computer suites and down the road is Gasworks Comprehensive with its leaky roofs and windows, you don't need to be a genius to work out which school gets more applications.

The other effect of 'school reform' is to reinforce the cycle of failure. Last year the House of Commons Education Select Committee found that 43 schools judged to be in serious weakness in 2001/2 had declined further and were placed in special measures the following year. They noted that some schools were, “unable to attract high-achieving pupils or well-qualified staff, making improvement more difficult.” Of those schools placed in special measures between 1995 and 1997, 40% subsequently closed.

In 2007 Bradford Academy opened with a fanfare of publicity. It originally opened in 1963 as Fairfax community school; in 1992 it was ‘named and shamed’ in the first official league tables; 1994 placed in special measures with the threat of closure; 1996 re-launched as Bowling community college; 2000 reopened as a Church of England school - Bradford Cathedral community college; 2002 placed in special measures; 2004 out of special measures.

When a school under local authority control fails it is the local authority that takes the blame. So no prizes for guessing who will be under the spotlight when a centrally controlled Academy fails.


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