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Parents vs. the system: which side is Labour on?

12 July 2013

Should Labour support private schools joining the state sector? Yes, is probably your immediate response but in reality, Labour’s position is unfathomable. A case in point is the battle for The King’s School, which I’ve written about in this week’s Spectator. The King’s School is due to move into the state sector this September and merge with the local Priory Primary School to create the all-new King’s Priory Academy.

North Tyneside, where both schools reside, is one of the poorest boroughs in the country. Opening up an excellent fee-paying school to parents who (like mine) can’t afford a £10,000 per-year education should be welcomed by all. But Labour, locally and nationally, have failed to back the merger.

When I visited Tynemouth, I was struck by the posters in shop windows voicing support for the merger. 95 per cent of parents at the Priory primary and 80 per cent of those at King’s voted in support of the merger. Judging by the comments underneath the article, Michael Gove has done the right thing to approve the new academy. One parent, heatherpea, says:

‘My eldest daughter is in reception at Priory, and the school is an outstanding success thanks to the leadership and dedication of it’s teachers – in other words, despite the LA [local authority]…it’s just a pitty that the council have been so cynical and manipulative in their objections, which have been timed in a number of instances to cause maximum distress and anxiety to parents.’

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Amanda Gadema has more to say on why the Priory school will benefit from academy status:

‘The Priory school has too long been under funded by the LA, with toilets still flooding (only on Monday did this happen again) leaving the school carpets outside the toilets and classrooms smelling of urine, the have a faulty wiring system for the lights, which can go off at anytime (Tuesday) and the temporary portacabins that were placed in the key stage 1 yard for reception students some 2 decades ago……this is just a small snippet of what the Priory children and teachers have to put up with on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis. All due respect to Miss Melbourne and her outstanding group of teachers, which make Priory Primary the outstanding school it is today.’

That is what the government’s education revolution is really about: giving teachers, not local authorities, power to decide what happens in schools. But Labour continue to flip-flop on whether they support the creation of such academies. The shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg has said in the past he does not support academies in areas with place allocation issues, but claims to to be supportive of the academies principle.

As the response from @EducationLabour suggests, Labour aren’t very happy about how they have been portrayed in this article — particularly because a quote from Twigg’s on academies was not included. When I initially put the King’s proposition to his spokesman this week, this is the statement I received back:

‘Labour supports the principle of private schools coming into the state sector – this can help spread opportunity and help deliver great education to more children in the state sector. We also strongly support academies, and think any new academy should work in collaboration with other local schools to raise standards across the board.’

As this  adds to the confusion — and doesn’t state if they support the King’s merger or not — it was not included in the article. Following the rubber-stamping of the merger, I have asked this afternoon whether Labour has changed its position the Kings Priory Academy. A Labour spokesman told me their position remains but:

‘We support private schools coming in to the state sector. We are agnostic about this particular case, as we don’t have all the details of the case.We certainly think it shouldn’t be blocked on ideological grounds.’

For North Tyneside Council — who appear unhappy at the idea of losing the primary school from their empire — the battle is far from over. The Journal reports that following the Education Secretary’s decision to sign off the merger, the ‘disappointed’ council has decided to stage a special meeting to ‘ensure all members can consider the consequences of this decision for our children and schools. Following this, the authority will decide on its next steps.’

The sleepy seaside town of Tynemouth is becoming the latest battleground for this government’s education policy. It’s the parents vs. the establishment, fighting for who controls their children’s’ education. Hold on, and grab some popcorn — the battle for the King’s Priory Academy is not quite over.

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  • lastofthecheesemongers

    My daughter studies at Marden High School, the secondary school which will be most affected by the new Academy. For a number of decades, Marden has had a partnership with Priory Primary School with approximately 55 pupils transferring to Marden each year (out of a year group of 180). Marden has a good reputation locally and achieved GCSE result well above average last year (73% 5 A* to C GCSEs).

    As a parent, I’m concerned that the funding of Marden will decrease significantly as a result of opening an additional secondary school and the breaking of the partnership with Priory. This may mean a degradation in the school’s ability to provide a full and rigorous curriculum with GCSE suject specialists.

    I’ve spoken to many Marden parents, who feel that we’ve not been given any voice in the consultation over the new Academy. The Tynemouth parents are very, very vocal and well organised and have basically shouted down any person or group that has raised concerns over the proposal. The DfE do not appear to be interested in the concerns of Marden and have even disseminated information which is downright misleading (e.g. they claim the school had 304 applications for 181 places, but failed to mention this included 2nd and 3rd choice applications. In reality, the school rarely turns away children who put it down as their 1st choice).

    In a nutshell, there are a lot of spare secondary school places in North Tyneside (18.3%) and we really don’t need another secondary school. North Tyneside Council (both under Conservative control and since May 2013, under the Labour Party) have raised issues about this process and it most certainly NOT a party political issue, the line spun by Sebastian and others.

    North Tyneside has terrific schools and is regarded as the best LA in
    the North East for education. At ‘A’ level, state schools such as
    Whitley Bay and St.Thomas More regularly outscore King’s despite it
    being a selective school with students from the highest socio-economic group.

    The new Academy may mean a nice school for affluent middle class people in Tynemouth (hardly poor, as Sebastian suggests!) but this will probably will result in the closure of another school in the borough at some point down the line as numbers will just be too small to be viable. This would likely be a school like Norham High School, a small school (500 students) which serves children in one of the poorest parts of the North East and which does a great job in difficult circumstances (50% of the children are classed as disadvantaged). I support NTC in trying to stick up for kids like this.

    Given this is a ‘done deal’ (and always was), I and other non-KIng’s parents will now endeavour to support our children and the schools they attend. I wish King’s Priory ‘good luck’ for the future.

  • Radford_NG

    I would make all council schools independent on the model of the CofE schools.All schools (inc.Public and Private) would have the right to send a representative to a County-wide Schools Council;which would elect a County Schools Committee;which would appoint a Director of Education (on a 28 day notice) to organise such collective service as may be usefull. I would abolish the divisive titles `free` &`academy`(except where historically appropriate-as in The Marcia Blain Academy).This may need some working on,but goes in the right direction.

  • Georgina_Crescent

    Labour approves of social mobility only within a career of which it approves and, especially, only after a period of indoctrination in an institution it controls. Otherwise it is a concept it fears and detests. It has always been so.

    • lastofthecheesemongers

      Can you elaborate further on how this Academy will improve social mobility in North Tyneside? It’s intake will almost be exclusively from middle class affluent families.

  • Old Fox

    But my poor stupid chump, they WON’T (as you suggested elsewhere) have access to “the best education the north east can offer” because that “best” is centrally and inescapably founded upon SELECTION and this revolting little Cameron-Blair compromise – the “academcy” (how Plato would have howled) flinches from that necessary measure – as, it seems, do you. You should be weeping and mourning the loss of your old school to the socialist dominated state. Instead, with more than Cameronian complacency you prattle of the “discomfiture” of a few Labour hacks.

    • lastofthecheesemongers

      the “best” is centrally and inescapably founded upon SELECTION

      Err… perhaps you should read the recent research from The Sutton Trust (an educational charity) and the University of Bristol, amongst others, which show that students with equivalent ‘A’ levels grades from Comprehensive Schools achieve, on average, a grade higher at degree level that those from independent or grammars.

      Old Fox? ‘Old Tosh’ might be nearer the mark!

      • Old Fox

        That’s one study and it has been discredited. If all cheesemongers are like you it’s no wonder you’re the last. Nobody will buy your clapped out, mouldy old wares.

  • Ron Todd

    The labour party will back anything that will increase the size of the state and the number of people dependent on the state for their living.

    • Mynydd

      You don’t seem to understand that academies and free schools report to, and are therefore controlled by central government, that is, Mr Grove. This allows Mr Grove to operate a USSR style education system with a increase in the size of his central state. I doubt that Mr Grove will employ many Labour members.

      • Ron Todd

        There is a distinction between controlled by and regulated by. Even under the coalition government a disproportionate number of the high level state or semi state jobs, quangos state funded charities czars and the like go to those with a distinct leftwards tilt.

      • Fergus Pickering

        Who is this Mr Grove of whom you speak?

  • anyfool

    The Labour Party up here need hordes of poorly educated voting fodder, but the main reason is that councillors are themselves are by and large poorly educated themselves, although not quite too thick to fill out their expenses.
    Even up here the core voters are deserting Labour, but habit and postal ballots will keep them going in the short term.

    • lastofthecheesemongers

      Tynemouth was one of the few constituencies where Labour’s majority rose in the general election of 2010. The number of Conservative councillors has dropped from over 30 to 12 over the last 4 years, whilst Labour now has 43 councillors out of a possible 60. Labour also won the 2013 mayoral election at a cantor.

      This hardly seems to support your statement that ‘voters are deserting Labour’.

      Incidentally, the new Labour mayor Norma Redfearn is degree educated and a former award winning Primary School head teacher. Therefore, I hardly think education is low on her list of priorities, rather the opposite.

      Before you fly off with a retort full of assumptions, I perhaps should mention that I’m not a Labour supporter. I didn’t vote for them at the last election. I simply like to put down people who talk complete and utter b*****ks!

  • Macca5

    Sebastian, why are you insisting on making this a political issue? The conservative councillors did not back this either. The letter of objection was signed off by all parties. I’m not quite sure why they have changed their minds now. The school is going to have an adverse effect on surrounding schools. It is quite astounding that any political party would take money from a state school to help prop up a private one.

    • lastofthecheesemongers

      Indeed. I share this view. However, such as the supreme power of the Secretary of State, that it doesn’t really matter what we think.

      I suggest that we endevour to support our own local school and make sure it is the best it can be.

  • Andrew Barnes

    In other words, they’re consulting with their lawyers to see if they can kick it into the long grass via judicial review and prevent it opening in September, as currently planned…. perhaps the parents and teachers can have a chat with Toby Young of this parish?

    • telemachus

      King’s School’s submission to the Charities Commission reveals it has £1,042,612 in debts to be paid within a year and a £4m bank loan which is due to be repaid within five years.

      • Andrew Barnes

        Couldn’t comment on the significance of that unless I knew the revenues and costs…. although that does seem curious, I grant you.

        • telemachus

          Nor do I
          But I would wish this to be fully examined and if the Trustees found negligent then they should be liable for the debts NOT the local authority
          Then a message will go out to those piling into backing free schools with gay abandon

          • Peter Harrison

            Revenues and costs are as per my post and are, of course, included in the accounts submitted to the Charities Commission along with plenty of other detail. I can see no reason from the full accounts to believe that the charity is in any financial difficulties let alone that the Trustees have been negligent. That is simply scaremongering.
            Their total debts, even if you include accruals and fees paid in advance, amount to 66 days income.

            • telemachus

              I am grateful for this clarification
              I will however reiterate that those backing free schools need to take care
              The political environment will change in 2015 and some of us will not be moved to be kind to those in difficulty

              • Andy

                As per usual you are a lying c***. I am sure the King’s School is far better run than the f****** Labour Party by which you are employed.

            • anyfool

              Twisting facts is what Telemachus wallows in, so anything he says, is in all probability an untruth.

              I am grateful for this clarification, he says just as I posted this.
              He cannot help himself, although him admitting it is a first.

              • telemachus

                I am sorry you feel that
                My post on the Charities commission accounts was a true record which might to a layman give a motive for LA involvement
                Peter Harrison has informed us of the actual facts and for that I am grateful.
                I am however duty bound to let those who have done their sums under the Gove regime know that a less benignly disposed regime might not look favourably on individuals who get into financial trouble in these enterprises

            • LadyDingDong

              Mr Harrison, you appear to be a sensible and intelligent cove who, though new to this board, impresses greatly. I look forward to reading more from you but may I offer some advice? If considering engaging with the idiot telemucus consider first inserting cocktail sticks into your eyes – far more rewarding and sensible. The incubus is a fool and discoursing with him is like discussing stochastic calculus with a whelk.

      • Peter Harrison

        Those “debts” include £220k of accruals (i.e. money they will owe in future for things they’ve done already, such as fuel used but not yet billed) and £107k of fees paid in advance (not really a debt at all). They are owed £118k. The bank loan was for a building project and is repayable over the period 2013 to 2016 in line with projected cash flows.

        The school’s total income was £5,771,141 on which they had a surplus of £96,671. Their balance sheet shows net assets of £5.9M. The fixed assets are £10.8M, the difference between the two figures being mostly down to the bank loan.

        This charity does not appear to me to be in any financial difficulties. I don’t know the school, by the way. This is just information from their accounts.

        • Andy

          You are wasting your time. Telemachus is a scummy Labour Party troll. Ignore him. We all do.

        • Mynydd

          Why then does the private school want to join with a state school other than to get state funding.

        • lastofthecheesemongers

          I bow to your superior knowledge on the in-and-outs of the debt/income. However, I know from contacts within the school that it’s no great secret that the school was in big financial trouble due less than expected income due to a sharp (and unanticipated) drop in student numbers.

    • lastofthecheesemongers

      Just because they are “reviewing the situation” (sorry, didn’t mean to turn into Ron Mood!y), this doesn’t mean that they are necessarily going to launch a judicial review. Indeed, to do so would be folly in my opinion. They may be looking at ways of reorganising the school estate to work more effectively and reduce over-capacity.

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