Saturday, June 17, 2006

Academies are a Labour asset article

I have posted an article from Siobhain McDonagh in The Guardian about academy schools one of which Tamworth Manor is in my ward Pollards Hill. I have been a governor at the school since 2002. On Monday, we have the school adjudicator meetings, 5 pm at Mitcham Vale and 7 pm at Tamworth Manor, which will determine whether these will go ahead in September. A court case is also to take place in early July where a parent Rob Macdonald will be challenging the decision in a judicial review.

Academies are a Labour asset
The government's plans for schools helped Labour hold onto a marginal council at the local elections.

June 15, 2006 10:47 AM Printer Friendly Version
Last month, you may have missed one of London's more interesting election results. This was in the very marginal Borough of Merton, which everyone had written off as an inevitable Tory gain. But, needing to win just two more wards to take control, they fell short. They did win seats in Wimbledon, a traditionally Conservative area. But in my more working class constituency Labour held all 27 seats, many with increased majorities. Why?

Well, we had a reasonable record, and clear policies for the future: low council tax rises, more bobbies on the beat and cleaner streets. But one other factor may have been Labour's plans for two new academies in Mitcham, which local Tory leaflets opposed.

So I was surprised to see a one-sided Guardian report saying "ordinary working class families" in my constituency were backing a court case to stop Academies. Aside from the fact the case was not brought by ordinary residents, but by a well-known Socialist party activist who doesn't even live in Merton, and the paper forgetting to mention the courts had already refused judicial review, the Guardian's biggest mistake was saying local people oppose academies.

The article said the schools aren't failing, but although Merton Council has invested heavily in rebuilding the schools, which now have some of the best facilities in the country, almost everyone locally thinks Mitcham Vale and Tamworth Manor are seriously bad schools.
There are constant complaints about bad behaviour. In one school, 90% of boys fail to get 5 GCSEs. Value added figures (the amount schools add to a child's education) place it in the worst 1% of schools, the other in the bottom 4%. Local parents won't send their children there. This year, only 82 local parents wanted their child to go to Tamworth Manor, 50 to Mitcham Vale. Yet there are 480 places to fill.

When I visited local primary schools recently to talk about academies, many parents said it didn't matter. "Don't worry Siobhain," they'd say, "I don't need to talk to you about this because there's not a cat in hell's chance I'll let my kids go to those schools". But at my weekly surgery I am always meeting parents devastated to find the only place for their child really is at one of Mitcham's hated schools.

The new academies will open in September. They will not be selective, and will introduce sixth forms for the first time in my constituency. One will specialise in enterprise and sport. Ironically, it will be sponsored by a David Cameron supporter, Lord Harris, but while I disagree with him on many issues, I have to admire the fact that at one of his existing schools 91% of students get five good GCSEs. The other will be a Church of England school, although it doesn't just have the support of local church-goers.

Mitcham is one of the country's most ethnically mixed communities, and there has long been a demand from local Muslims, Tamils, west Africans and Irish for my constituency's first faith-based high school. So it's no surprise consultation showed parents wanted academies. They want a new ethos at both schools, higher standards, more discipline and better exam results. More than 500 parents came to meetings and over 600 replied to surveys. Over two thirds were in favour.

If the Guardian wants to find a popular cause that will overthrow Tony Blair's government, opposition to academies is not it. The Tories' mistake in Merton was to believe vocal, politically motivated opponents and ignore the "silent majority". By printing one-sided anti-academies articles, I hope the venerable Guardian hasn't made the same mistake.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree - give academies a chance. Please read my article that was published in the TES last September -

5:09 pm  

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