Scrapping SATs

A few weeks ago I arranged for Evelyn Davies (Head of Coldfall School) and two of her associates to meet with Jim Knight (schools minister) to make their case that SATs should be scrapped. And Evenly made a superb case. Coldfall had done a survey showing the level of concern from parents about sATs.

So the news now that year 6 Science SATs will be scrapped is excellent – except the Government needs to go further. So far it is only science SATs that are to go – and they need to include English and Maths in the plans.

In praise of Coldfall Primary School's Head

Jim Knight (Minister for Schools) was very jovial at the meeting I arranged with him for the Head, Deputy and Assistant Heads of Coldfall Primary School. They had been so upset by what the unforgiving, child-hostile testing regime of SATs was doing to children that I had met with them recently on this issue – and this meeting was the result.

Well – was enormously proud of Coldfall’s case to the Minister. Evelyn Davies (Head) made an outstanding case against the over-testing and flawed league tables. She was clear, passionate and extremely knowledgeable and experienced – and measured. Moreover, when Jim Knight responded and referred to testing at Key Stage 3 in secondary schools – saying it found favour – quick as anything Evelyn came back and challenged this – pointing out that she is talking about what is happening to 6 year olds – just not comparable.

Since the debacle over the agency that failed to deliver the SATs results (and was sacked) and the recent union threats to ballot for strike action if SATs aren’t abolished – the Government is not unaware of the unpopularity of this regime.

The Minister laid out what the Government is doing – reviews on the curriculum etc etc. But it was clear that – whatever the replacement regime is – there will be more testing and more measurement. They are even going to measure well-being.

I don’t think this Government really understands that the tick box methods, the overly process-driven, responsibility-removing target-setting environment is the problem – not the solution.

But the case was made – and made well. If I was Jim Knight I would grab Evelyn Davies and put her as his key adviser on education. That way our children would be well educated in every sense of the word!

Making the case for fair funding for Haringey's schools

I’ve been wondering at what point the unfair funding our Haringey children get compared to neighbouring boroughs (i.e. £1000+ per head less!) would force our schools into impossible positions. It’s happening now.

I visited St Michael’s in Highgate because – despite the miracles they have worked with their meagre budget – the coming year is posing a real problem. If the shortfall from unfair funding was made up – they would be able to deliver the schools service that parents expect and children deserve. I don’t know how they have manged up to now. Seems to me, in Haringey, you find that the LEA puts its discretionary funding to those schools who run out of money, so schools who do perform don’t get their fair share.

Anyway – I am going to arrange a meeting with Haringey – for myself, the Head and the Chair of Governors – to plead the case.

I will also write back to the Minister for Schools, Jim Knight, who has just responded to my request that we have a representative on the Review Board looking at school funding to start in 2011. That is where what Gordon Brown called an ‘anomaly’ when I questioned him at PMQs is meant to be ironed out.

But they can’t guarantee that it will be equalised (i.e. that Haringey will get the same as neighbours). And now they won’t allow a rep from Haringey to make sure our voice is heard. Jim assures me that they are well aware of Haringey’s plight. They bloody well should be – as I have screamed it at them on every occasion. Even Haringey Council have lumberingly and lately joined in my call for fair funding.

But awareness that we are being ripped off of £1,000 per pupil is not the same as giving us the money. And give it us before 2011. We need it now!

Winning fairer funding for Haringey's schools

Headed yesterday to the Youth Summit – except when I arrived they said it was the ‘Schools Forum’ not the ‘Youth Summit’. Assuming (wrongly) that my diary had simply got the wrong title – I found I had missed the pleniary session and so selected one of six workshops to sidle into and listen.

Sometimes you do have to think that fate steps in and plays her hand. I chose a session on school funding where a civil servant from the ministry was facilitating. Stephen Kingdom is, in fact, the Deputy Director in charge of School Funding and chairs the DSG (Direct School Grant) Review Group. This workshop was looking at possible changes to the DSG from 2011.

Of all the workshops in all the world – I had to walk into his. Play it again Stephen! What am I talking about? I am talking about my ‘fair funding’ for Haringey School campaign: our local schools are taken as inner London in respect of costs such as teachers’ wages – but then taken as ‘outer London’ in respect of Government funding. As outer schools get less funding than inner, it means we in Haringey get the worst of both worlds – higher costs, lower income. The funding gap works out at £1,000 per child per year – and it’s getting worse, as that’s up from £736 in the previous funding round.

It is completely and utterly unfair. So when I discovered this a while back I got a question at Prime Minister’s Questions where I was able to ask Gordon Brown directly about what he was going to do about this dreadful situation and he agreed it was an ‘anomaly’ and would be looked at.

Subsequently I had a meeting with Jim Knight – the school’s minister – who said that there was going to be a review. And – guess what – this workshop that I had ended up in was part of the consultation around the review!

I put my hand up nearly at the end to ask about this funding issue. Stephen said that it was my meeting/letter to Jim Knight that had raised the issue at a timely moment and therefore this particular issue was now included in the review. I pressed him again – but he said that he couldn’t say whether the differential issue would be resolved in the review or not.

Luckily I have another idea that will help him, Jim and the Government. This is so important to Haringey children – that I am now going to write to Jim to ask that a Haringey representative be appointed to the Review Board. That way at least we will know that the issue will be properly kept at the forefront of any changes to the DSG!

Then as I was leaving – I asked again about the Youth Summit and the reception lady said “oh yes, it’s in room G8”. So I found that after all!

How Labour tries to cling on to power

It was Haringey’s Mayor making last night. As ever – a travesty of democracy with Labour refusing to have a Lib Dem Deputy Mayor or even letting Lib Dem councillor Ed Butcher be the council rep on one of the council bodies dealing with Finsbury Park. Yet five of the six Haringey councillors for the areas right next to the park are Lib Dem; but in Labour Haringey that means the rep has to be Labour! Just like almost every single one of the placements on outside bodies (and there are dozens and dozens) – Labour give places to Labour. Clearly they are clinging desperately to power and running scared of any other voices.

It’s such a shame; it’s not the proper way to conduct democratic processes – and an appalling example of standards in public life. An example of typical Labour behaviour towards me (and there are dozens of examples) would be when I went over to the new Sixth Form College when Labour Minister Jim Knight came to visit. I wasn’t allowed in the photos, near the platform, not allowed to speak – and no one even said the usual ‘we are pleased to have local MP Lynne Featherstone here’ today. It was shabby – and of course it was different when it was a Labour MP here! I’ve even been told of schools being instructed to take down my surgery notice and so on and so on.

New Sixth Form Centre in Haringey

Lynne Featherstone with Minister Jim Knight at new sixth form centreFirst visit of the day was to the new Sixth Form Centre in Haringey – which will open for business in September. It is a fantastic building and will deliver top class facilities for students. The Minister Jim Knight was coming to see the building. The new Head seems fantastic – and she will be inspirational for the new students; I wish her well.

Whilst most of the probable feeder schools are on the Tottenham side of the borough, Woodside High School – which is in Hornsey & Wood Green – is a feeder school too. It will also be open to all children in the borough to apply and – for those who don’t want to go onto their own school’s sixth form if they have one – this will be a really vibrant alternative.