Friday, 27 June 2008

Falmer Academy: A gamble with our children's education

REPLACING Falmer High School with a new city academy will threaten the future of a school which had the second highest value added results in the city last year.

Brighton and Hove City Council and the Government want to pull the existing school down - and build a new academy on the site, at a cost of more than £25 million pounds. Outline planning permission for the scheme was granted last week.

But a new academy would be outside local authority control: the private sponsor, who admitted at a recent public meeting that he is yet to observe a lesson at the school, would have the power to appoint all members of the board who would appoint the new principal and in effect decide how the school is run in all aspects.

Worse, it would require all pupils to specialise in either sport or entrepreneurship, by building those areas into all lessons, regardless of a particular child's interests or abilities.

I am deeply concerned that replacing Falmer High School with an academy will mean a drop in educational standards and staff morale.

The school currently has a high retention rate of teachers who manage but under this proposal they could be required to retrain and, after a three-year 'settling in period', to accept poorer pay and conditions than their colleagues in other local schools.

Falmer School is one of the fastest-improving schools in the city - and this proposal threatens to undo all the good work of the existing management team: if it all goes wrong it will be pupils from Moulescoomb and Coldean who end up paying the price.

The council has begun a public consultation on the scheme, and is inviting parents and anyone else concerned with Falmer's future to let them know their views. A public meeting explaining the supposed benefits of the scheme has already taken place at the school - now a second meeting has been organised to hear about the potential downsides.

Parents can't make an informed choice until they've heard both sides of the story. The council doesn't seem to want to describe the potential downsides of an academy, so we've organised a meeting in Moulescoomb next Monday to do exactly that.

The Government is effectively trying to bribe the local community here. It has promised £26 million to rebuild Falmer, but only if the school is taken out of local authority control and handed to a sponsor who has made no secret of his support and financial backing for the Labour Party.

I think that stinks. If the government was committed to improving Falmer School, it would agree to spend the money in the way that parents and the local community think it should be run.

The meeting to discuss the scheme will be held at the Learning Development Centre, Hodshrove Lane, Moulescoomb, between 7.30 and 9pm next Monday, June 30th.

Speakers include former Falmer pupil Linda Newman (outgoing president of the University and College Lecturers Union), Alistair Smith, National Secretary of the Anti-Academies Alliance and Cllr Rachel Fryer, the Greens' education spokesperson. I'll be in the chair.

The Government is trying to bribe the community into replacing Falmer High School with a City Academy, even though Falmer is an improving school - and a number of academies are failing badly.

The bottom line is the proposed sponsor, Rod Aldridge, is a businessmen (one incidentally who has amassed an enormous fortune from schemes just like this, and donated a fair whack of it to the Labour Party) and not an educationalist.

I don't dispute that he knows a lot about making money from privatising schools but he is happy to admit he doesn't know much about running them - or ensuring the diverse needs of pupils are met. I hardly think that makes him the right person to be in control of the only secondary school serving the children of Moulescoomb and Coldean.

This is nothing less than a huge gamble with the future of our children's education at stake, and I hope concerned parents and teachers will come along to the public meeting next Monday to discuss these issues further - and find out what they can be doing to try to prevent the scheme going ahead.

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