Speaking, he said, “on behalf of staff, students and parents” David Hughes, Vice-Chairman of Park View Trust, Birmingham, rejected Ofsted’s findings on its schools absolutely. Three of Her Majesty’s Inspectors had rated Park View as good for teaching, learning, achievement and behaviour, and then failed it. At Oldknow Primary Academy, four HMI had rated teaching and learning outstanding, behaviour “impeccable”, and still failed it. Saltley School and Specialist Science College was more clear-cut, rated in adequate in all categories and the subject of a previous HMI visit which found a “dysfunctional relationship” between governors and the headteacher.
But how can a school that is “breaking the link between demographics and destiny” be deemed to fail, and not by contracted-out inspectors, but by the strongest teams of HMI that Ofsted can muster?
The answer begins with Mr Hughes’ opening words – he wasn’t speaking on behalf of parents, staff and pupils, but for the Trust and the management. Staff at Park View told HMI that they had no confidence in senior management, that governors interfered with their work and that they were personally intimidated. Staff at Oldknow, where Islamisation included the establishment of a madrassa and a subsidised visit to Mecca for Muslims only, said they were “afraid to speak out against recent changes in the academy for fear of losing their jobs”.
These are serious things for teachers to say to inspectors, and it’s not surprising that one interview had to be held in a supermarket car park. Pupils told Sky News that girls seen even talking to boys would find their parents telephoned or visited, and the facts embellished.
The school, they said, “was too strict, but not in a terrorist way”, and “used religion as an excuse”.
It is perfectly possible that Mr Hughes, an Anglican, is sincere in what he says, and equally possible that he cannot see what is
happening under his nose. At Nansen, another Park View school, four HMI found that senior staff were appointed without interview, that teachers did not have fair opportunities to apply for jobs, that even senior managers were placed on temporary contracts, and, once again, that teachers were afraid to speak out against governors’ changes for fear of the sack.
This would certainly include talking to people like Mr Hughes, and it’s not a new tactic. In the early nineties, I was telephoned by a senior official at 7.15 am and warned against talking to the chairman of the (Conservative) Essex education authority about leftist influence in teaching. The financial arrangements are another issue that should have attracted Mr Hughes’ attention – senior leaders at Nansen “are unaware of what is done with the money deducted from the academy’s budget and paid to the Trust”. Self-righteous indignation is no answer to criticisms such as these. They are clear evidence of abuse of power, and it must be stopped.
The tone in Monday’s Commons debate was, on the whole, serious and measured. Labour attacks on the academies programme were tempered by the admission that Birmingham had weaknesses of its own, and a frank statement from Tristram Hunt that he shared Michael Gove’s concerns. Infiltration, abuse and now deception are more widespread and better organised than any party expected, and we need new solutions.
I propose these:
1. The powers taken by Michael Gove to ban militants from governing bodies need to be exercised vigorously. No one who has expressed sympathy with extremist views and actions should be allowed to join a governing body, and attempts to act in the ways Ofsted has identified should be immediately investigated. Expression of support for extremism by teachers and assistants should be treated in the same way as membership of the BNP.
2. Academies’ freedom to decide their curriculum was based on the practice of the best of them, such as Mossbourne, doing much more than the National Curriculum required. This needs to be re-established as a principle. Doing more, not less, should be the basis of Academies’ freedom.
3. Cuts to inspection introduced in 2005 should be reversed, with specialist inspection of subjects restored and enough time for inspectors to do their work properly. Oldknow’s last “full” inspection – which did not include subject reports – was carried out in 2007, by just one HMI with two additional inspectors. The idea that inspection can be based on data and a quick visit has allowed schools like Park View to hide their extremism behind successful examination results. Schools should indeed, as both front benches agree, be required to provide a broad and balanced curriculum, and the only way to ensure this is to put specialists into schools to see what the pupils are actually getting, and not what someone decides to write down on a piece of paper.