We have made numerous requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act, most of which have been refused.
We reproduce here an article from the Guardian dated 7th January 2014 which highlights the problem
Why is the
being so secretive
Laura McInerney is battling with the education department for the right to know how it decides which new schools to approve
I never intended to involve the lawyers. Really, I didn't. I made a simple request for information from the Department for Education, expecting they would just hand it over. But, rather than release it, Michael Gove, the education secretary, has told MPs he will do "everything possible" to stop me getting it. In the coming months, his department is taking the Information Commissioner – and me – to a tribunal in an attempt to block its release under the Freedom of Information Act.
This whole saga started 15 months ago, when I submitted what I thought was a simple request for information to the DfE. What explosive material did I want? A surprisingly dry package: the application forms sent in by people applying to run free schools, and the letters later sent back explaining whether or not they were successful. Hardly the Pentagon Papers.
To say I am surprised the DfE is behaving in this way is an understatement. I thought the request was a no-brainer.
For the uninitiated, the free schools policy, introduced in 2010, allows any group of people to apply to the DfE for funding to open a state school. The government talked at the time about the policy's prior successes in America and Sweden, but the lesson of the American experience is that some US states do it well and some do it badly. To further research the topic, I took a break from my job as a secondary teacher, and in August 2012 accepted a Fulbright scholarship to study at the University of Missouri.
It quickly became apparent to me that implementation matters – and the application process is critical. If taxpayer money is being handed out to members of the public, we need the government to be savvy about which groups they back and why.
So I decided to ask for the applications and the basis of the government's choices – a process that is otherwise entirely opaque. Prior to 2010, the opening of new schools was far more transparent. The reasons for accepting or rejecting all new school bids were routinely published on the Schools Adjudicator website. Local authorities published school bid information when running new school competitions. Naively, I assumed the government would maintain this level of openness.
The information, however, was nowhere to be found.
I therefore asked for it from the DfE, using the Freedom of Information Act. The act is not well known, but it embeds in law the presumption that information held by public authorities is open to anyone who asks for it, unless there is a specific reason not to disclose. And, usually, even if there are reasons why the government would prefer not to give the information, those reasons must be balanced against public interest. As I saw it, if this sort of information had been available before, why not now?
Yet the DfE rejected my request – twice. Among the reasons given was that releasing the information "would allow opponents of free school applications to attack applications more easily and could undermine local support". But why shouldn't the public know about any issues with the applications? It is our money paying for the schools and our children walking into them. It also claimed the amount of information released would be "overwhelming". Given that the department trusted me to teach people's children, I'm fairly certain I can handle reading some application forms.
Nevertheless, the department disagreed. When a public authority turns down a request even after you have appealed to it, you can then appeal – free – to the Information Commissioner's Office, an independent authority whose job it is to uphold information rights.
I was reluctant to go down this route, but was encouraged by FOI campaigners. As one pointed out: "A response is not a favour to be granted, it is a legal obligation. You are a member of the public, and you are paying their wages. You have a right to the information." In the past 15 months, I have repeated this point to myself time and again.
Getting an ICO judgment was not quick, but their officers were extremely helpful. My case worker constantly and professionally explained the legal oddities and remained upbeat. Yet each time there was progress, the DfE would raise a new point – dragging the whole process on for months.
In July 2013, I was finally told the ICO was near a decision. Nothing. By September, the draft notice was apparently ready. Still nothing. In October, I wrote asking for an update. Nearly there. By mid-November, I had practically given up when an email from the ICO dropped into my inbox.
I had won, and then some.
Figuring it out was not easy. Flicking through the 17-page judgment, written in legalese, I struggled to understand what it meant, but the following line made it all worthwhile: "The Commissioner considers that the public interest factors in favour of the disclosure of the withheld information are very strong."
This was not a half-hearted judgment. The ICO argued that the case for disclosure was "very strong" and it would provide "considerable information about the implementation of a relatively new and very important education policy".
The news was timely, arriving hot on the heels of troubling free school developments. Al-Madinah free school's Ofsted report labelled it "dysfunctional" and inadequate in every category. King's Science academy in Bradford is being investigated for fraud. Discovery New School, Crawley, is considered so problematic that it must close before the end of the academic year.
And these free schools have been no small cost to the taxpayer. A recent National Audit Office report price the policy at over £1.1bn. Of this, more than £700,000 was spent on schools that passed the application stage but never opened, and £241m went on schools that opened in areas with lots of spare local school places. The NAO report also noted that some high-scoring free-school applications were rejected, but some low-scoring ones were accepted. Why? On what basis? No answer is given.
How can the public be sure ministers weren't waving through applications from their mates and turning down those whose faces didn't fit? We can't. Without the applications being public, there is no way of knowing if the process was corrupt, or not.
Also, school applicants must include evidence of local "demand" or "need" for their proposed school, usually gathered during a required local consultation. But how can residents know that the reported results of the consultations are fair? There is nothing to stop applicants from writing that everyone was positive at the event even if the exact opposite is true.
Of course, amid this mess some free schools are doing marvellously. I recently visited Greenwich free school, one of the most over-subscribed schools launched under the policy. I was impressed with the teaching, and the pupils, and I spent time discussing with school leaders how the school might continue being great. In fact, it is precisely because I want free schools to be great that transparency is so important.
No one benefits by having applications locked in a dusty vault. In fact, in the US, supporters of the policy – such as the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools – actively press for total transparency around the process. In this country it would build public support, prevent cronyism and allow prospective applicants in areas with huge primary school place shortages to learn from the best applications and improve their chance of getting the school they need.
And so I ended 2013 much as I finished 2012 – sitting down, for the second New Year's Eve in a row, to write an appeal against the DfE's counterproductive desire for secrecy. This one, however, will be sent to a judge in the First-tier Tribunal, who will hear the case brought by the DfE against the ICO and me. These courts are designed with lay people in mind, and no legal aid is available, so I am likely to be representing myself.
Surrounded by highlighters, guidance documents and notes, I veer between feeling like Erin Brockovich [the US activist – played by Julia Roberts in a movie – who fought an energy company over contaminated water] and a 12-year-old trying my best with a history project. Still, parents, teachers, pupils and local residents deserve absolute openness in the operation of our schools. I plan to do everything possible to make sure they get it. After all, as I have told myself for the millionth time, transparency is a right – not a favour.
The tribunal is expected in summer. Education Guardian will follow Laura McInerney's progress
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are so many children leaving Route 39 Academy?
"The local authority's role in planning, supporting and monitoring local schools is now almost totally eroded. You certainly can't vote for the school you want any more. Key decisions in academy chains are made in head offices by paid employees of the sponsor - and are not subject to inspection. Free-standing academies now have a direct funding relationship to Whitehall but none to their local community. Free schools are operated and controlled by the group that "set them up". Local democracy has no role in any of this. There is nowhere we can openly debate the value of these schools."
Worrying times ahead for education
Stephen Ball, The Guardian, October 24th 2013
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Many people have asked how they can help us in our campaign to prevent the Route 39 Academy being built in Bucks Cross.
The most important thing to do is to write a letter of objection to the following MPs
Communities and Local Government Minister
Opposition Secretary of State for Education
Keep checking back onto this website for
news and up and coming events.
Thank you for your support
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● On the Home Page you will find our featured articles, news items and useful links.
● On the Parents Page we have an open letter to parents considering Route 39 Academy and what to think about when chosing a secondary school
● On the They Say, We Say Page we analyse Route 39 Academy's statements and give our answers to provide a balanced view, together with questions asked of Route 39.
● On the What Others Are Saying Page we feature an article on dubious survey techniques, plus a dose of satire.
The subpages have letters from Heads and articles from Bude & Beyond and North Devon Governor
● On the Presentations Page you will find transcripts of important presentations.
The subpage has press releases
and a letter from Councillor Robin Julian
● On the Gallery Page are views around and across Steart Farm, Route 39 drawings, and we wonder what AONB stands for
We would like to thank everyone for all the supportive messages that arrive from far and wide.
How Can I Help?
Our email address is:
Ten things you
should know about
1. Like academies, free schools are exempt from most education legislation. For example, they do not have to employ qualified teachers or follow school food regulations.
2. The concept of free schools is motivated more by politics than educational 'best practice'. Mr Gove wants to create a 'market' in education in which schools compete with each other. He calls this a 'supply side revolution'. But the evidence is clear - schools do better when they collaborate.
3. Critics say that free schools, and academies, are part of the government's agenda to privatise public services, like in the NHS. Local councils are forbidden from opening their own new schools and now several big businesses are running chains of free schools and academies. Head teachers are being encouraged to set up their own chains of free schools and academies through 'mergers and acquisitions'. Independent, fee-paying schools are converting to free school status to take advantage of public funding.
4. Public resources are being used to benefit the wealthiest parts of the country where attainment is already higher. For example a new primary free school in a wealthy North London suburb cost £6 million for just 60 pupils. Overall the free schools and academies programme has overspent by £1 billion.
5. Because the government believes that the market will provide sufficient places, there is no national or local planning. What happens to the children already in the schools that may not succeed in this market? Or the children who do not have a school place while we wait for the market to provide a solution?
6. There is no evidence that increased autonomy improves schools. Free schools are new but they are governed in the same way as academies and, while some academies have been successful, some are failing.
7. Critics argue the free schools and academies programme is having a negative impact on the wider education system. After 10 years of the academies programme, UK schools remain 'among the most segregated in the developed world' according to a recent OECD report.
8. Although free schools and academies are not run for profit, there are many companies making profits from the programme. Some schools are being run on a 'for profit' basis. Mr Gove has said he would be comfortable with state funded schools making profits.
9. Critics warn that, as the impact of austerity becomes more severe, school budgets will be threatened. They say it is better for schools to work together in their local family of schools.
10. Free schools can be successfully opposed but we rarely hear these success stories in the national media.
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Cold Light of Day
You're divine! So divine!
I love Route 39!
Oh please, please, please, please marry me!
Cries Ofsted inspection.
"It's all that a school ought to be!
"How pupils are learning!
They're wondrous! Discerning!
Each child has a masters degree!
"While rival schools' ailing,
And pupils are failing
This school is exemplary."
Alarm clock is beeping.
I wake from my sleeping
The farcical dream fades away
The dream was a warning,
What madness possessed me that day?
Their sales talk inspired me,
Bewitched me, beguiled me,
Convinced me they're best for my son.
With his education?
How close to disaster I'd come!
With reason returning
My conscience is burning
No longer the mad, lovesick fool
I send them a letter
To say I've thought better,
Withdrawing his name from the school.
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Across the country free schools are being set up in areas where there are already surplus places in the local schools. Money funding these unnecessary schools could be diverted to better causes, e.g. NHS, care of the disabled and/or elderly, child welfare etc. If we can get 100,000 signatures, the government is forced to debate the issue in parliament. It takes only a few moments to sign the petition, but YOU can make a difference.
Sign our national government e-petition here
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Go straight to the articles on this page:
A Political Hot Potato
Worrying times ahead for education
Record breaking year at Holsworthy
Bideford Community College
10 things you should know about Free Schools
Cold Light of Day - poem
At the end of October Nick Clegg caused international furore when he effectively split the coalition on education policy. The issue was free schools, which have become something of a political hot potato.
Clegg announced that his party wanted to end Michael Gove's "ideological experiment" and require all free schools and academies to be subject to the national curriculum.
He also expressed opposition to the use of non-qualified teachers following recent high profile resignations in failing free schools.
His comments came in the light of the appalling Ofsted inspection which labelled the Al-Madinah School in Derby as "dysfunctional"; it later transpired the school's own head teacher was concerned enough to be the whistleblower.
In short, free schools are getting a pretty bad press at the moment. It is not surprising that Nick Clegg wishes to distance himself from them in the run-up to a general election.
In North Devon, Route 39 Academy Free School opened this year in tiny premises in Clovelly with 60+ pupils (from years 7 and 8) rather than the 200 (100 per year group) it had previously confidently announced it would attract.
A number of these children were previously pupils at other local community secondary or independent schools.
One of the key arguments from opponents of the Route 39 Free School has consistently been that North Devon cannot sustain another school in such a rural area, and that there is already a surplus of secondary places. Thus, it is seen as economically unviable in the long-term, and a waste of taxpayers' money.
Endorsing Nick Clegg's comments, "No to Route 39 Academy" states:
"Whatever the current situation with Route 39 Academy, while it is flush with central government cash, there is scope in future for the school to employ staff without teaching qualifications if they wish to. They do not have to adhere to the national curriculum and nor do they have to follow nutritional standards . Even Jamie Oliver is concerned about that
Crucially, Ofsted has inspected some free schools and felt compelled to force teaching staff and head teachers to step down after finding that they were unqualified or underskilled.
This could happen in North Devon, and if you think that unlikely, just take a look at Route 39's poor standards of literacy in their very own prospectus. Parents need reassurance, and the current political temperature is not providing that, as serious free school failings seem to be reported on a daily basis. Education is not a game, and should not be an ideological experiment. Free schools may well, in the current climate, have a very uncertain future; they are a risky business."
STOP PRESS Well done to Holsworthy Community College which has been awarded the Prince's Teaching Institute Mark for 2013.
Holsworthy's English and science departments received the Teaching Institute Mark in recognition of their work in 2012/13 and the impact of this work can be seen in the excellent English and science GCSE results in 2013.
In 2012 Holsworthy's science results put it in the top 20% of all schools nationally.
Holsworthy principal David Fitzsimmons said:
"We are delighted to have been awarded the PTI Mark for our English and science departments' innovative work, and will be proud to carry the Mark on our stationery and website as evidence of our commitment to inspirational teaching."
The 151 Year 11 pupils at Holsworthy Community College (HCC) in Summer 2013 achieved the College's best ever examination results, with 64% achieving five or more passes at 'C' grade or above, including English and Maths.20% of pupils achieved the government's combination of subjects known as the English Baccalaureate or "EBacc", while 30% of pupils achieved at least 3 A*/A grades and 18% 5+A*/A grades.Despite talk in the media of more demanding examination requirements, with a reduction in the A*-C pass rate in English, Maths and Science in particular, candidates at HCC performed very well.76% of candidates achieved A*-C in English Language (against a national figure of 63.7%) with 84% of pupils making expected progress from primary school and close to half making better than expected progress. 99% of the 70 candidates entered also achieved A*-C in English Literature and the A*-C pass rate in Media Studies was 85%. In maths 70% of candidates again achieved A*-C (against an average in England of 57.7%) with 74% of pupils making expected progress from primary school and nearly a third making better than expected progress.65% of pupils achieved at least two or more 'C' grades in Science subjects. All 31 triple scientists achieved 100% A*-C. In German the pass rate was 87% and 83% in French, including some candidates, who took the subject as an extra subject after school. Sports Studies and Art maintained high performance with 82% A*-C. Food Technology was the strongest performing technology subject with 70% A*-C.Whilst the league tables focus on 'C' grades and above, the achievements of other pupils should not be overlooked. 97% of pupils achieved 5+A*-G grades. Health and Social Care students and those following Prince's Trust qualifications did especially well this year.These results are the outcome of years of hard work by the pupils and staff, with support from family and friends; enabling pupils to move on confidently to post-16 education, apprenticeships or employment with training. The above figures are provisional and usually increase after appeals and re-marks.Return to top of page
Bideford Community College
- from a current Year 7 pupil.
I love Bideford College because there are loads of fun lessons such as Science, French, Drama and P.E., it has really nice teachers and a gym which is awesome that I can use at lunchtime.
We have already done some experiments in Science using the Bunsen burners to show what chemicals are in a firework to make them so bright and colourful.
Art is really fun as we can use our imagination and use lots of different materials and in woodwork we are making a maze game and in the future a 3D toy that moves and a board game with an electronic dice.
I am in the school play and we have started rehearsing which is great fun. I'm really looking forward to using the green room where we can make films and pretend we are news people in lots of different places.
My French Teacher is really, really funny and I have learnt how to count to 31 and how to say a few things in French. There is a great library and I have found lots of books I want to read.
Although it seems like a big school it doesn't feel like it when you're inside because there is so much space. It is really easy to find new friends and oh yeah, the food is yumptious with loads of choice. I am glad I chose Bideford College.
- from a former pupil.
Was Bideford College a bad school to attend? Like many aspects of life, you get results from the opportunities that you seize and make for yourself.
During my time attending Bideford College, I understood from my parents the importance of what gaining a good education would mean for the rest of my life. To that end it was my responsibility to make the most of what was on offer to me and gain entry into university.
The principles that I learnt and took away from Bideford College led to me being able to attain a First Class Honours BSc degree at Sheffield Hallam University, so I can't praise the likes of Dennis Ford and Pat Humphries enough for the time and effort that they placed into my earlier years of education.
Success does not come easy, but with the right foundation, support and application of skills I've had a great start to my career within Information Technology within multiple global organisations. I believe the same can be said for many of the close friends that I had in the same/surrounding year groups at Bideford College.
Global Technology Lead, Sales System Engineer
Cisco Systems Ltd.
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Are you aware of the plethora of wonderful opportunities both to extend learning and inspire, that have been served up to students on the Budehaven Gifted and Talented register this academic year?
What follows is a cursory glance at just some of the exciting learning that has been taking place beyond the school and in some cases, beyond the curriculum.
● Rachel Lowson, Libby Hamilton, Holly Stephenson, Sophie Thornton and Erin Wosnitzka
The academic year started when more than 50 students embarked on a gruelling day trip to London, but were rewarded with a visit to the Natural History Museum, which included a pre-booked, exclusive hour in Professor von Hagen's infamous "Animals Inside Out," exhibition which has been touring the major cities of the World during
● A selection of year 7, 8 and 9 students had the opportunity to take part in a University Challenge experience delivered by Plymouth University.
● In Bristol, Budehaven entered a team of very able Mathematicians including Joe Huxford, Ben Pye, Raef Coles and Dan Edwards who prepared and delivered a presentation to other students in attendance before engaging in competitive maths challenges for the remainder of the day.
● Several of our G and T students utilised the opportunity to attend an Oxford University taster Day down in Liskeard.
● For the third year running, some of our most able female scientists represented Budehaven superbly down at Exeter University during the annual "Women in Science" festival. The sixth form girls won the aerodynamics challenge, not only beating the rest of the field, but also shattering the Plymouth University record in the process! Not to be out-done, our year 10 girls then won the graphene challenge.
● For the past two years, Budehaven has nominated very able year 9 students for the very prestigious Dux awards. This is a government scheme that funds the Nations brightest year 9 students to visit a Russell Group University of their choice. Last year an application was made on behalf of Amy Kerr who chose to visit Nottingham University. The Dux panel were so impressed with the quality of our application that they chose to offer an unprecedented second place thus allowing Caitlin Griffith-Bird to accompany Amy on the trip. This year, Finn Roper and Sean Cummins will be going on the same scheme to Cardiff University. Tremendously well done on a fantastic achievement to all four Students who also earned membership to a global network of G and T students!
● Next came the turn of 16 year 10 students and year 12 students to attend the costly, but arguably superb value for money "Academy Conference," in Yeovil. Amongst the speakers were:
JULIE ARLISS, who lectures at Kings College and works in close association with a number of ivory league Universities including Oxford, Aberdeen and Exeter. Internationally she works with students in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore and is the joint author of a number of books and academic articles. She recently gave the Hobhouse Lecture. She is principle examiner in Cambridge.
DR. MARK LEWNEY, the Rock Doctor, a professional physicist who teaches string theory using a rock guitar. He has appeared on Radio 4's Material World, on BBC's Newsnight and on BBC's Xchange! as well as on the Money Programme. He lectures around the UK, being introduced as a cross between Einstein and Jimi Hendrix. Mark has conducted a tour for the Institute of Physics, featured in the Guardian and Physics World and also performed at the Tokyo International Science Festival.
"A gust of fresh air" Times Higher Education Supplement
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjKugarLN-s see some of the show!
PROFESSOR TOM GREGGS After being awarded a starred Double First Class Honours Degree from Oxford Tom completed his Phd at Cambridge. He is Professor at Aberdeen University. He has a weekly slot on radio 4 and holds various political offices at local regional and national levels with a general focus on education policy. He is widely regarded as a 'rising star'. He remains the youngest professor in the country and is in great demand as a lecturer.
JEFFREY HODGES, an international performance consultant with wide ranging experience of helping gifted young people realise their potential through successful life management and superior thinking skills. He has a special interest in elite sports achievement and continues to coach members of the Australian Olympic team to medal winning performances. ● Two more cross-curricular University visits for years 7-11 were made to Exeter and Plymouth Uni's respectively before the Plymouth University "Mixed Activity Day," hosted here at Budehaven on the 11th of February.
This was a huge event involving over 80 students who worked with experts, under and post grad students and various university lecturers in workshops as diverse as drama, business, chemistry and education around the school during period 5. This was followed by an "open to all" evening in the sports-hall after school. The event was advertised on the school website, by posters and e-mail, in briefings, bulletins. Plymouth Uni were very impressed with the number of students who attended and tried their hands at Segway driving (racing), marketing, robot programming and art workshops. Jasmine Andrews was one such student who won the marketing challenge and earned herself a 4GB memory stick for her entry in a retro rubik's cube cover!
● In recent weeks, a mixture of undergraduate and post graduate students have come in to Budehaven to work with our students as part of National Science and Engineering week. One such student had a superb time working with the Maths department on their year 7 Formula 1 challenge and was shocked at the level to which the students were working. We also had scientists working with year 12 Applied scientists and sixth form Chemists.
● At Tremough, students were fortunate enough to hear some fantastic talks and engage in some hands on research involving planning for a probable future energy crisis, camouflage in the wild, genetics and predator prey relationships. A particularly fun and hands on experience that culminated in a competitive University Challenge quiz. Our entire team worked together to earn a coveted place in the final showdown from a field of twelve Cornish schools! Four individuals had to be selected for the final and the group decided on Finn Roper, Kelsey Wosnitzka, Sean Cummins and Lowenna Hooper. They performed superbly to earn an impressive second place finish. Next year, we shall return to Bude with the trophy!
● There are many more University based events and extra- curricular opportunities to come this year with dates, places and costs yet to be finalised, so watch this space. If you have any questions regarding G & T provision at Budehaven, please don't hesitate to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
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