I hadn’t been planning to speak in the community schools debate at Tuesday's council meeting but I was, as I mentioned in my post yesterday, incensed by the Conservative response to the balanced and sensible motion that John Ennis put forward. The nub of the motion was “Policy of this Council will therefore, in the event of approaches from the Department for Education about the ‘academisation’ of Reading schools, be to consult with heads, staff, governors and parents with the objective of agreeing a common response which will maintain the community interest in the schools that serve Reading children and continue to improve pupil progress and wellbeing.” You can read the full motion here.
Some on the Conservative group clearly hadn’t realised that there was new legislation enabling the Secretary of State to force schools to convert – ignorance of their own government’s actions is bad enough but it wasn’t that which outraged me. Some on the group others clearly didn’t think that there was ever any merit in community interest in a school.
But what really made me angry was a when one Conservative councillor spoke at length about how for the first time with academy status schools would be raising aspirations and helping young people to achieve and teachers would start doing their jobs. In my view there’s a policy debate to be had about the best governance structure for schools but not about the suggestion that community schools don’t raise aspirations and help acheivement.
Below is my speech responding. It was made in some anger, but I stand by it:
“Given the turn the debate has just taken perhaps I should have declared a personal but non prejudicial interest as I am a school governor at an outstanding community school in this borough and married to a teacher at another outstanding local authority controlled school nearby but not in this borough.I am insulted by what I have just heard. Cooperation between schools is key for success, I know this and I am sure many councillors her across the parties know this from their experience of working with schools.This government is driving through an idealogical program based on a fundamental lack of understanding of this fact. The original motion is pragmatic and based on the needs of Reading’s children. A choice of acadamisation is one thing, forced acadamisation against the wishes of parents, students and staff is another.
Reading’s residents expect us to base our deliberations on their best interests, not on government ideology, never more so than in the crucial area of children’s education. This amendment is simply based on a Conservative party press release (Tories look embarrassed) and doesn't address the issue of forced acadamisation . It is frankly insulting to suggest that the schools – many outstanding - that serve our children that happen to be community schools do not raise aspiration and help our young people achieve.
This is not a picture that I recognise. I don’t believe that parents, young people and certainly not dedicated teachers and other staff would recognise that picture either.
Councillor Ennis s a true champion of Reading’s young people has put aside political point scoring with this motion (jeers from the Libdems and Tories at this point) and is trying to make it council policy that when a school is approached regarding academy status that we will work with the staff, the parents and the local community to ensure that there is proper consultation and that community involvement is preserved. I fail to see how anyone, who isn’t Michael Gove’s mate, would be able to object to this and I am disgusted by the insulting attitude to community schools from the Conservative group."
I’ve tried to write this down verbatim but if there is any inaccuracy or omissions it’s not deliberate, simply that I wrote notes during the speech that so angered me. I seem to remember I said something regarding the commitment Labour has to campaign for a community schools 11-19 in East Reading but have no notes of what I said.
The motion was passed with Labour, Libdem and Greens voting in favour and the Conservatives voting against.