It is more important than ever that we as a city rally to the defence of the pupils and staff at Uplands Junior School. Although continuing efforts are being made to oppose the forced privatisation of the school (July 10, Mercury), the Government has already inserted one of their favoured profiteering mentors into Uplands. This unwelcome intrusion arrived in the form of the L.E.A.D. Academy Trust — a Trust which is led by Diana Owen, who herself is a member of a privatising “task force” at Iain Duncan’s Smith’s Orwellian-named Centre for Social Justice.
Remember that private equity guru Lord Nash – the current Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools – initially decided to impose the Academy status upon Uplands’ because the school received a poor Ofsted report in February 2014. No matter that in 2012 Uplands’ had received a “good rating” from Ofsted: with teaching assistants reportedly providing both expert and “outstanding support” to their students.
Yet shortly after the brilliant Ofsted rating in 2012, Uplands’ principal attempted to halve the number of much-needed support workers at the school. And as a result of the ensuing climate of intimidation that enveloped the school, the teachers and support workers at Uplands were forced into taking strike action on a number of occasions during 2013 — all to simply make their voices heard.
The staff at Uplands have never been the problem. But from the day of Ofsted’s grizzly birth, it clearly has been a problem. Fittingly, for the past three years Ofsted’s boss has been Sir Michael Wilshaw, whose earlier work saw him managing an Academy. Similarly Ofsted’s chairman, David Hoare, had previously been an Academy trustee, board member of IDS’s Centre for Social Injustice (my preferred name), and a former oil executive to boot.
With the swinging axe of IDS and company being applied to all Government spending — most particularly that concerned with reducing inequality — public spending on education has been slashed by over £5 billion in real terms since 2010, with further real terms cuts announced in their latest Budget.
On hearing of the latest Budget-cuts-update, Christine Blower, the General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), pointed out how the Budget promotes the “polar opposite of social justice” and will only diminish education, and increase needless child poverty. The toxic brew of cuts to school budgets combined with the threat of Ofsted’s forced academy conversions is a nightmare not worth thinking about for workers.
But like the cuts, Ofsted has long been seen by the NUT as “an unsympathetic menace” to schools. Just last month, Blower reiterated the unions urgent demand for Ofsted to “be abolished and replaced by a new model of school accountability which is independent and… has been developed in conjunction with the teaching profession.”
In the past the City branch of the NUT has referred to Ofsted as “the single most important factor in increasing teachers’ workload and stress”: a position supported by the results of a YouGov poll, which found that just 28% of teachers believed that the Ofsted recommendations for improvement contained in the inspection reports for their own schools would help their schools progress.
It is for these reasons that I stand united with all school workers (of which I am included), in opposing the Government’s attempt to privatise our education system, in calling for the end of Ofsted, and in demanding more, not less, money for our children’s education.
A slighter shorter version of this article was emailed to the Leicester Mercury mailbox on 13th July.
An excellent summary of some of the criticisms of Ofsted can be found on the blog of Martin Powell-Davies, who is the branch Secretary of the Lewisham, and a member of the NUT National Executive. Read “Ofsted Exposed.”