Friday, May 11, 2007

Southampton Schools: More Of The Same Or Something Better?

Millbrook School and Oaklands School

Woolston School and Grove Park School

On Thursday night I went along to one of the presentation meetings for the bidders for the two new schools due to open in the city following last year's secondary school review.

It was decided last year that 4 schools would close (Oaklands, Millbrook, Grove Park and Woolston).

It was also decided that 2 new schools would open - one on the east of the city on the Grove Park site and one on the west (either on the Oaklands site or a new site called 5 acre field).

All these decisions were taken by the Lib Dems last year when they were running the council. I had some serious reservations about the decisions but we are now where we are.

By law the council has to invite independent organisations to bid for the running of the schools. This includes faith groups, charitable and not for profit groups, private companies etc. The council could have put in its own bid however if it did the decision about who would run the schools would be made independently of the council. By not submitting the bid the council now makes the decision. Personally if it were my choice I would have done exactly the same as I want to see as much choice as possible and want to see some real change in our local schools. I suspect the motivations of the Lib Dems were not quite the same. I would imagine they would have been concerned that if they submitted a council bid that lost this would have serious implications for the remaining Southampton schools as they would conclude that they also would be better off being run independently of the council. Click
HERE to to read more about the process.

We heard presentations by the bidders. Here is some information about them and my thoughts.
Click on the titles to read more information about each on the council's website.
This group is bidding for an Academy on both the east and the west of the city. It runs 9 other academies in the country and 10 independent schools.

Their unique selling point they say is their track record and their experience of delivering education.
Oasis is a voluntary sector organisation set up to deliver the government's academies programme. They have 5 academies in the pipeline. Oasis are bidding to run an academy on the east and the west of the city.

Their unique selling point was their passion and having listened to the presentation by Steve Chalke of Oasis I have no doubt that they are full of energy and ideas.

This is a group of public sector organisations, local businesses (including VT) and voluntary groups headed up by Southampton Solent University. This would would be a trust and it would pick the governors of the new school(s). The school in the west would specialise in arts and science (with a focus on health).

Their unique selling point was that they are local.
How they came across

The two academies produced by far the most dynamic and interesting presentations. ULT seem to have huge experience and they run two well known local independent schools (Embley Park and The Atherley). Oasis had boundless energy and enthusiasm. Southampton Education Trust came across a bit woolly and their presentation was quite tedious. They really struck me as offering more of the same whereas the two academies had something new and exciting. I feel that if we are going to radically improve exam results in Southampton (which are well below Hampshire and the national level) we need new ideas.

Trusts vs Academies

There is one very important difference between the two and it's a difference which should have a huge bearing on the person who makes the eventual decision as to which bidder to select.

An academy brings with it the immediate guarantee of government funding for the building of a new school (£20m-£30m). A trust doesn't. A trust can bid for government money from its Building Schools for the Future (BSF) pot which is available in 2010. However there is no guarantee that a bid will be successful. Government is keen on academies and that's where it is putting the money. So if the council opts for 2 academies it gets £40m - £60m for education in the city. That's pretty much a no brainer for me. Also I would like Regents Park Community College and St Marks Junior schools to be bidding for BSF money for new schools on the St Marks site. The more schools bidding in Southampton the less likely they are to all be successful.

Who makes the decision?

The decision will be taken on 2nd July and the decision maker will be the political party that takes control of the council on Wednesday. So there is a lot at stake on Wednesday!


Anonymous said...

The future of education is vitally important and the learning futures has been a shambles.

The elephant in the room that no one talks about is standards in education in Southampton. The city has been in the bottom quarter for attainment for too long and improvement is necessary.

To do this needs radical thought which some of the providers have come up with. Unfortunality the issues have been overshadowed by trade unions with their bigoted views and the teachers worried about losing jobs. If a teacher is good what have they to fear. No incoming school will not employ them? The issue is that standards have to rise and money has to be invested.

Andrew said...

I would agree with the above comment about the 'bottom line' so to speak. However the lib dems (generally) are for more apt when it comes to social justice and/or repsonsibility. i would contend that the conservatives ahve here made a blatant attack on the character of others (denoting desperation) whilst ignoring the slanderous implications of such a supposition. if this is the busines we're into then i might as well get on board and say "David cameron has no direction in his policies and is frankly unfit to lead our country'