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Primary Education News
News Education in brief: Harris chain fails to win over parents
Parents say academy chain has not honoured pledges; scientists raise concern over GCSE reforms; primary school fights demolition plan; School Direct suffers shortfall in recruits; Michael Gove's "Old" friend
Harris chain fails to win over parents
Why does the Harris academies chain seem to keep breaking its promises to parents?
Camden juniors, the school in Carshalton, south London, forced into Harris's hands by ministers last month despite opposition from 98% of consultees, is the latest of three high-profile cases of sponsorship by the chain where pledges appear not to have been honoured.
Harris's official "consultation" document on Camden said "we would involve pupils in the design process of the new academy crest". Similar claims were made, parents have told Education Guardian, in advance of Harris takeovers of Downhills school in Haringey, north London, a year ago, and Roke primary in Kenley, Surrey, last week. Yet none was honoured before the schools opened with new logos, say parents.
Camden parents were also shocked to find a Harris promise to them that the school would have a headteacher appointed and ready to go this month – which they say was made in consultation meetings by the chain as a selling point against the claims of a rival school's sponsorship offer – were also not fulfilled. The school, now Harris Junior Academy Carshalton, began with an interim principal last week.
Meanwhile, parents at the former Roke school – now rebranded as Harris Primary Academy Kenley – have complained of English mistakes in a document setting out the chain's strict new uniform policy. It features the word "mohican's" and "pinafore" spelt "pinnafore".
And the severity with which the uniform policy itself was enforced seemed to cause some grief on the first day of term. A parent said: "Parents are complaining of being shouted at to do up [children's] top buttons.
"Kids were outside the school office for wearing summer dresses, which are only allowed in summer term, despite it being the hottest start to September for years. Boys were outside the office for having an elasticated tie rather than a tie-up tie … in year 3.
"Girls were having their pinafores unzipped to check they had a logoed Harris top underneath. All teachers are in jackets in blazing sun and sweating profusely."
A Harris Federation spokesperson said: "We always try to involve pupils in the design of their school crest and in the majority of our schools this has been possible. Where it is not possible, we still hold a session with a group of pupils to introduce them to the design aspects of creating a logo. This has happened at Roke, and will take place shortly at Harris Junior Academy Carshalton."
On the appointment of an interim principal at the former Camden juniors, she said Harris had appointed a head to take over, but that he had pulled out at short notice when, with sponsorship still not agreed by the education department, rival sponsor Greenshaw high said it did not agree to the appointment. So the "outstanding" interim, Fiona Kelly, was appointed.
Low score for science GCSE reforms
Serious concerns are being raised by leading scientists about the government's latest GCSE reform plans. In its official submission to a consultation on changes from 2015 - which the government has now delayed until 2016 - Score, the umbrella body for five science groups including the Royal Society, says the new GCSEs "have been written only for those progressing for further study" in science.
The needs of future A-level scientists, in a reform billed as making science GCSEs "more rigorous", have been put ahead of others studying the subject to 16, suggests the submission. "There will therefore be no suitable qualifications for a large part of the cohort," it says.
It adds: "The proposed criteria define too much content, over too great a breadth, and at much too high a level, for GCSE students to understand deeply, which will lead to superficial learning."
Last week, the normally cautious National Foundation for Educational Research said science education in England was a national success story but that the proposals put this position under threat as they "risk dampening many pupils' enjoyment of the subject".
The DfE said: "We will publish our response [to the consultation] in due course."
Successful school fights demolition plans
Campaigners fighting the demolition of a successful west London primary school, whose site could be given to a new "free" school, say hundreds of supporters packed a public meeting on the plans last week.
Conservative-controlled Hammersmith and Fulham council wants to amalgamate Sulivan primary, in Fulham, with New King's primary, from 2014. Consultation documents say one option after that could be the Sulivan site being given to the proposed Fulham Boys (free) School, a secondary.
Rosie Wait, chair of governors at Sulivan, said the move ignored the fact that there was greater demand for primary places in the borough than secondary. "We cannot accept that our school, which parents adore, should be closed to make way for another," she said.
A council spokesperson said that both Sulivan and New King's had spare places, adding: "The DfE has made £13m available for the free school. This money will not be available otherwise." The council consultation closes next month.
School Direct under scrutiny over recruits
School Direct, the controversial government scheme that sees schools, rather than universities, leading the training of teaching recruits, faces intense scrutiny this term, with students starting the first courses since Michael Gove dramatically increased the size of the programme.
Official data have yet to arrive on how many School Direct places have been filled. But recruitment expert Prof John Howson, of Oxford University, has studied the number of positions still available in England's largest local authority, Kent, through the DfE's official School Direct vacancy search site.
Howson looked at Kent's data as of 30 August. These showed only 216 of Kent's 420 School Direct places for 2013/14 had been filled, meaning nearly half were vacant, with courses all due to start this month. If the pattern is being repeated elsewhere, this will be serious for the government. An education select committee hearing featuring Charlie Taylor, who oversees School Direct, on Wednesday, could be interesting.
Has Michael Gove lost his 'Old' friend?
And finally, last week's eagerly awaited post-holiday return of Gove to the speech-making fray saw the education secretary again cast an admiring glance at the prolific teacher blogger "Andrew Old", among others.
It seems, though, that this good feeling is not entirely mutual. After being namechecked in an earlier Gove speech, "Old" – a pseudonym – wrote that his "credibility is now shot" and of having been an active Labour member for 20 years. Now, after Gove again went on the offensive against teacher union leaders, "Old" tweeted a link to a Guardian editorial with a comment: "if this is a correct summary of the issues, I agree with the unions on every one of them".
How many unequivocal friends does Gove have in education? Another person also name-checked in the speech may count in this number: Caroline Nash, or "the inspirational sponsor of Pimlico Academy", London, as she was called. Gove forgot to say that Nash is also the wife of the academies minister, fellow academy sponsor and Tory donor Lord Nash.