Failed Durham Free School (DFS) was a “haven for every crap teacher in the North-East”, a Commons debate was told last night.
Ministers were told that staff who had left other nearby schools – after “competency procedures” – had been given new jobs at the controversial Durham City secondary.
The allegation came as city MP Roberta Blackman-Woods said most people fighting its closure – ordered by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, last week – had “no direct knowledge of the school”.
Instead, they were relying on “very selective comments from the Ofsted report”, amid a national newspaper campaign claiming the watchdog is “waging war on Christian schools”.
In fact, Ms Blackman-Woods said, DFS had been “rated inadequate across all categories” – which was “highly unusual even for a free school”.
But, in reply, schools minister Nick Gibb defended the decision to open DFS, in September 2013, insisting it had passed “rigorous” tests set by the Department for Education (Dfe).
He told MPs:
“We were satisfied that the governing structure had the capability to deliver an outstanding education to its pupils.”
The debate was held eight days after the Education Secretary sprung a surprise by announcing DFS would be shut because “what Ofsted found is enough to shock any parent”.
But, in the Commons, North West Durham MP Pat Glass said:
“I was aware that there were very high levels of teachers working at Durham Free School that had already been through competency procedures with other local authorities.
“A head teacher in the region told me that the school had become a haven for every crap teacher in the North-East – that’s what he said to me.”
And Ms Blackman-Woods set out in detail the school’s key failings, which had made the closure decision “obvious”. They were that:
* “Students’ achievement is weak”.
* “Governors place too much emphasis on religious credentials when they are recruiting key staff”
* “Teaching is inadequate over time”.
* “Teachers’ assessment of students’ work is inaccurate and marking is weak”.
* “The behaviour of some students leads to unsafe situations”.
The Durham City MP said the school had promised to be “caring”, but added: “It had moved from being caring to possibly scary for those young people.”
Of 43 letters she had received opposing the closure, only 18 had come from parents at the school.
Mr Gibb said DFS had received “£840,000-odd of revenue and capital funding” for its 92 pupils – plus a ‘pupil premium’ top-up for poorer youngsters.
Source – Durham Times, 28 Jan 2015
A committee of MPs will today call for tougher rules before the setting up of ‘free schools’, to prevent a repeat of the Durham Free School fiasco.
The Department For Education (DFE) is urged to impose stronger checks before giving the go-ahead in areas with surplus places and a large number of outstanding, existing schools.
And it is told to publish the impact on neighbouring schools – not only when an application is made, but after a free school is opened.
The recommendations go to the heart of criticism of Durham Free School (DFS), which has been condemned as inadequate by watchdog Ofsted and will close within months.
Critics, led by Roberta Blackman-Woods, Durham City’s Labour MP, argue DFS should never have been opened, in September 2013, and is a scandalous waste of money.
It attracted only about 90 pupils – in a city with high-quality schools, with empty places – and was expected to take another eight years to reach its target size of 630.
And it angered local people by opening temporarily in the former home of Durham Gilesgate Sports College, in Gilesgate, which had been controversially closed amid budget cuts.
The saga will be raised in the Commons tonight, in a debate led by Ms Blackman-Woods, who will demand that ministers reveal the full financial details behind the DFS failure.
Ministers are also under pressure to come clean about the role of Michael Gove’s former adviser, Durham-born Dominic Cummings, and his mother, in establishing the school.
Before that debate, today’s report by the Conservative-led education committee also accuses the Government of “exaggerating the success” of academies and free schools.
“We are saying the DFE needs to look very carefully before it agrees to set up a free school in an area that already has sufficient good places and good schools.
“Durham Free School was a waste of public money – £4m was thrown away – and Michael Gove did absolutely nothing about it.”
Free schools have the same freedoms as academies, but have been typically set up the charitable arms of private firms, or groups of parents, or teachers.
There are now 1,884 secondary academies (60 per cent of the total) and 2,299 primaries (13 per cent), after outstanding schools were encouraged to convert.
Source – Durham Times, 27 Jan 2015
The North’s poor are going hungry after the Government rejected a £22m food fund from Europe, it is claimed today by the region’s Labour MEPs.
David Cameron has been criticised for allegedly failing to take the money, which could directly go to foodbanks in the region, over fears it reveals the UK’s dependency on the EU and weakens his position.
However the Conservative Party have dismissed Labour’s claims, saying people are not missing out on the EU cash and have £2.9m to spend.
Labour MEPs have now written an open letter to the Prime Minister asking him to lift his block on support for the country’s most vulnerable people for what they consider is solely for ‘ideological reasons’.
The European Aid to the Most Deprived Fund is worth £2.5bn, and is available to all EU member countries to dip into to help people who are most in need.
Foodbanks in the North East would have been able to apply for funding from the pot.
However David Cameron decided to opt out of the scheme in 2013, which Labour members believe could have eventually totalled £22m for the UK between 2014 and 2020.
The Government has previously said it believes individual member states are best positioned to deliver social programmes for the poor through regional or local authorities. They’ve said they will take their Most Deprived Fund subsidy (£2.9m) and deduct it from their ‘structural fund’, the cash pot they would prefer to see money delivered through.
Today North East’s two Labour MEPs, Jude Kirton Darling and Paul Brannen have said in their joint letter to David Cameron that he should ‘remove opposition’ to support for foodbanks.
The letter has also been signed by leader of Newcastle City Council Nick Forbes and leader of Durham County Council Simon Henig.
Jude Kirton Darling, MEP, said:
“People are under intense financial pressure at the moment and many people will have used food banks this year.
“As the weather turns colder and people face increased heating bills and Christmas approaches we feel now is the time for the Government to remove its opposition to support for food banks.”
Paul Brannen MEP added that as well as accepting more money from the EU, he would like to see food bank use decline through an increased minimum wage, less use of zero hour contracts and a youth job guarantee for young people.
A Conservative party spokesperson, said:
“We aren’t losing money – any funding the UK receives from the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived will be taken off our structural fund allocation.
“Instead we will use our structural funds to support local initiatives to train and support disadvantaged people into work. We have not yet decided how the €3.5m euro pot (£2.9m) will be spent – food aid is just one of the options for spending the money.”
In 2013, British MEPs alongside two other member states formed a blocking minority which meant the initial European-wide fund was spilt into two, with one fund for ‘material assistance’, which would have seen the UK receiving food and items like sleeping bags directly, and another for ‘immaterial assistance’ which could go towards the budgets of social programmes.
Britain chose to draw down only on the second fund ‘immaterial assistance’, and while it accepted a share of £2.9m, the same as the smallest EU member Malta with a population of just 450,000, neighbouring country France accepted has taken its full €443m allowance.
The letter to Mr Cameron written by the pair, said:
“We feel now is the time to remove your opposition to support for food banks.
“We understand your opposition to the European Union but the fact is that the money is available and should be used as there is clear and desperate need. It is wrong to block support for the most vulnerable people for ideological reasons.
“You have claimed that support for food banks should be a national decision, yet the decision of your government is to not support food banks at all. We do not believe that is right.”
The Government announced in October that it plans to use the UK share of the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived to provide additional support for school breakfast clubs in England.
Under the plans, which will be led by the Department for Education, this money would be allocated to schools with particularly high rates of disadvantage, as measured by free-school meal eligibility. This still needs to be agreed by the EU Commission.
Source – Sunday Sun, 21 Dec 2014
Saving councils cash is driving a rise in fast-track child adoptions in the North, an MP has claimed.
The British Association of Social Workers has launched an inquiry into why adoption in the North East has shot up by 26% in the last year after Blyth MP Ronnie Campbell highlighted concerns about the issue.
He believes dwindling numbers of under-pressure social workers are spending less time trying to keep families together and that councils, navigating central Government cuts, are pushing adoptions.
It comes as the Department for Education revealed the number of adoptions increased to 390 in 2013/14 from 290 the previous year.
Local authorities say they are doing all they can to keep parents and their children in a unit, and any claim adoption was used as a money-saving measure is “completely wrong”.
Mr Campbell said:
“I think it is about money at the end of the day. It is cheaper to adopt than it is to foster a child.
“We should be helping parents to get back on the straight and narrow.
“I have seen parents who have turned themselves around.
“Because of all the cuts, social services don’t seem to be there to help anymore. I don’t see why adoption has to be the be all and end all.”
He added social workers may also be afraid to manage intervention in the wake of some high profile cases, such as the failure of Haringey Children’s Services in the lead up to the death of 17-month-old Peter Connelly, who suffered appalling abuse at home.
Mr Campbell said:
“With Baby P and everything that came out, I think our social workers are frightened of their own job.
“Adoption is the easy option and it doesn’t cost the council anything. If you foster a child it is costing rate payers £500 a week. Why can we not try and keep the family together and help the mothers to bring themselves round.”
Bridget Robb, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said quick decisions were being made to get children out of the public care system.
“Due to the impact of austerity, many services which have been around in local communities to support children and their birth families are no longer around as they have closed due to lack of money. This makes it harder to provide the help those families need to stay together.
“Our current UK adoption legislation enables children to be adopted without the consent of their parents. This aspect of the legislation is being increasingly used to speed up the adoption process. While there are extreme circumstances where this may be necessary, its widespread use is causing us real concern as a profession.”
In Gateshead the number of looked after children adopted leapt from 15 in 2013 to 35, while there was an increase of 25 looked after children adopted in Newcastle to hit 60 in 2014.
In County Durham, adoptions shot up to 75 from 40, while in Middlesbrough, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland the figures remained the same.
In Darlington, the number of adoptions doubled from 10 to 20, while the number rose by five to 15 in both Hartlepool and Redcar and Cleveland. In Stockton-on-Tees, the number rose by ten to 30.
Councils stressed adoption was a last resort and had to be agreed by a court.
A Newcastle City Council spokesman admitted all services were coming under pressure, but said:
“It is totally wrong and misinformed to suggest that adoption is in some way a replacement for adequate social care support to families. Adoption is a way to provide a loving family home for children who cannot be cared for by their natural parents for a whole host of reasons. For many of these children the alternative would be a childhood spent in local authority care. Newcastle City Council is proud of the fact that it is giving more children the best possible start in life by increasing the numbers of adoptions, and this is something we will continue to try to do.
“At the same time, through the Newcastle Families Programme, the council is working with a range of partners in the city to provide intensive support to families who find themselves in trouble, providing the help and challenge they need to turn their lives around. The programme is one of the most successful in the country – helping around 300 families a year to overcome difficulties and get back on the right track.
“Government cuts and rising costs are forcing councils to make difficult decisions about services. Newcastle City Council has ensured that service to vulnerable people have been prioritised to avoid the deepest cuts, but it is true that these services are coming under increasing pressure.”
Karen Robb, strategic manager, looked after children and permanence at Durham County Council, said:
“We will always work with families to see if the children can remain with their parents or another family member. Where this is not possible children are only adopted after we have received a mandate from the courts where they are satisfied that there is no possibility of the birth parents or extended families being able to provide satisfactory care.
“We actively ensure that children who cannot live within their own families are placed permanently with their new families as quickly as possible.”
Councillor Angela Douglas, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People at Gateshead added:
“We are committed to achieving the best outcomes for our children and young people and we know that for some children the best way to achieve this is through providing new forever families.
“Placing a child with adoptive parents only ever happens if it is felt by everyone that this would be in the best interests of that child. No other factors are involved in that decision.
“To suggest that adoption is taking place as a money-saving measure – and that the specific needs of that child are therefore being ignored – is completely wrong.”
Newcastle MP Catherine McKinnell said:
“There’s no doubt that the number of children in care in the region has risen over recent years, with over 500 children in the care of Newcastle Council alone.
“This comes at a huge cost not just to the local authority and society at large, but also to the children themselves as those who’ve grown up in care have historically had significantly worse outcomes.
“Clearly, it’s vital for local authorities and other organisations to provide early intervention services to support troubled families, in order to prevent family breakdowns and children being taken into care in the first place.
“But for those children already in care, I support moves to help them find permanent, secure, loving and stable families, and an increase in adoption rates – where it is appropriate for each individual child – is a positive step.”
Source – Sunday Sun, 16 Nov 2014
The UK needs a dedicated minister for integration to promote British values and identity, according to a North MP.
Hexham MP Guy Opperman urged the Government to consider appointing a dedicated minister as he backed the Government’s plans to require schools to teach British values.
It follows claims that extremists or religious conservatives have attempted to take over schools in areas of Birmingham with large Muslim populations.
Independent schools, including state-run academies, are already required to encourage pupils to respect British values, which are defined as democracy; the rule of law; individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs.
Education Secretary Michael Gove has announced this requirement is to be extended to include local authority maintained schools.
But the Muslim Council of Britain has expressed “deep concern” at the debate over British values, saying: “We have no objection to British values. On the contrary. We believe in a tolerant, more free and more equal society.
“We want a real debate that does not regard us as conditional Britons.”
Other critics have claimed it is wrong to suggest tolerance and rule of law are British values, as if the UK is more committed to them than other countries.
But speaking in a Commons debate, Mr Opperman said: “One would hope that those are universal values, but we know that the reality worldwide is that they are not universal values, but are particular values of this country.
“In that respect, these purportedly universal values are, in fact, very British and their promotion must be a very good thing.”
He said he wanted to ask “whether we need to consider introducing, as the Canadians have, a Minister for integration.”
Canadian Minister Jason Kenney had succeeded in “formulating and promoting integration of people of many different faiths,” Mr Opperman said.
“His portfolio includes citizenship, multiculturalism, immigration and integration. It is the unification of those strands of Government Departments and the difficulties faced that we genuinely need to address.”
Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said he agreed with Mr Opperman that British values were not shared by everyone.
He said: “British values are not universal around the world, and we should be proud that they are very widely, if not universally, accepted here at home.
“Those universal values flower in Britain because of the protection of our strong democratic state, defended through liberty – with blood, in times gone by – by our forefathers and the forefathers of those from many different backgrounds.”
The Department for Education says that the new regulations will take effect in September 2014.
Schools will be expected to show how they are promoting fundamental British values and challenging pupils, staff or parents who express opinions contrary to those values.
Action will also be taken against schools where, for example, girls are disadvantaged on the grounds of their gender – or where prejudice against those of other faiths is encouraged or not adequately challenged.
Labour MP John Denham said teaching British values was “ill-judged and may be counter-productive”, adding: “All the attention has been focused deliberately on one community, the Muslim community.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 29 June 2014
> The North East – the one region where unemployment continues to rise, no matter how they try to fiddle the figures.
Government response ? Move more jobs out of the region. You know it makes sense…
Dozens of North-East jobs are at risk of being moved out of the region as part of Government privatisation plans.
Staff at the Department for Education (DfE), in Darlington, were informed this week that the department is looking into plans to outsource IT posts.
The proposals, which are still in the early stages, are understood to affect up to 30 jobs at the DfE’s Mowden Hall offices and more in other areas of the country.
Plans to move out of the run-down Mowden Hall were announced by the DfE in 2012.
Hundreds of jobs were put at risk of being moved out of Darlington to elsewhere in the region.
Thousands of people signed a petition to keep the jobs in the town, with council leaders and Labour MPs Jenny Chapman (Darlington) and Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) joining the campaign.
The DfE ultimately gave in and agreed to house the at-risk jobs in a purpose built office block in Darlington town centre.
Currently under construction and expected to be complete by the start of next year, the £8m office block is seen by many Darlington residents as an extension to the town’s 1960s-built Town Hall, widely agreed to be in need of major improvement work.
With the DfE yet to comment on these latest plans to outsource Darlington jobs, it remains to be seen whether or not it is the case that some of the hundreds of jobs the new office is being built to accommodate will never actually be moved there.
The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union, which campaigned strongly in favour of keeping members’ jobs in Darlington, has been informed of the latest plans and is considering its position.
Mrs Chapman called the latest developments ‘distressing‘.
She said: “There is a wider pattern from the Government in attempting to outsource these kinds of jobs, they are trying to do it with the Ministry of Justice.
“Sending public sector jobs offshore goes against everything the Tories have said about wanting to bring jobs back to the UK.
“It would be dreadful if, after everything we have been through to secure these jobs in Darlington, we were to lose a number of them in this way.”
The DfE has not responded to repeated requests for comment.
Source – Northern Echo, 20 June 2014
The number of infants being taught in over-sized classes of more than 30 pupils has shot up across the North East, it has emerged.
New statistics reveal that more than 3,000 five to seven-year-olds in the region are now being taught in classes above the legal limit.
And that’s more than double the figure in 2010, when the current government came to power.
Officially, a limit on class sizes introduced by the previous government is still in force. It means there should be no more than 30 youngsters in a class.
However, rules requiring head teachers to act if classes were too large by recruiting more teachers were relaxed in 2012.
Figures published by the Department for Education show that 3,035 infants in the North East were taught in classes larger than 30 in January this year compared to 1,230 in January 2010. That is an increase of 147%.
In Gateshead, the number of pupils in super-sized classes is 312, more than triple the figure in 2010.
In Sunderland, the number increased hugely from 31 pupils to 469, while in Newcastle, it went from 318 to 596, and in Northumberland from 93 to 125.
There are some cases where schools are allowed to ignore the size limit, for example if a parent wins an appeal for a place and this pushes the numbers above 30.
Pat Glass, MP for North West Durham and member of the Education Select Committee said: “These figures show just how out of touch the Government’s priorities are when it comes to education. Across the North East region we are seeing infant class sizes rise.
“Under the Tories we’re heading back to the bad old days in schools with children taught in overcrowded classes is school buildings starved of investment.
“Instead of improving the standard of our schools David Cameron and Michael Gove are wasting resources on pet projects such setting up new Free Schools.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “The average infant class size is up only marginally, from 27.3 to 27.4. However we recognise the significant pressure on school places as a result of demographic trends over the last decade.
“That is why we are giving local authorities £5bn to spend on new school places over this parliament – double the amount allocated by the previous government over an equivalent period.
“This funding has already led to the creation of 260,000 new school places, all of which are in areas where there is a shortage of places, and many more new places are planned.
“In addition to this we are setting up free schools, which tend to be smaller schools and have smaller class sizes. The vast majority of free schools are being set up where there is a need for new places.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “The rise in class sizes demonstrates the lack of forward planning on pupil numbers.”
Source – Newcastle Joornal, 13 June 2014
Children are going to school hungry, cold and wearing dirty clothes because their parents are struggling for money, a teachers union has warned.
Members of the NASUWT, which represents thousands of teachers across the North-East and North Yorkshire, have reported that some children are turning up for lessons with mouldy food in their lunchboxes and holes in their uniforms.
A survey of almost 4,000 NASUWT members found that many teachers are giving pupils money out of their own pocket, providing food and lending clothes to help them out.
The warnings come days after foodbanks across the region reported a 463 per cent increase in the number of people using the services.
The Trussell Trust reported that 18,592 adults and children in County Durham received three days’ emergency food relief from its foodbanks in 2013-14. In total, 59,000 people accessed foodbank support in the North–East.
The president of the NASUWT, Geoff Branner, said that schools alone cannot solve the problems of poverty, poor housing, neglect and abuse.
In a speech at NASUWT’s annual conference in Birmingham, Mr Branner said: “Public education is not just about developing an individual’s capacity to earn, it has a moral objective as well – to tackle inequality.
But he added: “Whether education alone can overcome the malign effects of poverty, poor housing, neglect and abuse in all its forms is questionable.”
The poll of NASUWT teachers revealed stories of pupils hugging radiators to keep warm and getting upset when they lose basic items such as pencils and rubbers because they are fearful of the cost of replacing them.
The union said it had commissioned the survey in response to concerns raised by teachers about the long-term impact of Government economic policies on children and young people.
The findings show that almost three quarters – 74 per cent – of teachers have seen pupils coming to school hungry, with 80 per cent saying that youngsters had been lacking in energy and concentration because they were eating poorly.
The poll also revealed that 27 per cent of teachers said they had experience of students losing their homes due to financial problems.
One NASUWT member said: “I have never known such abject poverty as my pupils are suffering at the moment.
“Many are affected by the cold – they cannot complete any work at home as a result of lack of heat, warmth, equipment, and we are seeing more pupils being told by their parents to stay behind in school at night in order to make sure they can do their homework with light and warmth.”
Another said they had seen “children practically hugging radiators, children eating at friend’s houses because they don’t have food at home. Mouldy food in packed lunch boxes”.
NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “The lives of children and young people are being degraded by poverty and homelessness.
“Teachers and other public service workers are struggling to pick up the pieces caused by this Coalition’s economic and social policies.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman said the Government was taking decisive action to help disadvantaged pupils.
She said: “Around 1.3m children currently receive a free, nutritious meal at school. We are extending this to all five to seven-year-olds in state maintained schools from September and allocating more than £1m to help schools establish more breakfast clubs.
“We have invested in the Pupil Premium, raising it from £625m in 2011-12 to £2.5bn in 2014-15.
“This is giving schools the additional resources they need to raise disadvantaged pupils attainment, and give them a better start in life.”
Source – Northern Echo 19 April 2014