No school will have its budget cut as a result of the new fair funding formula

There has been considerable concern in Hammersmith and Fulham that the move towards fairer school funding would mean local schools facing budget cuts.

The Conservative Manifesto has made clear this will not be the case:

“The way funding is distributed to schools in England is not fair. Across the country, children with the same needs and expectations receive markedly different rates of funding for their school place. We have begun to correct this and in the next parliament we will make funding fairer still. We appreciate that it is hard for schools receiving a higher level of funding to make cuts in order to pay for increases elsewhere, so while we will make funding fairer over the course of the parliament, we will make sure that no school has its budget cut as a result of the new formula. We will increase the overall schools budget by £4 billion by 2022, representing more than a real terms increase for every year of the parliament. We will continue to protect the Pupil Premium to support those who need it.”

Good news!

Weekly car boot sale in support of Melcombe Primary School

A guest post from Tom Martin.

A group of local parents, led by Shazeen Ahmed, are organising a weekly car boot sale on Sunday mornings at Melcombe Primary School in Fulham Palace Road.

The events will raise money for a good cause, with the entry fees from both sellers and buyers going directly to the school. More information is available here.

Please share and help spread the word. Hope to see you there!

N.B. There will be no car boot sale on Sunday 7th May and any other Sunday when Fulham FC are playing at Craven Cottage).

Hammersmith students reach for the stars

Hammersmith Academy school children are taking part in a scientific initiative designed by Noosphere – the philanthropic foundation founded by Russian philanthropist Yelena Baturina, in association with the Mayor’s Fund for London’s Discovery in a Week initiative.

Also supported by the Yelena Baturina’s BE Open Foundation, the initiative’s aim is introduce young people from across London to the fascinating world of astronomy. The Discovery in a Week projects bring together PHD astronomy students from the UCL’s Physics and Astronomy department to mentor secondary school pupils. London children will join those from Moscow and professional astronomers to discuss and exchange thoughts and ideas during weekly Skype conferences.

Currently children from six London schools – Hammersmith, Forest Gate Community School, Sanders, Mount Carmel, Lister Community College, UCL Academy – are not only enhancing their theoretical knowledge, but also making real astronomic discoveries by analysing pictures produced by a powerful telescope in Australia. By the end of the year 20 London schools will be taking part.

Discovery in a Week is a project that not just introduces young people to the fascinating world of astronomy, but by producing real scientific results gives them a rewarding educational experience that broadens their intellectual horizons, while fostering a keen interest in scientific research to last for years to come.

The stars discovered by children will be recorded in the International Variable Star Index, while the coordinates of the asteroids detected will be sent to the Minor Planet Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. During the pilot launch of the programme only, the students at Hammersmith and UCL Academies identified 9 new variable stars in the Centaurus and Libra constellations. All the stars discovered are now officially named after their young discoverers.

The aim of Discovery in a Week is to continue to extend the scope of this initiative to a broader range of schools over the next few years, as well as create an international network of enthusiastic young observers and researchers by encouraging children from different countries to exchange their astronomical experience and ideas during regular conferences.

Yelena Baturina, Founder of Noosphere said:

“We are very excited that more and more schools join the ‘Discovery in a Week’ project. Over 10 years, we have implemented a variety of projects aimed at bringing people together, improving understanding and promoting freedom of thought. And we hope that looking at the sky will encourage younger generations to think globally, approach the world with an informed, open and universal perspective”.

The programme was made possible thanks to the Russian philanthropic foundation Noosphere in partnership with the Mayor’s Fund for London, and with support from the BE OPEN foundation. Since 2008, Noosphere has conducted its educational projects across schools in India, Israel, Bulgaria, Romania and Austria.

Victory! H&F Council introduces automatic registration for free school meals

A year ago I wrote about the problem of children eligible for free school meals but who haven’t registered for them. This means  these children risk going without a decent meal each day and also that their school misses out on up to £1,320 each year in Pupil Premium funding to support their education. A report chaired by the Labour MP Frank Field noted that councils could use their Housing Benefit records to provide automatic registration.

I wrote urging Hammersmith and Fulham Council to do this. Cllr Caroline ffiske pursued the matter via the Children and Education Policy and Accountability Committee. I chased it up. Then chased up again. Then chased it up again. There were frustrating bureaucratic delays, reservations about data sharing,  other priorities.

But I am delighted to say that automatic registration is now a reality.

The Council tells me this means that 217 pupils in 25 schools who had missed out have now been registered as a result. The extra funding for those schools as a result for the 2017/18 financial year will be £286,440.

Frank Field has written to me to say he is delighted at this “terrific news” and hopes that other local authorities will follow the example.

Performance tables for H&F schools

The numbers have now been crunched from the school exams last summer for the Department for Education performance tables. There is a lot of data for each school to consider.

For secondary schools the key measure is considered to be “Grade C or better in English & maths GCSEs”. The average for schools in Hammersmith and Fulham was 69.4 per cent, compared to 62.6 per cent nationally.

The top five secondary schools are:

  1. The London Oratory School
  2. Sacred Heart High School
  3. Lady Margaret School
  4. Fulham Cross Girls’ School and Language College
  5. West London Free School.

For primary schools the measure that gains most attention “is the number of pupils meeting the expected standard”. In our borough 61 per cent of children did so – compared to 53 per cent nationally.

The top five primary schools on that measure are:

  1. The London Oratory School
  2. St Stephen’s CofE Primary School
  3. Normand Croft Community School for Early Years and Primary Education
  4. Melcombe Primary School
  5. St Augustine’s RC Primary School

Labour councillor denounces the anti extremism Prevent strategy

de'athThe last Labour Government launched the Prevent strategy designed to combat Islamic extremism and violence. It aims to limit the risk of radicalisation of Muslims and the resulting terrorist threat.

The programme has continued under the Conservatives and has cross party support.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council says:

“We are fortunate to have dedicated tools available to support schools with this duty, and to help them tackle radicalisation and extremism.”

It adds:

“What is the Prevent Strategy?

Prevent is part of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy and aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. Prevent works at the pre-criminal stage by using early intervention to encourage individuals and communities to challenge extremist and terrorist ideology and behaviour.

The Prevent Strategy makes clear the important role that schools have to play in achieving these aims. It is an extension of the same safeguarding processes which the education sector already employs in order to effectively safeguard children from drugs, gang violence, alcohol abuse, and other forms of harm and crime.”

So it was disappointing that at the Council meeting on Wednesday evening one Labour councillor – Cllr Alan De’Ath – attacked the programme as “Islamophobic”. Of course he is entitled to attack Council policy – he is not a Cabinet member and thus not bound by collective responsibility. Constructive criticism is always welcome. But to undermine the Council’s work in this particular way was pretty irresponsible. His comment was absurd – the strategy involves boosting mainstream, moderate Muslim groups.

Ian Heggs, the Council’s Director for Schools emails me to confirm:

“We do indeed fully support and participate in the Prevent strategy.”

Not that De’Ath’s outburst was the worst of the evening. His fellow Fulham Broadway Labour councillor Ben Coleman made some astonishingly crass comments during a discussion on anti-semitism.

In a brave speech by Cllr Joe Carlebach about his personal experiences. “I know what it is like to stand outside a synagogue and have sharpened coins thrown at you,” he said.

Coleman’s speech immediately followed. He said: “Sometimes people in the Jewish community think they are the only Jew in the village.” For good measure he then said that concern about anti-semitism in the Labour Party were “overblown”. Really disgraceful.

To create what Theresa May wants, we need non-selective grammar schools for all

ffiskeCllr Caroline ffiske, a councillor for Avonmore and Brook Green Ward and Governor of the West London Free School, writes:

Theresa May has announced that existing grammar schools will be allowed to expand, new ones will be allowed to open, and existing non-selective schools will be allowed to become selective in some circumstances.  The government will publish a green paper setting out parameters and options.

We need to wait for the green paper to understand whether we can expect reform or revolution.  And of course there will be a battle to get any package through parliament.

Surely, though, the contradictions in Theresa May’s announcement are glaringly obvious to all.

She says:   “We are going to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.”  Ok – so “not just the privileged few” includes the vast majority of kids who won’t get into academically selective grammars.

She says “That is why I am announcing an ambitious package of education reforms to ensure that every child has the chance to go to a good school.”   So this means that all schools need to be good.

She says “A fundamental part of that is having schools that give every child the best start in life, regardless of their background.”  Okay, so these reforms are for every child, regardless of ability.

Hang on.  This is a policy announcement almost entirely focused on selection.   It focuses on providing a better education for the already more academically able!  According to The Times (Friday Sept 9),  under one option that will be explored, “only schools rated good or outstanding by Ofsted may be allowed to select”….   So the best schools will be allowed to turn away less academic pupils?  This doesn’t make any sense.

Surely, the unfairness of focusing better education opportunities on the already most academically-able is glaringly obvious to all.  What then is driving some Tory’s obsession with grammar schools?

I think we have a classic example of the tail wagging the dog.  It goes like this:

– Grammar schools have traditionally offered a very good education and get very good results.
– Therefore we need more of them.

– Grammar schools use academic selection
…Okay so we need academic selection.

Notice how the grammar school obsession tends to be 100% about the tail?  We just need more academic selection and by some mysterious process we will give every child the best start in life, including the vast majority who don’t get into grammars!

Shouldn’t we, instead, take a look at how grammar schools offer a good education?   And then make that as widely available as possible? Perhaps to all children?

So what is it that grammar schools do – and what should the Conservative Government really be trying to offer to all children?  The answer is at least two-fold.  Foremostly, grammar schools offer a challenging academically rigorous education.  Secondly, they have strong discipline and good behaviour.

Grammar schools offer a challenging academically rigorous education

Grammar schools tend to focus on a small set of core academic subjects and teach them rigorously, with extensive content, and high expectations around what the children will learn and retain.  Isn’t this what all children deserve? This has been the main focus of the Conservative’s education reform over the past few years.   At the school where I am a governor (West London Free School) this is the core of our ethos.  The refrain that the school has used is that we should teach pupils “the best that has been thought and said”.  If I had my way the school motto would be  “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”.  Isn’t this rigorous academic focus the good bit about grammar schools, and the bit that we should make available to all parents and children who want it?

Grammar schools tend to have strong discipline and good behaviour

The vast majority of parents despair when children bring home stories of disruption and poor behaviour in the classroom.  They don’t like their children seeing rude or aggressive behaviour from other children. They don’t like to think of the disruption to learning if teachers are distracted and having to spend too much of their time managing behaviour.

Parents will try to keep their children “away” from such behaviour by choosing schools where they believe behaviour is good.  We all know about the parents who “adopt a faith” to get their children into faith schools.   If you think about it, particularly at primary level where academic results do not have much visibility, the popularity of faith schools is, in huge part, driven by parents’ desire for their children to be in a school with perceived good discipline and behaviour.  I am sure this is also a large part of the popularity of grammar schools. Parents perceive that teachers will be able to get on and teach – and their children will be able to focus on learning.

Perhaps, then, Theresa May’s reforms should refocus on the dog and drop the tail.  What if more schools adopt a grammar school ethos, but without the selection?  This would mean we have more schools which teach academic subjects to all pupils and ensure they are taught rigorously with pupils building up and retaining extensive knowledge.  And we would ensure that schools have the tools needed to ensure strong discipline and behaviour.

Theresa May said:   “I am announcing an ambitious package of education reforms to ensure that every child has the chance to go to a good school … that gives every child the best start in life … regardless of their background“.

I hope this is, indeed, where we end up.  In order to give every child the best start in life, regardless of their background, we need “grammar schools” for all who want them, with rigorous teaching as well as strong discipline and behaviour, but without academic selection.