Thursday, July 02, 2009

Goldsmiths to take over New Cross Schools

Lewisham Council is currently consulting on a far-reaching proposal to bring together two local secondary schools (Deptford Green and Addey & Stanhope) and Crossways Academy (sixth form college) under the leadership of Goldsmiths College. The proposal is for the three schools to create a hard federation with a single governing body and a Trust arrangement with Goldsmiths. The Trust would be an Incorporated Charity with educational purposes; Goldsmiths would play a leading role and the Trust would be called the 'Goldsmiths Education Partnership'.

This proposal is not about privatizing education as such. The Trust would be not-for-profit, and the schools would continue to be state-funded as comprehensive secondary schools. Staff would continue to work to national terms and conditions. On its own terms, the proposal has some positive features. Nobody could deny that the Goldsmiths, which is internationally-renowned for its educational research, has much to offer local schools, and it wouldn't do more staff and students at Goldsmiths any harm to have to deal more directly with the young people living and learning outside the walls of the institution.

A key concern though is about governance, and the potential squeezing out of parent and staff voices. For Community Schools, the legal regulations require that at least one third of governors must be parent governors and there must also be at least two staff governors. There is also a requirement to have a governor nominated by the Local Education Authority. While this falls far short of community control of schools, it does at least ensure that some parents and staff have a direct input into key decisions for schools.

The Goldsmiths Education Partnership (GEP) will have two levels of governance - the GEP Trust itself and the federated governing body that will replace the three current school governing bodies. The Trust will have six trustees, three nominated in perpetuity by Goldsmiths and one each initially by the governing bodies of Deptford Green, Crossways and Addey & Stanhope Schools. Each of the three nominated by the present governing bodies will be replaced on resignation by a nominee of the federated governing body of the three schools.

There is no requirement that any of these Trustees will be parent governors or staff governors. In fact the proposal does not specify how many parent or staff governors there will actually be - though by definiton a single governing body for three schools will have less parents involved than three governing bodies. It is proposed that the Goldsmiths Education Partnership will nominate the majority of the governors to the governing body - so there is a circular process in which Goldsmiths dominates the Trust which in turn determines the majority of governors, who then nominate the non-Goldsmiths members of the Trust. The proposal does say that 'each school will be legally required to set up a Parent Council which governors must consult so that more parents can be involved than would usually sit on the governing bodies'. The problem is that being consulted is not the same as actually having seats at the table where decisions are taken.

The proposal also mentions that 'The Trust may include an additional partner from the public or private sector able to make a complementary contribution' and that this partner may also nominate one or two additional Trustees. Without knowing who this partner is it is difficult to say much more, but clearly this would build in an automatic majority for Goldsmiths and the partner on the Trust, further marginalising the already limited scope for parent governor influence on it.

There are some wider questions here too about the spread of Goldsmiths' influence in the local area. They already occupy much of the old town centre of New Cross, including the former town hall and swimming pool and various houses and shops. Now they will also have a major say in the local secondary schools too. At the same time they have no accountability to local people, not even the limited accountability that the Council has. Goldsmiths might be a relatively benign dictatorship - at least it is not a ruthless commercial enterprise - but community engagement means more than taking over community facilities and having the odd public meeting.

The consultation closes on 20 July 2009 - full details here


ross said...

interesting stuff, cheers for that

completely agree with you about the concerns over governance and community involvement

as an aside, i think crossways is a pretty impressive school and a lot could be learned from it in terms of how to go about building and running a school, its approach shows that you can make progress in education without going down the dubious academy route - tony bravo the principal there is a pretty impressive guy and has achieved a lot in his time there (even though he turned me down for a job there!)

Anonymous said...

You beat me to it posting on this - share your concern re governance arrangements.

Ross - Crossways is an academy, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I've blogged about thisnow too, along with the proposal for creating a partnership between Catford High and Colfe's.

eleanargh said...

That was comprehensive coverage, good job M.'Pontine. Re: "Nobody could deny that Goldsmiths... is internationally-renowned for its educational research" - true, but so far no-one in the Education Department has been consulted about the proposals and a number of their staff are rigorously questioning them, so who knows how research would actually be fed into the schools. There doesn't seem to be much explanation so far (unless I've missed something) of what Goldsmiths would bring to the schools - further work in Widening Participation in those schools, or not? Would it reduce college work with local schools not part of the Trust? And if there would be more focus on Trust school students progressing to university study, whether this would be to the detriment of those who can't or don't want to go to uni.

There was a public meeting at Goldsmiths' S.U. hosted by the relevant trade unions last week which I should have thought to pass on the details of as I'm sure you have many local parent readers; about 70 people came along to hear counter-arguments from staff from the schools.

Eleanor (UNISON Goldsmiths)

ross said...

sue it's called crossways academy, but it's not an academy in the sense of the academies programme