Getting to Good – An Asian Sunday Campaign to raise standards of education in failing schools.
By Ann Czernik & Pete Sawyer
This week, as children in Britain look forward to a brand new school year, many Asian parents are wondering if their children will receive an education from the state that will equip them to achieve their ambitions.
Educating ethnic minority children, and raising the attainment levels of disadvantaged children across the UK is a key policy area for government but Asian Sunday can reveal that a Freedom of Information request showed that across the UK, nearly half the schools in special measures are attended by high numbers of children of Asian heritage.
Significant numbers of Asian children are badly served by the education system in the UK and this has created a cycle of hardship. Experts say that marginalisation is a key factor predicting risk of radicalisation. Asian Sunday has looked at the impact of poor attainment upon young people of Asian heritage who attend the worst schools in the country and they tell us that they feel doomed and hopeless.
Unemployment amongst young people of Asian origin has doubled in a ten year period between 2002 and 2012. Surveys show that young Asian people are consistently disadvantaged in the labour market.
But in Bradford, the situation is acute. Bradford has languished at the bottom of the school league tables for over a decade. The city is black spot for youth unemployment currently more than twice the national average.
Nowhere in Britain, is there a more pressing need for urgent action to raise standards of education.
Today, Asian Sunday announces a new campaign to help raise attainment and improve the job prospects for disadvantaged young people. Over the coming weeks, we will be looking at what has gone wrong, and what is being done to support young people in failing schools.
The publisher of Asian Sunday, Fatima Patel is fronting a new campaign called “Get to Good”. Patel said “We are looking at providing an after-school club in Bradford called Get to Good and we will be providing tutors in maths, English and science. The project is available to any child who wants to access that. We are setting up a website which will have a forum where parents, pupils and staff can ask questions and teachers will respond. There will also be a site for the community to raise concerns about schools and we will try and get answers. The local business community is on board and they are going to provide mentoring and work experience to assist young people in obtaining the experience and support to achieve their ambitions. It’s a pilot project at the moment but we hope to extend if the initial three month trial period if it goes well.’
Bradford Trojan Horse School Scandal
Laisterdyke Business and Enterprise College is a troubled school in Bradford, a city with a long history of educational underachievement. The majority of pupils at Laisterdyke are of Asian heritage and English is mainly a second language. Special measures were introduced a year ago to try to raise attainment but this year’s GCSE results are the worst in years.
Just 28 per cent of pupils achieved five GCSE passes including maths and English.
Susan Hinchcliffe, Executive member for Education, Skills and Culture for Bradford Council said “The Principal of Laisterdyke Business and Enterprise College, Jen Macintosh, is not in college. An interim principal has been put in place. The interim principal and the Interim Executive Board will ensure that the focus of the college remains on prioritising student’s education achievement.”
Laisterdyke was first classed in need of improvement by Ofsted in September 2013 and said teaching was not good enough. One issue was the use of data and systems to track pupil progress. It was noted by governors that projected results differed markedly from actual performance. Ofsted said” New systems to monitor students’ progress and improve the quality of teaching are not yet consistently applied by all senior and middle leaders and teachers” There was a high level of staff turnover and Governors were concerned by expenditure of supply teachers.
Paul Makin, Assistant Director of Education at Bradford Council intervened in December 2013 because issues of governance were brought to the attention of the local authority.
Asian Sunday discovered that Ofsted exposed further serious problems at Laisterdyke during monitoring visits throughout 2013/14.
In April 2014, Bradford Council asked the Secretary of State for Education to approve an application to replace the existing governing body at Laisterdyke with an interim education board. (IEB) Michael Jamieson, the Council’s strategic director of children’s services said that “The Council had concerns about the actions and effectiveness of the governing body of Laisterdyke”
It was a wildly unpopular move which many suspected was politically motivated.
Councillor Faisal Khan had been a governor at several schools in Bradford for many years. When he was elected as a councillor in 2012 for George Galloway’s Respect Party, he was appointed to the Children’s Services scrutiny committee in Bradford Council with a responsibility for holding the council’s education services to account.
Khan had met Tahir Alam of the Park View Trust in Birmingham at a community event and had been impressed by his achievements in rapidly improving schools with a similar demographic profile to Laisterdyke. Alam had a successful career as an educationalist, and received glowing accolades from Ofsted for his work at Park View Academy Trust.
But Alam found his reputation in tatters when he was accused of being the ringleader in the Trojan Horse, a plot to introduce an Islamist agenda into British schools.
Operation Trojan Horse shaped the perfect political storm in a climate of fear, mistrust and suspicion, through which lives could be ruined and communities destroyed. The letter detailing ‘the plot’ was brief and to the point, but its repercussions continue to undermine confidence in Bradford council’s ability to raise standards in the city.
To this day, no-one knows if the letter is genuine or who wrote it. No-one knows who sent it to the authorities or if the original ever reached an accomplice in Bradford. But it was enough to spark a hysteria which has fractured this community.
Andrew Gilligan of the Telegraph identified Khan as the Bradford connection in the Trojan Horse. Sources at the school told Gilligan that Khan was leading a campaign to undermine the Head of Laisterdyke and that “The tactics are reminiscent of those employed in Operation Trojan Horse, with governors constantly questioning decisions, school results and vociferous complaints from the community”
Although Jamieson vehemently denied that action was taken because of fears of an Islamist plot, Sir Nick Weller of the Bradford Partnership, an influential body which supports and advises all 31 secondary schools in Bradford on performance and attainment gave a statement to the BBC saying that “There’s a co-ordinated attempt by a small group of unrepresentative people, whose views are not shared by most of the Muslim parents that I talk to, to gain greater control of governing bodies in Bradford and advance their agenda.”
Bradford Partnership say they developed a “rigorous system of performance review, providing constructive challenge to all our Members to help them focus on key areas of improvement”
In November 2014, Ofsted inspectors reported that they were “Uncertain whether necessary improvements can be secured before the next inspection” The report said that “ The Interim Executive Board (IEB) is rightly questioning the pace of improvement and the impact of actions being taken to improve the quality of teaching and student outcomes”
This year, just five secondary schools in Bradford achieved the minimum performance threshold set by government which requires schools to ensure that 60 per cent of pupils pass five GCSE’s including maths and English.
Hinchcliffe, admitted that despite considerable efforts to improve performance, attainment levels have dropped across the district.
A disillusioned Laisterdyke pupil disappointed with his GCSE results had hoped for a university career. He told Asian Sunday that “I don’t know about anyone else but I feel hopeless. I don’t think I’m going to get anywhere. I can’t get an apprenticeship. I don’t want to be that person twenty years down the line and I‘m not doing as well as everyone else. You see, I had that chance and the school denied me that. That’s why I hate the school. I had a good chance. It wasn’t even the fact that I failed or I gave up. The school denied me the chance to do well. At the moment, right now, I feel helpless.”
This intelligent, and articulate man explained “I did my GCSE’s and I got all B’s. Everyone says that if you fail you can go to college. Well, I didn’t necessarily fail. I passed but I didn’t get the grades to get into my course.”
He said his hopes were raised and dashed. He said that for much of the year he was taught by supply teachers. He said “I’m in set one. Everyone was projected to get an A star. There was no-one to show us how to write our essays. English is one of the hardest subjects because there is no right or wrong answer in English. We didn’t have no teachers to tell us how to write.”
Last week, parents protested outside schools in Bradford and over 100 angry parents attended a heated public meeting with Hinchcliffe who defended the decision to remove the governors in 2014.
A spokesman for Ofsted said “Ofsted does not have the powers to change the structure and management of a school. In relation to Laisterdyke College, this is the responsibility of the local authority.”
Anxious parent, pupils and staff presented Hinchcliffe with a series of damning complaints.
A teacher at Laisterdyke told Hinchcliffe “Bradford is failing. The people in Bradford can’t do it. They’ve had twenty years. We need people to lead the way. Bradford Partnership is as bad. The schools that are supposed to improve us are failing. They were worse off than us. The person who came in had failed at three previous schools. The people you’ve got are not competent. They don’t understand the data, they don’t understand their incompetence. We are told that the inspectors are coming in, we need a B grade here, and B grade there. We are told to change data. Our data manager is told to change data. We lie to you guys. So however many positives you’re getting – nothing will change until you realise that”
Councillor Khan said, “The council need to address the serious allegations that were made here today. Governors raised the same issues, and these are documented. We raised numerous concerns including gross misconduct with the local authority. The Assistant Director of Education, Paul Makin didn’t follow due process and I believe he misrepresented the situation to remove governors who were holding the school to account and providing a proper level of scrutiny. The consequences are that the local authority enabled the head teacher to cover her inadequacies at the cost of the pupil’s life chances. The evidence is in the results.”
The Department of Education exclusively told Asian Sunday that “The Regional Schools Commissioner has been challenging Bradford on the significant educational challenges it faces and the performance of its schools, including Laisterdyke Business College. Where a school is failing to improve we will not hesitate to take action. We are in discussion with the council over the best solution for Laisterdyke including conversion to academy status with the support of a strong sponsor, which is the best way to bring about sustained improvement.”
Hinchcliffe said “We have a year. Ofsted came in last June and said this is the plan, you’re doing the right thing and we want to see that implemented quickly. They will be back to look at what we’re doing next year and we have to improve by then”
But it would appear that the community has little confidence in her ability to deliver.
Another pupil at the school said “We want opportunities to progress and they just don’t get it. They don’t understand our situation. They are still not listening to what is being said.”
Hinchcliffe told Asian Sunday “I can’t comment on Laisterdyke in particular. We are looking at what’s happened. We are analysing the results and introducing an action plan from there.” But she dismissed calls for an emergency plan for Laisterdyke saying “Every school has a plan for improvement”
Another earnest young man raised his eyes to the heavens and said “I don’t think she understands how fragile this situation is”
Councillor Ghazanfer Khaliq was a governor at Laisterdyke for over 25 years and a Labour councillor for 35 years. Khaliq said he alerted senior officers and the Leader of the Council to the problems at the failing school during a series of meetings.
Khaliq said “It wasn’t the right decision to remove the governing body. They didn’t look at the management of the school, they just looked at the governing body. The Trojan Horse clouded the issue. Some people tried to make out that governors were wanting to take over at Laisterdyke but there was nothing that I knew about. All the governing body was concerned about was raising the attainment of children at these particular schools. Unfortunately the relationship between the Principal and the Governing body had fallen apart. She wasn’t prepared to listen to the Governing Body. She wasn’t prepared to take criticism from the Governing Body and she didn’t want to respond to the questions and issues raised by the Governing Body. That was the whole problem. The local authority defended the Principal. It was around the time of the Trojan Horse and links were made to that. It wasn’t a local issue, it was a national issue.”
A spokesman for the Department of Education said “Bradford City Council are responsible for the performance of Laisterdyke College and put in place the IEB. It is their responsibility to ensure it is bringing about the necessary improvement. Any suggestion that governors were wrongly removed and replaced by the IEB should be directed to the council.”
Susan Hinchcliffe told Asian Sunday that “Laisterdyke School has to now look to the future. Constant re-examination of the old Governing Body and why it was removed is not helpful in making the progress in the future which the school needs. The Council believes it made the right recommendation to remove the old Governing body. Indeed Ofsted clearly endorsed the Council in this view which was ultimately made by the Secretary of State for Education. However, in order to be thorough and transparent in the decision-making around this change of Governing Body, the Children’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee also commissioned an external independent reviewer, Les Walton, to conduct an investigation. This will provide an external independent review of whether the Council took the appropriate action. The Council feels therefore that it has taken over and above expected measures to scrutinise the decision it made.”
The results of the inquiry will be made available in the autumn.
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