MP for Hornsey and Wood Green
Gruelling advice surgery – it can be so draining as people’s problems can be so deep and so distressing. I’ve noticed over the years how simply listening properly to someone who has been frustrated or downed at every turn often results often in the person crying, just because they can finally talk to someone who listens to them. At first I found this really hard – but now I understand that it is a release as finding someone to listen is hard in today’s society.
Then it was straight on to meeting with Fortismere’s Chair of Governors, Jane Farrell, to discuss the ongoing state of the school’s move to Foundation Status. The informal consultation being finished, we are now in the statutory consultation period. The informal stage results were that out of only a 6% response rate, 70% were against (to some degree).
I put forward the suggestion that – based on such a low response rate – the school should go back and ballot the parents, accompanied by a recommending report from the majority Governors who are for the proposal with an accompanying minority report from those Governors opposed. That to me is a way forward that would then, upon the result, re-unite a community which has been divided by this issue creating at times a pretty unpleasant atmosphere. Whatever, the outcome, the school must move forward with any divisions healed.
However, the school’s position is not to offer a ballot. The Governors feel that the statutory consultation period instead offers another opportunity for local parents and others to make their case – and that they as the Governing Body with the remit and duty for making decisions will take the decision based on the responses.
There are some complaints from parents who are asking the Government to review the processes on the informal consultation and consultation with stakeholders because they believe due process has not been followed and I have written to the Minister to ask that he investigate these claims.
One of the other real problems about the process is that the responses to the informal consultation were not available for public scrutiny as indeed neither will be the responses to the statutory consultation now ongoing and closing July 16th. I asked for the responses to be published and Gail – Gail Engert who is the Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson on the Council and who came with me – very helpfully suggested that the Governors could even anonomise the responses so that we can all see the reality of the responses – but not who had made them. Jane said she would consider this. And I think if they will not ballot all parents – then we (all of us) need to see what people have said in their responses so that we can understand on what basis the Governors make and take the final decision.
So – a not altogether satisfactory outcome – as I do believe an all parent ballot would have been a way to settle the business that all could then fall in behind. Second best will be if the Governors agree to publish the responses. Otherwise, for those for whom the decision goes the ‘wrong’ way will never truly believe that the Governors did their duty and had ‘regard to the views of parents’. The Governors have always told me that they believed that the ‘silent majority’ support the proposal. They may be right – but seeing is believing.
Some issues on which I asked for clarification additionally which people have raised with me are as follows:
- people have been concerned that the land that Fortismere owns would and could be sold off. Jane assured me that both the Head and Governors are opposed to selling off any of the land whatsoever. Furthermore, that should this ever arise, it has to be agreed to by both the Secretary of State and the Council. The school has put two people together in a bursar role to start fund-raising for the money they need as a consequence of lack of financial support from both Government and LEA in terms of new buildings monies and the decrease of other funds.
- I had had reports of very worrying behaviour amongst pupils and was assured that the new Head has put in many new initiatives to tackle bad behaviour including a ‘tariff’ by which each misdemeanour carries a different weighting and therefore punishment, employing a behaviour manager, extra staff training on discipline etc. However, one of the problems brought to light is the number of exclusions which are overturned on appeal – something I will pursue.
- statemented children – during the proposals for Foundation Status many parents have been worried that the number of statemented children at the school will be reduced. This would be against the law and cannot happen. However, the school does have issues with the funding for statemented chikdren as if the statement gives the child over 15 hours teaching assistance – then that is extra funding – if not – then it comes out of the normal budget.
Anyway – there was quite a lot more – but this will do for now!