Lewisham Free School campaign

A group of parents in Lewisham is campaigning to create a Free School in the borough, hoping to address the shortage of primary places by creating a parent-run institution, teaching the Montessori method.

Little more than a month in to their campaign, the "Primrose House" group doesn't yet have a proposed site or a detailed plan, but does have a Facebook group.

Lewisham Council has failed to provide an adequate number of primary school places and suffered setbacks to its plans for Lewisham Bridge and Gordonbrock schools, meaning the problem will become more acute.

The government's argument is that parents should have the power to address exactly these kinds of failures by establishing their own, publicly-funded schools. Critics of the idea say that they divert resources from the rest of the system, could facilitate selection by proxy, that Free Schools in Sweden have not delivered significant improvements in educational standards and that recruiting and training good teachers is the key factor in successful systems.

For more information about the Montessori method, click here or play spot the odd one out on this list of famous Montessorians.

With thanks to Tressilliana.

57 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hooray for the Big Society!

Anonymous said...

I really like and sustain this idea. Happy to hel if necessary.

Anonymous said...

The old flooring company on Malpas road would be an ideal place for a school

stealing money from other children... said...

Questions:
How many pupils would this school take?
Would that number make anything apart from the smallest dent in the deficit of primary school places?
Would the money that will be diverted from other schools and children in the borough be best spent on these few, is it value for money? (The set-up costs for a new free school can run to 1 million pounds)
Where is it going to go?
Do any of the people involved have any experience of running a school? Not just teaching but actually running one?
The Montessori method is aimed mainly at the under 6s, why do we need an entire school? I think a better use of resources would be campaining for more Montessori trained teachers to be working in existing primary schools - benefitting the many and not the few.
Supporters of Free Schools need to consider the fact that free schools have the power to hire teachers without any formal qualifications and the fact that they drain money from the local authority and think carefully.
It makes me really angry that anyone could possibly think a free school in Lewisham is a good idea.

Anonymous said...

@ stealing money Hear hear!

Anonymous said...

It's being reported

"Lewisham bottom of London GCSE league table."

Statistics from the Department for Education show just 48 per cent of the borough’s GCSE students achieved five A* to C grades including English and maths last year - well below the national average of 55.2 per cent.

Tamsin said...

OK - let the reporters tie that in with the school dinners statistics, please, so that one knows the levels of poverty and deprivation that the teachers are dealing with.

Lou Baker said...

@stealing money

Yawn.

Decent parents want what's best for their kids and too many of Lewisham's schools fail.

And they fail because apologists for poor teaching and poor parenting whine about money all the time while failing to address the real issues.

Kids don't do well if they have bad parents and bad teachers.

That is not the child's fault. It's society's fault for not sacking bad teachers and not tackling inadequate parents.

In the meantime if parents think they can do better for their kids by setting up their own school, good for them.

Anonymous said...

It is not stealing money from other children, what utter inflammatory language.

It's that sort of statement and attitude that leaves the kids of Lewisham consitently at the bottom of the pile.

Parents not wanting their kids to be associated with successful schools (Monsoon and Lewisham Bridge parents) because of inverted snobbery..their attitude encouraged by vested interests such as teaching and public service unions is more likely to damage their kids education than a piddly little free school.

Anonymous said...

The national average for Free School Meals is about 15%, in Lewisham it is about 25%, however in some schools / cohorts this can be up to 60% in addition to this some schools / cohorts have up to 60% of pupils with English as an Additional Language. So comparisons with national figures aren't very helpful. It is more valuable to compare with Statistical Neighbours.
Although this doesn't 'excuse' the results and Lewisham needs to do much better at GCSE level and a lot of work is being done to try and make this happen. As an additional point, the fact that Askes Hatcham (not a Lewisham maintained school) dropped 20% in 2010 didn't help the borough average...

Anonymous said...

Tamsin what about an investigation into how many of those deprived families subscribe to Sky or find the money for drugs.

Brockley Nick said...

@Anon - well what if they do? Does that make the child's life chances any better? Whether or not the parents could provide better support if they chose is irrelevant to the question of how big a challenge Lewisham's schools face.

A less stupid anon said...

IF that was a significant issue (the drugs and dubious TV subscriptions) why should that be a factor in providing decent educational opertunities for children?

I've got no particular view on school funding, but why do these discussions alway reduce to blaming those with the fewest chances? We all like to think we are where we are through skill and hard work. Luck plays a chance.

A crass, stupid, unfounded, irrelevent brain burp.

patrick1971 said...

And equally, why should we accept lower results from children who take free school meals? It's a bit defeatist, surely? "Oh, it's all right for that school to have terrible results, most of the children have free meals." What a shocking lack of aspiration for our children. The whole point of free education is to counteract the circumstances in which children are born; we should be fighting for higher standards, not accepting poor results just because people are themselves poor.

Brockley Nick said...

@Patrick - having been through the state school system from start to finish (unlike a lot of people offering their views, I'll wager), I agree that a lack of ambition for pupils is a problem in some schools.

However, pointing out that it easier to get good results from pupils from more advantaged backgrounds is not offering excuses, it ought to be stating the obvious. Richer parents can afford private tuition, are likely to be better-educated themselves, can afford to buy books, an internet connection, provide more quiet space to do homework, take them on more educational trips, and quite probably, can afford to spend more time with their children, as they can employ cleaners, to cope with domestic life, etc. All these things have a huge impact and pretending they don't is silly.

Anonymous said...

If theres not enough places now,what would it have been like if they got permission to develop Gordonbrock and Lewisham bridge.Where would all of those kids be placed.

Tamsin said...

That's right - I was only trying to say that Lewisham schools should not be condemned because they are low down in the tables. One would expect them to be lower than, say, Guildford. A mathematical adjustment has to be made to factor in a figure for poverty and deprivation and the school dinners statistic could be a useful one to use. Not being a statistician I would not know how to formulate the formula - but it should be doable. Although I expect that those grabbing easy headlines did not bother.

Lou Baker said...

@nick

I went through the state school system too. And I turned out alright. He he he.

Seriously though - I think it's easy to overstate a lot of this. Richer parents are also likely to be richer because they do higher pressure jobs which usually come with longer hours. So the notion that they have more time to spend with their kids is probably wrong.

A lot of the other points you make may have an impact.

But the real point here is that a lot of people have kids who shouldn't have them. Kids are expensive. If you don't have the means to do the best by one, you shouldn't have one until your circumstances change. And you certainly shouldn't have four by different dads - which is a large part of the problem.

Anonymous said...

Patrick, You've totally missed the point! NOBODY is saying that it's ok for pupils on FSM to get lower results. The point is that it is a well researched and documented fact that they do get worse results so what can schools and the LA do about it?
A lot of underachievement can be linked to the level of parental involvement in school, so projects are run to get parents into schools. Either to improve their skills so they can help their kids better or just to help them in not seeing education as something that doesn't matter to them.
A lot of underachievement can be linked to the fact that the child comes from an overcrowded home so after school homework clubs are run by schools to help with study and revision.
A lot of underachievement can be linked to lack of aspiration of and for the child, so projects are run to introduce them to 'role models' from their own backgrounds who have achieved in a variety of careers. Links are made by schools with Universities, undergraduates come in and talk about their educational journeys etc etc etc.
All of these things and many others are happening every day in Lewisham schools BUT they need funding - which is why free schools rub a lot of people up the wrong way, the money for them has to come from somewhere and often it's the 'extras' (as above) that get cut.

Enlightenment Dude said...

Isn't it a shame that every time the council comes up with a plan to improve the situation, some unelected group sprouts up and puts barriers in the way. Why? Because it seems the council has failed to reach the Platonic perfection that these so called 'activists' see themselves as the guardians of.

Latest Score
Banal Edwardian Architecture 1 Lewisham Children 0

Brockley Nick said...

@lou - you assert that richer parents are likely to work longer hours. I'd like to see the evidence for that.

While some better paid people work really long hours, some don't. If you're lower paid, perhaps you have to work two jobs or longer overtime, or get less flexible working patterns, etc, etc.

Hmmmmm said...

Lou, therefore penalise the kids who (according to you at least) are born to parents who shouldn't have them? Hopefully we can agree that children are not born with the 'guilt' of their parent. Equality of oportunity is fairly uncontroversial I hope, education (emotionally and otherwise) can help prevent problems you describe. How many parents who made bad chices grew up in similar circumstances, at what point does the innocent child turn into the feckless parent demonised by the tabloids?

abw said...

@anon 11.21 er am i missing something here? isnt that report about secondary schools? I dont think anyone has argued that secondary schools are great in Lewisham. But it is a different picture when u look at the quality of primary education in the borough which is generally considered to be better than average (a factor that plays into the larger arrival into the area of young couples with/ about to have young children). The issue is the number of places which was being addressed by such schemes as GordonBrock one until it was blocked by the conservationists. Here is a thught to. What does the venn diagram look like when one circle is "those who want victorian school buildings preserved" and the other is "those who want a Montessori method free school" I'm guessing one big circle

Enlightenment Dude said...

@abw
That venn diagram observation.
Brilliant. Hiliarous. LOLLLL!

Tressilliana said...

Gordonbrock is being rebuilt now, I believe. I passed Lewisham Bridge the other day and saw it was all boarded up so I assume that they are also back at their decant site.

I read on another forum that the drop in Aske's GCSE results last year was a direct result of the change in admissions policy when it became an academy. The first academy intake was the first one recruited under that policy and (it was claimed) was a bit of a shock to staff, as there was a wider spread of abilities to be dealt with. It'll be interesting to see whether they get back up into the 90s again now they've adjusted.

Lou Baker said...

@hmmmm

The child is not guilty at all. Which is why, if I ran the world, child benefit would not be paid in cash.

It would be paid into an account for the child and parents would only be able to spend it on things for the child. Books, clothes, healthy food etc.

The state helps families to the tune of £20 per week. Too much of that goes on booze, fags, drugs, gambling, take aways and satelite TV.

boringoldfartdedicatedtopissingoffthe youngsters said...

I had free school diners. The only child in my primary school to do so. The criteria for free dinners was stricter then. I passed the 11+ first time, if that proves anything. I have a longing for Manchester Tart and Chocolate Concrete. That must prove something?

boringoldfartdedicatedtopissingoffthe youngsters said...

Sorry meant 'dinners'. Diners hadn't been invented. (but then neither had turkey twizzlers)

Enlightenment Dude said...

"if I ran the world, child benefit would not be paid in cash."

Hey why not go the whole hog and hand it out as thin cold gruel in a work house!

Anonymous said...

Quite extensive research has been done on analysing whether school really offer economy of scale. The results clearly indicated that larger school because of the incresing business complexity require very expensive managent and sites whixh have statistically proved not to be compensated by an increase of educational standards and learning of the pupils. Quite the contrary, a verys strong correlation exists between size of the school and poor children performance.

Polititians and managers who tell you differently is just because they have a vested interest.

We all know that students learn better in smaller groups, that is why private tuitions are so popular.

The direction taken with lewisham schools has been so far the opposite. A lot of money is being wasted to enlarge existing schools when the same money could have created new smaller schools.

I guess some people and Councils are struggling with statistics and the adaptation to a pos-Stalinist world were large and centralisefd is not necessarily good.

Anonymous said...

Quite extensive research has been done on analysing whether school really offer economy of scale. The results clearly indicated that larger school because of the incresing business complexity require very expensive managent and sites whixh have statistically proved not to be compensated by an increase of educational standards and learning of the pupils. Quite the contrary, a verys strong correlation exists between size of the school and poor children performance.

Polititians and managers who tell you differently is just because they have a vested interest.

We all know that students learn better in smaller groups, that is why private tuitions are so popular.

The direction taken with lewisham schools has been so far the opposite. A lot of money is being wasted to enlarge existing schools when the same money could have created new smaller schools.

I guess some people and Councils are struggling with statistics and the adaptation to a pos-Stalinist world were large and centralisefd is not necessarily good.

Anonymous said...

Quite extensive research has been done on analysing whether school really offer economy of scale. The results clearly indicated that larger school because of the incresing business complexity require very expensive managent and sites whixh have statistically proved not to be compensated by an increase of educational standards and learning of the pupils. Quite the contrary, a verys strong correlation exists between size of the school and poor children performance.

Polititians and managers who tell you differently is just because they have a vested interest.

We all know that students learn better in smaller groups, that is why private tuitions are so popular.

The direction taken with lewisham schools has been so far the opposite. A lot of money is being wasted to enlarge existing schools when the same money could have created new smaller schools.

I guess some people and Councils are struggling with statistics and the adaptation to a pos-Stalinist world were large and centralisefd is not necessarily good.

Brockley Nick said...

"We all know that students learn better in smaller groups, that is why private tuitions are so popular."

Suggest you read the Economist article linked to from the original post. The smaller classes = better results idea seems reasonable and I'd always held that assumption too, but it doesn't appear to be the case. If we had an infinite number of good teachers, smaller classes would be better, but we don't.

More successful systems seem to have better qualified teachers, teaching bigger classes.

Anonymous said...

Primary School dinners were free when I was there,and bottles of milk too.

Bill said...

I suspect I'm fairly unique in that I actually attended (not in this country) a free school for 1 year at primary level. My recollection was lots of picture drawing and praying to Jesus. That's right, it was run by a group of Christian parents. On the other hand my recollection of my primary years in state funded schools was of a more rigorous learning environment.

My point is that there needs to be careful consideration of the skills, experience and agenda of the Primrose House group than a mere 'is it a good idea/bad idea'.

Another issue to appreciate is that the government is desperate to show their "free" school programme can be a success so are likely to shower funds on pilot schools. The money has to come from somewhere and the danger it will be from the budgets of schools in the state sector.

And finally, I wonder how many people in this thread have actually directly confronted the local powers-that-be about improving primary school provision in the borough? Our local representatives are ostensibly there to represent us...

boringoldfartdedicatedtopissingoffthe youngsters said...

There were 54 kids in my final year class at primary. We were expected to be working from 8am, though officially the school opened at 9am.
The final year was split into 2 classes, those expected to pass the 11+ who did English and arithmetic just about the entire day every day, and the others expected to go to secondary modern who did a more varied curriculum, including woodwork.

Large class sizes didn't seem the issue it is now.

Tree said...

@abw The Gordonbrock scheme IS going ahead by the way.
I was not keen on it personally but neither am I a champion of Montessori and am definitely against this 'free' school campaign. So scratch that Venn diagram. Don't you go deciding what other people think about things.

Anonymous said...

@Brockley Nick

well unless one finds a negative correlation between Teachers' motivation and school/class sizes and administrative work and management interfierence and and and. Scale does not work.

Very intuitive that Teachers also find it easier and more motivating working to smaller groups of kids.

If you ever hosted 40 kids at home for a birthday party you may know what I am talking about without statistics.

abw said...

@Tree For the record I didnt say it wasnt going ahead. OK venn diagram - one circle shifted to the left by eighth a millimetre Just for you :-)

Bookworm said...

"A mathematical adjustment has to be made to factor in a figure for poverty and deprivation and the school dinners statistic could be a useful one to use. Not being a statistician I would not know how to formulate the formula - but it should be doable."

This is done and available - it's the CVA (Contextual Value Added) score. It controls for all available measured significant predictors of attainment (including proportion on free school meals). Obviously it can only control for factors that are available and measured, but it's pretty wide-ranging. More info on CVA here: http://www.education.gov.uk/performancetables/schools_07/s3.shtml

Tamsin said...

On class size, my feeling is that you can get too small. My son went to an independent primary school with a nicely comfortable year intake of about 17. At one point - with various children leaving for different reasons - it went down to about 10. I can't quite put a finger on why but this did not seem to work so well.

boringoldfartdedicatedtopissingoffthe youngsters said...

But in my day teachers ruled with absolute power. Handling 54 kids was a doddle for my teacher, we wouldn't have dared misbehave/talk/answer back.

Bookworm said...

The back button seems to have eaten my post! To re-post...

Re: "A mathematical adjustment has to be made to factor in a figure for poverty and deprivation and the school dinners statistic could be a useful one to use. Not being a statistician I would not know how to formulate the formula - but it should be doable." -

- this exists and factors in many other variables that are significant predictors as well as free school meals. It's the Contextual Value Added (CVA) score. More info here: http://www.education.gov.uk/performancetables/schools_07/s3.shtml

Bookworm said...

And see here for Lewisham schools' CVA scores...

http://www.education.gov.uk/cgi-bin/performancetables/group_10.pl?Mode=Z&Type=LA&Begin=s&No=209&Base=v&Phase=p&F=1&L=50&Year=10&Key=4&Order=asc

Bookworm said...

One of the major issues with Free Schools is that they have the freedom to formulate their own admissions policy. This means that they can (for example) draw an interestingly shaped catchment area which effectively selects out certain strata of the local population, further intensifying existing divisions. Not exactly directly stealing money from other kids, but certainly not necessarily helping those who are most in need of quality schooling...

Enlightenment Dude said...

For my money, good old honest academic selection (but at 14, not 11 is the way to go). It's less likely to happen than that single roundabout idea of course.

It is an odd bourgeois liberal shibboleth that education is the surefire way to reduce social inequality. As a working class person who has gone through the system, I now find this a very odd belief. We now have unprecedented numbers of people going to university, and eye poppingly large numbers of people getting top grades at A level, yet inequality is widening and opportunities for class mobility are narrowing.

Maybe the debate about class needs to escape from the corale of education and be explored in other areas of social life too.

Tamsin said...

Thanks, bookworm, knew there was no need to reinvent the wheel.

Guildford did not have a separate listing on the bbc site but playing with the figures for Surrey and Lewisham - dropping off the lowest and highest scoring schools from each LA and taking the average of the CVA figure they are 988.02 and 994.87 respectively - fairly close.

BTW - if your name means you have some books to disgorge do bring them up to the Telegraph Hill Centre or Hill Station before Wednesday - then come along Wednesday evening and buy some replacements. Any not sold in aid of Crisis will be given possibly to the Honor Oak Community library just starting up or certainly to another charitable aim.

THNick said...

Apologies to threadjack, but Tamsin - are we allowed to bring donations along on Wednesday?

Mb said...

I think it is spoken about in other spheres, but educational opportunity does kind of entrench differences. Selection on the basis of the religious beliefs of the parents for example. I'm a labour supporter but their backing of a system that uses taxes to emphasise religious differences is dangerous, I assume that policy can be used for these 'free' schools.

A bit of a digression but not unrelated.

Tamsin said...

@ THNick - yes, of course. But bring 'em earlyish, so other people have a chance to buy your goodies. We are not pricing separately - just in general terms Children's books 10p-50p, paperbacks five or £1 or 50 depending on size & quality, hardbacks (mostly) £1 or £2. The idea is to shift what we have and get books re-circulated. I personally find some charity shops now rather over-charge. I don't buy on spec. if it is going to cost me more than two quid.

@ MB - yes, that is what is worrying me too about the scheme in general and state funded faith schools in particular.

Bookworm said...

Re "...playing with the figures for Surrey and Lewisham - dropping off the lowest and highest scoring schools from each LA and taking the average of the CVA figure they are 988.02 and 994.87 respectively - fairly close."

This is one of the interesting things about CVA scores - the fact that once you account for pupil and family background characteristics there is very little indication of differentiation in effectiveness between schools. Depressing or reassuring depending on your perspective...(perhaps, depressing for educators and policy-makers that it is so difficult to affect attainment at the school-level, but reassuring for any parents who didn't get their first choice of school that it is in fact their own characteristics that best predict the future of their child!).

Tamsin said...

And such an indicator that investment in early years and low key intervention and support for emotionally struggling parents with projects like what used to be the Lewisham Pre-school Learning Alliance's Family Support Service is the best value for money. The problem is getting funders to see that when there are no obvious and immediate "outcomes" to tick.

Bookworm said...

Definitely - and the policy process is such that it's very difficult to get any investment / interest in properly measuring long term outcomes...

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile in Beckenham

More than 1,000 parents from campaign group Harris Into Beckenham petitioned the government for a free school.

Carrie Bateman, whose children attend the Harris Academy in South Norwood, said: “We put our faith in the fantastic reputation of the Harris brand and we have never looked back.”

G. Hawkes said...

Harris tweed can't be bettered.

Paolo said...

Whilst I don't know much about the Montessori method, I am always amazed at the opposition to academies and free schools.

Here is a little article about the improvement in results seen by academies - http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/6226873/todays-gcse-results-prove-that-academies-work.thtml

I remember when the Tories first mooted the idea of opening up the academy system, a lot of the opposition came from people who claimed they would only be set up by rich parents in rich areas

Now we see an attempt to set one up in one of London's poorest areas and people are still opposed to it

Is the opposition to it motivated by a genuine concern for local education or by ideology?

I suspect that, as with the NUT, it is the latter rather than the former

Anonymous said...

This is just the latest fad, people should support existing schools.

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