Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tidemill update

A public meeting was held at The Albany on Monday 6th to debate the future of Tidemill School. It was attended by around 70 people, many opposed to the move to Academy status. Yesterday, Tidemill parents were invited to the school to hear of the proposals outlined by head teacher Mark Elms.

In today's Guardian, education editor Jeevan Vasgar writes:

'Superhead' Mark Elms defends plans to convert school to academy
Concerns raised over 'lack of transparency' surrounding pay, but Elms cites flexibility and freedom as advantages

A headteacher who was criticised for being paid more than £240,000 last year has defended controversial plans to convert his primary school to academy status. When parents discovered in July that Mark Elms' pay package had reached almost £250,000, many defended him for transforming the fortunes of a school which has been rated "outstanding" under his leadership.

But since then, some parents have launched a campaign against proposals to turn Tidemill primary into an academy – which would be free from local authority control and able to set its own pay rates. Concern has been fuelled by what one campaigner claimed was a "lack of transparency" over Elms' pay. He is thought to be the most well paid headteacher in Britain.

Elms said today that converting to an academy would enable the school to be more flexible in helping children who spoke English as a second language. Speaking for the first time since the pay controversy, he said it would also free the school to set salaries at a level that would attract the best teachers.

"There are obviously lots of freedoms; there's the freedom to design your own curriculum. We have very unique characteristics, 65% [are non-native English speakers], 45% free school meals… lots of refugees."

"We need to make sure the curriculum is designed to match their needs, to reflect their background and experience."

Tidemill, in Lewisham, south-east London, has a high proportion of children who do not speak English at home. The school itself estimates that 30 languages are spoken there, including Somali, Farsi, French and Yoruba.
Elms declined to comment on his pay, but said: "Finances are very important. You can do an awful lot in terms of recruiting highly qualified, suitable staff."

Elms earned a basic salary of just over £82,700 in the last financial year. He also received payments totalling £102,955 for work he did over two years as part of Labour's City Challenge programme, which aims to use proven success stories to help underachieving schools. His pay package reached nearly £250,000 with the inclusion of £10,000 for out-of-hours work, arrears of £9,317 for 2008-09, an employer's pension contribution of £16,700 and an "appointment and retention" payment of £26,413.

One of the parents campaigning against the proposals, Leila Galloway, said she was seeking greater transparency over the head's pay. She has asked for minutes of financial discussions at governors' meetings. Galloway, who has two daughters at the school, said she was concerned that the expansion of academies under the coalition government would create a two-tier education system.

"I believe in comprehensive education. Labour kickstarted [academies] but they've turned into a totally different beast. It drains funding from all the other schools. Personally, I think it will devastate the country. It's a huge social experiment," she said. Galloway said she had organised a petition and a public meeting to campaign against the proposals.

Elms insisted that a broad consultation was taking place. He said the school had asked in its annual questionnaire whether parents would like more information, and 70% had said yes.The school is also carrying out a telephone survey of 8-10% of parents and held a public meeting yesterday to explain the plans.

"It's a very complicated, very controversal new policy, and we're not wanting to rush into it," he said. A total of 32 schools opened as academies this month out of 2,000 that had expressed interest since May. Over 140 schools are expected to convert to academy status in the coming school year after the government passed a new law to allow every school in England to opt out of local authority control.

Schools like Tidemill that are rated "outstanding" by Ofsted were pre-approved, meaning that those who applied immediately are the most likely to open as academies first. The speed at which the legislation moved through parliament led to accusations that ministers rushed the reforms using a timetable usually reserved for emergency laws, such as anti-terror powers.

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