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OPINION: There is clearly something deeply dysfunctional going on to drive teachers to leave in such high numbers

‘The head at Ernulf has resigned -27 teachers to leave Longsands’

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The meeting with Ernulf Academy, St Neots, and Longsands’ Academy, St Neots, parents last night (Friday) was both disturbing and productive (I had arranged the meeting before the election was called; we did not livestream it for confidentiality reasons). It reinforced my commitment to sorting out our town’s secondary schools as a top priority.

It was deeply concerning to hear parents talk about their children being afraid of going to school, and that the schools’ leadership has disregarded the concerns of very worried parents who are desperately trying to advocate for their children.

When children don’t get a good education and when they disengage from school, not only are their life chances seriously damaged, but their wellbeing and family relationships suffer too.

I heard one heart breaking story of one pupil who felt suicidal and is now being home schooled, rather than attending an Astrea school.

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It is every parent’s worst fear for their child to express these feelings and I completely get the passion about this.

The headteacher at Ernulf has just resigned. I also understand that 27 teachers will leave Longsands next month, and the school will have had almost an entire turnover of teachers in one year.

This is not normal. There is clearly something deeply dysfunctional going on to drive teachers to leave in such high numbers.

This is hopeless for the children’s education. I was told there are up to 100 detentions every Friday. I understand a vast number of children are being home schooled, and the number of children enrolled is falling as a result.

The recent Ofsted inspection that classified Longsands as “good” was greeted by complete disbelief by parents.

Specific concerns were:

  • ⁠ ⁠they believe staff were drafted in from other schools during the inspection, giving a misleading impression to the inspectors of the normal operation of the school
  • ⁠ ⁠detentions were cancelled so the inspectors would not see how many children were in detention
  • ⁠ ⁠children with behavioural issues were given extended suspensions to keep them out of school, and segregated in back rooms to keep them out of sight of the inspectors

If these allegations are correct, I believe there are grounds to call for the Ofsted inspection and rating to investigated.

It is clear to me that there is a complete breakdown in trust and confidence between Astrea and a large tranche of the parents.

I believe the only viable long-term solution is “rebrokering” the schools – taking them away from Astrea and bringing them under new management.

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I have already met the Schools Minister and senior officials at the Department of Education to push for this – they have various powers they could use, under certain conditions. I have also had two meetings now with Astrea senior management.

Flashback to beginning of May when Mr Browne reported that over 570 people had shared concerns and comments about Longsands and Ernulf over the previous month. He is pictured with schools minister Damian Hinds discussing the concerns.

Flashback to beginning of May when Mr Browne reported that over 570 people had shared concerns and comments about Longsands and Ernulf over the previous month. He is pictured with schools minister Damian Hinds discussing the concerns.

In terms of next steps and actions, I will write to the Department for Education challenging the Ofsted inspection, raising the concerns above. This is important as Longsands’ “good” rating makes it less likely the department will remove Astrea.

I will also endeavour to get more information from each school, which is important to understand the scale of the issues. In particular:

  • ⁠ ⁠how many exclusions have they had?
  • ⁠ ⁠how many former pupils are now being home-schooled?
  • ⁠ ⁠how many children are on a part-time timetable?
  • ⁠ ⁠how many children are in alternative provision?
  • ⁠ ⁠what is the turnover of their staff?

During last night’s meeting, we discussed the issue of parental co-ordination. I think it would be good to set up an action group to get change, and I am happy to catalyse this. It is important to keep this productive – and civilised.

Remember Astrea staff are people doing a job, and I know many of them are as concerned about what is going on at the schools as parents are. Please be polite.

I have been engaging on these issues for over a year while I have been an MP, and I am still a Government minister, and so have been in a privileged position to do something. Obviously there is now an election on July 4th.

If I am elected as MP for St Neots’, sorting out Ernulf and Longsands schools will be my most urgent task, and I will not rest until the children of St Neots get the education they deserve.

For those of you who asked, I will also hold a second public meeting after the election.

If you have any questions or concerns do get in touch by email: mail@anthonybrowne.org

Anthony Browne is the Conservative candidate for St Neots & Mid Cambridgeshire.

 

 

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