You might know Michael Rosen as a former Children’s Laureate, or as the author of books like We’re Going On A Bear Hunt and What’s So Special About Shakespeare?
His parents were educationalists; he has worked for decades with many schools and seen the effects of changes positive and negative on how they are run; and he broadcasts on BBC Radio 4 about language and education.
Michael Rosen spoke to Love Darell about our school’s proposed academisation.
Love Darell: Of our local schools, Darell is the most welcoming to children with special educational needs (SENs), to those who don’t speak English as a first language, and to those on the PPG. What should the families of those pupils expect if the school were to join an Multi-Academy Trust (MAT)?
Michael Rosen: One way or another you will find that a MAT will do all it can to reduce the number of ‘SENs’ because in league-table terms, they are seen as ‘bringing down’ the SATs scores.
Love Darell: The director of the academy told parents that ‘results aren’t everything – except of course really they actually are’. Our school has historically placed happiness above SATs. How do things tend to change for primaries when results are prioritised?
Michael Rosen: What happens is that whole chunks of school time (‘lessons’) are taken up with doing work that exactly matches the SATs papers and the SATs way of thinking.
This is devoted entirely to asking questions which only have right or wrong answers.
The problem with that is that if we want our children to weigh up different views, to exchange opinions, to find out new ways to get information, to ‘interpret’ things for themselves then education can not and must not be reduced to right/wrong answers.
There’s a place for right/wrong answers but not all the time.
Love Darell: The primary schools in Richmond which have decided not to academise: are they mad?
Michael Rosen: No. They have decided to believe that local democracy and co-operation between schools in a community is the best way to work. I agree with them.
Love Darell: What can we expect in terms of communication and accountability if our school becomes part of an Multi-Academy Trust (MAT)?
Michael Rosen: You would find that this area is very muddy. By all accounts, it seems to be very difficult with MATs to have any parent representation of any kind.
When things go wrong, or there are matters that parents want to raise (either as individuals, groups or a large number), you find that it’s very difficult or even impossible.
MATs like to run the way they want to run. They are after all businesses.
MATs are entitled to use school premises for any activity they want. Famously, one academy used school premises to run a dating agency and a leisure complex. (That’s not a joke. It’s true.)
We are assured that ECEDAT is “not like other MATs”. Love Darell is fairly convinced that its current management understands what makes Darell special. But if we handed over control, our future would be down to the commercial market, and our staff and parents would no longer be guaranteed a say.
Our strongest defence would be to cross our fingers and hope that there are no more bad times which mean that the goalposts ‘inevitably’ move. If things do change, we wouldn’t be able to say that we hadn’t been warned…