Tuesday 8 March 2011

Beware Lib Dems in disguise

I am somewhat upset by a letter that has gone out from Councillor Peter Downes.

Here is the text of that letter and the text of the associated flyer:

“Dear Clerk to the Governors/Governor or member of staff,

As more schools in Cambridgeshire consider the move to academy status I am writing to let you know about a topical community event which is taking place next week.

There will be a public meeting on 14th March, which will consist of a presentation on academies by County Councillor Peter Downes followed by a community discussion.

Would you please pass the information on to your governors and school staff. It would also be appreciated if you would notify pupils and parents at your school to facilitate an open community debate and broad range of views.

This information is being sent to all secondary schools in Cambridgeshire.

Full details are below and also attached as a flier.

Thank you.




“Schools becoming ‘academies’ - a good Idea ... or not?”

Monday  14th March 2011
Gropius Hall,
Impington Village College,
New School Road,
Impington, CB24 9LX
at 7.30 p.m.

An opportunity for teachers, support staff, governors, parents and pupils to have a free and frank discussion of the key issues facing schools and our education system as some schools consider converting to ‘academies’.

What does it mean to be an ‘academy’?
How is it different from a ‘school’?
Who will be the governors and what are the extra risks and responsibilities?
What are the advantages?
What might it mean for teachers and other school staff?
What is the effect on other schools, other pupils and on the education system as a whole?”

Now let me ask you a few questions about that letter.  Firstly, is there anything in it that suggests that this meeting has a party political bent, or does it suggest rather more that it is a Council endorsed affair?  

Does it sound like this is a consultation? Does the use of the phrase “free and frank discussion” suggest that there is no particular angle to the debate?

Well, be in no doubt this is a Lib Dem run event, one that is organised to promote their anti-Academies propaganda.

Peter Downes is the Lib Dem spokesman for education who has become a one trick pony who no longer deals with education as a Lib Dem spokesman, just his anti-Academies mantra.  He proposed the Lib Dem motion at their party conference last year that opposed academies, and has consistently spoken out opposing them.

I am not suggesting that you don't go along to this meeting, feel free - but go on the clear understanding that this is not about free and frank discussion, you will be going along to a meeting that is absolutely intended to give you one side of the story about Academies.  Strangely one that supports some sort of socialist asset redistribution dogma.

Now that you know what the meeting is really about, if you feel that you have been deliberately misled by the way it is phrased, please write to your local paper, let them know how you feel and please, please remember how Lib Dems behave when you vote on May 5th.

Of course, at the heart of this is the innovative Academies bid from the Hunts Secondary schools, which includes St Neots - the Lib Dems recent history on St Neots schools is of opposing anything that moves them towards greater success.

In my capacity as a Cabinet Member I have made it plain that parents and Governors should look at academies with a view to whether it is right for their school, it is for the County Council to deal with any impact.  We have set aside additional funding in our tough budget round to make sure we do that.  Importantly think about what greater independence and freedom will mean for your school (or in the Hunts case - for your group of schools).

UPDATE:  16/4/2011.   I have received an email from the signatory of the letter expressing the view that she is not a Liberal Democrat and suggesting that the inclusion of her name is a data protection issue.  Whilst I disagree with her claim, because the letter was circulated in the public domain, I understand the author's wish not to be associated with the Liberal Democrats and, out of politeness, I have chosen to remove the name.  Apparently this letter is also on totalpolitics.com, over which I have no editorial control (and I can't find the article).  I still do not hold back from my claim about the Lib Dem's failing to be upfront about the intent of the meeting.


  1. Peter Downes organising and speaking at a debate on the merits of Academies and Free Schools is like asking Clark Kent to talk positively about Kryptonite.

    I've heard it suggested that if some Liberal Democrats enter a Free School they spontaneously combust - leaving behind only a very angry looking red puddle of pure liquid socialism. It's dangerous stuff. If you see it, call a hazardous materials team as a matter of urgency.

    The very idea that a school, or a board of governors, or indeed a group of caring and concerned parents might have the thrice-damned temerity to run a school along a model that hasn't been rubber-stamped by every official from Whitehall down to the Water Department is enough to turn some people's eyes a smouldering demonic red.

    Colourful rhetoric aside - Peter Downes is on record as being against Free Schools and Academies. So anybody that goes to his meeting should know precisely what to expect.

  2. Speaking as the person who booked the hall for the meeting, please rest assured that the organisers are not LD members or, speaking for myself, not LD supporters. I'm sure you'll agree that this matter should be widely discussed. We hope there will be a free and frank discussion and you would be welcome to come and put your point of view. The meeting is open to all. The leaders and governors of schools that have converted or are considering conversion will be especially welcome to share their views and experiences.

  3. Sorry,

    But this meeting is kicking off with a presentation from Peter Downes whose opposition to academies is well known. I cannot see circumstances where these meetings will have anything other than a strong anti-academies bias.

  4. What a pathetic article - I don't see why this should upset you. The reason that these meetings have been organised is precisely because the schools that are persuing Academy status are not consulting in any meaningful way.

    At least the people attending the meeting will hear both sides of the story and be able to make an informed decision on the Academy situation.

    Why not come to the meeting and debate the issue instead of publishing tripe like this with no substantial political point, just Daily Mail style hysteria.

  5. Having seen Peter Downes speak at a similar event in Huntingdon I'm sure that all views will be welcome.

    Currently, the information issued by schools in the process of conversion highlight their posative reasons for conversion with little or no opportunity for other views to be heard. We hope that stakeholders will get an opportunity to hear that alternative view.

    At the end of the evening people will leave having heard Peter Downes but, in many cases, they will already have recieved pro academy material from schools in conversion. I'm sure they will weigh both arguments maturely, then express their views to governors during the consultation process.

  6. I think by 'free and frank' it means that all concerned people will be allowed to express their opinions and that concerned local people (such as teachers, parents from feeder schools and Union reps) won't be refused entry to the meeting; in this way way it should be very different from the so called 'consultations' organised at local schools considering the move to academy status.

  7. You cannot have a free and frank discussion when the first speaker is a vociferous opponent of academies. Straight away people with contrary views will feel unable to speak.

    As for the invite to attend. I have no intention of giving credibility to a meeting that has been portrayed so falsely.

  8. I'm surprised and disappointed at your reaction. As a CCC cabinet member with responsibility in this area I'm sure your views would be listened to with interest. Judging by your blogging style, I'd guess that you would not feel inhibited in expressing your views.

    I expect that the audience will include a number of school governors and other community minded contributors to the 'Big Society'; a credible audience as I'm sure you'll agree. Even if you "have no intention of giving credibility" such an audience may feel they are entitled more respect than you're currently prepared to give.

  9. A meeting that was up front about its negative intent would have deserved respect.

    My views about Academies are quite clear. I support the principle of academies, they are a great localist principle and support the recognition that centrism doesn't know best. Most importantly, Governors need to make a decisions based on what is right for the school and it is for the Local Authority to deal with any impacts - and we are geared up to do that.

    I also think the King Canute thinking that is being adopted by some is naive.

    And I also would say this - DO NOT misrepresent me at that meeting. My reasons for not turning up are because of the misinformation about the intent of the meeting and no other reason.