Concern over standards in Melksham schools

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Parents, staff and pupils will rightly be concerned about six of the eight schools run by the Academy Trust of Melksham (ATOM) receiving poor OFSTED reports, and that both St George’s in Semington and the Manor will go into Special Measures.

I am surprised at the complacency shown by Conservative and Lib Dem councillors quoted in the Wiltshire Times. The Lib Dem, Pat Aves, was unaware there was a problem, which shows that she doesn’t speak to parents and staff; and Conservative Phil Alford correctly mentions the dedication and professionalism of staff, but fails to address the fact that these OFSTED reports show both a failure of leadership and a system of school governance (relying on unaccountable Multi-Academy Trusts rather than on elected Local Authorities) that is deeply flawed.

Even before these recent inspections, there were 3287 children being taught in Wiltshire schools rated by OFSTED as less than Good.

I am a trade union branch secretary with GMB, and I regularly deal with school support staff working for ATOM. The difficulty is that schools’ management are dealing with extremely challenging financial and other practical constraints, and those run by Multi-Academy Trusts, like ATOM, are outside the supervision of the Local Authority. The current model of school governance has no local oversight of performance or financial management. Low standards are not being targeted soon enough.

But we do need to look at a wider context as well. Wiltshire will see a drop of funding per pupil of £364 by 2019, due to Conservative cuts, amounting to nearly £22 million across the county. Even the best run schools will struggle to deal with cuts of that magnitude, and it undoubtedly puts an unfair strain on school managers, head teachers and school governors.

Under the Conservatives, we have seen education suffer.

Indeed, due to changes by the Conservative government which allow unqualified teachers, there are now 153 unqualified teachers in Wiltshire teaching 3883 pupils. That is not to doubt the professionalism and dedication of those individual staff, but Labour is committed to a fully trained, fully qualified teaching profession, supported by adequately trained and adequately remunerated Teaching Assistants.

There are also 5109 primary school children in Wiltshire being taught in classes of over 30, against the guidance of educational experts that smaller classes benefit pupils of this age group.

Labour will ensure a fair funding formula for schools, levelling up budget per pupil so that no school loses out. We will restore local authority supervision, and ensure that all schools are adequately funded.

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