Poor Old Whitehaven Academy

I have a blogpost in the brewing about this year’s school sports day, here in Motomachi, but I am interrupting my daily kanji learning to blog about the school cultures here in Japan and in the UK in light of Warren Turner’s apparent resignation as head of Whitehaven Academy.

The background to Whitehaven Academy is that is was turned into an academy and Bright Tribe, a Multi Academy Trust, (MAT) were the sponsors. They let the buildings get in a terrible state, their staffing levels left a lot to be desired meaning children studying GCSEs were often without subject-proficient teachers and took lots of money from the UK government with very little to show for it here in Whitehaven. In September a Panorama tv programme highlighted the corruption of MATs who run many secondary and primary schools in England and highlighted irregularities found in Bright Tribe.

Through the campaigning efforts of parents and the local MP Bright Tribe have relinquished control of Whitehaven and a new, local, MAT is in the process of taking over. All good. But sadly, it seems as though the head teacher who really was well-respected and tried his hardest for the kids of Whitehaven has felt he has to resign. This seems to be the way the new MAT likes new acquisitions – with a new head who can be moulded into shape and be a true ambassador for the MAT.

And this is where it is all wrong. The education of pupils should be a community effort, not a corporate one.

Here in Japan, for all its failings, (and many parents are not adequately happy with public elementary schools here and enrol their children into cram schools too), the schools are run by local school boards. The city boards’ schools work together to share best practice and ensure parity for all children. The teachers are all highly trained (as opposed to some of the international private schools where you can teach without training). Yes, I know Japan is an extreme example of a homogenous community, but it is a very comfortable community to be a part of.

Headteachers in England have the pressure from government of performing well in league tables – in primary education it’s SAT results, (important because if they underperform they then become a target for becoming an MAT and there goes some/most of their autonomy), and at secondary level it’s the Progress Eight scores. Then, as heads in MATs have extra pressure to stay ‘on message’ and do the Trust’s bidding, another tier of pressure is added to an already stressful job.

I really do fear for the pupils we are churning out in English state schools. Their education is politicised and monetised and I do not think we are producing better-educated souls as a result.

Ideally, I would like to see all schools come back under the control of a well-funded LEA, led by people who understand education and pedagogy and who can produce community spirited, educated young adults. But so much needs to change for that to happen. Sighs.

Anyway, I’d better get back to my Kanji flashcards. Oliver is at Motomachi elementary right now (Saturday!), taking part in an earthquake emergency training session. Hubby and youngest are sat in the Italian Gardens, reading. I’m meant to be finishing my kanji learning and I got distracted.


England is crap. It’s official.

'The Wave' Whitehaven Harbour

It’s been an angry evening for the King couple. We’re despairing at the state of our little nation and hoping that Scotland gain independence so that we can cede from England and go and join the ‘North Country’. What’s irked us especially? Well there’s the seemingly imminent privatisation of Royal Mail, which will undoubtedly make the service more expensive and also it gives the floated Royal Mail an excuse not to bother giving us rural, out of the way bits of the populace, as good a service as the ‘real’, ‘proper’ bods in London. I grant you, this is something that becoming part of Scotland wouldn’t alter, but nevertheless it sucks. It sucks, but it’s not life-threatening or a total ball-ache.

Unlike the second item of news that wound us up ce soir, and that is the reporting in the Whitehaven News that the local hospital, the West Cumberland Hospital, (WCH) is going to lose its out of hours surgery. So at weekends or after 6pm on a weekday, if you need complicated surgery, you will be sent by ambulance along a crappy, largely single carriageway ‘A’ road for an hour to Carlisle. This road has had 595 collisions since 2008, (bit spooky that statistic, as it’s the A595. Not sure I trust it. Source: Whitehaven News), so it’s not the safest road in the country. This of course impacts on the A&E expertise at WCH and also the consultant-led maternity unit. Both of these were ‘safeguarded’ after the lengthy and hard-won ‘Closer to Home’ consultation back in 2008.

Now, I know it’s hard luck and all the rest, but it really does feel as though we in West Cumbria are being shat upon mightily, and I feel it’s not personal. The Tory-led government just doesn’t get ‘The Regions’. Why don’t we all move to the south east to ensure we get decent hospital provision, (and decent secondary schools for that matter)? We must be somehow deficient in intelligence if we haven’t managed to secure a career in London, so it must be our fault that we’re stuck in the sticks with crap services, and deserve whatever comes to us.

Well I’m sorry, but this country is, (or at least used to be) more than the financial sector of the South East. Last time I looked, most food was produced in rural areas. My husband works to ensure that the nuclear facilities at Sellafield are operated safely, and he is obviously not the only one. This week, the Whitehaven News has announced the renewed rigmarole of trying to establish a Nuclear Waste Respository in the area. So, hey, we’re doing useful stuff. Surely we deserve decent services? No. It seems not. Why should professionals move here to help service the nuclear industry when they could be working at Warrington, Oxford or Caithness (!)?

Oh and not enough houses can be built in the South East at the moment. And there aren’t enough primary school places. Well ‘Hello!’, we have cheap housing and school places aplenty. So wouldn’t it make sense to encourage businesses out of the South East and regenerate the regions? Oh no. You got rid of the Regional Development Agencies, didn’t you? Numbnuts.