Seckford boss resigns from Suffolk libraries board

Seckford Foundation boss Graham Watson has resigned from the board of Suffolk Libraries. He was one of the directors nominated by community groups.

One of the foundation directors appointed by the County Council, Clive Fox from Aldeburgh, resigned as chairman of Suffolk’s Libraries Industrial and Provident Society in March but said he would remain on the board at least until June. He has also resigned from the board.

A spokesman for the IPS confirmed that Watson had resigned on June 16 because, “He felt that his other work commitments meant he could give the IPS the time and energy it needed at this critical time.” He added they would “like to thank Graham for everything he has done to bring the IPS forward.”

Watson is Director of the Secford Foundation and Bursar of Woodbridge School, a public school, which it runs.

The most recent annual report, for the year ended August 31, 2011, of the Seckford Foundation says:

The desire of Suffolk County Council to divest itself from certain activities has led to a number of potential activities being examined during the year including the provision of local library services and expansion of the provision of care homes. Whilst these activities met the charitable objectives of the Foundation these have not been taken further at the current time, largely as a result of changes in policy by Suffolk County Council, but the Governors continue to keep such potential activities under review, not least as part of the current strategic review.

Watson has been heavily engaged in Seckford’s plans to set up a chain of free schools. This scheme took a blow last month when a bid to open a Free School in Stoke-by-Nayland was rejected by the Deartment for Education.

Its other two free schools, at Saxmundham and Beccles, are to open in September but have been hit by a low uptake of places.

Figures given by the Foundation to the East Anglian Daily Times this week show 64 children have chosen to attend the Beccles school and 163 at Saxmundham. These figures are higher than those released under a Freedom of Information request to the County Council. These show pupil counts of 42 for Deccles and 85 for Saxmundham.

Mark Bee, leader of Suffolk County Council opposes the Beccles Free School and will be giving evidence to the scrutiny committee of Waveney District Council next week.

This post has been edited to remove factual inaccuracy. 

Seckford ‘remains committed’ to Free Schools initiative

Seckford Foundation “remains committed” to Free Schools after failure to get approval for the Stoke-by-Nayland proposal, it says in a statement.

Graham Watson, director of the Foundation says in the statement posted on the web today (July 16) :

We were approached by the parent group in Stoke by Nayland as they wanted to have the opportunity for choice in the future education of their children. We joined the project to take the bid forward and naturally we are very disappointed with this decision. However, we remain committed to the Free Schools initiative as we believe they are an excellent example of increased opportunity and choice in education and offer a real alternative to parents.

The Foundation has approval to open Beccles and Saxmundham Free Schools in September. But the Stoke-by-Nayland bid was not included in the list, published on Friday, approved for opening from September next year.

Seckford’s plans for Free School chain shaken by rejection and low uptake

Seckford Foundations failure to get approval for a Stoke-by-Nayland Free School last week must be causing it to look very carefully at its ambitious plan for a chain of Free Schools.

Not only has it failed to to get the go ahead to open Stoke-by-Nayland next year but they are facing problems in recruiting sufficient pupils for the two schools — Beccles (but at Carlton Colville for two years) and Saxmundam — planned to open in September.

On Friday, faced with national coverage of low recruitment (only 37 pupils) for the Beccles school, they updated the figures and gave them to Archant’s regional papers. The headline was a a very positive “pupil numbers rise by 48%”.

But read the story, they have gone from 37 to 55, spread across three age-group years.

The Saxmundham school has enlisted fewer than 100 pupils and parents have been invited to a “consultation” on Thursday this week at the middle schools site which is being taken over. Looks very much like a recruitment session.

If the foundation has been concerned by bad publicity over the Beccles school they must be terrified about what could happen in September. I can pretty well write the headline now (just drop in the appropriate multi-thousand pound figure).

Gove Free School places cost £XX,XXX each pupil

Not much of a guess as the websites for the the schools (Beccles and Saxmundham) list 14 teachers for each school. Three of the teachers are shared. Presumably the contracts are signed and sealed as there are photos and biographies of all the teachers.

Since the thumbs-down for the Stoke-by-Nayland plan they clearly been too shocked to update the site.

The ambition of the foundation’s plans is clear from the certificate of incorporation of The Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust, registered at Companies House in May.

The rules of the company say: “There shall be a minimum of 2 Parent Directors for every 10 or fewer Academies.”

The chairman of each of the Academies will also be directors. But there is an added proviso: “If the number of Academies exceeds five, the chairmen of the Local Governing Bodies shall elect five persons from amongst the1r number to be the Academy Directors.”

These are not boilerplate company rules but have been written specifically for Seckford.  In addition to running Free Schools, the rules allow the company, which is limited by guarantee and for the public benefit, to “to carry out research into the development and application of new techniques 1n education…” and publish it, and to provide educational facilities and services to students of all ages.

James Hargrave who has campaigned against the Beccles Free School, but not all Free Schools, wrote on his blog yesterday:

By persisting in opening a school almost nobody wants or needs the Seckford Foundation have brought themselves and indeed the whole free school programme into disrepute.

Rob Cawley, principal of The Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust, told Archant newspapers:

The foundation remains confident that numbers will continue to rise for places at the Beccles Free School in the coming weeks as more and more people take up the freedom of choice in their child’s future education.

Space and eco standards reduced to cut cost of free schools: report

The cost of new Free Schools is being cut by relaxing space and environment standards, according to Building, the leading construction industry magazine and website.
“Michael Gove’s free schools were meant to rip through red tape. But it’s not just the curriculum that has been relaxed – increasingly, sustainability and space requirements are being dropped too. Now fears are growing that this latest austerity measure could spread to all new schools,” says a web report (registration required) today.
A new school in Reading was originally designed to be a zero-carbon Passivhaus building with negligible running costs, but the space standards were reduced by about 10 per cent and it does not have environmental certification.
A source told the magazine:

It simply wasn’t a priority – green is not a priority for the Department for Education (DfE). That’s the reality. They have very little interest in sustainability and certainly not if it costs more than another route. It’s all about the cheapest possible capital outlay.

A few days ago the magazine reported that Department for Education said it planned to relax space standards for schools, with a reduction of the overall gross area averaging 15% in secondary schools and 5% in primary schools for the entire school build.

Over 10,000 vacant secondary school places in Suffolk

Suffolk schools have more than 10,000 vacant secondary school places. This is nearly one in six of the available capacity, according to Department for Education figures.

Suffolk has the 17th highest proportion of vacant spaces out of 153 local education authorities.

My thanks to @placefarm, from whose Google map I drew the figure given in my previous post. That, I now know, was for one year only. The education debarment’s spreadsheet, dated May last year, with all the details can be downloaded here.

This makes it even more ridiculous that Free Schools are being planned to add to the 10,632 places already vacant in the county.

Perhaps some of Michael Gove’s cabinet colleagues would like to talk to him about waste in the public sector. His education department now funds directly the many schools which have become academies and free schools.

There is not a lot the local education authority can do now. The buck stops in Whitehall.


1,600 surplus places in Suffolk secondary schools, before new free schools open


A map of Suffolk schools, posted on James Hargrave’s blog but by someone else, reveals that there are over 1,600 surplus places in the county’s secondary schools.

That is before new Free Schools are opened. The idea that the Government should be behind a project which is clearly going mean more vacant places and cost taxpayers a lot of money without any proof of benefit, is shocking.

Figures like the one given above are only part of the picture, but they do show some over-capacity. There will always be some over-subscribed schools and some under-subscribed. Not only is there the relative popularity of schools but there are changes in population to be taken into account.

And in Suffolk the picture is further complicated by the policy of moving to a standard two-tier system, rather than the mixed two and three-tiers the county has had. And schools moving from local education authority control to become centrally funded academies makes the picture even more complicated.

In some places free schools are welcomed and in others fiercely opposed.

Personally, I find the idea of exporting any part of the ethos of a minor public school to other schools wrong-headed. But that is the what is planned with the Seckford Foundation, which runs Woodbridge School, behind plans for four free schools.

I went to a school like Woodbridge, although more than twice as old. The only happy year of my education was when I left it to enter the state system. I doubt the people running public schools have much worthwhile to bring to the state sector.

If you visit Hargrave’s blog take a look at the education section: he has a lot on free schools.

Feb 29. The figure in this post is for a single year only. The total vacant places is over 1,000. See comment below and following post.


Free School puzzles and why a £13k fees school wants to set them up

Three things puzzle me about free schools:

• Why are they any more free than other state funded schools?

• Why has the government embarked on a scheme which inevitably creates an eduction system with more places than pupils in a time of austerity? Surely, the money could be better spent on creating jobs for young people when they leave school.

• Why does a government apparently committed to “localism” centralise the approval and funding of these schools in Whitehall? If you want to know who is boss, just follow the money.

And another puzzle. Suffolk blogger James Hargrave has been scraping away to discover why the Seckford Foundation, whose main business is Woodbridge School (Fees: £13,524 or £24,150 for boarders), is behind plans for four free schools in the county.

Today he has a post headed Free Schools project to “rescue” private education. He repeats part of an earlier post where he revealed Woodbridge School had made a loss of £2 million over the last six years. He quotes this from the 2010 annual report:

The net loss for the year after tax and realised losses on investment assets is £543,610 (2009: £244,835) this reflects the fall in income as a result of the reduced numbers in the school; down from 983 in 2009 to 929 in 2010.

He has also looked at the role of Melanie Tucker — who runs MTM Consulting which works in education at Southwold, just up the coast from Woodbridge — one of the proposers of a Beccles Free School.

Mrs Tucker has given her services to the Beccles project for free but it is not unreasonable to assume that the Seckford people are aware of her wider work. And this may explain why they are so keen on establishing a chain of free schools.

An article on the MTM website which looks at the impact of free schools on independent schools. It points to its research showing that selective state schools attract pupils away from independents. And says:

We asked our survey respondents to judge whether the Conservatives’ plans for free schools would be implemented and attract pupils away from independent schools. 39% felt it unlikely while 36% thought it likely. We would side with those who think it likely, and in particular the smaller minority who believe there is significant potential for independent schools to lose out to free schools.

In quantifying this, our estimate is that “if the grammar schools are a guide, then there could be a reduction of about a third of pupil numbers over a period of 20-30 years”.

So the already loss-making Woodbridge School (the foundation has enough money to cope with this for years) is faced with the loss of up to a third of its pupils if they believe MTM consulting.

Establishing free schools, funded by the Government, looks like a very sensible strategy for coping with a main business in decline. Whether it is so sensible for the taxpayers and people of Suffolk is another matter.

The other three Seckford-backed free schools are at Stoke by Nayland,Saxmundham and Ixworth.

Further links:
Seckford Foundation
Woodbridge School
Stoke by Nayland Free School
Samundham Free School
Ixworth Free School

Why I hope I would have spotted Saif Gaddafi’s plagiarism

Old habits die hard, and I can’t resist returning to academic times to look at the plagiarism which has been found in Saif Gaddafi’s PhD thesis. He became a doctor after writing on “The role of civil society in the democratisation of global governance institutions.”

Meghnad Desai, one of the external examiners of the thesis, writes today in the Guardian.  The strap line sums up part of the article well: “When it comes to Saif Gaddafi and his PhD, hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing.”

Lord Desai, emeritus professor of economics at LSE, writes:

Ever since the Libyan crisis broke and Saif Gaddafi, the son of Muammar Gaddafi, was heard ranting about shooting people down, the London School of Economics has been under a cloud. This is for two reasons. It awarded him a PhD, and accepted a donation of £1.5m from a foundation set up by him.

The conflation of these two separate facts is made to look like the LSE giving the degree in return for a quid pro quo. It is now also claimed that the PhD was not only plagiarised but that some people at the LSE knew that it was so. As one of the two external examiners of the thesis, I can only say that we were never informed of this by his supervisors or anyone else. If it is found to be the case, then strict measures will have to be taken by the University of London about the degree awarded.

Obviously, if there were suspicions Lord Desai should have been told. Beyond that, if there were suspicions why were they not investigated by the Gaddafi’s supervisor and why was plagiarism not spotted by Lord Desai and his fellow examiner?

The thesis was submitted in 2007 when plagiarism spotting software was in common use. Was Gadaffi’s work put through this test?

While I have neither supervised nor assessed doctoral theses, I have been involved with many MA dissertations. I have also found plagiarism. They systems at the two universities where I worked did not really encourage the discovery of cutting and pasting.

It is immensely time-consuming and there is no extra pay. Once I took it all the way through the procedure because it was flagrant and serious. The student was simply told to re-submit with the limitation that he could only achieve a pass.

It was much simpler and used much less time to, as a supervisor, call the student in and ask them about their sources, say they were not satisfactory and that part of the work had to be done again before it would be passed to the assessors.

Should Saif Gadaffi’s plagiarism have been spotted? I think so.

When assessing, I tried out the special software and found it awkward to use and not very effective with the work journalism students produced. My own technique, used on every dissertation I assessed, was simple:

  • Read quickly through parts of the dissertation looking for changes in style, use of vocabulary, sentence length, variations in rhythm. Very complex sentences by someone writing in their second, or third language, was also a warning sign.
  • Then select a few phrases and Google them. If a phrase come up in a near-identical paragraph, there is good evidence of plagiarism. It can be a matter of poor sourcing but frequently a fuller investigation shows plagiarism.

Applying this technique to Saif Gaddafi’s thesis, the second phrase I Googled came up with a positive result on a website called Download free MBA reports.

That was far from conclusive because the item was dated after Gaddafi had submitted his work. But a date limited Google search came up with the same material put on the web four years before the thesis had been submitted.

I know I was doing this in the knowledge that others had found plagiarism in the same paper. But I am confident I would have spotted problems: it had taken less than five minutes to find the first example.

Education and pathetic fallacy

On the TV news a couple of nights ago there was another report of yet another Suffolk school becoming an academy. Hollywells High has been sponsored by a Swedish educational company and renamed Ipswich Academy (BBC).

In the background was a screen with the slogan, “A learning school.”

At least, the English teachers will have at hand a good example of both tautology and pathetic fallacy.

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