How Gove stole our books

For the past few months I have been quieter than normal, on the blog and on twitter. I have been fighting hard for education in my own little corner of the world. Now that things have come to a head I feel that it’s the right time to lift my head above the parapet and ask for help. Because I think it’s important to try and make a difference, to do what you can and to do so with honesty and integrity. I am trying to do so, but I need your support. So here it is- Michael Gove has stolen our local primary school’s books. He has essentially taken away our book budget. He is destroying our education system one policy, free school and academy at a time and I need more book donations to stop him from squashing the future of the children at our school.

My daughter’s school has been put into Special Measures and treated appallingly and unfairly by the Local Authority and the Department for Education. Now we are Fighting Back. I want to support the school as best I can and the best way I know is through books. I want to help them get out of Special Measures by supporting their reading improvement, and to instill an ongoing culture of reading. I would love to flood the school with new reading books and books with messages of encouragement for the children. I want to show Gove that he can steal our books but he can’t steal our enthusiasm or our children’s future.

Special Measures was not a surprise to us, we knew that we needed to improve. We were, and still are, improving quickly and effectively despite the relentless changes in education policy making teaching an uphill battle. The current climate is not an easy one to teach in and staff turnover is high. It is impossibly hard to achieve consistently outstanding teaching when the budgets are continuously slashed, the rules keep changing and the teachers are burning out. But here’s the thing… We are so nearly there! Our school has fantastic teachers and support staff that are driven and passionate and capable and caring. They are working so very hard and they are making a huge difference to the lives of the children in the school. They understood and accepted the Special Measures Ofsted outcome, took it on the chin and carried on. Because they are teachers and they care more about the children they teach than labels. But Gove wasn’t finished yet.

At this point the Local Authority usually steps in to support the school’s improvement. They also usually provide the school with a much needed budget to support the improvement plan. In our case they thought the best way to do this would be to get rid of the school governors and to bring in their own team to oversee the school, as well as a team of advisors to help raise standards, rather than giving us the improvement budget we so desperately need. They couldn’t give us any reason for this, other than that it was the decision they had made. The cynical among us may look at the fact that the LA were criticised by Ofsted for not supporting the school enough and think that they are attempting to save face by Doing Something, whether it is the right Something or not. Michael Rosen’s recent revelation that Gove is pushing hard for schools in Special Measures to be turned into academies so that he can sell the land to his rich business friends has also aroused suspicion. Whatever their reasons, the Local Authority didn’t listen to what the school wanted or needed. We have been fighting them for months and now Gove has approved their plans.

So now the Local Authority is financially overseeing the school. But there is no additional budget for improvement because the LA has run out of money. Gove has spent it all. In fact, we have to pay them for the privilege of this unwanted team of advisors and, despite our Special Measures status, they require us to build a new classroom and take an extra reception class in September. We are in Special Measures with more need, more children, and less money. How can that possibly be fair? We are outraged and disappointed and let down by the system. But we are also looking forward. This whole process has galvanised the school and the parents. We are determined to come out of Special Measures quickly, with our heads held high and our children happy and learning.

And this is where you come in. The school staff are working incredibly hard to ensure every child achieves their potential. The parents are supporting them by setting up a parents’ volunteer team to help children across the school with their reading. Reading is the basic tool that everything else follows from. It is The Most Important Thing. We will be the crack team of helpers who go in to read stories to the children and enthuse them with the joy of reading, we will run book groups and support the school library. And we will provide reading support to the kids that need it most. Yes it would be better if we could employ a trained teacher to do this but hey, Gove took all our money and gave it to his mates, so we’ll have to do it ourselves. And we will – for free and with passion and care.

So I am being cheeky and asking for more books. Thanks to Gove, we now don’t have any money for new books, but we desperately need them to support these children. I will be throwing review copies at the school and expanding the Rainbow Library into the new reception classroom to support them, but we need quality reading scheme books, and books and messages to inspire and encourage the children and give the staff a morale boost.

We’ve started replacing all our old Biff and Chip books with quality, diverse and fun reading scheme books, like the Usborne Reading Programme, the Franklin Watts books, the Orchard Colour Crunchies, the Collins Big Cat scheme and the new Oxford Reading Tree books. The children really respond to these books and their reading is already improving. We can see it working but we need more of these books, particularly to support the older children in the school. We have a lot of children from deprived areas and a lot of children who don’t get support with learning from home, for a whole host of reasons. But with the right resources we can catch these kids, inspire them and help them succeed. We will work together to lift the school out of Special Measures- and it will be despite the LA and DfE, not thanks to them.

Michael Gove is a despicable human being. I’m sure most readers of this blog are passionate about the same things as me – the power and importance of books, education and equality. But I get the feeling that Gove doesn’t hold the same opinion. Let’s show him that he can steal the state’s property and money, he can take books and teachers away from children, he can destroy the national curriculum and impose tests on 4 year olds, but he can’t win against integrity and passion and honesty and a group of people who believe in the power of books.

The Easter holidays start tomorrow. I’m going to spend a little less money on chocolate this Easter, and buy the school some books instead. When the school opens again in two weeks, I will be delivering a box of books to the Head of Literacy. I’m hoping that you guys can help me make it a really big box.

If you can help, please give me a shout at Carmen.agate@gmail.com or on twitter @carmenhaselup . Or pop a book in the post to
Carmen Haselup
19 Headland Way
Peacehaven
East Sussex
BN10 8TF

Perhaps you have some reading scheme books at home that your child has outgrown. Or you are an author/illustrator/publisher of reading scheme books and could donate some our way? We particularly need the upper band colours, white and lime (2a/3c texts) -then the easier free readers in level 3. But any band/level would be gratefully received.

A morale boost would be gratefully received too. A book signed by the author/illustrator with a message of support is a hugely powerful thing. Imagine the children’s faces when the HeadTeacher stands in front of them all in assembly and says ‘this author knows who you are and has heard that you are trying really hard. This writer believes in you and your reading skills. This illustrator says Keep up the Good Work. This book is a gift from them to say Keep Going.’ A book for their classroom or library that will remind them that they can do it and that there are people out there who want to support and give rather than squash and steal- what a powerful, encouraging message for a young person.

I know I ask a lot, but I’ll pay you back – by supporting the school in educating a generation of children that will care about books and education and integrity, and who will never make the same mistakes that Gove is forcing upon us. That’s worth giving up an Easter egg for, surely!

Huge thanks to Clara Vulliamy, Caryl Hart and Anne Booth who have already donated their books and time to the school. You are AMAZING!

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