Shadow Education Secretary visits Blackfriars in Newcastle to listen to concerns of special schools

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09 Jun 2014

Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State Tristram Hunt made the short trip from his Stoke Central constituency to visit Blackfriars School in Newcastle, alongside local MP Paul Farrelly, to listen to special school pupils’ concerns about planned education reforms.

During the visit, the MPs chatted to pupils, met staff, visited classrooms and viewed the school gardens to see the whole range of the school’s inspirational activities.

They heard, too, how ‘one size fits all’ changes to GCSEs, planned by the controversial Education  Secretary Michael Gove might deprive special school pupils of much-valued qualifications in practical and vocational subjects.

Blackfriars caters for a wide range of pupils with special needs, learning difficulties and physical disabilities, has been consistently rated as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted and is so good that it has ‘teaching school’ status, showing the way to other special schools.

'It had been a few years since I was last at Blackfriars and it was great not only to meet the new head, and the chair of governors, but to see how it just goes from strength to strength,’ Mr Farrelly said after the visit.

‘I was really pleased, too, that Tristram took the time to listen to staff and pupils’ concerns about constant national tinkering with the curriculum. It’s important that the voices of schools like Blackfriars are heard, on behalf of their children, too, when education changes are planned.’

Mr Farrelly intends to return to the school before the summer to discuss specific local concerns about cuts in Staffordshire’s funding for special schools, the effects of privatisation of school support services to Entrust, and academy status for Blackfriars and its Westlands partner school The Coppice.

? The MPs’ visit coincided with an Ofsted report which was severely critical of Entrust, saying youngsters’ chances were being jeopardised by weaknesses at the new organisation, which was set up just over a year ago as a joint venture between Conservative-run Staffordshire County Council and outsourcing giant Capita.

According to a survey of 22 head teachers and governors, the Council’s new system had caused confusion and a lack of clarity and most of those interviewed by Ofsted believe Entrust is too reactive and has failed to halt declining performance in some schools.

The concerns followed an Ofsted review of 18 primary schools across the county which resulted in three being placed in special measures and a further six being told they needed to improve. 

As a governor himself, at his old school Wolstanton High, Mr Farrelly has also had first hand  experience of concerns about Entrust, especially regarding support for vulnerable pupils.

Mr Farrelly is pictured with Fiona Boulton, Head of School at Blackfriars, Chair of Governors David Humphries, Tristram Hunt, MP for Stoke Central and Labour’s Shadow spokesman for education and pupils in the school’s memorial garden.