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Gove blasted over letter backing school mutiny

Photo: David Hurst Aaron Parfitt of Dudley Avenue, Blackpool, with a letter from Michael Gove, who wrote to him after he protested for more homework

Photo: David Hurst Aaron Parfitt of Dudley Avenue, Blackpool, with a letter from Michael Gove, who wrote to him after he protested for more homework

Education Secretary Michael Gove has sent a letter to a 14-year-old Blackpool schoolboy commending him after he led a classroom walkout.

The Conservative MP has written to Bispham High School pupil Aaron Parfitt to praise him for “standing up for what you believe.”

Aaron led a protest at the troubled school, encouraging his classmates to abandon their lessons, in opposition to what pupils said were regular changes to teaching staff and a lack of homework.

In the letter, Mr Gove wrote: “I wanted to write to you 
personally after reading of your attempts to increase the amount of homework your school sets.

“I am delighted that you feel so strongly about the education you receive and rightly want to ensure that pupils at your school are given the chance to make a positive 
difference to their own learning at home. I commend your resolve for standing up for what you believe.

“Homework is a vital part of consolidating what you have learnt at school and I am glad that you and so many of your friends and peers recognise this.

“I wish you and your 
classmates all the best for your education.”

But today, Blackpool’s own education chief criticised Mr Gove’s letter, accusing the Government cabinet member’s action of being “stupid and political”.

Aaron, from North Shore, said he had previously talked to teachers and emailed Blackpool Council and Ofsted to voice his concerns, without what he considered a satisfactory response.

The school is in the middle of controversial merger process with Collegiate High School, on Blackpool Old Road, which has seen a staff restructure and a number of redundancies and absences.

It follows a year of damning reports from Ofsted inspectors who placed the school in a category of concern, special measures, last March and have since said teaching has been impacted by changes and pupil behaviour had deteriorated and was “unacceptable”.

The Gazette told the story of the teenage mutiny on March 12 which was then covered by scores of national newspapers.

The Year Nine pupil said: “I staged the protest because of the low standards of teaching and discipline.

“It’s good Michael Gove has written to me, he’s really high up so I’m surprised he’s taken the time.”

Coun Ivan Taylor, Blackpool’s education chief, said: “It’s a pretty stupid and political action by Gove which doesn’t surprise me.

“Whatever people may or may not think of Aaron’s protest it was not about homework.

“It was about movements of teachers and supply teachers, which is a valid point and one we’re trying to deal with.

“We know his position on this matter so we’re moving forward.

“There’s a lot of good things going on in our schools and parents know that.

“That’s not to say there aren’t issues because clearly there are.

“Aaron picked an issue of change of staff which we’re aware of, but it isn’t easy to get teachers into a school in those circumstances.

“We’ve got a plan, the reality is we’re looking after our children and taking this school forward.”

But Aaron said he’s now taken inspiration from the politician, saying it confirms his feelings that you should stand up for what you believe in.

Aaron added: “I’m not a person who would stand by and let things carry on when I think there’s a problem, I suppose that’s like an MP isn’t it?”

Aaron has also had fan mail from a newspaper reader in South Wales who hailed him a “warrior” for his “fight for higher standards in schools”.

Aaron’s mum Janet Monkman, 51, said she was proud her son’s endeavour had prompted praise from the very top but that she was keen for him not to be distracted from his studies any further.

She added: “The card calling him a warrior made me laugh but the letter from Michael Gove is brilliant, I’m shocked really but it’s great they’re responding to him.

“I am proud of him.

“He’s stood up for what he believed in.

“I just hope things will get sorted in school now and he can start learning, that’s all he wanted.”

Bispham High School has had a difficult year since being placed in special measures by Ofsted in March 2013, seeing its headteacher and governors then resign in April.

It was dealt a further blow this week when an interim Ofsted inspection found its action plan to improve to be unfit for purpose.

During a visit in February inspectors noted seeing children “smoking, swearing and kissing” while learning was said to be lacking due to “significant instability” caused by a staffing restructure. They did note some promising areas though, including “good progress” in maths, music, ICT and PE, and a number of teachers working “relentlessly” to ensure success for the school.

The Department for Education confirmed Michael Gove had taken the time to send the letter to Aaron.

 

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