Academies: conversion and campaigning

Our local comprehensive has apparently announced to staff that it will convert into an academy on 1 November. As the school term only began at the end of last week, it’s hard to see what (if any) consultation the governors have carried out, though I’m sorely tempted to put in a freedom of information request to find out.

In the meantime, I’ve been checking out the website of the Anti-Academy Alliance, a campaign composed of “unions, parents, pupils, teachers, councillors and MPs”. The website summarises the reasons why the government’s academies programme is damaging for education, including:

  • A two-tier education system in which “outstanding” schools go it alone, leaving local education authorities to deal with the schools that need most help – but on reduced budgets.
  • Removal of schools from community ownership and democratic control, purely by a vote of the governors (who currently lack any mandate for this, having been elected before these proposals were introduced).
  • While academies are given more money, they will now have to buy in services previously provided by the LEA. (Employment lawyers in particular are going to do well out of this.)
  • In practice, many academies will not be run by their headteachers and governors, but by academy chains and edubusinesses. (Parents, get ready for being told on a regular basis that your school “needs approval from head office” before taking some course of action. You don’t get to elect “head office”, by the way.)
  • Loss of co-ordinated approaches to teacher training, Special Educational Needs, Early Years teaching and so on.
  • Inability for LEAs to plan new schools to reflect population changes.

On the positive side, though, Toby Young will be able to get his children learning Latin without having to pay school fees, so it’s not all bad.

Attempts are being made to set up a local campaign along the lines of the national Anti Academies Alliance. In the case of our local comprehensive, I suspect there is little scope for reversing the decision to convert. Local campaigns should be aimed more widely than the schools that are currently proposed to convert. As someone put it to me by email:

once a critical mass of schools “go academy” the LEA is virtually abolished. That has huge implications for a whole range of services which will ultimately be much more expensive if they can be provided at all.

That is probably the message that needs to be put across: not just the implications for each individual school, but for the consequences for the educational system in the borough as a whole (in which parents already feel disempowered by the complexities and uncertainties of the admissions process, a process which can only be made more complicated by conversions to academy status).

The question is whether parents can be persuaded that it’s better for non-academy schools to hang together rather than to try to gain the perceived short-term advantages for “first-movers” out of LEA control. In many ways it reminds me of demutualisation of building societies, where people were happy to grab the money and run – and only later did we face the consequences.

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8 thoughts on “Academies: conversion and campaigning”

  1. Toby Young is an idiot.

    Incidentally, my kids learn Latin, for free, GCSE and A-level even, compliments of the LEA. A significant proportion of the school population wants it, so there it is. To pretend like academies are the answer to securing such curricula is nonsense.

    Why does Mr. Young want his kids learning Latin anyhow? To pretend the classical disciplines are the preserve of boorish toffs is the fastest way to kill them.

  2. Unfortunately, I think if you broaden the issue (to LEA level) you run the risk of diluting it. Your email correspondent is quite right – there is going to be a critical mass problem – and this is a message the LEAs and local MPs need to get across, but for parents trying to stop their child’s school becoming an academy it is the direct effect on that school and their children that is going to spur any kind of campaign. Otherwise it’s too distant – someone else’s problem for someone else to deal with. Not to mention the need for speed – with the woeful “consultation” requirements it is surely easier to mobilise like minded parents on an individual school basis than an LEA-wide one?

    1. Hi Kirsty: Yes, I can see that. The specific issue I had in mind was mobilising parents at that particular school. Given it’s been presented as a fait accompli, it’s doubtful much of a campaign could be got up now.

      What I mean by broadening out is more to do with other schools that may be in the process of considering conversion: “Do you realise this isn’t just about what happens to W_____ R___, it’s about stopping the whole system in the borough from getting even more broken than it is already?”

      I also suspect that the most “mobilisable” parents are likely to be those who fear their children being squeezed out: parents of children with special educational needs, for example. Or just those fearful of yet another school in the borough going (openly or covertly) selective…

      1. WR is a prime candidate. It may be worth pre-empting any consultation process and trying to get people on board now. At the very least, if you can show there’s a number of concerned parents, the school would be under more pressure to hold a meaningful consultation. The article about Toby Young and the free schools highlights to me an issue that should concern all parents, not just those who are intrinsically more “mobilisable” – one of the things that is being used as a selling point of these schools is the fact that they will be freed from the dastardly constraints of the National Curriculum. I have long-held issues with the NC – it is far from perfect – but these schools seem to be offering ever more limited opportunities to the students and very much at the whim of whoever has shouted the loudest to be in charge – more latin! more literacy! longer school hours for better results! (I would REALLY like to see the evidence for that one – all indicators when I was involved pointed to the direct opposite). The scope of the curriculum needs to be as broad as possible and allowing such vital decisions to be in the hands of a small number of individuals (however well-meaning they may be) is more likely to result in narrowness and inward-looking policies. It’s human nature.

  3. I worked for a time at Oasis Academy Mayfield, which made the local and educational press for all the wrong reasons – most notoriously when up to 150 pupils allegedly rampaged through the corridors, disrupting lessons and vandalising property (NB I did not personally witness this- Oasis is a split-site school- but there were other times when working there was reminiscent of the fall of Rome).

    http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6004180

    Though I wouldn’t wish it on the children, a part of me both expects and hopes for some similar or worse dysfunction at one of the 16 new “free schools” – not only at it, but all over the media too and adding to this crappy Govt’s mid-term woes.

    Is that so very wrong of me? 😉

    P.S. We must always beware of one-sided reportage, of course. “[Ruth Johnson, the then headteacher- who quit a few weeks later, during the Academy’s first term]… said reports of rampaging students were exaggerated adding that no more than 40 were involved…” – Southern Daily Echo, autumn 2008.

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