Why is academy status wrong for this school?

Our children’s primary school has its PTA/Governors annual general meeting on Monday. It’s an open invitation for all parents in the school – and one of the items apparently up for discussion is academy status.

I’ve no idea whether this is intended to be a full debate on whether the school should pursue academy status, or just reporting back on the governors’ deliberations to date. If there is a wider discussion then I’d hope to contribute to this, especially if it becomes apparent there is a “clear and present danger” of the school converting. To that end would welcome people’s thoughts on the most effective and important brief points to make.

Many of the reasons given for opposing academy status (such as those set out in my previous post) seem to focus on the effects on the educational system as a whole. However, I suspect that many parents in schools actually considering academy status will be inclined to think that the wider impact of academisation is someone else’s problem – why should that mean their school misses out on the “benefits” of being an academy? (Altogether now: “ten per cent more cash… ten per cent more cash…”)

So, what are the reasons why parents at a large, “outstanding” primary school should be directly concerned about any proposal to convert the school to an academy? The headteacher is superb and widely trusted by parents and staff, so I don’t think there’d be any concerns about a dip in educational standards or administration. (Indeed, if the headteacher were to publicly back conversion to an academy, then – let’s be frank – it’s game over for any attempt at opposition.)

Similarly, arguments about increased exclusions, social segregation and covert selection will probably not have much traction: many parents will probably be quietly glad if, for example, the school is no longer required to take pupils excluded from other local schools. And if academies create a “hierarchy” of schools, then all the more reason to ensure ours is at the top, right…?

Here are some hopefully more persuasive points that come to mind, but what I really need is to have two or three “killer points” that are most likely to get people thinking twice about conversion rather than letting it go through “on the nod”.

  • Why the rush? The school is doing very well already, and relations with the LEA are (we’re told) very good. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – let’s see how other schools get on with the transition to academy status before engaging in the massive upheaval of conversion, a process that will inevitably distract the headteacher and other key staff from the day-to-day business of running the school. (Memo to self: take along the DfE’s guidance on everything that has to be done to convert a school (PDF).)
  • Extra money – and extra cost. Yes, the school will get money currently used by the LEA. But in return it’ll have to buy in services currently provided by the LEA. Private-sector employment lawyers, for example, do not come cheap.
  • What happens next? Over time, the likelihood is that many academies will deal with the increased administrative burdens of independence by combining together in chains, or outsourcing administration to edubusinesses. The end result would be a school whose administration is more remote and less accountable than at present, where ultimately the LEA is democratically accountable to the whole community.
  • No mandate. The present governors were elected before academies were a glint in Michael Gove’s eye. At the very least no action should be taken until new elections have taken place. In any event, such a major change in status should be subject to a poll of all parents, and consultation with the wider community, rather than being decided by a relatively small group.

Anything else spring to mind? Any criticisms/challenges/improvements regarding what I’ve said above? Please let me know in the comments!

(I emphasise that as yet I don’t know what, if anything, the school is planning to do. This is a case of “hoping for the best, preparing for the worst”…)

Update (10 Sept)

I’ve now seen the agenda for Monday’s meeting. At first this refers neutrally to “Discussion about Academy Status”, but the last words on the meeting invitation are:

Academy Status could really impact on W_____ R___ – come along and have your say.

Which makes it sound ominously like a “done deal”. They’re inviting people to submit questions in advance, so I’m sending this in on Monday morning:

Please can the governors confirm that no steps will be taken to pursue academy status until:

  1. full consultation has taken place with parents, staff, the LEA and the wider community; and
  2. a ballot has taken place showing that a majority of parents supports this move.

[Edits: Removed previous para 1 referring to governors’ election – made it sound like calling for dissolution and fresh elections…]

Will keep you posted…

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3 thoughts on “Why is academy status wrong for this school?”

  1. OK – as you say, this is hopefully an unnecessary exercise but here goes…

    (oh – and apologies for it not being particularly cohesive, but I’m up against a deadline so it’s a bit of a spewing forth of thoughts)

    The school has good relations with the LEA and has attained its outstanding rating while under the care of the LEA. What further benefit can conversion to academy status offer?

    There has been much talk of “freeing” schools from the restrictions of the LEA. But just what are these restrictions in this particular school’s experience? How has the school become outstanding if the LEA is so awful? Remember “freedom” can also equal “isolation” if the school no longer has access to LEA support. Not just in matters such as legal disputes (eg staff disciplinary matters) but more day to day stuff that is often invisible to the general public but vital – teacher training, management support, guidance on best practice in areas such as curriculum implementation, assessment, behaviour management etc, etc (see http://www.bromley.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/0FE96C11-94CD-4611-8D3D-1B61E97448FE/0/ProfessionalDevelopmentandLearningBrochure201011PrimaryandSpecialSchools.pdf for an idea of the range of courses etc the LEA provides) And these courses and support networks are across the LEA, allowing teachers and management staff access to views from a wide variety of sources and the ability to share knowledge and experiences with colleagues across the area.

    And yes – academies would be able to pay for access to such courses but why opt-out to then buy-in the same resources at greater expense. Especially when the school has such a large number of staff

    The range of services the school would have to buy in runs much deeper than a few staff courses however. For your extra 10% of budget you have to consider the effect on the staff and governors when managing this. Again, why opt-out to then buy-in the same bloody services when the school is currently operating very effectively as it is? See http://www.education.gov.uk/academies/academy-funding for a list of such services.

    Such a large amount of extra bureaucracy will surely have an impact on the core function of the school – teaching and learning. Headteachers are first and foremost TEACHERS not business people. Running a school the size of this one is akin to running a pretty big business – is this the best use of the headteacher’s skills?

    Also consider the fact that opting out of LEA control means you are opting in to central government control

    If you are sure there won’t be a detrimental effect on the individual staff members’ terms and conditions (or think there would be little sympathy from the majority of parents for them being forced into longer working hours with less restrictions on roles and duties) then perhaps best to steer clear. But if staff are made to work a “real day” (NOT my opinion as you are well aware, but a very common misconception is that most teachers are sipping cocktails in the garden by 3.45pm) people need to be aware of the impact this will have on the teaching and learning being experienced by their children. Less preparation and marking time, less time to spend with individual students who need help with a particular subject/emotional problem

    Oh – and a quick note about your final point “no mandate”. Be a bit wary on this one – my understanding is that while governors may be elected, they don’t actually have any duty to follow the wishes of the “electorate” (so to speak).

    Hope this is of some use. Good luck

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