Academy status: what is to be done?

As will be seen from my last post, there are strong “push” factors that are likely to drive schools towards academy status, at least in the borough of Bromley.

Our own school is robust and well-managed, and will no doubt thrive whether it converts to academy status or stays in the LEA. However, the wider effect of the academy programme is likely to be the fragmentation of both the secondary and primary school systems within Bromley, and a withering away of the LEA to an underfunded rump shuffling the most “difficult” students round the most deprived schools – or bussing them into Lewisham to find them a school place at all.

But as they say: “Don’t mourn – organise!” Here are some preliminary reflections on what the factors discussed in my previous post might mean for any campaign against academy status.

  1. Focus on primary schools. It seems almost inevitable that Bromley’s secondary schools will all become academies before long. Two already have; a third converts on 1 November. Bromley’s secondary schools used to be grant maintained, and it’s going to be very hard to prevent them returning to a status with which they already feel comfortable. The primary schools are a different matter. Academy status is entirely novel for schools, staff and parents; there are many more of them (77 primary schools, as opposed to around 15 state secondary schools); and the impact on young children of a fragmented, divisive and uncoordinated system will be even greater than for secondary schools.
  2. Think global (borough) The key to success is going to be getting parents to see that maintaining an effective borough-wide primary school system is more beneficial than the short-term financial gains of early conversion for individual schools. This is about saving primary education in Bromley, not just about the fate of individual schools. It’s not going to be easy to get people to look beyond the short-term financial benefits of conversion, but doing so is crucial. Parents and staff opposed to academy status need to coordinate their activities between different schools. Again, easier said than done.
  3. act local (schools). That said, my impression from last night is that parents and governors will make their decisions based almost entirely on the pros and cons for individual schools. So any concerns about the wider impact have to be related to the effect on individual schools (and individual students). As noted above, for primary schools in particular the risks and uncertainties of academy status will be of concern to many, along with the impact on provision for children with special educational needs and so on.
  4. The Lib Dems. Whether we like it or not, no campaign against academisation is going to succeed without getting Bromley’s Lib Dems on board. They are the “official opposition” on the council, and without them the campaign will be all-too easy to portray as “politically-motivated” and based around “narrow sectional interests” (i.e. trade unions).
  5. Preschool parents? One difficulty with opposing academy conversion is that existing parents tend to feel they have their “foot in the door” and so won’t be affected by many of the negative aspects of academy status (such as a balkanized admissions system). Parents of preschool children are easy to overlook, so one specific area of activity should be to ensure these groups are informed and involved in any consultation process.

I must admit I’m not entirely sure how to take things forward from here. Orpington Labour’s next meeting (Wed 22 September) will include a presentation and discussion on academies, and hopefully some ideas will come out of that. In the meantime, if you are interested in getting involved in any campaign within Bromley borough then please let me know in the comments.

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