Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Academies: part three

See also Academies: Selling our children's future, Academies: an update and Academies, Free Schools and Gove's dastardly masterplan.

Campaigning parents of children at Ludgvan CP School, which is looking to become an academy by September, have been trying to organise another meeting at which parents can hear both sides of the argument. The idea was to have the headteacher, Helen McFarlane, put the arguments in favour of the school becoming an academy, and Ian Williams, divisional representative for Cornwall NUT (teaching union) putting the arguments against. Parents would then be able to ask questions and make a decision based on the facts and not simply by putting blind faith in the headteacher.

The headteacher initially gave parents a flat 'no' when asked for another meeting. Parents received a letter from the headteacher 'apologising' because parents had been 'subjected to leafletting' outside the school gate from other parents. One parent was sent a letter on two seperate occasions requesting that he direct his 'queries' only to the headteacher because he asked his children's teachers what they thought about the academy status and pointed out how it might affect staff terms and conditions.

A couple of parents initiated a petition calling for a second meeting but it was immediately obvious that it was going to be a struggle. Hostility was beginning to creep into discussions at the school gate from some parents. Other parents agreed that the school was not being open with them but felt powerless to do anything to stop the process.

In the end, the governors were embarrassed into agreeing another discussion during a 'coffee morning' this morning. The meeting was not very well attended, hardly surprising given the difficulty of attending a morning meeting for many parents. A number of parents spoke against the proposal and one suggested putting the decision off for a year or two, a suggestion that was rejected out of hand.

The governors say 'no decision has been made' but it is clear to many that the decision was taken in principle some time ago. The staff have been brought on board and have had at least two meetings about transferring to the new private limited company. Some parents are intransigently supporting and some are against while the mass of parents in between feel they do not really have the information to make an informed decision, which is exactly what the headteacher wants. Many parents feel it has been a sham 'consultation' and nothing they could have done would have changed the governors' minds.

However, there was nothing automatic about this. In Islington in North London, there is a great campaign being run by the NUT, pupils and parents to defeat plans to turn three primary schools into a chain of academies (see here). At the recent conference of the Anti-Academies Alliance there were many examples of successful campaigns against academies (see here).

Locally, Fowey School announced to staff last month that it will not now be seeking academy status. According to the NUT, this is because the government have told academies that they will be responsible for all redundancy payments, whereas previously they had been told they would only be responsible for the 'academy' years and the local authority would pick up the rest of the bill.

However, it is undoubtedly true that it is very difficult for parents to stop a school going to academy status without the teachers' support and preferably by taking strike action. Also, although nationally only 0.5% of schools have applied for academy status, in Cornwall it is more like 40 or 50%. Many school governors are taking the view that the local education authority cannot be sustained in Cornwall and so it is a matter of when, not if, the school becomes an academy. They argue that if there is likely to be less money around for those that transfer later it is better to transfer now. But of course this is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Newquay Tretherras School, which became an academy last year, announced a fortnight ago that it would be selling off land at the back of the school to Tesco. School bosses claimed 'this is the only way to fund the future of education at Tretherras for the next 50 years' (see here). The fact is that there should be a good local school for every child. We should not be bringing market forces into the education of children. Ultimately the government wants to wash its hands of providing an education system, not to mention a health service, and to make all schools privately funded. Each school must then sink or swim according to its balance sheet. Profit will become the motivation for those running our schools not providing a good quality education. They must be stopped.

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