Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Forced academisation of schools

My response to Julian Sturdy, MP's letter to me about the academy programme.  (Sturdy's letter beneath)

I feel that there are some areas of you letter that I must query, as I don’t think that they match the facts. 

Firstly, all the teachers and headteachers that I know who are working in the maintained sector wish to remain there.  They can see no advantages, and many problems and costs in moving to a academy status.

Secondly, when you say “the academies and free schools programmes have freed thousands of head teachers” they are not “freed”.  They are removed from any form of democratic accountability to mostly report to a totally undemocratic academy chain.  This will be severely exacerbated should the government proceed with its proposal to remove the requirement for parent governors.  Many of us fear what academies with no democratic oversight will get up to as they are free to teach programmes which may not reflect the desires or interests of local communities.

Thirdly, all parents I know wish their children to be taught by qualified teachers, and not cheap unqualified staff, allowing academy chains to cream off money in charges (as we have seen again and again), so parents do not want to see this greater management control over teachers’ pay.

Fourthly, you say “more control over budgets and teachers' pay, they can take decisions they believe will improve standards, and are held to account for their school's outcomes” but they will no longer be accountable to the local community through the LEA, but to unelected, remote and barely known regional commissioners or the secretary of state.  That is not real accountability, as there is nothing the community, parents or pupils will be able to do if they do not like what the school is doing.  They will not be able to turn to the LEA for help, and there will be no parent governors to bring concerns to the school.  This is not accountability but imposition of central diktats by the secretary of state (of whichever party happens to be in power) or the academy chain.

Fifthly, the evidence on performance in academies is at best mixed, with very strong evidence that it is actually poorer than in maintained schools and only boosted through selective intake and much higher exclusion rates.  The long term effect of academy status is even more dubious than the short term effect, where new schools can have an effect, but is rapidly lost, as we see if we look at the longer term results.

Sixthly, one of the major problems with moving to academies is who will be responsible for overall admissions? With each academy being responsible for its own admissions and being judged on a very narrow set of performance criteria academies have a very strong motivation to not accept any children that might be difficult or expensive to teach, might be disruptive or unlikely to reach the putative standards.  This will overwhelmingly affect the most disadvantaged, be that through disability, not having English as a first language, having behavioural issues or having lower parental expectations.  Who will take responsibility for ensuring these children receive a proper education? That they are not excluded (we see a large number of children disappearing from school roles just ahead of critical times and plenty of evidence that this is to boost supposed school performance).

Seventhly, who will be responsible for the education of children excluded from schools?

The whole academy programme is profoundly anti-democratic giving away of our schools to private bodies and removing any democratic oversight.  I hope that you will therefore push the government to remove any requirement on schools to become academies, and to introduce a mechanism to enable academy schools to return to LEA control.

Best wishes
Tom Franklin
4 Frazer Court
YO30 5FH

From: STURDY, Julian []
Sent: 03 May 2016 12:17
Subject: Academies

Dear Mr Franklin

Thank you for taking the time to write to me regarding the Government's recent proposals regarding academies. I appreciate hearing from you over this important matter.

As you are aware, Educational Excellence Everywhere makes clear that by the end of 2020 all schools will be academies or in the process of becoming academies, this means that local authorities will no longer maintain schools by the end of 2022.

Over the last five years, the academies and free schools programmes have freed thousands of head teachers and leaders to drive improvement in their own schools and across our education system. We have seen the great success with schools such as Robert Wilkinson Primary Academy in Strensall and Manor CE Academy to name but a few, and I very much remain a strong supporter of the academy-model. Autonomy and accountability come together in academy trusts to ensure that leaders have more control over budgets and teachers' pay, they can take decisions they believe will improve standards, and are held to account for their school's outcomes.

2015 results show that primary sponsored academies open for two years have improved their results, on average, by 10 percentage points since opening. This is more than double the rate of improvement in local authority maintained schools over the same period. GCSE results in 2015 also show that secondary converter academies are performing 7.2 percentage points above the national average, with 64.3 per cent of pupils achieving five or more good GCSE's including English and maths.

However, as much as I agree with the idea of academies, I do have concerns about the Government's decision to force all schools to convert by 2022. I believe the decision to become an academy should be for the individual school and parents, and I am also of the opinion that setting a deadline could have a negative effect on this process. Good and Outstanding schools always have room for further improvement, but I remain to be convinced as to whether this is best achieved through forced academisation. Therefore, I have written to the Department for
Education with these concerns and as soon as I receive a response I shall be writing back to you.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to write to me regarding this important matter and please do not hesitate to contact me again regarding any further concerns you may have regarding this issue or any other.

Yours sincerely,

Julian Sturdy MP
York Outer
House of Commons

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