Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Forced academisation of schools -Julian Sturdy response

This is a response by Julian Sturdy (dated 8 June but received 29 June) to my letter of 4 May about the forced academisation of schools.

My response to this letter below.

Dear Mr Franklin
Thank you for taking the time to reply to my letter regarding blanket-academisation. I understand that you will have received further correspondence from me regarding the Government’s revised position on this issue. However, I wanted to address the specific concerns you raised in your latest email to me.
Firstly, it may well be the case that all’ of the teachers and head teachers you know wish to continue working in the maintained sector. However, this is certainly not true of all teachers and it is important to note the number who do work in academies and view conversion as successful to the educational outcomes of their schools.
Secondly, proposals to increase democratic accountability of schools have been proposed through allowing parents the right to petition regional schools commissioners where they believe that a given multi-academy trust is failing their children. This cannot currently be done by a school maintained by the local authority.
Again, all of the parents you know may express a preference for their children to be taught by 'qualified teachers’. I am sure that you will agree that it is important that we attract the best people to the teaching profession, which means that there should be individuals from a wide range of backgrounds and with a wide range of experience. I start from the presumption that head teachers are best placed to decide what teachers they employ. The ability to employ those without Qualified Teacher Status allows academies the same freedoms as fee-paying independent schools and many parents in this sector appear happy with teaching provision.
Fourthly, the Government’s proposals state that local authorities will retain powers to ensure that all children are given school places, ensure that the needs of vulnerable pupils are met, and hold academies and multi-academy trusts to account as champions of families and parents.

Fifthly, I am yet to find any evidence supporting your assertions regarding the performance of academies over the short- and long-term. 
As stated above, the local authority will retain the powers to ensure that all children are given school places and ensure that the needs of vulnerable children are met. Furthermore, I believe the challenge that you allude to in your sixth point relating to exclusion would be equally applicable to maintained schools.
Finally, the Government has also committed to reforming alternative provision and is proposing to introduce a system whereby mainstream schools remain accountable and responsible for the education of pupils who require this service.
I am not in favour of the government removing any requirement on schools to become academies because I believe that this has proven to be successful for those schools that were failing our children and required further improvement. However, as I made clear in my previous email I am opposed to the forced conversion of Good and Outstanding schools and I shall ensure that my views continue to be made clear on this matter.
I hope that this response is helpful and if you have any further concerns please do not hesitate to get in touch. 
Yours sincerely
Julian Sturdy

Dear Mr Sturdy,

Thank you for your letter of 8 June, which I received this morning – can I recommend email as it is faster, cheaper and greener.

It is not just all the teachers I know who oppose academisation.  The major teaching unions are opposed to (forced) academisation.  See for instance the NUT  There are teachers who favour academies, though many of those that do work in academies would much prefer to see the school under democratic control where the concern is for the welfare of the pupils rather than meeting the requirements of the academy chains.

To say that parents have the right to petition the government appointed commissioners is a form of democratic accountability is ludicrous.  If the government were to replace parliament with regional commissioners who we had the right to petition, but no say over their appointment or re-appointment or policies I do not believe that you would describe that as democratic control.  There is no democratic accountability in the right to petition.  Democratic accountability requires the ability to select people on the basis of their policies and the right to recall or remove them if they fail to deliver.  None of this applies to commissioners; they are a bureaucratic not a democratic force.  Further, currently, where a school is considered failing by Ofsted it is required to become an academy whilst there is no such requirement on an academy to be returned to local authority control.  Indeed, where a school does not match Ofsted requirements over some small matter it may be required to become an academy despite the opposition of parents and teachers.  This is not democratic; it is authoritarian central control. 

The major point here is that there is no control over what the school does.  If it teaches fundamental Christianity or Islam; if it denies evolution and so on there is nothing that parents can do because they have no control over the academy chain.  If they don’t like what the local authority is doing, then they can vote new members in.  In short there is a complete loss of democratic control within academies.

As to attracting the “best people to the teaching profession” I am aware of many who would have been teachers but find the current imposition of the national curriculum which controls not only what is taught, but how it is taught a serious impediment.  Being the best people is not enough.  Would you be happy to be treated by an unqualified doctor because they were one of the “best people”?  However good people are they need training to be able to work effectively and this is as true of teaching as any other profession.  I can think of only one other profession with no entry requirements – Information Technology and look how many projects fail or are late and over budget!

Also, many good people are being switched off from teaching, in large part as much of the national curriculum concerns how to teach and is not evidence based; often going against the evidence to satisfy the prejudices of the Minister of Education.  I do have a theory about Ministers of Education.  Ministers are highly intelligent extremely ambitious people, but they believe what worked for them will work for everyone.  Not everyone is ambitious or highly intelligent and therefore actually need different methods of teaching if they are to learn effectively.  (Note that this is not a party political point as I have seen it in all governments for as long as I can remember ie Keith Joseph).

You state “the Government’s proposals state that local authorities will retain powers to ensure that all children are given school places”.  What will these powers be – given that they do not have any control over admissions to academies?  What will they do with pupils that have been excluded?  Currently some of these are educated via home visits and the like. Will local authorities have to build an entire infrastructure just for these children?  How will that be funded?  Without proper answers to these (and many more questions) it will lead to real problems once local education authorities are abolished.

As I said before “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

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