Guest Post: Andrea Oates on Academies.

As I’m presently incredibly busy right now putting the final touches to the 8 page wonder that is The Beestonian, Issue 8, dealing with a nasty hotmail virus that spammed my whole address book (cue people I’ve not heard from for years sending me messages worrying about my mental state), a unshiftable throat infection and , errr, a proper full-time job, I’ve decided to hand over the reins to a guest contributor, Cllr. Andrea Oates.

It’s a subject that I am not at all wised up on; I don’t have kids so it’s sort of been off my radar, but I sort of instinctively know is a worrying situation, and not just because it’s been Touched By The Hand Of Gove. Also, it concerns my alma mater, Bramcote Park Comprehensive, an instituation that did me good education in the writing.* I’ll hand over to Andrea.

*before I get comments from a certain tiresome witless individual who really should know better, thats  a JOKE, btw, albeit a rubbish one. And hide your IP address next time you comment. Otherwise your anonymity is rather less anonymous.

Why we should keep our schools at the heart of our community 

I believe in comprehensive education, where children from all walks of life learn together and enjoy the same opportunities in a good school rooted in the local community. I believe parents should have a democratic voice in the running of that school and I believe hard-working staff should be rewarded fairly for the hugely important job they do.

That is why I oppose academies. My concern is that Education Secretary Michael Gove’s academies programme is an attack on each and all of these principles.

The White Hills Park Federation, which includes Alderman White school, Bramcote Park school and Bramcote Hills college, is exploring the possibility of converting to academy status. Parents and prospective parents – and I am one – are being consulted at the moment and I believe we should respond with a resounding ‘no’.

No new money

Essentially academies ‘go it alone’, leaving the Local Authority safety net and receiving their funding direct from the government.

One of the great myths about academies is that they receive more money than community schools. In fact the government is clear that becoming an academy should not bring about any financial advantage for a school. Academies get the same funding per pupil as any other school. The only difference is they receive money direct from the government to buy in a range of services no longer provided by the Local Authority, such as support for students with Special Educational Needs.

Academies buy in these services without the economies of scale of the Local Authority. Will they be able to do so at a lower cost? The short answer is no-one knows. But a growing number of companies are seeing the potential to make big profits from academies.

No evidence of improved educational achievement

It is also worth pointing out that there is absolutely no evidence that if a school converts to an academy it will raise the level of educational achievement by students.

What we can be certain about is the additional burdens academies take on when they leave the Local Authority safety net.  Academies take responsibility for a range of liabilities ranging from pensions to buildings maintenance. And if something goes wrong, for example a fire or a flood, they can no longer turn to the Local Authority for support.

There is also the risk that experienced staff will leave. If an academy tries to change how and when staff work or to break with nationally agreed terms and conditions the effect could be to demoralise staff, which will affect the school’s success.

Admissions

If you have children you would like to go to Alderman White or Bramcote Park schools or to Bramcote Hills college then any changes in admissions policy or to the catchment area could directly affect you. Academies become their own admissions authority and so set their own admissions policies. Currently they are required to abide by the Admissions Code but the government intends to remove arrangements for monitoring admissions. Teaching unions already report that the intakes of academies are not representative of their local communities.

And academies are an attack on democracy. The elected Local Education Authority (in our case Notts County Council) no longer has a say in the running of an academy. It is run by a charitable company called an academy trust. The evidence shows academies have fewer parent governors and staff representatives. And if a parent disagrees with a decision and cannot resolve the matter with the academy they can no longer turn to the Local Authority. Effectively, when a school becomes an academy there are no local avenues of complaint.

The good news is that parents do not have to accept local schools converting to academies. Parents and staff just down the road at The Kimberley School have united to fight a strong campaign against conversion to academy status. We can do the same here and keep Alderman White school, Bramcote Park school and Bramcote Hills college where they belong: at the heart of our community.

Petition and public meeting

If you oppose Alderman White school, Bramcote Park school and Bramcote Hills college converting to academy status you can sign our online petition click here and attend our public meeting:

Monday 14th May at 7pm

Beeston Library

Foster Avenue

Beeston

Speakers will include Liam Conway, Joint Secretary of Notts NUT, Ian Stevenson, from the Save Kimberley School Campaign and Kevin Dean, Executive Headteacher at the White Hills Park Federation.

You can also find out more about the Hands Off Our Schools Campaign by emailing: nottshandsoffourschools@hotmail.co.uk, visiting: http://nottsantiacademies.org or following us on Twitter: @Notts_Schools.