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.

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6 thoughts on “Guest Post: Andrea Oates on Academies.

  1. S.Harrold says:

    Hello
    this doesn’t need to get political “Michael Gove’s academies” as it was Blair’s government that introduced them in 2000.
    So to put them in that context is a little unfair .
    “The Blair ministry established academies in 2000. The chief architect of the policy was Andrew Adonis (now Lord Adonis, former Secretary of State at the Department for Transport) in his capacity as education advisor to the Prime Minister in the late 1990s.”

    • Broken Steps says:

      Academies under Blair were wrong but they were a different animal, being set up to support failing schools often in deprived areas. Gove’s academies are for supposedly ‘Outstanding’ schools. Another argument against them is that they give a sponsor an unwarranted capacity to ‘meddle’. Such sponsors, often business people with a bee in their bonnet, have influenced the curriculum in inappropriate ways.

  2. Kate Ames says:

    Thanks for making the case against academies so clear and easy to understand, Andrea. Have signed the petition.

    • Broken Steps says:

      Andrea does make the case well but it’s not the whole story. Academies CAN get more money if they choose not to spend it all on things they feel they don’t need, like support for SEN kids. By depriving the LA of their slice of the total cake they put more pressure on schools left with the LA because economies of scale are harder to apply with fewer schools. It’s opting out all over again!

  3. stevebarber says:

    In my day job I often deal with complaints from parents about certain schools. In the past this has always been referred to the Local Authority (in these cases Nottingham City as that’s where I work) and we have always got some sort of resolution often with the elected Councillor’s intervention. Now we have to refer them to Gove in the case of an acadamy. He has referred us to a government Quango who have answered with platitudes and evasions. Clearly they have no feeling for the school or area and know nothing of the individual’s problems.

    Which party introduced acadamies and which one now proposes then is an irrelevance. We should oppose them now as many of us did then.

  4. John B says:

    A very interesting post, but I would just like to make a couple of points:

    I’m ideologically opposed to a number of things, but can often see reasons or circumstances where they can work- for example, there are a number of cases where, whilst not entirely easy for me to stomach, the introduction of the private sector has been a good thing (i.e. in Road maintenance).

    I think it is therefore dangerous to outright oppose the conversion of these schools into academies, without knowing what is actually planned. What I thought was most telling about Cllr Oates’ article was the amount of “coulds”, “mays” and “no-one knows”. There is no picture of evidence built up as to how successful academy schools are. Until we know this, there we need to judge each application on its individual merit, or we are doing schools a disservice.

    Therefore questions need to be asked of the Head, the Governers and the senior management as to what they would do with their freed up budget. It is clear that Local Authorities do not always get it right and often have a “one size fits all” attitude. Perhaps, for example, they plan to move funding from one department to provide extra SEN support.

    And similarly the fact that the three schools fall under the same blanket federation means that this application is not analogous to that of Kimberley’s- for example, there may be ways the management feel they can prevent duplication of provision across all three sites.

    What I would therefore suggest is proper questions being asked to find out just what would be done differently if the schools were to become academies. I think what is most telling is that the senior management of the schools would not be looking into this if there was not the chance of significant advantages.

    I don’t want it to seem like I am rabidly in favour of academies, I’m not particularly. But I would hate for parents to reject outright an opportunity for their child’s school without actually knowing in full what the school plans to do. I also fear there is a danger in placing a post like this and encouraging people who may not have a stake in the school to sign a petition against a decision which does not affect them, without knowing all the facts.

    What we all want is the best for our children, and so I hope people’s minds will be made up when they have all the facts.

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