Correspondence: Parents express concern at academy decision

2 April 2014

Dear Derek Trimmer, Mike Nicholls (Chair) and all Hove Park Governors,

The Hove Park School Parents’ Campaign was very disappointed to learn of the decision, which was made on the 31 March 2014, to express an interest in Academy status via The Argus.

Parents have got together to share concern and we have organized this group to represent those concerned parents and students and wider community members as a collective voice. We would like the Head and Governors to acknowledge our campaign and engage with us in a robust and open dialogue on the subject of Academy status as part of the consultation process. We particularly urge parent governors to do this as you are our representatives on the Governing Body and should be acting on behalf of all parents.

As we now move towards a consultation period, we request the following information be shared with the full range of Hove Park School stakeholders (including parents, potential parents, teaching and support staff, other schools and local residents) as a first step in any consultation:

  • the benefits of converting to an Academy
  • the disadvantages of converting
  • the extra money, if any, the school would get, and on what basis
  • the extra responsibilities and costs the school would take on
  • a risk assessment of conversion
  • the ‘freedoms’ that come with Academy status and whether the things you envisage doing with those freedoms are things that cannot be done already
  • the impact on pupils
  • the impact on teachers
  • the impact on other staff
  • the impact on the community
  • the impact on other schools including feeder schools

We also urge that any consultation is done in a thorough and open manner and that you ensure maximum engagement in the process by publishing full details of the consultation process at the outset, using a variety of methods to contact consultees and of ways for consultees to participate.

We also request and urge the following:

  • You abide by the National Association of Governors advice on consultation.
  • Do not submit an application or take a resolution to convert before consultation has been completed and the views of stakeholders taken into consideration.
  • Consult the whole school community including staff, parents, pupils, prospective parents and feeder schools.
  • Provide easily accessible, full and balanced information on which to base the consultation at the outset so consultees can ask questions and express informed opinions.
  • Publish the answers to questions asked by consultees.
  • Provide opportunities for consultees to hear the pros and the cons of academy conversion in an open forum with speakers for and against.
  • Conduct a parent ballot or a parent questionnaire in liaison with this campaign group to avoid leading questions which will deem any questionnaire meaningless
  • Ask that teachers and support staff be balloted also and the results published for other consultees.
  • Consider the advice in the DfE guide ‘Pupil Participation Guidance: Working Together – Giving Children and Young People a Say’ and find other more recent guidance to ensure pupils are appropriately consulted with.

We don’t currently see any reason to turn our improving community school into a business (or indeed a chain of businesses) where ultimately and inevitably profit will become the driving factor, ahead of the children and young people, who should be at the forefront of any strategic decision-making.

A shiny new building is not enough of an incentive. Unless we are appropriately convinced otherwise we ask all Governors to reject the proposal for our school to become an academy.

We would like to draw your attention to the attached evidence around the risks involved in conversion and also to our online petition, which has had over 245 signatures in less than 24 hrs. Please consider the wide range of comments submitted to the petition which can be found here: http://chn.ge/1jVbQYW

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

 

ATTACHMENT
What are the risks in converting to an Academy?

Hove Park School is the 10th most improved community school in the country. It has succeeded as a local authority school. Could the consequence of conversion to an academy threaten that hard earned success?

Quality of Teaching:
Becoming an academy, or staying with the local authority, won’t guarantee an improvement in school performance and inspection grade. The evidence is weak either way: the Department for Education says that results from the first twenty five converter academies shows a higher proportion of pupils reaching the benchmark of 5+ A*-C GCSEs (inc Maths & English) than the state school average (DfE RR322). But these academies were already high performing local authority schools before conversion!
However, performance can still decline following conversion. A Birmingham school was rated ‘good’ by Ofsted before converting to an academy in 2012. Soon after conversion, the school was praised by Ofsted but by late 2013 Ofsted was rating the academy ‘inadequate’ (Ofsted URN138137).
In Hillingdon, a High School was judged to be ‘outstanding’ in 2011 and converted to an academy in 2012. In 2014, Ofsted judged the academy as: ‘requires improvement’ (Ofsted URN136768).

What are the consequences?
Responsibility for intervention in failing academies rests with the Secretary of State (not the local authority who uses its resources to help its schools). In fact, the Secretary of State can require an academy, failed by Ofsted, to bring in a sponsor – typically an academy chain.
An Executive Head of an academy judged ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in late 2013 (Ofsted URN 137316) described the process: “Because we are an academy we will be monitored by the Department for Education, the local authority doesn’t have any direct control. … We have kept the council informed and we will continue to work with them but the chances are we will be directed to other trusts the DfE has identified we should work with.” (Hull Daily Mail 19/2/14)
Freedoms Claims are made for the ‘freedoms’ granted to academies. Academy conversion removes the school from the local authority but, in effect, the local authority is replaced by the Department for Education. It is the Secretary of State who makes final decisions on the status of the school and it’s not just when an academy fails that the spectre of a multi academy trust looms.
Earlier this year, a High School in East London decided to abandon its interest in academy conversion after being told that it would have to become part of a multi academy trust.
In a letter to parents the Head and Chair wrote: “In order for our application to be successful we have been advised to join a multi academy trust. Given the recent poor press which some academy chains have attracted, the Governing Body has taken the decision that, for the present time, the School’s interests would be best served by remaining with the Local Authority.” (Lea Valley High School website)

Moreover, academies are far from ‘free’ of “red tape”. They need to appoint Finance Directors to navigate audit demands and to dedicate resources to taking tough decisions on their own. This year, an academy in Hebburn found itself forced to make redundancies following conversion.
The local paper reported a councillor commenting: “There has got to be a link between … moving to academy status and these proposed job losses”.
A local parent added: “I would say most parents are totally unaware about the possible redundancies. “[the academy] is still one of the best-achieving schools …, with excellent staff, but if the school has to keep making redundancies, will that affect staff morale or standards?” (Shields Gazette 28/3/14)
Others have expressed concerns at the legal risks of conversion. What happens when a parent aggrieved by a decision made by the school (perhaps on admissions), and unable to seek redress via the local authority, goes to law? What would be the impact on the school’s budget, mission and purpose? Conversion to academy status seems untested, the process can create disruption for the school and, if successful, the conversion still brings significant risks and only ‘freedoms’ that seem questionable.

Do the advantages of conversion really outweigh the disadvantages?

On behalf of the Hove Park School Parents’ Campaign

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