12 May 2014
Dear Mr Nicholls, Hove Park School, Chair of Governors and Hove Park Governing Body,
With regards to the proposed conversion of Hove Park School to a multi-academy trust, we have numerous questions relating to the school’s asset base and the shift from its current place as part of the local authority’s planned educational provision for Brighton & Hove.
Hove Park School is currently part of the local authority asset base for planned educational provision for all state-educated children in Brighton & Hove. The local authority, Brighton & Hove City Council, has a statutory duty to ensure there is educational provision, city-wide, and would retain this even if Hove Park and every other school in Brighton & Hove were to switch to academy status. However, the academy schools have no such obligation and can actually be selective in deciding which students to accept and what schools provision to provide, in terms of age range, special needs, geographical location and more.
Clearly under the proposed business model, the most ‘profitable’ children would be most desirable to academy schools. This would therefore break with the coordinated local authority planned provision of places for all children and in effect make it impossible to achieve.
The local authority will not only have lost its per pupil funding for certain essential services that can be pooled across all schools to garner efficiencies, but with no assets in terms of buildings and grounds under its control, it would have no way of planning or providing for those children deemed economically undesirable and excluded or not provided for in academies.
Such children’s vulnerability might stem from behavioural difficulties or special educational needs – in short – those likely to require costly specialist support or threaten the grade-rankings that are so desirable to parents and which underpin a marketised system.
Under the academy system, what guarantees are there for the local community that there would be sufficient high quality educational provision for all children across the city in perpetuity? From what we can see, the answer is – absolutely none.
Given that the local authority will lose control of Hove Park School’s buildings and grounds to the proposed trust, we would also like to know who will then hold the title deeds for the buildings and of the grounds. Are these valuable and vital state assets being passed to the new trust lock, stock and barrel without payment?
We have seen no mention of any payment to the local authority for the assets or the deeds and yet we understand that the LA would be unable ever to get them back into public ownership. Is this correct?
We understand that the Department for Education itself does not seem to know the answer to this question as it relates to all the schools that are already academies. Even after Freedom of Information requests the DfE still has not explained the legalities of the ownership of these formerly publically-owned assets – and does not appear to know where the deeds to over half the nation’s state secondary schools are.
Given that the school is currently part of the local authority asset base for planned educational provision for the children of Brighton & Hove, but the proposed trust would have no obligation to admit children from the local area, what guarantees are there for the local community that there would be sufficient high quality educational provision for their children in the local area.
What will happen to the proceeds of the buildings or grounds should any of these assets be sold to a private interest at a later date? Why is it that the assets can’t remain in local authority control and the trust given a renewable licence to run the school, which would provide much more accountability and secure the assets for future generations? Although some of us wouldn’t personally be in favour of this, it should be probed by Governors considering conversion.
Our fear is that what we are witnessing in the academisation of Hove Park and all such schools is the stripping of local authority assets in a deliberate sleight of hand to effectively give them away to private interests. We ask that the Governing Body fulfil their role in giving full scrutiny to our questions through robust enquiries with the appropriate authorities including Brighton & Hove City Council and the Department for Education before any decision on academy conversion is made.
May we ask that we receive a reply to these questions as a matter of urgency?
Yours sincerely .