WHAT ARE ACADEMIES?
There are 3 types of academy.
Sponsored: These were established under the old Government and designed to support failing schools in challenging circumstances. They were given start up funding and would have a sponsor (like the Aldridge Foundation or the Woodard Foundation), who was supposed to put up some money but, in practice, rarely did. Some sponsors have been criticised for their views (for example the United Learning Trust that adopts a conservative Christian ethos). Some of the sponsored academies were rebuilt.
Convertor: Under the current Government any school which is deemed to be already good or with outstanding features can convert to an academy. The school converting must set up an Academy Trust comprised of at least 3 governors. The Trust appoints new governors and a Funding Agreement with the Department for Education becomes the legal basis for the academy. Convertor academies do not need a sponsor but there are no guarantees that one may not be sought once the school has academy status and/or imposed if the Department for Education wishes. The school is run as a business and may declare a surplus. Many academy enthusiasts are now pushing for academies to be allowed to declare a profit too.
Free Schools: Free Schools are academies too. Some have been very unsuccessful and been criticised for their performance and approach to education. A few have been forced to close only a few years after opening (eg: the Discovery New School in Crawley).
All Academies: All Academies receive funding directly from the Department for Education, rather than the local authority, and the local authority has the funding deducted from its education budget in the case of sponsored and convertor academies. Academies can choose whether to give a contract to a commercial company, employ additional staff to carry out certain tasks or buy local authority services. This has a knock on effect on other schools in the area. There will be a tipping point at which, if enough schools opt out of local authority oversight, cuts will have to be made to the shared services which support all schools and the service they get will be poorer.
All Academies employ staff directly and set their own terms and conditions of employment. Land and buildings are normally transferred to the Academy Trust. Assurances given by Academy Trusts about these things are not guarantees and can change at any point once a school becomes an academy. Head teachers often become ‘Chief Executives’ of academies and often see their pay increase.
Academies can ‘opt out’ of the national curriculum and develop their own curriculum.
THE BIGGER PICTURE – IMPACT ON STATE EDUCATION
The Academies programme is an attack on the education system in this country. It is an attempt to destroy a democratic, planned, state education system and replace it with a two-tier, market driven collection of independent schools paid for out of tax-payers money, at the mercy of education companies driven by financial considerations.
Currently most schools work as part of the Local Authority overseen by elected councillors. They are run by a head teacher working with a group of school governors, some of whom are appointed by the Local Authority, others are elected by parents or staff.
Whatever its weaknesses, this system has many benefits:
- It allows planning for all school places according to population developments and between and with all schools
- It allows for co-ordinated teacher training and development and shared, Special Educational Needs support, Early Years teaching, and much more,
- It means there is co-operation between schools over pupil admissions and exclusions,
- Schools adhere to nationally agreed conditions for staff and to the national curriculum.
- Governors and councillors are elected. Their decisions can be, and have been, challenged at elections.
IMPORTANT FACTS ABOUT ACADEMIES – THE REASONS TO JUST SAY NO!
1. NO NEW MONEY. 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. Hove Park needs to update and develop its building but to say this will happen as a result of becoming an academy is completely misleading. There is NO extra guaranteed money for new buildings.
2. NO EVIDENCE OF IMPROVED EDUCATIONAL STANDARDS. There is absolutely no evidence that if a school converts to an academy it will raise the level of educational achievement by students. An independent analysis of Department for Education statistics indicates that there is no evidence that converter academies perform better than non-academies in terms of GCSE results. There is nothing to directly benefit local children by becoming an academy
3. NO 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 flood or a fire, they can no longer turn to the Local Authority for help.
4. EXPERIENCED STAFF MAY LEAVE. Academies can employ unqualified teachers and set their own pay, conditions and working hours for newly appointed teachers. This leads to a ‘two tier’ workforce and other problems. Assurances that this would not happen have already been compromised by Hove Park employing unqualified teachers. We are worried good teachers will leave and others will become demoralised
5. ACADEMIES ARE AN ATTACK ON DEMOCRACY. The democratically-elected Local Authority no longer has a say in the running of an academy. It is run by a charitable company called an academy trust. 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 there is no local avenue of complaint. Academies are not accountable to the Local Authority, so they are not accountable to the public. Their governors are appointed, not elected. Academies are not covered by Freedom of Information legislation.
6. WHO WILL RUN THE ACADEMIES? New or existingacademy chains, and Edu-businesses are lining up to take over our schools. Who knows who will be running Hove Park in the future? – there will be absolutely no safeguarding for this once the current leaders move on. Already some quite dodgy characters are sniffing around – see our article on mr-robert-back for more on this.
7. FAIR ADMISSIONS PROCEDURES WOULD BE THREATENED. There is a wide diversity of practice regarding admission to academies. The complexity of these arrangements means there is a lack of transparency for parents and a destabilising effect on the capacity of schools to achieve a balance of abilities amongst pupil intakes. The current team may want to keep things as they are but where are the guarantees for the future?
8. POLICY IS CHANGING AT A NATIONAL LEVEL. Recent debate/concerns about schools in Birmingham is impacting on approaches by all political parties around the academisation of state schools. It would be very short-sighted for a decision to be made by a small group of people at Hove Park in the midst of this changing climate. Once a decision is made to become an academy there is no going back.
WE SHOULD SAY NO BECAUSE THERE ARE MANY UNANSWERED QUESTIONS RESULTING FROM THE HOVE PARK CONSULTATION
At the start of the process of considering becoming an academy, Hove Park parents/carers were told by the Chair that:
“During the review we will be looking at all of the options for the school and one of these is becoming an academy”.
In spite of many requests, parents have yet to see the research that was carried out by the Senior Leadership Team/Governing Body in this review and how and when alternative options were dismissed in favour of academy status. This work should have been done and properly presented to all parents/carers before a proposal for academy status was put forward.
All the glossy brochures presented by the school do not give a clear reason as to why Hove Park School should become an academy at this time, or how academy status would directly benefit local communities including current and future pupils. There is no evidence that academy status would bring benefits or freedoms – only that there would be risks and uncertainties for the future if Hove Park becomes an academy.