I would like to thank you for your letter formally notifying the NUT that the Governing Body of Tidemill Primary School is consulting on conversion to Academy status.
I am replying in the hope that, rather than simply going through procedural niceties, Governors are willing to ensure that there is a proper dialogue and full discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing such a significant, and inevitably controversial, proposal. The NUT would certainly hope that you will conclude NOT to become an Academy.
Governors should acknowledge that the vast majority of outstanding schools have not taken up Michael Gove’s invitation to pursue Academy status. I believe that these schools have recognised, as I hope you will, that their ability to continue with high quality teaching and learning will not be enhanced by becoming an Academy. Indeed, the research on existing Academies presents a very mixed picture of their educational performance. Neither do schools need to become Academies to innovate within the National Curriculum.
However, while there is little advantage to Tidemill School in becoming an Academy, the damage to other schools and on the future of education within the borough - and beyond -would be significant. By taking this step, Tidemill Governors would be boosting a Government policy which, as part of a broader agenda to privatise and cut public services, is designed to undermine and divide Local Authority schooling. Any financial advantage that you might make from the move would come at the expense of the central Local Authority budget, reducing their ability to support other schools and families in the borough.
While I am sure that it would not be your intention, the result of a decision to become an Academy would help to reintroduce a two-tier system where the schools deemed most successful would become independent from their Local Authority, given an unfair advantage over pupil admissions, and leaving under-resourced LAs to support the schools and students that need most help. The most disadvantaged families and their children will be the losers.
Governors would, in effect, be accepting a bribe from the Government to accelerate an educational agenda which, I would have thought, would be the very opposite of what Governors of a community school such as Tidemill would wish to pursue.
Instead, I hope that governors would reach the same conclusion as the Headteacher of an outstanding school writing in the July 23rd issue of the Times Educational Supplement: “At the point at which those in the strongest position should be ensuring the most vulnerable passengers are protected, we are being invited to abandon our superior cabins, grab the best crew and provisions and take to the lifeboats. That is something that, as a head and as a school, that is in such direct opposition to our core principles that we could not do it”.
I should also add that your assurance that “terms and conditions of employment would be no less favourable than those currently enjoyed” similarly fails to recognise why, if schools opt to become Academies, staff terms and conditions are at risk. The Government has made it crystal clear that they wish to remove national pay and conditions arrangements from teachers. Allowing individual Academies to set their own arrangements is intended to be one of the mechanisms to achieve this aim. With Local Authority employers withering on the vine, trade union facility arrangements would also be under threat, leaving staff without local trade union representatives released to support them when they required help. Again, even if not your intention, a decision to become an Academy will help to undermine pay and conditions.
These points are just an outline of some of the important considerations that Governors need to make before reaching a decision. As the legislation stands, a mistaken decision to become an Academy could not easily be reversed. This is even more reason to ensure that a full and through consultation takes place. However, the decision to consult over the summer holidays has done little to suggest that Governors are conducting a genuine consultation exercise.
The National Governors Association has set out detailed advice about the Academies Bill, including advice on how to consult with parents, staff and others in the community. It should include the issuing of full information, public meetings and the consideration of a ballot of parents to determine whether to go ahead. Meetings should invite speakers both for and against the proposal so that all views are heard. I understand this is the case with the meeting that I have been invited to speak at by Tidemill Parents Against Academies on Monday. I hope that will also be the case with any meetings organised directly by the Tidemill Governors.
I do not believe that the ‘consultation’ held so far could be seen to be genuinely ‘meaningful’ and hope that Governors would agree not to make any decision as early as this month. I would certainly be very pleased to meet with Governors to discuss my concerns more fully.
I would also wish to have an opportunity to hold a meeting of NUT members within the school. In all of these meetings, I hope that Governors will make clear to staff that they are all free to express their views and concerns, so that those staff who oppose the Academy can speak without fear, as part of a genuine and open discussion.
Martin Powell-Davies, Secretary, Lewisham NUT.