The Headteacher of my local community school, a Lewisham comprehensive that all my children have attended, has regrettably written to parents to say that they are exploring becoming an academy.
This is our reply:
As parents of four children who have been so well supported by the School, we were extremely disappointed to read the letter you sent to parents and carers last weekend. In reply, we are writing this response to some of the key points in your letter. So that other parents can also read our views, we will also be sharing our reply with other parents via SAIL (Stop Academies in Lewisham).
“Like all schools, [the School] has been considering its status as a maintained, local authority school”.
Your letter seems to suggest that all schools are considering becoming academies. However, that suggestion is not supported by the DfE’s own figures. These show that the rate at which secondary schools are becoming academies has slowed dramatically. Nationally, only 117 secondaries became academies over the last twelve months. In Lewisham, no secondary school has become an academy since St Matthew’s Academy replaced St Joseph’s in 2007. Why should the School convert at all?
“The government’s view is very clear and there is an expectation that all remaining maintained schools consider academy status”
The Government’s view may be clear but do any of the Governors or members of the leadership team at the School share this Government’s vision for education? We hope not. Yes, Michael Gove made very clear that he wanted to divide education by forcing every school to become an academy, replacing accountable community schools with a free market in education dominated by education businesses like Harris. However, Mr Gove’s policies have proved so unpopular that he has been replaced!
In a few months, a General Election will be held that may elect a new Government with new education policies. So why go along with Government views now? At the very least, Governors should wait to see what May 2015 brings before exploring pursuing Academy status any further.
“As part of strengthening this existing partnership governors have also been exploring the option of becoming an academy in partnership with ... Challenge Partners”.
Instead of behind-the-scenes exploration of such an option, a plan that concerns ourselves and other parents we have talked to, the school should be openly and fully consulting with parents about the pressures it is under – and about its response to those pressures. Your letter refers to a ‘disappointing dip in GCSE results last summer’. Of course, the School was not alone in seeing a drop in some results, linked to imposed changes to exam structure. For example, we understand that the academy schools in Lewisham saw similar dips in results as well. If these results are being used to bully the school into considering Academy status, then Governors should fully inform parents so that we are able to support the school and its staff.
Many parents support and value the community ethos and excellent support that the School provides for its students. We are just one family that know how our children have been helped to succeed in so many ways by the School. However, if your response to any pressures to become an Academy is simply to pursue your own alternative plans to convert to an Academy, then you will lose any chance of building on that parental support to defend the school from such a damaging proposal. Instead, many, including ourselves, will feel that Governors have pursued an unacceptable policy. It may suit Challenge Partners Academies*, but it is the wrong choice for the School.
“I would like to re-assure parents that no decision will be made this academic year and that if the school did become an academy it would only do so in order to strengthen its capacity to support our students to achieve their full potential. There would be no change to the identity or the ethos of the school as a community comprehensive”
It is some reassurance that no decision is imminent but this conclusion still sends a worrying signal to parents, staff and the school community that the school leadership sees Academy conversion as a possible way forward. After years of Government experimentation with academisation of schools, there is absolutely no educational evidence that it improves educational outcomes. It is also inevitable, whatever school management may intend, that becoming an Academy, probably as part of a wider chain, would inevitably change the school’s identity, as well as its employment relationship with staff.
We hope you will take on board our concerns and that Governors will reconsider pursuing any option to become an Academy. However, as it regrettably appears that this is a route that is being explored, then I would ask that a meeting of parents is urgently organised where Governors can fully explain why, and how, they are pursuing this option. At the same time, this meeting should also allow parents, such as ourselves, the opportunity to offer an opposing view, in order to explain to Governors why we think such an option would be mistaken. We would also want to make the case that, before any such decision is considered by the Governors, the whole school community, parents and staff, should be given the opportunity to take part in an independently overseen secret ballot to take place once there has been sufficient time for both sides fully to put their case for and against any plan for Academy conversion.
* The Challenge Partners website indicates that it has set up a new academy trust http://challengepartners.org/Academies
Challenge Partners' Managing Director is Mark Goodchild. According to the website, "Prior to Challenge Partners, Mark spent 6 years with Accenture in management consultancy and outsourcing sales in Financial Services. In education, Mark is the co-founder of New Schools Ventures, supporting the creation of new primary schools in low-income areas through the replication and expansion of some of the best schools in the country, and founding governor of the Southwark Free School". Members of the Leadership Team include Adrian Percival, the CEO of the Haberdashers Aske's Academies Federation.