Academies: The conclusion

By Megan Caulfield

When Sarah Barton sent her children to Bournville School and Sixth Form Centre, she felt content in the knowledge that her son and daughter would receive a solid, state education in a happy and successful community school. The South Birmingham school, served a diverse community, teaching the national curriculum under the watchful and safe eyes of the local authority.

Naturally, things have changed since her daughter, now 17, first started; Teachers have left, qualifications have reportedly got harder, but still, no one could imagine the day when the curriculum was scrapped and the teachers no longer had to be qualified. Where the school would be independent of local authority funding and have the potential to be sponsored by the likes of Oasis and JCB. And then that time came. Bournville School was going to be turned into an academy.

“I’d heard a bit about academies in the news but not enough to freely be able to talk about them,” Sarah said. “It was only when the Headteacher at Bournville discussed his plans to turn the school into an academy that I started to take notice,”

“The government tries to highlight the fact it improves education and that academies are more successful than state schools but that’s really not the case at all. I can’t see any positives about the whole thing. I knew I had to do something.”

Cue the development of Hands Off Our School. Hands Off Our School is a parent-led campaign against academy conversion at Bournville School. Similar to that of many up and down the country, the campaign is calling for Headteachers, the Government and the Department For Education to rethink the choice to convert to an academy and to stop the rumoured forced conversions by Michael Gove.

In this particular case, Hands Off Our School was successful and managed to stop the conversion which Sarah puts down to “having a wide range of people passionately, committed to saving Bournville school including parents, teaching staff and members of the community.”  Many others however, have been unsuccessful in their attempts and have faced numerous difficulties in their struggle to reach the decision makers.

The number of similar campaigns appears to be on the rise thanks to the increasing popularity of government backed academies.  As of May 1st, there were 2,924 academies open in the UK, which makes up more than a quarter of all schools. Academies even appear to be replacing state education; with the most recent statistics revealing that 59% of secondary schools have either already converted or are in the process of.

So just what are academies?

According to The Guardian, academies are, “state-maintained independent schools set up with the help of outside sponsors.”

They receive their funding directly from the central government, rather than through a local authority and have more freedom over their finances, curriculum, length of terms and school days.

Originally introduced by the Labour government in 2007, their declared aims were to improve struggling schools in disadvantaged areas. The coalition has since developed the idea and now any school can apply to change to academy status.

Why are people so against them?

The lack of certainty surrounding the effectiveness of an academy seems to be one of the biggest issues amongst parents and teachers. Few people have experienced academies over a long period of time so it is hard to see the lasting benefits to the education system. Many parents aren’t even aware what an academy is, as expressed by Karen Hall, a parent whose child’s school has gone through a conversion to become North Birmingham Academy. She said,

“I’ll be honest I didn’t have a clue what an academy was when the idea was first introduced to parents. I had to do a lot of googling and used mumsnet to see if I was the only one – I wasn’t, there were loads of parents in exactly the same position which made me feel better about the situation.”

“I do think the government and schools could do more to inform parents of what an academy is, so that we can make the transition for our children from a normal school to an academy much easier and effective.”

Sarah Barton added, “A lot of schools plan the conversion in secret and give parents absolutely no say in what is happening. It’s shocking to think that they can make such a big decision without even consulting parents beforehand or asking our views.”

Another key argument against the trend of conversion is that people are viewing the rise in academies as the privatisation of schools. Privatisation involves giving the rights to the school to independent parties resulting in the school having no accountability with the community or its leading figures.

Bournville School, had a 125 year lease that was in jeopardy – one of the reasons why the community united and worked so strongly against the schools plans to convert.

Companies from the likes of America and Sweden are coming to the UK purely to make a profit out of our previously local authority funded education system. Memos by the Education Secretary Michael Gove, which have been leaked, suggest this is the way he sees UK schools developing, causing further concern to those opposing the idea.

Bullying Tactics

It has also been alleged that Gove has used bullying tactics in his efforts to get more schools to convert. Ask Parents First, an anti academy campaign based in and around Birmingham, claim they have heard from many sources that,

“The DFE sends in an academy broker and threatens the governing body into becoming an academy, telling them if they do not become an academy then they will be sacked and replaced by a sponsor and governing body picked by Gove.”

Foundry Primary School in Birmingham spoke out to confirm this goes on. The Headteacher revealed that he was bullied into becoming an academy and then denied the school’s first choice of sponsor, Wolverhampton University, despite it being on Michael Gove’s approved sponsors list. They were told they must pick out of a list of three which included retail brand Oasis, a company who has no prior background or ties with education and schools.

Effect on the local authority

The rise in academies has also had a detrimental effect on the local authority, who have seen a big decline due to government cuts. The LA in Birmingham, have seen a team of 100 advisory teachers supporting 400 schools, shrink to just 8 people, placing a big strain on teaching staff and reducing the support available.

Six of the biggest teaching unions in Britain (including NASUWT and NUT) have united against the academy system in a joint campaign to halt school conversions across the country.

In a letter addressed to parents by the union’s joint general secretary, they emphasise the risks, and the “profound implications for the children” that academies will surely bring. They appeal to the parents,

“We hope that having considered the information you will share our views that the high level of risk involved in academy status far outweighs any of the suggested advantages. The decision to become an academy is irreversible. There is no going back.”

The National Union of Teachers has spoke out directly to say they believe, “academies have a damaging impact on children’s teachers and the whole community.”

They add that, “Teaching support staff are also often not recognised within the new pay structure academies have to negotiate, which affects the children who need that support in the long run.”

The Benefits of the Programme

Of course this is just the view of a percentage of people. A proportion of parents, teachers and government figures are also encouraging academy conversions and see it as a way to improve the education system by giving schools more freedom to innovate.

Painsley Academy in North Staffordshire received academy status last August. At the same time it also achieved a record-breaking 100% of year 11 students receiving grades A*-C in their GCSE’s.

Painsley shared the achievement with its six Catholic feeder schools. The seven schools work together as a ‘federation’ to help with finances, resources and services – sharing the title of ‘Academy’.

Veronica Johnston Jones, an academy committee member there, says it was decided that the academy status would be a positive step for the federation.

“At this point we had worked as a hard federation of schools for just over a year and had experienced the benefits that this formal level of co-operation was bringing to the lives of the schools though the educational experience and achievement of the learners”.

“Academy status would enable the schools to continue on this path with greater pace, as a result of a new level of independence and flexibility and greater revenue.”

Ms Jones also added that greater freedom to govern, and a smoother system of funding, is paramount for future progress in the schools.

“Greater freedoms to innovate and increased revenues are making a positive impact on the schools in terms of buildings, the learning environment and resources including staffing,” she said. “This in turn is having a clear and measurable effect on further raising standards and outcomes for our learners.”

This is something echoed by parent Karen Hall, who spoke of the benefits of her child’s school being an academy. “My child’s school, College High, used to have a bit of a bad reputation, but since converting, it has really improved both academically and physically in the form of new buildings and equipment.”

“I can only see the benefits of becoming an academy -the Headteacher has received an MBE, people are getting good university places. I would say the school, (now North Birmingham Academy), has probably been saved by the conversion.”

Karen and Ms Jones are not the only people who feel this way. 86% percent of schools have seen the benefit of academies with the percentage receiving an ‘outstanding’ or ‘very good’ recommendation in their latest Ofsted report. This improvement is twice the rate of a normal school, something The Department For Education and Gove are keen to emphasise.

Lesley Smith of Ark Schools, an academy sponsor with over 18 schools around the country, sees the benefit of academies and said, “Since sponsoring some of the schools we have seen a real improvement in the general running of them.”

“For us, academies are a way to improve the education system by providing a better learning environment through adapting the curriculum and enriching our pupils with a great approach to learning and developing.”

“Our longer school day provides more time to embed core subjects and to extend the curriculum, and our excellent teachers help support this. The results are clear from our last Ofsted report, with nine of the ten ARK academies so far inspected rated as good or outstanding.”

This is true of their school Kings Academy, which has seen the percentage of students achieving five or more A*-Cs at GCSE including English and maths, jump by more than 20 per cent in two years.

Driving Force

Michael Gove has been the biggest driving force in the academy movement. He is often seen in the media promoting the benefits of the programme, encouraging what he believes is a better education system. One of his biggest arguments is that it provides more freedom to teachers.

“We believe in trusting the professionals. That’s why we gave teachers the opportunity to take on more freedom and responsibility and they have grabbed it with both hands. Many are now going even further and taking on responsibility for turning around less successful schools,” he recently said.

Final Outlook

Whether you are opposing or agreeing with the academy movement, there is no denying that academies have created a strong debate within the education system. 16 year old Erin Geraty, a pupil going through a conversion sums it up, “you are always going to get groups that agree or disagree, that’s life, all that matters at the end of the day is that we, the pupils, get a good education so we can go on to get a good job, and lead a happy and fulfilling life.”

Academies, A pupil’s perspective

Following my interview with parent Andrea Jeffery, I was able to interview her son, sixteen year old Sam Jeffery who is a senior prefect at the school, to find out how involved pupils were in the decision to become an academy, how much they knew about it and indeed what changes Sam has recognised in his school, which was already classed as outstanding across the board by Ofsted, before the shift to academy.

Sam is in his final year at Painsley and is currently sitting his GCSE’s and despite attending student council meetings and performing the role of senior prefect, he reveals to me that before his school became an academy, not only did they not have a say in the proceedings, he didn’t really know much about the process and academies in general.

“I didn’t really know anything about academies before Painsley became one. I’d heard of the JCB academy [a high highly successful engineering academy in Staffordshire] but I thought it was like a private school… We were told about a lot of things as they happened, but I don’t really think we had much say. My parents went to a meeting”

Despite the lack of involvement with regards to pupils, Sam still maintains that the change to academy has been a positive one, although he had some concerns.

“I thought it seemed a good thing, but when we heard the head teacher had more freedom to make changes I wasn’t sure cause some people said that could mean longer days or less holidays. That hasn’t happened though”.

Sam also maintains a positive outlook on the changes that the school has implemented after it became an academy.

The cloakrooms have had a complete make- over with new lockers for everyone, which is something the school council has been asking for for years. The dining room has also been refurbished which is loads better for us”.

Struggling academies drain Government resources

Academies across the country that are struggling financially are increasingly turning to the Government for cash handouts according to financial agency Syscap.

Over the last year academies have claimed over £9 million in emergency funding, this is a shocking 52% increase on the £5.9 million the previous year so the financiers released.

Syscap is one of the primary finance providers in the educational sector , they keep track of spending throughout the educational system. With the rise of the academy they have become a financial watchdog, looking into how academies have effeted the total costs incurred by the DfE (Department for Education) and raise warnings for the future.

The numbers not only showed the increase in the amount of cash the academies have needed but also that in the last year three more academy schools have joined the list of those who can no longer support themselves making a total of nine, that works out over a £1 million per year per school.

This figure is only set to get higher as Syscap revealed that due to an administrative error academies were actually overpaid in previous years, whilst there are no plans for a repayment  they instead  are next year cutting the per pupil grants.

Syscap chief executive Phillip White commented on the situation saying,

“If some academies are already struggling financially, the prospects for next year do not look good as academies have to readjust to lower per pupil grants.”

This news comes less than a month after the DfE were heavily criticized for overspending on academies by over £1 billion during the last two years.  Margaret Hodge, chair woman of the investigating committee sent a clear message to the DfE,

“Some of this money had previously been earmarked to support schools struggling with difficult challenges and circumstances…the department’s decision to solely use this money to create academies – many of which were already high performing – may have been at the expense of weaker, non-academy schools which could potentially have benefited from it more”

Advocates of the academy system hit back saying the report ‘ignores the successes of the programme and fails to take under spent budgets into account’.

A further report has been called for with which individual school spenditure can be looked at at a ground level

Hands off our school! The Bourneville School Success Story

By Sarah Dyer

‘Hands off our school’ was a parent led campaign against the academy conversion of Bourneville School and Sixth Form Centre. The campaign began in June 2011 after finding out that the school was in jeopardy of academisation. Many parents grouped together at this time to campaign against this- they felt their community school was fine as it was and that it did not need to become an academy in order to improve as an institution.

On the 12th October 2011 it was announced that the consideration of turning Bourneville school into an academy was to be postponed until after September 2012. However, Headteacher Barbara Easton has made the following statement in a letter to parents dated 14th October;

Following a Governing Body meeting on 12th October the decision was made not to proceed with Academy Status for the time being. It was felt that the school is not yet ready for such a significant change. Thank you to everybody who contributed to the consultation.

The “Hands off our school” campaign was just one of a small handful of successful campaigns against academy conversion in schools. Parent to a Bourneville School child and one of the leading members of the campaign, Sarah Barton, went on to create the Ask Parents First, a parent led campaign calling for “Open and democratic consultation with parents and prospective parents on school change to include a full and binding parental ballot before a school can convert to academy status.” Academies uncovered recently spoke with Sarah to discuss the Ask Parents First campaign.

Follow the investigation on Twitter: @AcademiesJourno

Anti-Academy Alliance- Interview with Richard Hatcher

By Sarah Dyer

“We won the argument, but we lost the war”- Richard Hatcher, Anti-Academy Alliance

“The Anti-Academy Alliance is a campaign composed of unions, parents, teachers, councillors and MP’s.” Academies Uncovered sat down with Richard Hatcher, one of the founding members of the Anti-Academies Alliance and lecturer at Birmingham City University, and spoke to him about the Anti-Academies Alliance itself, and what academisation is doing to the British education system.

What the Anti- Academy Alliance do?

Why are schools becoming academies?

 

Why would schools want to become academies?

Issues with curriculum.

Issue with admissions into academies.

Issues with school workers and pay.

Academies VS non-academy improvement.

The “true agenda” of academies.

Academy chains and foundations.

Forced academisation, Goves intentions and “sham consolation processes” 

Follow the investigation on Twitter: @AcademiesJourno

Academies from a parent’s perspective

By Megan Caulfield

When schools convert to academies, there are an endless number of people affected.

Directly affected are the pupils and teachers but what about the parents? Where do they fall into this?

I interviewed Karen Hall, a parent of a child who attends North Birmingham Academy, to  hear her experience and to see the conversion process from a parents perspective.

North Birmingham Academy was previously known as College High and converted three years ago in an effort to improve the running of the school.

1. What do you think of academies?

2. Did you know what an academy was before your child’s school converted?

3. How do you think the government has dealt with the process?

4. Have you found any negatives of academies?

5. What do you know about the sponsors?

6. Do you have any advice for parents going through a conversion?

7. Is your view the general consensus amongst parents?

If you’ve shared a similar experience to Karen, or one that differs, please let us know and get in touch by commenting below or tweeting us @academiesjourno.

Academy schools statistics update: May 2013

By Megan Caulfield

As of May 1st, there are 2,924 academies open in the UK, of which 2,225 are general conversions and 699 are sponsored.

academystatsgraph

According to the Department of Education, a further 751 schools have applied to convert to academies (471 have been approved), and an additional 257 sponsored academies are in development.

These statistics are continuing to grow thanks to the Government backed programme, and has seen 59% of secondary schools convert to academies or be in the process of becoming one.

academystatussecondaryschools

This percentage is much lower in primary schools however, with only 11% of primary schools having converted or in the process of.

academystatusprimaryschools

Interestingly, the number of conversions has slowed in the last month, with the lowest number of academies converting in over two years. This could suggest that the scheme is dying down, something Michael Gove will no doubt be monitoring in next month’s figures.

The latest Ofsted inspections also proved an interesting read considering the governments claims that academy education is a more effective learning environment than state schools.

The results showed that the majority of converted academies were either rated as ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’ (36% and 50% respectively), but 13% ‘required improvement’ and 1% ( 13 currently open academies) were even deemed ‘inadequate’.

ofstedresultsforacademies

Lesley Smith of Ark Schools, an academy sponsor with over 18 schools around the country, sees the benefit of academies though and said, “Since sponsoring some of the schools we have seen a real improvement in the general running of them.”

“For us, academies are a way to improve the education system by providing a better learning environment through adapting the curriculum and enriching our pupils with a great approach to learning and developing.”

“Our longer school day provides more time to embed core subjects and to extend the curriculum, and our excellent teachers help support this. The results are clear from our last Ofsted report, with nine of the ten ARK academies so far inspected rated as good or outstanding.”