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.”

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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

Interview: Sarah Williams, Downhill’s school parent

By Sarah Dyer

In October 2011 pupils, parents and teachers of Downhill’s school in Haringey, North London learnt that their much loved local primary would be one of two local schools to be converted into an academy. In wake of this news, a heavily parent led campaign began to prevent this action from happening. In November their campaign went public and more people were becoming aware of Downhill’s story. On January 28th 2012, over 1000 parents, pupils, teachers and members of the local community marched in protest to express their opposition to Downhill’s becoming a Harris academy. However, just a few short months later in September 2012, Downhill’s lost the fight and the school was given academy status. It now goes by the name of Harris Primary Academy.

Sarah Williams, a musician and mother of three (two of which were Downhill’s pupil’s at the time) was one of 147 votes out of 166 against Downhill school becoming an academy. After learning her children’s school was in jeopardy of becoming an academy, she stepped up, and together with other concerned and angry Downhill parents, started a campaign to stop Michael Gove from taking their school. Academies Uncovered spoke to Sarah who was willing to share with us her story.

What was your reaction when you first heard that Downhill’s was set to become an academy?

I didn’t believe it. I thought we had a choice, I assumed that we lived in a democracy where we would have been heard and our opinions taken into consideration. I thought there would be fair play.

Your campaign was well received by teaching, student and anti-academy groups and your local area. Apart from the Government, was there any other opposition?

Not really, we had an awful lot of support but unfortunately our local labour council was not supportive of our cause. I think it is because they didn’t want bad press and wanted the problem to just go away.

How did you feel when the school did become an academy?

I was deeply upset. It was as if they had come out and said “You little people don’t have a choice and we don’t live in a democracy.”

What are your fears for if more schools become academies?

You just don’t know what they’re doing in these schools. I am sure there are some wonderful academies but as more schools become academies they become more closed off from the local council. Our campaign showed that local people care about our schools and that we don’t want academies.

Harris academy federation

“The Harris Federation comprises 19 primary and secondary academies and we are one of the most successful Academy groups in the country.” Harris academies federation was given its name after Lord Philip Harris of Peckham, one of Britain’s wealthiest men. He has been known to give the current conservative government over £2 million pounds. Those who protested against Downhill’s forced academisation made signs which were used at pickets which read: “Lord Harris gave the Tories £2m so they gave him our school!”

Follow the investigation on Twitter: @AcademiesJourno

Academies and lies: The Parents, the Politician and the Carpetbagger

By Sarah Dyer

Parent: “We have an opinion, but not a choice?”

Les Walton: “That’s right… To be honest, it’s not a referendum.”

The Parents, The Politician and the Carpetbagger follows the parents and teachers of Downhill’s School as they try to stop Education secretary, Michael Gove, forcing their school to become part of the Harris academy chain. The Harris academy chain is fronted by Lord Phil Harris; chairman and chief executive of CarpetRight.

Well informed and thorough, the documentary explores Downhill School’s inspiring struggle against forced academisation. The film portrays the parents’, teachers’ and communities’ passion to protect their much loved community school.

According to its webpage, “The film challenges Department of Education claims that academies outperform non-academies, which they don’t, and reveals how local authorities are being bullied into serving up schools for forced academisation, just to keep the Minister sweet.”

Follow the investigation on Twitter: @AcademiesJourno

PAC: “Show us your expenses, academies”

By Sarah Dyer

Public Accounts Committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge has demanded the Department of education releases its expenditure data. This follows the announcement that over £1 billion extra funding has been pulled from other budgets to convert UK schools into academies.

According to the article in the Belfast Telegraph ‘PAC chairwoman Margaret Hodge said: “The funding system for academies has not operated effectively alongside the local authority system and has made it hard for the department to prove that academies are not receiving more money than they should.

“The department must publish detailed data showing school-level expenditure, including costs per pupil, so that proper comparisons can be made with the data for maintained schools.”‘

Between April 2010 and March 2012, the Department of Education spent £8.3 billion on converting schools into academies including the extra £1 billion from other budgets.

Follow the investigation on Twitter: @AcademiesJourno

The who’s who of academies

By Megan Caulfield

With academies becoming increasingly popular – 1 in 4 schools are now academies –  we thought we would run through some of the most influential people arguing for and against the current movement.

For:


  • Michael Gove

    image courtesy of conservativeparty flickr

    image courtesy of conservative party flickr

Michael Gove is a British Conservative politician who is the Secretary of State for Education. He is one of the biggest supporters of academies and is regularly seen promoting the programme in the media. He argues that the programme gives schools more freedom and responsibility and that this will increase overall running and performance of schools.

The Department for Education was formed on 12 May 2010 and is responsible for education and children’s services. They provide Information for schools interested in becoming an academy and information for existing academies, local authorities and sponsors.

They work closely with Michael Gove to make sure the programme runs as smoothly as possible.

The IAA is an acknowledged national body that is regularly consulted by the government and its opposition on matters regarding to education change. It holds three meetings yearly where they discuss differing group’s views on policy and strategy and provides networking opportunities and support for state funded independent schools.

According to their website they “aim to promote a positive public image and reputation for academies and other state-funded independent schools by means of media and PR activity.”

Against:

apf

Ask Parents First are a parent-led group based in and around Birmingham.

According to their website they are “campaigning 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.”

They formed in response to concerns over the way academy status appears to be forced on schools and school communities as a result of Michael Gove and the Department of Education’s academy programme, without consulting with parents or the community first.

They are hoping to get Birmingham City Council to oppose the forced conversion of Local Authority maintained schools to academies and to give parents more say about their child’s school.

The Anti Academies Alliance is a campaign composed of unions, parents, pupils, teachers, councillors and MPs.

They oppose the government’s Academies programme and believe that we need ‘a good school for every child.’

They meet at regular intervals throughout the year and have staff working on the campaign on a full time, day to day basis.

Other:

The academies commission has been set up to examine the implications of the mass conversion of state schools and the impact this might have on educational outcomes.

The full results and findings of their inquiry and summarised in the video below.

 

More than 1 in 4 children now attend an academy

By Danny Jones.

Latest government figures show that more than a quarter of all children in state education are attending academies.

The data was released by the Department for Education earlier this month as part of the annual report on the academy system. The report released showed figures as well as a financial review of the system.

The news is the latest break in the academy debate. Just under 2 million of the 7 million school children in Britain are no longer under government control instead are under individual control as part of the education reform across the nation.

This news comes less than a month after Michael Gove was under fire from fellow conservative Graham Stuart for spearheading the campaign that he claims “cannot be driven like a sports car”. Stuart continued the analogy to describe the educational system as

“an enormous tanker of an operation and it’s not appropriate to have someone at the wheel who thinks it’s a sports car and tries to spin the wheel accordingly”

He was though careful to highlight the “great benefits” that were to be expected with the reform, saying that Gove shows a

“certainty of direction, which is a rare quality in a minister”.