Thursday 18 December 2014

Struggling schools are no better off in academy chains

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Struggling schools are no better off in academy chains than under local authority control

 

This damning indictment of the academies programme comes from an unlikely source. Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector, commenting on Ofsted’s annual report, has called for an end to the ‘sterile’ debate over school structures. From the very outset the Anti Academies Alliance argued that academy status was not the answer to any school’s problem.   The stories about the problems encountered by academies, and sponsor chains, continue to pour in, yet still the main parties claim that academies work. However in the last year, academies have fared worse in Ofsted inspections than their local authority counterparts with significantly more graded as Requiring Improvement and Inadequate.

This week we learned that both sponsors of troubled St Adhelm’s Academy in Poole, Dorset, want to ‘pull out’ following an Ofsted judgement of inadequate. Last year the same academy fell victim to an email scam which cost the taxpayer £1.1m.  Poole borough council has now stepped in with support, but under the current regulations once a school is academised, it cannot be returned to its local authority and so the search begins for a new sponsor.

We will continue to expose scandals, and to argue that we need a democratically run education system that puts the educational needs of all our children above a political agenda set by those who believe our schools should be run for profit. Read more on our website.

 

Private Interests

Tristram Hunt’s call for independent schools to earn their tax breaks through sharing services with the state sector has been greeted with derision in many quarters. Perhaps the most notorious case is Wellington Academy which despite being sponsored by one of the country’s most exclusive public schools has been judged by Ofsted as requiring improvement. Academy students reported last year that the  independent school’s head Anthony Seldon shrieked at them during an assembly. Then there is the case of Hartsbrook – an EAct free school in Haringey – supported by Highgate independent school but found to be inadequate in every Ofsted category. EAct pulled out of the school, it closed down and has since reopened as Brooke House. Highgate’s own website  still boasts of its involvement in the free school, presumably hoping that the tax man won’t dig too deep.

 

Campaign News

Stop Academies in Lewisham

Hundreds of parents, staff and students demonstrated outside a South East London town hall to save their community secondary – Sedgehill – from academisation. Parents and governors say the school is already improving and have rallied behind Sedgehill’s popular headteacher. Pupils handed over a 1,500 signature petition but it seems that Lewisham Council has ignored their pleas. The council has now applied for permission to sack the school’s governors and replace them with an interim executive board (IEB) who will partner the school with an academy in Bethnal Green.

Follow the Lewisham campaign on facebook or Twitter 

Bisham

Parents in the picturesque Thames-side village of Bisham in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead have held a candlelight vigil to prevent academisation of their inclusive village primary school. In its petition, the parent group says that, following a disappointing Ofsted report, senior Royal Borough staff arrived at the school to change the locks – ousting the long serving head – as children watched on. Parents acknowledge that this year’s L4 SATS results show a decline on previous years, to just one point behind the English average, but argue that every child made at least the expected progress in reading and in maths.

Hewett

Following a petition and vocal campaign, parents and staff at Hewett School were pleased to hear that Norfolk County Council is now considering other options for the Norwich secondary school, including a community ‘learning village’, rather than academisation. Keep up to date with Hewett’s news on twitter or on facebook

Inkersall

At Inkersall Primary, parents fighting against the academisation of their school have been joined by Toby Perkins  MP for Chesterfield. He has requested a meeting with the Secretary of State to find out why there seems to be such a hasty reaction when Ofsted has already reported improvement at the school. Interestingly, he’s also asked Ms Morgan to specify the evidence base upon which she decided upon academisation. We can only wish him good luck with his endeavours. Follow the campaign on Twitter or on facebook 

Good News

Anti academy campaigners around the country should take heart from this good news from Ilford.  Snaresbrook school which successfully fought off the academy brokers has been supported by its local authority – the London Borough of Redbridge – and is now out of special measures and rated ’good’ by Ofsted. Congratulations!

 

Cuckoo in the Nest?

In 2012, Cuckoo Hall was one of the highest performing primary schools in the country but by the end of last year, the number of children achieving government-set SATs target had plummeted from 86 per cent to 54. Now executive headteacher Dame Patricia Sowter, headteacher Sharon Ahmet, and Mrs Sowter’s husband Phil, who is a director of the trust which runs the 870-pupil school, in Enfield, London, have all been suspended following allegations of gross misconduct. The allegations appear to relate to exam fixing. Knighted in 2011, Dame Patricia, whose chain now runs three more schools, was described by former education secretary Michael Gove as having a ‘luminous intelligence’. In a speech in March 2012 Gove praised her as one of his magnificent seven headteachers. Two years on and three of those seven have had their probity questioned. In 2012, Greg Wallace left the Best Start Federation in Hackney after awarding valuable computer contracts to his partner. We hear Mr Wallace has since found a role with one of the larger academy chains. Sir Peter Burkett left the Barnfield Federation in 2013 with a golden handshake, a company car and questions over £1million grant awarded for non-existent students. That Trust has since been disbanded. Either Gove had the worst luck in highlighting the practice of these school leaders or perhaps this is yet another case where judgment failed him.

 

Money Go Round

Academy conversions cost English councils £22m between 2011 and 2013 according to the Local Government Association.  When schools convert, the local authority must pick up any deficit balance. However if a converting school has a surplus this carries over to the academy trust. Added to the legal costs arising from transferring staff and land, mopping up these deficits has mounted up to millions which could have been spent in all schools.

 

A Better State Education For All

The AAA will be taking part in the South East Region TUC conference in London on Saturday 7 February 2015 on Equity, Equality and Education. Aimed at parents, governors and school staff, the event will include contributions from leading trade unionists and educationalists. Entry is free but registration is essential. Please register by email sertuc@tuc.org.uk or by phone on 020 7467 1220.

 

And Finally …

A leaked email from the DfE suggests that civil servants would benefit from training to counteract high profile anti academy campaigns such as Hove Park which involved comedian Mark Steel.   Fortunately, Hove Park parents have already published their own advice – available on the AAA website.

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