Government defies campaign and moves to force Hewett School in Norwich to become an academy

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The controversial decision by education secretary Nicky Morgan will spark fury in Lakenham and beyond, where a We’re Backing Hewett campaign has pushed for a local solution to the school’s problem.

But this is unlikely to be the end of the battle, for Norfolk County Council could now launch a judicial review against the order.

The academy order is the beginning of a process, and triggers local consultation. The move to academisation only becomes final when a funding agreement is signed, but opponents of the move will believe that to be a fait accompli.

http://www.edp24.co.uk/news/government_defies_campaign_and_forces_hewett_school_in_norwich_to_become_an_academy_1_4008279

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Lewisham Strikes Again!

 

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Three unions in four Lewisham schools took another day of strike action on Weds (25th March), stepping up their action in protest at the academisation of their schools. The picket lines were lively and strong and strikers went and delivered leaflets to local primary school parents.

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The Chair of Governors’ letter to staff on February 12 said they had “been advised to postpone consultation until after the general election.” But they decided to press ahead with the “consultation” anyway.  Unions had offered to postpone this week’s two-day strike, but they were left with little choice but to take the action.
Governors are still refusing demands for a parental ballot, so Lewisham Council should be pressed to carry out this basic democratic demand.
The strike was well supported at all three schools, with nearly 60 staff, parents and students on the picket line at Prendergast’s Hillyfields site. They then spread out to distribute leaflets in the local community.
A GMB member said “We need to escalate the public action like Saturday’s march through Lewisham.”
 A teacher said “Staff don’t trust the governors and the executive head, David Sheppard, and don’t believe their promises. They are not interested in the opposition of the staff, parents and students. Many staff have worked at the school for over 15 years, and we have devoted our lives to it. We care about the students’ education – why damage it? The governors accuse us being ideological – but so are they! They want even greater autonomy, and we don’t want them to have it.
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Luke, a 6th form student, said the campaign is on a whole new level since the parents and students came together with the teachers. We don’t want an academy because it’s back door privatisation. This is a 125 year contract with a private company and that has implications for students in the future.  Our protests are getting bigger and better, students are getting inspired and engaged in politics.

see reports:

http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/849/20384/25-03-2015/lewisham-marching-against-academies

http://socialistworker.co.uk/art/40203/‘Academies+suck’+say+Lewisham+campaigners—now+let’s+escalate+the+action

http://electmartin1.blogspot.co.uk/

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Michaela Free School ‘putting pupils lives at risk’ claim teacher unions

birbalsingh and goveHank Roberts, Union representative  on Brent Schools Health and Safety Committee has raised serious questions about safety at the Michaela Academy Free School in Wembley Park which opened in September 2014, but is still undertaking building works on the building while it is occupied by the Year 7 children.  This is his letter to Muhammed Butt, leader of Brent Council containing the draft report:

Dear Muhammed.

Please find enclosed a revised (2nd draft) copy of our document concerning Michaela Community (Free) school. This is just to clarify particular action points that we are calling for you and the Authority to take up arising from the potentially dangerous situation we uncovered and, we believe, aspects of which are still extant.

 

1)   For the Authority to write to the Secretary of State for Education and Michaela Community school seeking their response to the specific actions I believe should be undertaken in the section of the document on Page 7 headed “Urgent actions that need to be undertaken”.

 

2)   That the request in the last paragraph on Page 8 from “We call on the local authority” down to “other Brent LA schools” and further to raise with the Secretary of State both the exact present legal position of the LA in regard to potential hazards facing the health and safety of Brent pupils in free schools (and academies) and the unsatisfactory nature of the present anomalous position.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Hank Roberts

 

Union Representative on Brent Schools H&S Committee
PS: I am also sending this draft document to the Fire Brigade, H&S Executive, ATL, NASUWT and NUT Teacher Unions, Brent school H&S Reps and the media requesting their observations, comments and actions as appropriate.

http://wembleymatters.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/michaela-free-school-putting-pupils.html

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Second strike against academy plans for school in Willesden taking place today

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Teachers and parents from a primary school in Willesden chained themselves to railings during a second strike today over plans to convert to an academy.

The second walkout in a week at St Andrews and St Francis School C of E Primary in Belton Road, has been organised following claims it is being forced to change its status after it was placed under special measures after one visit by education watchdogs Ofsted last year.

Under government rules, special measure schools are forced by the Department for Education to convert to an academy.

This means the school is no longer under local authority control and instead it is funded by central government and given its own sponsors.

Union members and parents have organised a petition calling for Brent Council to halt the process however the town hall claims a consultation showed that a majority of people back the conversion.

See Brent and Kilburn Times article: http://www.kilburntimes.co.uk/news/education/second_strike_against_academy_plans_for_school_in_willesden_taking_place_today_1_4006598

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Do Universities Make Good Academy Sponsors?

Falmer Academy protestUniversities and schools have long worked together. Universities have trained school teachers, many teenagers leave school and go to university and universities have often worked closely with local authorities. But in recent years, some universities have become ‘sponsors’ of academies – requiring a very different type of relationship between the university and the academies and free schools it sponsors. Some universities seem determined to even embrace the most controversial aspects of the academy policy and open free schools – as seems to be the case in Brighton.
Why are some universities willing to encourage some schools to leave their local authorities and become academies? Why do university trusts want to privilege and work especially closely with schools that will compete with other local schools that won’t have such a close relationship with the university? Are there reputational and financial risk to universities and educational risks to the pattern of local education and partnerships between schools? Do these new arrangements undermine the ability of universities to carry our independent research into government policy? Are these arrangements democratically accountable to local communities or in the public interest? This article begins to discuss these questions.
Universities: Leading or following?

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A feature of academy schools and academy trusts has been the involvement of universities as sponsors. The prospect of a university sponsor may seem more palatable than a private multiple academy trust (MAT) but do universities necessarily make good sponsors?
In 2013, the University of Chester Academies Trust (UCAT), the self-styled “leading university multi-sponsor of academies nationally”, referring to its 100 year history and its Education faculty’s ‘outstanding’ OFSTED rating, promised “bespoke packages of support unique to each individual Academy’s circumstance”. Lord Adonis – former education minister and “godfather” of the academy movement – described these kinds of arrangements as “the future of education”. Just one year later, UCAT was one of 14 Trusts barred from taking on more academies because of “unacceptable low performance”. It has now withdrawn from sponsoring two of its nine academies abandoning parents, children and staff.

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The Chester experience is far from unique. Last year, Samworth Academy, one of the academies sponsored, with some controversy, by the University of Nottingham was told its standards were “unacceptably low”. Academies sponsored by the Universities of Staffordshire, Bradford and Sunderland have not improved and remain ‘requiring improvement’. According to a recent Schoolsweek article academies sponsored by the universities of Bournemouth and Liverpool have been abandoned after financial failings. The Enterprise South Liverpool Academy claimed it owed its success to access to “the knowledge of one of the country’s premier universities” but the university withdrew in January 2015 after the DfE highlighted a £2.6m deficit. A Trust backed by Canterbury Christ Church University has also run into financial difficulty.
The evidence is clear. Universities may have strong faculties of Education but it does not follow they can run schools well. Professor Becky Francis, director of the Academies Commission, is quoted as saying “Sometimes sponsors seem to underestimate the extent of their responsibilities and their need for dedicated involvement, especially when they are in a partner-sponsorship arrangement”. As the college and universities lecturers union (UCU) has remarked: ‘Most colleges …. have their hands full running their own organisations, and staff are over stretched. Why should they take on running another, different and complex organisation’?
There are inevitable tensions inherent in university academy arrangements. Universities may claim a commitment to their local community but this is undermined by privileged relationships with individual schools. The vice provost of UCL for example, described the motivation for sponsoring an academy as being able to “build a truly deep relationship, in which every day there would be some type of contact going on between UCL and the [school].” How does establishing such a ‘special relationship’ with one school enable the university to help all schools? Indeed, some local schools view the university academy in their area as a threat.
Furthermore, university sponsorship, like private business sponsorship, undermines local democracy. Universities require no more than the limited consultation and accountability mechanisms adopted by private sponsors. The spectacle of university academies trusts ‘consulting’ via meetings of small numbers of parents or sealing deals behind closed doors is unedifying. Nor is it without risk to public money. UCU has warned that sponsors have potentially autocratic powers which lead to potential abuses similar to those of the ‘cash for honours’ scandal. As Professor Francis has said: “The Government needs to increase transparency and accountability for academy sponsorship” and this applies as much to universities as other sponsors.

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protest against the take over of Shorefields school by the University of Chester Trust

The university’s relationship to research and policy is also a source of tension. It has been argued that neoliberalism has undermined the ideal of disinterested academic research and produced a fundamental shift in the way universities define and justify their existence. Open intellectual enquiry is increasingly replaced with stress on performativity in which the rising importance on ‘managed research’ and the pressures to obtain ‘funded research’ compromise or put pressure on academic freedom.
This tension is particularly apparent in Faculties of Education which have been characterised by relatively low levels of engagement in academic research compared to other disciplines. Some undertake research which has revealed academies and free schools do not improve performance and may be divisive (see for example, the 2014 special issue of Research Papers in Education on Academies, free schools and social justice), evidence now acknowledged by Ofsted and the Education Select Committee. Others by contrast, are tying themselves into this contested policy and compromising their capacity for independent research.
Academy sponsorship exposes universities to reputational as well as financial risk. What is the impact of failed academy ventures on the universities concerned? More fundamentally such sponsoring arrangements, even where they are successful, can be seen as evidence of institutions’ capitulation to neoliberal demands of ‘edubusiness’ in which the Academy Trust may be seen as driven by attempts to secure their share of the market for teacher training, CPD and school improvement consultancy.
“It would be too much to expect Ministers to show enthusiasm for research designed to show their policies were misconceived. But it seems obvious that in many cases the public interest will be served by such research being undertaken”. This is no less true today than when included in the Rothschild report on research funding in 1982. The role of universities is to lead by carrying out research which challenges, and thereby results in better, policy, not to blindly follow it.

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