20 February 2012
Dear Mr Gove,
We are writing to invite you to visit our school and discuss with us, as parents, the reasons for forcing our school to become a sponsored academy.
Our school has recently been put into ‘special measures’ – as parents, we very much want our school to provide the highest standard of education for all of its children.
The DfE has made repeated declarations that sponsored academy status is a proven method of school improvement. We have looked into this in some depth and have not found these statements to be supported by evidence. As parents, we’ve been very concerned to discover that there aren’t any sponsors with a track record in primary schools and the evidence at secondary level is, at best, very patchy. The recent coverage of sponsored academies’ widespread use of vocational ‘equivalents’, perhaps to ’game’ secondary league tables, powerfully proves that academies do not always provide better education than community schools.
The DfE has frequently referred to Prof Stephen Machin’s research at the LSE to justify its forceful and rapid expansion of the academy programme. This research indicated some tentative success with the secondary academies established under the last Labour government. Prof Machin stated clearly on BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Report’ on 16th Februarythat these findings couldn’t be extrapolated to the Coalition’s converter academies, or to the primary sector. This leaves your argument with absolutely no substance.
As parents, we are puzzled as to why your department can still consider such a brutal and undemocratic move as forced academy conversion when there is no evidence to support the likely success of such a move, and plenty to suggest that it won’t be a successful method of school improvement.
We have also read in the press about the experiences of other Haringey primary schools whose governing bodies have tried to negotiate with you and your representatives. Governors report feeling bullied into accepting sponsors they did not choose, and state that they were treated with contempt and disempowered by DfE representatives. They make no mention of any persuasive argument to gain their support for academy conversion, just coercion.
Given the Coalition’s stated commitments to the ‘Big Society’ and localism, we expect our parents to be given a meaningful say in the future of their children’s school. Your failure to do so by forcing academy status against the wishes of the governing body, staff, parents and wider community renders your declarations about the importance of ‘parental choice’ as empty political rhetoric with no basis in reality.
We therefore invite you to come to Downhills school and discuss the ways in which forced academy conversion will contribute to our school’s improvement. We want the very best for our children – we believe our children’s school needs proven methods of improvement, not to be used as a political experiment.
The parents at Downhills School and The Save Downhills Campaign