- Leafleting and petitioning for an hour or so on Chorlton Precinct on Saturday 14 April at 11.00
- Leafleting and petitioning outside local churches on Sunday 15 April.
- Leafleting and petitioning outside local primary schools (those that do not have Inset days) on Monday 16 April.
The ‘Academy Status Consultation Report’ is available on the Chorlton High School website which sets out the results of the school’s consultation and makes the case for conversion to an academy.
The form of the consultation was always somewhat dubious. Rather than a straightforward yes/no on conversion people were asked to measure their opinion against the statement, “I support the school taking the steps to convert to Academy status under its own control”. Some consider this statement to have been loaded and leading. Nevertheless, 50% of current parents who returned their form agreed or strongly agreed with conversion, but most notable is the school’s failure to engage people in the decision. 2102 forms were sent out to parents and only 148 were returned, a return rate of 7%. That 50% in favour represents only 74 parents. To give that figure some context, in just a few hours in Chorlton we collected over 200 signatures from people opposed to academy conversion. The return of the form for year 6 parents was slightly better at 12%, 63% of whom favoured conversion. That 63%, however, is only 23 parents. Such figures cannot be considered a mandate for a fundamental change to the organisation of the school, especially given the flawed design of the consultation process. Before any move to conversion there would have to be a much more careful and much more thorough consultation based on a simple question and with information from both sides of the debate.
The Consultation Report, moreover, mentions meeting local councillors but fails to report their views. We know that at least three, Victor Chamberlain (Lib Dem), Sheila Newman (Labour) and Matt Strong (Labour) are all publicly opposed to conversion. Similarly, the report mentions meetings with the relevant trade unions, but fails to note their opposition, nor does it note the public opposition of the local MP, John Leech.
Even amongst the comments in favour of conversion, there is a commonly stated reluctance to become an academy. On this evidence, few appear to have been truly convinced by the school’s arguments.
Elsewhere the report explains the case for conversion by answering many of the questions raised during the consultation. What this account misses, though, is that what is in the statute is not necessarily what happens in practice with existing academies. Reading the report carefully, one could be forgiven for thinking, “If becoming an academy will change so little, why bother becoming an academy?” Certainly, the school already enjoys very considerable autonomy, but becoming an academy would definitely mean some significant changes. Not for nothing does the government’s own website state as a major reason for schools to convert “the ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff”.
The NUT nationally has stated: Heads and governors sometimes tell staff that one of the benefits of academy freedoms is that they have the power to increase staff pay. However, all the evidence shows that the flexibility academies have to pay more has only been used to benefit head teachers and a small number of senior staff, not the majority of employees.
The TUPE arrangements outlined in the report to protect staff pay and conditions would not safeguard new starters nor those taking promotions. The CHS report notes the question:
At other High Schools who have become Sponsored Academies there have been sackings and redundancies, under the name of restructuring – would that happen?
Their answer is unsatisfactory:
We cannot comment on what may or may not be happening at other schools.
If any restructuring needs to take place within a school then there are formal processes in place to protect staff which must be adhered to by employers. This is exactly the same now for maintained schools as it would be for schools that convert to Academy status.
Recent compulsory redundancies at the ‘flagship’ Oasis Academy in Salford demonstrate very clearly what the dangers are both for staff and for the education of children. That deserves comment.
Above all, what the school’s report fails to adequately address is the reduction of local democratic accountability. As the NUT state: The governance arrangements in academies fall well short of the democratic and balanced stakeholder governing bodies in most maintained schools. The present headteacher and governors have consistently shown good faith, but even if that were not the case the existing structures and relationship with the Local Authority provide safeguards against maverick managers, such as other local schools have known. In an academy a future maverick in charge of Chorlton High School would not be subject to those controls, no matter how carefully the Articles of Association for the Trust are constructed.
In conclusion, the single most important argument against conversion is that Chorlton High School is currently successful and well-run, so there is no need to risk making a change that cannot be reversed. Nothing in the consultation document refutes that.
Keep Chorlton High a Community School.
Say No Academy Conversion.