Friday, June 16, 2006

Academy Meeting

A brief report of a meeting in Penhill to discuss the Academy proposal.

I attended a meeting at Penhill called to discuss the proposal for an Academy to replace Headlands school. Councillor Garry Perkins Lead member for Children’s Services was invited along to speak in favour of the proposal. The meeting was organised by Penhill Councillor Andy Harrison as a means of giving local people the opportunity to hear the arguments and express their own view. The first thing to be said is that the Council did not give the opportunity to opponents of the scheme to present their case in the public meetings which they organised. On the other hand the presence of Garry did provide the audience with an indication of how little he seems to know about some of the issues!

There was a great deal of anger over the seeming incompetence of the Council. Many people present had not received the consultation documents.

It would be true to say that most people present did not engage in the debate on the concept of Academies. The trades unionists present were opposed to Academies in principle and have examined what has happened around the country in those that have been set up. But unless you have an interest in education or you have children is school it is not an issue which you would necessarily have looked at. Garry Perkins did not argue with the teaching unions on this ground, he simply said this is the only way to get a new school so take it or leave it.

Many people were perturbed to know that he did not seem to have any idea about the ‘footprint’ of the proposed new school, or the potential traffic problems. He expressed a lack of interest on the question of which organisation is putting in how much money, even though the teachers present reported that the United Learning Trust had told them that Honda was putting in the majority of the £2 million whilst Honda had told them that ULT was putting in the majority!

There was concern expressed about how far some of the children would have to travel to the proposed site at the Pinehurst People’s Centre.

ULT are making all manner of promises (such as sticking to the Local Education Authority’s admissions policy), but the question was raised as to what mechanisms there were to hold them to these promises. Hilary Pitts from the LEA had to admit that once the Academy had been set up there was nothing to prevent the new company (for that’s what the Academy would be, a private business) changing it mind.

All in all Garry was given a hard time by the local people. The situation was well summed up by one member of the audience when he said we had been given the same ‘choice’ for the hospital, the University of Bath and now the Academy – this is what you are going to get or you will get nothing! This is the government’s ‘choice’ agenda, supported by the Tory Council.

Martin Wicks


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