Friday, September 08, 2006

Swindon NUT opposes Academy

Below we reproduce the submission from Swindon NUT to the consultation in relation to the proposal to replace Headlands school with a privately run Academy.

The Swindon Division of the NUT opposes the proposal to replace three democratically accountable Swindon schools with a privately owned and run Academy.

We have serious concerns about the nature of the consultation process, the short term affect that the proposal would have on schools across Swindon, and the medium to long term affect that an academy would have on children in its catchment.

The Consultation
This has been based on two documents, neither of which even attempts to analyse the proposal in a balanced way. As the cover letter sent with the documents, signed by Ian Bickerton, states, “This document focuses on benefits that can be offered by an Academy”

None of the documentation indicates that the Academies programme is highly controversial nationally. Nowhere is it made clear that the education stakeholders in Swindon through the Education Partnership Board opposed the Academy plan.

DJB Consultancy does seem to have struck up something of a positive relationship with ULT nationally and has dealt with a number of consultations.

In Barnsley local papers reported a row which occurred during the consultation. The Yorkshire Post reports,

“A questionnaire on plans to replace The Elmhirst School, in Barnsley, with a £25m academy found 48 per cent of people were opposed, 39 per cent in favour and 13 per cent "not sure".
But the consultants employed to seek out local people's views insisted last night that their questionnaire was unrepresentative.” And “Dame Jocelyn Barrow, who led the consultation exercise, said: "The questionnaire doesn't represent large numbers of people. Large numbers of people didn't answer it.

"The union put out material that told parents their view and came to one public meeting and were encouraging parents to say no."”Dame Jocelyn said she had taken into account public meetings and interviews with interested parties in coming to the view it should still go ahead.”” (,12 May 2005,Yorkshire Post Today. )

Are there any examples of DJB responding to consultation by saying an Academy is not appropriate?

If the consultation documents are one sided there have also been serious problems with their distribution. This ranges from the Local authority seeing interested parties as only existing amongst the three schools directly threatened with closure to, what seems to have been, haphazard delivery of the documents even in the areas directly affected.

The Academies Programme
The background to the proposal is the Government claim that the objective of the academies programme is to turn round failing schools. Specifically Swindon council came under DfES pressure in this respect over Headlands.
The problems here are:

Ø Academies have not taken over failing schools. (see: TES 07 October 2005. “Not one of the 28 schools replaced by academies was in special measures at the time of closure, despite ministers' insistence that the £5 billion academies scheme is tackling educational failure.”
Ø Academies are not improving educational standards of their predecessor schools. (See Stephen Gorard, Professor of Education at the University of York, Journal of Education Policy Vol. 20, No. 3, May 2005, pp. 369–377.) In fact the repeated claims about improvement throw valuable light on the methods used to make the Academies take off; namely the highly partial and selective use of statistics. When the DfES uses the Bexley Business Academy as an example, stating “In its first year, the Business Academy, Bexley achieved an increase in pupils attaining 5 or more A*–C grades at GCSE from 7% in 2002 to 21% in 2003.” (DfES, 2004b) it fails to mention both the predecessor schools 24% at more than 5 A*-C grades in 1998 and OFSTED’s discovery of serious weaknesses at the school. Gorard reports similar patterns pertaining to a number of other schools.

Terry Wrigley of Edinburgh published a report which similarly challenges the claim of progress.
The Education Network (TEN) has also criticised the way in which partial and one sided presentation of information about academies is presented by the government.

Much effort has gone into preventing a proper look at the Academies programme as if Swindon could exist in a bubble, with outside experiences safely ignored. Claims have also been made about ULT success at turning round failing schools. Again this should be analysed.

Ø ULT replaced Canon Williamson CE High school with its Salford Academy. OFSTED’s 1999 report of the predecessor was not that of a failing school. Eg page 9 “The results in examinations have improved each year and are now above those of similar schools.” 26% received 5 or more A*-C. 38% have entitlement to Free school meals and 37% on the SEN register. Again, “Attainment in GCSE is increasing and is above that of similar schools.”
Ø ULT’s Northampton academy replaced Lings Upper school and achieved creditable headline figures for 5 or more A*-C, but it seems this is largely due to the effect of switching students from GCSE to GNVQ courses. 18% achieved A*-C grades which included Maths and English.
Ø The Manchester Academy replaced Ducie High school in Moss Side. Ducie faced challenging circumstances and under funding. 29% EAL, 65.1% FSM, 52% on the SEN register. OFSTED’s 2005 comments on the Manchester Academy are again to directly compare. They say 29% have learning difficulties and 10% are in the early stages of learning to speak English.

At the very least it needs to be said that there is no hard evidence to back the picture of failing schools being turned round through the application of dynamic methodologies. It is certainly not the case that Academy status leads to higher standards.

Admissions and exclusions
The March 2005 report of the parliamentary Education and skills select committee pointed to the high level of exclusions from a number of academies. They argued that some Academies may have improved headline results by removing children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The report specifically mentions

Ø The Kings Academy in Middlesborough which expelled more students than the seven maintained schools combined.
Ø The West London Academy which tripled its exclusions and
Ø The Trinity Academy about which parent complaints about a very strict discipline code leads them to believe it is designed to remove children who may not get good exam grades.

Many Academies have fewer children on free school meals than predecessor schools. There is strong evidence that admissions policies are cutting the number of deprived children.

Children now report, as a result of a request for information under the freedom of information act that ministers have made a deal with academies that allows them to exclude children more easily than other schools. ( )

ULT are at present arguing that none of this applies to them. There status as a private owner of an Academy means that there can be no guarantee that their policies will not change. There is enormous pressure for results, to fulfil expectations and the easiest way for this to happen is for schools to change intake.

The ULT consultation document makes clear that: “The ultimate governance of the UCST Academies is the responsibility of the trustees of the ULT.”

The list of responsibilities written makes it clear that local governors have severely limited responsibilities.

Any dispute between local governors and trustees will inevitably be settled in favour of the governors. There is no democratic control of trustees.

The handing over of schools to an unaccountable private concern in this way has unpredictable consequences. The Manchester Evening News reported that the ULT’s Manchester Academy has made an arrangement with the private William Hulme Grammar school, to teach some of its students. The head of William Hulme’s says the Academy are paying a “fair rate”. This hand out of tax payer cash to a private school was made without being passed by any democratic forum. (In fact the Grammar school has decided to cut out the middle man and become a state funded privately run academy.)

Again, in 2004 the BBC reported that the not for profit private company 3E’s which was brought in to run the Bexley Business Academy was being bought by the for profit company Global Education Management systems (Gems). This company will take over 3E’s existing work and tender for contracts in the public sector. ( The report doesn’t say whether parents were originally told of this possibility. The loss of a public assett to a private concern makes this possible, indeed highly likely if the NHS experience is followed.

0-19 Provision
We are told the Academy must have a sixth form to provide educational continuity and role models. It isn’t clear why this idea has only now been discovered and only applies to a new academy. It certainly doesn’t feature in previous strategic planning by the LA.

The closure of two successful primary schools is a mistake and the wider provision of primary education seems the proper subject of a wider consultation.

Staff conditions
In national negotiations ULT have refused to apply the conditions outlined in the School teachers Pay and conditions document (STP&CD) and the Burgundy Book. Teachers transferring from LA employment will have these conditions but they are vulnerable in reorganisations. Also a two tier work force will exist with respect to pay and working conditions.

We are also concerned about the pressures on staff resulting from the high expectations of the academies programme. This is likely to be compounded given the marked change in structure of the school, (from 11-16 to 0 to 19), and will give rise at least to training issues.

The 2005 OFSTED report on the Manchester Academy says that most of the staff transferred over, but later says many staff are in their second or third year of teaching. (this could mean the school has employed many new teachers or that many teachers left.)

The 2006 OFSTED report on The ULT’s Northampton Academy says “During its first year the academy faced significant staffing difficulties including a high turnover in teachers and changes in senior leadership. The principal and one vice principal left during the first year.” And later goes on, “The difficulties caused by the high turnover of staff have been exacerbated by considerable problems with staff recruitment. In addition, teachers with experience in just middle or upper schools had specific training requirements and needed time to familiarise themselves with new curricula.”

The Guardian newspaper reported in May that only 4 of the first 27 Academies had received all the cash from the sponsors, most falling well short. (This was later corrected to only 5.)

In the fore runner City academy programme much of the promised sponsorship proved to be payment in kind. Eg use of a personnel officer for a day would be costed and become part of a headline figure.

There is no clarity about the position of Honda in the current proposal in this respect.

It has also been reported that to make the schools more attractive for private sponsors a great deal of debt has been wiped out. It is a pity that this could not have been considered for the benefit of students in community schools.

On 20th June 2005 the Times Newspaper reported that the Government had bailed out Middlesborough’s Unity academy to the tune of £1.4million. Does this cash disappear from another part pf the education budget? What happens when the project inevitable over runs in terms of cost? Do other schools find themselves paying.

This leads to the question of planning in a situation where we already have PFI funded projects in Swindon which will have first call on funding in any future crisis caused by falling roles or other demographic changes.

Christian Ethos
It is interesting to note that the Church of England Diocese of Chelmsford lodged an official complaint against the closure of McEntee comprehensive in Walthamstow to be replaced by a ULT Academy.

The ULT is a Religious organisation with history of running private schools.
It has no place running state schools.

ULT has redefined what Christian ethos means so that, by its definition, any atheist could define themselves as Christian, but this is a marketing strategy.
If community schools are given to private sponsors, including ULT, parents will have far less say in how they are run.

The proposal is part of a development that will lead to increasing segregation in schools.

In summary
The Academy idea has little support amongst teachers as a constituency. That it has any resonance at all reflects very poor levels of schools funding. Promised new cash is frequently tied up in various schemes and, as in the health service although not as developed, much cash leaves the system to go to private companies.

We do not object to philanthropists, charities, or companies providing cash or relevant expertise. We do object to schools being given to these bodies so they can control what is taught, how it is taught, who it is taught to and the conditions of work of those who teach it.

Specifically the Academy proposed presents the prospect of destabilisation of education across Swindon, for students who will not attend the school. It is also highly probable that there would be a problematic transition for current students at the three schools directly affected.

There are education reforms that would substantially improve the learning experience of our children. We could draw on the best international experiences and apply the lessons. Unfortunately the current proposed change is part of a package which will take us in precisely the wrong direction.


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