Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Response to Consultation about conversion to Academy

All schools in Richmond which are not yet academies are consulting about converting to academies. Here's my response:

I can no longer find details about the academy consultation on the school website. I think there was an FAQ issued after the single open meeting which I was unfortunately unable to attend but cannot locate it or the questionnaire. Although you put a link to the DoE website for the information in support of academies you have put no links to organisations who are against academies  or even just trying to ascertain the facts ( like Local Schools Network, the Anti Academies Alliance or the NUT). The law requires that "Adequate information should be given to enable consultees properly to respond" (Lord Justice Stephen Sedley QC, in the Court of Appeal) and this has not happened and is not happening.

Will  the collated results of the consultation be made public, i.e. numbers for and against, with arguments and comments made public. If stakeholders cannot be made aware of other people's arguments during the consultation period, how can they decide whether they are important or not. There is no way back as the conversion is irrevocable so governors, staff, parents and children must be sure and how can they be sure when the facts aren't made available to all the stakeholders.

Again, I cannot refer back to the website, but who is considered a stakeholder, who is being consulted? It's not just the current parents but also the existing staff and parents of primary school children as well as the local community and council.

The principle argument for conversion seems to be increased finance but it is unclear, once all the changes in provision of services have been sourced and budgeted, whether any financial benefit is either real or long lasting. As a parent I cannot judge this and so cannot make a reasoned decision. The NUT says "The government has confirmed that academy status should not give schools a financial advantage".

What is the evidence for any claim that the school will be better funded as an academy?
Does any such claim take into account the fact that we will be unable to achieve the economies of scale possible for the local authority? If so, how has this been assessed?
How do we know the school will be better funded when we don’t know details of the future academy funding changes planned by the Government?
Is there a business plan that has been put together by the head and governing body, to show how our finances will be affected in the short, medium and long term?

I note that all the secondary schools in Richmond are either converting to academies or consulting on converting.
What changes will be made to the services offered by the borough if all schools convert?
What is the long term impact?
What happens to those specialist services like SEN needs and all the other support services for vulnerable children?
In the long term, funding is shifting towards academies rather than local government support services. This is quite simply unfair and amoral.

How will we ensure that the school is able to access support services of a similar quality to those provided by the local authority, given that the private market for such services is undeveloped?
How can we be sure that, in an undeveloped market with few providers locally, we won’t be tied in to a poor deal with one provider?
How long will any fixed price contracts with a service supplier last and what guarantee will there be against future price rises after any loss-leading period is over?
What plans have been put in place to ensure that we can replicate the services we currently receive from the local authority?
Has a needs assessment been made of services that we will require in the future, including details of how we can access such services outside the local authority family of schools?

The facts, as they are to date, speak of academies quietly getting rid of, or not admitting those children with statements of special need; academies are no longer representative of the community. How will they be protected and what recourse will parents have?

Does the governing body have the technical expertise or the time it will need to take on its new responsibilities to protect the school in areas such as finance, the law, personnel and other technical areas?

Who will pay for training of the governing body once conversion has happened. What will be the constitutional change; how will the role and responsibilities of the governors change?

If parents are not satisfied with the governors after conversion, what recourse do they have as the council is no longer able to step in?

While the school guarantee not increasing costs of items like school meals once it has the power to do so? What other hidden costs may rise?

There is no evidence that academies deliver higher standards of education.

With the council no longer acting as back up in case of emergencies, what happens in case of major fire for example, how would the school cope.

What information is there about the insurance costs we will face as an academy to cover the significant risks posed by potential emergencies such as fire, flood, pupil accidents, major crimes etc?

Won’t our insurance costs be higher, either in the short or longer term, once we move out of collective insurance arrangements for the local authority family of schools?

What start-up costs will the school face on transfer to academy status?

Teachers will no longer be protected by national collective bargaining and will not have the same rights in terms of working hours, maternity and leaves of absence. New staff joining the school will have different contracts to that of existing staff. How does conversion affect their pensions? Will you guarantee to maintain the same rights and rates of pay as stated nationally? How will this affect your ability to recruit and keep experienced staff?

How will academy status affect our ability to mentor and support NQTs? Will the school take on fewer such staff?

In addition to all these practical queries, I think the further stratifying of the school system does nothing to improve English education as a whole or community cohesion. There has not yet been time to show useful data about the impact of academies on non-academy schools. There is already a total lack of choice re secondary schools, even in London with its greater density of schools. Furthermore if I had know this consultation was planned I would have thought harder about sending my children to [my schoool] .The short of it is that I am against the principles of academies and would rather not convert.

If we want to really improved the quality of education given to children we need to improve the resources available, from finance to staff across all different types of schools, not change the type of school.

I appreciate that I have asked a substantial number of questions, but these all need answering before a reasoned decision can be made. I do not have the specific technical expertise, let alone the time, to research all the information and data available. In essence, I feel I'm being asked to buy a product because the box is pretty, and I don't do that.

I am also publishing these questions on my blog to increase awareness of these issues.

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