My advice to any parent with a child at a school that is considering becoming an academy is very simple: look before you leap.
And make no mistake, it is a huge leap into the unknown for a school to sever its ties with the local authority to go it alone, receiving its funding directly from Whitehall.
The Kimberley School is currently consulting about converting to an academy, although there is opposition among staff and parents, and schools in the White Hills Park Federation – Alderman White, Bramcote Park and Bramcote Hills College – recently carried out a “pre-consultation” exercise about conversion to academy status.
I would urge parents to look carefully at what becoming an academy really means and to consider whether this would genuinely be to the advantage of their children – and indeed to our wider community.
It is not hard to predict the buzzwords that will be used by those who, for whatever reason, support the go-it-alone approach – autonomy, liberation, devolution of funds and the banishment of bureaucracy.
There are though two sides to every story and I will try to explain why I feel that parents at the White Hills Park schools should use their voice and insist on a ballot of parents should the federation decide to further consider academy status.
Firstly they may have heard that becoming an academy means that a school will receive more money. In reality the Government has made it absolutely clear that conversion to academy status should not give any school a financial advantage.
What will happen is that the school will receive its share of the money currently held by the local authority to make provision across all schools for pupils with special needs, for pupil support, education welfare and school transport.
With that money the school will have to provide all those services previously provided by the local authority, with all its economies of scale. Will the school be able to do that at a lower cost? The short answer is no-one knows. But it is interesting to note the growth of private companies specifically set up to make a profit in this sector.
It is also worth considering what happens if something goes seriously wrong after a school has decided to opt-out of the safety net offered by the local authority. Every year schools are seriously damaged by fires and floods. As things stand the local authority would arrange temporary accommodation and deal with the damage. Academy schools are not able to call on this support.
If you have children you would like to go to the school in the future then any changes to the catchment area or admissions policy could directly affect you. Academies become their own admissions authority and so set their own admissions policies. Currently they are required to abide by the admissions code. But ministers plan to remove the arrangements for monitoring admissions. Teaching unions already report evidence that the intakes of academies are not representative of their local communities.What happens if you have a child at an academy and you are not happy with what is happening to them at school? The first recourse will be, as it is now, to complain to the school. If you are not able to successfully resolve your complaint with the school then at present you can raise it with you local authority and ask them to intervene. With an academy, of course, that is not an option. Effectively, when a school becomes an academy there are no local avenues of complaint.
Looking at the wider picture, many parents, teachers and academics are also concerned about the effect on our wider community of a fragmented education system. Will this lead to a two-tier education system? What are the long-term implications for children with special needs?
My message to parents is this: please make your voice heard so we do not sleepwalk into a more selective and socially-segregated education system. And please remember that once a school becomes an academy the decision is irreversible.
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