The head teacher and the governors of the South Wolds Academy and Sixth Form have voted to consider becoming a multi-academy trust, joining forces with South Nottinghamshire College. This creates the position of ‘Joint Headship’, taken up by the head teacher of the South Wolds Academy. Staff were not involved up to this point and the move has, inevitably, resulted in more questions than answers. However, attempts by the management to justify themselves illustrate the precarious state of the UK state education system at present, and to those considering academisation, that this is not the end of the matter.Following the rapid academisation of the state school system and the introduction of Free Schools, the educational landscape has changed from one largely dominated by the Local Education Authority to one that includes a multitude of players with different agendas, interests and ambitions.
In the case of The South Wolds Academy, the problems facing the governors and managers include the ageing infrastructure and the possible reduction of student numbers which mean that the school, sooner or later, faces serious financial difficulties, as will many other schools across Britain in similar situations. This seems to be the main reason for the ‘non-merger’ with South Notts.
Schools need to use resources wisely, certainly, and one way is to look for ‘economies of scale’, such as that found in the local authority system! Those who now find themselves outside that system will instead look to merge in trust groupings or to join already existing chains. Many in the private sector would argue, rightly or wrongly, that it is time for teachers to become managers and to find the most efficient ways in which to run their “business”. We, on the other hand, will argue that schools are not businesses and that local authorities provide economies of scale AND democratic accountability which the newer forms do not.
When considering such a change in the role of schools from being a place of learning, however, we look to our leaders and decision-makers to be accountable and transparent but most of all, to demonstrate an ability to see wisely and in the long-term, i.e. beyond their political ideologies, their political shelf-life or indeed, the length of time left before the next general election. Children, now and in the future, depend on the provision of good education, regardless of their background, their locality or family circumstances in their pursuit of their dreams and aspirations. It is therefore paramount that any organisational changes in schools, be it a partnership, take-over or merger, protect the interest of students everywhere in Britain. Schools should continue to be the place where children are provided with the kind of education which will enrich their lives emotionally, intellectually and socially as well as leading to work opportunities in their adulthood.
We have yet to see the emergence of a fairer or more accessible education system or an increase in parental choice through academisation or the creation of Free Schools, as many politicians claim. If school governing bodies and head teachers are to be granted more freedom to carry out organisational changes to our schools, every one of their initiatives and decisions should be scrutinised by and justified to all those who will be affected by them. That is clearly not happening at the moment. Read the Nottingham Post account with a quote from the Chair of Governors at South Wolds by clicking here.