Alec Reed : a warning

The REED employment services company was set up in the 60s and is now one of the UK’s biggest private companies with worldwide reach. Its founder, Sir Alec Reed, is also a well-known philanthropist with interests in many fields, including education and in the early days of New Labour’s academisation programme, he agreed to sponsor the West London Academy which, in 2012, was renamed the Alec Reed Academy in his honour.

When I attended the Anti Academies Alliance AGM back in March, one of the most telling interventions was from three teachers at Alec Reed, who asked to remain anonymous. I have to say, their demeanour suggested ‘ordinary blokes’ (they were all men) rather than ‘political activists’ who, it seemed, had found themselves forced into activism by their circumstances. Oddly for teachers, used to speaking in front of rooms full of people, they were nervous even though it was not a massive meeting and they could expect a supportive atmosphere.

Alec Reed Academy had at that stage had a three-day strike called under the existing ‘workload ballot’ though the real problem, as described by the teachers, is “vicious bullying by management”. One of them said that in the early days the academisation had been a good thing and it was only in recent times that new ideas had been brought in as a result of constant striving to improve. These ideas were always imposed without consultation and impacted badly on the workload of teachers. Currently they are struggling to implement a diktat that every student must have a ‘six criteria’ report every week. According to one teacher “lots of talent has left” including even out of teaching. It is reckoned that 75% of the primary staff have left (Alec Reed is primary through secondary), often without the  prospect of another job to go to.  Pressure on staff is exerted through frequent observations. Those who are judged to be not good enough are put on a ‘support programme’ which results in two observations per week and, to come off this programme, teachers must get 8 ‘goods’ in a row! It is alleged that staff seem to just ‘disappear’.

It is argued that the basic problem with academies is their governance. Stories of management bullying have been around for decades but in LA schools there are ‘checks and balances’ which, if not capable of preventing all management bullying, helps to minimise and mitigate against a lot of it. In academies like Alec Reed there are no such ‘backstops’ and the control is in the hands of one person or a very small clique. At Alec Reed, for example, the sponsor appoints the governors, including, it is said, the parent representative; a member of the Reed family is on the board as is the company’s HR manager; the teachers reps are members of the Senior Leadership Team, who take it in turns!

Alec Reed should serve as a warning to all who are glibly taking their LA schools down the academy route in the naive assumption that they can grab a bit of extra cash and then carry on as before. Ten years down the line, after a promising start, the problem of ‘lack of accountability’ of those in charge has led to appalling problems for staff with knock on effects to the quality of teaching and learning.

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3 thoughts on “Alec Reed : a warning

  1. Does anyone reading this know if there’s been any rigorous independent research and evaluation of the school and where it’s published/held? Preferably by university based researchers who are unafraid of coming up with findings which are possibly unwelcome from either pro or anti academies supporters. (We don’t need any more confirmation bias.)

    If there has been no such evaluation then a valuable opportunity was lost. Not least as a means to assist the school itself; as well as way of holding it to account. And then as a guide to other schools, parents and politicians considering the academy option.

    The Reed Academy seems to offer a particularly interesting case study as it shares part of its building and campus with John Chilton, an Ealing local authority school.

  2. I know of no such research. A quick search of OFSTED makes interesting reading, though.

    The last full inspection was in January 2010 when they were rated ‘Good’ overall – as we know, many would speculate that under the current Framework, that could well be a grade lower now (ie ‘Requiring improvement’). A subject inspection barely a year ago found Geography only ‘Satisfactory’ (now restyled ‘Requiring improvement’).

    On ‘OFSTED dashboard’ you can find specific test data. At Key Stage 1 (remember this is a primary and secondary academy) the results are above national average but by the end of Key Stage 2 they have slipped to below, with reading being particularly poor (in the lowest quintile). This suggests to me that the Key Stage 1 results were inflated (at this level teachers make the judgement and there is no rigorous moderation process). Either that or teaching takes a nosedive in KS 2! At the end of Key Stage 4 achievement is below national norms in English and Maths. Could these very modest results be the reason the management is anxious to put pressure on staff to make improvements? Obviously, I don’t know and am speculating using a few facts and figures, something I have elsewhere complained that OFSTED do! Anyone can use the OFSTED dashboard : just google it and enter the name of the school you want to check on.

  3. Thanks CT
    You’ve criticised your own use of the OFSTED approach to facts & figures. Current school governors have told me about conversations with OFSTED inspectors who have similar doubts about this narrow focus. Although plainly, arguments and judgements based on rigorous figures are far harder to dismiss.
    But for me, while your information from the Reed Academy may be hard to count, it still counts very significantly. In the right-wing drive to further dismantle the State education system an important feature being lost or weakened is the local authority role to check and balance abuse of power.
    Of course, bullying staff is not limited to academies. But it seems harder to tackle when for example, governing bodies are largely in the pockets of headteachers and there is no longer any effective oversight from an LEA.

    One of the prime targets will of course be the teaching unions.

    Schools which cheat can “teach” children that respected adults approve cheating. A school where staff are bullied by the head and leadership team, puts bullying on its sometimes-not-so-hidden curriculum. However, it is vital is that such allegations should be evidence-based. The technology is there.

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