On 5 March, the Headteacher of Beeston Fields Primary School, in Beeston, Notts, sent a letter home to parents announcing that the governors had voted unanimously to become an academy as part of the Flying High Multi-academy Trust. This appears to have been the first anyone outside the ‘inner circle’ knew about this and it kicked off a ‘consultation’ the following day (6 March), to end 1 May. That’s eight weeks, two of which are the Easter vacation. Parents were invited to a meeting (two to take place on the very last day of term) at which they could ask questions and meet members of the Trust.
We’re very concerned about the process by which this school could quietly be taken out of the remit of a democratically-accountable local authority. Here’s why:
It goes without saying that we are opposed to any school becoming academies for reasons with which everyone reading this site will be familiar. The process at Beeston Fields appears to be, sadly, all too familiar as well. Parents and the wider community seem to have been kept in the dark whilst, behind closed doors, the governors have been having meetings with representatives of The Flying High Trust (more of them in a later post). The process of consultation, which schools are obliged to go through, but with very few guidelines about who, what and where, is being careful ‘managed’ to ensure nothing happens to rock the boat and scupper the plans already hatched by the governors.
The Headteacher’s letter to parents is highly partisan, implying that local authorities are on their way out and that schools are ‘encouraged’ to seek other ways of being supported. Nonsense, of course. Beeston Fields is currently in the OFSTED category ‘requires improvement’ so it cannot choose to become an academy on its own. The governors may have been contacted by Flying High or the school may have been involved in a supportive partnership already. The Head’s letter goes on to be highly positive about what this Trust can do for her school, although OFSTED monitoring documents reveal that, just after she became head, she was positive about the support being given by the LA!
The consultation meetings are billed as no more than a chance to ask questions and meet Flying High representatives: there’s no sense that there might be a downside to academisation, no suggestion that anyone might want to speak against it, and no route for anyone to oppose it. There has been no vote or ballot of parents. The meetings took place on the afternoon and evening of the last day of term before a two-week vacation, thus minimising the chance that parents might chat at the school gate, leading to a group forming or a petition being circulated.
The Head’s letter and the FAQ documents on the school website acknowledge that parents, staff and the community should be consulted. With regard to the staff, she says they have been kept informed throughout, no objections have been raised and they see the benefits! I’m sure many of us who’ve worked in education and are familiar with the ‘politics’ of small schools, are tempted to see this as code for “I had a meeting and told them all about it, stressing the benefits – nobody said anything so I’m assuming they’re all behind me”. Or, it could be, nobody wanted publicly to contradict the head!
As for ‘the community’, well, there’s no indication that there has been any serious attempt to ‘consult’ them. Of course, it’s not easy to decide who represents the local community but it would be fairly easy to write to local schools, user groups, local churches, local councillors etc. HOOS has compiled a letter which will be in the school’s ‘inbox’ on Monday! We’ll put up the text here in a day or two.