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BENNERLEY SCHOOL – COTMANHAY – PROPOSED ACADEMY
posted 20 May 2010 02:17 by Anti Academies Alliance
Teaching and non-teaching staff at Bennerley School in Cotmanhay, Ilkeston – which the Local Authority proposes should close and be replaced by an Academy – heard at a school based meeting that Academies undermine equality of education opportunity for all children – particularly children of ordinary working families – threaten staff pay and conditions, and “are a step on the road towards full privatisation and education for profit by big business”.
The meeting was addressed by representatives of the Anti-Academies Alliance (an organisation supported by all the education unions, by parents’ organisations and by many MPs), the National Union of Teachers and UNISON. Bill Greenshields of the NUT said,
“You will be told that there is no alternative, and that everything will be fine. They always say that. Neither of these are the case. They said the same to staff and parents at Sinfin School in Derby last year. But when these staff and parents considered all the arguments, they rejected the Academy and stopped it from happening.
Now the government is trying to impose an Academy on Cotmanhay people who have not asked for it. Of course, parents would like, and have a right to, decent buildings for their children to work in, but not at the price of losing their local community school to total private control by an organisation based miles from Cotmanhay and Derbyshire as a whole, in Ipswich – a three hundred mile round trip away. Cotmanhay people are rightly proud of their community and will not want this kind of outside interference in their school.
Bennerley is a school with a popular and respected Headteacher and staff, with steady year on year improvement. To turn it into a privately run Academy will be very likely to disrupt that process. The Local Authority is washing its hands of Cotmanhay children – and suggesting that a children’s charity, Ormiston, can run a better school than the Authority can! Though Ormiston is a very well meaning charity, Cotmanhay children do not need charity – they need, and have a right to, proper locally run state education that their parents have paid for through taxes and council tax. And the Local Authority have a responsibility to provide it, not just abandon these children because the government in London are obsessed with turning schools over to the private sector.”
The government had told Derbyshire County Council that if they don’t agree to a privately run Academy in Cotmanhay, they will lose government money for improvement of school buildings under the Building Schools for the Future programme in Chesterfield!. This is just bullying and blackmail. But now the new government has put that money ‘on hold’ under its budget cuts – so the threat is meaningless anyway.”
It was pointed out that Ormiston – the charity that would take full and total control of the school under the proposals – have given certain “guarantees”. “But these only apply at the actual point they take over,” said Jeanette Lloyd of UNISON – the union representing the non teaching staff. “Straight away, or with ‘changing circumstances’ Ormiston, the new employer, could tear up these guarantees. Or if Ormiston give up running the school at some time in the future, the school would not come back to the local people through the Local Authority – the Government would just give it lock, stock and barrel to another sponsor” Current Academy sponsors include ARK, a firm of bankers, Samworths, who make pies and sausages, Carphone Warehouse and Lord Harris of Carpetland.
Alasdair Smith of the Anti-Academies Alliance pointed out local parents would have no-one to turn to if things go wrong. “At the moment, if their child has problems with the school, or if they don’t agree with a decision of the Headteacher or governors, parents can go to their Councillor and the Local Authority. With a private company running the school, you can’t. They’d have to go to the company headquarters in Ipswich or Cambridge – and you’d have no rights there.”
Mr Smith went on to say, “Even if Ormiston stick to their promises 100%, and do their very best as a children’s charity to run a school, they are still helping to break up the system of education in which schools work together and with Local Authorities to provide high quality education for all children. All studies of schools at home and abroad show that the more integrated schools are into a single system, the better the overall results are. The more schools split away and compete with each other, the worse the overall results are.
Over a hundred years ago we had schools provided by lots of different individuals and groups – churches, charities, companies, benevolent individuals – and it didn’t work. There was a law passed in 1902 which brought all schools together into Local Authorities to provide fairness – and particularly to provide for the needs of ordinary working class children. Now the privatisers want to do away with that, and give the schools away to the same competing mish-mash of private providers. That’s what Academies are all about.
And they are step on the road to full privatisation, when schools will be run by private companies for profit, as in the USA. This would be so unpopular with parents and communities that the government has made it more acceptable by including charities in running them at this stage – such as Ormiston – but it won’t stop there. Once Bennerley School closes, and an Academy opens there is no way back. The school is in the private hands of an outside company.”
The lively meeting decided to invite governors and parents to hear “all sides of the issue” concerning the school’s planned closure and the opening of an Academy to replace it. NUT, UNISON and the Anti Academies Alliance will be organising a public information meeting in Cotmanhay.
They will also be approaching Ormiston and the Local Auuthority to suggest that when they consult the local community, as they have to by law, ALL sides of the question – not just the “pro” side – should be presented.
John Holmes of the National Union of Teachers said, “We would like to sit down with Ormiston, and the Local Authority if they are interested, to write a consultation document that puts all the views of the issue, for and against, in ordinary language – not the impossible jargon and spin in which they are normally written. We then think that parents and staff should vote on the issue… and that we all agree to stick to the outcome of that consultation.
We will be writing to them to put this suggestion, and we will report on their response.”
George Spencer in Stapleford started the new school year as an academy.
Senior teachers and governors said the decision would lead to improvements in pupils’ education.
But members of a protest group called Broxtowe Anti Academies Alliance (BAAA) claimed it would take the school into “unchartered waters” by severing its ties with local education authority Notts County Council and said it could lower of standards.
In a joint statement, school principal Susan Jowett and chairman of governors Gill Baggley said it would mark a new era for the school, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
They added: “George Spencer has a reputation for providing outstanding education for local children.
“The governors were delighted to accept the new Government’s offer to all outstanding schools to become one of the first schools in the country to convert to academy status.
“For George Spencer School this transition was relatively straightforward because as a former grant maintained school and then a foundation school, we had many years of experience of successful autonomy.
“Governors, therefore, saw the offer as an opportunity to extend the school’s existing autonomy for the benefit of staff and students.”
The school was one of 32 across the country rated “outstanding” by Ofsted to become an academy under the Government’s new Academies Act on September 1.
The school held public meetings over the summer to discuss the plan before pressing ahead.
The school leadership said: “The governors carefully considered all the feedback from stakeholders, including parents, staff and unions, before taking the final decision to become an academy.
“The school did not get where it is today by sitting back or waiting on the sidelines. It has achieved success by venturing into unchartered waters and being a pioneer at the cutting edge of educational innovation.”
Members of BAAA, however, claimed governors had rushed through the school’s academy application without fully investigating the consequences.
Spokeswoman Andrea Oates said: “Most of us take longer to choose a sofa than it took the governors to pitch George Spencer into the uncharted waters of what is essentially an experiment in dismantling the education system.”
The group, which held a public meeting at Maycliffe Hall, in Toton Lane, Stapleford, on Thursday night to discuss the decision, was concerned the change would mean George Spencer School would be able to control admissions and become too selective.
Concerns were also raised about what effect the change to an academy would have on children with special education needs.
The group is stepping up its campaign. Andrea Oates said BAAA would make sure George Spencer was held accountable for any deterioration that comes from the switch to an academy.
She added: “The main fear that I have is that we are dismantling a democratic and planned education system and going down the road of providing a two-tiered system which we fear will lead to increased segregation.”
For more details about BAAA and the meeting email firstname.lastname@example.org