Edwalton Primary School is currently undergoing its ‘consultation’ and Beeston Fields’ finished on 1 May – but how fair, thorough and transparent has it been?
A search on line reveals some interesting facts and advice about this. By law (i.e. the Education Act 2010, which was rushed through with undue and pointless haste) says there must be consultation but leaves it to the judgement of governors as to who will be consulted and how this will be done, so finding flaws in this rather vague process is not easy. However, it is clear that the consultation should be around the question: “Should this school become an academy?” implying that there should be some kind of attempt to gauge how people being consulted would answer that question – it seems obvious to us that this should be done by some kind of secret ballot of each section of ‘stakeholders’ being consulted.
The National Union of Teachers in its advice to members has found a ‘common law’ expectation for all kinds of consultation, that sufficient information should be given for ‘consultees’ to be able to make a judgement. It seems obvious to us that this ought to include giving both sides of the argument.
Neither Beeston Fields nor Edwalton have made an attempt to give parents a balanced outline of views that oppose academisation in principle: to be fair, Edwalton has given the web addresses of the Anti-Academies Alliance and the Local Schools Network, whereas Beeston Fields added this information to its website in a FAQ document posted ten days AFTER the consultation closed (following, we assume, letters received from HOOS suggesting they do just that!). This really does seem like ‘paying lip service’ as anyone unfamiliar will not find it easy to simply visit these websites and find the relevant arguments. Far better, it seems to us, to have invited an organisation such as HOOS or AAA to provide a summary to be posted out or on line, or to invite a speaker to parent meetings.
As to a ‘ballot’, there has been no suggestion in either school that such a thing will be conducted nor that even a ‘show of hands’ will be taken at the parent meetings, which in themselves may not be representative of the parent body as a whole in any case. This enables governors to attend the meetings and go away with an ‘impression’ that there is little, if any, opposition.
Any fair-minded person, irrespective of the vagaries of the consultation requirements, would think that the stakeholders who should be consulted would be parents, staff and the local community. As to staff, both heads, in their letters, use suspiciously similar language suggesting that staff have been kept informed of the plan to academise and have not raised objections! In a primary school with a relatively small staff, it is hard to imagine a member of staff, perhaps concerned about, or even opposed in principle to, academisation, voicing this publicly at a meeting in front of the head and governors. Again, no secret ballot, which would ensure a genuine assessment of true opinion.
What of ‘the community’? Of course, it is not easy to decide who represents such an amorphous group. We at HOOS would start with local schools who might be affected, user groups and then look for community groups in the immediate locale of the school. Anyone genuinely concerned at finding out the views of the ‘local community’, might leaflet nearby streets or call a meeting specifically. At Beeston, it has been suggested that the consultation was ‘open to the community’ but there’s no obvious way in which this was advertised – we found out almost by accident, after the parent consultation meetings had happened and we were only able to send in letters just before the consultation period closed.
So, in brief, although the consultation requirements are not clear, it seems to us that greater effort could – and should – have been made to inform and gauge the opinions of three groups of stakeholders, and in neither case does this appear to have happened.