At the turn of the year…

It has to be said right from the start that 2015 has not been a good year for those of us who defend publicly-accountable education. Obviously the election was a big blow and, although a Labour victory would hardly have heralded the end of campaigning, the Conservatives in government on their own, spells real trouble. The recent election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader has led to a change of heart in the Opposition who have finally come out unequivocally against ‘free’ schools and academies but that will be of little consequence if the Conservative ‘project’ is fully entrenched by 2020,  before any conceivable Labour-led administration can begin to undo the mess.

‘Mess’ is undoubtedly the right word. It has been obvious to many of us from the word go – back in 2010 – and should be crystal clear to everyone else by now, that the Conservatives are intent on changing a publicly-funded and publicly-accountable state education system into a fragmented and privatised (albeit ‘quasi’ privatised) one, but still supported entirely from the public purse. Gove and now Morgan have ignored and brushed aside any objection or evidence-based argument against their relentless drive. We have said many times before but it is worth stating again, in the most straightforward of language: there is no evidence that turning schools into academies makes them any better, or that ‘free’ schools perform better than their Local Authority equivalents. 

The Conservatives are running a two-track policy: on the one hand, teachers and other education professionals are attacked and undermined, not just for their opinions or attitudes but at the most basic level in terms of funding, salaries, pensions and so forth, leading  not only to public confusion and apathy but also to the diversion of union energy from the existential fight over the purpose of our education system. The Conservatives therefore present themselves and their policies as improving so-called under performing schools and teachers: a crusade against children having to languish in failing schools. Meanwhile, their policies stealthily remove schools from local and parental accountability and effect changes to the GCSE syllabuses, even the exam’s grading system (from A* to G to 1-9) and the abolition of the use of National Curriculum levels (chaos and confusion now reigns as no-one seems to know how to communicate attainment to parents or fellow professionals). As so often with any recent government, and certainly with one headed by Cameron, PR is high on the agenda. The most important consideration is, how can we make it appear to the general public? Hence, for example, Troops to Teachers, the approval of the Sevenoaks ‘grammar school’, The National Teacher Service.

Over at OFSTED, Wilshaw appears to plough an independent furrow and occasionally to contradict government policy. Yet his and his organisation’s malign influence is fundamentally assisting in the whole scheme. The changes in the criteria for inspecting schools and judging good from bad have led to caricatures, whereby schools everyone locally knows to be perfectly OK, are damned. Perhaps the cleverest, but most nefarious, move was for Wilshaw to start talking (in his annual report) of the numbers of students in schools that were ‘failing’. In a simple stroke, having reclassified ‘satisfactory’ as ‘requires improvement’. Wilshaw was able to give the impression that hundreds of thousands of children were being badly let down.

Locally, we have campaigned against two local academisations of primary schools (Beeston Fields and Edwalton) and, with the use of Freedom of Information, tried to expose their scandalously pitiful ‘consultation’. The fact that they can so easily get away with this means that, right though campaigners were to rail against Morgan’s removal of even this skimpy veil from the new measures to fast-track academisation, in reality, it makes little difference. We have got the evidence but no-one in the media seems interested – even our local paper didn’t pick it up. Even worse, when we thought we’d got a proper ‘scandal’ (the hasty departure of the Principal of the Nottingham University Academy of Science and Technology just before the end of the academic year), the local press – despite requesting and getting our FOI information – let them off the hook.

So, is it all doom and gloom? It does look that way – the only prospect we can see of anything changing soon,  is if the wheels start to come off the ‘Gove-Morgan Project’. There has been a steady stream recently of stories about teacher shortages from a number of sources that are hard to argue against, as these represent the real experiences of head teachers in real schools. The DfE response – that there are more teachers now than ever – seems pretty thin. How long before the shortage raises practical problems and impacts on real students and their parents? In addition, some time in the next two or three years, GCSE results will start to appear in large numbers from enforced academies and ‘free’ schools so that campaigners will be able to demonstrate trends – though these will be hotly contested and ‘spun’ by government apologists – to replace the anecdotes of poor practice we mainly have at the moment.

As 2015 ends, a story reaches us of a mother and son in the teaching profession. The mother loves it so much she was planning to keep going beyond what many would consider a sensible retirement age. That was until a new head arrived in September. Within weeks, all staff had been told they weren’t good enough (they were ‘Good’ at a recent inspection!) and everything is being changed (even an internal wall is being knocked down, courtesy of one of the Head’s builder mates). She apologies to friends that she had barely had time to write Christmas cards in the last few weeks, so busy had she been re-writing schemes, plans etc. Needless to say, she’s retiring at the next available opportunity! Meanwhile, her son, at the start of his career, and into his second year, simply handed in his notice and left at Christmas with nothing else to go to. He cited the mountain of paperwork and a culture of bullying in his highly successful academy as being to blame. There it is, in microcosm: good people being chased away or burned out for the sake of ideological dogma.

Annual Report 2015

Hands Off Our Schools

Annual Report 2015

We have continued to meet and discuss issues relating to local schools, especially academisations and ‘free’ schools. We have also conducted campaigns via direct action and through publicity.

  1. NUAST – We were very concerned at the stories we were hearing about NUAST, its numbers and its inner turmoil. We lobbied an open evening in February where we distributed leaflets, spoke to prospective parents and even to the Chair of Governors. Subsequent lobbies did not take place due to lack of numbers. Following a Freedom of Information tussle with NUAST, and some research, we were able to obtain and publish information that we believed to be highly damaging to NUAST; following an anonymous tip-off from a parent we were able to alert the local press to the sudden departure of the Principal; we fed information to the press but were unable to get them to publish the more damaging aspects of the information we received. A further FoI request is being sent to attempt to quantify current numbers at NUAST and examination outcomes. We plan to contact local schools potentially affected by NUAST recruitment and seek support in distributing literature.
  2. Beeston Fields Primary – We learnt part-way into the so-called consultation that academisaton was imminent. We wrote and used Freedom of Information to reveal the shoddy nature of the process which we then publicised. We tried to put pressure on the Governors and wrote to the Secretary of State – a contact which went unacknowledged. Once again, the press failed to pick up and publicise this story and we understand the school has become an academy under the ‘Flying High’ Trust.
  3. Edwalton Primary – Also to be academised with ‘Flying High’, this primary school appeared to be going through the same process as Beeston Fields. We once again wrote and put the case against and also supported a parent who became active but could not drum up enough support for a concerted opposition.
  4. We have kept track, as far as possible, with other plans and developments locally in the hope that, if necessary, we can react to potential academisations or new ‘free’ schools.
  5. The election saw a depressing result for HOOS as the Conservatives have vowed to accelerate the pace of academisations and increase the number of ‘free’ schools. The one ray of light was the change of heart of the Labour Party who now oppose ‘free’ schools and have talked about taking all schools back into democratic control. Groups like HOOS have kept the arguments for democratic control of state-funded schools alive and we must continue to do so.

CT

Flying High

‘New-kid-on-the-block’, the Flying High Multi-Academy Trust, suddenly looks like it is trying to rival local ‘trusts’ such as ‘George Spencer’, ‘Greenwood Dale’ and the burgeoning ‘Torch’. So, we  are going to take a closer look over the next couple of weeks, as the consultation at Edwalton Primary School continues and the process at Beeston Fields rolls on, with both schools set to join ‘Flying High’ by the start of the new school year.

Who are Flying High Trust, what do they believe in, what are they trying to achieve and how do they aim to go about it?

Already, their claims to emphasise close working with parents and the community look a bit hollow considering the less-than-transparent consultation processes at Edwalton and Beeston Fields. Concerns about this lack of transparency have been voiced elsewhere.

We will take a look at the publicly available information and try to make contact. Obviously, we’ll report back. If you are at Edwalton or Beeston Fields,  this will be of particular interest, but any staff or parents at any other primary school in the area that is not already an academy needs to pay attention as who knows where they’ll focus next?

[As ever, if you are involved with the Flying High Trust, or either Edwalton or Beeston Fields Primary Schools, we’d love to hear from you. Whatever your point of view, we will publish it (unless it is libellous or offends good taste!) as we want to encourage an open debate. If you wish to comment anonymously, use the ‘Contribute’ button on our home page – you will need to give your email address to show ‘good faith’ but we will not publish it or identify you if you don’t want us to.]

Edwalton and Beeston Fields Primary Schools – how good is the consultation?

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.

Edwalton Primary School – heading for academisation?

We have received the following from ‘EdwaltonParent’:

“Edwalton Primary School has just launched a consultation to convert to academy status with the Flying High Trust.

I’ve just come across [your] blog post about Beeston Fields Primary School and was stunned about how identical the situation is.

The governing body has done all they can to keep parents in the dark about this. They sent out a letter on Tuesday [19 May 2015] and started the consultation the exact same day. We have half term starting next week – so no time for school gate exchanges, and the consultation goes pretty much to the end of term, with academy status proposed for beginning of term in September.

The wording about staff consultation is identical:  “Staff have
been involved in the process to date and no objections have been raised by them in relation to this proposal and in fact they recognise the benefits.” I agree its probably the same sham.

There isn’t any intelligent material on why the school needs to convert and the pros and cons.

Does anyone know what happened at Beeston?
EdwaltonParent”

Letter regarding Edwalton Primary School proposed academy conversion

Footnote re Beeston Fields Primary academy conversion: no, we don’t officially know what has happened. This group sent a letter as part of the ‘consultation’ which was acknowledged. The ‘consultation’ is now over but we are unaware of a final decision having been taken or, if it has, we haven’t been informed.

The election, schools, pupils, teachers – and HOOS

This Hands Off Our Schools group has no party-political affiliation. We are under no illusions that, had Labour won the election, the picture would have been rosy and we could have cheerfully disbanded! Labour had not seriously opposed some of the Coalition’s biggest reforms to education, whilst in opposition. During the election campaign, they rubbished the ‘unqualified teacher’ nonsense and said they would halt new ‘free schools’, although they also had plans for something that sounded remarkably similar. ‘Academisation’ would no doubt have become entrenched. Education did not play a large part in the campaign and it’s doubtful that many people voted Conservative because of their policies on education.

Still, the Conservatives have won an overall majority and can therefore claim a ‘mandate’ for those policies, even if most voters would probably be unable to tell you what they are. The ‘opting out’ of community schools to become academies will probably now accelerate – perhaps some were hanging back to await the outcome of the election – and with continued undermining of local authorities’ finances and the cut to school funding promised by the Conservatives (Cameron pledged a cash-terms protection of school finances, meaning a real-terms cut), schools will desperately seek ways of improving their finances, as they see it.

There will be greater pressure for ‘failing’ schools to be ‘taken over’ by more ‘successful’ schools. The judgement of which schools are ‘failing’ and which are ‘succeeding’ will be based on unreliable data, which in turn will be heavily relied upon by a flawed and often inconsistent inspection regime. In addition, there will be pressure, both political and of necessity, for standalone academies and ‘free schools’ to join chains, thus furthering the vision of a ‘market’ of schools run by unelected edu-businesses, many of which will be headquartered abroad. Perhaps we can expect legislation eventually allowing these chains to be run for profit, or maybe the current rules are so lax that those involved can make enough from the various scams available within the rules to mean this won’t be necessary. It is perhaps worth emphasising here that there is no evidence that academies perform better than community schools, and even, in fact, evidence pointing the other way. This has never been about improving outcomes, but about ideology.

Cameron has promised 500 more ‘free schools’. His arguments that the existing ones perform better and have a positive influence on other nearby schools – about the only mention of education, early in the campaign – has been soundly rubbished by Henry Stewart at Local Schools Network. Again, with the uncertainty before the election now over, we may see the flood gates open for proposed new ‘free schools’ all over the place. Opposing academisations is hard enough since the rules on consultation and openness are so vague as to mean it has nearly happened before anyone out side the school governing body really knows about it, as we have seen recently with Beeston Fields. ‘Free schools’ are even harder to campaign against because, not only can they keep plans secret and consultation is ‘lip service’ only, but there is no ‘parent body’ to galvanise into opposition.

The effect on teachers of increased pressure from inspections, uncertainty engendered by cuts, changes of governance which could, in turn lead to worsening of conditions of service as governors seek ‘efficiency saving’, has already been seen in a looming teacher supply crisis, as more and more older teachers take early retirement and younger ones leave after a few short years. In a ‘market system’, the theory goes, when something is in short supply the price goes up, however, we do not expect that logic to apply to teachers, unless it’s through a ‘divide-and-rule’ plan for golden hellos and retention bonuses in shortage subjects which, of course, we have seen before. There are unlikely to be any even ‘cost of living’ salary rises in the future. The demoralising pressure on teachers and the failures to recruit suitably-qualified ones in some areas will be bound to have a negative affect on teaching and learning and ultimately on pupils. Teachers and schools already struggle to make up for the difficulties many children and their families face as a result of other policies of the Coalition government, which are likely to be exacerbated under a Conservative-only majority government. It is rumoured that even the cosmetic ‘pupil premium’, a LibDem ‘trophy’ policy, is under threat, effectively another cut.

Hands Off Our Schools – and its work to campaign for democratically-accountable schools – must continue. We firmly believe – as implied by our name – that these schools are ‘ours’, meaning, they are funded from public money, they belong to the public and they should ultimately be accountable to us, the public. Anything else risks our education being run by and for the profit of unaccountable individuals and companies. Such people have already shown they can find ways of syphoning off our money – by ‘consultancies’, inflated salaries and extra, managerial posts, unjustified ‘expenses’ and by providing goods and services from their own companies, quite apart from the illegal frauds one or two have perpetrated.

It won’t be easy, but we will continue to oppose them because they are wrong, and we will continue to campaign for a better school system.

South Wolds Academy

We understand the governors are considering joining forces with a multi-academy trust which consists of two other schools, West Bridgford and Ripley Academies (so, not very ‘multi’, really!) The letter to parents from the Chair of Governors includes the following list of benefits of South Wolds joining East Midlands Educational Trust (as it’s called):

“The benefits of joining a multi-academy trust are numerous [There are three – is that “numerous”?]. We believe that students will benefit:

  • –  directly through enhanced curriculum and enrichment opportunities. We will have access to many opportunities as part of a group of schools that a single academy cannot offer students;
  • –  indirectly through financial efficiencies that can be achieved through being part of a larger organisation;
  • –  through staff having access to enhanced professional development and career progression opportunities.”

Read those again and, yes, the Chair of Governors really IS arguing that rather than ‘go it alone’ South Wolds would have better opportunities “as part of a group of schools”, staff could have “enhanced professional development and career progression opportunities” and there would be “financial efficiencies” to be achieved by “being part of a larger organisation”! In other words, arguments that would have been put when the school originally ‘academised’ as reasons NOT to leave the ‘group of schools’ and ‘larger organisation” that is the local authority? Except that now they are ‘opting into’ a much smaller group and organisation. We do wonder if Ms Foale, the Chair of Governors at South Wolds, sees no irony in the words she has written.

We understand that the NUT is currently organising a meeting with a view to ensuring that staff conditions of service are not worsened. Incidentally, what we posted in February 2013, in this blog, is still relevant.

Perhaps it is also worth noting that the Head at Beeston Fields Primary has told parents, via her letter, of the benefits of leaving the larger organisation of Nottinghamshire LA and joining a grouping of four primary schools, in similar terms.

The ‘Beeston Fields Primary School’ consultation is about to end…

Here is the full text of the letter we submitted to the Head and Chair of Governors:

“Dear Headteacher and Chair of Governors

I write on behalf of ‘Hands Off Our Schools’, a group campaigning against ‘free’ schools and the conversion of state schools to academies, in Nottinghamshire. Many of our members live, or are based, in Beeston and I should be grateful therefore if you would accept the following as part of the ‘community consultation’ regarding the proposed academisation of Beeston Fields Primary School, and will copy its contents to all members of the governing body.

In the light of my opening paragraph, it will not surprise you to learn that we are opposed to your proposal to convert the School to an academy as part of the Flying High Trust. The only information which we have on which to base our arguments are the Headteacher’s letter and three FAQ documents on your website. It would appear from these that you have not considered the arguments against conversion, or, if you have, you have chosen not to acknowledge or give this information to parents.

I will briefly rehearse these arguments – there are of course many places on the web where they can be fleshed out – I would recommend you start with the Anti-Academies Alliance or the Local Schools Network.

1. There is no convincing evidence that converting to academy status has any positive effect on educational outcomes for children, despite the misuse of data by Michael Gove, Nicky Morgan, David Cameron and the Department for Education in asserting that it does;

2. 2. There are no financial advantages for schools converting unless they choose not to provide some of the support services available from a local authority. There are many issues that a school outside the local authority has to deal with, ranging from building insurance and legal services to payroll and human resources. Have the governors considered what they would do, for example, in the event of serious damage to school buildings as a result of fire or other emergency?

3. 3. The decision to convert to academy status, once made, cannot be reversed, ever, unless and until there is a change in legislation; similarly, there is no mechanism for a school to leave one multi-academy trust and join another one, except by a decision taken by the Secretary of State. This may seem irrelevant at the moment, but it means that you, as a small group of people, will make a decision that will bind a, perhaps, completely different set of people (once you have moved on, resigned, moved out of the area) in the future.

4. 4. There is little doubt that the process of academisation and the setting up of ‘free’ schools is part of this government’s agenda to break up the state school system and, in effect, ‘privatise’ it. There have already been a number of instances of individuals using this system to ‘syphon off’ public money, either through additional or excessive salaries, the charging of unjustified ‘expenses’, the charging of ‘consultancy’ fees and the awarding of contracts to companies connected to those on boards of directors of these ‘charitable trusts’. Of course, I cast no aspersions on anyone currently on the board of Flying High Trust or on your governing body. However, this has happened even whilst ‘trusts’ have had to operate within ‘charitable status’. How much worse could it become if, as certainly Mr Gove wanted, the law was changed to enable businesses openly to make a profit? Are the governors of Beeston Fields happy to be part of this ‘market forces’ project by the Conservative Party?

5. 5. If you doubt the assertions in (4) consider that the process of academisation, sometimes enforced against the organised and clearly-expressed wishes of local parents, and the setting up of ‘free’ schools, has cost a lot of (our) money, at a time when we were being told money was very tight. Given that there has been no proven benefit, why has the Government done this? It seems very clear to us that it has been for ideological reasons.

You need further to consider the effect of joining the education market place. The Flying High Trust may, in the future, by taken over by a bigger ‘chain’. That chain could be owned, as some already are, by a company based abroad. Are the parents aware that, if they are dissatisfied with the Head and Governors, their recourse is not to an elected representative at County Hall, but to an unelected CEO, currently in Cotgrave, and perhaps, in future, abroad (in the USA or the Netherlands, for example) and, ultimately, to the Secretary of State in Whitehall?

6. I assume you have carried out ‘due diligence’ on Flying High Trust. You will therefore be aware how much the CEO is paid (I have no idea but judging from local examples such as Greenwood Dale and Torch, where the CEOs get paid in excess of £200000, it may well be far more than any Headteacher could aspire to); you will know whether any members of the Board are paid as ‘consultants’ or have any interest in companies providing legal, educational, ‘consultancy’ or other ‘services’; you will know what capacity a four-school (soon to be five-school?) primary trust has to support the School, and that this is much more than an entire local authority; I assume you have discussed this with the Authority.

All in all, there is much to be considered, apart from ‘the advantages’, and I sincerely hope you have had someone on the Governing Body at least, playing ‘devil’s advocate’. If you have, why have these considerations not been shared with parents?

I now turn to our second area of concern: the process of ‘consultation’. We do not consider this has been genuine consultation. If it were, the Head, in her letter, would have acknowledged that there are ‘cons’ to academisation, she would not have implied that schools are more or less obliged to move away from the local authority (even though many other Beeston primary schools have not and one of the three secondaries has not). In fact, the contents of the letter are highly ‘slanted’ and make no acknowledgment that any parent could possibly object; nor does it suggest what such a parent should do. There is no inkling of any sort of ballot or even a show of hands at the meetings. The whole process is framed in terms of the governors having made a decision and the parents being able only to ask questions, certainly not to affect the decision.

Our concern over the consultation process is deepened when we consider other aspects. The Head’s letter was dated 5 March and the consultation period began on the following day. I presume this is the first parents knew of the move and perhaps the FAQs were in response to some emailed or written questions. Yet the parents had to wait three weeks for a meeting at which, perhaps, they could raise objections. The meetings took place at the very end of term so there would be minimal chance of parents discussing the issues at the school gate – on return to school, they will now have barely two weeks before the consultation period ends. There appears to have been a carefully choreographed process aimed at minimising the chance that an opposition ‘group’ might form and scupper your plans.

So much for the rather scant ‘consultation’ of parents. What about staff? According to the FAQs, they “have been involved in the process to date and no objections have been raised by them in relation to this proposal and in fact they recognise the benefits”. Forgive me for being cynical, but I am aware of the way some small schools work. Did this ‘consultation’ perhaps consist of an open staff meeting, addressed by the Head and Chair of Governors, where no-one felt able to voice an objection?

Whilst you acknowledge the requirement to consult parents, staff and the community, I am not aware what efforts you have made to consult ‘the community’. Of course, you would need to define what is meant by this phrase and identify those who might be thought to represent the community. That is why we are writing to you. I do not claim for one moment that we represent what ‘the community’ as a whole thinks, but I do hope you have approached other local schools, user groups and community groups in your immediate vicinity.

So, to summarise, we fear you have not properly considered all the issues involved in becoming an academy and we further fear that your ‘consultation’ is based on giving highly partisan information, using a process that is neither transparent nor democratic.

We therefore call on the Governors to:

1. Extend the consultation period until after the outcome of the General Election is clear (we suggest until 1 June 2015). This will also enable you to

2. Publish on your website some of the ‘cons’ of academisation, and/or the web addresses of organisations that can give this information;

3. Publish the results of your ‘due diligence’ carried out on Flying High Trust;

4. Conduct a secret ballot of parents, and publish the results on your website;

5. Conduct a secret ballot of staff and publish the results on your website;

6. Consult properly with local schools and representatives of the local community, and publish a list of those consulted and a summary of their responses.

Unless you are prepared to do these, this group has, and will continue to have, grave concerns about the quality of the process by which you propose to turn Beeston Fields Primary School into an academy as part of the Flying High Trust, and we will consider undertaking a campaign of awareness-raising amongst staff, parents and the community.

Yours sincerely

Colin Tucker

Secretary, ‘Hands Off Our Schools’

NB Please note, ‘Hands Off Our Schools’ is a group of parents, teachers, governors, councillors and members of the community, which does not have a political affiliation.”

What’s going on at Beeston Fields?

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.