Letter Sent To Wheelers Lane Technology College Governors

This is a copy of a letter sent to the Governors of Wheelers Lane Technology College Governors by one of our team as an independent parent.

Dear Governors,

Proposed Multi Academy Trust (MAT)

I write to you to express my grave concerns about the prospect of Wheelers Lane Technology College being converted into an academy, whether voluntarily or otherwise. My concerns relate not only to the short-term, but rather more to the implications and risks in the medium- to long-term.

I should first start by saying that I have no doubt that you have the best intentions and aspirations for the school, as well as the staff and pupils’ interests at heart. But the lack of evidence that academies improve educational outcomes, together with the risks that they introduce, makes it imperative that the governing body, staff and parents carefully consider all options for the future of the school, rather than hurriedly ‘jump before pushed’ into a new school structure. Below is a list of concerns that I have about academies, followed by some suggestions for a way forward.

Concerns:

1)      There is, to date, no convincing evidence that academies are better than the maintained schools they replace. While the academies programme has been operating on a considerable scale nationwide since the Academies Act in 2010, a recent multi-party commissioned government report on the status of academies and free schools [1] confirms this and warns of potential conflicts of interest in trusts and of parents being marginalised in some academies.

2)      Outside the House of Commons Education Committee report, there is now mounting evidence from academic and scholarly work showing that: a) sponsored academies can actually perform worse than they did before they were academies [2]; b) that academies become more exclusive and experience a drop in pupils with weaker ability or from under-privileged backgrounds [3, 4]; this poses a risk of further disadvantaging already challenged children and increasing the gap in achievement between disadvantaged pupils and their less disadvantaged peers; and c) that  they do not allow proper parental consultation [3, 5].

3)      The diminished involvement of the Local Authority breaks the link between local democracy and education, and puts the support of our schools in the hands of central or regional officers who may have little experience with the local context. If the school becomes an academy, I will no longer be able to talk to my local councillor or council officers about aspects of my children’s schooling. At a time when the broader devolution of powers locally is under discussion nationally, academisation is a backwards step.

4)      The land ownership on which the schools are currently built is transferred to the Trusts (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/32/schedule/1 ), taking it away from the local community. I appreciate that the horse has already bolted in the case of this school, but I feel strongly that schools belong to their local community – the decades of tax-payers, volunteers, parents and teachers who have supported them. Is it acceptable for our community to wrap up the various educational buildings and land into small parcels and transfer these assets, free, to a handful of new companies that have no local democratic link?

5)      Any further funding cuts from central government will affect academies and maintained schools equally, as the funding is per pupil. So even if the current trusts have the best intentions for preserving staff levels and services, any future cuts WILL force them to make very difficult decisions, especially with the culture of competition and liberties that academies have with regards to employing less qualified teachers, class sizes, etc. This will make them vulnerable to takeover by a chain or commercial sponsor and a diminished access to local expertise – pedagogical and financial. Staying with the Local Authority allows us to work collaboratively with a broader range of local schools and on an equal and fairer footing.

At time when I understand that money is being provided for grammar schools (which I also oppose), surely we could collectively campaign to channel these funds into maintained community schools?

A positive way forward:

If it is better collaborative opportunities that you are seeking, then there is no evidence that academisation allows for better collaboration between schools, or that it allow teachers more innovation in the curriculum. Maintained schools already enjoy most of the same freedoms as academies; collaboration is encouraged under various models; and the freedom to vary the curriculum is recommended for all schools [1]. Local Authorities can be effective at brokering school partnerships, and I would recommend that you explore many of the collaborative options that are available such as existing clusters which can be strengthened, learning partnerships, co-operative models, soft & hard federations and memoranda of understanding between schools.

Given the alarming concerns about academies, it is prudent not to limit your decision-making process to one structure which has not so far provided evidence for achieving these goals, a structure that comes with the most potential dangers regarding links with local communities, local board, staff and community influence in the school, conditions for staff, and voices for parents?

*****

Strong schools are embedded in the communities that they serve and work closely with these communities, particularly with the parents of the pupils in these schools. Engaging parents, especially at primary school, helps children reach their potential and improves achievement. In fact, research shows that parents have five times more influence on their children’s educational success than school at age 7, and their influence is still higher than school at age 11 [6]. Moreover, the government’s plan to make all governor candidates sit a skills test to ensure they have the “right skills” will deter candidates from some backgrounds and ensure only an elite end up on the governing board, as it will then be known.

In light of these points, I therefore urge you to pause and carefully consider the future of our school, consult more widely and more fairly, by transparently providing information to parents and staff on the advantages, disadvantages and risks of a proposed new structure, both in the short- and long-term. Even some staff do not seem to be aware of the recent shift away from the need to become an academy if a certain critical mass of schools in a Local Authority have already converted, for example.

Together, we must have the courage to say no if together we conclude that this model is NOT right for our school. While the government has announced its wishes for all schools to become academies, the tide is now turning and there is enough opposition to it from all parties, including educational experts and many Conservative MPs and Councillors. Our heads need to be proactive rather than reactive in the decision NOT to convert. As a school, we need to work together as we have done in the past; let’s not make this government policy proposal divide us and lead us in a direction that will not best serve the pupils, both now and in the future.

I hope you will take my views expressed in this letter in a positive and constructive way and I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

 

References

[1] House of Commons Education Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2014-15 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmeduc/258/258.pdf

[2] Gorard, S. (2009). What are Academies the answer to? Journal of Education Policy24(1), 101-113.

[3] Gunter, Helen M., ed. The state and education policy: The academies programme. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010.

[4] Goodman, Ruth, and Diana Burton. “The academies programme: an education revolution.” Educational Futures 4.3 (2012): 58-78.

[5] Stevens, R. (2010). Ever Reducing Democracy? A Comparative View of the Legislative Events Surrounding the Introduction of New-Style Academies in 2010 and Grant-Maintained Schools in 1988. In FORUM: for promoting 3-19 comprehensive education (Vol. 52, No. 3, pp. 317-335). Symposium Books. PO Box 204, Didcot, Oxford, OX11 9ZQ, UK.

[6] Desforges, C., & Abouchaar, A. (2003). The impact of parental involvement, parental support and family education on pupil achievement and adjustment: A review of literature.
London: DfES Publications.

[7] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-32987826

Related Links

Wheelers Lane Technology College – Response from Governors

Performance and Financial Information for Secondary Schools Involved in the Proposal

Poll of Visitors

Academies and maintained schools: what do we know? – Full Fact

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